By Gloria Jones Ellis, M.A.
Educational Therapist & Co-Founder of Lighthouse Homeschool Solutions
Our family has found homeschooling to be a priceless gift, and the team of mothers and educators at Lighthouse Homeschool Solutions wants to share the gift of homeschooling with you as well!
It seems that many parents who want to homeschool just don’t know where to start or how to envision, much less implement, their ideal homeschool program. This year, our holiday gift to you is a vision that we hope you can embrace. We want you, as parents, to feel the comfort and security of knowing that your child’s education is in good hands- your hands! Know also that we’ve got your back the whole way; we are here to support you and your family on your path to success with a step-by-step guide to homeschooling!
There are so many reasons that families choose homeschooling, and the reasons are as varied as families themselves! But if you’re here, it’s because, for whatever reason, you’ve decided that homeschooling is the best choice for you and your children right now.
For my family, we are well into our second year of homeschooling, but we’ve always placed our children in alternative educational environments where they could thrive in spite of the challenges posed by both ADHD and autism. More recently, the desire to travel as a family, and then subsequent pandemic-related concerns, inspired our family to actively embrace homeschooling as our educational model. You can read more about our family’s journey into homeschooling here.
Whether you’re a homeschooling veteran, or you’re taking your first baby step into this world, we have a variety of tools and loads of guidance to offer you! For more individualized coaching, contact Lighthouse Homeschool Solutions for a consultation and let us design a homeschool program to match your family’s specific needs and goals. But, for now, join us along a beautiful, surprising, flexible pathway of teaching and learning with your family. Grab a pen and paper, and get ready to map out your homeschool plan with us!
Step 1. Identify the benefits of homeschooling to you and your family
There are many reasons families turn to homeschooling. For some families, it can be about avoiding something undesirable, such as an uninspiring curriculum, unmet learning needs, or unhealthy social interactions. But parents should think of homeschooling as so much more than just leaving an unsatisfactory learning environment; it’s about embracing a whole lot of wonderful possibilities for your family! Which of the following benefits of homeschooling excite you?
- Experiencing more time together as a family
- Increasing family closeness
- Sharing your values with your children
- Increasing opportunities to learn together
- Engaging and challenging your children at the right levels
- Participating in your community
- Gaining flexibility in your daily schedule
- Decreasing school-related, family stress
- Increasing travel opportunities
- Supporting the development of your children’s life skills
Step 2. Assess your own strengths and skills as a homeschool parent
If you recognize the benefits and are ready to start homeschooling, you will need to evaluate your own strengths and assess the areas where you will need support! Maybe you’re the science and math guru, and grandma, or your sister, or your spouse is ready to jump in to support the children’s learning in language arts and history. Maybe you want to take the kids on field trips, teach life skills, and do research projects, but recognize that your dyslexic eight-year-old needs specialized instruction in reading. These considerations should be factored into your homeschool planning because you cannot do it all! What are your strengths and interests, and where will you need outside support and resources in order for your homeschool plan to be successful?
Step 3. Know your state’s homeschooling requirements
Different states require different levels of certification and documentation in order for you to homeschool, but as long as your children are required to be “in school,” you should ensure that your plan to homeschool is recognized by your state’s department of education. This can be very simple, but it will likely require expressing your intention and ability to educate your children in required curricular areas, filing the appropriate paperwork on time, and documenting your children’s learning activities. Do your research! You can use this state-by-state guide as a tool. What is required in your state in order to establish your homeschool?
Step 4. Understand your children’s learning needs
The step of understanding your child’s learning needs is where your role as both parent and teacher is most critical. You know your children better than anyone and, with homeschooling, you are free to help your children learn in ways that fit their individual needs and learning styles. Consider which of the following are true about your child and use your understanding to make your own list and plan your homeschool program.
- My child learns visually and loves documentaries and books with pictures, charts, and graphs
- My child is very active and learns well while moving
- My child loves doing hands-on projects or going on field trips
- My child can sit still for long periods of time
- My child learns well when working independently from a textbook or online course
- My child prefers paper and pencil tasks
- My child is artistic and reinforces learning with creative drawings, stories, and music
- My child learns well in a group
- My child needs a lot of structure
- My child needs a flexible schedule
- My child struggles with reading, writing, math, or communication and needs specialized instruction
- My child is ready to learn some life skills in our home or community
- My child can dictate complex responses that are well above their writing level
- My child reads and writes fluently
- My child is working above “grade level” in many areas
Step 5. Establish appropriate goals for your children
Establishing goals is another very critical component of educating your children at home. If you are not an experienced educator, you will likely need to look at some grade-level benchmarks to determine general goals. But, your child may easily be ahead of or behind grade-level benchmarks. In large part, a major benefit of homeschooling is that you can adapt your expectations to your children’s current levels instead of allowing them to fall further behind and lose confidence, or to become bored and start disliking school because expectations are too low in their classrooms. With homeschooling, you can challenge your children at the appropriate levels! Visualize and write down where you want your student to be (academically, behaviorally, and emotionally) after a year of homeschooling. Make your goals realistic. As long as you are meeting your children where they are currently at with their learning, and gradually increasing expectations as they master new skills, you are on a strong path to success! Consider some of the following goals, and use your understanding of your children’s present skills to make your own list. Which goals are your children ready to work towards?
- Dictate a summary of information
- Write a paragraph or multiple-paragraph summary of information
- Use nice penmanship and proper punctuation while writing
- Clean up their own toys and materials
- Sound out multi-syllable words
- Help around the house
- Read a chapter book
- Write a story with a beginning, middle, and end
- Write and present a persuasive speech
- Work independently for a set period of time
Step 6. Select your curriculum resources and your teaching team
There are so many ways to homeschool, and no one way is the “right way!” Your choice of teaching materials, and the people you select to be involved in your homeschool program, depend upon your family structure, your children’s learning needs, your budget, your access to materials, and so much more. On one hand, you may have a very clear structure to your day where specific times are set aside for specific activities, which your children engage with independently, but you oversee. On the other hand, you may decide that your children will benefit from integrating reading, writing, math, and life skills into daily household projects and field trips, and this approach is equally valid but will require very different resources! Factoring in your children’s learning needs and the goals you identified above, consider the following ideas, and use them as a foundation for putting together your learning resources and team! Which of these homeschool learning strategies match your family’s goals and needs?
- Download or purchase math, reading, and writing workbooks
- Download or purchase science and history textbooks
- Plan regular family walks, hikes, and/or bike rides
- Hire a math or reading tutor
- Research and select online resources for learning about new subjects together
- Find time for grandparents or neighbors to teach skills such as sewing, piano, cooking, or gardening
- Enroll in individual courses in areas of need or interest
- Select documentaries to watch in areas of study
- Select novels for independent and family reading
- Subscribe to online programs to support learning in reading, math, and content areas
- Create a nature journal
- Plan time for an older sibling to teach a younger sibling
- Enroll your child in art, music, or dance classes
- Enroll your child in an organized sport
- Purchase science kits
- Get a state parks or national parks pass
Step 7. Set your homeschool schedule
Anyone who knows me knows that I live by a schedule! But with a family full of ADHD brains, I’ve had to adapt my sense of what is “the right way” to a more loose interpretation of what a homeschool schedule looks like. This responsiveness to the way my children learn, as opposed to trying to force them into the way that I learn, has allowed them to experience greater success with our homeschool program. But whether your schedule is a minute-by-minute plan for each day’s activities, or a general outline of topics for different days and time periods, a schedule is essential if you’re going to have any hope of meeting your goals. It is too easy for weeks and months to go by without any progress if you do not set aside clear times to engage in your selected learning activities. Considering your understanding of your children’s learning needs, your goals for their learning, your resources, and your team, when and with whom will you schedule time in your week to address each of the following important components of your children’s education?
- Reading fluency
- Writing skills
- Math concepts and processes
- History knowledge
- Science knowledge
- Socialization and communication skills
- Visual and performing arts experiences
- Physical activity and health education
- Life skills
- Critical-thinking skills
- Global studies and foreign language
Step 8. Establish your learning spaces
Okay, since you started reading this, hopefully you’ve identified why you want to homeschool, you’ve assessed your own skills as a homeschool parent, you’ve learned your state homeschooling requirements, you’ve identified your children’s learning needs, you’ve established your goals, you’ve identified the curriculum resources and the team members who will support your learning program, and you’ve established a schedule that will provide for the time needed to make progress in essential areas of learning. The final piece of your homeschool plan is to set up the learning environment. This should come pretty easily if you’ve mapped out your other steps! Maybe your homeschool plan is such that all your child needs is a desk, a computer, and an internet connection. It could be that simple if that’s how you planned your program. However, it’s very possible that you will need quite a bit more! You might set up a schoolroom in your house if you have enough space. You might create portable bins or bags of different materials for different subjects if your homeschool plan involves working in a variety of locations. Which items will you need in order to store your curriculum materials, collect completed work, and properly establish your learning spaces?
- Desk or table
- Comfortable chair
- Binders/accordion files
- Storage bins
- Writing utensils
- Art and crafting supplies
- Lined paper
- Graph paper
- Bulletin board
- Large or small dry erase boards
- Posted schedule
- Globe or atlas
- Sports equipment
- Gardening tools
Step 9. Assess learning outcomes and document progress
You’ve done it! You’ve put everything in place and your homeschool program is off to a successful start! As you move forward with your homeschooling, you’ll need to monitor your family’s progress and assess the outcomes of your efforts. Of course, the easiest way to gauge your success is by observing your children’s confidence and enthusiasm as they practice new skills and share what they’re learning with siblings and grandparents and friends. You’ll also want to collect their work (written or dictated summaries, book reports, drawings, worksheets, journal entries, etc.) and look for progress from one week to the next. Coach your children to explain information in greater detail, to write more neatly, to add detail to their drawings, or go deeper with their critical thinking, and keep track of their progress with these skills. You can review work from the previous month with your children and talk about where their skills are improving, and where they should keep working, as you compare their work samples from different points in time. All of their work can be kept in a binder or accordion file to use as a portfolio to keep and share, and as documentation that may be required or requested by your state department of education.
Step 10. Revise your plan as needed, and enjoy the homeschooling journey with your family!
Homeschooling is flexible and it should be fun! If things aren’t working out the way you’d hoped or expected, consider revising your plan or revising your expectations- either or both may be necessary at times. Continue learning, build your support network among family members, friends, and online or local homeschooling groups, and, above all, reach out for help when needed. Enjoy the journey!
If you need additional support while setting up your homeschool program, we offer various levels of homeschool consultation. We are here to help!