We’ve seen a wave of new members on many of the homeschool groups we frequent and we know there are new folks thinking about homeschooling because of the uncertainty with schools and the ongoing pandemic. We think that’s great! Homeschooling can be wonderful and can provide a ton of flexibility and a unique, tailored education for your kids. And if you’re not sure how to make it happen, then we’d love to help. As you get started, there are some pitfalls to watch out for. Here are our top tips for families considering the leap right now.
1. A lot of homeschool materials have a religious or political perspective.
If that perspective fits your views, then that’s great! But many new families, especially families entering the homeschool world because of a crisis and not because of a philosophical perspective, may not know what they’re considering. Sellers don’t always make it immediately clear that they’re selling materials that represent a specific religion. If you’re not sure, then ask! And when you ask for recommendations, specify if you want materials that are secular.
2. You don’t need accreditation.
Accreditation just means that a school is doing what it says it’s doing and is operating with their budget all above board according to an accrediting organization who reviews them. It doesn’t mean that a program is better. Curricula you teach at home can’t be accredited. Accreditation is not required by any state. Students do not need to have an accredited diploma to apply to college. There are a few special situations where accreditation can help, but usually, this isn’t something you need. If an accredited online school is right for you, that’s great! But don’t feel any pressure to seek out accreditation.
3. Online programs aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.
Inexpensive or free online programs without a teacher can be good supplements or can help you out when you’re getting started, but these have become big business in the homeschool world in the last few years. They market to homeschoolers very aggressively, so your first searches will almost certainly turn them up. Most of them do not show good outcomes for students. They’re not in depth or deep. They don’t allow you to tailor things or challenge your students. We understand their lure. Everything for a cheap price and very little work from you! But be wary. These can be a good stopgap, but if you’re looking at homeschooling long term, you probably want to consider the downsides of these.
4. Avoid spending too much money up front.
If you have a high schooler who intends to do live, online classes, you might have to ignore this advice. However, for most families new to homeschooling, we strongly suggest you start with just a few things. Try an online program or a less expensive class. Try a workbook. Try that free unit from the program that looks good. See what works before buying everything. Nearly all homeschoolers end up changing what they’re doing after the first few months. Even seasoned homeschoolers know that a few of the things they planned won’t pan out. Consider starting a single subject at a time instead of everything at once to give yourselves time to figure out what sort of materials and organizational structures work for you and your student.
5. Be specific when you ask for advice.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people ask for “a math program” on homeschool groups. When you ask for something broad, you’ll get lots of suggestions that won’t work for you. Be clear if you’d like a religious or secular program or if either is okay. Give your student’s age. Explain if it’s a subject they like or dislike. Suggest if you’d like a class, an online course, a traditional text or workbook, or something else entirely. Otherwise someone will suggest your struggling 13 year old math student use a program meant for gifted 8 year olds.
6. Random resources can be enough.
Curricula and classes can be wonderful, but you don’t necessarily need an official course or a curriculum for everything. It’s okay to have a pile of books or a list of documentaries to watch. Not everything needs a stack of assignments in order to be considered learning. It’s okay to plan a list of stuff or to wing it if that’s your style. Homeschoolers have done it that way for a long time. Sitting down to watch a movie about history, talking about it, and then checking off history as finished for the week is one of the great pleasures of homeschooling.
7. But get a math curriculum.
The one thing you really should get is a math curriculum. This could be an online program or course with a teacher or it could be a textbook or curriculum that you teach yourself. There are so many amazing math programs out there. It’s great to wing it when it comes to history, literature, science, art, and even writing. But for math, your life will be easier if you don’t have to write a dozen or more math problems every day.
8. Prioritize your relationship with your kids.
Transitioning to becoming the parent/teacher can be a big shift in family dynamics. If there are battles with your kids, don’t let them take over the house. Involve your kids in the planning process. Be willing to be flexible with them and your expectations. You don’t have to relax your standards necessarily, but if things become strained, focus on making your relationship with your kids right before you focus on making sure every math problem is written out perfectly.
9. Look beyond Outschool.
We actually really like Outschool. Jill runs book clubs for tweens and teens there! But we’re also aware that Outschool is a huge mix of stuff, some great, some less great. It’s the Airbnb of homeschool classes, so you have to read the reviews carefully. And if you’re hoping to find a serious, semester or year-long academic course for an older student, then strongly consider looking elsewhere. Outschool is good for fun and short classes. There are other providers out there!
10. Take some time to set your goals, then ask yourself if what you’re considering buying or signing up for fits.
There are so many different goals in homeschooling. Maybe you have an older student with a college or career goal. Maybe you’re just hoping to return to public school. Maybe you’re hoping to shore up fundamental skills or give your kids time to get creative. Maybe you want to teach them to love learning. Or maybe you have a list of specific things you’ve always wanted time to teach and do with your kids. Whatever your goals, write them down for yourself at the start and go back to it. Ask yourself if that class or program or thing the homeschoolers down the street are doing really fits your individual goals. And if it doesn’t, consider letting it go.