Homeschooling 101: Tips For Making It Successful For Everyone

When schools across the country suddenly closed in 2020 and some stayed closed in 2021 because of the pandemic, parents everywhere were caught off guard, finding themselves suddenly thrust into the role of teacher. In addition to handling their own work from home, parents had to help their children navigate remote learning on top of all their usual duties. For many families, their first experience with education from home was, to put it bluntly, a resounding failure.

But other parents were already skilled at helping their children learn at home. These parents are those who’ve chosen to home school their children, and for them, the pandemic did not impose difficulties by adding “teacher” to their job descriptions. These parents already had that position as part of their title.

Many children adapt beautifully to this method of learning. However, for parents, it is not as simple as deciding to pull a child from a traditional, brick and mortar building and teaching them at home. Many factors must be considered before plunging into homeschooling, so if you’re thinking about it for your child, here are some tips to keep in mind before choosing this path. 

1. Start with lots of research.

Like so many things in life, it’s important that you fully understand what homeschooling means in your district. Find out the rules and regulations that govern homeschooling in your state by researching your local government’s website. Because states are responsible for education, what is allowed in California may not be allowed in New Hampshire, so start the process by learning as much as you can. For example, in New York, a parent must file a “statement of intent” every year with the local superintendent of schools. You need to know these details before leaping in.

2. Consider joining a group for homeschooling parents

Many cities have organizations dedicated to helping parents who are new to homeschooling, as well as offering support and advice along the way. These groups are definitely worth attending, because you’ll have the opportunity to network with, and learn from, parents who’ve been homeschooling their children for a while.

3. Select the curriculum.

You can purchase course catalogues online, but school districts insist that whatever you choose includes reading, writing and arithmetic – the “3Rs” as they are commonly known. And while you can tailor your child’s learning to their strengths and preferences, it’s important that, once they’ve finished their homeschooling, they are equipped to pass entrance exams at colleges and universities. That’s why portions of all curriculums are mandated by education officials in your state.

4. Once you’ve got the materials, set up a schedule and study space.

Ideally, you should ensure that you have a set schedule from which you don’t deviate – just like at traditional school. For example, mornings might be devoted to math and reading, while afternoons are for history, geography and science. You have the freedom to design a daily calendar that works best for you and your child, but you may discover it needs refining and even a full alteration as you go along through the term. That’s one of the best advantages of homeschooling – you don’t have to consider anyone else’s learning needs and styles but your own child’s. Be sure they have a comfortable working environment, with a bookcase and proper lighting, so that everything about the environment says “we’re learning now!” Doing lessons at the kitchen table is definitely not ideal.

5. Decide on extracurricular activities.

School is about much more than textbooks and lesson plans; it’s about children getting together after school for sports and clubs. Homeschooling means you won’t have those support structures in place that allow your child to join the swim team, or the chess club, or whatever else catches their interest and fosters socializing with their peer group. Therefore, it’s important that you add those activities into their week, whether it’s at a local community center or dance lessons at a local studio.

6. Get a tutor if certain subjects are not your strong suit.

Today, most parents are anxious for their children to know more than one language, perhaps Spanish or Mandarin. But teaching a language course requires highly specialized skills, and parents who homeschool may not be up to the challenge. Rather than forgoing the subject, consider hiring a tutor who specializes in the language you want your child to learn. Not only does this help your child become bilingual – a definite advantage for future employment – it gives them access to a teacher other than you, who will have a different style and process. And different is a plus, because it exposes your child to people outside their family and friends.

7. When the school day finishes, take your teacher’s hat off!

It may be tempting to keep chatting with your child about the day’s lessons, and stay focused on their schoolwork. But resist the impulse, other than maybe asking if their homework is finished. Be sure the school day has a set time for beginning and ending, and then stick to the schedule.

Homeschooling can be a wonderful way for children to achieve great things in their education, but it is not the right choice for every family. For example, if you are at home with a small infant who demands a lot of time throughout the day, who may present constant interruptions that divide your attention, taking on the responsibilities of homeschooling may not be the right choice for your family.

But if you are committed to at least trying homeschooling for one year, rest assured that, for many children, it is a great way for them to learn, particularly if “regular” classrooms present difficulties of any kind. You may decide that traditional education is a better approach for your child after all.  But you just may decide to go all the way, teaching your child yourself until college beckons. Homeschooling is a grand experiment in education delivery, and it just might be a resounding success for your family!