A guide to getting started with homeschooling
There is so much noise out there in the homeschool world and it is wonderful to have such a plethora of information. But the good old saying “quality over quantity” certainly does apply here (in my opinion) and I’ve become a little concerned lately that the influx of new (and, let’s be honest, vulnerable) homeschoolers are being manipulated into thinking that they need a homeschool “expert” (paid services) to teach/coach them on how to homeschool.
Hear me when I say, you don’t need paid assistance to begin homeschooling. Just like you don’t need the big box curriculum or the fancy homeschool room or the home library of pretty books and the very popular and gorgeous butterfly posters (you know the ones!) to make you FEEL like you are capable of homeschooling your kids. I’m going to be really real with you here… YOU, AS YOU ARE RIGHT NOW, IN THIS VERY MOMENT, ARE CAPABLE OF HOME EDUCATING YOUR KIDS. Now one more time, say it with me I AM ALL THAT MY KIDS NEED.
Put your money away and stop panic buying (no judgment here, I get it) at least until you have read this blog post. I want you to spend your money on things that actually help, and things that will continue to bring you and your children joy through the many wonderful years ahead.
And because I’m being real with you, the first lesson I want you to know is: You are going to stuff up! You WILL make mistakes, you will cry, and you will yell (probably!). This will happen with or without expert coaching! We are all human and developing patience to spend our days with little people (or teens!) takes time. Trust that this is the transitioning process and know that we have all been through it! You’ve got this!
So maybe you are wondering how I could be so sure? Well, I am no stranger to the sudden and shock induced introduction to homeschooling (more on my story here). It was only a few years ago that, in the span of one day, I walked out of a job I loved and pulled my son from school. I hadn’t researched homeschooling. It was really our last resort and, honestly, we didn’t think we would really need to take that path. In other words, we didn’t think that things would get so bad for our son that we would be forced into this path. I mourned the loss of my job, I hated the school system for letting us down so terribly, and I was angry that my son was so traumatised by his experiences.
But then I saw the relief in him, and gradually as time passed he healed and we connected in a way that only a homeschool family can. It is a unique and special bond. We are a team against the world. So hopefully my story will give you comfort in knowing that, even someone that didn’t want to homeschool, can be won over. Heck, I encourage others to homeschool now, my only regret is that we didn’t do this from the start.
But that first year was hard, it felt like I was learning a new language, and it felt strange to be “out of the system”. I’ll even admit I was a little embarrassed to tell people we homeschool as I didn’t want them to think we were “weird”. Oh how things have changed!
I decided to create this post for you, the sudden home educator. I’m gonna take you through each step you need to take so you can calmly ease into the homeschooling world. This is not a panic-inducing, “you need all the things” post. In fact, I truly believe a minimal homeschool is an easier homeschool. So grab your favourite drink and get comfy. I’m going to share all I know about getting started!
The (boring) necessary but important part... First things first, you need to register. Some states are more relaxed than others and this looks different for everyone, depending on where you live. My suggestion is go to Facebook and search your state and some key words, for example: “support homeschooling Qld”. Join these kinds of groups, as they have gone through what you are about to go through for your area and will be your support through registration. Some of these groups may even have members sharing their approved plans, so you can use those as a guideline which can really help.
Next you'll want to find your local authority home education website. It is best to get this information straight from the source. If you haven’t had all of your questions answered yet, call them. You don’t need to give names if you are worried, just know the requirements are ever changing and there is so much out of date information out there. So just confirm what you have learned to be true.
Some hot tips for registration
If you have pulled your child from school, you may have to wait until the home education registration application has been received from the department before the school will remove your child from their database (the school usually follows up with the department of education.) This is to prevent kids from being unregistered.
Grab a binder and label it “homeschool registration”. This is where you will keep all the papers. For my area, you are given a certificate and that certificate is to last the duration of the years registered, so it’s best to keep these papers safe!
Create a folder in your email and name it “homeschool registration”. This is where you can store all your correspondence through email regarding your homeschool registration.
It can take months to hear back from authorities and it can be frustrating. As long as you have had confirmation that they have received the paperwork, try to relax now. It’s up to them to do their job and with the rise in families moving to homeschooling, things are busier than they have ever been!
Find your community
This isn’t about socialisation, this is about finding your community and it is going to take time unless you are already connected to homeschoolers in some way. Community is important in the homeschool world, because when choosing alternative paths in education there is less support. Our worries are often ours alone to solve, but connecting with others walking similar paths removes the isolation that we can sometimes feel.
The biggest trouble I had was being able to make connections with the same kids and parents consistently. Casual meet ups mean different people all the time and for introverts this is exhausting! So consider the personalities in your family and what would work best for each of you. Trust that there will be something to give you that sense of community, because it really does make a difference!
When you are ready, try some casual meet ups and test out the environments. Maybe a paid co-op will work for you like it does for my family.
Hot tips for finding your community
Join the local library
Join a co-op
Approach a local business near you for homeschool rates and start a group meetup
Friendship courses through Occupational Therapists are great for those that need a little support
Learning styles and choosing curriculum
Yes, you have choices! In case you haven’t heard, there are endless amounts of curriculum promising the world!
But they don’t know your homeschooler… The best curriculum is the one that fits the closest to the personality and interests of your learners. Always keep in mind how they like to learn (learning style and personality) when choosing a curriculum.
The main learning styles are:
When I first learned about these main learning styles, everything started to make so much more sense with HOW I was going to homeschool. It got me really excited because I knew I could approach things differently if something wasn’t working and not just have that boring repetition my son greatly hated in his school experience. In fact, I found that I incorporated all the learning styles but for different subjects. It seems that particular approaches for subjects were really making things fun for my kids.
Hot tips for learning styles
They can have more than one! Don’t think that EVERYTHING needs to be tailored, it's just a great piece of knowledge to use as a guide for how to approach teaching.
If your learner is struggling in a particular area, perhaps look into the approach. You might be surprised what happens!
So now that I have explained a little on learning styles, personalities and interests, I think it is safe to open the can of worms that is curriculum!
In my experience the biggest disasters often come from choosing a curriculum that suits the educator and not the child. It’s a sure fire way to set your child on a fast track to school refusal! Which means you are then left with unused curriculum and a hit to both your pocket and your confidence!
So tread carefully here. Try the samples and if the business you are interested in doesn’t offer any, ASK! Try the samples properly with your learner. If they don’t like it, ask them what they don’t like about it so you can go from there.
Hot tips for choosing curriculum
It is not uncommon for your learner to be at a higher level for one subject and a lower level for another. The big box curriculums that are grouped into grade levels often don’t work well for this reason.
Start with their favourite subject first and just do that. Short, fun and sweet, then gradually build onto your routine.
Be wary of following the schedule that the curriculum has provided. You and your learner set the pace for your homeschool… if it doesn’t feel right, adjust it!
Unless you have created your own curriculum, it won’t all be perfect for your family. Supplement or skip the lessons that don’t work for you.
I remember all the strange thoughts I had like “should we have a uniform?” I wondered if I should pack their lunch boxes… and what about this one?! “should I get a bell to ring for start and finish times?!
So clearly I still had the idea of creating school at home and the answer is a firm “no” to all of the above. Please, just NO! Except maybe for the packed lunches. I still do that on busy days when I have a lot of work I need to get through myself.
Often your curriculum will have suggested supplies and book lists. These can be really helpful to make the most of the curriculum but they can definitely add up! You won’t need absolutely everything and sometimes it’s much more efficient to consider alternatives like a kindle, audible or even youtube for some picture books. And, of course, don't forget the library!
I have compiled EVERY resource and ALL my favourite things that we use in our homeschool. This will help you on your way to creating the homeschool that serves your family best.
Hot tips for homeschooling
Use modular furniture like trestle tables or two tables put together
Floor cushions are wonderful!
Wipeable surfaces, or wood that can be sanded down and re-stained.
A peaceful space makes all the difference, eliminating background noise like the TV
Snacks. Fed kids are happy kids. Fruit platters are a winner at our place.
Establishing a routine, often one that has been discussed and planned together can be so helpful.
You can start and finish anytime you like, you can homeschool 4 days and take the 5th as an adventure day. You could homeschool year round but have light workloads.You could focus on science one term then history the other term. Make it work for you!
Reward systems have been a game changer in our home. We use tokens and they represent a value, the tokens can be used to purchase from the “homeschool shop” where I have a drawer of goodies. They get tokens randomly when helping one another, showing kindness to others overcoming a challenge, things like that.
Keeping good records
The biggest thing that stood out to me when I started homeschooling was that time goes so much faster! Before I knew it, that first year was done and my report was due and I was panicking. I thought I had more time! I couldn’t find anything, so I kept having to re-read the requirements for samples. It was all a bit overwhelming.
The key to easy reporting is being organised and knowing your requirements. If the work needs to be dated, get your kids to date all their work. If you need to provide feedback and correct the work, create a system where this gets done in the moment, rather than allowing it to pile up.
If you have to provide samples like I do, create a binder just for the samples that you know you are going to use. Store the work and make sure it’s finished, dated, marked and ready.
File it into the categories that make the most sense. For me, that means I label the first “English sample 1a”. Then the second sample from later in the year is labeled “English sample 1b”. I use Freely homeschool planner app because I can take photos of the work and keep them in a category called “samples” along with the lesson and the observation notes outlining the progress between the two samples and the part that I played in teaching the concept.
Because my reporting is done online and no physical copies are needed I run a report through Freely and it’s done! I upload that to the portal and submit.
A special note
The big thing to remember here is that we all might have to follow different rules and regulations, but the key is progress... that is what the authorities want to see. And progress is simple, it could be a change in attitude towards a subject, it could be confidence and a willingness to try new things. Progress doesn’t have to be just defined as academics. Progress can be new found confidence in something, it can be a complete attitude change. It can be exploring new emotions and overcoming fears. That’s why keeping great observation notes can be a wonderful addition to include in telling the story behind the work sample provided.
So if you have made it this far, well done! There's a lot to process, I know. But I do hope that by now, having read this, you have a bit more clarity around where you can start, and what you need to do. Don’t forget to grab my FREE Home educator starter pack. It is full of all my favourite homeschooling supplies, resources and curriculums and I think it will give you a great start in creating a beautiful homeschool with your family.