How To Start Homeschooling

by Ivory Soap on 04/17/2013

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Used to, another mother looked at you like you had four heads if you said that you homeschooled.  These days, it’s akin to sainthood.  “Ooooh, I couldn’t do that!”

Regardless of whether you love it or hate it, I know I was born to do it.  That’s my reason.  I can give lots and lots of other reasons, but the main one is:  born to do it.  I was writing lesson plans and checking off attendance for stuffed animals as soon as I could hold a pencil.

I thought I should be a “real” teacher, but when I hit that part of college, I realized it was a mistake.  Traditional school was too homogeneous for me.  There was no one grade or one subject that would hold my interest for even a year, much less for the next five.  I didn’t know it, but I wanted to be a ONE ROOM school teacher.  So, I went out got a degree in counseling instead.  Never practiced, mind you.   I just gave birth A LOT.

Four kids later, I love homeschooling.  I just need some button up boots and a long itchy dress to complete the look.  But, it hasn’t been easy.  Turns out teaching has a pretty steep learning curve.  I totally screwed up my second child’s reading by only teaching her phonograms for an entire year and never making her READ ACTUAL SENTENCES.  Duh.  But, we’ll get to that.  So, after four or more years of doing this with three big kids and toddler, here are my thoughts:

Step 1: If you pray, do it a lot.  I am not an in-your-face personal about religion.  Especially prayer.  If someone asks me to pray with them, I am totally creeped out.  However, as a certified crazy person, I have to tell you that when making good decisions about my kids schooling, not just knee-jerk reaction to a bad day or a cool new resource, I have to be in my SANE PLACE.  And I’m not talking about tossing your request into the great beyond, “Dear Lord, help me decide on Charlotte Mason versus Unit Studies.”   I have to maintain a connection, or I get weird.  And that is the last thing you will hear me say about religion, ever.  If you don’t pray, meditate or something, just do whatever you do to become the best version of yourself that makes good decisions.  

Step 2: Read and start noodling your values.  There are tons of books out there.  Have a ball.  Read them all and feel out your reactions.  Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum by Laura Berquist (of Mother of Divine Grace) turns out to be the closest to mine.   The Well-Trained Mind is too intense for me and the Charlotte Mason books generally have too many boxes to check off in a day.

Step 3: Develop your philosophy.  Just know that this is going to change over time.  Most of us get really jazzed up about learning history in order and nature studies and cool crafts, and that’s okay.  However, when your third grader still doesn’t find Easy Readers at all EASY but can rattle on about Boadicea, name all the animal kingdoms, and identify every edible plant in your yard and make you a salad, and you have two more younger kids behind her so you think you’ll be spending the rest of your life reading every subject aloud, it’s not going to seem as jazzy.  I’m just saying.  The more kids you have stacked up together, the more stripped down your goals become.

These days, our “philosophy” looks like this.

  • Read an hour a day. 
  • Do math an hour a day.
  • Write legibly, coherently, daily.
  • Memorize some useful and/or enjoyable stuff to train that mind to accept and hold information.
  • Promote reading books and exploring outside as the main forms of entertainment.
  • Have cool collections and books around so kids can explore at will. (My home was a MUSEUM/LIBRARY growing up. “Dad, I want to learn to paint today.”  “Well, I have and old oil paint set in the garage and a book about it.  Lemme go dig them out for you.”)

Step 4: Throw the dart.   In light of your home and school philosophy, look at the different approaches and compare them to what you want.  Pick something.  But if your experience is like mine, reality (after six months of use) is very different from what I imagined.  Reality always matches my imagination for the first two weeks when I’m all excited to try something new.  Things I thought were STUPID in the beginning, now make total sense.  Things I thought were AWESOME, are now superficial.  It’s a process.  And the more children you have, the less able you are to tell on paper how this is going to work out once the idealism runs out.

Step 5: Do it on the cheap, if possible.   In light of the fact that you may have a totally different philosophy after six month’s actual teaching experience, it would be really cool to not have spent $600 on your maiden voyage.  Seriously.

Step 6:  Change, change, settle in.  The actual experience of homeschooling multiple ages (for me) was in no way related to what I imagined reading all those lovely books.  Change your mind about every six months until you settle into a style…probably five years from now.

So there you go!  Next time we chat, I’ll tell you about all of the styles I’ve tried and screwed up along the way!


{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Lisa April 17, 2013 at 6:57 pm

I love that step #6! You do change your mind, perhaps more often than every 6 months, and after five years along comes the next kid who has a different learning style and you have to start all over!
I only have a junior in high school left home schooling. But, I started with his older brother in 7th grade. At that time my daughter was 3 months old, and she’ll be 20 in June!
It’s been so much fun! And they are turning out just fine.

Katie April 18, 2013 at 5:24 am

I just got a little choked up reading about your dad digging paints and books out for you. My parents never even knew what homeschooling was. My sister and I went to public school, but home was a fun, warm place to be. There was always something to dig through in the yard, the basement, or the attic. We were gently chastised for getting bored. You would think that our house wouldn’t be that interesting if we lived there 24/7, but it was. I am very greatful for that.

Lindsay April 18, 2013 at 7:15 am

I love this article. We’re on about to complete our 3rd year of homeschooling. I did all of the above except the cheap part. But I researched until my eyes were crossed until I found something that I knew would keep me accountable to actually teaching, and had the same goals that I had for my kids. I’ve been totally happy with it and it does keep me accountable and makes it easy to get lessons done and not dread ‘planning night’. But I also knew that was my weakness, so it was worth the money because I knew I would actually use the curriculum, right? It’s not the most expensive out there, but it’s certainly not the cheapest.
Another tip is to just focus on a couple of subjects the first year. Don’t feel like you have to cram everything in because it’s overwhelming. I just did our curriculum’s “core” (history/geography, Bible, and reading) and phonics the first year. No math, science, handwriting, blah, blah. It was easier to get my feet wet that way.

Deborah April 18, 2013 at 10:45 am

We homeschooled for fifteen years. I think the most important thing to remember is that each child is different. You can design the curriculum to fit the learning style of the child.

Rickey April 20, 2013 at 6:09 am

I homeschooled and then other relatives followed. They seemed to think homeschooling was EASY. But you spend so much time coming up with ideas, hoping you are giving them everything they need, and staying ahead of their learning.
But I think it is worth it. Just know it is work and not easy.

Ally @ Om Nom Ally April 20, 2013 at 6:22 am

Thanks for this great article. While my partner has our future kid’s schools all planned out, I am slowly being drawn into the idea of homeschooling and loved reading about your thoughts and teaching philosophy. Thankyou 🙂

Jennifer April 20, 2013 at 7:45 am

What did you do for the high school years?

kelly thompson April 20, 2013 at 8:11 am

i know what you mean about being born to teach yet taking different subjects in college. I have a BS in broadcast journalism and graduated to go into social work but now am at home with the kids and will use every ounce of it for their education at home

Sheila Trask April 20, 2013 at 11:30 am

Great article! Almost makes me want to go back and do it again!

My homeschooler is 14 now, and spends most days taking classes with peers in various settings, so I’m not a hands-on homeschooling mom anymore. It’s a strange transition!

I’d like to add to your fantastic list with the reminder to relax! Kids learn stuff. Have stuff around. Talk about stuff, investigate stuff, followup on those conversations and investigations, etc. Soon you’ll see all the bases get covered one way or another.

(Says the mom who let her son learn to read from Calvin & Hobbes, and play math games all through elementary school. Nary a worksheet or lesson plan in sight, and yet he’s now into algebra, physics, and world history classes he loves. Go figure!)

Jessica April 20, 2013 at 6:00 pm

Totally got a laugh about naming all the edible plants in the backyard and making a salad. My four year old is whiz at botany evidently – something I know absolutely nothing about. He has gained so much knowledge from just talking with people who do know about plants, that we trusted him enough to make us a foraged greens salad for lunch this week. It was fabulous.

Meredith April 25, 2013 at 11:08 am

Thank you so much for sharing this! We don’t have any kids yet, but when we do, we plan to home school. I’m enjoying reading up on it before the kiddos even get here. I’m an art teacher working in public schools right now, and I can tell you all the things I DON’T want for my kids’ education, but as for what I do want, still exploring those possibilities. I love reading your blog and getting some perspective from someone who’s out there doing it. Keep it coming! Please?

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