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How to Get Started Homeschooling

    - What methods are available?
    - Can I combine methods?
    - How do I know which one is right for me?
    - Can I make my own curriculum?
    - What about taking my child out of school? And, should I wait?
    - How do I meet legal requirements?


WHAT METHODS ARE AVAILABLE?

Here are some links to pages that list many different methods to choose from.
Types of Homeschooling - at the Chase SC site.
Methods and Styles Directory - at A to Z Home's Cool Homeschooling.
The Problem with Home-based Charter Schools - an HSLDA article about why you may not want public school at home (more regulations, less religious freedom, etc.). Read more about Virtual Charter Schools at the same site.
If you are thinking of signing up for any online school program, be sure you know if it's under the jurisdiction of the public school system.

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CAN I COMBINE METHODS?

Of course! I think most people do. There are probably as many "methods" as there are homeschool parents! And even within the same family, one way may not fit every child.

Read about what methods and philosophies are out there. Pick and choose the parts that feel right for you. You can adapt any curriculum to fit your family, and each individual child. (Of course, you will have to consider your state's regulations, but there are homeschoolers all over the country making it work for their families.)

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HOW DO I KNOW WHICH ONE IS RIGHT FOR ME?
Here are a few little tips that may help you decide.
  • Read a lot. There are zillions of places to read about homeschooling on the internet. There are also online groups that cover general homeschooling, or using a specific curriculum. (Try the Yahoo groups.) They're usually glad to welcome anyone, even those who haven't yet decided which method to follow.
    (Be aware that some Yahoo groups are hosted by a seller. The information they provide is obviously going to be biased, and sadly, it isn't always factual. It's far more useful to get truthful information from actual curriculum users, rather than biased sellers.)

  • Pray about it, and be willing to accept the answer, even if it's not what you expected.

  • Follow your instincts. You know your family's needs better than anyone else. Do what feels right for your family and don't worry about what other people say is best.

  • Trust your ability to be a great parent and teacher. You are doing a wonderful thing for your child by teaching them at home. Even if things don't always go perfectly, your child will still, more than likely, end up with a better education than they could have received elsewhere.

  • Know that it's okay to tweak a curriculum. It's almost impossible to find one that fits your family PERFECTLY. So find the one that seems closest to your tastes and adjust it until you get the right fit. There are MANY parents who don't strictly follow their curriculum (by supplementing, omitting, or adjusting certain elements) and they are getting great results. If you are so inclined, you may even make your own curriculum from scratch. (By using free online materials, or by buying materials.)

  • Do what fits your budget and don't worry if it doesn't come in a brand new, fancy package. (Students learning with inexpensive or free material are still outperforming their public school counterparts.)

  • Be flexible. Not all children learn the same way or at the same speed. A curriculum needs to be flexible enough to accommodate all children, because one size does not fit all. Some curricula have a strict day to day schedule you must keep to, similar to public school. (And they're sometimes so full that you don't dare fall behind.) This doesn't allow any leeway for children who learn faster or slower than that schedule demands. Pick a curriculum that can be adjusted to meet different students' needs. And trust that you know your child well enough to meet those needs, regardless of someone else's recommendations.

  • Be open to new ideas and methods, but at the same time don't forget to follow your own feelings about them. (And don't get stuck thinking you have to follow the public school model.) If you really don't like a certain philosophy or method, then either move on, or think of a way to adapt it to your family. Don't let yourself be coerced into doing something that doesn't feel right to you. Of course the curriculum sellers tend to say that their way is the best and only way, because they need to promote their product. But what works well for one family isn't necessarily going to work well for every family.

  • Calculate future expenses before buying. Be sure you know exactly what you're getting. I've come across a few curricula that are not what they appear to be. One that comes to mind costs over $1000, and you still end up without a single book. All you get is a course in HOW TO homeschool with their program. Then you have to buy all of their expensive books on top of that. (They're not even books you can get somewhere else.)
    Make sure you know what else you're going to need to buy. Is everything included? Do you have to pay an annual fee (online curricula)? Is what you're buying just a booklist and suggestions for how to use it? If so, what do the books cost? Are they books you can find for cheap, or even used? Are they available anywhere, or only through that particular company? Is the material reusable for each child? If not, do you have permission to make copies of workbooks for each subsequent child? What will it cost to print necessary materials? What extra materials will you need, and how much will they cost?

  • Be patient. Don't rush into any decision. Doing all of the above takes time. That's okay. You can use that time for "deschooling" if you need. (Taking your kids out of public school and giving them time to de-program before you start homeschool.)
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CAN I MAKE MY OWN CURRICULUM?

You bet! It can be overwhelming at first, but take a look at other curricula to get ideas of what you may like to include in your own. Here's World Book's Typical Course of Study for some ideas of what subjects are often covered from Pre-K through 12th grade. Also look at booklists for ideas, then custom-tailor your own. With so many free resources online, making your own curriculum doesn't have to be expensive. You could probably get the bulk of your books free online, then print and bind them for very little money. (Or you can skip printing, and get eBook readers for your children.) There are more free resources online besides just literature and out-of-copyright books. Many HTML resources are very up-to-date and quite useful. (See the links page for materials covering many subjects.)

With what money you save using online resources and making your own books (or buying them at low prices--used, for instance), you can buy whatever else you need or want that isn't available online.
Such as:
  • There's a free math program online (MEP), but perhaps you prefer to buy a math curriculum.
  • You may want to buy science textbooks, rather than using free online courseware.
  • Also find some post-1922 history materials.
    Most online books at places like Project Gutenberg,   The Baldwin Project,   Internet Archive, and Google Books are in the public domain. Meaning they were printed before 1923. (Google Books also displays many newer books, but they aren't available to download or print, because they're copyrighted. When searching, click "Public Domain" to only see downloadable books.) Many of the books we read in school were pre-1923 classics. And most of the history of the world happened before 1923. So there's really not much left to fill in after that. You can either buy these history materials, or find them online (just not at Gutenberg).
  • Finish up by rounding out your library with any newer literature (still copyrighted) that you want, like the Little House books, Charlotte's Web, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, etc.
    It's also fun to have some books with nice, colored illustrations, especially for younger children. Those are books they'll treasure and remember even when they've outgrown what's written in them. (You probably already have a bunch of these!)

    You can build a curriculum similar to one you've seen, or combine ideas from multiple curricula, or get creative and think it all up on your own. (Most of us are a bit nervous about such an undertaking and are glad to get ideas from somewhere, at least when we're starting out.) My hope is that it shouldn't be too difficult to create your own curriculum, using the resources I've linked to all over this site. Of course, I've only linked to a small fraction of what's available out there. I chose items that I particularly liked, or that were similar to the RC program (because some aspects of the method appealed to us). Most of the materials are things to print and use independently of the computer, but you can use them any way you like, or find completely different resources, if you prefer.
    The bottom line is, you really can do it!

    I started out strictly adhering to a curriculum. But as we had been doing it a bit longer, I gained more confidence in my ability to make good choices, and I've really branched out. And it's been fun! There's so much great material out there that we could never use it all. And we don't have to, to have a great educational experience. I've realized that no one curriculum is the only right way. So many methods are working for many different people. Many methods or curricula were created by people just like you and me. And when they started out they may not have known any more than we do! It's nice to look at those curricula and see what has worked for other people. It can help give us ideas, and we can pick and choose those that suit us. We don't all have to have the exact same food in our fridge or pantry to have a healthy diet. And we don't all have to have the same books or subjects in our homeschool to have an enriching education.

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    WHAT ABOUT TAKING MY CHILD OUT OF SCHOOL?

    Each state is different. Some states require letters notifying them of your intention to homeschool. Some aren't very strict at all. Find out about your state's requirements at HSLDA.

    Should I wait to take my child out of school?
    Wait for what? If you have decided that homeschool will be better for your child than public school, then what reason is there to leave them there? Give your child enough notice that they can say goodbye to friends, and get addresses and phone numbers from those with whom they'll be keeping up an acquaintance. You don't need to wait until the end of the term or year to take them out. It would just delay getting them on the path on which you want them.

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    HOW DO I MEET LEGAL REQUIREMENTS?

    Visit HSLDA to find your state's homeschool laws. (Hours, subjects, curriculum, possibly testing, etc.) Most states don't need to approve your curriculum, but if yours does you may want to join a homeschool group, either in your area or online group (like a Yahoo group or other homeschool forum) that is just for people using your curriculum or that is just for people in your state. Either way, you're likely to find ideas of how to adapt your curriculum to your state's laws. (Or maybe you're lucky enough to live in a state where there is more freedom and you won't have to worry about it.)

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