August 23, 2018

I Want to Homeschool. Now What?

A local friend recently asked for my advice in response to questions she'd been receiving about getting started with homeschooling. I also answer such questions on a regular basis, both in real life and online.

Of course, heading into the adventure of private home-based education ultimately requires a step of faith - we must be willing to take the chance without having all the answers ahead of time - because it's only as we actually begin the journey that we'll learn the twists and turns of the path. But this is what I start with when someone says to me, "I want to homeschool. Now what?" 

First, you should understand your state’s homeschool law. You are not ultimately beholden to state bureaucrats even if you happen to live in a state with a draconian homeschool law; at root, you are actually responsible only to your children (i.e., to see to their long-term well-being) and to God, who calls parents to this journeyBut as things stand now, many states (sadly) regulate homeschooling in one way or another, so you need to understand the law where you live in order to avoid legal difficulties. And, since homeschool law is set at the state level, the best place to learn about it is via a good state-level homeschool organization, which you might find by checking into who sponsors homeschool conventions, or from experienced homeschoolers you know or might contact through a local organization; for example, I have compiled this information for those in Wisconsin. You can also check with any of the national homeschool organizations, but keep in mind that closer to home is better (i.e., the people who actually live and homeschool in your city and state will have more thorough, accurate information). On the other hand, you should definitely never take the advice of public school officials or websites (i.e., the state DOE or DPI) because their expertise is in regards to public school, not homeschool. Thus, they will inevitably provide inaccurate, unhelpful information even if they mean well.

When you discover what is required to begin homeschooling in your state, follow the procedures to the letter...but provide 
nothing more to bureaucrats or agencies than that which is explicitly required by law. Choose the least invasive option - for example, in my state, I can legally tally children via a broad "grade level" range rather than by one specific "grade level" - and do not volunteer any information beyond what the law clearly mandates. The goal is to jump through the regulatory hoops while preserving your family's privacy and autonomy. Obey the law but, again, always remember that your ultimate responsibility is to the much higher authority of your children's well-being and God Himself. In other words, if you obey God and aim to discover and then meet your children's real, holistic needs, state-level mandates will take care of themselves.

As soon as you officially do what is needed to start homeschooling in your state, find a good local support group. With the possible exception of very rural areas, homeschool groups of various types seem to abound, whether faith-based or secular, whether for loosely organized social gatherings or highly structured academic co-ops and everything in between. Investigate the options and choose one that seems like a good fit. You can also find local/regional online support (i.e., via Facebook), and national groups like the one I moderate. But don't skip real-life connections; you (and your kids) need to build relationships with other homeschoolers in your local community.

Then - if your children have been in any institutional school (public or private) for any length of time at all (even just part of one year!) - you must spend time (perhaps significant time) on deschooling. In fact, even if you're starting to homeschool "from scratch" (i.e., with little ones, without having to pull them from a school), I urge you to take time to at least deschool yourself since you are undoubtedly influenced (unconsciously and negatively) by having been schooled yourself. If you skip this – because you feel it’s "not really school” - you’ll end up making life much more difficult for yourself and your kids. These articles explain deschooling; read them and follow their recommendations:
Deschooing is an exhilarating and liberating experience...and it's an active process. During your deschooling time you will be purposing to observe, understand, and relate to your children in a whole new way while also beginning to free yourself from school-style thinking and figure out an educational philosophy and curriculum options that might work for your family.

A piece I wrote, How to Choose Homeschool Curriculum: A Quick Primer, may help with that latter part of the endeavor. And while you deschool, you can also read and ponder these other helpful, encouraging articles:
When you're done deschooling - remember what the author at Educated Adventures says about that, above - you'll be ready to "officially" begin home education. Of course, by that time you'll realize that you've actually been on the journey for some time already and that your "official start" is really just a new bend in the road. But you'll be ready for it when you see it coming.

As I mentioned above, the only way to really begin learning to educate your children at home is to step out and do it. You will feel at first as if you're groping in the dark - goodness, even experienced homeschoolers trip and fall sometimes! - and you won't be perfect. But I promise you won't damage your children. Since you are the person who knows them better than anyone else in the world and because you love them more than anyone else ever could, you will pour yourself into the process. If you do that - if you commit to diligence and perseverance along the way - you will succeed, bumps in the road and all. 

So are you ready now to take that first step?

Photo Credit: Joao Santos

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