Homeschooling: How to Get Started in 7 Steps

By Marlow Schmauder

The school system works for many, but not all. What do you do when you’ve made the decision to homeschool, but don’t know how to get started? We’ve got it summarized to seven steps for you.

1. Leave school

You can notify the school in advance, or withdraw your child the same day. The approach you choose may depend on why your child is leaving: if school was a bad mismatch, the sooner, the better. If the situation is less about a mismatch than just wanting to try something different, two weeks’ notice or even the end of the term may feel right.

You’ll likely need to tell the school in writing that you are withdrawing your child. Most people also tell the school where their child is transferring to. Some say they will be homeschooling, while others give the name of the charter or their own private school name (see #2) they’ll use instead. This varies depending on the way homeschool is classified in your state, and how you actually will be proceeding.

2. Register as a homeschool, if required by your state.

The need to register, and how you do so, varies by state. A reference can be found at https://www.hslda.org/laws/.

In California, most homeschoolers either file a Private School Affidavit (PSA) with the state, making you a miniature private school, or you can register with one of the charter schools serving homeschooled students.

If you choose to file a PSA, you don’t actually file it until the beginning of October, even if you withdraw your child from school in January (or May or December). That’s right, you do not need to register with the state for potentially as many as 11.5 months. When October rolls around, you register online, for free, and that covers you for the entire coming year. Instructions are at http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/ps/rq/affidavit.asp, but we also strongly recommend the guidance from the Homeschool Association of California (HSC), at http://www.hsc.org/establishing-your-own-private-school.html.

The HSC website also offers answers to frequently asked questions about the law and homeschooling, including questions about truancy laws.

3. Deschool.

Deschooling is the process of letting go of the preconceived notions you and your child have about learning and education, and rediscovering the joy of learning for learning’s sake, in a form that works best for your child. It is not the same as “unschooling” (see below).

What does deschooling look like, though? There’s an excellent post about it here: https://educatedadventures.com/2016/03/16/the-truth-about-deschooling-that-will-blow-your-mind/.

But in sum, it means taking a break from anything schoolish (or teacher-ish). Let child interests guide what they do, much as they would during summer break. This may mean that for weeks your child lies on the ground and stares at the ceiling, or reads incessantly, or wants to focus on everything horse-related, all the time. Do retain regular routines for things like getting your day started or having family dinners in the evening. And do maintain regular family rules like a certain amount of screen time or everyone does a set of house chores every day. But otherwise, to the extent possible because of adult work schedules, etc., let go of rigid scheduling, “educational” activities unless freely chosen by the child, and activity timeframes that recreate school at home (e.g., let’s read for this hour, and then for the next hour we’ll go for a walk, and for the following hour we’ll eat lunch…).

The general rule of thumb is that for each year the child was in a mismatched school situation, the child will need a month of deschooling. But this can vary, depending on the child and on how bad the educational mismatch was. Trauma associated with school can lengthen the time needed for deschooling, sometimes significantly.

What does deschooling do? The answer is twofold. It allows kids and parents to rediscover the natural joy of innate learning. Think of a time when you were free to learn something for the sheer joy of it - geeking out on your hobby, reading everything you can on France because you have a deep affinity for the language and culture, volunteering at your local shelter or astronomy club. It also allows parents to free their own mindset from the rigidity of the school framework.

4. Find community.

Having community for your child and yourself is a critical part of the homeschooling journey. There are three ways to make sure you are part of communities that support you, and that you, in turn, can support.

First, seek homeschooling-specific groups, whether online or face-to-face. Ask other homeschoolers what other groups they’re in, and use the Internet - it is your friend. One of many examples is the large database of homeschooling groups by state on the website http://a2zhomeschooling.com/.

Second, find community through topics of interest to your child, like activities and classes offered through Outschool. Common interests are a great way to make new friends.

Third, don’t forget your pre-existing communities! Your child may still thrive by continuing existing after-school activities and sports, and having playdates with friends from school and other groups. Also remember that flexible homeschooling schedules let you become more involved in your local community during hours when other kids may be in school by volunteering or getting to know local businesspeople.

5. Figure out your homeschooling approach.

Homeschooling is many things, but it is almost never school-at-home. In fact, homeschoolers often joke that it should be called car-schooling because of how much time out and about they spend, compared with school families. And what are they doing out and about, you ask, and why?

While there are multiple approaches to homeschooling (a really good set of descriptions is at http://www.homeschool.com/new/difstyles.asp), most people pursue eclectic/relaxed homeschooling, which means that they take what works from a variety of approaches, following child interests while parents serve as facilitators to procure resources and find learning opportunities.

You should know that many families initially veer towards school-at-home, which has the highest burnout rate of all approaches. This is one of the reasons de-schooling is so important. It helps kids realize that what is expected of them is to rediscover the love of learning, and helps adults realize that individual-led, custom learning is the way to rediscover that love of learning.

So ask around. Ask what other families are doing, and why. Then adapt it to fit your child’s needs, and your needs, and expect to adapt it again in six months.

6. Use existing resources.

Don’t reinvent the wheel. Ask other homeschooling families which resources and classes and tutors they find useful, and explore them yourself. Things that will be useful:

  • Outschool, for one-off and short series of classes, outings and activities with a variety of other kids
  • Online providers like GHF Online, Online G3, and others for semester-long class series.
  • Park days, for meeting other homeschoolers
  • Public libraries and the interlibrary loan system for wonderful books, videos, and audiobooks
  • Museums for exploration, docent-led tours, and classes
  • Community centers and parks & recreation centers for extracurriculars

Don’t necessarily feel restricted by age limitations. Many providers may be used to offering classes pegged to age-grade level, but if your avid astronomer wants to participate in a Messier Marathon with the local (adult) astronomy group, talk to them - they will likely welcome you with joy. Class providers may make exceptions to age ranges if your child can be accommodated. That said, please be graceful if they won’t. Talk to your fellow homeschoolers about alternatives. And see #7.

Also, be willing to drive further afield to access resources that aren’t local. This may mean adapting your work schedule to be more flexible, or doing work on the road (but don’t text and drive!). Listen to podcasts and audiobooks while you drive. Or talk to your kids: many homeschoolers find they have the most amazing conversations with kids in cars.

7. Create your own resources.

Reinvent the wheel. You can do it better, in ways that work for your child and your family. Who else has found a way to incorporate your child’s interest in music, Legos, astronomy and manga into a series of activities, homemade videos, songs, Lego planetscapes and manga stories better than you have? Build it, and offer it to others through Outschool. Homeschoolers are a curious bunch, and the more widely you offer it, the more likely you are to find others who share some or all of the same interests and want to see how you explore them together.

When in doubt, or even when not, ask other homeschoolers how to meet a particular need of your child that you can’t figure out how to meet. What if your kids want to participate in the search for extraterrestrial planets (exoplanets), and you don’t live near a planetarium or SETI? The Internet is your friend, again. But so are local amateur astronomers, and community colleges, or fellow parents or retirees in your community who might also happen to be armchair physicists who’d love to share their knowledge with avid young learners. Create a special class, or a gathering for kids to learn side-by-side more independently, and watch them soar.

Share your own ideas and experiences in the comments section below.

As well as being a homeschooling parent, Marlow is a consultant and advisor to startups, philanthropists, nonprofits and community groups including GHF.

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