How to Start Your Homeschool with Learning in Mind

Taking your children out of traditional school is an exciting decision, probably one of the best decision you will  make as a parent. Be very excited, and turn negative thoughts into positive actions. Instead of stressing about the process,  learning to enjoy every step of it is very rewarding. 

First of all, congratulations for making this bold move to bring education and learning at the comforts of your home. At this point, you might still be nervous and skeptic. You are not alone, most seasoned homeschoolers started that way. However, it you start keeping a positive mindset with “I can do this!” you are on the right track.

Homeschooling if done with right goals in mind can lead to educational freedom and lifetime of learning.  This is where we want you to be.  

The following are the tested steps that can make you start in the right direction. 

Start by Unschooling Your Mind

The first mind set that would like to start with is that, your home is not a school. 

“Wait what?” you asked.  

“I thought I’m homeschooling. How can I homeschool if my home is not school?” you asked again. 

We hear you and yes, we have an answer for you. The dictionary defines school as an institution for educating children. In turn, institution is defined as organization. What is frustrating about an organization is that it always have set of rules, and based on experience, most rules are restrictive into our flow of thoughts and creativity.  Thus, blocking  our natural curiosity to learn. 

Switching to home learning – instead of home schooling –  requires a different mindset. With learning in mind, you are not required to follow traditional school or anyone’s rule. You’re concentrating more on educating your child, and not following rules set by an organization like school. This means, your home learning becomes a family-owned advocacy.  It is a calling, your own ministry. It is your home, it is own learning place, it is your own schedule, it is your own curriculum, it is yours! Having said that, you have the freedom to decide on what goes into your learning space and what goes out.

During this unschooling process, it is important that you decide not to fall back in putting back your child to school. If you will include that as plan B, it will be harder to unschool your thoughts, and chances are you will always pattern your home learning to the school system. This would create more stress than enjoying the process of learning from home. 

Give yourself time to unschool your mind. Switch your mind from achievement-based schooling to a lifetime learning. Instead of paying attention that your child maybe left behind, or finishing a grade, or getting straight As, start shifting your goal to your child’s enthusiasm to learn.  

Take time to observe and know your child. Discover what is interesting to them, and what makes them learn. What subject sparks their curiosity? What learning method do they prefer? Do they prefer reading, or hands-on?  Bring your child to park, in your yard, or a place they have not been, and then observe how their natural curiosity flows out naturally. Travel if you must with learning in mind, and feel that freedom. While you are in that travel space, ask yourself, “How can I make this travel a routine in our daily learning?” Watch your mind explode with ideas. If you have a smartphone with you, see if you can record yourself talking so that you will not forget. Otherwise, take note of the ideas that may come in.

Brainstorm with Your Kids

Our favorite activity inside our household is brainstorming. We do it during meals, car rides, or before going to sleep on a regular family sleepover in one room. Drop an idea like, “How about we plant flowers and vegetables?”

“How would you like to spend the weekend?”
“What would like us to cook today?”
“Can we try baking?”
“Would you like to build a bird house?”

Wait for ideas to come out and take notes. Use those idea to start more questions. After few meals, car rides and sleepovers with brainstorming, you would definitely have loads of ideas gathered on how your family would like to learn. 

Another way to brainstorm is by playing games with them. It can be a group game or two-person game. We particularly like games like Monopoly, Mexican Train, Ticket to Ride, Clue, Scrabble, Chess, Checkers, and Tic-Tac-Toe. 

Set Goals for each Child

Before dipping yourself to the whole sleuth of curriculum available in the market, set goals for each of your child. What would you like your child to learn? How would you like your child to learn?  How would you like your home learning to look like? Bear in mind that you need to have a separate goal for each child especially if each has different learning styles. Use brainstorming activities to squeeze out idea naturally, and not looking like a spy. With this planning, you might be able to give you a clear idea on which subjects can you combine. 

Every child is different. This translates to “each child learns differently.” Having one goal that applies to everyone might encourage a coup d’eta in your home. Remember that this is not a school, and we wanted to create an atmosphere of learning. Recognizing each of child’s unique abilities allow you to see learning in their eyes, and watch those glow. 

There is more goal available than just surviving a grade or getting straight As or Bs. It is also worthwhile to think non-academic like music, arts, financial literacy, foreign languages, sports, gardening, and all other things to learn.

Think of both short-term and long-term goals. Do not limit yourself to a school year but to a lifetime of learning. Think big, dream big! After all, your biggest goal is to have a lifetime of learning for your child.  You would like your home to be a haven for learning 24 hours in a day, 7 days a week,  and 12 months a year. 

Check your State or Country Standard

It is wise to check the country or state standard that you live in. This is to give you a peace of mind that you’re not breaking any law. The site http://hslda.org gives information about this.

While this step is counter-productive to your freedom, I view it in a positive way.  Some states gives you a school ID when you register and you can get discounts in educational school, softwares, etc. Some also offers tax benefit. So that makes it all worth to check the law.

This set of laws also requires creativity. Most state requires homeschool to have at least 180 school days. You do not have to limit your school to 180 days,  because your goal is 365 days of learning. In all those days, it does not mean, you are teaching and they are listening. It also means all of you are learning with your child. Allow your family trips become field trips or learning trips.

Scout for Curriculum

Once you have unschooled your mind, known each of your child better, and have a goal for each of the child, it is time to start looking for curriculum. Remember that not all curriculum are created equal.  Each has its own learning strategy. Some are hard-core academic. Some have critical thinking infused. Some are hands-on. Some are for those that learns differently. So this means, you will need to keep your mind open as to which curriculum best fit each of your child. This is why setting a goal for each child is important even before you would start looking for a curriculum. Without the goal, looking for a curriculum would be overwhelming. 

You do not need to buy your curriculum in one place. You do not need to be accredited. Not all expensive curriculum will work for your home. Not all cheap ones will work either. So take your time to shop for curriculum. Do not get pressured with the ongoing discounts. It will be more expensive to buy a curriculum you do not need because of discounts, and price. 

This step is also not the best time to join a homeschool group. Just because the curriculum works for their child, means it would work for your home, too. While homeschool groups are very helpful, there are a lot of opinions being thrown out. Yes, some opinions will break your heart. It will make you more confused and overwhelmed. The homeschool groups are very helpful after you have purchased a curriculum and trying to navigate through it, but less helpful before it. 

If you have question about the curriculum, it is best to contact the provider’s customer or curriculum service. There are several ways to contact them. Through the social media, phone, attending one of their online seminars, and email. 

When looking for a curriculum, you will need to find the Scope and Sequence. This will give you a quick look on what is covered on specific grade level on that curriculum. Some curriculum providers can send you a copy, which we prefer, so that we can write on it and mark it.  Note that these are just guidelines, do not get too bonded with it. Your focus is still on your goals and what your kids need to learn. The grade level is just a guidance. You can definitely buy a third grade books for your second grader. You can also totally skip a grade or downgrade. It all depends on where your child is.

Buy your Curriculum

This is the most expensive, nerve wracking but definitely the most exciting part. If you’re buying from one provider, that’s cool. If you’re buying from several providers, it is even cooler.  If you have done the first steps stated on this article, buying will become the easiest part. 

The months of April, May and June is where most discounts happen for those starting in August. The months of January is where the most discounts when starting for second semester.

As much as possible, buy the curriculum at least two months before your planned start date. This would give you enough time to read the teacher’s instruction, browse through the student textbooks,  and plan your home learning.  Give yourself undisturbed working time for knowing the curriculum.  It would also help to have your child skim through the text books as well. Be observant on their reactions.  

Do not forget to take note of the provider’s return policy. So just in case, the description on the site is not what you have expected, you can return.

Worksheets can be overwhelming. You can use it as a resource for additional practice for a concept, and not taken as a “need to be completed.” Being a slave of these worksheets can cause stress to your child, and that same stress can cascade to your entire home learning.

Plan your First Month

Now you are ready to plan your first month.  Planning shorter period of time allows you to test what work and what will not. It gives you opportunity to correct what is falling apart without revising an entire year of planned schedule. 

There are some parents who plans for an entire year, only to realize on their second day that plan isn’t working. Then they start blaming the curriculum and don’t see the pit fall of their very long plan and high expectations.

While you’re in your planning stage, schedule one week of dry-run. It is like having a soft opening before finally opening a store or a restaurant. This allows business owners to test their workflow. The dry-run allows you to test your plan, and gives room for your child to adjust to the new setting. This is for you and your child to find the right fit. If you have multiple kids, this also allows you to test the flow in your home learning. 

Buy your Supplies, Join Homeschool Groups, Prepare your Materials

A great goal and dry-run empowers you to identify the supplies you need. Enjoy this process. This is also the best time to join a group. Some groups provide places of discounts, alternative way to put up a white board, or set up your learning space. Remember that each family is different. Gather up ideas but decide what is best for your home. If you run out of ideas, the first person to ask and work with should be your child. We have to let them know that we trust them enough and we value their thoughts and ideas. They are part of the learning process. Go back to brainstorming, one-on-one games or long walks. Keep it simple and avoid confrontational situations. 

This is also the stage where you would like to organize your learning materials.Having a one week of dry-run allows you and your child to see what type of organizing works for you. So you don’t have to go crazy on this one. Keep it simple but functional to your daily learning. 

Observe, Identify, Brainstorm, Solution, Implement

This is going to be a cycle throughout your home learning. Observe carefully, identify any problem, brainstorm with your kids, find a solution, and implement a solution. It doesn’t matter if you have to go through this cycle many times. Involve your child during these cycles because when they are part of the process the cycle would be more successful. 

Most of all, always allow learning to come in first before achievements, grades, or staying in schedule. After all it is your home, it is your own home learning.