Homeschooling your children is a BIG DEAL. A really big deal. A really REALLY big deal. Did you get that? It’s a really, really, really BIG DEAL.
Anyone who says it’s not is lying (either to you or to themselves).
Some people really do feel that homeschooling is as natural as weaning, and can't imagine handing over their child to someone when they've already been "educating" them at home since the day they were born. But for most people, as it was for us, homeschooling may be one of those things that would never have been on your radar if you didn't have some very specific challenges.
Warning: this is a very long post!
There are so many things to think about, and you won’t even know to ask some of the questions until you actually start. That’s what I hope to help you with in this post. To get you to consider the things you may not even know you need to consider. When we started homeschooling our children, we went into it prepared in all the wrong ways. I had drawn up a year’s worth of “curriculum” ideas, and had a rose-tinted view of what it would be like. The reality was much harder than the ideal. You can read more about why we took our children out of school here in the post linked to below.
Truth is, you need to be prepared for the physical, emotional and mental challenges that come up, not just how you are going to teach your pre-schooler to read and write. Pinterest is wonderful for schooling ideas, but if you feel isolated and your kids are driving you nuts, it won’t help you through those tough days (unless you’re like me and find pinning a whole bunch of stuff you probably won’t ever get around to inspiring and therapeutic!)
You also need to understand how homeschooling will affect your whole family dynamic as well as your place in society. Taking your children out of school changes everything, literally.
If you are considering homeschooling your children, you are most likely experiencing a whole range of conflicting emotions and thoughts around it. We’ve been there and it still crops up for us from time to time. Here’s a long list of things to consider when you’re thinking about homeschooling (I recommend a pen and notepad for this, or an open word doc you can type into!) It may seem an exhaustive list, and you may think that some of it doesn’t apply to you, but I urge you to work through it anyway. This is one area where 10 minutes of planning will save you hours, if not days, of difficulty later on.
First off, check the legalities for where you live. Here in the UK home education is legal and you are not even required by law to make it known to your local council that you are home educating your children unless they are already enrolled in the education system. If so, they have to be formally deregistered. Here is a great website for UK folk considering homeschooling, and they cover all the legalities as well your rights as a home educating family.
But if you live in another country there is no guarantee that home education is legal (or it may be state-specific as I believe it is in the US) so you must be sure that you are within your rights and within the law to remove your child from school. If there are certain criteria you must meet, ensure you have the capacity to meet those criteria before you go even one step further in this process.
Ok, so now you are all clued up about the legalities and you are free to remove your children from school if you wish to.
But are YOU the homeschooling type?
My friend Sue and I were discussing this the other day. We both openly admit that we are not what we would call “ideal candidates” for home educating; we just ended up here by necessity and a sensitivity to our children’s energies that maybe other parents either don’t have, choose to ignore or simply aren’t in a position to do anything about (no judgement here). We were both in a position where homeschooling was the only viable option, and we were in circumstances that allowed us to go ahead and try it out.
Is there such a thing as a parent ideally suited to homeschooling? I do believe so. I look at my husband and his ease with children in general and I believe he is a natural. He has patience, a sense of child-like fun and just knows how to reach kids on their level. We both agree that if I could earn at least what he does, he would be better suited to homeschooling the kids. Who knows, maybe one day…
In my opinion the ideal homeschooling parent would have these characteristics and resources to some degree:
Plenty of natural patience with their children (because they’ll need a lot of that)
A love of spending time with their children (because they’ll be doing a HECK of a lot of that…)
Few personal hobbies or major interests
Work from home or don’t need to work at all
A creative mind and good with their hands
An easy to maintain home environment
Access to other homeschooling parents and children (via groups or acquaintances, or even just family and friends circle)
A car or other reliable form of transportation
The financial abundance to provide learning materials and experiences
Now here’s why I am NOT best suited to be a home educator:
I am NOT a patient person, never have been (though I really do try hard and I've improved a heck of a lot over the years)
I like spending time with my kids only in small amounts – when they are behaving
I have a gazillion personal hobbies and several major interests
I have never managed to achieve an easy to maintain home environment (though I am getting there!)
The homeschooling groups round our way are NOT my idea of what a homeschooling group should be, so we never go. We have two homeschooling families we hang out with, but sociability is one of our biggest issues. It’s the main reason why I am dabbling with the concept of starting an Earth School – more about that soon.
We don’t have a second car, for financial reasons and also because I really don’t like driving much
We are not yet in a financial state that facilitates a great homeschooling experience for any of us.
And yet... we still make it work. I talk about it more in this post I mentioned earlier. Now, let’s go back to YOU and your situation. Take a critical look at the points above and assess where your strengths and weaknesses lie, and how you may be able to overcome them. Do you find yourself pulling your hair out after 20 minutes with your kids? Would that be different if they weren’t dealing with school challenges, or not?
Speaking of which:
Are your children ideally suited to being homeschooled?
Our oldest son spent 6 years in the school system and in all honesty, if he didn’t have very specific challenges, I wouldn’t have taken him out of school because he thrives on a lively social environment. He is a total extrovert. Whereas my Leon and Leela are both definitely introverts that prefer a calm and quiet environment with few people at a time (usually).
A child that would benefit from homeschooling would be a child who:
Prefers quiet to noise – hallmark of an introverted child
Has only 1 or 2 good friends and is happy with that
Is not naturally very popular
Finds school to be boring, or very stressful
Has learning challenges that make them feel inferior and causes low self-esteem when in direct competition with others
Gets picked on or teased, or in any way stands out to be “different”
Prefers hands-on learning to classic book-learning
Has specific interests not emphasised or even covered in school, such as gardening, weaving, drawing comics etc
Has any form of disability or health challenges that are difficult to manage in a school environment
Has very specific dietary needs (one of the biggest reasons we took ours out was the difficulty we had getting the school on board with our paleo lifestyle)
Has a sensitive nature; is easily influenced by the energy of others (empathic)
Cannot sit still for long periods of time (in my humble opinion all children have ADHD to some degree, because that’s what children are supposed to be like)
Needs more time outside than most
Needs more physical contact (like my Leon and Leela – they constantly need cuddles; and I don’t mean just want cuddles, they really need it).
Is naturally very artistic or creative and find book-learning very boring
A child that is actually better suited to an academic environment is a child who (of their own accord, NOT due to adult influence):
Thrives on facts and figures
Loves books and cares about – and takes pride in – their academic accomplishments
Willingly does homework
Studies for tests with earnest, and cares about the results
Is happiest surrounded by peers and works well in teams
Has natural leadership qualities
Has no health challenges that make school-going difficult
Is happy to play by the rules, or even enjoys rules and boundaries and encourages others to adhere to them
Is motivated by praise from the teachers, in the form of certificates, notes in schoolbooks and verbally in class
You get the idea. You may find you have one child who is better off at home and another who really needs the environment school provides. You may of course, like we do, have a child who needs the sociability but in most other aspects is better off at home. There are always compromises to be made and always ways to make them.
Moving on, the next thing you need to get crystal clear on is your WHY for taking your child/ren out of school. No doubt you already have a substantial list of reasons for why you think homeschooling is a valid idea. Whatever they may be, it’s really important that you write them down and really think about them carefully.
If your child is really unhappy, that in and of itself can cause such a huge amount of stress each day that it’s often reason enough; but for the same count, perhaps a different school is a preferable option if you are the type of person that would struggle to have your children around you each and every day. The point of this exercise is to really drill down and list all the solid, valid reasons that homeschooling is the only option left to you.
Which brings me to the next consideration: seek out ALL your options.
If you haven’t yet (and I’m sure you have) I encourage you to research carefully the alternative options to school and homeschooling in your locality. Homeschooling need not be your default option if your current school isn’t working for you and your child/ren; there likely are other schools in your area that may be able to take them that provide a different and more suitable teaching environment for their needs.
Likewise, there may be alternative schools around such as Forest schools, private schools or Steiner Waldorf schools (if you can afford them) or you may even be able to arrange a flexi-school arrangement at the school your child is currently in. That would allow you to homeschool a couple of days per week initially, and find out if you not only do well with homeschooling, but also if it’s going to be the solution you are looking for. However, it is not something that is easy to arrange apparently, at least here in the UK. Flexi-schooling means that the school’s attendance records are affected, which they do not appreciate. Here’s a good post on the issues of flexi-schooling (in the UK).
Next up: do you know what the different types of homeschooling are and which one you would prefer, at least initially? For instance you could opt for the “unschooling” method for the first year to help your child/ren discover what they actually enjoy and release them from the habitual “prison-like” behaviour they’ve become accustomed to.
But then, you may want more structure than that and opt instead for a “school-at-home” method whereby you sit them down for a couple of hours a day and teach them in a traditional way with books and such. A Steiner approach to schooling is common amongst home-edders, as is a Montessori approach for pre-schoolers. It is worth spending a little time looking into these types of education that emphasise a child-led learning experience.
There are as many ideas on homeschooling techniques as there are homeschoolers; imagine the perfect day with your children based on their personalities and yours, and then design your homeschooling system from there. If you think it will work and you go ahead and take them out, feel free to regularly revisit your system and tweak and refine it to suit your lifestyle better.
Next you really need to be honest with yourself about whether you will be able to fulfil your child’s needs. Are you certain you can provide stimulus that is educational in value (whether from a book or via a walk in the park identifying trees) most week days for the foreseeable future? Can you afford to hire a tutor if you feel you don’t want to manage that element of their education, (especially important for older children)? We’ll cover financial aspects in a sec, but if you are seriously considering homeschooling, you need a list of the resources you can employ to help you educate your child/ren.
One of the most important considerations is an outdoor space they can use every day, such a garden or an easy-access park. They need to spend time playing outside and being noisy and going crazy at least once a day, sometimes more. Rainy day activities are for the exception, and shouldn’t be the rule.
If you know for certain you won’t be able to provide an outdoor or active-play environment, I would think very long and hard before you take them out. Kids have a LOT of energy to burn and sitting down too long will cause health issues and lazy habits that are hard to get them out of (ask me how I know this…) It will also drive you up the bleeding wall!
So, can you afford to homeschool your child/ren?
It is true that you reduce expenses in some areas when you take your children out of school (no school uniforms, stationary, books, trips etc to pay for; and if you are paying school fees that can be a huge drop in expenses for you). But for UK folk who’s children attended a state primary school, you likely didn’t have many expenses to begin with, and taking your children out of school means you suddenly have to provide certain elements you may not already have at home.
For younger children you will likely need some, or all, of the following:
Art materials (paints and brushes, glue, scissors, paper, glitter etc)
Craft materials like
toilet roll tubes
air-drying clay or oven-bake clay (you can of course also make salt dough, white clay etc easily and cheaply at home – search pinterest for easy recipes!)
coloured tissue paper
beads, buttons and sequins
Hama beads or similar fusible beads and the boards to make designs on
cardboard boxes (flattened cereal boxes and similar are easy to store and sturdy enough for most things – not that I’m encouraging cereal consumption…)
Basic stationary (preferably in their favourite characters!)
Educational toys/materials such as:
modelling clay or moon sand
Lego or similar building blocks
jigsaw puzzles and board games
pretend money, till and foods (a toy kitchen is a bonus)
historical/mythical figures such as Playmobil’s knights, castle and dragons (we still play with ours)
Exercise books for them to practice writing, do maths, draw pictures etc. You could also print off worksheets and place them in a binder instead.
A few text books suitable for their abilities that you can draw inspiration from, or get them to work out of if they are older
Some activity books with colouring pages, puzzles and word searches etc for times when you need them to do something but you haven’t planned anything specific
Educational and factual books such as an encyclopaedia and dictionary (though you could always use a local library instead)
Computer or laptop with internet connection (obviously… I am assuming if you are reading this you already have that covered)
A printer (preferably colour, but at least black and white – we have a laser printer whose cartidges last almost a full year with fairly regular printing)
A laminator and sleeves – trust me, you may not use it very often initially, but once you come to realise its potential you’ll wonder how you lived without one!
A subscription to Netflix with a passcode established for content older than they are allowed to watch. You can thank me later.
But for the same count, there are a lot of resources you can find very cheaply or even for free if you know where to go. We've made good use of the following to provide us with educational materials and resources, while maintaining a low-income household:
Charity or thrift shops for second hand books, games, toys etc
Pound shops (Dollar stores in the US) for craft materials, decorations for holidays and themed days, disposables such as kitchen paper etc
Second hand stores for games and devices such CEX
Ikea for cheap and functional storage systems
Ebay / Gumtree / Craigslist for second hand and really cheap materials and resources (especially for science experiment ingredients!)
Give-away sites like Freegle
Free museums and places of interest (in the UK you can search for online directories of things to do in your local area that is cheap or free – you’ll be surprised how much comes up)
Local groups and clubs – check the local newspaper/magazine that comes through your door each month for what’s on, etc.
Free online resources – you will be amazed at how much you can find online for free to print at home. Just type in free printable worksheet for (subject and child’s age) and see what comes up.
Pinterest gets a mention all to itself because it’s so valuable for ideas and inspiration for homeschooling activities. If you want a kickstart you can see my pinterest boards here – I have one specifically for homeschooling ideas, but also look at my Christmas Crafts board and my Halloween board. I also have one called Growing Our Own with ideas for gardening, growing things, outdoor inspiration and such like. Amongst maaaaaaaaaaany others. I did warn you.
Next things to consider are your support systems (or lack of them…). We have two teachers in the family, and were the first people we knew to even contemplate homeschooling, so we met with a lot of resistance initially and very little understanding as to why we were doing it. It was actually quite upsetting.
The only person who thought it sounded like a worthwhile (if not quite a good) idea was my mother, and then only because she’d been forced to consider homeschooling me when we first moved to the UK. I’d missed 2 years of school and was not allowed to do my GCSE’s as I was too old. I was thrown right into AS levels instead. It was fun. Not.
You need to know who will be on your side so to speak, who will be able to support you either emotionally or physically in some way. Someone who is willing to have your children for a few hours a week can make all the difference to your sanity. Likewise, someone who will listen and help you think of solutions to tricky situations is vital.
At the very least, your other half must be on board or it will go down like a lead balloon. You owe it to your children to ensure that you are both on the same page before you take them out of school. If you both decide together later on that they should go back to school, that’s fine, but if you aren’t working as a team it could get ugly really fast, and your children will bear the emotional scars.
Additionally, it’s helpful if you can try to determine who will take care of what, generally speaking. We never really did that and it caused a lot of tension for us as a couple. Who will load and run the dishwasher at night? Who will empty it next morning? Who will take care of mowing the lawn? Who will take point on organising days out? Who will take point on the child/ren’s educational activities on a day-by-day basis?
These are all things best worked out in advance. When you both feel like you are in a partnership and that your loads are spread evenly, you can work together and ensure a healthy and harmonious family environment. It will also make the transition much smoother.
Speaking of transitions, it’s a good idea to discuss how you will transition out of school-going mode. You will suddenly have no urgent reason to get out of bed in the mornings, which can lead to getting up at 9am… This doesn’t lead to healthy habits or productive days, trust me.
Ok, by now you are ready to make a list of the pro’s and con’s you perceive for your situation. You may think you are pretty clear on these in your mind, but until you can cross-reference the number of pro’s by the number of con’s, you may not realise which way the odds are stacked exactly.
Don’t moan at me, just do it. It can be very illuminating, honestly.
Tune into to how you REALLY feel about it. If you really believe its what you should do, but you really don't want to do it, and you really feel like it will be the death of you, then don't do it. But if you think you probably won't hack it, and yet feel like it's the best way forward, then listen to you heart and go for it. Things always work out in the end. Ultimately, you are the only one who can really know how you feel and can judge whether or not it's a good idea for you and your family.
Just remember this: You can always send them back if it doesn't work out. But if you don't try it, you'll never know and you could be missing out on the best thing that's ever happened to you and your family.
So, where are you leaning towards? If you have any questions feel free to reach out. I can't guarantee to have any answers, but sometimes just being heard is all you need.
Lots of love,
Tam x x