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A Beginner's Guide to Homeschooling

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Updated on Mar 5, 2009

Maybe you are fed up with your district schools. Perhaps you feel the public education system doesn’t mesh with your political or spiritual beliefs. You might simply want a more direct involvement in your child’s education. Whatever the reason, you’re considering homeschooling. And you know what? You are not alone. Over a million children are homeschooled every year in the United States. The best way to determine if homeschooling is right for you? Listening to stories and advice from veteran homeschoolers!

“Do as much research as you can,” suggests Karmyn Larsen, who homeschools her three children and teaches “Introduction to Homeschooling” classes in East Palo Alto, California. She recommends reading as many books on education and homeschooling as you can get your hands on. Home education conventions and local homeschooler support groups are great places to meet homeschooling families. Try to get to know a couple families and ask if you can spend a day or two with them. This will allow you to see what a typical “school day” can look like.

“It took me about eighteen months of research, reading 45+ books, two days of shadowing two different homeschooling families, plus hours of agonizing before we made the plunge,” Larsen says with a chuckle.

Think about your goals for your children and what you hope to accomplish through homeschooling. Are you able, financially and psychologically, to dedicate the time to teaching your children? Will you be able to create an environment in your home or apartment that is conducive to creativity and learning? Do you have the ability to maintain balance in your own life and avoid burn-out?

The best resource for homeschooling parents is often other homeschooling parents. Join e-mail lists, subscribe to homeschooling magazines, and find local support groups. Ask other parents what educational resources they use and then try your hand at creating a curriculum. Don’t beat yourself up if you’re not an expert in every subject. “It’s a complete fallacy that the teacher must know all prior to teaching,” says Larsen. When it comes to subjects you have great difficulty with, Larsen suggests swapping teaching duties with another homeschooling parent, hiring tutors, or taking a class at the local community college to bone up on areas of study that may be a problem for you.

The laws on homeschooling vary from state to state. Home School Legal Defense Aid (www.hslda.org) provides a good starting point to research the laws in your state. There is generally some form of registration process regardless of where you live. Some states will require ongoing standardized testing. Others require teacher visits and submission of regular portfolios of your children’s work. And some states allow you near total freedom to educate your child as you see fit.

If you are worried about socialization, you can sign your child up for extracurricular classes and organized sports. For many homeschooling parents, however, this isn’t a concern. They expose their kids to people of all ages through regular organized activities with other homeschooling families, volunteer work, and trips to the library and museum. Homeschooling families also tend to have far less to deal with in terms of negative peer pressure and bullying than parents of conventionally schooled kids.

Homeschooling requires a level of commitment that a mainstream school doesn’t, but many parents swear by the results. “Think of the academic advantage of learning at your own pace, in a 1:1 ratio, in a familiar environment, with a parent who desires the absolute best for you,” says Larsen. “I can’t imagine any other educational path for my family.”

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