There’s something about the changes in seasons. April brings spring showers and the awakening of life. June comes with long warm sunny days and children playing on vacation for most. September brings cooler weather, brilliant colors in nature, harvest time on farms and gardens, and back to school sales and registrations. But more than the seasons change. Today, there are more options than ever for the education of your children. It isn’t just a matter of *which* school, but for many, it’s a matter of whether or not they send their kids to school at all.

Homeschooling today is more popular than it ever has since the beginning of public school education. Personally, we have homeschooled since birth, and currently have a 3rd grader and kindergartener, and two younger besides. Homeschooling is trendy, cool and chances are, you know someone who is or is considering homeschooling, and perhaps that someone is you.

With the controversies over curriculum choices, standardized testing, funding and the myriad other problems found in schools, it’s no wonder why homeschooling is attractive to many. The reasons for homeschooling vary as much as the families homeschooling. Academic success, moral and religious values, flexibility and parental responsibility, and protection of children from violence, bullies or perceived attacks at school all rank high as various motivations to homeschool.

Homeschooling is simply the act of educating children outside of a formal institution. Before 1850, this was the norm for most children around the world. There are many famous homeschooled people in history, including presidents, inventors and scientists, such as George Washington and Thomas Edison.

Does it have to look like school? Where do I find curriculum? How do I choose?
Homeschooling varies in approach as much as in motivation. From “school-at-home” with blackboards, textbooks and recess, to “unschooling” where life itself is the classroom, homeschooling is flexible and matches learning and teaching styles with family life and schedules. There are 6 major approaches to homeschooling, and each has its pros and cons:

School-at-home: this is recreating the school experience, in your home. Often done with charters, distance learning, online or computer schooling, this can be very time-intensive. It is extremely structured, and provides the parental hands-on control and one-on-one teaching many families desire.

Textbook/school-in-a-box: With this approach, parents and students work with a comprehensive curriculum that contains every subject, and most of the planning is done already. It tends to be more flexible, as there aren’t the externally-imposed deadlines as working with a charter school would impose, but it is still very time-intensive and usually academically challenging. This approach works great for parents who love checklists and are hesitant about their own teaching ability, and kids who learn systematically and sequentially. Well known Christian currcula that fit this style include Sonlight, Abeka and ACE.

Classical: This approach comes from a belief of learning “stages” in children, and that exposure to good literature and history will develop skills to learn every other skill in life. At each stage in learning, there are different activities done to develop skills. Curriculum choices here include The Well-Trained Mind and Teaching the Trivium.

Charlotte-Mason style: This approach to homeschooling is based on an educator and child sociologist from the 1800s named Charlotte Mason. She firmly believed that children needed only to be guided, read to, and exposed to learning at early ages, with more direct instruction waiting until they were older. Narration/dictation, nature studies and literature form the basis of education. This is great for parents who value reading and allowing children to develop naturally, and provides great flexibility in time and learning styles. Not so great for parents who don’t want to plan on their own, or for kids who need structure. Curricula choices include Five in a Row, Heart of Wisdom, and Heart of Dakota, among others.

Unit Study: This is a themed approach, where instead of dividing learning by subject (math, english, geography etc,) learning is divided into “themes”. Perhaps it is a book, or a historical time period, or a country, or song, or whatever has captured the imaginations of the family, but in studying that theme, all the subjects are covered. For example, in studying trains, students would read stories about trains, learn the history of railroad (and maybe early America while they were at it), the science of locomotion, learn math while figuring out how far and fast they can go, how much they cost to run and build, draw pictures or build models of trains,…well you get the idea. This can be very low-cost and very effective in teaching the relatedness of everything, but does require a lot of pre-planning on the parent’s part. Unit studies work very well with kids who learn best by getting their hands dirty, and when teaching multiple ages. Curricula choices here might be Tapestry of Grace, Mystery of History or My Father’s World, among others.

Unschooling: Also known as child-led, or delight-directed schooling, unschooling is very hands-off, unscripted and may not resemble any form of “school” at all. An off-shoot of attachment parenting, unschooling developed from the belief that children will learn the skills and information they need when they need to learn them. The premise is that without interference, children are constantly learning and will learn gladly and eagerly what they want to know, as their interests direct them. Parents “strew” their children’s paths with books, games, activities and enable their children’s interests with opportunities for further exploration. Unschooling is not for the hesitant or unsure, but for those families committed to doing life together as a family.

Eclectic homeschooling: Eclectic homeschooling is where most families will find themselves. They may be relaxed about learning to read, but use a formal curriculum for math and do unit studies for history and geography. They may love a literature foundation of learning, but want a traditional science curriculum. Eclectic homeschoolers pick and choose from curriculum and approaches based on their children, lifestyle and even just the season of life they are in at that moment. This is the most adaptive form of homeschooling, and blends scheduling with flexibility.

Is it legal? I’m not qualified! How do I start?
One of the most common questions about homeschooling is that of qualifications and legalities. While each state and country has their own laws, homeschooling is legal in one form or another across North America, and in most of the Western world. The first place to start for your local regulations would be with a local homeschooling support group. If you google homeschool support group in your location, chances are you’ll find more than one website to help you.

Parents often feel overwhelmed at the thought of being responsible for their children’s education, but they really shouldn’t be. After all, teaching children to read and write is just as easy as it was to teach them to walk and talk, eat using a spoon, zip a zipper and use the toilet. With all the choices of teaching materials and supports out there, teaching children the skills that enable them to learn, and the information they need to know is not that difficult, though it does require work.

How do you start? That depends on where you’re starting. If you are like me, and considered homeschooling as opposed to sending them to school at all, then you can slide into homeschooling easily, by gradually introducing one activity or subject at a time. Choose a style, and start small, until you find an approach and curriculum that suits you, your children and your family, and don’t be afraid to change something if it isn’t working. There are tons of free resources online for preschool and kindergarten, such as http://www.letteroftheweek.com, http://www.hubbardscupboard.org or http://www.abc123.com.

If you have kids in school, and want to pull them out, then you have a few more decisons to make. First, find out from your local homeschool support group what you need to do to pull your kids, before you pull them. Usually a letter or form is filed with the school and school board, to notify them of your decision. Second, decide on when to pull your kids out (most decide to wait for a natural break, such as a vacation, end of term or end of year) and then spend some time in “de-schooling.” This is a vacation of sorts, where nothing formal is done, and you reconnect as a family. Use this time to let your children get used to not going to school, and discover their interests, passions and learning styles. Connect with your local support group, explore your community, and choose your curriculum. Spend time in planning, assessing strengths and weaknesses, and determining your goals for homeschooling.
Third, set a start date, and start small! Start with one activity/subject at a time, and gradually add more, as you make the switch, so you and your kids get adjusted to the idea of learning at home.
Fourth, enjoy! Welcome to homeschooling and enjoy learning as a family!

What about socialization!?!
Ah, the infamous socialization question. The main objection for homeschooling is this idea that homeschooling = isolation, and school = the real world. But what is more realistic? Being inside a room with 20 other people your age, day in, and day out, eating meals at scheduled times, and having to ask permission to talk, get up, or use the bathroom; or going to the store, bank, library and swimming pool, meeting people of all ages, asking for help as you need it, moving around freely, and following your body’s natural urges, such as sleeping as long as needed or eating when hungry? Children who are homeschooled have the opportunity to learn to get along with others of all ages, confidence and manners in public, and life skills such as asking for information, using a telephone, shopping and driving simply by observation. With numerous activities offered by libraries, arts and music lessons, athletics, arenas, attractions and playgroups, not to mention those offered by support groups and coops, most homeschoolers struggle with too much socialization as opposed to not enough!

“I wish I could, but my child is ADHD/ autistic / special needs/ gifted…etc.”

Homeschooling a child that learns differently has its own challenges, but many parents find they are better able to meet their special child’s needs better at home, than fighting with a school system to follow an IEP or provide the extra resources and help for their children. Add in the need for flexibility for therapy and specialist appointments, and homeschooling often enables these kids to have a better chance at a quality education than sending them to school ever would. Homeschooling allows for tailor-made lesson plans, that take advantage of a child’s strengths and support their weaknesses, helping them succeed where they otherwise would struggle, and often creates champion, confident learners instead of self-defeating, unmotivated kids. Special needs are by no means a reason *not* to homeschool, but in fact, often are a good reason *to* homeschool!

Financial questions — “We need two incomes!” “Homeschooling curriculum is expensive!” “I can’t afford to homeschool.”

Is homeschooling only for the well-off? I would disagree. With the abundance of free online curriculums, the availability of libraries and internet, and the low-cost of school supplies, homeschooling your children can be done for very little money. When you compare even the high-end all-in-one curriculums (around $1500) to the cost of public schooling for one child (around $10 000!), homeschooling is far cheaper and far better value for the money than what the government does. Homeschooling costs, like approaches and motivations, depend on the family.

Here’s something to consider: when you add up all the costs of sending children to school – new clothes, shoes, school supplies, school fees, locks, band/gym supplies, lunch supplies (would you buy that if it weren’t for school lunches?!?), chocolate bar sales/fundraising, field trips, car pooling, etc, — can you afford to send them? Personally, I couldn’t! I spend far less, taking advantage of sales, cooking home-made meals for my kids, and I don’t have to fundraise for anything for school. Field trips (aka family vacations) and clothes are part of normal family expenditures, and don’t cost a huge amount – especially when we can take advantage of off-season sales!

Once you consider the savings of homeschooling, you may find you don’t truly need a second income. However, there may be some sacrifices in your priorities. That is for every family to decide for themselves, and there are alternatives to having one parent stay home all the time. There are single parents who homeschool and work full-time, and there are parents who work from home and homeschool too.

Now for the stereotypes: “All homeschoolers are religious nutcases.” “Ooh, your kids must be brilliant because their homeschooled!” “You must be super-organized/-patient/-mom to homeschool!” My children drive me crazy! I need a break!

As I’ve said frequently, homeschooling looks as different as the families who homeschool. Not all homeschoolers are religious at all, or faith doesn’t motivate their homeschooling. Even those who do homeschool because of faith, usually will educate their children about other faiths and points of view (if only to explain why they believe what they believe).

Children who are homeschooled tend to do better than their public schooled peers, the research shows. But this isn’t necessarily because of any natural giftings, but rather because of the many benefits of homeschooling – one-on-one teaching, lessons that match a child’s learning style, the time and ability of a teacher to work on areas of weakness, and the opportunity of pursuing the interests of the student.

Is successful homeschooling the result of better parenting? Not on your life. Families who homeschool find that homeschooling makes them better parents. We struggle with organization and planning, household tasks and balancing school and life, just as non-homeschoolers do. We’re fortunate at our house if our playroom gets picked up once a day, and there are always dishes piled in the sink. But we get to call the leftovers in the back of the fridge a “science experiment” and suspending school for a day to clean house is “home economics”. Most homeschoolers call their life a combination of learning, chaos, and fun. But most of all, it is family and life, with all that goes with it.

Ultimately, homeschooling is a lifestyle choice. It pervades all areas of life, and the lines between what is school and what is not become blurred very quickly. A family vacation to the Rockies often becomes a geography, science and history lesson. Cooking a meal becomes learning about food groups, and home economics, and health and safety. A walk on a fine spring day is a chance to study the seasons, insects and birds, weather and climate. Ordinary activities are filled with learning and homeschooling highlights this even more.

It doesn’t take a lot of money, patience or super-organizing abilities to homeschool. It doesn’t require a teaching certificate or a university degree. And you don’t need to have a classroom in your home. All you need is the willingness to learn, the commitment to try, and the desire to take on your responsibility to teach your children to the fullest.

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