10 Steps to a Great Start in Homeschooling

(Excerpted from Homeschooling ABCs – www.homeschoolingabcs.com)

So, you’ve decided that you will take a stab at homeschooling this year.  Or maybe you even pulled your child out of school part way through the previous school year.  If you are anything like me, once you have made the decision to homeschool, the excitement begins to build and you might be anxious to get started right away.  Well, there is no reason why you can’t!

The beauty of teaching our children at home is that it will look slightly different for each of us.  This is not a cookie-cutter process!  Each family functions differently and so each homeschool will function differently, BUT it helps tremendously if we can start with the best tools and know-how to get this thing off the ground and running in a happy and successful way.

A note about authorship – you will see “I” and “we” used in reference to the author(s) of these lessons.  I, Terri, am the writer of this team.  But we, Todd and Terri, are in fact a team and both teach school in our home and decide together how these lessons should be organized and written.  So you will see both pronouns used regularly throughout.

Here are 10 steps to a great start in homeschooling…

Step 1 If your child is enrolled in school and this is the middle of the school year, you will want to let the teacher know that you are taking your child out of school to begin teaching him at home.  (If you are on summer break, this is a step you can skip!).  However, please keep in mind that this is not a job or a lease where you must give 2-4 weeks notice.  You do not even have to give one day’s notice.  You are the parent and have the legal right in all 50 states to remove your child from public school and teach him from home.  But it is common courtesy to let the teacher know shortly before or after you have made this transition so that she knows what is going on and does not need to concern herself with the absence of your child from school.

Step 2 Notify your school district in writing to let them know your intent to homeschool your child this year.  Each state has its own distinct laws and requirements about education in general and homeschooling in particular.  To find out what your state’s requirements are and who to contact, visit the HSLDA website (Home School Legal Defense Association) and click on your state to read up on its laws concerning homechooling – http://www.hslda.org/laws/default.asp. Since homeschooling is legal in all 50 states, it only makes sense to comply with your state’s regulations in order to keep it that way.  I would also like to mention that homeschooling is also legal in all 10 provinces and 3 territories of Canada.  You can check out the HSLDA Canada website here – www.hsldacanada.org.

We’ve included a sample letter to the school district that you can use.  It is located through a link at the bottom of the post.  Just personalize it with your own information.  However, please note… If you are a resident of California, it is strongly advised that you change the wording in the sample letter to read, “Our child XYZ will now be attending private school at address 123. Please forward his records at your earliest convenience.”  You can reference this website for more information – http://www.hsc.org/Choices.html.

Step 3 Take a day or two (or as much time as you and your child need) off from school.  Do some activities that are fun for your child, such as going to the park, the zoo or the children’s museum.  Read, have a picnic outside or a tea party inside, make a fort or pitch a tent.  There is a term for this down time between institutional school and homeschooling and it is called detoxing.  This time is especially important if school was a toxic experience for your child.

The concept behind detoxing is to just spend time with your child in an atmosphere that does not require a great deal of mental effort on her part.  Talk, play, read, laugh, work… In fact the time between public school and homeschool can also be spent doing some physical work such as chopping and stacking wood (great for all kids but especially boys), helping an elderly neighbor in some special way, spring cleaning to get the house ready for “school” (note: it will get messy again fairly quickly so don’t lose heart! We’ll talk about strategies for keeping the house neat and orderly in a future class).

Also, under steps #4 and #5, you will see that a trip to the library and the office supply store are in order.  You can use one of these “off” days to take care of these errands or even make them part of your first day of school.

Step 4 Choose a subject of special interest for your child. This could be just about anything, but here are a few suggestions… horses, transportation, navigation, energy, magnetism, inventions, architecture, weaponry, colonial living, pioneer days, insects, flowers, watercolor painting, etc.

Once you have chosen a subject of interest, head for your local library and check out books on this topic. You may even find some on your own bookshelves. Try to find books that are both fiction and nonfiction.

These books are going to form the core of your delight directed study. A delight directed study (or unit study) simply means that you will center all or most of your studies on this main topic. For example, if the subject of interest is flowers, flower petals can be counted, sorted and multiplied during math time; the anatomy of a flower can be studied (and dissected) for science; a poem about flowers can be copied for handwriting; types of flowers can become the spelling words (ie: rose, tulip, zinnia, chrysanthemum – depending upon the ability of your student); and a particularly beautiful flower can be drawn and painted during art time. And, of course, those books that you checked out from the library will be read and devoured all through the day and even as bedtime books before lights out.

We’ll deconstruct each of these ideas mentioned above and explain how to carry out this type of unit study learning in steps 6-9.

Step 5 It is time to collect some basic supplies.  You may have many of these around your home already, but you may also need to take a trip to your local office supply store and/or craft store.  Here are a few items that would be helpful to have on hand once you begin school:

  • Stickers
  • Pencils
  • Pencil sharpener
  • Paper – both plain and lined (we’ve attached some handwriting/copywork templates to this lesson that should be used for young students still working on their handwriting skills.  Feel free to print out as many sheets as necessary as often as you would like.  Save to a file on your computer.)
  • 3 hole punch (I’ll explain this one later in a future lesson)
  • Buttons/almonds/M&Ms/popsicle sticks (something you can use as math manipulatives that your kids can count, bundle, stack, add, subtract, multiply and divide – we’ll talk more about this in step #9)

Step 6 Begin your first school day!

Note: No serious preparation is necessary at this point.  In future class lessons, we’ll talk specifically about using curriculum and how to prepare for your school day (even better – school week) in advance.  But at this point and with this quick start method as described above under step #4 – the delight directed study – you will be learning and exploring right along with your kids, so do not stress about having a tight school plan and schedule worked out yet.  We’ll get there…

Tip: Start your school day with circle time.  The best way that I know to start your school time on a positive note is to gather together as a family unit before you begin to work on academic subjects.  Pick a comfortable location in your home (for us, this is the living room) and form a circle so that you can look into each other’s faces.  You can use this time in a variety of ways.  This is a great time to work on scripture memory verses, share prayer requests, family announcements, incorporate stretching or light exercises, sing songs, or play group games, such as story telling, free association, I-spy, telephone, etc.

Having a morning routine is comforting, but sometimes you have to change it up a bit to keep everyone’s attention.  We’ll talk more about circle time in next week’s lesson when we cover the topic “Let’s Begin with the Basics”.  But for now, simply take time to gather and enjoy one another’s company and get started on the right note.

Step 7 Set aside time in your day for reading.  This may be the first thing that you will want to do in the morning following circle time because you have everyone gathered together already.  Grab that stack of books that you brought home from the library and decide which book you want to start with.  I suggest that you start with non-fiction and save fiction for later in the day, either right after lunch (maybe before an afternoon rest or free time) or in the evening before bedtime, or both!  I don’t think you can ever read too much to your kids if they are enjoying the books you are reading.

Let your reading be a springboard for the other subjects you will be studying today.  Here are some examples…

Step 8 You do not need a handwriting/writing curriculum during your first weeks of school.  An often overlooked way to learn good writing skills is to copy good writing.  In other words, find a well-crafted and interesting sentence from today’s reading selection and write it down in your neatest handwriting at the top of a lined piece of paper.  Have your young child (2nd or 3rd grader) copy it from your writing on the lines below. If your child is very young (say kindergarten or 1st grade), you will want to start with just letters, or short sentences such as “I love my puppy.”  Keep it short and sweet for little ones.

If your child is older (say 4th grade and up), you may want to skip right past the copywork stage described above and use dictation instead. Instead of writing the sentence at the top of the page, you will orally dictate the sentence slowly and clearly to your child for her to write down from your reading of it. The older the child, the more lengthy the dictation can be.  Middle school students may dictate a whole paragraph from your reading.

Now, take out a clean sheet of paper and choose a few words from the copywork or dictation exercise above.  Read these words slowly and clearly for your child and have him write them down as spelling words.  Can he spell them all?  Say a few more words from your head that you think might be slightly challenging for him to spell.  If there are some misspelled words, repeat these again in a future spelling lesson and then go on to new words.

When you child is finished with his copywork and spelling pages, let her decorate them with some stickers if she likes.  For now, simply tuck these papers into a file folder for safe keeping.  We’ll tell you what to do with them in two weeks when we cover the topic of organizing your school work and learning space.

Step 9 Time for math!  Actually a misconception about arithmetic is that it needs to be accomplished at the table using a workbook that is filled with numerals and symbols.  This could not be more inaccurate, especially for the early grades.  Arithmetic, or early math, should be learned using real objects in real life situations.  In other words, you can DO math all throughout the day by counting plates to set around the table, splitting (dividing) a package of M&Ms evenly between 2 or 3 siblings, adding the correct number of birthday candles to the cake, measuring 2 cups of flour for the pie crust, etc.  (I must be hungry as all of these examples revolve around food!)  Use math all throughout the day by counting the number of pushes on a swing, the roses in a vase, the minutes after the hour.  Slice a pie into 8 pieces and “take away” two pieces that can be delivered to grandma and grandpa.  How many are left for your family?

But when you do sit at the table for “math time”, continue to use manipulatives (or real life objects) until your child doesn’t need them anymore.  So, until you have a math curriculum, you can add and subtract buttons, sort them by size, divide them by the number of people at the table, group into piles of 5, 10 or 20.  Play with these numbers and don’t worry about the symbols that represent the numbers just yet if your child is young.

If he or she is 2nd grade or higher, then use a combination of manipulatives and symbols.  Show 4+5=9 with buttons and then write it down on the paper.  Continue with various combinations of numbers.  If it is too easy, just move to higher numbers (21+36=57) or begin to subtract (17-9=8).  It’s okay to play with math.  Take out some money and show how many pennies a nickel is worth, a dime, etc.  If your student is beyond simple addition and subtraction, certainly feel free to move onto multiplication and division.  You can keep using manipulatives if necessary to help illustrate the concepts (4 piles of M&M with 8 in each pile.  Now let’s push them altogether and divide the amount by two – 16 for you and 16 for me.  Yum!).  Just keep moving to higher numbers and more complex concepts – divide a pizza into 12 slices, if you eat 2 slices, what percentage of the pizza did you eat, what percent is left for the other hungry children?  Continue moving to higher numbers and more complex concepts as necessary so that you are working at your child’s level.  Did you know that you can use manipulatives to help in solving quadratic equations in Algebra II?

We’ll talk more specifically about math next week when we cover the topic of “Let’s Begin with the Basics” and again in Lesson M, “Math Can Be Fun!”  But for now, these ideas ought to keep you busy for this week.

Step 10 Get out and play!  Seriously, if the weather permits, send your kids (and even yourself, if you have the time) outside to get some fresh air and run around.  You don’t need to call it recess, but children shouldn’t sit around indoors all day if they can help it.  They need to get up and run and expend their energy.

So what do you do when they go out for a few minutes and come back in and say that there is nothing to do out there?  Here are a few ideas:

  • Take a hike (if you have trails nearby)
  • Draw something that you find in nature
  • Make stone soup over a fake campfire
  • Capture an insect and observe it
  • Jump on the trampoline
  • Build a fort
  • Dig a hole
  • Plant fall bulbs
  • Plant a garden in the spring
  • Collect leaves, stones, etc.

If the weather does not permit your children to go outside, then perhaps they can work on a project or craft that they read about in one of their books.  Or they can paint, color, play games, or listen to music… whatever brings delight and refreshment.

And that wraps up this week’s lesson.  So here is your assignment for this week:

If you are ready to jump into school sometime in this next week, follow the 10 steps to a great start in homeschooling.  Do not worry about having the right curriculum just yet.  Focus on your relationships with your kids and enjoying the process of learning.  We will get more structured as we move forward, but your kids will learn a lot using this method of delight directed study, trust me!

Enjoy your kids this week,
Terri Johnson

Extra information
Letter to school district – Click Here to access (Word doc).
Copywork templates for handwriting – Click here to access (PDF file).
In our next lesson entitled “Let’s Begin with the Basics”, we address setting up positive morning routines, teaching the 3 R’s, incorporating Bible time and training your children to be cooperative, motivated learners.
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This entry was posted on Wednesday, March 20th, 2013 at 7:16 pm and is filed under Homeschooling, Lifestyle. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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