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As a veteran homeschooler, I have often been approached by parents who are wanting to begin homeschooling but feel lost as where to start. I have tried to write a practical article about the very first steps to getting started.
Each year there are more and more parents choosing to homeschool their children. Some parents decide before their children are even born that they will be the ones to educate them and others choose homeschooling after their children have been in the public school system awhile. In either case there are a few simple steps that need to be taken to establish an effective homeschool.
First, find out if homeschooling is legal in your state. Most states, nowadays allow some form of homeschooling, but some require that the teaching parent be a certified teacher. Other states require that your homeschool curriculum be approved by the state. You can find out about the laws regarding homeschooling in your state by contacting your state board of education. In Missouri, and Colorado, the two states where I have homeschooled, the state did not require the homeschooling parents to be accredited teachers but did mandate that the teacher must be a parent or close relative of the students. There are also requirements regarding records that must be kept and national testing that must be done at regular intervals. If you are removing your children from public school to teach them at home, you will need to notify the public school system of your intent to homeschool and file a withdrawal form.
Secondly, You will need to realistically determine if you will have the time to home- school your child or children. Of course homeschooling requires a significant amount of time and in most states the amount of time that must be given to homeschooling is set by law. In Colorado the requirement was 4 hours per day and 180 days per year. In Missouri, they require 1,000 hours per year but have no daily requirement. If both parents are working outside of the home, you must determine who will be responsible for teaching the children and how you will find the time to do it. This responsibility may fall to one parent or may be shared between you. How much time you will need to spend actually teaching each child will depend a lot on the childís age and personality. Most children become a lot more independent in their schooling once they learn to read well. They will still, of course, have questions and need some monitoring even at high school level.
Now you are ready for the fun part: choosing your curriculum! I could spend all day looking at homeschool catalogs or websites, browsing stores or even going to home-school curriculum fairs but making up my mind before the start of the school year is the hard part. I recommend that you begin looking for curriculum as early as possible. I often start thinking about next falls curriculum in January then by April I am ready to order my materials and thus take advantage of the early bird sales that most curriculum publishers offer. A few things to consider when choosing curriculum: teaching style, your childís learning style, and cost.
There are different teaching styles to accommodate your time schedule. If you can devote about 3-4 hours every weekday to lecturing and active participation with each childís schoolwork you may choose a textbook based curriculum with a teacherís manual and teaching guide, such as Abeka publishes. If you are going to be distracted with your own job, housework, or other children but still want to be somewhat involved with each child, you may want to consider a work book style curriculum such as Alpha Omega or ACE. If you have very little time, or just feel more confident with the involvement of an outside ďteacherĒ you may choose a video, or computer based curriculum. Some of these programs will offer you the choice of grading the work yourself or having them grade the work and keep track of the grades. This service will leave you with virtually no time investment necessary.
Even in the same family children may have different learning styles. Some children do well with the traditional methods of learning: Reading, listening to lectures, memorization and practice. Other children learn better from hands on activities and multi-sensory experiences. Some children have very adverse reactions to traditional testing or grading systems. Below is a brief explanation of some different teaching styles, your childís learning style and your own values will determine which style you choose.
Traditional Homeschool Method
This approach mimics what happens in the public school classroom. It compartmentalizes subject areas, uses textbooks, and relies on teacher-driven content.
Classical Education Homeschool Method
This is the method used to train the greatest thinkers of the western world. A Classical Curriculum includes reading great works of literature and studying rhetoric and logic. Advocates of this approach are critical of progressive trends that, they believe, water down education. Their main goal is to cultivate independent thinkers, and develop great communicators and leaders.
Delayed Schooling Homeschool Method
Raymond and Dorothy Moore developed their philosophy based on research conducted in the 60s and 70s. They believe that children should not be rushed into formal education and can benefit from delaying training until 8 yrs or longer. Their evidence suggests that the development that happens in the early years sets a better foundation for later learning.
Charlotte Mason Homeschool Method
Charlotte Mason was an influential educator in the 19th century who advocated developing the soul and spirit of a child. Her method is literature based, with English and other subjects taught in an integrated way. This approach has become wildly popular with homeschoolers with many curriculum providers utilizing the Mason Method.
Montessori Homeschool Method
The Montessori Method is based on the work of Dr. Maria Montessorri and is primarily concerned with the education of young children. Her theories are based on a belief that a child learns through freedom in a structured environment. The Montessori classroom gives children free access to materials, exercises, and resources designed for sensory and motor training that lead to later skills mastery. Instead of teaching, adults become encouragers and guides while students express and explore.
Unschooling Homeschool Method
Based on the teachings of John Holt, unschooling allows children to take control of their educational choices. Unschooling is student-directed instead of teacher-directed. Unschoolers often take issue with the current, expert-based education system, choosing instead to trust the individualís ability to guide their own education by following their interests.
Eclectic Homeschool Method
Eclectic Homeschooling is a term that has become popular as homeschoolers gain confidence and become savvy consumers of different methods. It simply means picking and choosing what works best for you and not being afraid to make decisions or change your mind. An eclectic homeschooler may use one publisher for math and another for science. Or, she may even use a different math for each student. Eclectic homeschoolers are confident that they know what is best for their children and are highly independent in decision making.
Accelerated Learning Homeschool Method
Some homeschoolers reclaim the wasted time in traditional education by accelerating the pace that they do school. They typically graduate high school very early and many go on to home school college and graduate school.
The Principle Approach Homeschool Method
This approach is uniquely Christian and encompasses the idea that all learning centers on Godís word. Students learn the methods of America's Founding Fathers; specifically Research, Reasoning, Relating, and Recording. *
Finally, unless your resources are unlimited, you will probably need to consider the cost of homeschooling. When I first began homeschooling, our finances were about equal to those of a street sweeper in Delhi, plus, my husband was not entirely sold on the idea of homeschooling so he wanted to approach it cautiously. The first semester that I taught our son at home I actually used textbooks I borrowed from friends. They were a hodge-podge of materials from several different publishers. This was difficult because some of them didnít even have answer keys with them so I had to work all of the problems with my son in order to check them.
When my husband got an idea of the many benefits of homeschooling we committed to buying out own curriculum but still being the tightwads that we are, we were thrilled to find that we could save money by purchasing new curriculum for only the oldest child and passing it down to the younger ones along with last years pants and socks. Even work books were recycled by using vinyl page covers that were wiped clean after the work book was finished.
The largest expenses that we had, besides the annual curriculum for the oldest child, was lab equipment such as a good microscope. However, homeschooling is a lot more established now than it was in those days and parents who have already graduated their clutch of students may be willing to resell their supplies at a very reasonable price or even make them available w/o charge to members of their local homeschool group.
This brings me to my final bit of advice to new homeschoolers: contact your local homeschool group. You will benefit from exchanging ideas with other homeschooling parents and your children will hone their social skills at weekly or monthly get-togethers with other children of various ages.
Homeschooling my three children has been one of the best decisions of my life. I have been blessed by spending more time with my children than I did when they were in public school and have come to know and enjoy them much better because of it. Also, in spite of my weaknesses in teaching, all of my children have gone on to college and been honored to be on the Deanís List. A lot of the success of your homeschooling endeavor depends on your preparation and determination. I donít think that you will ever regret your decision to homeschool if you follow these simple steps to set up your school.
* John Taylor Gotto: Gotto, John."I Quit, I Think" http://www.johntaylorgatto.com
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