I have had questions from other parents, considering homeschooling their own children, from teachers wondering if I feel like public school has failed our family in some way, from folks who just seem to want to make sure we haven’t locked our children in the basement and started indoctrinating them with some kind of bizarre alien-worshiping belief system.
I appreciate all of the curiosity I asked a gazillion questions, too, before we decided to start homeschooling, so I understand.
In order to answer everyone as best I can I decided to make this FAQ list (presented in no particular order). If there is something you’d like to know that I haven’t mentioned, by all means, ask! If there is something you would like to add or correct in one of my answers, please mention that as well. We’ve been at this for less than a year so we are not experts by any means!
1) By far, the most common questions have to do with socialization and friendships. How does your child get social interaction? Does she miss her friends from public school? Etc.
Our daughter is a VERY social person. Far more so than I am! She had a handful of close friends in public school but, like most children, the majority of children in her class were just acquaintances. We make a point of scheduling play dates with those friends whenever we can so that she can maintain those relationships.
Beyond playdates, she has opportunities throughout each week to interact with other children. On Mondays she is in a theater class at a nearby college. On Tuesdays she has band class. On Wednesday she goes to Bible class at our church. On Saturdays, starting in a few weeks, she will be on an archery team. On Sundays we go to church where she attends Sunday school and Jr. Church with other children. Through our homeschool association she has spelling bees on the first Monday of each month and gymnastics twice a month. Throughout the year they take various field trips and participate in service opportunities. For example, in October we went to a pumpkin farm and corn maze with about 20 other families. Last month she helped with games at a nearby assisted living facility.
As you can see, she has plenty of time with other children. (Maybe too much, some weeks!) One of the great things that we’ve experienced as homeschoolers is the change from her being ONLY with children her age, to doing activities with children and adults of all ages. When we go on a field trip there are babies and high schoolers. She has the chance to be a leader for the younger children and learn from the example of those older than her. She has made some great friendships through this group and we look forward to getting to know them better over time.
2) How do you know what to teach her?
We live in Michigan. Our state has a great website that lists all of the grade level expectations. That is our starting point. At the beginning of the year we printed it out and, each 6 weeks, we re-evaluate where we are in relation to that list, to make sure she is keeping up with where she is “supposed to be.” I don’t know if every state has a similar website, but I’d guess that most do.
Also, any major bookstore, such as Barnes and Noble, will carry a selection of curriculum, divided by grade level. Pick up a 3rd grade Saxon math (or Singapore math, or Kumon math) book and work your way through it. They may not all be page for page the same but, when it’s all said and done, they all teach pretty much the same skills.
Most homeschoolers, including us, teach things beyond the curriculum. That’s your choice. In our family, we teach Bible, cooking, music, natural healing/herbal medicine and more. One of the great things about homeschool is that you have the time and flexibility to work those things into your day. Often, they compliment the curriculum. Math and cooking go together beautifully, as does herbal medicine and botany, or Bible and ancient history.
3) How do you test her?
In most subjects, the simple answer is that we don’t test her. Every day I read with her and talk to her about what she’s read or heard. I do math with her, so I know what she can do and what she is still struggling with. I do spelling with her so I know what she can and can’t spell. And so forth.
I am told that we can request testing through Sylvan learning centers or other, similar, organizations, but we have yet to see any need for that. Our state does not require formal testing, so we don’t need it from that stand point, and she is not yet old enough to need records for college.
4) What curriculum do you use?
Some families buy one “brand” of curriculum, such as Abeka or Calvert. We don’t do that. We have our list of state grade level expectations and we use anything and everything that works for us to get us there. Right now, in active use on our bookshelf, is a Harcourt Grade 3 Spelling Skills workbook, A Flashkids Multiplication Activity book, A SchoolZone grade 3-4 Multiplication and Division book and a Zaner-Bloser handwriting book.
We also supplement with A LOT of stuff from the internet. Free resources abound! Which leads to the next question…
5) Are there any helpful websites you use?
Yes! The internet can be a homeschooling family’s greatest resource! Some of my go-to sites include:
Homeschool Share Blog – this site is AMAZING. Veteran homeschoolers link up with their ideas. There are lap book patterns and activity calendars and reading lists and record keeping tools and so much more. I visit it at least once a week. It is an invaluable tool and 100% free!
Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers – this site is one of my favorites for how encouraging it is. They often offer up exactly the help I need on exactly the day I need it. There are great product and curriculum reviews and they have a great community for support and ideas.
HandwritingWorksheets.com – you can create your own handwriting printables. This came in so handy for me when we reached the point where Sweet Hippie Daughter started to “get bored” with the basics but wasn’t quite ready to free-write. I could make up sentences like, “My baby brother smells like an elephant.” She was entertained and she learned and it was free. What more can you ask for?
Scholastic – This is a commercial site, so there are some free portions and some that you have to pay for, but they have great games and books and other resources and they are a trusted brand that has stood the test of time.
PBS Kids – PBS has an amazing array of online games, coloring sheets, worksheets, video clips and more for children. My daughter loves to play on the computer, and I know that this site will always be a safe and educational place for her.
6) What about “online” or “virtual” schools?
I have heard wonderful things about the k12 online schooling program. There are other programs as well, but I am not as familiar with them. They will set up your curriculum, help you keep records, offer teaching help and GIVE you a computer and the other tools you need as well as a small stipend to buy school supplies. They offer activities like gym and music and social gatherings.
We chose not to go with this type of set curriculum at this point, but we are not closed to the idea in the future. As our girl gets older and her schoolwork becomes more complicated it may be just the ticket.
7) What if you don’t know enough about a subject to teach it?
The simple answer is, we find someone else to teach it. When our girl wanted to learn how to play the trombone, we put her in a band. For the most part, at her young age, though, we are able to handle things ourselves.
For older children, our homeschool association offers co-op classes. Parents with knowledge or expertise in a given area, such as science or math, hold a class once or twice a week at their home. Then, on the in-between days, you just help your children work through their homework.
Once children reach high-school age there are many options. My personal favorite is taking classes such as algebra or writing at a community college. These classes are inexpensive and, often, homeschool teens will graduate with their High School diploma and their Associates degree at the same time.
Also, in Michigan, teens can take free vocational technical training while they are in high school (even homeschool high school) and they can take non-core classes at public school. For example, we could have our girl be in band and art at public school, take medical billing at vo-tech, and do her math and other core classes at home. Different states have different rules about how all of that works.
8) How do you keep records/report to the state?
Michigan has virtually no laws requiring any kind of reporting to the state. Basically, we sent a letter to the public school, stating that we were taking our daughter out with the intention of teaching her all the core curriculum required by the state and that is the end of it.
Almost every other state has more legal requirements, so it is important to look into that before making the decision to homeschool. HSLDA may be the place to start your search.
Even though we are not legally required to keep records, I try to do so as meticulously as is possible for an unorganized hippie like me. The websites, above, offer a lot of record keeping tools. I also save all of the worksheets, lap books, journals and other projects my girl finishes as well as my own curriculum plans for each 6 week period.
I imagine that, as we move forward, this will help keep us focused and organized.
As students get older and they need to start considering college applications, many of them keep portfolios of their best work, tests, journals and other work. Colleges are becoming more and more open to accepting these kinds of alternative “transcripts” from students. They know that homeschool kids are hard-working and self-motivated and they are eager to have them at their schools.
9) Do you take vacations, like public school kids?
Yes. No. Well…. sort of.
Again, every homeschool family has a different way of doing things. One of the joys of homeschooling is that you can fit it to your life, but when you are a homeschool family, you are ALWAYS schooling. Learning is part of life.
In our family, we “do school” every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning. That means that, during those times, our girl is mostly sitting with an open book and a pencil doing the kinds of things she would do in public school – work sheets, journaling, etc. In the afternoons and on Tuesdays and Thursdays we do activities. We might make an art project or do some cooking. We might take a nature walk or go to music lessons or watch a movie about a historic event. We may take a trip to a museum or spend the day helping out at the senior citizen center or open a lemonade stand to learn about business.
Some times an opportunity for learning comes up on a Tuesday night or a Saturday morning or while we are watching the morning news on a Friday.
We adapt to those moments and try hard to maximize the benefits of them.
We don’t schedule “book work” on weekends, but if she is falling behind, she may have to use that time to catch up.
We didn’t schedule any school during the week between Christmas and New Years, yet we spent lots of time practicing music, coloring, reading and talking about other cultures.
That’s sneaky schooling. It’s my favorite kind.
10) Does it make you crazy to be with the kids all the time?
Yup. Every homeschool mom I know feels that way. It is ESSENTIAL that you get some grown up time. Moms visit during co-op classes and Dads take over sometimes so that you can get a moment to yourself. 24/7 with no “grown up” time is a recipe for disaster. No one I know is with their kids ALL the time.
On the other hand, you learn to incorporate the children into your every day life more. My daughter has spent enough time with me now that there isn’t a doubt in my mind, at 8 years old, she could take the shopping list into the store, get exactly the right stuff, pay for it, put it away in the cabinets and make herself lunch from it. She used to “tag along.” Now she participates. It changes the whole dynamic of spending time with her. It’s a lot of fun!
11) Is homeschooling expensive?
Homeschooling is what you choose to make it.
It can cost a fortune to buy curriculum and pay for lessons and remodel a room in your house into a school room.
Or you can print some free worksheets and do school on the couch. I think most people fall somewhere in the middle.
For us, homeschooling costs slightly more than public school did, but it’s a tiny difference because there are a lot of trade offs.
For example, we no longer have to pay for “special” lunch foods or school snacks. She eats what we eat, which saves a lot. But we drive around to lessons and such a lot more, so that is a cost. Our school was forever “nickel and diming us.” $5 for this fundraiser, $20 for these pictures, $7 for this field trip. We no longer have those costs, but we pay for homeschool association fees and tuition for the programs she is in.
12) Are you in a group?
If you’ve read this far, you know we are in a homeschool association. Not everyone goes that route, but I would highly recommend it. Our group has been invaluable. It provides a bit of structure and a lot of support. There are co-op classes and field trips and service opportunities. We are able to do things like band and gymnastics through our association for a tiny fraction of the cost of doing it on our own. There is even legal support if we ever require it. The fees are nominal and worth every penny.
13) Why did you choose to homeschool?
Some families decide to pull their kids out of public school because of a specific issue. That was not the case for us. We have a great deal of respect for the public schools in our town, but we decided that this was the better option for us. For all of our specific reasons, refer to this post.
Again, these are just some of the most common questions we get. If there is anything else you’d like to know, please don’t hesitate to join the discussion!
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