What resources have you used to get started homeschooling?

Written Sep 9, 2016

Getting started …

that’s easy! A letter to the local school district. A library card.

Seriously, you can get started, and can probably complete all homeschooling with only those things. However, I suspect your question is broader.

The first year … the plan

We experienced a phenomenon that homeschoolers usually encounter – deschooling.

My dissatisfaction with the local school/system had been brewing for a while, and I had been considering homeschooling. My wife was not yet convinced. So when, one day after dropping our daughter off late due to a dentist appointment, she remarked “She looked so sad when she walked into school”, I knew the time had come. We disenrolled her the next day.

So now, 2 weeks into the school year, I was faced with figuring out how and what to teach her. The first reaction was to continue teaching her exactly what she had already been learning. After all, at the end of this road she should have learned everything other students learn – right? (This is the idea behind Common Core – that there is an essential body of knowledge that all students should possess).

So my first reaction was to start searching for courses, and curricula, to duplicate her school classes. And there are certainly plenty of options out there:

  • use her current school textbooks
  • enroll in Virtual school (a free option in our state)
  • enroll in online classes
  • review and select textbooks for each topic
  • review and assign online resources for each subject.

In fact, the choices are overwhelming. If I attempted to review all the choices, we would never even get started.

As I started digging to solve the curriculum question, I ran into my next issue. Which homeschooling philosophy to choose? It turns out, there is a wide variety of methods employed for homeschooling, including:

Too many choices.

The First Year … the Reality

During her first 3 months of homeschooling, my 9 year-old daughter became a Minecraft ninja! Seriously! She was providing tricks and lessons to teenagers.

Of course, she was also doing other things, like piano lessons. She also chose to start violin lessons, and she was watching lots of interesting videos on YouTube (Brainpop; vSauce; mathnasium). I also had her making good progress on Khan Academy math. She was definitely happier.

However, I hadn’t really executed a rigorous, defined curriculum.

Then, interesting things began to happen:

  • She lost interest in Minecraft (and most other games)
  • She followed up on her interest in Astronomy by enrolling in an Astronomy course on Coursera
  • Already an avid reader, she got immersed in The Warriors book series, by Erin Hunter
  • She got very interested in digital graphics, learning almost exclusively from other artists on YouTube. Most of her artwork related to The Warriors books
  • That led to an interest in animation. She has developed a following on her Youtube channel, and routinely collaborates with other artists on projects.
  • That led to writing fan fiction stories about The Warriors, which she posts to an online community of writers
  • A BBC series on Youtube, Meet the Romans with Mary Beard, led down the path to Ancient Roman history. We have followed up by reading Mary Beard’s SPQR. This has led to discussions on politics, legal systems, state formation, archaeology, geography, etc.
  • After several attempts with different approaches to Math, we are settling into a series of discussions and working problems based upon The Art of Problem Solving book series.

One year later

By default, we have settled into the unschooling method. (Don’t be deceived into thinking this was a random choice. I did tons of research, and have become convinced that unschooling is entirely appropriate for our daughter’s situation).

We have certainly stumbled along, and have made some missteps along the way, but nothing we can’t adapt to. Here are a couple of examples:

  • Math. Started out with Khan Academy, but realized that it basically emulates the traditional approach (just by using videos). Switched to ST Math, which is an entirely visual, and gamified approach. However, although an improvement, the repetition was still tedious. I researched further, especially the work of Jo Boaler and Keith Devlin (Inspiring Students to Math Success and a Growth Mindset), and opted for The Art of Problem Solving, which allows me to employ a discussion and project-based approach.
  • English. I wasn’t really concerned about this area, since our daughter is a voracious reader. However, I thought that it was important that she understand the fundamentals of grammar. We started reading some Michael Clay Thomas books, but our daughter was bored. I thought back to my days in school, and remembered how bored I was during grammar, and how utterly useless I perceived it to be. Since I have never had a problem with writing, I concluded that you can pick up the concepts by reading voraciously. (I have also talked to friends who told me that, in their experience, grammar concepts were essential. One engineer told me that she had to keep a list of rules posted whenever she needed to write a report. I guess everybody learns differently). Ultimately, we ended up using Models for Writers as a starting point for writing. This approach is working for us.

Support team

Of course, even with unschooling, the student still needs guidance and support. As you can see above, even though our daughter has pursued many of her own interests, I have spent a substantial amount of time researching appropriate approaches and study materials. We have also encouraged her to pursue learning opportunities online (Brainpop, Coursera, Youtube).

One of the essential things I have learned is that the parents and/or guardians have to be fully onboard with the homeschooling philosophy selected. This is a subject that has spawned many interesting discussions around the dinner table, as our family struggles with deciding the appropriate mix of structure, free time, and play.

We are fortunate that we can support our decision to homeschool. My wife and I both work (full-time) out of our home, so we have schedule flexibility. We don’t spend a lot of time on actual instruction, but it is important to monitor and understand what our daughter is doing.

Additionally, we are fortunate to have access to technology which supports our daughter’s homeschooling. She has her own computer, which I think is a great help. We also allow her essentially free access to online resources (again, I monitor her pretty carefully, and I believe she has a good sense of netiquette).

Summary

It is easy to homeschool. It is difficult to homeschool well. You don’t need it at first, but eventually you will have to ensure that you have clear goals and direction, or the journey may become a disaster. That said, our decision to homeschool has been (so far) the best decision we have made regarding our daughter’s education.

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