Yes, You Can Start Homeschooling Mid-Year
By Dara Ekanger
Julie had said she would never homeschool her children. It was too weird, and how could she make sure her kids got a good education since she only had an AA degree? But then her fourth grade son started having seizures. After myriad tests couldn’t find a physical problem, the doctor took her aside and said, “Your son can’t handle the stress from school. Pull him out and teach him at home.”
A few weeks into the school year, her seventh grade daughter was coming home daily in tears because of continued harassment by another student. She was a bright girl, but was bored stiff in a classroom that didn’t allow her to go beyond the school’s agenda. “Please, can’t you homeschool me too?” she begged her mother.
So, in 1986, with textbooks purchased from the local private school and some borrowed library books, Julie found herself homeschooling her two children. “We’ll just try it for a week,” she reasoned.
That week became years. I was the seventh-grade daughter. I never went back to “regular” school … and my brother never had another seizure.
Fast forward a few decades. Homeschooling has gone from being “weird” to somewhat common. Almost everyone knows someone who homeschools. And estimates are that 2–3 million American children are now experiencing a very different type of education than their parents did.
Why this incredible increase? The reasons parents give for homeschooling mirror that of my own experience:
- health issue or special needs,
- addressing academic weakness while building on a child’s strengths and interests,
- avoiding school violence and negative peer pressure,
- increasing family time and developing strong family relationships,
- passing on faith and values.
There weren’t a lot of homeschool resources available back in the ’80s, but with ingenuity and determination parents like my mother successfully taught their kids. Today, my generation of homeschoolers is all grown up, and the support and resources available for parents to teach their own children have vastly increased. There are complete boxed curricula, online courses, DVDs, homeschool co-ops, homeschool magazines, and hundreds of companies that cater to the needs, learning styles, and varying interests of students and their parents.
Where Do I Start?
Find Out the Legal Requirements in Your State
If you’re looking to homeschool one or more of your children, your first stop should be the website of the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA.org) where you can check out legal requirements for your state. Homeschooling is legal in all fifty states, but there are different requirements in each state. For example, South Dakota (where I live) requires parents to fill out an annual exemption form, do standardized testing in certain grades, and teach at a minimum the topics of “language arts and math” for “an equivalent amount of time” as the public school.
If you are planning to withdraw your student from public school after the school year has already started, you should certainly join HSLDA and follow their instructions. While withdrawing during the school year is legal, you must make certain to follow the correct notification process so you aren’t accused of truancy.
HSLDA keeps an eye on state and national bills that may affect homeschooling and advocates on behalf of its members if they ever come into conflict with local school districts, which unfortunately still happens on occasion. Your peace of mind and legal support is well worth the $10-12 month that a membership costs.
Check Out Available State and Local Resources
Almost every state has annual homeschool conventions where vendors, speakers, and parents get together to swap books, ideas, and encouragement. Google “homeschool convention [your state].”
Many states also have state-level homeschool organizations that can offer guidance on state laws, direct you to local support groups (sometimes called co-ops), and that advocate on behalf of homeschoolers in your state legislature.
Even if your state doesn’t have an overall homeschool organization, small independent groups can be found within driving distance of just about every family in the country. Our local all-volunteer group serves a wide range of families from up to an hour away. We have field trips, “Friday Classes,” holiday parties, and public service events. Many of our members found us via our Facebook page or a Google search.
HomeschoolNowUSA.com may also help direct you to local homeschool organizations and events near you.
Check Out Online Resources
There are many blogs and websites that focus on homeschooling families. One such site is TryHomeschooling.com, where you can download articles on organizing your homeschool, issuing report cards, creating high school transcripts, keeping a portfolio, dealing with special needs, and much more. The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine is considered the “trade magazine” for homeschool families, and is available for free online at www.TOSMagazine.com. It provides dozens of encouraging and valuable homeschool articles with each issue.
How Do I Know What to Teach?
Learn About Different Styles of Homeschooling
There are many different “styles” of homeschooling. You will likely find a style that fits your family’s needs, or you may decide on a blend of two or more styles. In some families (like mine), you may see that one style works great for one child, but another child responds better to a different style. Knowing your particular style is not required to homeschool, but it can help narrow your search for curriculum and provide structure as you are becoming more comfortable with homeschooling.
Just remember that if you start with one style, you are not bound to stay with it forever. The beauty of homeschooling is that you are free to adjust to the varying needs and interests of your children. You are not trapped into a rigid system of requirements and testing that takes all the joy and wonder out of learning. In fact, as the years go on, you may find yourself becoming quite eclectic!
Charlotte Mason: Based on a method introduced by nineteenth-century educator Charlotte Mason, this approach includes nature studies, journaling, narration, and living books.
Classical: Based on Dorothy Sayers’ The Lost Tools of Learning, in which child development is broken up into three “stages” of learning commonly called “the Trivium.”
Delight Directed: This puts the learning in the hands of the child based on his or her interests. Parents help facilitate this type of learning with appropriate instructional materials.
Eclectic: A mix of philosophies and curricula to accommodate each child’s abilities and interests. Parents choose from any method or style only those components that fit their specific needs.
The Principle Approach: An approach based on the principles of our Founding Fathers and an emphasis on God’s Word as the basis for every subject.
Traditional Textbook: Normally uses a full-range, packaged, textbook type curriculum that also may include a scope and sequence, testing, and recordkeeping.
Unit Studies: All or most important subjects are covered while studying any one topic or unit of study, using a variety of resources and supplemental activities.
Unschooling: A relaxed setting where learning is directed by the child. Parts of this philosophy are based on research by John Taylor Gatto and John Holt.
Choose Your Curriculum
Unlike the days when parents had to cobble together a curriculum from whatever resources they could find, today’s parents are blessed with many resources to choose from. Textbook companies now offer complete boxed curriculum by grade level (with optional DVDs) designed for homeschoolers, such as A Beka and Saxon. Companies such as Veritas Press, Memoria Press, and Classical Conversations offer products that follow the Classical style, with CC having weekly co-ops for students to meet together one day per week. Memoria Press and Veritas Press also offer select online courses in addition to their independent homeschool courses. Sonlight and Living Books Curriculum follow the Charlotte Mason method and provide books you can purchase individually or with detailed lesson plans based on grade level.
Another possibility is www.SchoolhouseTeachers.com. It’s an online one-stop resource that can be used for your entire family at one low monthly price. You don’t have to purchase additional books, just access online and print off what is needed for the lessons your child needs to do. Many families use this as their sole curriculum, but it can also be used to supplement other programs. Members have access to almost two-hundred courses (preschool through 12th grade), from core subjects like math, science, history, and language arts, to classes like computer programming, Shakespeare, foreign language, fitness, and even film-making. Take a look at all of the courses here: http://schoolhouseteachers.com/2013/03/site-content.
Cathy Duffy’s http://cathyduffyreviews.com/ has hundreds of curriculum reviews and even an online tool to help you choose books that fit your style and meet your children’s needs.
Your public library most likely has a section with books on homeschooling that could also help direct you to the style or curriculum that would work for you. And don’t forget, some people homeschool using library books almost exclusively!
Talk with homeschool parents in your area, or online, and find out what has worked, or not worked, for them. The biggest thing to remember is that if you find yourself or your child frustrated with a particular curriculum, you don’t have to stick with it! Don’t torture yourself or your kids with a book you don’t like. Sell it or pass it on to a friend. Someone else may like it just fine.
Take the Next Step
You don’t have to have a teaching degree to educate your children at home. You’ve been teaching them from the time they were born—how to walk, how to talk, how to tie their shoes, and to know their letters and numbers. Teaching them to read, do math, enjoy science, and love to learn are just the next logical steps in your parenting journey.
Though you will have difficult days (we ALL do!) and you may question your ability from time to time, there are resources and support for every obstacle you may encounter. The lasting rewards that come from teaching your children at home cannot be overstated.
And if you ever said, “I could never homeschool my kids!” don’t worry. You won’t be the first to find out that you can.