A Beginner’s Guide to Homeschooling

If the current state of our education system isn’t jiving with you, or looking ahead to the fall and the boatload of restrictions they’re trying to push are something you’re not willing to mess around with, or maybe you’ve been working through schooling at home these past few months and you’re enjoying it….whatever your reasoning, if you’re considering homeschooling, this is your guide to the next step in that journey.

There is a TON of information here, so be sure to bookmark this page so it’s easy to access later.

Socialization

Before I get started, I want to squelch the “what about socialization” monster, quick. What you’ve been doing since the covid-19 lockdown isn’t what homeschooling actually looks like. Homeschooling is a very social thing! I’m not sure how it has gotten dubbed as the unsocial way to go about things or when sitting QUIETLY in a classroom with 40 people your age (because you’re not at school to socialize, you’re there to learn), became the social norm. Before the world was turned upside down a few months ago, we were out and about almost daily for classes and field trips and sports and hobbies and library visits, or just to hang out with friends.

We have been to so many amazing places and spoken with docents and rangers and museum staff who are elated to have a bunch of homeschoolers to teach. People love to share their passions with you and having a small class of kids like that is a special treat…or so I’ve been told. So, just because we do our bookwork at home doesn’t mean we don’t make time outside of the home a priority too.

What About the Prom?

Socialization is the first question most people have. How will they learn to hold a conversation with other humans? Or to stand in line quietly without touching anyone?

Next in line is typically the Prom. I kid you not. If that one night of goodness is what’s holding you back, don’t let it. Most districts allow homeschool students to attend all of their dances…big ones like Homecoming, Winter Formal, and Prom too! Homeschoolers hold their own Proms as well. As it turns out, we like to get gussied up and dance the night away too.

Now that we have those out of the way, what are your options for schooling at home?

Homeschooling comes in many different forms. My very favorite thing about it is that you can make it what you’d like to be. There’s really no wrong way to go about it. So, pick a method and go with it. If it doesn’t work out, try something else until you find what works for you. It takes some trial and error to find your groove, so try to be patient and enjoy the process.

Cyber Schooling

Cyber schooling is very similar to the madness you’ve probably been fighting with since the schools closed down a few months ago. It’s not really homeschooling, it’s public schooling at home.

We started our homeschooling adventure 10 years ago with cyber schooling and it used to drive me bonkers when people would tell me that we weren’t really homeschooling. It is SO much work for the supervisor (you) that it’s hard to believe anyone putting in that much effort couldn’t be part of the “in” crowd. But in all honesty, it’s really not. It’s a public school curriculum that you enforce at home. It’s very rigid, you’re not allowed any input, and there’s a ton of busy work, which is fine if that’s what you’re after or if you’re only schooling one child. If you have several, or have unmotivated students, it’s something that could drive you to into madness.

It is free (although they will absolutely pillage your local school district for it) and the materials and lesson plans are sent right to you, so cyber schooling has that going for it. I’m not against it, by any means, I just know how ridiculously hard it can be to work with, with a bunch of children to attempt to push along.

Cyber schooling also comes in several forms, so if one doesn’t work for you, you can back out and try another one…and you can do that at any point during the year if you feel like you’ve had all you can take. We tried them all, over the course of several years, before throwing in the towel. It just wasn’t for us, but it might be for you, so if one isn’t working the way you’d like and you feel like you’re pulling teeth all day long to get the work done, there’s no shame in trying something else. It’s kind of like trying to find a solid pair of shoes. Just because one isn’t a good fit for someone else, doesn’t mean it won’t be for you. And sometimes you have to try a few different styles before you find one that fits well.

There are book-based curriculums, that are probably the most like what the kids would be doing in public school. It is mostly book-based with just a little bit of online work to back it up.

There are computer-based or online programs where most of the information is given on the computer with some workbooks to work through to back up what they’ve learned.

Virtual classes are also an option. With virtual classes, you’ll have classes you’ll need to sign into at specific times every day. It’s very much like having classes in a public school setting where you need to show up on time and participate, it’s just done at home. For virtual classes, you’ll need a strong, reliable internet connection and a computer that can handle it or you’ll spend more time guzzling wine (or wishing you were) than you will overseeing class work.

Traditional Homeschooling

You can call it whatever you’d like: homeschooling, relaxed homeschooling, worldschooling, road schooling…it doesn’t much matter what label you smack on it. It’s all the same idea, just done a little differently depending on your approach.

With traditional homeschooling, you can do pretty much as you please, within the confines of your state’s regulations, which vary muchly from state to state. So, be sure to spend some time getting to know them well. It’s important.

Unschooling

Unschooling is schooling at home but it follows a different school of thought. The idea is that, if left to their own devices, children will learn what they need to know, when they need to know it. It’s the same way we learn as adults, so it’s not really as crazy as it sounds. Child-led learning and is just another way to go about things.

If you decide unschooling is the right fit for you, you’ll still have to abide by your states regulations. Unschooling is simply a type of homeschool education, which is what you’ll put on your affidavit or whatever your state requires as a paper trail. You’ll then have to decide how you want to give credit for the things your kids are doing and what subjects to channel their work into (math, science, history, English, civics, etc. ).

Rules and Regulations

Most states require you to notify the school district you live within that you’d like to homeschool. We have an affidavit and a list of educational objectives we need to file (which can both be found here, for Pennsylvania residents), before we officially get started. This can be done at any time during the year if it’s your first year homeschooling. And again, rules vary by state. Some are very lax, and some, like Pennsylvania and New York, require a little more. If you live in a more highly-regulated state, it’s not nearly as daunting and they want to make it seem. So, don’t let that deter you.

Where to Find Curriculum

I try to hit up a curriculum fair or a homeschool convention every other year or so, just to see what there is available out there. They are a great starting point in your homeschooling journey because they have the books and materials set out where you can leaf through them or tinker with them if it’s an online program, and staff from the different companies are on hand to answer any questions you might have. There are typically some pretty great deals to be had at the conventions too. I’ve gotten our books there a number of times for cheaper than I can pick them up for in used condition through the homeschooling marketplaces. It’s more convenient too because everything is there in one place.

There’s a really nice convention down in Lancaster, Pennsylvania at the end of August, 2020. It’s typically in June but has been postponed due to the virus this year. You can find more info on the CHAP Convention here . There are tons of great places to pick up curriculum fodder, but a convention is a great place to start.

Another resource we’ve used for curriculum is the Homeschool Buyers Co-op. They have video advertisements and such for books and courses and they do group buys, so you can get see what some of the coursework looks like without having gone to the convention, and you can get a decent deal too. There are plenty of places online to just buy books. If you’d like a reliable place to look them over first though, this is our go-to spot.

Homeschool Buyers Co-op is also a great place to print off and laminate your student/teacher school IDs for free. If you’d like a sturdier, more authentic-looking ID, they’ll print them on a sheet of plastic for you for about $8 a piece. We rarely use ours but have never run into an issue with our print-at-home version when we do.

Once you’ve decided what curriculum you’d like to use, finding it for a reasonable price is the next step. Books can be pricey, so I always try to find them used first. Facebook has a number of outlets for that. Homeschool Curriculum Marketplace, Homeschooler Market, and Homeschool Curriculum Sell/Exchange are just a few.

If you’re on the prowl for something specific like Life of Fred or My Father’s World or Apologia, type whatever brand you’re looking for into the Facebook search bar. There’s likely a group dedicated to selling/trading only that.

Amazon and Ebay are great places to pick up used books without breaking the bank, as are your local thrift stores or the book nooks at your libraries. There are also tons of Little Free Libraries dotted across the US as well. I like to keep a couple of books in the car to swap out for new ones in case we stumble on one of them. They really are about the best thing since sliced bread.

If you’re looking for a decent, free, online school that isn’t part of the cyber school system, check out Easy Peasy All-In-One Homeschool. We’ve never used them as a stand-alone curriculum but you could if you wanted to. There’s a ton of great information there.

Educational Resources

Check out your local libraries! They are an amazing resource! Libraries aren’t just for checking out books anymore. They have classes and field trips, museum passes, and lending libraries for crafting machines and power tools… One of our libraries even lends out life jackets and fishing gear! All are cost-free, as long as you return them on time. I’ve heard of some wild library fines within our homeschooling circle, so be sure to keep up with the return dates for everything.

Colleges also put out some amazing courses, and not just for high schoolers. I’ve seen some fantastic classes geared towards elementary kids as well. We’ve done some that were cost-free to us (paid for by grants) and some that do come with a price tag but are typically very reasonable and are exceptional programs.

Our national parks run the Junior Ranger Program. To utilize that, hit up any of our national parks and ask the ranger running the front desk for a workbook. Complete that and turn in your work for either a badge or a badge and a patch, depending on the park.

There are a good number of Junior Ranger workbooks that can be completed from home and mailed in, along with several that are not site-specific like: archeology, paleontology, wilderness explorer, junior cave scientist, night explorers, the underground railroad, or the under water explorer. It’s a very nice, free program and is something we’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of.

Our national parks also offer free admission to 4th graders and their families through the Every Kid Outdoors program. There are a number of other options through annual memberships and disability passes to help make exploring our national parks available to everyone.

Our state parks run ranger programs as well! I would have to write you out a book to list them all, but a quick google search should bring up your local state parks and their web pages with links to their classes and schedules. These are also typically cost-free, informative, and fun too.

Museums run some amazing classes and are also fun to just to meander through or to host gatherings at. There are a number of different reciprocal memberships to help keep the cost for something like that low. We have six children, and I know well just how quickly entry fees add up, especially if this is something you’re doing regularly.

Every year we grab a few memberships with reciprocal capabilities. That way we can enjoy museums and zoos and whatnots all over the states, and in other part of the world too, for just the cost of a couple of memberships. We save thousands of dollars every year this way and are able to do things we might not otherwise do.

The main reciprocals with links to their parent pages are:


ASTC – free admission to Association of Science and Technology Centers
ACM – half off admission to children’s museums
AZA – free or reduced admission to zoos, aquariums, and botanical gardens
Time Travelers – free or reduced admission to historical museums/societies
NARM – free or reduced admission to art museums
CAMM – free admission to maritime museums
AHS – free admission to gardens and horticultural societies

To my knowledge, the very best (cheapest) buy-in to ASTC, which we use most often, is through the Kopernik Observatory in Vestal, New York. The family membership is just $60/year with no limit on family size, and they are reciprocal with all of the nearby museums who would otherwise be left out because of their 90 miles from home/90 miles from the museum you hold a membership with stipulation.

The best place to pick up an ASTC/ACM/AZA membership is through the Boonshoft Museum out in Dayton, Ohio. If you’d like to grab all three of those in one shot, you can do so by grabbing a Family Standard membership for $135.

If you have a museum or zoo or botanical garden nearby that you frequent, it will make the most sense to go through one of them. Many offer special incentives locally that you can partake on for having a membership through them. If you’re like us though, and live in a big hole in the map, it doesn’t really matter who you buy-in through.

Sports

Another excellent resource is the YMCA. We live in the frosty north, so 6 months of the year, our Phys. Ed. requirements need to be met mostly indoors. Their memberships work nationwide, so your membership to your home facility will give you access to all participating YMCA’s. You will be considered a guest through all but your home Y, which just means that you’re welcomed to use their equipment or to swim or whatever you’d like to do, but if you’re wanting to sign up for a class outside of the Y you’re a member of, you’ll pay the non-member rate. They also offer financial assistance for those who need it.

Speaking of Phys. Ed… Most school districts allow homeschool students to participate in school sports, but call your school directly to double check. There are also non-school related options like Little League, AYSO Soccer, and Girls on the Run…and dance and gymnastics and martial arts and those kinds of things as well.

If you have something you enjoy; trampoline parks, a rock climbing gym, bowling, a skating rink, skiing, surfing, or something similar, give the facility a call and ask if they have a special homeschoolers’ rate. Many do and are very affordable. If they don’t and it’s something you’d still like to do, ask to set one up. Most places are happy to do so as it brings in crowds of people for them during the day when they are typically very slow.

Clubs and Social Outlets

Some other great, non-sporty things you can get into:


4-H
FFA
Church programs
Youth groups

AWANA
Boy/Girl/Venture Scouts
American Heritage Girls
Trail Life
Envirothon
Civil Air Patrol
Devil Pups
Sea Cadets
Ameteur Radio
Drama/Art (Check with your local Council on the Arts)

Certifications

There are a good number of certifications out there that your children can work towards. Most of these are geared towards teenagers but many can be worked on as early as they are ready. They just can’t be officially licensed until they’ve met the age requirement.

There are a multitude of exceptional teachers out there for these types of courses. If there isn’t a nationwide organization or one that we’ve dealt with personally and loved, I’ve tried to hunt down a link to the next best thing. If none of them are local to you, a quick google search should do the trick.

Glider license (pilot an engineless plane) – You can do your glider solo when you’re 14 and get your private pilot certificate with a glider rating at 16.
Private Pilot’s license- The kids are able to take their first flight through the Young Eagles program once they are 8. They can continue with ground school as they’re ready, and solo once they’re 16. The Young Eagles Program provides free flights for kids ages 8-17, free ground school and testing, free first flight lesson, and several scholarship opportunities (to be used for continuing their education in flight).
CPR/AED- There is no age restriction on CPR certifications as long as they can comprehend the information and pass the test. We’ve always started ours as young as the folks teaching the courses would allow and have recertified them at least every two years since.
Basic / Advanced First Aid There is no minimum age requirement for basic first aid courses although whomever is putting on the course may have one.
Wilderness Survival/ Wilderness First Responder Most of the places I’ve checked require you to be 14 for these courses. I’ve seen a couple require 16. I’m unclear on whether that’s an actual requirement for the certification or one imposed by those teaching the course.
Emergency Medical Responder- Our kids have done the medic course through XMC and Campaign Pay it Forward, and have gotten their EMR certifications through them. There are tons of other great options out there that may be closer to you. You need to be at least 14 to be an emergency medical responder.
Lifeguarding The minimum age for the lifeguarding course is 15. YMCAs offer them at a reasonable price a couple of times a year.
Babysitter Training I don’t believe there’s an age restriction for babysitter training. Most hospitals offer several options for babysitting / sibling care classes through their prenatal care programs, as does the Red Cross.
SCUBA 10 years is the minimum age requirement for SCUBA and there are a number of different diving certifications available depending on what you’re looking to do with it.
Hunter’s Safety Here in Pennsylvania, once you’re over the age of 11, you’re required to have taken a hunter’s safety course if you’d like to have a hunting license. The age requirement may vary from state to state, but here in PA, they need to have it taken care of by the time they’re 11.
Boating License 14 is the minimum age to operate a personal water craft here in Pennsylvania but it varies by state and is also dependent on what type of craft you’ll be operating. We all took our boating course through Boat-Ed online and were very happy with it.

Field Trips and Other Goodness

Did you know….homeschoolers enjoy field tripping too? As homeschoolers, we have SO MANY AMAZING OPPORTUNITES available to us! There’s something about being outside of the traditional school system that makes people feel the need to impart knowledge. It’s a wonderful thing, really.

The vast majority of brick and mortar facilities (museums, zoos, botanical gardens, state/national parks, historical centers, summer camps during the off-season, random tourist attractions…even the i-fly indoor skydiving centers! ) offer some type of homeschool day at least once a year. These days are set up for extra enrichment with teacher, projects, social time, and the whole nine yards.

Our very favorite activity to date was done through Johns Hopkins/Kennedy Kreiger down in Baltimore, Maryland. Some of their researchers were doing an MRI study and had put a feeler out in one of the Maryland homeschooling Facebook groups, looking for anyone willing to help them out.

Since it was a study, and not a scan done through the actual hospital system, the team were able to take their time and really get into detail about everything. We were able to sit in the computer room during the scans and watch the photos of the kids’ brains pop up on the screens as the researchers explained what they were seeing.

It was so, very interesting and the kids each made $80 for their time, which they thought was neat too. So, if you have a big, teaching hospital nearby, give their on-going research studies a look-over and see if something appeals to you.

Homeschool Legal Defense Association

Our school district has always been good to us. We’ve had just one, very minor overreach from them in our 10 years of schooling at home, and it was cleared up without issue by reminding them that they aren’t entitled to that information.

It sounds silly, but the government is constantly trying to gain more control of homeschooling. In Albany, NY last year, they were pushing bills to outlaw it all together. So, it’s important to give the district just what they need so we can continue to preserve our right to school at home without anymore oversight than we’ve already got.

We’ve been very lucky to have pushed on like with have without an issue, but there are districts out there that are a constant pain in the rump to deal with. If you find yourself on the receiving end of any kind of nonsense, the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (or the HSLDA) is very good at putting bull-headed districts back in line.

The HSLDA is more than just legal defense. They are also a great resource for all things homeschooling. I’ve never dealt with them personally, but I’ve heard that you can contact them directly with homeschooling questions and for guidance, which can be invaluable, especially during those high school years when things become a little trickier to navigate.

Membership with the HSLDA runs $11/month or $125/year ($110 if you’re a full-time pastor, missionary, military, or first responder). So, it’s not cost-free but it can buy you some peace of mind.

A Word of Caution

Don’t go too crazy buying up ALL of the books and tools and what-have-yous. Don’t try to do everything all at once. You’ll drive yourself bonkers if you do.

This homeschooling thing…. It is a process. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and it’s ok to go slow. It’s also important to remember that learning happens everywhere. Some of the very best, most enlightening things you’ll do with your children will be done outside of the confines of “school”.

Wow! That was A LOT of information!

I know, right? It IS a lot, and really, we’ve just scratched the surface! But that’s the beauty of it! There are so many ways to make homeschooling fit with your family’s lifestyle and there’s really no wrong way to go about it.

If you’re finding this to be overwhelming, there are tons of really great Facebook support groups to help walk you through it all. You’re also welcomed to contact me directly and I will be happy to help you out. We are a Pennsylvania family, so my area of expertise is within the state of Pennsylvania but I’m always happy to hear you out and to help point you in the right direction. I’ve been doing this for a long time and have a lot of tricks up my sleeve. If there’s a question I can’t answer for you, I’m sure I can find someone for you who can.

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3 thoughts on “A Beginner’s Guide to Homeschooling

  • June 13, 2020 at 1:42 pm
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    Thanks for sharing! Thank you for sharing misconceptions out there about homeschool. As a teacher, I tend to fall into those thought patterns at times, but my eyes have definitely been opened to new learning environments and possibilities. Great post ☀️

    Reply
    • June 13, 2020 at 6:41 pm
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      Thank you. 🙂

      Reply
  • June 13, 2020 at 8:14 pm
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    I love how you debunked the biggest concerns out of the way first. My son will be 2, and I’ve been considering homeschooling when it’s time. One of my main reasons for not wanting to is the socialization aspect. But I love that you dive into how that doesn’t have to be an issue. Not only that, this post is jam-packed with useful information about homeschooling. Homeschooling seems like such a mystery to me, this post really helped me understand how it works a bit more.

    Reply

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