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How To Start Homeschooling For The Total Beginner: Curriculum, Schedules, Socialization, & Legal

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So you’ve decided to start homeschooling! First of all YAY I’m so excited you are on this journey and that I get to be a tiny part of it. And I know you’re probably thinking, “O crap, what in the heck do I do next?” It’s like you’ve entered a new world that you know little about, mixed in with a side of being afraid to mess it up. If that’s you, I’ve written this detailed post just for you!

If you’re still unsure if homeschooling is for you, I’ve created a big list of pros and cons of homeschooling for you to think through. It will help you find your “why”.

Your reason for homeschooling is what will keep you going in your homeschool on tough days.

This post contains affiliate links. We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Ways people homeschool differently

I was desperate to see a glimpse into other people’s homeschool days. What in the heck was “normal” for others?! Here’ s what I’ve learned.

  • Some people do school outside, on the floor, or kitchen table. Others try to recreate a school room with desks!
  • Some people do school in the mornings, or throughout the day. Some people do 4 days a week, others do 5. Some spread their days out over the whole year, while others stick to a traditional public school schedule.
  • Some people pick an online curriculum, others like workbooks, and some find a hybrid.
  • Some people join co-ops, others don’t. We do a nature co-op once a week, and I’ve met other moms who like Classical Conversations.
  • Some people spend a TON of money, and others do it nearly for free through curriculums like Ambleside Online or Easy Peasy Homeschool.

What I want you to see is that you can do this however works for you and your schedule and personality.

More homeschool posts on my blog

First, let’s get acquainted

This is my second year of homeschooling. I have a 1st grader, kindergartener, and a preschooler. So this is fresh for me, and I hope to pass on anything I recently learned to help you out.

My husband and I were not homeschooled, my parents were both public school teachers, and I actually loved going to school *most* of my K-12 years.

So it’s a bit surprising that we are choosing to homeschool! My desire stemmed from wanting more time with my kids in the younger years. And I wanted to give them more time to play at a young age.

How to start homeschooling

Keep it legal

If you’re new, you’ve probably not heard of HSLDA yet. It stands for Home School Legal Defense Association. You’ll want to head to their site to find your state’s laws on homeschooling first thing.

Some states just require an attendance record, while other states require a lot more!

This is how I learned that in my state I needed to join a cover school. I pay my cover school $125 per year for my school aged kids, submit attendance to them, and they take care of the rest.

Let your school know you will be homeschooling

The first thing my cover school helped me do was to provide a “letter of intent” to alert my school district we were homeschooling.

I signed and sent it to my child’s school (via certified mail so I have record it was sent).

That receipt should get put in a file for homeschool records. Your state will have it’s own set of laws on how to do that, so check HSLDA.

Consider joining HSLDA for legal coverage

Also, I highly recommend the $130 or so yearly fee to join HSLDA as a member if you can at all afford it. In the event that a school district or government agency tries to hassle you about the legitimacy of your homeschool, (and it can happen), they put their lawyers up to bat for you.

Start researching curriculums for reading, writing, and math

This is actually the MOST overwhelming thing you will probably experience homeschooling. Deep breath! You will find one. And your kid will be learning.

Some states have requirements that you teach certain subjects, while others don’t and it’s up to you to decide based on your family’s goals.

And almost all curriculums will have a placement test or will recommend a level based on age or grade. So don’t worry too much about “level” until your set on a curriculum.

Ask people what homeschool curriculum they use

Ask a homeschooler you know what they use and start there. Or, join a few homeschool Facebook groups and read the answers to other people’s questions. It’s SO helpful!

Here’s my big list of homeschool Facebook groups if you need ideas. I love stalking these groups! It’s like having instant access to homeschoolers who are more than willing to share years of experience with you.

You can find general homeschooling groups, grade specific homeschooling groups, and curriculum specific groups.

Combine subjects for multiple kids when you can

One thing that we are figuring out is time management when teaching multiple kids. Language arts, learning to read, and math just have to be taught one on one according to their level.

But for topics like history, bible, and science it’s possible to combine your kids to save A LOT of time. I’ve heard this called “family style”.

If you teach up, then the littles will soak up what they can and the older kids will not be held back.

A few no prep Charlotte Mason curriculums that are designed to be taught family style (for all subjects but math):

Watch YouTube homeschool videos

YouTube is also the place to go to see how other homeschool moms homeschool, keep records, and what curriculums they like and why. Seriously how did people homeschool 30 years ago without internet?!

Youtube a “flip through” of any curriculum that catches your attention to see what the inside looks like. I can’t stand having to buy a book that you can’t see much of, and YouTube is the fix for that!

Then ask:

  • Do you get excited about using it?
  • Can you afford it?
  • Why do people like it?
  • Why do people not like it?

Eventually you gotta just pick! It’s hard!

I also enjoy going to cathyduffyreviews when I am curious about a new curriculum. Highly recommend her site, she’s reviewed practically everything.

Find high quality booklists

So many successful homeschool moms who have graduated kids from high school have said the best thing they did in their homeschool that they wish they did more of is to READ high quality literature.

I’ve made it my goal to find interesting stories, biographies, historical fiction, and more for our family to read. I either write them down for later, bookmark them on my computer, or get them from the library.

Find booklists from:

Sorting through curriculum choices:

  • Do you get excited about it?
  • How many kids do you have to juggle teaching and what subjects could be taught as a family to save time?
  • Do you try to follow an educational philosophy (such as Charlotte Mason or Classical)?
  • Do you care if it’s Christian or secular?
  • Your budget

What I found was important to me when choosing curriculum for 1st grade

After our first year of kindergarten, I learned a LOT about myself as a homeschool mom.

I like a lot of things from a Charlotte Mason education, yet I also like to pull ideas from other places and styles.

  • I don’t like busy work.
  • I want actual bookwork to be as short as possible to learn what we need to.
  • I need grab n go when possible (no planning on my part).
  • I Want freedom to go down rabbit holes through unit studies.
  • I enjoy teaching & learning through living books and literature (so we are postponing a history curriculum for this year and just going to read read read books on American History and topics we want to know more about!)
  • I want art, poetry, and nature study to become a part of our week as well, which is very Charlotte Mason.

These will be different for every family, so it’s not a “better or worse” decision. It’s what works for you.

What we used our first year

Feel free to check out our kindergarten homeschool curriculum and schedule here.

Or, check out all of our homeschool supplies I’ve gathered and used for kindergarten and nature study.

We started off with The Good And The Beautiful math and handwriting, and it was the perfect launch pad for a total newbie.

  • Colorful, fun, and affordable.
  • Incorporates games, stories, and art study.
  • Planned out for you day by day so you open it up and do that day’s lesson.
  • Everything’s included, but it IS hands on for parents. So don’t expect to hand your kid the book and walk away, even if they can read already.

I won’t go into why we like it here, or why we are switching to try something else this year.

But know that it’s ok to not know your “educational philosophy” right now. You can still teach your child.

Buying your homeschool curriculum

I truly believe you can homeschool on almost any budget.

My budget didn’t include some of the beautiful carved wooden Montessori boards I’ve been eyeballing. And it didn’t include buying new books (we get all literature from the library).

Here’s exactly how much I spent on one child for one year of homeschooling if you are curious. Seriously a huge chunk of it was gas money!

Choosing math

Here’s a great post on things to keep in mind when choosing your homeschool math. A few options are:

  • Masterbooks
  • Math U See
  • Right Start
  • Singapore math
  • Math Mammoth
  • Saxon
  • Teaching Textbooks
  • The Good And The Beautiful
  • Life of Fred (story based and often used as a fun supplement)
  • Khan Academy (online)

Some companies make all subjects, while others will take care of everything else BUT math. Almost all will have an assessment to help you figure out which math level to start at.

Also, know that each math company does “levels” differently, and not all levels equal grades.

This video comparison of 10 common homeschool math programs really helped me. Give it a watch!

You can buy curriculum based on a teaching style

You can choose curriculums that match up with an educational philosophy. For example, here are 11 complete Charlotte Mason curriculums.

Maybe you’ve heard of “Charlotte Mason”, “Classical”, “Unschooled”, “School At Home”, “Montessori”, “Eclectic” and more. If you are drawn to one, then google “homeschool curriculum + (your style)” and see what pops up.

If this sounds foreign to you (it did to me at first!), here’s a great summary of each one.

This further confused me at first because I didn’t know my “educational philosophy” yet or my kid’s learning style! So I just picked something that got me excited to teach and that checked the boxes for reading, writing, and math.

You can buy a “boxed” curriculum

Sonlight was the first boxed curriculum I heard of, and knew a mom who loved it with her oldest 2.

This is super appealing if you’re new or overwhelmed because it comes with everything you could need for every subject you could teach. Textbooks, workbooks, lesson plans, additional literature. Each kid has their separate plan.

Down side? You’ll pay a lot, maybe in the $300-$600 range for some PER KID.

You can’t pick and choose or the curriculum may not flow right. So you will probably like some things a lot but not others.

You can buy each subject a la carte

This is what we do for reading, writing, math, and history. I like having the freedom to use what I want and leave what I don’t.

Most homeschool curriculum companies actually offer all subjects, and even a recommended “what you need for each grade” list.

Two places that do this for elementary I’ve used:

  • Masterbooks (a very bible centered curriculum)
  • The Good And The Beautiful (faith neutral but refers to “God” and incorporates “good morals”.

When will you do school?

Once you know WHAT you will teach, try to imagine when this will happen. People do it so many ways. Morning, afternoon, split up, weekends, 4 or 5 days a week, year round or on the public school schedule.

I’m a very unscheduled person so this is hard for me!

I ended up starting when the public school did, and doing 4 days a week plus a nature outing day. I also found I preferred the mornings. Afternoons we were just toast.

This year I’m creating a more predictable school routine because I now have 2 kids to rotate and more things to teach.

Routine vs a schedule

The kids know after breakfast we get dressed, brush teeth, do our bible reading together, and then meet at the kitchen table for “school”. Sometimes we start at 8:30 and others 10.

In general (not always) all this has to happen before we watch any T.V. That’s been a big helper!

We can be done in the morning this way with anything formal and my mental checkboxes are completed.

If that doesn’t work for you, change it! There are no rules in homeschooling 😉

You don’t have to do every subject every day

This was very confusing to me as a newbie! I knew homeschool wouldn’t take as much time as public school, but what do you teach when?

We decided to do reading, writing, math, and bible every school day. For everything else, we loop it.

What is looping?

If you have a list of things you want to get to but not every day, loop it!

Meaning in addition to reading writing and math I’ll add one other thing from our “loop” we do all together.

So history, nature study, art, poetry reading, etc get rotated. My hope is to get to each once a week, but it’s not on a tight schedule. So if we miss a day then the next day just do the next thing on our loop.

Looping did not make sense to me until I read this post.

Give yourself time to “deschool” before you homeschool

Deschooling is a period of time where you adjust to not being in school. It’s processing the change without the pressure to start homeschooling. Most people say it can take a month, or more!

How I had to deschool myself

My kids were never removed from a school, but my brain needed time to process a few things since I went to public school for 13 years!

The first thing I had to “deschool” was my idea of how much time it should take us, and what counted as school.

Friends would curiously ask me how much time it took, and I felt like I had to have a lot planned to overcompensate for my insecurity?!? I know, dumb but so real.

I was also worried that if other elementary students were learning a certain time period in history…then shouldn’t my kids too? Wouldn’t they seem ignorant if I failed to teach them these during the year other kids at school were learning it?

And then it hit me.

Who says what year you learn a certain time period in history? What if I taught them a different time period now and the other one in a few years? Or next year? Or what if I ditch a history curriculum all together and read historical fiction, biographies, and other living books?

That is homeschool freedom you guys! It’s so amazing.

Here’s a great post on deschooling if you’re curious.

How much time does homeschool take?

The easiest thing newbie homeschoolers do is try to do TOO much because they are afraid of being inadequate or their kids falling behind. The result can be hating your homeschool.

Do I answer 30 minutes, because that was our table time for math and handwriting? Or do I answer 2 hours because now I’m adding in Lego time plus the hour of silent reading my son did plus the picture he drew? Hmmm.

I decided I would either say, “learning happens all day” which is how I feel but makes no sense to most people. Or, I’d calculate time spent doing subjects where they are sitting in a seat working. For us it looks like this:

  • Preschool: 30 min
  • Kindergarten: 45 minutes-1 hour
  • 1st -2nd grade: 45 min – 1.5 hours

Some people spend a LOT more, but who knows what they are including.

How homeschoolers socialize

This was my number one biggest fear starting out! I knew I could figure out how to teach my son kindergarten. But what if we were lonely? I had no homeschool friends, and all our current buds were heading to school.

Remember, you don’t need 30 ok friends for your kids like at school. You need 1 good one you see regularly.

Join local homeschool Facebook groups. Most cities have at least one. These offer regular meet ups, which is a starting place to see who lives near by, swap numbers, and more.

Look into a homeschool co-op.

I also joined a Wild and Free local group that meets up every 2 weeks for a nature outing. This was GOLD! There are groups all around the US. I didn’t have to come, but was in the loop and invited. It was a spot to start making friends.

Pray that God will send you a friend. I would be foolish to leave this out. I always ask God to bring the right people to us, and see purpose in each friendship. We are in residency, and moving multiple times is hard for making long term local friends.

Start to see your homeschool as a lifestyle of learning

When we first started, I had so many insecurities about what I needed to do to “prove” to myself that I could do it.

Proof that they were able to learn just as much with me than at public school. To check the boxes off so that I could show we “did school” that day.

But now I see something even more awesome developing. We are making a lifestyle of learning here.

  • Reading for fun
  • Learning to be together ALL the time
  • Becoming fascinated by God’s creation through nature study
  • Art
  • A “let’s look it up” mentality to random questions

Books set an atmosphere in our home

I want my kids to LOVE books. Once I teach them to read, go kid. Life is your oyster!

So we get around 30 books a week from the library. Some easy, some hard. Some chapter books, some not. Silly books, nature books, adventure books, historical fiction, and read alouds.

They don’t think it’s school, and I don’t track it. I don’t quiz my them on everything they read or require them to tell me what they remember from every single book. But we read often and for fun.

It all began with me reading out loud a lot, teaching my kids to read, and keeping a variety of books around.

Nature study as a life skill

I try to get the kids curious about nature by being curious myself. “I wonder what this is called?” Or “Where do all these ants take their food?” We LOVE Exploring Nature With Children (a nature study that makes it easy for me), and we learn together.

We go outside and try to figure out what plants and bugs are in our backyard. We study them just because. Not because we are checking a box. It’s the unschooler in me you guys, I can’t help it!

Cultivating creativity

Secrets out…I’m NOT artsy. I’ve never learned to draw beyond stick figures, haven’t dabbled in painting ever, and just feel way out of my league being creative in that way.

So because I want to foster art and creativity a bit in our homeschool, we are going to learn together. And I’ll have to be leading for it to happen.

I’m going to begin some YouTube watercolor classes (free) this year with my oldest two. Once a week or once every other week probably. We are going to incorporate it with our nature journals, and combine the two in that way.

Here’s supplies we used in our homeschool for kindergarten and nature study.

You can start homeschooling, and you are capable

If there’s one big takeaway, I want you to know that you can do this! Your curriculum and resources will help you do most of the teaching. You create the schedule.

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Mollie

Tuesday 21st of July 2020

This was really helpful! I'm just beginning our homeschool journey with my preschooler and it's a lot to consider, but this narrowed it down a lot. Thanks!!

Liz

Tuesday 21st of July 2020

So glad! You can do it, and yes there's just so many choices now days it's hard to narrow it down. We have really enjoyed Busy Toddler preschool curriculum and activities if you need a suggestion. I wrote a post on how we use Playing Preschool here.

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