While there’s no doubt there are many benefits to home-based education, you might be feeling lost, confused and overwhelmed about teaching at home this school year — and you are not alone! If your “new normal” includes taking on the job — and it truly is a job — of homeschooling this fall, I’m here to help you get started — and stay on track.
Step one: Start with the legal aspects.
Homeschooling doesn’t need to officially begin until the age of 8 in Washington state, and the Washington Homeschool Organization (WHO) website includes extensive information on parent qualifications, paperwork, required subjects, annual testing and keeping records.
The 11 required subjects to teach in Washington are reading, writing, spelling, language, math, science, social studies, history, health, occupational education, and art and music appreciation. The WHO states: “These do not have to be taught separately. A unit study on frogs could include reading, writing, spelling, science, math, art and occupational education.”
Step two: Set goals for your kids for the year.
Set some realistic goals based on your child’s strengths, as well as where they might struggle. Try to figure out what subjects your kid needs to focus on. You can then make a specific weekly plan for that subject, such as, “Maggie will do one lesson of math per day, four times a week, until the workbook or program is done.” Do this for each subject and it will help you map out the year in advance and make it seem less overwhelming.
Step three: Decide on your curriculum and go shopping.
Use the required subjects from step one as a starting point when shopping for your curriculum. You can head to the internet to check out options for a secular curriculum versus a religious curriculum. Creating your own curriculum is often a popular choice, but there’s a lot to it, so check out this guide. Things can be more flexible at home, so take advantage of that! Keep in mind we all learn in different ways and are all interested in different things, so try to follow your child’s interests when you can. If you’re on a budget, there are many free options, such as Khan Academy, Easy Peasy All-in-One Homeschool, the library and Washington’s K12 online school options.
Step four: Decide where you’ll normally homeschool.
Will you have a dedicated space with desks for homeschooling or will you work in different parts of the house, pulling resources from a centrally located bookshelf? Some families homeschool at the dining room table, then sometimes head to the deck or the yard on a nice day. Decide where you’re going to do the majority of your work, then clean and organize the area. A lot of homeschooling families swear by this desk set-up by IKEA.
Step five: Decide your annual and daily schedules.
Because all families are different, you’ll want to ask some questions: Is it best for your family to take the month of December off and then homeschool into June? Do you want to start early in the morning or let everyone sleep in?
Leave room for real-world learning opportunities such as errands, field trips, nature walks, cooking, chores and home finances, which are fantastic for teaching life skills and core subjects. You’ll want to create a rough daily schedule to pin up on the wall so everybody knows what they need to be doing and when. Also, a large wall calendar works great so everyone knows about upcoming appointments, virtual playdates, etc.
Step six: Make a lesson plan.
Lesson planning helps include an online program such as Homeschool Tracker (color-code the kids in a Google calendar and print out their lessons for them weekly), a single physical planner for you only, or the spiral notebook system (each kid gets their own assignment notebook written by you each Sunday night). I make a rough plan about a month at a time to allow for those inevitable scheduling blow-ups that happen.
Step seven: Picture the plan.
Go through the plan in your mind in order to solve some problems before they start. Are you going to do lesson plans for the week on Sundays? What if Mom gets sick? What if someone drops in unexpectedly? There will always be unexpected challenges (Daddy’s working from home full-time now at the dining room table!), but you can set yourself up for success otherwise.
Step eight: Find your support system.
Head to Facebook and join the Homeschoolers & Unschoolers of Washington State group so you can find your tribe and get to know other homeschoolers in your area.
Remember that drawing comparisons is pointless and perfection is impossible, so if you stay in your own lane and focus on your family and their needs, you’ll have a fantastic school year. You are inevitably going to make some mistakes along the way, but that is perfectly normal, so go easy on yourself … and have fun on this shorter-than-you-think journey with your kids!