More and more these days, I see posts online by parents asking what to do when they pull their children from public school and start homeschooling—be it at the beginning of the school year or in the middle. I’ve read lots of responses to this question, from de-schooling to placement tests, and I have to say that I am not 100% on the side of either of those extremes. I actually fall somewhere in the middle.
While I am no expert, I am a former public school teacher and current homeschool teacher, and I do have a degree in counseling. So, taken with a grain of salt, I’d like to share my advice for those who might find themselves in this situation. I am splitting this up into two articles since it really encompasses two different things: preparing mentally and getting started. This article is on getting started. To find out about preparing mentally, you can read that post here.
When homeschooling, you need to check with your home state’s laws (or country’s laws) to see what you are required to do every day. For the most part, you will probably be required to at least have daily instruction in the core subjects: math, reading, writing, science, and social studies. How specific each of these requirements are will depend on the laws you are required to follow, but most will allow that you can have alternating days for science and social studies (not every day but 2 or 3 days per week) since this is the schedule that many public school systems also use. These requirements are one of the main reasons I suggest continuing to work as you transtion into homeschooling. At the same time, I am going to suggest a gentler way to transition than just jumping straight into a homeschool curriculum.
Start your homeschooling journey by a trip to the library to let your child pick out some books that he or she likes or would like to read. Not every child likes to read or can read, so you may have to be very hands-on with this process. Think about things your child is interested in and even ask the librarian for help finding books that might fit your child’s reading preferences. No matter what your child’s age is, it is important to have something that might be interesting to read. Don’t pick just one or two books. Pick out at least five books on various levels because you wll use these books to help you get a feel for your child’s reading level. (Not to mention that some books are just not as good as the cover makes them look.)
While you’re there, go through the non-fiction books and pick up a couple of science books or historical books. You can choose books on topics your child in interested in such as horses or the American Revolution. You can also think about things going on in the world at that point in time to help you. For example, if it is January, choose some books on hibernation and Martin Luther King, Junior. If it is in October, find books on pumpkins and Columbus. Use the calendar to help you if needed.
For children in elementary school, use the juvenile nonficiton section for this. For middle school students, choose some books from the juvenile nonfiction section and some from the adult nonfiction section. For high school students, pick various levels of adult nonfiction, and you may even want to pick up a couple of the juvenile nonfiction ones just to be sure. Even if your child is a good reader, it does not mean that he or she has been taught to use the parts of an informaitonal text, and juvenile nonfiction books are often very nice to use when learning these skills since the fonts are often larger and sections are more pronounced. By the time you are finished, you should have a nice armful or two of books that will cover the basic subjects of reading, science, and social studies.
Now that you’ve got your books, tpend some time reading together and letting your child read to you so that you can see where he or she is in his/her reading. Even if your child is in high school, it is important not to skip reading together and having your child read aloud to you. More often than not, trouble in every subject (including math) is related to difficulties in reading. By taking time to read together and then discuss what you read, you can find out more about where your child is and what your child is strong at or may need help with. Be sure to ask your child questions to see if he or she comprehends what you read together as well as what your child read on their own. These are two different skills (oral comprehension and reading comprehension), and trouble in either one could be affecting your child’s learning. All children are different, and it may surprise you that your child excels in one type of comprehension but struggles in another.
By using both informational texts (the nonfiction ones) and story books in your read alouds, you can see how your child performs on these two types of reading since they are often very different. It will also help you cover subjects you need for school. Since not every child is taught how to use the table of contents, index, or other features of a nonfiction text, reading this type of book together will help you see if this is something your child needs help with. Ask your child to look up things in the table of contents or index, find key words in a chapter, and determine what a portion of the text will be about based on the heading and/or subheading. If your child has trouble with science or social studies, some of that struggle may very well be related to the fact that he or she was simply not taught how to spot the important things in an informaitonal text or how to use the books that he or she needs to understand the subject being studied. This is where those juvenile nonficiton texts can be used for review or for improving these skills.
With math, pull out a deck of cards or a pair of dice and practice addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. These are the core functions of all math, and it is never a waste to practice these skills. In public schools today, children are given calculators as young as second or third grade, and this dependence on calculators often leads to children (and teachers!) not believing they need to master the basic skills, especially those of multiplication or division. Unfortunately, this lack of mastery often leads to failure later on in math. As a math tutor for almost 25 years, I have seen this over and over again. When a child cannot easily understand and accomplish the basics of math, the child cannot succeed. It may take years for this to show up since so many schools allow the use of calculators, but many children do not understand what it means to multiply or divide and cannot do the problems on them on. Even more disheartening is that many cannot do basic addition and subtraction. No matter how old your child is, it is not a waste of time to take a week (or three) to review and master these skills.
Finally, it’s time for writing. Not every child loves to write, but it is often because the joy of writing has been removed from the actual process. Instead of writing a formal paper, focus on informal writing and getting a feel for your child’s vocabulary, spelling skills, and basic writing skills. Sit down together and write a letter to someone in your family, write a story together, or write about one of the stories you read. Ask your child to write about what they didn’t like about public school or what he or she is looking forward to with homeschooling. (This will be a double help to you as you start this journey!) Don’t set word counts or sentence counts. Don’t pull out the computer and make it a formal thing. Just grab a pen or pencil and get your child writing.
To help you get a feel for how your child’s spelling and vocabulary are progressing, pull out a book of crossword puzzles or word searches and have fun. Make a grocery list, write down your weekly shedule together, or even just list words that you know. Play Scrabble or do a Mad Libs—or 10—together. Point out words in the books that you read and ask your child what they mean. As simple as all this may sound, this will help you get a vision of where your child’s writing and vocabulary are at and what areas you will need to work on.
Go ahead and get started with schooling this way, but, most of all, don’t rush it. Try a little a day and don’t give up. It could take you several weeks to find out where your child’s strengths and weaknesses are and what your child really likes and doesn’t like. Often what a child’s likes and dislikes change once the pressure is taken off and it is made more enjoyable. You may find out that your child who once hated math is now the biggest math fan you’ve ever seen. You may discover that a reluctant reader really just needed help sounding out and understanding the words being read. More importantly, you may just find that school is now your child’s favorite time of the day.