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All articles are presented to stimulate thought and assist Christian families in homeschooling their children. Articles may or may not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the management of HomeschoolChristian.com.

How To Get Started in Homeschooling

By Eileen Spatz

April 1999

If you are considering home schooling you are probably wondering where to get the information needed to prepare for this endeavor. Hopefully this paper will help you find the curriculum, the resources, the support you need to begin your home school.

Although I am in no way an expert in home schooling, I have nearly completed two years of home schooling three kids. I can be of some help in directing you in the initial planning stage. Because I am receiving inquiries from all over the country, I can only provide a general overview of home schooling for you. Please check with local home schoolers and churches for the phone numbers of your local home school academies (umbrella schools) or county-sponsored (secular) home study programs.

Why Home School?

Ask ten home school parents why they decided to opt out of traditional schools and you will get ten different answers. Some parents were simply not satisfied with the academic content (or lack of) and felt they could do a better job with better curricula. Other parents want to instill religious values throughout the school day, but can't afford private parochial schools. Other parents feel their children will do better academically with one-on-one attention. For many parents, all of these reasons explain their decision to home school.

Main benefits of homeschooling:

1. You will become unbelievably close to your children.
2. You will watch your children thrive on the individual attention and assistance they receive from you, and you will notice how their behavior and attitude improves, too. You will find that home schooled kids are, generally, very well-behaved.
3. You will have many more opportunities to actually parent your children. Being with them more, you will find that important topics and issues will come up in conversation (even during lessons) and you can help guide them, versus a peer. It will be YOUR values, not their peers or a school's, that they are learning.
4. Your children will move at a faster pace than in traditional school, and you will be able to cover more subjects in more depth. Home schoolers score far above the national average on standardized tests.
5. You will have control over what is being taught to your children, and they have some say about what they want to study. This nurtures a true love of learning.
6. You will find your family life become closer and much more relaxed. No more of those crazy mornings, rushing around to get them to school on time. No more evenings monopolized by tedious hours of homework.
7. Your children will feel secure and happy being at home with you (most days!)
8. Your children will become closer to each other (despite the squabbles.)
9. Home schooling is FLEXIBLE. You can arrange vacations and short get-aways without worrying about a school calendar.
10. You will be able to take lots of field trips and day trips, augmenting the school experience with some real world experiences.

Disadvantages of Home Schooling:

1. Occasional crazy days. Some days the kids just are, well I'll say it, OBNOXIOUS. When this happens, ya just plow through, threaten to ground them (or take away their prized Game-boy, bike, whatever) if they don't shape up--and stick to it! Then, after you've locked yourself in your bathroom and had a good cry, you will eventually smile at your ability to "handle it." All home school parents have difficult days when the kids fight or produce lousy work or whatever irks you. Trust me, the good days--and all the above mentioned benefits, far outweigh these bad days.
2. You have to be self-disciplined and organized. This can be a challenge for some of us moms, myself included. It is a matter of setting your mind to the task, committing to their education, and just knowing that by about 1:00, you can relax.
3. That's all I could come up with. Honest.

Do you want to be independent or under a home school "umbrella" group?

Decide if you want to remain totally independent or to utilize a home school "umbrella" school, also known as an ISP (independent study program). Check the laws for your state before beginning. If you elect to become a member of an umbrella school, they will list you (for the state) as members of a "private school" even though you are indeed home schooling. The umbrella schools provide many services including standardized testing, classes (ie Spanish or science etc), organized field trips, etc. They vary in regard to what they offer and the fees they charge, but many home schooling families like the umbrella school for the social programs and for the maintenance of school records (report cards, test scores etc).

Most umbrella schools do not provide texts or curriculum, leaving that up to the parents to select and purchase elsewhere. There are exceptions to this. Kolbe Academy, a home school academy (with a national program) in Napa, CA is the home study program we use for purchasing our books (classical curriculum), record-keeping, proctor reviews of the students' work, and standardized tests. Because they are based in central California though, they provide no classes or social gatherings for us in our community.

Where do I buy the books?

There are many sources for curriculum, if you elect not to use the state sponsored centers, which tend to restrict curriculum and content. Each year there are home school curriculum faires, the largest one is called CHEA (Christian Home Educators Association). There you can peruse the various book publishers' wares for three days, if that's what it takes! Contact CHEA for information about where the conventions are being held this year and registration materials: (800) 564-2432 [Editor's note: Every state has at least one convention. Try searching the internet with "your state homeschooling convention." See the Support HomeschoolChristian.com page for a large list of curricula suppliers.]

Organizations for Home Schoolers

Christian Home Educators Association (CHEA) Membership with CHEA ($35/year) gets you discounts on convention fees, resources, HSLDA membership and a free newsletter. Call (800) 564-2432 [Editor's note: This is a California group.] Another great source for information regarding curriculum and used books (bargains!), and just plain ole SUPPORT is an excellent home school web site: HomeschoolChristian.com. You can read all the posts on the HomeschoolChristian.com message boards about various texts, teaching styles, unit studies, etc and see the responses to the questions. It will help you make decisions on the TYPE of curriculum you want to use. Also, If you know of any friends or neighbors who are home schooling, pick their brains about which books they've enjoyed, and which the kids didn't like at all (and why.)

How should we structure our day?

You will quickly learn that home schooling is EXTREMELY varied. No two families home school in quite the same way. Some folks are very structured, with a schedule of subjects to be covered each day in a particular order. They try to structure the day similarly to a traditional school day, including recess and lunch breaks of course. Other home schoolers are very loose and flexible, allowing the kids to determine what subjects they'll explore based on their interests (math and writing are not up for debate, though!). This format allows for the kids to move at their own pace and for less textbook study and more "unit study" and/or hands on learning. Most home schoolers that I know find a balance point between these two extremes.

How will I know what subjects to teach?

Packaged Curriculum:

This is the source of SO much stress for beginning home school parents. Fear not! You can choose to use a "packaged" curriculum (Bob Jones University Press (900) 845-5731 and A Beka (877) 223-5226 are among the most popular with Christian home schoolers.), you will receive all subjects, including teachers manuals and tests for whatever grade you are teaching.

Kolbe Home School Academy also offers a classical curriculum package for all grades. To order their catalog call (707) 255-6499. Keep in mind that the reading books (literature) are quite advanced. You may want to scale back a grade level on some of the texts, or substitute different reading texts depending on your child's abilities.

There are several other packaged curricula available at the CHEA convention or other curriculum fairs. Check with local home schoolers for dates.

Assorted Curriculum:

On the other hand, most home schoolers mix and match the books from different sources, giving them the ability to tailor their program according to their child's ability and interests. In order to know just what core subjects a child should be learning in a given grade level, a good source for information is What your first (second, third etc) Grader Should Know, a respected series of guidance books by E.D. Hirsch.

Most major publishers (A Beka (877)223-5226; Bob Jones University Press (900) 845-5731) offer scope and sequences free of charge. Just call and ask for them!

You can also ask the local private schools for the curriculum for a specific grade level, giving you an idea what the subject matter should consist of, and use that as a guide.

You may find that, after the first year is under your belt, you will become more brave about broadening the scope of learning beyond the core subjects. For instance, you may find that you get through the basic subjects early enough that you can add Spanish or typing or art history at any grade level. Most of us are finished with school by 1:00, which allows lots of time for enrichment activities (piano lessons, ice skating lessons, horseback lessons, batting cage practice etc).

What About Homework?

This is one of the (many) benefits of home schooling! Because the core subjects will be taught in depth during "class time," there is little need for huge homework loads, which makes evenings much more family-oriented and far less stressful. At our house, I only ask my kids to read 20 minutes, study their weekly spelling words, and work on any report or project a little each night, as well as study for any upcoming test. This amounts to about one hour per night, max.

MATH

Although there are many math programs out there, a favorite among home schoolers in Saxon math. Why? Because it has easy to teach, short daily lessons that build concepts incrementally with LOTS of review. Those of us who use Saxon find our kids become quite proficient in computation and reasoning, and totally calculator-free! Saxon seems to be best suited to kids from third grade up (starting with the Saxon 54 book, good for st rong third graders or average fourth/fifth graders). For advanced math, fear not! Saxon has a telephone/e-mail help line and a "procedures" help book. Saxon offers a simple test to help you determine which level your child should begin at. To order this test call: (888) 867-2966

Some kids, however, do not respond well to repetition and continuous computation. For young kids, the Math U See program is a good "hands-on" (manipulatives) program that can be used alone or in conjunction with a program like A Beka or Horizons for K-2 grades. These can be ordered through the above listed catalogs or at the home school curriculum fairs.

READING

To teach reading I cannot emphasize enough the importance of a strong PHONICS program. The kindergarten A Beka program is a good program, and it comes with a teachers guide and phonics flash cards etc. Another excellent program for reading and writing is called Sing Spell Read Write (SSRW), which is also phonics-based, and incorporates spelling and writing in a fun format. Concentrate your teaching of reading on vowel sounds (short and long), consonant sounds, and BLENDING from the first letter to the last. Do this consistently (using phonics flash cards) each day for 10-15 minutes, along with reading aloud to him/her, and it won't be long before your child is a reader!

If your child already reads, just keep him/her reading, reading, reading. Frequent trips to the library, and lots of book reports, will build reading fluency and comprehension.

For comments on grammar, science, writing, spelling, history, foreign language programs, geography etc, visit home school websites. You will get answers to your own questions and/or learn other peoples' opinions by visiting the message boards.

What About Socialization?

This is probably the one concern that keeps most parents from considering home schooling. It is also one of the actual non-issues, once you are home schooling. Socialization does, however, require a little effort from the parents.

Since your kids will be home with you now, you will want to continue to encourage and support the friendships that your child has formed by making it a priority to get the kids together after traditional school lets out. In addition to this, I strongly recommend that home schoolers join city sports teams and hobby classes (Little League, AYSO soccer, Boys/Girls club sports, Girl/Boy Scouts, community center dance classes, etc), and church youth programs (Awanas, for example.)

As you start finding other home schoolers (through word of mouth, umbrella school rosters, chance meetings), you'll learn about "park days" and ice skating days etc. You'll soon find yourself coordinating field trips with other home school friends, and you'll have other home schoolers visiting your home. My daughter has a group of five girls her age in our immediate area, and they now perform "figure-blading" (rollerblading) shows for us parents--complete with solo performances and refreshments! Recently, four home school families joined us for bowling after school. It was a blast. With a little bit of imagination, social outings will be plentiful.

Socialization is actually one of the benefits of home schooling. Why? Because it allows you, as the parent, to have more control over the social group your children are exposed to. Most likely, the last thing you want for your children is for them to be mimicking the BAD behavior that is prevalent in many schools. Maybe you don't want them exposed to the "worldly" mannerisms and speech found in classrooms and playgrounds. By home schooling, you can narrow their social group to kids you know and like, as well as expose them to adults/family members more, limiting the "peer-speak." Because of this, home schooled kids tend to be more poised and confident.

What About Legal Assistance, if necessary?

Although home schooling is perfectly legal in all states, it offers one peace of mind to know that, if there is ever a legal challenge (outside of custody and divorce cases) or issue regarding your choice to home school, you would have legal support and advice at your fingertips. Membership in HSLDA also provides home schooling parents a bi-monthly magazine which is full of important information regarding home schooling.

Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA): (national)
P.O. Box 159
Paeonian Springs, VA 22129
(540) 338-5600

I sincerely hope that this information answers many of your questions about home schooling. I cannot stress enough how wonderful home schooling is, for the whole family! As it gains popularity, and the ranks swell, more options for our kids will be the result (sports teams, co-op home schools, musical groups, etc). I do hope you will consider this educational option, and know that there is plenty of support out their for home schoolers.

About the author: Eileen Spatz is the mother of three children whom she now home schools. Because of extreme disappointment in her children's public school, she was motivated to became active in researching and writing about educational issues (since 1994). Although Spatz identifies problems such as questionable teaching philosophies (outcome based education) and faddish pedagogy (new new math and whole language) as serious problems in today's public schools, her emphasis these past four years has been on exposing the disturbing federal education bills (Goals 2000 and School-to-Work) which were signed into law in March 1994.

By informing the public through her writings, which appear in The Orange County Register, the LA Times, The Washington Post, and Investor's Business Daily, she is hoping to encourage other parents to take control of their childrens' education. In addition to newspaper columns, she has appeared on cable television specials regarding education, and is currently contributing to a book on the subject. Eileen lives with her husband, Mark, and kids (Chelsea, 12; Christopher, 10; and Sammi, 6) in San Clemente, CA.

See other articles about getting started with homeschooing.