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Palmetto Parent

Homeschooling 101

Aug 03, 2017 10:54AM ● By Rachel Coon

By Kerrie McLoughlin

Although it’s becoming quite a popular education choice, the decision to homeschool can lead to some overwhelming questions like: How do you get started? What does a typical day look like as you entertain and educate your kids all day long? How do you keep toddlers from emptying the cabinets on a daily basis while you teach your older kids? What about socialization?

After researching the homeschool laws in your state, the first thing you need to know is that there is no “perfect” or “right” way to homeschool. Teaching supplies and methods are as different as the families actually doing the homeschooling. Homeschooling parents range from super-structured (starting school at the same time every day; teaching solely from workbooks and textbooks; weekly testing) to “unschooling” (child-led learning; using field trips and outings as real-world experience; not trying to replicate a classroom). There are so many ways to teach, and you’d be surprised at how well most of them work.

To get started, some homeschoolers buy an entire packaged curriculum to educate their child. This method works well for parents who are unsure about what needs to be taught or where their child is on the academic spectrum, and these packages usually come with a lesson plan that lays out what needs to be taught each day. It’s also great for those who are sharing the teaching with their spouse, another family member or a babysitter. Curriculum packages come in a variety of choices, including religious, secular, classical, K12, Latin-centered and more. The choices can be overwhelming, so do some Internet research and join some online groups to discuss what programs others are using and what they think of their packaged curriculum. Even better, find some local homeschoolers and ask if you can come over to check out their curriculum in person.

The homeschoolers referred to as “unschoolers” let their child lead the way (often called “natural learning”). The child, in effect, lets the parent know when he is ready to read, add, write, etc. “Science class” could include field trips to nature centers and zoos, along with walks in the neighborhood simply discovering nature. Grammar is learned not from texts, but from reading books and from real conversations with people of all ages. Similarly, history is learned from stories and historical fiction (or even animated movies … think Prince of Egypt). Regular trips to the library play a big part in unschooling. Jessica Mattingly, an unschooler, says, “Our typical day is very similar to what it looked like when the children were younger: there is no typical day! Our schedule is generally determined by our outside commitments (classes, work, coops, field trips, etc.) and when we are home we relax and pursue a variety of projects/interests.”

Unit studies are a fun way for a child to cover every subject by studying one topic. For instance, if your child is a dinosaur fanatic, you would incorporate reading, writing, spelling, history, geography, math, etc. into a unit study on dinosaurs. Your child could use a map to learn where dinosaur fossils have been found. Then she could read a historical book about dinosaurs, followed by a written book report. Math could be some word problems like: How would you split 5,000 cookies among 1,000 dinosaurs?

Those who homeschool eclectically use whatever works for their child at any given time. They pick and choose from the different methods, incorporating lots of play time and field trips. Tresa Cope says, “Grandparents are great about giving us workbooks for holidays and birthdays, which is great for keeping my costs down. For reading I just make sure to read to the kids as much as I can while they follow along. The kids help me in the garden for ‘science class’, and I consider grocery shopping teaching them economics! When they’re older I’ll consider a pre-packaged curriculum.”

As far as the daily job of homeschooling goes, Suzanne Andrews, mom of 4, shares, “There isn’t really a “typical” day! The closest we have is up, breakfast, morning chores, then we’re at the table for school around 9 a.m. I juggle the “mom’s help needed” subjects so that while I’m listening to a poem or working oral exercises with one the others are working independently. We lunch around noon, the kids help with prep and cleanup, then we only have a little work left after lunch.”

So how do these homeschoolers handle the challenge of balancing younger and older children during the teaching day? “While our ‘homeschool’ time is not separated from the rest of our life, balancing the needs of the youngers and olders is a persistent challenge. When my kids ranged in age from 2-tween, we employed a variety of strategies. Sometimes one of the kids would play with the baby/toddler while I focused on one or more of the older kids. If we can involve the younger kids in the activity (or a parallel activity), we will do that,” says Jessica Mattingly. Another idea would be to have a special tub of activities just for the younger children for homeschool time. The tub could include blocks, play dough, puppets, coloring books with crayons, lacing cards and snacks.

As for socialization, it isn’t usually a concern among homeschoolers. If you want to join a homeschool group, head to the Internet where you can search for groups based on how you homeschool, the ages of your children, where you live, etc. Not every group will be a good fit, so don’t be afraid to move on if you aren’t getting what you need. Other ideas include library programs, parks and recreation activities, playdates with school-going kids in the afternoons and co-ops. Jessica Mattingly says, “We have participated in several coops. Currently we take the SCENE classes which are offered on Wednesdays by LEARN. These classes are often organized by a parent or community member who is willing to take on the organization and teaching of the class, so not so much like a typical co-op. I find that helpful because I am able to have different age/interest children participating in different activities at the same time. We also participate in a local co-op which is not set up at a regular time/place, but instead asks each member to participate to offer an activity and then that family can attend any of the other activities. This has been a fun way to get a little taste of a wide variety of things that we may not be ready to commit to for an entire semester.” As with anything new, when you first start to homeschool you’ll feel a bit unsteady and unsure. Have fun, do what works for you and your children, and keep at it. You’ll get the hang of it and will soon be mentoring others!

Kerrie McLoughlin, mother of 5, has been homeschooling since 2006 years and is happy to answer any questions at

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