Homeschool: How? Where Do I Even Start?

Growing up, I had an eclectic mix of public school, private school, and homeschool which was spread across several states and three different countries.  Because of this, I’ve seen the benefits and challenges of each option.  I wrote here about why I’ve chosen to homeschool my children, but honestly, my personal homeschool experience as a student was not great.  As a result, I had several concerns that needed to be resolved before I made the decision to homeschool my own kids.  Like most things, homeschooling can be done very well or quite poorly.

So far, the two most helpful books I’ve read about homeschooling are Cathy Duffy’s 102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum (available on Amazon) and Marcia Somerville’s Love the Journey (available at tapestryofgrace.com).

Cathy’s book offers an excellent overview of not only the different curriculum options, but also the different homeschool approaches you can choose.  She has several questionnaires that help you decide a) the teacher’s preferred learning and teaching style, b) each student’s preferred learning style, and c) how to pick an approach and curriculum that fits the needs and priorities of both teacher and students.  Her excellent book showed me how to begin the journey, imparting the tools and wisdom I needed to take that first tentative step.

Cathy has a questionnaire (pg. 10-11) that, based on your answers, helps point you toward the approach that best fits your priorities and strengths.  The 8 major approaches to homeschooling include:

Traditional
Charlotte Mason
Classical
Unit Study
Unschooling
Independent Study
Packaged Program
Eclectic

After answering her list of questions, she points you toward the approach(es) that most closely fit your priorities then explains each one (pg. 12-21).  Every family will have a different approach that works best for them, because every family is different.  There is no right or wrong approach–it just needs to fit your particular life situation, priorities, and needs.

Personally, when I answered the questions, I discovered that my top 3 approaches are Charlotte Mason, Unit Study, and Classical.  Knowing that these approaches best fit my priorities helped me as I looked at her charts comparing the different curriculums.  I wanted to inspire a love for learning and use more “real” books than textbooks (Charlotte Mason); do hands’ on projects and build imagination (Charlotte Mason); show the connections between different subjects (Charlotte Mason and Unit Study); know which developmental stage each child is in and use age-appropriate books that shape worldview (Classical); focus on the big life questions traced throughout history (Classical); and have a unifying theme around which the subjects are centered and connected (Unit Study).  So my approach for my family will be a blend of those three.

Love the Journey was written by the author of the humanities curriculum I’ve chosen called Tapestry of Grace.  It’s very practical and also helps you obtain the big picture, guiding you to define your goals and reasons behind choosing to homeschool.

Here’s a summary of the steps I would suggest if you’re considering home school but don’t know where to begin:

1.  Decide WHY you want to homeschool.  If you don’t have a goal (or goals) in mind, it’s easy to get lost and discouraged.

Try making a list of your reasons behind considering homeschool, and then summarize that list in a paragraph or a few sentences.

2. Determine your own learning/teaching style.  Also determine the learning style of each child.

Cathy, once again, is very helpful here.  She describes four main learning and teaching styles.  It is imperative to know both your own preferred styles(s) and those of each child.  As the teacher, you will naturally want to teach from your own preferences and strengths.  Considering those is important, but you also must use approaches that each child will understand and prefer, based on their unique personality and strengths (pg. 34-36).

The four learning/teaching styles include:

  • Wiggly Willy (high energy, prefers hands-on activities, impulsive, short attention span, enjoys projects and playing)
  • Perfect Paula (responsible; likes structure, organization and predictability; follows rules; enjoys groups; uncomfortable with creative or spontaneous activities)
  • Competent Carl (analytical, enjoys problem-solving, likes to be in control, enjoys independent work, tends to avoid uncomfortable social situations)
  • Sociable Sue (enjoys social interaction and groups; idealistic about expectations and goals; likes the big picture rather than details; enjoys change and new things; needs approval)

She lists additional characteristics of each that will be fairly easy to recognize in both yourself and your children.  Personally, I am mostly a Perfect Paula with some Competent Carl.  My oldest son also seems to be a combination of the two, except probably more strongly Competent Carl.  My daughter is still too young to determine very well, but I think she will definitely have some Sociable Sue in the mix.

These learning styles are very helpful because they will greatly impact which curriculum you choose.
3. Determine how much time and money you have to invest in homeschooling.

Some curriculum costs more than others.  Many things can be bought as a digital copy once and then printed out for each child, which is very helpful and budget-friendly.  Despite choosing slightly more expensive options that fit my priorities and goals for several subjects, I’ve actually been surprised at how affordable it can be.

Some curriculum requires more time than others for both preparation and execution.  Young children, obviously, will need more time and attention than older children, who can begin doing more work independently after being taught the lesson/concept.  Much of the curriculum I’ve chosen is on the more time-intensive side, but I think it’s worth it because of the particular goals and resources we have as a family.  Cathy also compares curriculum options based on the time each requires.

4.  Buy (or check out from the library) Cathy’s book and look at her chart that sorts each curriculum into different categories.  Pick curriculum that best fits your own family’s learning styles, budget, and time constraints.

Every family will be different.  I’ll list out the curriculum I’ve currently chosen for my young children, but you may need completely different options for your kids!

  • Literature/History/Writing/Geography/Worldview/Arts&Crafts: Tapestry of Grace
  • Math: Math-U-See
  • Science: Berean Builders
  • Spelling: Spelling-You-See
  • Language Arts: Language Smarts by The Critical Thinking Company
  • Handwriting: Peterson-Directed Handwriting

I’ll add in grammar (probably Easy Grammar) as they get older, and we’ll do some critical thinking with Building Thinking Skills.  We, of course, won’t do every subject every day—I’ll figure out what is doable and order things accordingly.  That’s the beauty of homeschooling–you get to be the artist and figure out what works best for each child!  Friday will be our field trip/fun day each week.
5.  Read Marcia’s book to start refining your long-term goals and deciding how to reach them.

Besides writing an entire curriculum, Marcia also homeschooled all 6 of her children through high school.  She has a lot of experience, wisdom, and practical advice!
6. Find organizations, classes, teams, co-ops, clubs, etc. to get involved with based on your kids’ interests.  Find places to volunteer.  Churches can also be a great way to build friendships and be involved in a community.

This will be specific to each family’s city, obviously.

7.  Remember this journey is taken one step at a time!  You will grow and get better and more confident with each step.  If homeschooling is something you want to do, know that it can be done well!

I, too, am just beginning this journey.  I’m really excited (but also nervous) about it.  I’ll share my experiences and acquired wisdom along the way–and I’d love to hear about yours, as well!

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