12 Tips for Families Homeschooling for the First Time

by | Aug 18, 2020 | Back to School, Teaching Strategies | 0 comments

In my 20+ years of education, this is the first time I have seen so many families talking about shifting from traditional classroom teaching to homeschool. 

With COVID-19 still making increases in many areas, a staggering number of families have made the tough decision to keep their children home for the academic year. 

Some parents might look at this decision with excitement, while others may look at it with a certain sense of dread. 

Whichever way you look at it, I am here to help you with top tips for homeschooling families. 

Are you feeling overwhelmed by your decision to homeschool? I get it. When we decided to take my son out of school, I was confident I’d be the best homeschool mom there was – after all, I have experience in the classroom!

I quickly learned that teaching in a classroom and homeschooling were two very different things. I say this to reassure you that if you’ve decided to teach your kids at home and you’ve never taught before, it’s okay! Having teaching experience is not necessary to do a great job homeschooling.

With that in mind, let’s discuss my top tips for new homeschooling families.

Tips For New Homeschool Families

Determine Your End Goal And Approach To Teaching

Some families are using this year to keep their kids at home with the hopes of enrolling them in brick and mortar schools next year. For these families, I would suggest trying to stick to the standards as closely as you can. This way, your kids will arrive back in school next fall, having learned the same things as the rest of the class. 

If you have decided to homeschool long-term, you have more autonomy in your teaching approach and how much you want your child to learn (while still using the standards as a general guide). Homeschoolers have a lot of flexibility in how they organize their learning.

Be Sure To Check Your State’s Requirements

I know that in Florida, when you choose to homeschool, you must file with your local school district and have a yearly evaluation of your student’s progress. It can be an evaluation by a certified teacher or standardized test scores. You have the right to take standardized tests at your local school, so contact them early if that is your choice.

As you make your decision to homeschool, make sure you check with your state to see what is required of you and your children.

Curriculum Choices – How to Choose the Best

The amount of options homeschool families have when it comes to choosing a curriculum is overwhelming. You can buy a year’s worth of curriculum all at once (like my ELA and Social Studies bundle), or you can piece together different parts of different curriculum. Do your research and decide what will work best for you and your family. I found that a blend of technology, co-op classes, and traditional books worked well for our family, but each family is different. 

Many families use resources from traditional homeschool companies, like IEW, while others purchase resources on TPT. Others look for virtual classes provided by schools in their state.

This year, we decided to do online classes, as we have family members at high-risk with Covid-19. However, we know other families that are opting to homeschool or do virtual school this year, and we may participate in some “socially distant” field trips so our kids can get together outside.

Should I Make A Class Schedule?

I know a lot of families who have chosen different things when it comes to a daily schedule. Some families have flow charts made with blocks of 20 or 30 minutes each, color-coordinated for each child. Other families have played it more by ear. 

You decide what is best for your family and do that. There is no one “right” way to do it – every family finds a rhythm that works for them.

Disregard What Brick and Mortar Classrooms Look Like

You may be tempted to mirror the brick and mortar education and environment. The reality is that homeschooling is not the same as brick and mortar education, so there is no reason to try and make them look the same. 

Instead, help your children understand that things will look and feel different this year. When creating your classroom environment, try to find a designated area that is just for school that you can have school and hold materials. If you don’t have extra space (I never did), be sure that your kids’ materials are organized somewhere specific.

Remember, your lessons can be very different from a traditional classroom – you can do hands-on lessons in the kitchen, your yard, etc. You have so many more options than a teacher with a class of students does.

How Long Does The School Day Have To Be?

Just because your kids are in school for approximately 30 hours a week does not mean you need to have 30 hours a week planned out for them. If your kids get their work done with a good understanding of what they’ve learned, why should they have to sit and wait for hours to pass? Instead, find some educational things for your kids to do once their traditional schooling is over.  

In general, homeschooling takes much less time than a traditional school schedule. You aren’t trying to manage twenty kids, and many kids find it easier to focus with fewer kids around while they work. 

Now, homeschool can fill a day – especially if you have a procrastinator or a student who resists work (avoids something they think will be too hard.) If you have those issues, you will need to deal with them as they occur. Remember, every student is different.

What Counts As School?

As you homeschool your kids, you will realize that many activities that can be used as teaching tools. 

Do you have kids who like to bake (or eat baked goods)? Give them a lesson on fractions and chemistry. 

Have you been working on (or dreaming of) a garden? Have your kids learn botany! 

Does your student thrive with hands-on experiences? Find a project where they can learn math by building something.

Help your students learn things they wouldn’t typically learn in school, like simple budgeting and how to keep your house clean. Have your kids help with things like menu planning and making dinner. Do your kids know how to do their laundry? Now is the time to teach them.

Take Advantage of Being in Charge of Your Schedule

One of the greatest things about homeschooling is that you are in charge of your daily schedule. Most classrooms don’t teach every subject every day, so why should you? 

Do you have kids that are early birds? Set them up to start their school right away. Do you have kids who are night owls? Start their mornings a bit slower and amp into school. Remember, you are in charge of what your days look like.

Another thought is this: if you are teaching more than one of your kids, you are most likely teaching more than one grade. Do yourself a favor and have kids learn the same subject at the same time. This way, you only have to be focused on math once a day, not three times a day.

Get Creative With Your Social Time

One of the most common comments families who homeschool their kids get is, “but what about their social growth?” Usually, I would tell you to get involved with the homeschool communities and groups in your area, but due to COVID-19, they may take a break in the name of social distancing. 

Even so, I would encourage you to find these groups on social media and connect with them that way. You will find support in other families who are also homeschooling at this time. Some families may be getting together outside if your local conditions allow it. They may be doing fun things virtually with kids too! 

Homeschool parents will also gladly help new families find resources and answer questions. They can ease new parents’ minds in so many ways.

Involve Your Kids in Decision Making

Once parents have decided on the big pieces (what curriculum to use for each subject, how to follow the state’s regulations, etc.), they can involve their kids in making some schooling decisions. Having some ownership in their learning can increase your student’s buy-in and engagement.

A simple way to increase students’ motivation is to allow them to choose which books they read. Once you approve their choices, take your kids to the library (or do library pickup) – or order them online.

Take Advantage of Virtual Tours

One of my favorite parts of homeschooling my son was being able to go to museums, zoos, and libraries whenever we wanted. With the pandemic, many of these fun experiences have to transition online. 

With this comes the opportunity to experience things that you would not have been able to previously. Have you been studying a particular artist? Find their work in a museum’s virtual tour! Learning about sloths? Find their exhibit on a tour of a zoo! There are so many things available now that have not been available in the past.

Final Thoughts

If your student is homeschooling because of the pandemic and not because he/she really wanted to, they need to be able to express their emotions. They will grieve losing their routine and seeing their friends. These emotions are powerful and hard to process. Kids need to feel heard about this.

My son is decidedly not thrilled to be homeschooling again. Although he understands why he needs to stay home – and even says so, he is also mad about being put in this situation. I think we as parents need to allow kids to feel heard and empathize. 

Families need to check-in and talk about how they feel. If your family can take the attitude of working together to get through this and develop a bond around that, it may be easier for everyone.

Do you have any other ideas for new homeschooling families? Let me know! 

Over twenty plus years, my educational career has spanned four continents and two states, as well as eight grade levels!

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