It’s the time of the year when I start to get lots of people contacting me regarding how to start homeschooling so I thought I’d add my suggestions here, on my blog, too.
Firstly, once you’ve made your homeschooling decision, if your children are currently at school, you’ll need to decide how urgently you need to remove them. If they are being bullied or are miserable at school, personally I’d remove them immediately, regardless of what the bureaucrats say is the ‘correct and proper’ procedure. I also wouldn’t ask the teacher or school’s advice about whether to homeschool or not. They will find it hard to comprehend how an ‘unqualified’ parent can do the same job they were specifically trained for. Your desire to remove your child will be threatening to a teacher, so I would suggest ‘informing’ rather than ‘discussing’ your decision. Your school will then, most usually, follow your case until you are registered for homeschooling or enrolled at another school, making it difficult to ‘slip under the radar’ as some parents would like. Once you’re in the system they tend to ‘keep track’ of your whereabouts and business. Such is life in our world.
If there’s no need to rush your children’s withdrawal from school, or your children haven’t yet reached school age, then you can take some time to prepare. There’s plenty to think about and research. First of all you’ll need to find your state’s homeschooling legislation and requirements. Homeschooling is legal in every state of Australia but there are varying requirements in each. Some require a fair bit of paperwork, some have home visits and others (lucky critters) have not much more than a simple form to fill in. It should be easy to locate your state’s home education details online. Remember, you aren’t ‘asking’ for permission to homeschool. You are informing the government of your intention to homeschool. I think of the registration process, not as whether I’m ‘allowed’ to homeschool or not, but rather, the hoops that are necessary to make my decision to homeschool legal. The home education units are there to help you fulfill those requirements and not to stand in your way.
Part of your research might include a lot of reading – blogs and books. In the beginning I liked reading books that showed how a variety of families homeschooled. I related well to some families and not to others and it gave me a clearer idea of what sort of homeschooling might suit my family. It also taught me that there are so many different yet equal paths to the same result. Reading, however, might be a luxury you don’t have much time for. But if you do I highly suggest you borrow or buy a few books to start familiarising yourself with.
Next, you need to decide on your homeschooling path. There are so many different options that the choice can be quite a difficult one. Let me summarise the options very basically.
Firstly there is Distance Education (state and private options). For people who want lots of support, someone to give them the lessons and tell them exactly what to do, then distance education may be for you. Distance Education is often very similar to school and perhaps an option for people looking for a temporary schooling option with the thought of returning to regular school at some point in the future. In exchange for the support you receive from Distance Education you have to expect that there is often very little flexibility and quite a lot of expectations which can feel restrictive. For example (specific to QLD Distance Education) there may be regular phone lessons, required activities and no input into the curriculum. There are private Distance Education options, in some states, that vary widely regarding support and expectations. Some of these have very little in common with the State Distance Ed experience, and allow a lot of more flexibility and freedom, so it pays to check your options.
Registering directly with your state’s home education unit is your second option. With this option the parents are totally responsible for their child’s education and registering with the unit just recognises (supervises and supports) that decision as a legal one. You aren’t given any lessons plans, textbook requirements, or extracurricular classes. You are very much on your own (although the staff are usually happy to offer suggestions and encouragement). For some, this total responsibility is a terrifying position, but for others, the freedom is refreshing and liberating.
Some people find Distance Education is helpful in the beginning for support and guidance but quickly feels more restrictive and traditionally schoolish than they desired for their homeschooling, and their state home education unit becomes a more attractive option once they’ve built a little confidence in themselves.
You aren’t completely on your own to create your curriculum if you choose to register directly with your state. There are soooo many curriculums on the market to guide you in every subject area. There are also, what we term, “box curriculums” that provide everything they feel you need to teach your child. (Be aware that these are almost always from America and most commonly Christian as well.) Box curriculums suit some families, others like to pick and choose from the smorgasbord, others wade into the shallow end of box curriculums first and then, when they think they are ready, swim out to the deeper end to take total control of their curriculum. There really is something for everyone. But be prepared to purchase resources published in the US (there are some Australian suppliers). Australia has a very small homeschooling community and very few homeschooling resources, so you greatly limit your options if you insist on Aussie only products.
If you do decide to create you own curriculum, find out what subjects your state requires you to cover and start there. Your curriculum plan doesn’t have to be a day by day, step by step blow of exactly what you plan to do. It’s an overview of what you think you might like to cover. One suggestion is to write each subject area at the top of pages of paper, then jot down your thoughts for each:
– resources/textbooks/programs that interest you or that were recommended to you
– topics you or your children would like to cover in that subject area
– skills you feel your children need to work on in that subject area, or skills you feel should be taught
– areas that your children are interested or talented in
– jot down whatever pertains to that subject that you’d like to do (excursion, documentary, game, craft, visitor, book, movie etc)
I find putting my brain on paper like this helps me hold everything in place and gives me a clearer idea of the task ahead. Remember too that your curriculum plan isn’t set in stone. What you present to the authorities can be changed and modified so your first plan doesn’t have to be perfect. Until you start homeschooling it’s hard to know what will work for everyone. So make a plan, submit it and then tweak it as you go along. Each year you’ll get better at knowing what will work.
When you write up your plan to submit, check to see if there’s a preferred format, but usually they are happy for you to present it in a format that works for you – headings and dot point lists, fancy table and charts or even just written paragraphs explaining your plan. It doesn’t have to be elaborate (I’m always guilty of that) but at the same time it needs to give a clear picture of your plans and intentions. So try to find a happy middle ground and don’t panic if the home education unit asks for more information. Just smile and happily comply. It’s no big deal.
Don’t rush out and spend a lot of money when you start homeschooling. You don’t need all those nifty looking schooly things. It’s also unwise to spend a lot of money on curriculum before you find your feet. In the early days you are likely to change your mind about your plans and textbooks as often as you change your socks so save yourself some money and start simply. If you are removing your children from a school perhaps continue on with their current textbooks for a while and add some fun and variety with great library books, movies, games, online programs and other things you already have or can borrow. Then, once you start to get a handle on how you think this homeschooling thing will work for your family, start considering more pricey but excellent programs, if that’s what you want. When you meet some homeschoolers ask to see their curriculums. They are usually happy to share and chat. And remember that there are online forums where homeschoolers sell their used curriculum second-hand.
Once you are registered, you have time to breathe…if you opt to go with your state’s registering unit. If you choose a State Distance Education option then you’ll probably be getting busy straight away.
If your children have never been to school then nothing needs to change straight away. Keep doing what you’ve always been doing and slowly add a little school routine into your day. Try not to jump in with both feet and start too much too quickly or your little ones could react badly. Create a short regular school routine and gradually increase it as your children grow and get used to the changes.
If you are removing your children from school to homeschool them, homeschoolers usually suggest a period of ‘deschooling’ (destressing and detoxing). School life and homeschooling are not the same so this period of adjustment helps ease everyone into the changes. It’s kind of like dipping your toe into the pool and slowly acclimatising to the changes. Maybe take a week or two of holidays to relax and refresh and then start a regular school routine. Start small. Maybe just the basics and something fun that everyone enjoys. Work on being together – play games, enjoy movies together, take excursions and talk. I’ll be honest, it won’t all be smooth sailing (there’ll probably be a honeymoon period). Your children have very schooly expectations and will probably challenge you when they perceive you are doing it ‘wrong’ or differently. It’s going to take time to adjust to you being both their parent and teacher. Parents, whose children have never been to school, will find the adjustment much easier as they don’t have to back track to when only Mummy and Daddy were ‘the boss of everything’. 🙂
Finally, go out and meet other homeschoolers. Make new friends for you and your children. Join in with a few planned excursions, activities or classes but don’t overload your schedule in an attempt to overcompensate for school opportunities (a common error). It’s so important to build a circle of homeschooling friends, as you’ll find that it may seem like you’ve now become a social outcast amongst your friends and family (only half kidding, heehehe). Your new homeschooling life swims upstream from the mainstream and will be odd and at times just too hard for ‘normal’ people to understand or relate to. In time your family and friends will get used to the changes, but in the meantime you’ll need people you can share your new passion and enthusiasm with – that’s where your new homeschooling friends come in.
Also keep reading and learning more about homeschooling when you get time. At some point you’ll discover a whole assortment of different homeschooling ‘styles’ or philosophies. Homeschoolers’ beliefs about how best to educate their children can be sorted into these basic styles – unschoolers/natural learners; Charlotte Mason followers; Classical Educators; Montessori, Steiner and Wardolf followers; traditional school at homers; and eclectic homeschoolers (who pick bits and pieces from all over the place). In the beginning stages of homeschooling, you don’t need to worry about these at all (but be aware that advice from homeschoolers will be, generally, slanted towards their choice of homeschooling style). It’s perfectly okay to start the homeschooling journey before working out what exactly you believe about education and learning. Down the track though, it’s good to find out more about the different styles. Many philosophies have some great teaching ideas that you could use.
Finally, while homeschoolers will tell you that homeschooling is wonderful, you also have to know that it doesn’t sparkle and shine every day. It’s normal to have bad days and it’s normal to worry but remember that it’s also normal for these troubles to come and go. Life is up and down and homeschooling is no different. Some days are great and others you can’t wait until they end. That’s normal. Some days the kids happily comply and think the very ground you walk on is hallowed (okay, exaggeration) and other days you threatened to send them all back to school (not as much of an exaggeration). All normal. So keep your expectations realistic, forgive yourself (over and over again) and give yourself plenty of time to find a working groove.
Trust me, the homeschooling journey is, overall, a wonderful one. The rewards for the courageous, dedicated, gungho and slightly foolhardy are there for the taking. Just hold on and keep taking baby steps forward into the unknown and don’t look down. The view at the top will be worth the climb.