Many of our readers are trying to figure out how to homeschool their kids for the first time. Or they are contending with distance learning through their local school. Either way, your child is learning while at home and under your watch now. It’s a significant change from having your child at school all day.
My wife and I decided to homeschool our kids a few years ago. And we did it all at once. It was during spring vacation, and we decided on a whim to keep them home and not send them back to school. It was a crazy, unplanned, scary, and a delightful experience for us.
We were unprepared. But we got some great advice from an experienced family friend who helped us get started. Here’s the advice that enabled us to survive the first few months:
Keep things simple for the first few weeks or months while you get acclimated. We decided that the kids would only do school from nine to one each day. Are four hours enough? Yes, that’s plenty to start. You can get a lot done in four hours given that there’s no bus to ride, no recess, and no cafeteria. Homeschooling is low-overhead and efficient.
Don’t try to replicate their school experience. If you’re a teacher, you could pull this off, but the nature of homeschooling is that it is not as structured. You don’t need to set up a curriculum for five classes and stick to a rigid schedule. Consider the lack of structure as a feature, not a bug.
We decided the first few months to have only three classes: math, computers, and writing. In addition, the kids needed to be reading a book of their choosing.
For math, we had them begin with Khan Academy (free) online until we found a math book that they could work through.
For computers, we just had them get started with Codecademy. Codecademy is free, and it provides a terrific introduction to programming. You could begin Codecademy as early as 3rd grade in many instances.
We had our kids do writing. Initially, that was mostly writing in a journal. If they are older, they can write a book report on the book they are reading. We found that teaching writing was the most challenging aspect of homeschooling. I was fortunate in that I have done quite a bit of writing in the past. But, it the one area that is a challenge. Just know that the schools haven’t perfected teaching writing either, so you are in good company if you struggle with this.
I’d say the key to writing is to set aside time for your kids to sit and write. Allow them the opportunity to enjoy having time to express their thoughts without being overly critical. When I found myself being too critical, and my kids losing their enjoyment, I stepped away and gave them space. It was hard to do, but my efforts were counterproductive at that point.
Here’s a dirty little secret: we homeschooled our kids, but we hardly did any actual teaching. Instead, we mostly just managed their learning. We worked with them to determine a reasonable curriculum, but they executed it. They learned to learn on their own. We mostly made sure they were doing the right things, and we held them accountable for the work.
We used several online resources, but we also found courses in the community for them to take. For the more advanced courses, we found a small local (private) school that offered classes two days per week. We also discovered that we could enroll them in the local community college. Once you start to homeschool and get connected to other homeschoolers (often through Facebook groups), you’ll discover a wealth of great resources and options.
If you are distance learning through your local school, you still need to take on the administrator role. Hold your kids accountable for their work. Set up a schedule that works for your family. Manage the process, but let your kids be in charge of their learning.
My kids sleep in if they want to. I do my best to ensure that they are in bed at a reasonable time, but I let them sleep. They have managed to make it through high school with little to no sleep deprivation. I suspect that sleep deprivation explains a lot of learning and even behavior problems. Take advantage of the flexibility of being at home. Let your kids get the sleep they need. Learning is much easier and more enjoyable when you are well-rested.
Socialization is a controversial subject. My kids have friends, and they seem happy. It’s not something that concerns me. I went to public school, and I knew many kids for whom socialization via 7th-grade peers was brutal and certainly didn’t work. Others, like me, survived and were just glad to get through it unscathed.
In the end, I always fell back on the advice a friend once told me: if you want your kids to learn how to be adults, then they need to spend substantial time around adults. Consider the additional time with your kids an opportunity to model the behaviors you want them to have.
Just make sure to provide the opportunity for them to get involved in activities with other kids. Our kids played some sports, did a bit of theater, and got involved in our church’s youth group.
This year, our oldest graduates from the “Lewis Family Academy” and our youngest will finish next year. Honestly, I’m looking forward to not having to worry about their schooling. But I am going to miss it.
Was it worth it? I think so. If the idea of homeschooling is appealing, I recommend trying it. If it didn’t go well for us, we would have sent them back to school, and maybe that would have been better for them—it’s hard to know. In any case, I’m glad we took the less traditional approach.
Kimball Lewis is the CEO of EmpoweringParents.com. In addition to his leadership and management roles, he contributes as an editor, a homeschooling expert, and a parent coach. He resides in Orlando, Florida, with his wife and two teenage sons.