The Art and Science of Homeschooling: What You Need to Know
By: Alejandra Roca
Date: November, 2017
The modern home is much more than a place to come to at the end of the day. For instance, one in five Americans work from home, and even though the lines between home and office are blurred, studies show that employees who work from home are happier and more productive. Working from home isn’t just for adults — 3.4 percent of school-aged children are also getting an education from home. Shedding the confines of a traditional classroom education, these 1.7 million students are enrolled in homeschool.
With homeschooling, children learn outside of a traditional school setting under the guidance of their parents. The parents act as teachers and principals, determining curriculum, teaching styles (also called pedagogy) and methods of assessing knowledge. They don’t have complete free reign, however, and must follow both state and federal government regulations.
Why homeschool? Each parent has his or her own reason to take charge of their child’s education. Some common reasons include:
- Being able to line up teaching schedules to parents’ work schedules.
- Enabling long-term travel opportunities.
- Eliminating social and educational pressures to conform.
- Being able to control safety factors.
- Having the ability to engage in religious practices.
- Being able to accommodate special needs and learning disabilities.
- Allowing advanced children access to more stimulating material or creating an accelerated pace of learning.
Homeschooling is regulated some by the federal government, but mostly by individual states, all with different requirements. Parents interesting in homeschooling will need to check with their state’s department of education and their local school district to find out the expectations for educating their children themselves. You may be required to submit lesson plans, semester reports, administer standardized tests, and participate in home visits.
Getting Started Homeschooling
Whatever your reasons for homeschooling your child, you might feel intimidated at first. You don’t have an education degree and you haven’t been in school yourself for a long, long time. Don’t let insecurity get to you — who taught them how to walk, talk, ride a bike, be polite or care for a pet? That’s right — you’ve already been teaching your children long before you decided to homeschool.
Before you get started, it’s important to know your state’s requirements for homeschooling. Next, you’ll want to find a network of other homeschooling parents in your area or online. This group can be your lifeline when it comes to encountering challenging subjects, tips for creating routines and finding resources to help your kids stay engaged with social activities. Check out age-appropriate programs at your local museums for science, history and art. Reach out to music instructors and learn about community sports your child or teen can participate in.
Third, you’ll want to research different homeschool teaching methods and implement the one that works best for you and your child. There are many methods for homeschooling, but four common approaches include:
- Classic: This educational approach involves going back to the foundations of education — grammar (memorizing facts), logic (applying reasoning to the facts) and rhetoric (applying judgment to the facts and the logic).
- Waldorf: This homeschooling style encourages learning through art, movement and music early on; then, as they mature into teens, they are given opportunities to reason for themselves. This approach aims to teach the whole child at all ages — mind, body and spirit. Montessori methods are also similar in their holistic approach.
- Interest-Led: Also known as “unschooling” or “self-directed,” this pedagogy lets your child’s interests, goals and abilities drive the basis of their education. This can also help teens become stronger leaders, as well as learners.
- Unit Study: Rooted in a child’s interests, this educational style takes a specific interest, in horses, for example, and applies it to academic disciplines like biology, literature, anatomy and psychology.
Finally, you’ll want to set up your curriculum and learning milestones. You can base these off of state requirements — like if you have to turn in a portfolio at specific times of the year — or your schedule, child’s interests, seasons or other factors. Basically, you’ll want to plan out what you need your child to accomplish by when, and work backwards to create a learning plan that accomplishes these goals in stages.
Homeschooling for Disabilities
Some parents choose to homeschool because they are not pleased with the standards for special education in their district. All students, but especially those with special needs, can benefit from one-on-one instruction and attention.
If you’re homeschooling a child with special needs, first try to find a balance between your child’s abilities and the disability. Learn all you can about the disability and then how to modify your lesson plans, teaching styles and educational aids so that your child gets the best possible chance to use his or her abilities to learn. For example, if fine motor skills are a challenge, you and your child can work on learning through art. Holding crayons, paint brushes and pencils can help improve these skills, while also allowing your child to take breaks and work at his or her own pace.
Another upside to homeschooling a student with a disability is modifying the learning environment. Instead of being confined to a desk, a child with attention deficit disorder can walk around, learn in the afternoon instead of the morning, or take more frequent breaks. Homeschooling a child with special needs involves a lot of trial and error — don’t be afraid to get creative, get outside and get feedback, from your child and other homeschooling parents working with a similar situation.
Best Homeschool Learning Environments
Most people experienced with homeschooling agree that the last thing you want to do is recreate a sterile school setting in your home. What you want is a space, or even a few spaces, that will inspire your child, put them at ease with their education, and encourage them to learn. Remember, as a homeschooler, you have a huge advantage — your entire home, inside and out, is a place for learning.
You don’t need a formal learning environment to teach your kids. Biology can happen outside by keeping a garden or examining birds. Science and math can happen in the kitchen while learning to measure and understanding why certain ingredients react as they do on a chemical level. Reading comprehension can happen at the library, in a park or a museum.
However, you might find that having a dedicated room for projects, materials and testing could really be beneficial. Make it bright, open and inspirational. You can use small, colorful rugs to signify work areas. Paint the walls with chalkboard paint or add a whiteboard to make every space interactive. Most importantly, make it functional and liveable.
Benefits of Homeschooling
Research shows that many homeschooled children have significant advantages during their education, but you might be surprised to know those advantages continue on into life. Studies have shown that children who are homeschooled score higher on tests, average higher SAT scores and grow into adults who are much more engaged in their communities. In addition, homeschooling can boost your child’s education by:
- Customizing teaching to your child’s specific learning style.
- Accelerating learning or even slowing it down, depending on the child’s needs.
- Learning with a flexible schedule that involves field trips, external programs and family time.
- Developing independent critical thinking and problem solving skills.
- Nurturing their specific interests and talents.
- Instilling them with the values and reinforcing the beliefs central to your family.
Homeschooling not only benefits kids, but it can be incredibly valuable to parents as well. Not only will you be more invested in the learning process, but you all will be more invested in their family life.
Additional Homeschooling Resources: