Homeschooling: Where to Start? by Jane-Emily

 

Getting started in homeschooling can feel overwhelming. There is so much information, so many curricula, so much stuff! Sorting through it all can take ages — and it means you spend a lot of time on the computer instead of with your children, who are, after all, the point of the exercise. One mistake nearly all of us make at first is overbuying: in our excitement and our anxiety to cover all the bases at once, we spend too much money and buy too much of everything.

Preliminary Research

When I first got started, I spent a whole lot of time reading. I was a little bit lucky in that I started thinking about homeschooling when my first child was two years old, so I had plenty of time to research. But anyone could do this kind of reading as a long-term thing, though not everyone would want to.

I had already found out that classical homeschooling was what I wanted, but I still read just about everything I could. This often meant that I requested books at the library through InterLibrary Loan so that I could read them without spending hundreds of dollars on books I might not find useful. Then, if I really loved the book and wanted to use it as a permanent reference, I purchased it, which helped me not to overbuy. Because I wasn’t committing to the books by purchasing them, I was free to read across religious lines and homeschooling philosophies. I could choose to mine conservative Christians for tips on teaching math, and radical unschoolers for ideas on making my home a learning environment. I read about people homeschooling so they could focus on African-American culture, and people who spent a year bicycling across the country, and all sorts of things.

The only books on homeschooling (not curricula, but how-to books) I ended up purchasing new were:

I also found some books used at library book sales and so on. I got a full set of E. D. Hirsch’s “Core Knowledge” series that way–which I mostly did not use, but it helped me feel secure.

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Kindergarten Math

Other People: A Fantastic Resource

Once kindergarten was closer, I started looking around for people to meet up with. Please understand that I live in a small city, and at that time there weren’t a lot of homeschoolers for me to meet; you may have far more available to you!

My neighbor down the street told me about her mothers’ group and invited me to go. This turned out to be a group that was very welcoming to me and did not have a statement of faith, but was entirely composed of evangelical Christians (I am not).  The criterion was that members had to be independent homeschoolers, not connected to any charter or public school with an independent study program. They were lovely to me and I always enjoyed the meetings, but I also knew that some of my more secular friends would not have felt comfortable. I may well have been the only person in the room not teaching young earth creationism.  I learned so much from these women and am grateful to have been able to do so.

I also heard about a group that met for a park day, and I tried that out. They were welcoming, too! This group tended to be comprised mainly of unschoolers and crunchy folks, but welcomed everyone. I’m not an unschooler either, but again, I made good friends and learned a lot. My kids had a great time running around the park and playing in the creek. We have also shared field trips and other events with these same families, and these times have been wonderful for all of us.

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Park Day at the Creek

 

I never did meet very many people like me; there are very few classical homeschoolers around here. I never joined a co-op or even heard of one I could join. Instead, I learned to make friends wherever I could and learn from them. I met lots of people whose homeschooling philosophies I did not share, but who made great friends. I could take care of my own homeschooling philosophy myself.

Purchasing Curriculum

I had gathered many recommendations for curriculum from the books I’d read, especially the ones I purchased. My next problem was how to choose among those recommended curricula — which ones would fit our style and what I wanted to teach? Even the most detailed recommendations couldn’t tell me that, although they often helped me decide that I did not want something.

I visited a lot of websites and ordered a lot of catalogs. I loved looking at them, but I was often frustrated by my utter inability to inspect the actual books. These days I think it is a bit easier to find long samples so that you can see more of the book, which is hugely helpful, but I really prefer to pick up the book and handle it.

I live quite far from the places where homeschooling conferences mostly happen, but there was one in a large city about two hours away. It was unschooling-focused, and I didn’t want to pay to attend the whole conference, but the exhibit hall was free (they usually are). I drove down and explored, visiting as many vendors as I could. Since I was mostly looking for classical vendors, there still weren’t that many for me to look at, but I could inspect Saxon Math and some other basic things. Later on I traveled further to attend an evangelical-focused conference, where I was able to find and inspect other products.

Used curriculum swaps were also helpful to me, although they often ‘helped’ me buy books I ended up not using. The mothers’ group had a yearly used curriculum sale, which gave me the chance to really look at some things! The prices were always right, too. Used curriculum swaps seem to be going a bit out of style in favor of selling online, but I think there’s a lot to be said for an in-person sale first; you can see the books, and there’s no shipping to pay.

Some things I just had to order and hope they worked out. It felt like a leap of faith, but I was rarely disappointed. I ordered some books based only on recommendations and short samples. Most of the time, it worked out fine. My biggest leap was buying Prima Latina, a Latin curriculum for younger children, and that turned me into an enthusiastic convert to teaching Latin to children.

The local teacher supply store was not helpful as far as curricula went, but it was great for other materials. I bought many math manipulatives, test tubes, art supplies, and posters there. We often really enjoyed our trips to that store, because they had tables set up with activities for young children and they often raised silkworms in a box on the counter. I don’t think I ever had to order materials online; I either got them at the teacher supply store or, sometimes, made them myself.

Homeschooling is a huge job, and getting started is overwhelming. It can often feel impossible to figure out how to select the right curriculum — for several different subjects! — when we haven’t picked up a textbook since our own long-ago schooldays. It’s OK to take things slow and steady, adding as we find good materials. (And meanwhile, head to the library and borrow lots of good books to read!) As homeschooling moms, I think that one of our weaknesses is our desire to get everything chosen and planned right now! In our anxiety to do right by our children, we tend to think that we need to get every subject started right away. It is hard for us to remember to take things one day at a time, one child at a time. It’s a long journey, so we need to pace ourselves.

Another mistake we make is to make the perfect the enemy of the good. We are always wondering if this math book, this grammar text, is really the best possible option. Is this other textbook better? Switching all the time is usually self-defeating, as we spend too much money and jerk the children from one thing to another. If a curriculum is working for you and not making your child cry on a regular basis, switching mid-stream is not productive.

Seek out other homeschoolers to befriend. Read about homeschooling and figure out what sounds good, and then seek out the curricula that will help support the philosophy you choose. Take it slow. And sometimes, make a little leap of faith.

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Janjane-emilye-Emily–Jane-Emily is a classically homeschooling LDS mom of two girls, and a librarian at the local community college, very part-time. She loves to read and will pick up almost anything. She also loves to sew and mostly does quilting, heirloom sewing, and smocking. And she’s a Bollywood addict.

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Ask Caitilin: Finding a Homeschool Support Group

 

Question:

Where and how do I find a homeschool group? What is a co-op and why would I want to join one?

Answer:

Homeschool Support Groups

You can find a homeschool group in several ways. (I found mine by accident, but I don’t recommend that as a search strategy!) The first question is, do you know any homeschoolers, even if only tenuously? If you do, ask them. They may not be your “type” of homeschooler, but chances are good that they know at least the names of other homeschool groups in your area, and often can direct you to a knowledgeable person in one those groups.

The second thing to try is to get on the Google and search “homeschool group, Your City.” You may not have success if homeschooling is still relatively small and/or new in your community, or if no one locally has the skill or inclination to have set up a website, but this is a good second bet. Another possibility is meetup.com, where people can create their own groups for any purpose imaginable, including homeschooling. Also, check Facebook! With the advent of Facebook groups, this has become a popular and effective way for like-minded people to find one another.

My last suggestion is to ask around in your community. If you belong to a religious community, ask there. Check with the children’s librarians at your local library–it’s very likely they see any homeschoolers there are! Try the community center(s) in the area, or any other place open to the public with space available for group use. Basically, ask around!

Co-ops

Co-ops are cooperative endeavors of parents who jointly provide educational and enrichment activities for their children in a group learning environment. The reasons for joining a co-op are that some activities work better–or in some cases only–in a group context; that a parent may feel ill-equipped to provide instruction in a particular area, such as art or music or science; that it provides to students, and often to parents, a social outlet with people who share a large common value.

You might want to join a co-op if your children are feeling isolated, or if you wish they could participate in, say, choral music. You might want to join one if you feel as if you never see an adult from one week’s end to the next. You might want to participate in a strong academic co-op with teachers hired to teach classes in their areas of expertise.

One caveat: sometimes co-ops sound better than they actually end up being. If you try one, but soon find yourself wishing you you’d never heard of the dratted thing, then quit! It’s not worth it to devote your time and energy to something that isn’t working for you. Homeschooling can look many different ways, and because Co-op ABC makes your friends happy and successful homeschoolers doesn’t mean it will do the same for you. Know yourself, and join or don’t join accordingly.

Homeschool groups and co-ops can be a real safety net of sanity for homeschoolers, mothers and children alike, especially in the first years, when so much is new and uncharted. If you can, I would encourage you to join a group, just to plug in to the the assets available to homeschoolers in your community. From there, you might like to join a co-op, and take advantage of the opportunities for group studies and activities. If nothing else, it may be worthwhile to find an online community to go to for support, as occasionally classical homeschoolers find themselves in the minority in their local homeschool communities. But whatever you decide, choose the right fit for your own family and homeschool, and be at peace.

Caitilcaitlin_fionain Fiona–Caitilin is the mother of six children, ranging from high school down to early elementary, all of whom she has homeschooled from the beginning. Her particular interests in the homeschool universe include teaching Latin, Shakespeare, and Great Books. Outside of homeschooling, her interests include languages, literature, theology, cookery and nutrition, movies, and fooling around, er, researching on the Internet.

Co-op Chemistry, by Cheryl

Mentos and diet soda, in cold weather

Science With Friends

 

My kids love doing science experiments! I really do too, but with everything else we do at home, the experiments sometimes get put on the back burner. I wanted to be sure that my eight-year-old science enthusiast had a year full of science experiments. To be sure I followed my plan, I signed up to teach a class for our co-op. I have never had so much fun with a group of seven, eight, and nine-year-olds!

We have spent the last two months studying the basics of chemistry. We have covered atoms; the periodic table; mixtures; four kinds of reactions; four types of evidence of reactions; polymers, and more.

Experiments we have done so far:

Mixing things found around the house to check for reactions: baking soda, lemon juice, vinegar, salt water, egg whites, and milk. As we mixed items, we recorded what happened in a chart. The kids loved baking soda with vinegar and baking soda with lemon juice. Milk and lemon juice was another fun reaction. We looked for bubbles or precipitation in these experiments.

We also spent a week studying the pH of various household liquids by mixing them with red cabbage juice. Acids turned our juice from purple to pink, bases turned it green/blue, and neutral items did not change the color. We also neutralized the acids by adding bases to watch the color turn back to purple. The kids had a great time mixing things back and forth to watch the color changes.

We tested mixtures. Our first project was to make a cake. We made a nearly homogeneous mixture as we stirred the mix, eggs, oil, and water then we added giant drops of frosting to turn it into a heterogeneous mixture. I think this was their favorite experiment because we ate it! While that cooked we tried mixing oil and water based liquids to see what would happen.

We checked for starch in food items with iodine.

The second favorite experiment was making gooey putty. Mix equal parts liquid starch and white glue to create a polymer that is fun to play with!

Our final chemistry experiment was the “Mentos in diet soda” reaction. We read about the reason for the reaction, discussed what we thought would happen with different types of soda and then we went outside with eight bottles (four types of soda) and two flavors of Mentos. We had a soda fountain show! Our soda did not shoot as high as Mythbusters’ did. Our hypothesis is that the soda and Mentos (which sat in my car all night in the freezing cold) do not react as strongly when cold. We plan to test it again when it is warmer outside.

The kids have been introduced to some important foundational concepts of chemistry as well as the idea of the scientific method in experimentation. We are only halfway through our class. I cannot wait to get started on physics with these kids!

Cheryl–Cheryl is a singing, dancing, baking, homeschooling mom of three. She has danced her cherylwhole life and taught ballet and theatre for most of her adult life. Her favorite pastime has always been cooking and baking, and as a Pampered Chef Independent Consultant she gets to share that love with others. Home educating her three children has been and continues to be one of her greatest learning experiences! It is an adventure she is ready to continue.

FIRST Lego League Robotics, by Cheryl

Science With Friends

 

My oldest son is great at math and has been since he learned what numbers were! His brain does not work like mine; he breaks numbers down in his head in ways that make me dizzy (and I am good at math, too). He is also very visual and good at seeing how things work, how to make things work, and how to build. I have been looking for ways to take his mathematical and mechanical abilities and show him what he can do with them. We found it in FIRST Lego League this year.

We participated in the Jr. league this year. The kids are given a theme and required to build a Lego display with one motorized part and a couple of simple machines. At the meets they are judged on their design and how well it works. They are also judged on a presentation board they create and on their ability to talk to the judges about their project. This year was “Disaster Blaster:” the kids had to pick a natural disaster and create their project around that.

We live in Moore, OK. Our teammates do, as well. Our kids picked a tornado for their disaster. They built a town and a working tornado out of Legos. I was not involved in any of the design or build. I was very impressed with what I saw at the first meet.

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My eight-year-old had a great time! He learned about machines and a lot about gears as he attempted to make his tornado work properly. (He was even more excited when we were at the Oklahoma Science Museum riding the Segways, and we saw that the inventor of the Segway started FIRST Lego League!)

Next year he will be in FLL instead of FLL Jr. They build and program a robot with the Lego Mindstorms robot kit. The robot has to complete a series of tasks. The students are also required to do a research project and present their project. We loved watching the older teams practice at the meets, and my son cannot wait for next year!

I am impressed with the setup of this program. It teaches kids so much more than robotics! They learn team work, public speaking, and presentation design. The website (linked above) has information on starting your own team and volunteering to help run events.

Cheryl–Cheryl is a singing, dancing, baking, homeschooling mom of three. She has danced her whole life and taughtcheryl ballet and theatre for most of her adult life. Her favorite pastime has always been cooking and baking, and as a Pampered Chef Independent Consultant she gets to share that love with others. Home educating her three children has been and continues to be one of her greatest learning experiences! It is an adventure she is ready to continue.