How to Start Homeschooling: A 10-Step Guide
Here are 10 steps to take toward bringing your children home, reclaiming your role as their primary educator and renewing your own family culture.
It is no secret that education in the Western world is at a crisis point. Public schools have become institutional agents of a state-driven agenda to “free” children from their family cultures, as Harvard professor Elizabeth Bartholet put it during a recent panelist discussion. At the same time, they are failing to provide a basic education in literacy and mathematics.
In the Catholic education world, great strides are being made by organizations such as the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education (ICLE), which recently published Renewing Catholic Schools: How to Regain a Catholic Vision in a Secular Age. But for many families, there either is no classical, affordable Catholic school option nearby or, more positively, they want to bring their children home to prioritize the domestic church, grow sibling relationships and personalize their education.
If you are uncomfortable with the education your children are receiving or the social influences in their lives, and you think it might be time to pull your children out of a school system, it probably is. But homeschooling is more than a reactionary choice. Parents homeschool in order to customize their children’s education, improve their confidence, create more natural and healthy social experiences for them and exercise their freedom to raise them in the Catholic faith.
Where do they begin?
Here are 10 steps to take toward bringing your children home, reclaiming your role as their primary educator, and renewing your own family culture.
1. Pray and discuss. Offer this effort to Our Lord and ask him for the graces to persevere in home education. Pray together with your spouse or support team (parents, friends) and discuss the reasons for homeschooling. Include positive goals — not just reactive or negative reasons such as “the schools are bad.” Encourage each other and ask God together for the grace to build a beautiful, happy home culture of learning, wonder, and mutual support.
2. Check your state and local regulations. Check with the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) on your state laws regarding homeschooling. Regulations vary widely from almost nonexistent (as in my home state, Connecticut) to quite high (as in California). Do not be intimidated by these laws: families are homeschooling in all 50 states in record numbers and living within the regulations. If 5 million families can do it, you can, too!
3. If they are in a school, take your children home. You do not have to create a perfect homeschool space, purchase mountains of books or complete 45 hours of teacher training to bring your family home. Once you have made the decision, and particularly if your children are in a detrimental school situation, fix a date to take them out. They can come home at the next school vacation or even mid-year. Have a family meeting and present in an age-appropriate way the positive reasons you have made this decision to them. Allow them to ask questions and express their concerns. Encourage them that you are always open to talk about this change and that you are all in this together as a family.
4. Get advice and support. Most homeschoolers love sharing their way of life. Home education is not about driving the covered wagon out to the prairie and “making it on your own.” This mentality results in the trial-and-error approach that deprives our children of stability and thus of the best education. Find trustworthy sources, talk to them, make your choices, and plan to follow through. A friend recalled to me her sister’s advice: “Go to the park in the middle of the day and look for families — they’re probably homeschoolers!” Daily Masses are another good place to find homeschoolers. Ask a veteran mom if you can talk briefly over the phone or on a playdate about her own homeschool story, how she uses a schedule, and how to work with multiple children. Even if your support system is virtual (as through a consulting service), encouraging and practical words of advice will keep you going strong.
5. Shift your thinking. One of the myths of homeschooling is that parents must recreate “school at home.” Homeschoolers do not all sit down in their desks from 8am to 3pm or require hours of formal instruction. One of the great joys of homeschooling is discovering that learning, education and formation happen through a diversity of experiences (intentional and unintentional!) and methods. A midweek visit to the beach becomes a science unit. Building a rabbit hutch becomes a hands-on geometry application. Attending daily Mass is the best religion class.
6. Find your style. Since homeschooling took off in the United States in the mid-1990s, different academic traditions have inspired a plethora of curricula and educational materials all based on a few fundamental education styles. Take time to learn about these approaches, including classical, conventional, Charlotte Mason and even unschooling. Finding the right style for you and your family sets you up for homeschool success. Trying to squeeze yourself into the wrong style because it looks good on Pinterest sets you up for burnout. Talk to users of different methods to help narrow down what philosophy meets you where you are at in your life right now.
7. Find your curriculum. Determining a style will help you discern among the sometimes overwhelming number of curriculum options available to homeschoolers. Ask parents you admire what has worked for them and why, and do your research. Established classical online schools such as Kolbe Academy and Mother of Divine Grace Schoolprovide varied levels of support in the form of lesson plans, books and services. New efforts such as TAN Academyoffer personalized coaching to adapt well-structured lesson plans to your student’s and family’s strengths and needs. A consultant can help you match the home life and homeschooling style you desire with the right books and lesson plans. Read trusted reviews and see what styles and curricula the most successful homeschooling families use — families that persist and thrive through the years of trial and struggle, families with grown children who are the kind of adults you want to raise.
8. Set a schedule. While you’re not recreating school at home, creating a basic family schedule with flexibility built in is vital. If you are using lesson plans, make a week by week planner so you have a sense of your daily and weekly goals for “schooling.” As you get to know your children, reserve the times of day when they learn best for the most formal learning. You might prefer to save independent reading and enrichment for afternoons or evenings when working spouses come home. Around these set school times, build your best family life. Incorporate playdates, field trips, extracurriculars, work and family errands into your plans and enjoy your newfound freedom!
9. Get to know your children. You already know them better than anyone, but homeschooling will reveal the hidden depths of their particular learning styles and temperaments. Know going into it that you will adjust your expectations based on how a child responds to a particular method, pace, or curriculum. Take each step as an opportunity to grow in knowledge and love of your child, yourself, and God’s mercy.
10. Revisit, revise, repeat. Homeschooling is a family lifestyle and, as children and parents grow and change, that lifestyle will need adjustments. As Catholics, we practice a tradition of the nightly examen, which asks us to review our actions and attitudes of the day and hold them up to the ideal of Jesus Christ. This practice is vital to growing in goodness because it helps us be aware of where we are doing well and where we need to grow. The same practice should inhabit our homes with regard to education. A daily “examination of education” isn’t really feasible, but setting aside time to reevaluate monthly and a larger “examen” each year is absolutely necessary. The adults leading the homeschool (usually mom and dad, but this could also include your child’s tutors, grandparents or the leaders of your home school co-op!) need to make sure they are all on the same page, as life brings with it all its joys and surprises over time.
In your children’s education, you are becoming the person you want to be for the sake your children. Any parent who steps outside of the status quo and says, “We can do better for our child,” is worthy of admiration. In the end, this is not just about raising a great kid or kids. You will find that the time and effort you put into your children’s education transforms not only their lives but also your own — and the entire culture of your family.