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Homeschool: Getting Started in 4 Steps

A month ago, an old teacher friend and I talked about homeschool during COVID and whether or not schooling at home was indeed homeschool or if it was even possible to get started. He was frustrated and grasping for answers like so many parents. States and school districts have offered vague ideas about what school will look like or whether school will exist at all. Maybe it will be delayed? Maybe not? Maybe some will hang out online while some come to the building? Who knows. We’ll figure it out and let you know.

Try running a business like that. Worse, try running a family like that. 

     “Rob, why would you ever homeschool your children? My kids have been home since March, and I’m still pulling my hair out. You’re not a school. What I’m doing right now isn’t school. We have buildings full of teachers to do that. I’m a teacher. I don’t get this …” 

    “No … no, it’s not school.” I replied. “It’s not supposed to be school. I don’t want it to be school. That’s precisely why we homeschool. Homeschool is a conviction … a way of life. Schooling in a crisis is just a hot mess.”

    “How do you do it, then? How does this work? I’m still trying to figure out how to work in planning periods between all the stuff going on around the house. I haven’t gone for coffee in a week.”

The good news is that there’s hope! Just remember, as I discussed last week, I’m a disorganized, squirrel-following man, and we’re doing just fine. 

What is happening to my friend, however, is happening to families across the country. In the beginning, districts sent children home under the shadow of an immediate crisis. Families and teachers responded by doing what Americans do best — persevering. Regardless, children endured clumsy distance learning options and mountains of good-enough worksheets. Busy work, for most families, ruled the educational landscape.

     It doesn’t have to be that way. 

Before I unravel anything specific about homeschool socialization, curriculum or teaching methods, I believe families must analyze why they’re homeschooling. Are you homeschooling in response to an immediate crisis like COVID-19? Or are you homeschooling out of faith-based conviction. Maybe you’re homeschooling because it provides your family with greater flexibility to travel. In other words, know precisely why you’re homeschooling. Let’s walk through this together. Click here to download my organizer to help solidify your thoughts about today’s essential questions.

Homeschoool getting started Pinterest pin

Step #1: Know why are you homeschooling

For example, do you plan on committing a full year to educating at home or are you intending to ride out the first part of the year at home while the school district figures things out? These might sound like similar ideas, but they’re very different concepts. If you’re just trying to make it until things feel safe, your perception of homeschool will be tainted by short term problems. When we know we’re in something for the long haul, we tend to ignore the minor inconveniences while staying focused on our long term goals. I can tell you from experience that my friend would have pulled out fewer hairs had he settled in for the ride rather than being saddled by the unpredictability of crisis schooling. 

Step #2: Understand your family’s rights

Every state is different. Although homeschool is legal in all 50 states, how each state government monitors your homeschool efforts is completely different. In Texas, we have complete freedom. My children live essentially off the grid and answer to no one. In New York, on the other hand, parents must comply with a myriad of state time-on-task, curriculum, testing, and state monitoring requirements. Check with the HSLDA to make sure you understand the requirements of your state. 

Step #3: Be ready for absolutely nothing

When my teacher friend sat with his children on the first day of lock-down, he said that he found himself depressed and consumed with feelings of loss, similar to losing a job. Having worked in the private sector, I empathize. Homeschoolers who successfully transition into the home from a structured school paradigm do one very simple activity — no activities whatsoever. Think about that. If it seems peaceful and less chaotic … it is. 

Look at it this way, for the first time in your lives you will have the power to scrap everything you might have disliked about the school system from which your children came while keeping the parts that you enjoyed. The mundane, redundantly task-driven  worksheets, homework assignments, ordered seating charts … the cliques, the misplaced angst and misguided behaviors. All of these things disappear. It takes time, though, and you have to be willing to understand the value of doing very little.

When his family, like other families, encountered an radically new concept — Zoom-school — they were given no time to consume and assimilate the idea into their family structure. And, to be fair, nobody could have designed the perfect stop-gap schooling method. The point, however, is that families need time in between paradigms. In homeschooling, we call this de-schooling, or, the time between deciding to homeschool and implementing your educational vision. How much de-schooling time is completely up to you. Young children need very little. Older children might take a month or more of structured down-time (fewer screens and more books).

Step #4: Create a rough vision for you child’s education

This is the fun part! In this step, I recommend creating a rough idea or vision about what you want each child to explore. What does school look like to you? It doesn’t matter if you believe it’s realistic. What matters is that you have a vision for what it looks like. Are your children independent and learning mostly on their own? Or do you see yourself hands-on, deep in the weeds of instruction? Are you utilizing online resources or are you learning mainly out of spines/books. It’s up to you! Keep in mind, some of this will be dictated by your state, but you have more flexibility than you might think. Again, use the printable to help generate your answers.

God is sending us a ripple this year. And the ripple is a message to slow down and gobble up every one of these moments. Every parent knows how to educate a child. God gave us every single tool we need! Recognize the amount of time wasted during the average organized school day and revel in the time you have with your child. If today is a sunny day, throw everything away and send your kids out to play. Tomorrow no child will be behind, and no state test will be missed. Skinned knees will be a life lesson in hygiene and counting bugs will be a lesson in math … and that’s OK. Hug them. Send them back out. Repeat. Then repeat again. In a week it will be fine. In two weeks the same … at the end of summer? Just the same. Exactly like it was meant to be. In a nutshell, that is homeschool.

Over the next two weeks, I’ll be talking about everything from socialization to curriculum choices. Stay tuned!

I'm a dad currently mastering the art of the "hands full" with my four children. A former English teacher and photographer, I've been a homeschool teacher, stay at home dad, and advocate for men in the home-place for almost ten years. Together we're taming this unbalanced yet sublime circus ... one day at a time.

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