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What is Homeschooling?

Alice and the Cheshire Cat on one of our park outings.

Alice and Cheshire on one of our park outings.

What is homeschooling?

Homeschooling is teaching your child at home instead of sending them to a traditional public or private school.  This can be accomplished in a number of different ways.  Parents can teach their own children or they can learn from other parents/instructors (co-ops, outside classes, educational software, long distance learning, etc.), or through online accredited school programs. It sounds simple enough, but it can be a big undertaking, especially in the beginning. The decision itself can be daunting and overwhelming, however, I can assure you that it does get easier over time. The more you homeschool, the greater confidence you’ll have, which will, in turn, make you a better teacher thus making homeschooling easier for you and your child.

The quick legal facts:

  • Homeschooling is legal in all 50 states.
  • You do not need a teaching degree or certificate to home school.
  • It is legal to homeschool your child with special needs.
  • It is possible to homeschool a high schooler (Online courses are available for classes such as calculus, physics, and other challenging coursework).
  • HSLDA (Home School Legal Defense Association) is available to help you with both basic and more advanced legal questions (along with legal assistance and legal representation if you become a member)

Reasons families consider homeschooling:

  • Provide a better education for their child.
  • Family lifestyle: Homeschooling works better for some parent’s work schedule, certain military families that want continuity, or parent’s who travel frequently and would like to bring their kids along.
  • Parents feel their home is a safer place for the child.
  • Family values: Parents choose to homeschool so that they can pass on their family values to their children.
  • Their child is having difficulties in school: Learning problems, behavior problems, experiencing boredom, hyperactivity issues, concentration problems, bullying issues, etc.
  • Public school is not working for the child and private school is too expensive.
  • Religious reasons: Homeschooling allows the family to preserve their religious values.
  • Their child has diagnosed medical problems that coincide with the school’s attendance policy and they may be falling behind in school or too medically fragile to attend school.
  • Some food allergies or intolerances may make attending regular school challenging.
  • A family moves around frequently and wants to maintain consistency in their children’s education.
  • Homeschooling is a better for the child. It fits better with their personally and individual learning style.

Our top reasons for homeschooling are better education, better fit for our children, and a better fit with our family values and lifestyle.  I’ve also met a variety of other parents who choose to homeschooling for some of the other reasons listed above. Since we’ve been homeschooling I’ve met parents whose first and only choice has been to homeschool. They hope to educate their children from prekindergarten all the way through high school. They dream of possibly living abroad for a few years, or at the very least taking a few long trips overseas. Others have turned to homeschooling because of religious reasons, food allergies, it’s a safer environment, or because private schools are too expensive. And then there are some parents who have been pushed into homeschooling because their child has a medical or behavioral issue that the school can not ultimately accommodate. No matter what your reason is for thinking about homeschooling, rest assured you are not alone!

 

Snoqualmie Falls

Kids at Snoqualmie Falls in Washington.

Deciding to Homeschool

The decision to homeschool can be complex for some and straightforward for others. For me, it was a little of both. One the one hand, what I wanted for my daughter was plain and simple; I wanted her to have a great education. Just like most parents, I want the best for my children. The end goal for my daughter (and all of my children) is to graduate college as a self-sufficient, responsible, educated, creative, confident, independent and open-minded adult. Although, I knew what I wanted for my daughter, I wasn’t quite sure how we could get her there.

As I saw it, we had three schooling options: public, private or homeschool (all with their own advantages and disadvantages). Public school was the most obvious choice. There is nothing wrong with public schools, after all I attended public school from kindergarten through twelfth grade. But I also know that success in public schools depends a lot on: the school district, the school environment, which teacher you are assigned to, your classmates and the personality of your child (those are a lot of different factors at play!). Then there was a private school, but with two children at the time and ultimately another one in our future, we could not afford this option. Finally, there was homeschooling. The idea of homeschooling was by far the most exciting but also the most daunting. All of my family, friends, and acquaintances, had either attended public school or private school (or some combination of both), so I knew little about homeschooling when I started looking into it four years ago (back in 2011). At the time, we were all alone. We did not know any homeschooling families nor had ever met anyone who had been homeschooled. With homeschooling, we were venturing into the great unknown.

To be honest, I don’t even remember how homeschooling became one of my three options. The idea slowly seeped into my subconscious and remained there until it was time to choose an educational path for my daughter. I spent several weeks reading and researching homeschooling before we made our final decision. The more homeschooling success stories I read the more I was interested in becoming a homeschooler. As a mother, I have always felt that it is my responsibility to help my daughter be the very best she can be and homeschooling would give me the chance to expose her to the best education possible. I already knew that my daughter was bright, artistic, creative, funny, out-going, and social and I felt that as her teacher I could custom tailor her education so as to highlight all of these strengths.

In the end, my husband and I decided to not only homeschool our daughter but to homeschool all of our children. Three years after making the decision to homeschool, things couldn’t be better. Alice is in the second grade and Cheshire is in kindergarten and both are doing extremely well (The Dormouse is only 4 months old, but in a few years, we’ll be ready for him as well!). Never in my wildest dreams did I think we’d ever be homeschooling. Although it was an unexpected adventure, it’s a wonderful journey that I wouldn’t trade for the world.

Field Trip: Strawberry Picking at Bailey Farm

Field Trip: Strawberry Picking

Benefits of Homeschooling:

Positive Learning Environment

Our kids receive a lot of one on one instruction in a safe and positive learning environment. At home, we can always accommodate our children’s needs; whether it’s a quite and calm study environment or a large workspace for them to paint their newest and greatest masterpiece. We never have to rush through a lesson plan or pass over a topic hoping that someone else will cover it down the road. My children learn at their own pace, in their own time and never have to stress about not being good enough. Books are plentiful at both home and at our library. Hands-on learning is not a novelty, it is an everyday occurrence. We visit cities, museums, firehouses, farms, markets and more. And we don’t need a book to learn about nature (although we own dozens), we just hop outside and explore the world around us. If its animals we want to study we head to the beach or zoo. For astrology, we can pop out heads outdoors at night. Their learning is never boring and they are always eager to learn more, so thus, it never really ends.

Great Classrooms

Your homeschooling classroom is whatever you want it to be; it is only limited by your imagination. It can be a separate physical space, with desks, chalkboards, and globes. Or it can be the whole house, where your child grabs a book and settles into their favorite chair to complete their assignments. Schoolwork can be completed at the kitchen table, in the car, at your local library or even outside with a laptop, under their favorite tree.

Our “classroom” has become our whole house. Maps of the United States and of the world can be found in my children’s rooms, along with books and a little table with chairs. There are also books in the upstairs hallway, and in our dining and family rooms. School supplies and art supplies can be found in our family room with overflow materials residing in our garage. Computers, laptops, tablets, digital cameras and other gadgets are plentiful and again are spread out throughout the house (what else would you expect when you have two software engineers as parents!). Computers and laptops are used for educational purposes throughout the day and we have three tablets for eBooks and educational apps that they use when we are out of the house or outside in the backyard.

Sharing Our Passion for Education and Learning

We are a family that loves to learn and values education. Nothing excites me more than learning something new. It can be as simple as learning a new word or phrase or something more intricate like learning the details surrounding the Falkland Wars of 1982. For me education doesn’t start at kindergarten and stop after college, it’s continuous; a life long adventure. With homeschooling, we are able to pass on this passion for learning to our children. Their education is not limited, it is infinite. And no subject is off limits, instead of just three foreign languages to choose from (French, Spanish or German), we can choose from dozens. Topics and concepts that are normally covered in middle school can be taught in elementary school, online college classes can be taken as a high school student and so on. Their curriculum and the materials we use are custom tailored, age appropriate, highlight their strengths and at the same time, allow us the time and resources needed to strengthen their weaknesses.
Flexible Schedules

One of the things we like best about homeschooling is its flexibility. We decide our school schedule and our school breaks. As long as meet our state requirements we can choose whatever schedule we like. Our daily schedule can be rigid or flexible. We can do schoolwork in the mornings, or in the afternoons. We can work Monday through Friday, or work on the weekends and take Fridays off. We can take three weeks off at Christmas or two weeks off at Easter, or start school in August and end in May. In addition, planning activities and trips, especially if you want to avoid crowds), is much easier when you do not have to fit all of your travel into just the Christmas, spring and summer vacations.

More Travel Opportunities

Travel is something that both my husband and I thoroughly enjoy. During our first year of married life (just before our daughter was born), we flew to both Hawaii and England. A year later, with my daughter, we visited Texas, South Dakota, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Maine, Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island. With each additional child, our long distance travel has become less frequent and more predictable (New York, Texas and Virginia to see family and regional road trips to California, Oregon and Canada), but as the kids get older we hope to travel a lot more, maybe even take a few trips abroad. In the meantime, we focus on small, local day trips, which always turn out to be both fun and educational for the kids. They are not stuck learning in a classroom, their home, state and indeed the world have become their classroom.

Field Trip: Pike's Market Place

Field Trip: Pike’s Market Place

Personalized Learning Experience

I like being able to choose the curriculum that works best for my children. I like browsing curriculum fairs at conferences, researching curriculum online and getting recommendations from my fellow homeschoolers. This can be one of the most frustrating aspects of teaching but can also be the most rewarding (it can be very inspiring when you hit upon just the right teaching materials). Although states can tell you which subjects to teach, they do not tell you how to teach them. This means I get to choose whatever curriculum I see fit and follow whichever teaching philosophy works best for us as a family. Every parent has a different approach to how they teach their children. Some parents choose to educate their children using online learning programs. While others take a hands-on approach; their homes become one huge learning center with timelines, charts, maps and photographs lining their walls. In these homes science experiments and papier-mâché Eiffel towers often cover their dining room tables. We fall somewhere in the middle, some days we spend more time with textbooks and workbooks and other days we spend our time hiking, swimming and exploring  (I think there is value in each of the teaching philosophies out there: school in a box, Charlotte Mason, unschooling and classical education, etc.). At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what curriculum you choose, just as long as your children are learning.

Field Trip. Alice and the Cheshire Cat making homemade apple cider. This is them using the apple press.

Alice and the Cheshire Cat making homemade apple cider. This is them using the apple press.

Controlled Cost

Homeschooling, just like private schools, can vary in price, but ultimately you decide how much your family wants to spend on education. Homeschooling can be either inexpensive or expensive. There are some families who homeschool with little more than a computer (and the internet) and a library card. Then there are other homeschooling families that spend thousands of dollars on each of their childreny, early. What homeschooling will ultimately “cost” you, depends on a variety of factors:

  • If you decide to homeschool, will you be giving up on an extra salary, so the homeschooling parent can stay home?
  • Can you work out a schedule for parents (or grandparents, relatives or babysitters) so that both parents can keep their jobs or so that a single parent can continue to work?
  • Do you want to follow a special learning program or curriculum (online learning program, boxed curriculum, etc.)? If so, how much does it cost?
  • Are you flexible with the types of curriculum/materials you are willing to use? Will you use: used materials, borrowed materials (from other homeschoolers), items from your library, free online resources (websites, books, videos, worksheets, etc), books from thrift/second hand stores, etc.
  • How much do you want to spend on the “extras”: sports, music lessons, art lessons, memberships (YMCA, fitness facility, zoo, aquarium, etc.), camps, etc.?
  • How much money do you want to spend on: school supplies, computers, classroom furniture, field trips, co-ops, etc.

Making the Homeschooling Decision

There is no right or wrong decision when it comes to education, as long as you do what is in the best interest of your child and your family. Don’t worry if you decide full-time homeschooling isn’t for you. I’ve met plenty of loving and dedicated parents who send their children off to school during the day and then, without fail, turn around and tutor their children every evening and weekend. After all, it doesn’t matter how our children learn to read, write, and do arithmetic, it’s just important that they do. However, if you are just starting out on your homeschooling journey, Welcome!

There are a lot of great homeschooling resources out there, for homeschoolers and non-homeschoolers alike (homeschooling curriculum and resources can be a great way to supplement or enhance your child’s public or private education). There is also a lot to learn, so fasten your seat belts and let’s get started (don’t worry, we are here to help!)

Below is a list of resources to help you get started!

Homeschooling with HSLDA

 

Field Trip: Our local firehouse

Field Trip: Our Local Firehouse

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