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How To Homeschool Your Kids (The Parent’s Guide)

Ever wondered how to homeschool your children? Like, is this idea even possible? Do you even want to?

While the thought of watching your child develop before your eyes is typically a happy, calming thought, with the current climate in consideration, many parents are left grasping for straws at what they can do to help usher in academic growth for their students. Families have happily homeschooled for years and for many reasons.

But is this the right thing for your family? And, assuming your local school district has left you no choice, how would you even start?

Thankfully, there are many online resources these days that can make your decision to homeschool your children a seamless one (or at least, not an impossible one)!

Read on to learn more about the following sections, and I should note: you’ll want to follow them in the order presented. Let’s get started!

1. Molding the Mindset for Home Learning

If you are cradling a bubbling soon-to-be kindergartener at home, perhaps the thought of homeschooling doesn’t seem like that much of a big lift. After all, you’ve probably been reading to, writing with, and building in collaboration with your little munchkin for years now.

The thought of codifying some time to craft our letters a little better, memorizing the order of the numbers, or simply getting lost in the tranquility of how the leaves in the trees move around in the backyard (look at that squirrel!) may not be a large leap. And that’s wonderful!

You should truly adopt a mindset of incremental learning goals—not too different from the books you’ve exposed your kiddos to since they were babies. They started with books without words, then books with few words, then books with smaller pictures and more words, and on and on! That’s how your homeschool journey should start: understanding that there will be some things to focus a little more attention on (or not, as we will learn in section three), and allowing plenty of time for play!

Is your kiddo a little older? Are they somewhere in the middle of elementary school, middle school, or even high school and remember what life was like when school was outside of your four walls? (Now, of course, COVID is making this obsolete, but I’m trying to also be timeless here, people!)

Hope is not lost, and you shouldn’t worry! As we will see in the next section, crafting a schedule will be your biggest asset. First, though, you’ll want to have a conversation with your child (and now, student!) about applying their best effort with you during the times you set out to spend in an academic mode. And please, don’t think you need to be like the sequel to Stand and Deliver. You’ll be just fine!

Let’s talk about that (sanity) schedule—that should ease your mind a bit.

2. Creating a Sanity Schedule

Let’s start again with our lovely, cute little kindergartener (or sub your early-elementary student in if that’s more helpful for you). This is the best time for learning, really. If you think about it: exploring every nook and cranny, finding which outlet stings the most, and mixing every marker cap with a different colored marker—just to have a little fun, right?

Learning is beautiful and should be encouraged whether or not you have a homeschool environment or are simply playing in the afternoon. The point I’m stressing here is that school, regardless of the location, should be about discovery—about molding what is already interesting and adding some definitions to how that curiosity will be measured. Creating a daily schedule is key!

You do not want full Montessori-style happening at all times, and you never want your kiddo to eat or get their head out of the paint. Some structure is good, and some say it is necessary. This isn’t a boot camp, of course, but you will be far better off if you nail down a process to how each day will proceed.

Perhaps your day with your kiddo starts with some breakfast and stretching, and then you spend some time coloring and building legos, have a morning snack, practice the day of the week and some numbers, have some lunch, they (heck, maybe you, too) take a nap, and then play outside for the afternoon (or do creative play inside, should weather not be appropriate).

For older students, they don’t quite need all of your handholding, and you can collaborate on making a schedule with them that is publicly posted, perhaps on a refrigerator door. Having the whole family understand and stay accountable to the schedule allows everyone to understand what’s going on.

You will want your child to have some say in how their day is scheduled with you to create buy-in, and when you have that, the rest is gold, baby! So, if you’re a digital type of marker-on-poster person, get creative with a daily schedule that works with your family structure.

Next, let’s discuss what you’ll actually be doing during your homeschool day.

3. Identifying Proper Curricular Resources (or Not!)

There are two, perhaps three, varying schools (pun intended!) of thought about the idea of homeschool being exactly like school, nothing like school, or a mix of traditional school and, something else.

If you’ve heard of unschooling, for example, you’ll know what I mean. The idea, basically, is to remove all of the formal structures that a typical academic setting would impose upon a child.((HealthLine: What Is Unschooling and Why Do Parents Consider It?)) Simply speaking, expose your child to proper interests that they may have, and let the child progress through at their own pace with material or experiences that they find fruitful. This idea is similarly related to Montessori schools, though not completely.

For those families that want a little more stringent accountability on what their child is learning, many online programs are available at little or no cost. Identifying reading programs is probably most critical, and sites like Readworks.org or NewsELA.org allow students to easily access contents at their reading level. Khan Academy is phenomenal for math and science education at a student’s pace.

For more official support, you can contact your state’s academic agency to see a list of homeschool-approved curriculum in your area. Truly, you can be as “by the book” or “off the beaten path” as you’d like to be.

Your type of curricula is not nearly as important as the mindset (“we are creative beings on a quest to learn more about this world of ours”) and the daily schedule you set up with your family. A simple online search can open a door of opportunities for you and your student to explore—but mindset needs to be cultivated, and schedules cannot be built by Google.

Finally, let’s tackle the often publicized role of monitoring the learning progress of your child at home.

4. Monitoring Your Child’s Learning Progress

Once again, Pinterest is your friend here (or not). Children get excited when they realize they are growing—be it the pencil marks that delineate their different heights or stickers that show their journey towards learning how to spell their name. When you can create a compelling scoreboard of accomplishment, your child will feel pride and a sense of the important life equation hard work plus focus equals positive results.

But how exactly do you know if your student is growing in fluency at the proper rate? Or that their writing is on par with others at their grade level?

Well, that answer is not so simple—going back to where you see yourselves falling on the line of philosophies to education in your house. If you’re of the “unschool” mentality, the simple observation that your child is having a renewed interest in a variety of things is enough for you. If you’ve adopted a more bounded curriculum approach, you’ll be more interested in seeing finite proof that your child is improving. So, some helpful tips for you folks are included below.

First of all, the ability to attend to a task is perhaps the most important observable and measurable feature of homeschooling. A good general rule of thumb for how long a student can stay focused on a given task without needing a break is simple: their age multiplied by 4 (minutes). Your six year old should be able to focus intently on a task that is interesting to them for 24 minutes (6 years x 4 minutes).

Of course, this general rule of thumb doesn’t always apply, but it’s a good start. Remember: this applies to focusing on interesting tasks. Staring at a multiplication worksheet for 24 minutes will probably just drive them mad.

Next, focus more on what you are having them do, not so much (initially) on how well they are doing the task. For example, you probably shouldn’t be so focused on the number of words your child can read if you first haven’t established a routine that every night at 6:00 pm, we read for 20 minutes. Establish the routine first, then start to see how your child is progressing.

A very simple reading check is to time your child reading for one minute, making a mental note of the words they read incorrectly during that one minute. That roughly indicates your child’s fluency (words read per minute).

As your child gets older, you will be able to monitor more things—multiplication facts, division processes, and the ability to research and write reports with little grammatical error and full quoted evidence. Have fun with the process, and realize you’re on a journey of learning that should be exciting!

A Possible Next Step

As you think about this important decision, be sure to include every member of your family. Schedule a time to chat about this decision, even if your student isn’t fully aware of what homeschooling is. Allow them to share their excitements, their worries, and be open with them as well.

Take that next step, though, to ensure this is in the best interest of your family, especially your child. Of course, you may not have that time and you may be forced into making a decision, in which case, I hope you found this guide helpful.

More Tips on How to Homeschool

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