I get asked about homeschooling often. We are starting our 4th year of homeschooling our youngest. (Our oldest graduated public high school this past spring and is now in college). Aspen is technically starting 3rd grade this year. For those of you who’ve wondered or are thinking of ever homeschooling… Here is how I’ve figured out how to be organized with it and yet still have flexibility.
The basics of homeschooling
We are in Wisconsin. Here we are required to school our kids for 875 hours per year. That has to include some basic subjects: math, language arts/reading, science, social studies, health, art, etc. If you are thinking about homeschooling you’ll need to look up the laws in your state. They vary greatly from state to state. Some require different record keeping and others require testing.. Do your research and ask questions.
What will my kiddo learn?
My first goal is to put together the curriculum each year. I check both digital and physical options for each subject and decide what fits our lifestyle and Aspen’s learning style best. This year has been the easiest yet. We’re continuing with a couple of the same programs we’ve did last year. I have also bought a couple independant workbooks to supplement what is online. I like to make sure Aspen does physical writing each day, pencil to paper, actual writing. So I make sure to give him work that strengthens him in this area regardless of what else he’s doing for school. We also aim to fit reading into every day.
Weekly checklists make life so much easier:
Now that we know what classes and workbooks we will be using, I create a printable spreadsheet for each week throughout the year. I create a master spreadsheet in quickbooks then I print out a copy for each week and just fill in the week and dates with pen later. This is what I’m working on today so I snapped a picture. We’ve decided to shorten our school year a bit to allow for some extra travel so we’ll be doing 33 weeks of school. I then dived 875 by 33 and wrote that included that goal of 26 hours a week on each spreadsheet to help us remember.
The weekly page contains the subjects and the main ways Aspen will learn those. Then I manually fill in the blocks each day/week with how much time he spent in each area. I keep the current week’s sheet out all week so I can accurately record things.
We can also count many things that aren’t formal school but are learning, like him working on solar panels in the garage with Bruce, cooking, traveling and learning about places, etc. At the end of the week I add up how much time we spent, this helps me see week by week if there are areas we are having trouble getting enough time in, or other areas that seem easier to meet our hours in so I can consciously adjust for the weeks ahead. Any work that we don’t get finished from that folder I then add into the next weeks folder. This helps provide some flexibility but also makes sure to hold us accountable so we don’t let things spill into other weeks if we can help it.
My next step is to get out our calendar and plan out our year as best I can so I know what weeks I plan to have off for the holidays, or vacations, life.. etc. I also have my busiest few weeks with my art business between Thanksgiving and Christmas so I know to have him work on more independent activities during those school weeks and ease my own stress where I can. Once January hits we load back up on activities and schoolwork that requires more of my attention and help again.
The biggest help with keeping my kiddo engaged and interested is to approach homeschooling with a bit of team effort. I decide most things but I do let Aspen make some decision. He got to pick which foreign language he wants to work on, we had him try several online programs and then we narrowed it down to two that we liked the style of, approach and how well Aspen learned with their style. Then we let him pick which one he liked best between those two. We try to make it simple. Each night I’ll put together a stack of papers that we’ll work on the next day (handwriting, math worksheet, etc) Then he can get started as soon as he’d like even if I’m still wrapping up something else.
I tell him that he is the boss of his schooling and himself unless he does a poor job managing himself then I have to step in. He likes this feeling of being in control and knowing what to expect. We let him choose if he wants to do paper school or online school first each day. Most of his work is on the computer where he takes courses and they test him at the end of each chapter. They are really great at having teachers on the screen teaching the lessons and some added graphics, maps, or other reference videos added in as needed. I will often work on my own work alongside him as he does his computer work so I can answer questions and also hear the lessons, add in my own thoughts or make sure he’s paying attention.
Folders are my friend
I bought a large box of hanging folders a few years back at a garage sale. We still use these same folders year after year. There is a folder for each week then label these folders, “week 1”, “week 2”, etc. I don’t put dates or years on the folders. This allows me to use these same folders year after year. This week as we’re prepping for the school year to begin I spread everything out on the floor and I put the folders in order, then I put a spreadsheet in each folder, writing sheets, worksheets, etc.
I try to think ahead to any vacations we’ll be taking or exciting life things and I try to add a note to my folder or actual learning materials if I have them that coordinate to those things. For example, we are hoping to go to Italy/Rome for a few weeks next spring. So in the months leading up to that I’m incorporating Roman history into our lessons. This will make the vacation more fun and also give him some context when he sees things there.
Once I have the folders filled I put them in a stack, with week one on top. Then each week on Sunday night I pull out the folder for the coming week. I take a look to remind myself what is coming up for that week, divide up things mentally into how they’ll be worked on for the week then I keep that folder and spreadsheet out on the desk all week. Once we’re done for the week, I slip that folder to the bottom of the pile. We have a cabinet next to our homeschool area that I can keep this pile of folders tucked away in.
Let them learn through life as well
I don’t consider us unschoolers at all but I do have a deep love for finding ways to incorporate learning into everyday life. This can be cooking together, measuring out ingredients and learning about temperature, different types of recipes. Learning where food comes from, how it’s grown. We do a lot of projects on our house and building things and have our son help us. He measures, drills, helps us come up with solutions to problems. He gets to learn real life problem solving and for us the older he gets he’s actually starting to be a really big help.
We have a list of things that we want to search on the internet to learn about. Whenever he asks us about something we aren’t sure about we’ll turn it into a learning lesson. If we don’t have time then to find the answer we’ll add it to a list to lookup down the road.
Learning to seek out answers
Think about how we as adults learn, for me if I want to know how to build a greenhouse I get obsessed. I start learning about different styles of greenhouses, shapes, materials. What of those options works best for our climate, how much to supplies cost. Does it make sense to build one ourselves or should we buy a kit, or have someone build it… That entire process is how a kid can learn to. If they find themselves curious or have a problem that needs solving, we teach them how to learn. How to figure out answers.
We made a list of things that we know we’ll be working on or want to make sure to let Aspen do in the coming year around our house. I plan on spacing these out so that they can also be incorporated into our schooling when possible as well. Our list included: Electricity, hydraulics, solar panels, coding, piano lessons, bowling. You get the idea.
Go at their pace
I love being able to let my child excel in the areas he naturally does best at. My kid loves math and science. We try to challenge him in these areas, he’s a couple grades ahead in his online classes in a few classes and I love that he’s able to do that seamlessly. In areas where he struggles a bit more we spend extra time and find other ways for him to learn these things.
Aspen had zero interest in reading when kindergarten began and was resistant to it. We made a choice to not talk about it with him and I was able to delay reading and just focus on learning letters and other subjects for the first few months. Around Christmas that year we reintroduced a new reading program and since he wasn’t frustrated and was no longer resistant he picked it right up. This was a gift. We were able to make it fun again and allow him to go at his pace in this area.
Who does homeschooling work for?
I’m part of several homeschooling groups and the reasons they began homeschooling vary greatly. Here are a few of the reasons I’ve heard:
- child was being bullied
- child’s needs weren’t being met at school
- child has some sort of learning challenges and the parent felt they could address them better at home
- family travels and wants to learn from anywhere (lookup “worldschooling” for more on this… it’s a real thing and looks amazing)
- control over the child’s learning
- able to have one on one attention so the child can advance through school faster
- sports or other talent that requires lots of training, so the family decides to homeschool to provide more time to that sport or activity
- child has severe food allergies and parents want control over what is around the child
- religious reasons, want to be able to teach children things from a biblical perspective
- more time in nature
- freedom to control schedule
That is just a sample of reasons, they are as varied as kids are themselves.
Unsure if you are qualified to homeschool your kiddo?
If you really want to homeschool your kid(s) and feel like you could help them and their life more if you could do it then I encourage you to research it. I don’t look at myself so much as a teacher, moreso as an accumulator of information. My job is to curate what curriculums and teachings fit my kid. I find classes and tools to fit his learning style, our budget, our time, our family philosophy. I am a product of the public school system. If I don’t feel qualified to do these things after completing k-12 in public school then I think that presents a large negative about public school results. As mentioned above my daughter just graduated from public school. I’m not anti-public school at all.
I look at my kids and I feel like my job was to figure out which way of learning works best for each kid. My daughter did great in public school, it fit her learning style, she loved playing sports and all the social activities that came with it.
Listen to your kid
So often we hear of kids begging parents to homeschool them. For my son, pre-k brought lots of anxiety to him. Between the stress of school, the increase in milk and sugar, food colors, hand sanitizers… something… his system crashed. Within weeks of being in school he started having facial tics. Then it moved to his body. He was having them near continuously. You can read all about that experience here. We made it through Christmas that year, then he begged not to go back. So that winter we started homeschooling. Admittedly at age 5 this is very laid back. But I knew my goal then was to make learning feel fun.
Remember this. You know your kid. You are their biggest advocate, their protector. The one who can give them to tools to accomplish their goals, career hopes, and mostly feel really good about themselves.
My favorite thing about homeschooling
I have many favorites, the idea that we can travel in September without guilt, the fact that I get to spend every day with my kiddo and that it’s allowed me to have more control and interest in his education. But mostly… it’s that I’ve been able to ask my child every single day, “how are your feelings today?”. We get to value feelings, our hearts, our emotions and talk about them. It’s helped me make emotional health and confidence a part of our school day and life every day.
I feel fortunate that I work from home and that we could consider this option. If your heart is leading you to homeschool your kid(s) but for money reasons you feel you both must work there are options.
- Work different shifts for awhile.
- Have a grandparent or relative be with the kid during the day and the family will school in the evening when everyone is home.
- Some do the majority of their schooling on weekends.
- A few years ago we worked really hard to pay off $48k in consumer debt. Paying that helped ease the financial stresses a ton. If money stresses are part of the reason you aren’t sure if you can homeschool I encourage you to read our story. You can read all about how we did that here.
Our story and my way of homeschooling is just one of many paths that you can choose to take to homeschool. I like to read about different approaches and put together pieces of them into a plan that works for us.
If you would like to see a video on the filing system and spreadsheets we use please let me know. Also, I could talk for days about if homeschool kids get enough socializing and what happens if people judge you or say snide comments about homeschooling to you. If videos or posts on those would help let me know. (I’ve got lots to say on them. ♥ )
Wishing you much success and peace of mind no matter which path of schooling fits your kid(s) and your family.