I have two boys, 6 and 8 years old, who were in Kindergarten and 2nd grade at a local elementary school when the pandemic hit. We had been enjoying our school, friends and teachers but were increasingly drawn to the prospect of being able to tailor our children’s education to their individual needs.
Then, the pandemic came and I was literally forced to try it. After a few hard and frustrating weeks of distance learning (or really “crisis learning”) through the school, I started getting into a groove and then, I realized, that if I was going to do this homeschool thing, I wanted to do it on my own terms.
Again, our teachers at our local public school were amazing. I just decided that the benefits of homeschooling (deciding what to teach, going at our own pace, being more involved in my children’s education, teaching from a biblical world view, etc.) were too great for me to ignore.
So, starting this Fall, we will be homeschooling our kids. I did a ton of research and gathering materials over the past few months, and I wanted to pass on what I have learned and how I got started.
Getting Started with Homeschooling
After making this momentous decision, I kind of felt at a loss as to where to begin. Luckily, reaching out to a few friends who homeschool their kids got me on the right track. I set up calls and a video chat with two friends and one acquaintance whose name and contact info was passed on to me from a neighbor.
These calls proved invaluable and pointed me in the right direction for homeschooling co-ops and resources in our local area. We researched our state laws and the procedure for withdrawing our kids from school and joined a state homeschool group. We have several really thriving local groups (email me if you are in the North Ellis County, Texas area and would like a list), and ended up joining Classical Conversations, but more on that later.
I read through her ebook, How to Choose a Homeschool Curriculum, a few chapters at a time with my highlighter and taking notes and this helped me get my brain wrapped around the first steps for learning how to be a homeschooling mom.
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She also has an invaluable resource on her site: reviews of pretty much every curriculum out there. But if you start diving into curriculum without knowing what your overall approach and focus will be, it is easy to just get overwhelmed and through your hands up. Reading through her book helped me get started by sorting through all the different approaches and asking myself which one is right for me.
After reading through her book and doing the recommended exercises plus discussing with my husband and family, I landed heavily on a classical approach with some unit study and Charlotte Mason thrown in there. This makes me what they call an “eclectic” homeschooler.
It is important to mention here that I have two boys that are very close in age (21 months apart) and also are very close in ability. My younger son is advanced in reading and writing while my older son is more advanced in math, so I plan to group them on several subjects and only teach them separately on others. It is commonly stated in the homeschool community that you can group kids of different ages and teach them together, depending on your needs and their skill and maturity levels. This will be something I will likely have to experiment with to see what works, but I am confident I will figure out at least a few subjects to group them on.
I originally thought I would buy an all-encompassing curriculum (i.e. one that has math, language arts, history, etc. all in one package) and go from there. However, once I started doing the research, I figured out that was not the best idea for us. I do think that is a really good place to start if you are not sure or don’t really know where you want to start. The all-in-one curriculums that were recommended to me that I seriously considered are:
In the end, I have strong skills in literature and writing and wanted to do that myself (with my mom, who is a retired High School English teacher helping me). Everything else, I purchased separately. It’s overwhelming looking through all the curriculums, but here are the ones we chose and why.
Honestly, the teachers guide for this curriculum was lent to me and I liked it so much (and heard so much about it) that I did not really look at any other. You use letter tiles that you can adapt to a magnetic white board in combination with flashcards, and each lesson is laid out for you.
Once I started doing research, I quickly found this curriculum was the one recommended and used by almost everyone I talked to. It uses manipulatives (blocks) and a CD with recorded lessons and worksheets but more importantly, I liked the listen, learn and then teach it back to me method this curriculum follows. A bonus is that my kids love the blocks and also want to play with them during play time.
Other math curriculums that were recommended and that I considered:
- Beast Math – we purchased one of their puzzle books and used it over the summer for math practice. We loved it!
- Saxon Math
- Life of Fred
- Art of Problem Solving
I plan on starting with a review of the main eight parts of speech for both kids and then we will do these daily grammar lessons every day. I feel like we will get a lot of grammar practice from writing and reading so not going to spend a ton of time on this for now.
I am a reader so it is a no-brainer for me to choose what we will read and then just buy books and teaching guides from there. I am still deciding what books we will read but have been reviewing several reading lists I found online and planning on reading two to three books this Fall.
Joining a Homeschool Group
At first, I decided we would not join an outside homeschool group or co-op and we would embark on this first year learning at home on our own. We have a lovely local family with boys similar ages to ours who we decided to collaborate with, and I figured that was enough for now. As we waded through curriculums together and talked about how we wanted to approach homeschooling, these friends helped me learn more about the Classical method I read about on Cathy Duffy’s book and website.
This lead me to look deeper into this group and the Classical method and after talking with the local Classical Conversations (CC) director, discussing with my friend and our families, and praying about it, we decided to join our local chapter of CC. Luckily, our friends also made the same decision so we will have at least one other family we are familiar with getting started.
Most areas have many different levels of homeschool groups for your needs. From extensive help and plugging in to a community of fellow homeschoolers to groups that focus more on extra-curricular or enrichment opportunities, you can typically find what you feel is best for your family if you do a little looking.
In the end, joining a group is the right decision for us as I feel woefully inadequate and needing some coaching and help in this first year. I also want to be sure the kids have friends and we have some kind of accountability getting started. Finally, the CC curriculum and memory work seemed like a great place for us to use as a base with the math, spelling and other subjects stemming from that.
There are a number of CC homeschooling moms with amazing blogs that I have been using to help get me going. This one is particularly good with lots of advice, resources and other help.
It is important to note that our local CC group is following the county health guidelines for corona virus and as of publishing of this blog post, they are still planning on meeting in person this Fall. However, they will be following safety requirements (social distancing, requiring masks, etc.) on community day (the one day/week the group meets). Should more cases come up in our county or should the guidelines change, they have several backup plans and will even go to meeting on Zoom, should that be needed. Still, I feel that having this smaller group allows more flexibility and ability to meet and give my kids some contact with other humans, even when larger groups (schools, churches, etc.) are unable to meet for health reasons.
Homeschool Schedule and Planning
This is the area I know the least about since we have not really gotten started yet. However, from homeschooling for two months last Fall, I have a little bit of an idea about how much we are capable of doing and how long things take.
Even though I am a planning freak, I don’t think writing lesson plans is a good use of my time until I know more about how things will go. I did, however, sit down and make out a schedule for the first two weeks.
I am following the pretty much universal advice I have received from every homeschooler, blogger, and educator out there: start slow.
Given that advice, I plan on focusing on doing one or two lessons a day (probably math and spelling) in addition to reading aloud in the first week. Then, I plan on ramping up from there and eventually we will add in grammar, projects, writing, science and history. In addition, we will have the CC curriculum which relies heavily on memorizing facts at this level (with the help of fun visual aids, songs and activities.)
I also learned when homeschooling a Kindergardener and a 2nd grader last Fall for two months that it is important to have lot of breaks with playtime, bike riding and family walks built into our days. On bad weather days or if we are in a hurry, stopping and doing an interactive Go Noodle video is a good stopgap measure for wiggly boys.
I plan on teaching Mon, Wed and Thursday with Tuesday being our CC “Community Day.” Fridays I will set aside as easier days with only a few lessons as needed. I also plan on doing some fun activities on Fridays like science experiments and baking something from this wonderful kids cookbook we picked up from Half Price Books earlier this summer. This will go along with our lessons as we plan on doing a lot of learning about volume and measurements this year in math.
One important scheduling resource is this one: Morning Basket. This was the very first resource I started with before we even got going with the distance learning. We had a week in between spring break and when our distance learning through the school started and we did morning basket pretty much exclusively that week, just to have something to focus on and keep the learning and engagement going. I plan on incorporating morning basket into my homeschool this Fall and especially found her podcast (see Episode #19) helpful in how to get started with effectively incorporating this into my day.
I am including info about morning basket under scheduling because, for me, it holds crucial resources for how to start every day although some people do their morning basket time at lunch or even to close out their day.
For a more rigorous scheduling and planning help, Homeschool Planet was recommended to me, and I foresee us joining that at some point in the future. For this tool, you can plug in all the curriculums you are doing and then on a weekly basis, you just print out the required work. For older kids in particular, I think it is invaluable to just have a checklist to work off of that is removed from being told what to do.
Additional Subjects and Curriculums
Once I get going with our CC memory work, and what I consider to be our core subjects – spelling, grammar, math, reading and writing – I plan on adding in more lessons on history, science, cursive writing and poetry.
For history, we are likely going to start with Story of the World later in the Fall and given all the reading aloud we will be doing, I am hoping to get the audio version so we can listen to them together as a family. Mystery of History is another curriculum we are considering, but I think we will tackle those once our kids are a little older. Here are a few other history curriculums that have been recommended to me:
For science, we plan to start out by relying on our CC science activities and expanding on the memory work through their online resources (they provide resources through a paid membership to their online community, CC Connected). Also, my husband wants to do a unit study on bats with the kids this Fall and plans on having them help him build bat boxes to put around our property. In the long run, though, I plan on doing a more focused science curriculum and here are the ones I am reviewing:
Handwriting: My kids have their basic printing down pretty good and we have been practicing a bit over the summer, so I decided they will both do cursive writing lessons this Fall. With my younger son (6), I plan on going through the letters individually and my older son (having had some cursive in school already) will have to write out words and sentences. I found a bunch of free guides online and plan on doing this myself although I hear really amazing things about Handwriting Without Tears.
Free or Reduced Price Homeschool Resources
Embarking on this new chapter in our lives has not been cheap, but I have found so many resources that are free or can be acquired at a reduced price. Here are a few I have found and used so far.
When we joined our local state homeschool group, Texas Homeschool Coalition, our membership came with a 3-month free trial for Schoolhouse Teachers. I have used the curriculum offered on this site to plug in any holes I feel we have for getting started.
Library: I already use our local library (plus a few libraries in surrounding towns) regularly, but I plan on checking out books, music cds, and everything I can from the library this year. I already use Libby to access ebooks and audio books, and we recently set the kids up with their own accounts.
Share: This is a key concept in the homeschooling community. I have received a ton of curriculums on loan from friends and other homeschooling families. (I have discovered that the homeschool community is so giving, accepting, welcoming and loving and cannot even express adequately how amazing everyone has been so far.) On top of that, we have a family that we are collaborating with and have decided to split up costs on a few things. Particularly, for books, readers and literature guides but honestly, we are constantly looking for ways we can split costs with them on things. I am also hoping to do this with other families in our CC group once we get started there.
Finally, I have to mention Khan Academy. It is a 100% totally free resource online for learning pretty much any subject. We set our kids up with accounts and they go in and they think its fun to watch the videos and take the little quizzes. I plan on using this during the school day if we have extra time or if I need a learning activity to occupy one child while I am working with the other.