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  • How to Start Homeschooling

    You've made the big decision. Maybe you've even pulled the kids out of school. Suddenly, it hits you: I don't know what I'm doing! Don't panic. Many moms (and dads) have stumbled around in the dark before you. This article should help get you started in the right direction.

    Determine the "Why"

    If you have just decided to homeschool or perhaps you have not even come to that conclusion quite yet, then the first step is to figure out why you would want to homeschool. After all, how will you know how hard to push or how long to try if you have not even solidified why you want to do this in the first place? You must know your own level of commitment before you will be able to pursue homeschooling.

    • Conviction

    If you've spend any amount on this site, you already know that for our family, the commitment is based primarily on conviction. And since the Bible really defines who we are as a family, our commitment, as you can imagine, is quite strong. Our primary reason for coming to this conviction is that we feel it is the best way to carry out the command in Deut. 6:6-7, "And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise."

    We want to spend as much time putting this passage into practice as we can! With children out of of the home and under the influence of fellow peers and teachers for 7-8 hours out of every school day, that leaves very little time for us as their parents to really teach them and influence their character. If you are interested in exploring this idea further, a couple good books to read are "When You Rise Up", by R.C. Sproul, Jr., and "Safely Home" by Tom Eldredge. The second book takes a closer historical and biblical look at academics and education and is very eye-opening.

    • Academics

    More and more, academics are becoming a primary reason for choosing to homeschool. As homeschooling has become more popular, the academic advantages have become more obvious to the mainstream. Numerous studies have confirmed that homeschoolers outperform their peers across all subject areas. There is just no comparison to one-on-one instruction! And often, nearly anything is better than the local public school.

    • Social Influences

    Ironically, despite the tired "unsocialized" label, negative social influences are sometimes a reason (and a very good one, in fact) that parents turn to homeschooling. From bullying to drugs to cliques, the school environment can sometimes put undue pressure on kids who by their nature are prone to peer pressure.

    Not only does homeschooling protect children from such things, it also provides them with plenty of interaction with varied ages outside their peer group and because of this, homeschooled children tend to mature faster and have no trouble interacting with both children and adults.

    Of course, these are only a few reasons and most of us will ultimately have many reasons for choosing to homeschool. But, figuring out your primary reason is a good way to help you determine whether you are in it for the long haul or if you will, like many, take a year-by-year approach. Once you determine your level of commitment, it may be a good idea to sit down and draft a concise mission statement for reference during those times of doubt and discouragement.

    Make it Legal

    Now that you've mapped out somewhat of a rough plan, it's time to make it official! It's time to register your homeschool with the state. It's important to remember that each state is different, however, so you will need to figure out the legal requirements of your particular state. A great place to research this information is on the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) website, which has a list by state of all the legal requirement, as well as other helpful information.

    Here in North Carolina, the requirements are fairly simple. A form notifying the state of your intent to homeschool must be completed by the time the child is age seven or before you pull your child out of school. The specific requirements to homeschool are not too burdensome: The parent teaching will need to have a high school diploma or GED; a record of required yearly testing must be kept; and a record of attendance and immunizations (or an opt-out letter) must also be maintained.

    On somewhat of a side note, when you register your homeschool, you will be given the opportunity to pick a name. Be sure to give this some thought so that you pick something that truly represents your mission and your family. In North Carolina, there is no second chance, so pick one you really like and will not regret years from now, possibly when you are filling out college applications!

    Research Philosophies

    The next step in this exciting journey into educational freedom is to research the various homeschooling philosophies and determine what will work best for you, your children, and your family's particular dynamics. Are your children worksheet types? Are they especially active? Do they seem to learn best through listening quietly or by jumping in with all five of their senses? These are questions that will help you tailor your child's education to meet his specific needs and that is one of the true beauties of homeschooling! It is customized to the individual student's strengths and weaknesses.

    While the idea of researching homeschooling philosophies can sound daunting, it doesn't have to be. There are several simple ways to go about this. One of the easiest and probably most helpful ways would be to simply ask other homeschoolers, especially those who know you and your family well and can thus offer relevant suggestions for your particular situation. Be sure you ask with an open mind, as well! Initially you may be surprised to find that many homeschoolers do not take a very "schoolish-looking" approach to their home education. Often school takes place on a couch using books that may not normally be considered textbooks and is done in a matter of a few hours. But remember, homeschooling has an excellent record for success, so be willing to stretch your ideas of what school should look like!

    A couple other simple ways to research this are to do a Google search for "homeschooling philosophies" (here is one helpful link from that search) and to get a hold of a couple books that serve this purpose well. One that I would recommend is called "Getting Started in Homeschooling" by Mary Pride. In it you will find detailed information on each method. This is a comprehensive tome that will also become a wonderful reference for all-things homeschooling, as long as you don't allow its largess to become an overwhelming deterrent!

    Research Curricula

    Now the part we've all been waiting for! It's finally time to figure out what curricula you are going to use. There are many, many options available to homeschoolers today. But, remember, you've already narrowed our focus down to your particular philosophy, so you can immediately weed out a large majority of options. Now, how will you go about this next step?

    First, I would recommend a book called "100 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum: by Cathy Duffy. This book will give you a good brief overview of the major contenders. Also, if you need just a little more clarity or confirmation on your chosen philosophy, her book also contains a quiz for choosing your homeschool philosophy.

    Another great way to (literally) get a feel for the various curricula is to attend a homeschool convention. Most cities will have one at least once a year and it's a great way to get a better idea of the curricula, as you can flip through the actual books and talk directly to the publisher. Homeschool conventions also offer workshops on virtually every homeschool topic imaginable that can be very beneficial to the new homeschooler, especially. To find a convention near you, connect with your local homeschool group or do a quick Google search. Here is one particularly helpful site that has the conventions listed by state.

    Set up a Homeschool Room/Area

    Now we're getting to the real nitty-gritty! You're ready to actually set up your school room! There are several considerations to take into account before going out and buying the chalkboard, school desks, and shiny red apple for your desk. The first one being the very stereotype I have just painted! I think every new homeschooler has to go through the learning curve of discovering what "school" really should look like. And, naturally, we all have our own opinions on this matter. But I have found that while most homeschoolers start out thinking that homeschooling is simply a change in location, most of them end up with a completely different view once they are "in the trenches"!

    Ask yourself some questions. Do you want to be near your household chores or far away? Are you early risers or night owls? Will you be schooling on-the-go or truly at home? Without reverting too much back to the whole discussion on researching philosophies, let me just briefly say that you may quickly discover that your homeschool functions much more efficiently and effectively when you allow it to take on a more "organic" feel. In other words, your house is much more than just a school! You have chores, cleaning, cooking, etc. You will likely want to include your children in all areas of family life, and school needs to fit with your particular family's needs and scheduling or you may burn out quickly.

    Many homeschoolers find desks to be a bit too confining and uncomfortable. Certainly learning is much more difficult if we are uncomfortable. Why not try a couch instead? Many families also find the kitchen table to be the perfect balance for combining life with learning. Your children are nearby while you are doing your household chores and there is room to spread out and be fairly comfortable. Just keep in mind that you don't have to have an actual school room to homeschool! If it is in a bad location (such as upstairs and far away from your kitchen and general living space, as mine is), or inconveniently laid out, then you will find yourselves migrating to the best location of the house anyway. So, don't make having a homeschool room the top priority!

    As for the nuts and bolts of setting up your space once you're figured out the "where" part, there are many helpful recommendations on various websites around the internet. Here is one blog article that I found helpful.

    Get Connected

    This is a crucial step of which many homeschoolers don't give enough consideration. Sometimes in the chaos of simply trying to figure out what will work for our families, we can forget that having support and encouragement from a like-minded community of friends can go a long way! This is especially important for those "newbies" who feel less confident in their choice or who have friends and relatives putting pressure on them about their decision to homeschool. But in reality, it's important for everyone! All of us will face difficult days and doubt, to some degree or another. Find some good friends who understand you and your goals in homeschooling and lean on them when times get rough!

    At this point, you may be wondering just how to go about finding those connections! It's actually not as difficult as you may think. With homeschooling becoming more and more mainstream, many cities and even smaller communities have at least one, and often several, homeschooling support groups. There are even support groups elsewhere around the world for those who don't live in the United States! To get you started, here is a link to Homeschool World's Homeschool Organizations and Support Groups listings. You can also check the listings on HSLDA's website.

    Of course, there are also many online communities for those who find getting out of the house a little more challenging! The benefit to online groups is that they are there at all hours, so you can participate when it's convenient for you. Some also offer extra ways to be involved. Here on the WINGS forums, we have a regular monthly online live chat that we have recently initiated, as well as a forum to buy and sell used curriculum, in addition to the forums for sharing information on homeschooling and local activities of interest.

    Whether you choose to be involved with activities in your local group, or by participating in an online community...or better yet, both...the important thing to remember is to not isolate!

    Get Learning!

    You've done it! Your checklist is marked off and you're finally ready to get down to business and plunge into this new world of homeschooling! The first key to success is simply to enjoy the process of homeschooling your children. Remember that even your worst day is still a day of one-on-one instruction and time spent with your family. Cherish these moments that you have to instill your values and beliefs into your children in a safe and loving learning environment.

    Remember, there is more to life than smart children and the promise of high-paying jobs. God's priority has always been the heart and the Bible should be the most important subject in your homeschool. Put priority on capturing your children's hearts and minds and you will not fail. I have never been let down when I prioritize in this way. Certainly education is important, but daily life must be lived in a reasonable manner, and moral character is the most important thing you will teach!

    They will learn what they need to, when the timing is right--and often in ways you least expect through simple everyday activities--and God will bless your efforts if you put Him first in your homeschool. Just pray and seek His will for what you teach in your homeschool and He will fill in the gaps! And if you stumble along the way, He will be there to pick you up again.

    Many blessings to you as you begin this wonderful journey!
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