Amanda has homeschooled her four children for more than a decade.
Whether you are considering homeschooling or have been doing it for several years, this advice applies to you. Here are the most important things I learned after homeschooling my four children for more than a decade. I hope they will benefit you too.
Homeschooling your children is a big responsibility. Homeschooling parents tend to worry a lot. They may wonder whether homeschooling was the right decision, worry that their child is not getting enough social interaction, not keeping up with peers, will have trouble getting into college, etc. One time a homeschooling mom said to me, “I want to unschool my child, but I’m not sure I would be very good at it.” I gave her a very perplexed look as my brain tried to make sense out of this statement. She explained that from her perspective, unschooling is all about following the child’s interests and building curriculum around that. She was worried that she wouldn’t have the time to do a good job educating her child this way. There are many different ways to homeschool your child and I have heard success stories from every one.
When I first started homeschooling, I structured my day much like a public school complete with a bell to signal that it was time to change subjects. I quickly learned that homeschool is a whole different animal and needed to be treated as such. The bell would go off when we were in the middle of something and I finally had the kids engaged in learning. It didn’t make sense to stop and change subjects then. Through the years I gradually relaxed and schooling began to flow more naturally for us.
When my eldest child graduated, something changed. I looked back on all the things that I worried about through the years and wished that I had relaxed more and enjoyed the time I spent with my children. I’d say that 98% of the time I spent worrying was totally unfounded. Homeschooling has it’s ups and downs, twists and turns, but in the end it all works out okay, if you keep the next two pieces of advise in mind.
2. Do what is best for each child.
Every child is different, even in the same family. Each child has their own set of interests, strengths, weaknesses, and learning style. One child may do very well with the curriculum you are using while another child struggles to understand it. It may be necessary to use different curricula for each child. My youngest had a far different learning style from that of her siblings. It took me a while to figure out why she wasn’t comprehending and change my teaching method to help her.
It is important to notice your child’s strengths and interests and build on those. They will feel more confident and successful. If a child loves to take things apart and put them back together, perhaps they will make a good engineer or assembly technician. Or if they spend hours collecting and studying bugs, maybe you have a future entomologist on your hands. Allow them to dive into their areas of interest and they will educate themselves and likely be highly qualified for a job in that field when they are older.
A child may be lousy at taking tests, but be a wonderful artist and story teller. Another child might be terrible at writing, but have a real knack for fixing computers. Perhaps one has a learning disability but takes beautiful photographs. If they hate math and struggle to understand it, they are not likely to find a career in math when they grow up. Don’t worry about it. Focus on the positive. Help them turn their strength into a career and they will do fine in life.
One word of caution though, some interests make better hobbies than they do careers. Sometimes taking something enjoyable and making it into a job takes all the fun out of it. It is important to have things that we enjoy in life, whether we do them as a career or just as a hobby. So, be careful to keep the enjoyable interest intact in one way or another.
Furthermore, each child has a different life path. The older my children get, the more I see how little I had to do with the course their life took. Whatever it is that they are to accomplish in this lifetime, they will do it one way or another. I have to wonder, if we insist on a certain course for them, do we just make the journey to their life’s purpose that much longer (and harder)?
At first, we assumed our children would go to college. I was not dead set on the idea, but I wanted to make sure that they got an education that would prepare them for college, should they want to go. However, not every child is cut out for college. There are many paths to success that do not involve a four year college degree. We learned that teens who get a GED (or HSE) can still attend a four year college. They may have to attend a community college for a year or two first, then transfer their credits to the four year college. Community college is cheaper and gives them time to make sure they are choosing the right major. No harm done.
In many places, there is a shortage of employees in certain fields. There are grants available to pay college expenses for those who qualify and want to work in these fields. Since there is a shortage of employees, salaries for those positions can be quite high. In today’s work force, being reliable and having a good work ethic can go a long way toward getting and keeping a job. Getting into the work force, gaining experience, and picking up any additional education needed to advance along the way is a fine career path as well.
3. Don’t be afraid to make changes.
If something isn’t working, it is perfectly okay to toss it out the window and try something else. Don’t get stuck in the mud. We started out using Alpha Omega’s Lifepacs. I was impressed with their social studies curriculum because it told the story of a person from each geographical region. I liked the personal touch. But my kids hated it. One of the main reasons was that they never knew how many pages they would need to do per day or how long it would take. It took some trial and error to find what worked best for our family.
Then, when my kids approached high school, we tried Connections Academy, an accredited online public school. Since it was public school, there were no fees. Since it was accredited, my kids could get a diploma. Connections Academy even put on a prom and full cap and gown graduation. Over the course of 2 ½ years, three of my children tried Connections Academy. But ultimately, we found it wasn’t working for us and went back to doing our own thing.
Honorable Mention Curricula
The first rule for choosing curriculum is, “Do what works best for you.” Over the years, we tried many different things. There is a lot of good curricula out there and a lot of reviews already written. I won’t dwell on curricula, but there are a few that I want to mention briefly because they worked well for all of my children, which is rare.
I used this curriculum for all of my children. It is a spiral curriculum that goes through 6th grade. It runs about a year ahead of public school curriculum. The pages are colorful and the work is broken up so that the child only does a few of each type of problem each day, instead of having a whole page of the same type of problem. The lessons are the same length so the child knows what to expect. Algebra and geometry are introduced very early on (K-2) in simple form. It may be a rectangle of paper clips where the child counts the paper-clips to find the perimeter of the rectangle. This introduction is built upon year after year so that geometric concepts are not new in high school. The curriculum consists of two student workbooks and a teacher’s guide for each grade. There are 160 lessons and 16 tests. A set including teacher’s guide and two student workbooks costs around $80 per grade. Additional workbooks cost around $45 per set.
I liked the Spectrum series for language arts, reading, writing, spelling and vocabulary. The lessons were brief and concise, leaving room for me to build curriculum around them, or not. It was clear to my children how much they would be expected to do each day, so we had no arguments about that. Spectrum also offers workbooks for math, science, geography and test practice. The books go up to grade 8, although we only used them for early elementary (K-5). Each workbook costs around $10. Answers are in the back of the book. The pages are perforated, so I just ripped the answers out when I gave my child the book.
We have used T4L as our main curriculum for many years. It is an online program and is not accredited, which means that the parent remains the teacher of record. You cannot get a diploma from T4L. I did not particularly like their elementary math curriculum, so we stuck with Horizons. However, high school math on T4L is much better. With T4L the parent can choose which parts of the curriculum they want to use, and how much they want their child to do. An online schedule can be created. I like the printable reports that help me keep track of scores, attendance and how much time my kids are spending on lessons. Most of the work is scored automatically, with the exception of written assignments and projects. My kids are able to work independently, which leaves me more time to focus on helping them with anything they are struggling with. T4L currently costs $20/month for the first K-8 student, $15 each for additional students, and $30/month for high school students. Accounts can be put on hold, to take a break or vacation. I believe it costs around $5/month per student to maintain the account, which can be reactivated at any time.
More recently, we have started using Study.com for online curriculum. I now have two high school graduates, a high schooler and a middle schooler. Study.com has college courses with transferable credits and certificates available, as well as homeschool curriculum for the younger students. With a family account, I get a $20 discount for each additional student, which is great! College students pay $199/month for unlimited access. They can take as many courses as they want at a time. Proctored exams for college credit are limited to 5 per month. Homeschool students also get unlimited access for $60/month.
One great thing about Study.com is the placement tests that allow students to test out of subject areas they have already mastered. The main format for lessons is video, but full transcripts with slides are available for every lesson. Some of my students prefer to read the transcript and skip the video. We are happy we made the switch at this juncture.
One of the big concerns about homeschooling, that I hear all the time is, “how will your children get enough socialization?” Over the years my children have taken music lessons, dance lessons, various classes, and summer theatre camp. We have joined homeschool groups that did fun things together such as field trips, art fairs, science fairs, going to see a play, roller skating and ice skating. Now that my children are older, we participate in a teen group. In addition to field trips, hiking adventures, and social time, this group does service projects together and held a really neat wilderness survival class. There are many ways to get involved, these are just some of the ways we have met our need for socialization over the years. Other families I know are active in church, participate in 4H, or do a lot of volunteer work.
Many families who homeschool do so because their children have special needs. Many children are on the autism spectrum and have a need for quiet, calm activities. This can make it difficult to join groups and participate in loud, chaotic group activities. That’s okay. Do whatever works best for your family and don’t let anyone make you feel guilty about it.
There is a lot of advice out there for homeschoolers. In my opinion, these are the most important things to remember:
- Relax. Allow homeschool to flow naturally, and stop worrying.
- Do what is best for each child. Focus on their strengths and interests and help them build a career around that.
- Don’t be afraid to make changes along the way.
© 2019 Amanda Buck
Amanda Buck (author) from Rural South Central Indiana on June 30, 2020:
Thank you for your positive comment. You made me feel good!
Riffat Junaid from Pakistan on June 30, 2020:
You are doing very good job as a homeschooler nice article you wrote.