Homeschooling 101

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The decision to homeschool can lead to some overwhelming questions like: How do you get started? What does a typical day look like? How do you keep toddlers from emptying the cabinets on a daily basis while you teach your older kids? What about socialization?

After researching the homeschool laws in your state, the first thing you need to know is that there is no “perfect” or “right” way to homeschool. Teaching supplies and methods are as different as the families actually doing the homeschooling. Homeschooling can range from super-structured to complete freedom.

To get started, some homeschoolers buy a packaged curriculum with lesson plans, which works well for parents who are unsure about what needs to be taught or where their child is on the academic spectrum. The choices can be overwhelming, so do Internet research, join online groups and find local homeschoolers to discuss what programs they are using and what they think of their packaged curriculum.

The homeschoolers referred to as “unschoolers” let their child lead the way (often called “natural learning”). “Science class” could include field trips to nature centers and zoos, along with nature walks. Grammar is learned from reading books and from real conversations. Similarly, history is learned from stories and historical fiction, or even animated movies.

“There is no typical day for our unschooling family,” says Anna B. of Matthews. “Our days flow with our interests. A day might be filled with reading, music, exploring the yard, a museum, visiting with friends, deep conversations, playing games together or more usually a combination of many of those things. There is no agenda, no box to check, just a glorious world to explore together as a family.”

Unit studies are a fun way for a child to cover every subject by studying one topic. For instance, if your child is a dinosaur fanatic, you would incorporate reading, writing, spelling, history, geography, math, etc. into a unit study on dinosaurs. Your child could use a map to learn where dinosaur fossils have been found. Then she could read a historical book about dinosaurs, followed by a written book report.

The “eclectic” method uses whatever works for a child at any given time. These homeschoolers pick and choose from the different methods (classical, religious,
secular, unit studies, etc.), incorporating lots of play time and field trips. “Grandparents are great about giving us workbooks for holidays
and birthdays, which is great for keeping my costs down,” says Tresa Cope who lives in Kansas. “For reading I just make sure to read to the kids as much as I can. They help me in the garden for ‘science class’, and grocery shopping is ‘economics’! When they’re older I’ll consider a pre-packaged curriculum.”

As far as the daily job of homeschooling goes, it seems like every day is different. “We have sometimes schooled year round. This allows us to take breaks during the school year as needed for family vacations or emergencies, to help out a friend in need, or when we want to do a special field trip,” says Karen Davis, who lives with her family in Indian Trail. “The best part of homeschooling comes when you break free of the school mode and find many paths to learning.”

So how do these homeschoolers handle the challenge of balancing younger and older children during the teaching day? “It can be difficult to balance everyone’s needs when you have more than one child, especially when the children are all spread out in ages. I always encourage my children to do some of their work independently. I also allow them to pursue their own interests, and this is something that they can do while I am working with another child,” says Davis. “Our home has a lot of books, computers, games and educational toys and DVDs. You just have to get a little creative and flexible to make it all work. And remember that children are always learning, even during moments that they aren’t being taught.”

Socialization isn’t usually a concern among homeschoolers. Start by searching the Internet for homeschool groups to join. Other ideas include library programs, parks and recreation activities, playdates and co-ops. “Charlotte, NC is a wonderful area to homeschool,” says Diana Quin, a homeschooler in the Charlotte area. “The North Carolina homeschooling laws are easy to comply with, and nearly every museum, library, park and YMCA has programs for homeschoolers. We take our science class through Discovery Place Science museum, our P.E. through the YMCA, my girls sing in the choir at church, and take private music lessons.”

As with anything new, when you first start to homeschool you’ll feel a bit unsteady and unsure. Have fun, do what works for you and your children, and keep at it. You’ll get the hang of it and will soon be mentoring others.

Kerrie McLoughlin is a mother of five, has been homeschooling eclectically for more than four years, and is happy to answer any questions at