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The Homeschooling Adventure: When To Begin

Perhaps you’re dissatisfied with your child’s public school experience or your child has special needs or an illness that makes regular school attendance challenging. If you’re considering homeschooling, you’re not alone. Over 2 million children are homeschooled in the U.S., and that number grows by 10 to 15 percent annually, according to the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA).

Many parents wonder when to start homeschooling. Is it best to start when children are kindergarten age? Is there a window of time after which homeschooling becomes more challenging? The answer is that there is no single best age to start homeschooling and every family’s situation is slightly different. Below are a few possible scenarios you might encounter.

Homeschooling From Day One

SHomesHHSome parents feel called to homeschool when their children are very young. Many parents make the decision to homeschool before they even start their families. If this is your situation, you have the benefit of having several years to research homeschooling curriculums and develop an organized system that works for you.

Children know from the time they are very little that your family homeschools, and they become accustomed to the homeschooling lifestyle. They’re also less likely to be exposed to negative social influences because they never attend public school.

On the other hand, many children who have never attended school may have “public school envy.” They wistfully watch friends and neighbors go off to school in the fall, while they stay at home. Going to public school seems fun and novel.

Homeschooling In The Elementary Years

Other parents come to homeschooling in elementary school for a variety of reasons. According to a study by HSLDA, more than 49 percent of homeschooling parents cited religious reasons as their main reason for choosing homeschooling. You may feel dismayed by the lack of values apparent in many school rooms. You may also opt for homeschooling if your child has had a negative school experience, has special needs, or isn’t being challenged.

Regardless of age, most children who have been in public school classrooms appreciate the flexibility and comfort of learning at home. Children enjoy having more time to pursue hobbies and interests and rarely miss the social experiences of school since many of these experiences are negative.

Of course, you’ll have less time to get your game up than if you’d planned on homeschooling from the beginning. Spend several months researching and organizing before you pull your kids out of public school, if possible. It’s very hard to “get up to speed” when your little ones are home full-time.

Homeschooling Teenagers

Parents opt to homeschool teenagers for many of the same reasons cited for elementary-age students. Negative peer influences, bullying, inappropriate learning environments, or unchallenging academic curriculums may drive your decision. Homeschooling teenagers can be a very rewarding experience, but if they’ve spent most of their educational career in a traditional classroom, there are a few things to keep in mind.

First, your teenager is probably accustomed to a fair amount of independence when it comes to school work. As you transition to homeschooling, allow your teenager to help make decisions about schedules, curriculum, and course studies. Encourage her to be as independent as possible. You can take the role of supervisor and support staff.

A teenager accustomed to the busyness of afterschool activities and social events may feel bored and isolated at home. Determine ahead of time how you’ll incorporate social activities into homeschooling. Many homeschooled teenagers work part-time or take some college courses. Join a homeschooling group for teenagers or sign up for art or music classes. Participate in sports or try out for a community play. Encourage your homeschooled teenager to volunteer in a worthy cause or spend time researching and trying out potential future careers. If college is in your teen’s future, talk with college counselors about eligibility requirements for homeschoolers. With careful planning, your child may be able to start full-time college early.

Tips for Success

So you’ve decided to take the plunge and jump into homeschooling. Good for you. Educating your children at home will be one of the most rewarding experiences you’ll ever undertake. Below are some tips to help you get started, no matter what age your children are:

  • Find a homeschool association in your state and attend a convention. Here you’ll meet other homeschooling families and learn about curriculum materials and philosophies. Join a homeschooling association in your local community as well. The friends you make through your homeschooling associations will become your field trip buddies, your allies, and your cheerleaders when things get tough.
  • Find out your state’s requirements for homeschoolers. Some states have almost no requirements at all. Most states require parents to submit test scores and professional evaluations of your child’s progress. A few states make homeschooling very difficult. These states require in-home visits, curriculum approval, or even a review of your qualifications as a teacher.
  • Decide on a curriculum. The curriculum you choose will depend on your children’s needs and your homeschooling goals. If you just want to try homeschooling for a year, use a packaged curriculum or even an online homeschooling service. On the other hand, if you see homeschooling as a long-term venture, take the time to research the available options and custom-design a curriculum that fits your family.
  • Get organized. Once you start homeschooling, your little ones will be with you all the time. This experience is joyful, exhilarating, and at times, exhausting. Think ahead about the practical challenges of having everyone home every day. How will you manage grocery shopping, meal preparation, cleaning, and cooking along with homeschooling? You can manage it all, but it takes some special preparation and organization.
  • Find respite opportunities. School teachers may love teaching, but they enjoy summer break too. As a homeschooling parent, you also need to build some breaks into your routine; otherwise, you’re going to become burnt out very quickly. Plan field trips once a week to get out of the house or swap teaching with another parent. Schedule a designated quiet time in the afternoon for reading, playing games, or watching an educational movie. Use this time to catch up on tasks around the house or put your feet up and read a book.

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