So, you’ve done some research, learned what homeschooling is, weighed the pros and cons, and decided you want to learn how to homeschool your children. First of all, congratulations! That’s a big commitment, so take a second to celebrate. At this point, you might feel anxious, excited, overwhelmed, not sure where to start, or wondering what in the world you’ve just signed yourself up for. No matter where you land on the spectrum of emotions today, you can totally do this, and we’ll help you navigate this new territory. Hang tight while we walk through some practical steps for learning how to homeschool.
1. Find Your State Homeschooling Requirements
There’s one place you should start when you’re learning how to homeschool. Before you create your homeschool schedule and choose curriculum, make sure you’re in line with your state’s homeschooling requirements.
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Homeschooling requirements can be different (a lot different) from state to state, so check your state’s Department of Education website to find out the specific steps you need to take as you learn how to homeschool. In New York, for example, parents must provide written notice to the school district superintendent, letting them know that they plan to homeschool their children. Their students are also required to take achievement tests every other year until ninth grade, and then once a year until graduation.1 But if you live in Michigan, both of these are optional.2
You might find all kinds of requirements for your state (or very few, if you live in Michigan) so do your research. We’ve put together a list of common requirements to give you an idea of what you might find.
- A certain number of classroom hours
- Specific school subjects
- Ages of students attending homeschool
- Records of testing, grades, health or attendance
Even with all its flexibility, homeschooling isn’t just a free-for-all. State laws and standards help ensure your child’s education is legal and that they’re on track academically. When you first start learning how to homeschool, your state’s official website may seem intimidating with all of its legal jargon, but don’t get overwhelmed. Usually, the state homeschooling regulations are much simpler than they sound. Connecting with a homeschool community allows you to learn from and link arms with other homeschool families who are a step ahead of you. Which brings us to our next point . . .
2. Get Plugged Into a Homeschool Community
Homeschoolers have to stick together! We were made for community, and there are lots of benefits of connecting with local homeschool families—especially when you’re just learning how to homeschool. Some reasons to join a homeschool co-op include:
- Encouragement and emotional support. Learning how to homeschool comes with its own set of challenges and joys that only other homeschool families understand. If you feel knocked down (or you’re just having an off week), your homeschool community will be there to lift you up and send you back into the ring. You can also celebrate wins together! This is not only helpful for you as the homeschool parent, but it’s good for your students too.
- More opportunities. A homeschool group is a great way to find out about what’s available for your students. There might be extracurricular activities, curricula, resources or classes you didn’t even know about until your homeschool friend told you about them. Homeschool co-ops are also great for pooling resources. Maybe that science lab kit is out of your budget. If everyone in your co-op pitches in, you can afford to bring a science class to your community. Does anyone know their way around a budget? Looks like you have yourself a personal finance class. Maybe there’s a parent in your group who speaks French. Hello, foreign language lessons!
- Getting your questions answered. “How do you grade a writing assignment?” “Where can I find a discounted math curriculum?” “Is it normal for my child to need eight snacks before 10 a.m.?” These are the kinds of random questions homeschool parents need the answers to as they figure out how to homeschool. You might also be curious how other families schedule their morning routines, enforce discipline in the classroom, or teach fractions. A homeschool co-op will help answer some of these questions and give you fresh ideas for your home classroom.
- Friendships. Depending on their schedule, homeschoolers might interact with several different groups of students a day. Between co-ops, community classes, sports leagues and extracurricular activities, there are endless opportunities for homeschoolers to make friends. Incorporate some lessons on interpersonal skills into your day (like making eye contact, introducing yourself to adults, asking questions, and holding an engaging conversation) and you’ll have yourself a very well-mannered and socialized homeschooler!
This all sounds great. Now what?
We’re so glad you asked! Thankfully, there are lots of ways to find community as a homeschool family.
- Start online by researching homeschool forums or groups in your area. They might have a social media page where you can ask questions, connect with other homeschool parents, and even join a weekly co-op.
- Ask your librarian, the one person who knows your neighborhood better than anyone else. Your librarian likely knows the homeschool families because they visit her while everyone else is at school. Ask your librarian if they know of any local co-ops you can plug into or if any homeschool groups meet at the library.
- Try a homeschool convention or curriculum fair. Hundreds of national homeschool conventions are scheduled every year—even virtual ones—and they’re often tied with curriculum fairs. Find a convention near you and get ready to meet hundreds of new friends who can help you as you learn how to homeschool!
Making friends isn’t always easy. But the good news is that homeschoolers tend to love showing other homeschoolers the ropes. So find out where the local homeschoolers are meeting and don’t be shy!
Pro tip for making friends: Just ask them to be your friend. Sound simple? (And maybe a little awkward?) Don’t overthink it. Odds are, they need a friend too. So let them know you’re looking for community and then put in the effort to get to know them. As Dr. John Delony says, “Friendships don’t pop up overnight. It takes work to create something meaningful.”
3. Explore Your Child’s Learning Style
Knowing your child’s learning style is super important when it comes to learning how to homeschool. Every child is different. While one kid is content to read quietly in the corner, another is at your side asking a million and one questions. Does your child pick up directions quickly, love studying maps and recognize faces easily? Are they verbally advanced, talking and singing their way through life? Does your child have incredible balance, love sports and have great hand-eye coordination? These skills and gifts—even quirks—are likely linked to your child’s learning preferences, which helps them take in information. Here are the three main styles of learning:
Auditory learners connect with sound more than anything else. They’ll likely prefer hearing you read instructions out loud for them, and they might even struggle with reading. They prefer to give a speech over writing an essay, and they’re often super musical. If your student is an auditory learner, consider playing soft instrumental music when you’re in the classroom and giving them plenty of opportunities to say what they know out loud. You might even choose a curriculum that comes with an audio component, like audiobooks or recorded lectures.
These students love to learn by looking at things. Graphs, charts, diagrams, images and pictures will help them understand the lesson better. If your child is a visual learner, you’ll want to choose a curriculum that has lots of visuals, videos or opportunities for them to draw. Let them highlight and underline in their books and write their math facts on different colored flash cards. Visual learners are often able to remember information by “seeing” it again in their mind. Pretty cool!
This is just a fancy way of saying that your student has a strong sense of touch. Sports might be a big part of this student’s life, and they might enjoy tinkering with physical objects. If your child is a kinesthetic learner, give them opportunities to move their body during class. They can bounce a ball while they recite their spelling words, swing on a swing set while they read, or do more hands-on activities than your other students. Get creative with ways to incorporate physical movement into this child’s learning, and they’ll remember the lesson much longer!
We were all created differently. By discovering how your child naturally engages with the world around them, you’ll be able to help them understand their schoolwork quicker and retain the information much longer. Take some time to think about how your child learns best before you choose your curriculum and start to homeschool. This will help make your homeschooling experience easier for everyone!
4. Choose Your Homeschool Curriculum
In your quest to learn how to homeschool, you’ve researched your state’s requirements, found a community, and looked into your students’ learning styles. Now it’s time to dig into what you actually want to teach. We’ve thrown around the word curriculum several times, but what does that really mean? Basically, curriculum is just the academic content you teach. The collection of lessons, assessments and projects all make up your curriculum. You could use a different homeschool curriculum for each subject or teach one curriculum that covers it all.
If you didn’t go to school to be a teacher, no worries! Many curricula have ready-to-teach options, meaning they come with full lesson plans, student textbooks and workbooks, assessments, answer keys and even videos. You just get to show up and facilitate the learning! And if that still feels scary to you, rest in the fact that a lot of curricula even come with trainings or parent guides. They’ll show you how to use the program and walk you through it step by step.
Not sure where to start when you’re ready to choose a curriculum? With hundreds of homeschool curricula to choose from, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by options. Here are a few details to consider to help you narrow down your curriculum list:
Your students. Are they visual learners? Do they enjoy working independently? Do they have special needs? Some families like to use the same curriculum their local school uses but teach it at home. Other families take a more independent approach, using exploration and curiosity to guide their learning. If you have a struggling student, you might need a curriculum that’s hands-on and walks your student through the material step by step. If you have a really active child, you might want something a bit more flexible, like a curriculum that gives you the general content but then leaves it up to you to teach however and wherever you like (field trip!). Take some time to really think about your individual children’s interests and learning styles.
Your teaching preference. You’re the teacher, so your teaching style is just as important as your student’s learning style when it comes to choosing a curriculum. Do you enjoy planning lessons, or do you want the ready-to-go version of curriculum that comes with complete lesson plans? Do you want to spend a lot of time teaching your kids, or do you want them to be able work on their assignments on their own? You know yourself better than anyone, so be honest about what you need. When you’re working within your strengths as a teacher, homeschooling will be so much more fun for everyone.
Your lifestyle. Does your family plan to travel a lot? Do you plan to be outside exploring more often than teaching in the classroom? What does the next year look like for your family? If you’re actively involved in the local community, your homeschool experience will look different from a family who plans to road trip to all 50 states in the next calendar year. The beauty of homeschooling is that your family comes first—you get to create the school schedule!
Your homeschooling style. This may be the first time you’re hearing this, but there are several different methods of homeschooling. The good news is, you don’t have to pick just one. You could combine a few different methods or adjust things as you figure out how to homeschool. Some of the most common homeschooling styles are:
- Classical education. One of the most popular styles of homeschooling, a classical education includes subjects like logic, Latin, rhetoric and memorization. Instead of making history a course of its own or jumping around from topic to topic, a classical education groups school subjects together historically so that students learn how ideas evolved over time.
- Independent learning. Also called “unschooling,” this is a highly adaptable form of homeschooling where the parent does very little lecturing. It typically doesn’t include testing or evaluation either. Unschooling is driven by the student’s own passions, tying in traditional subjects as they go. It’s unconventional in many ways, including how activity-based and child-led the education is.
- Traditional method. Think of this as normal school but at your kitchen table. Parents who choose the traditional method of homeschooling will often use a full curriculum (maybe even the same one their local school is using), with its formal standards, assessments and grading system. If you’re looking for a method that’s conventional and familiar, the traditional method might be for you.
- Charlotte Mason. Charlotte Mason was one of the first pioneers of homeschooling. This Christian-based approach to learning combines nature walks, journaling and short bursts of learning (15–45 minutes at a time). This teaching approach is based on discipline, life-learning and atmosphere.
- Unit study. Unit studies allow students to learn each subject through the lens of one particular event or idea. For example, your students might read a book about mummies while also studying the pyramids and triangles in geometry, writing an essay on the origin of hieroglyphics and studying Egypt in geography.3
- Montessori method. Also known as child-led learning, this method is guided by the idea that learning should be directed by the students themselves. The Montessori method fosters creativity through unstructured blocks of time (up to three hours!), interest-based topics and free movement. This style is often very attractive to parents of students with special needs because of its flexibility and hands-on learning.
If one of these styles of homeschooling stands out to you, try it out! But don’t feel pressured to latch on to one homeschooling method right away. Prioritize your child’s individual needs over loyalty to a curriculum or method of homeschooling. You might decide to stick with classical education for language arts while incorporating unit studies and Montessori learning as you go. This flexible, relaxed approach to homeschooling that combines a few different styles of learning actually has a name: eclectic education.
After you’ve thought about what you want your homeschool experience to look like, it’s time to research the actual curriculum options. But hold off on purchasing anything right now. You’d hate to spend a small fortune on curriculum and then realize it’s too complicated or it doesn’t click with your student! So before you buy a curriculum . . .
- Visit your local library. This is a great place to explore curriculum options and actually flip through physical copies of the textbooks you’d be using.
- Ask around. This is another reason to get plugged into a homeschool community. Ask your friends what they use to homeschool their children. Visit their home classroom for a day to see how they structure their lessons, and maybe even borrow their curriculum to see how your kids respond to it. You could even save money by asking if they have any used curricula that they’d be willing to hand down to you.
- Get a free trial. Curricula can be expensive, but lots of publishers will actually let you try out their plan for a period of time. For example, Foundations in Personal Finance allows you to download three sample lessons with videos, activities and assessments. It’s a low-risk way to see if you like teaching it, if your students connect with the approach, and if it’s worth investing in.
- Attend a state conventions or curriculum fair. Research the next curriculum fair or homeschool convention happening in your state, and make a day trip out of it. Vendors travel from all across the country to show off their curricula. You’ll be able to see plenty of options, ask questions about how to homeschool, and connect with other homeschool families. You can even attend a virtual convention with live sessions, workshops and resources online!
The process of finding a curriculum might take some time, so be patient. It’s worth putting in time on the front end to find the curriculum that’s just right for your family. And don’t be afraid to pivot if you decide to head in a different direction. Remember the beauty of homeschooling: flexibility!
5. Make a Homeschool Schedule
The next step in your homeschool journey is to figure out a homeschool schedule that works for you. Gone are the days of dropping your child off at 8 a.m. and picking them up at 3 p.m. So take some time to think about how you’d like to balance the responsibilities of school and life. Here are some things to think about while you’re planning your day:
- Your why. Think back to why you decided to learn how to homeschool your children in the first place. Was it the flexibility of your schedule? Maybe you wanted more time with your children. Were you looking for more control over the material your students learn, hoping to offer them a personal finance curriculum or an etiquette class? Did you want to take money spent on their high school education and use it for their debt-free college education to say no to student loans? Think back to this reason and write it down. This will serve as a guide as you plan your day, and it will keep you going on the hard days.
- Your students’ ages and level of independence. This will help you determine how involved you need to be throughout the day. Will you be able to leave your students working on their assignments while you make lunch, or do you need to instruct them constantly? If you have a junior in high school, your schedule will look very different from someone who has a kindergartener.
- Your lifestyle. Maybe your family is busy and you feel like a chauffer as you bus your kids to and from extracurricular activities. Maybe you love to cook, or maybe you eat out every night. You might have help cleaning your home, or the laundry might be piled a mile high on the bed as you read this. Think about your current situation and all the different areas of life you need to take into account.
After you’ve thought through these factors, you’ll want to find a scheduling tool that works for you. You have a lot on your plate now between school and life, so consider scheduling your whole life at once. School is a part of your day, but so are meal planning, attending sporting events, and hanging out with your neighbors. And don’t forget to recharge! Even if it means scheduling in 30 minutes of quiet time for yourself, make it happen. Taking care of your whole self will allow you to serve your family better in the week to come.
Phew—we’ve covered a lot of information about how to homeschool your children! But if you remember nothing else today, don’t forget this: your family is unique. What works for the homeschooling family down the street might not work for your students. And that’s okay! Get your feet wet by slowly researching, thinking about your students’ learning styles, trying different methods, testing out curriculum, and asking lots of questions. Be encouraged that this is new for all of you! You’re learning how to homeschool while your children are learning how to be homeschoolers. The great thing about homeschooling is that you have full freedom to start something new and then change your mind. You’ll find your homeschooling rhythm before you know it!
When it comes to the personal finance side of your students’ education, we’ve got you covered. Our Foundations in Personal Finance curriculum gives you all the tools, activities, lessons and assessments you need to teach financial literacy to your kids. They’ll graduate equipped with the skills they need to confidently fly out of the nest and into the real world!