Homeschooling is an exciting adventure that will challenge and enrich your family in unexpected ways. If you’re new to homeschooling you may be feeling overwhelmed by all of the opinions and information available, and wondering “Is homeschooling right for me?”
You may be worried about your ability to educate your child appropriately, or anxious about whether your kids will fight all day, or how you’ll possibly get a moment to breathe.
You’re likely also excited about the chance to spend more time with your family, and be more closely involved in their academic and emotional growth.
Homeschooling is an exciting adventure that will challenge and enrich your family…
The stakes are typically more complicated for Black families. Many of us face barriers to affordable resources. We have fears about our ability to navigate complicated government institutions that regulate learning at home.
Still, homeschooling is an opportunity for those of us raising Black children to create learning that affirms their identity, centers their joy, and protects them from much of the racism and implicit bias in the school system.
If you’re wondering “Is homeschooling right for me?” or asking yourself “Should I homeschool?”, it could be because you’re not sure what goes into homeschooling for the first time. Here are some suggestions for how you can get started.
1. Figure out your legal status.
The first step in deciding whether and how to homeschool is to figure out the legal requirements in your state.
There aren’t federal requirements for homeschoolers, so it’s important to get familiar with what’s required in your state as the requirements vary greatly.
Some states, like Michigan, have no requirements, while others, like California, mandate detailed records of your schedule, curriculum, and incorporation status as a school. I’ve found the HomeSchool Legal Defense Association map to be incredibly helpful. You’ll find step-by-step directions on how to be in compliance with the regulations in your area.
2. Identify your “why.”
You can easily come up with a list of reasons why your children would benefit from homeschooling, and how you can fill in the gaps that you noticed in their school experience outside of the home. Make a list of those things and include your children in the conversation to hear their thoughts.
Perhaps more important, though, are the reasons that you want to be a homeschooler! What are some things you want to learn about yourself and your children in the process of homeschooling? Some other questions you can ask yourself when pondering “Is homeschooling right for me?”:
- How would you like to be changed by the experience?
- Are there new skills you’d like to acquire, or old interests you want to delve into?
- How would you like to spend your time each day?
Once you identify your why, it’ll be easier to stay motivated through the ups and downs of the experience.
I started homeschooling as the next step in my journey to liberation. I knew that I wanted my children to have a learning space where they were reflected, respected, and loved. Several months in I realized that I also wanted to have time to learn to play the banjo, write poetry, and take naps with my little ones.
When I ask myself “Is homeschooling right for me?”, focusing on my own goals and needs has helped me to stay grounded when the inevitable power struggles happen in our home. Homeschooling is for our healing and enrichment, just as much as it’s for our kids’.
3. Define your family values.
Still wondering “Is homeschooling right for me?” A great place to start your homeschooling journey is to get some clarity around what is important to your family. This can be as simple as creating a mantra or identifying three words that remind you of your values. It can also be as complex as writing a family mission statement. Ask yourself:
- What unifies you as a group?
- What would you like to contribute to the world?
- How would you like to be remembered by your great grandchildren?
- How do you all want to feel each day that you’re spending time together?
Your family values aren’t exclusively tied to homeschooling; they’re the things that make you all unique and keep you feeling connected with each other. A mantra or a well-crafted mission statement should be broad enough that it will still apply in a decade, but precise enough that you can use it as a lighthouse when you feel a bit lost in your decision-making.
4. Identify your skills, passions, and interests.
When I first started homeschooling, I spent hours researching the public school standards for the state that I live in and fretting over how I would lovingly and playfully engage three children of different personalities and developmental stages all day long.
How would I decide what to teach? How could I be sure that I didn’t miss anything?!
There’s too much information in the universe for one homeschooling mama to pour it all into her children. Based on our family mission statement, I decided to center three questions to guide our learning.
- What are you curious about?
- What brings you joy?
- What would you like to create for our community?
In our family we love to make a long list at the start of each school year, and check in monthly to reflect on what we’ve covered, and where we’d like to go next.
If your child is non-verbal, you can still create a list of their interests. Think about the times that you’ve seen them really light up. When left to their own devices, how do they choose to spend their time?
When your list is complete, highlight the topics where your kids have interests and skills that don’t overlap with yours. Are there friends or family members who share those interests? Start thinking about local and virtual resources you can access to support them. Museums, libraries, cultural institutions, and 4-H programs are rich with classes and other learning opportunities for homeschoolers. They also provide the opportunity to build lifelong friendships.
5. Do a little bit of research on homeschooling styles.
The Internet is a seemingly endless void of opinions and information for people wondering “Is homeschooling right for me?” There’s blog post after blog post on homeschooling styles and curriculum resources. Since you’re clear on your core values and your why, keep that in mind as you research the type of homeschooling you’d like to do as a family.
Keep in mind the personalities of your children, and your own disposition as a facilitator, and feel free to boldly collage a few different styles to create something uniquely suited to your family.
Even though I had been an early childhood educator for more than seven years when I started homeschooling, I still got lost in all of the voices I was reading. Remembering one of our family’s core values of “liberation” reminded me that I didn’t have to choose something that was already created and subscribe to it exclusively. I enjoyed homeschooling so much more when I co-created a schedule and approach that worked for all of us, even if it didn’t follow a neat path.
Once you’ve decided your style, you can purchase or create a curriculum that will align with your goals and culture as a family and meet your state requirements. There are numerous traditional or religious homeschooling curricula, as well as Afrocentric, Waldorf-inspired, or unschooling aligned, or support for children with special needs options.
Any curriculum you choose will need a bit of adapting to meet your family’s needs. Be sure to read through materials thoroughly before you share them with your children so that you can edit or prepare for challenging conversations. Some books, films, and curriculum have led us to discussions about racism and stereotypes in contemporary and older texts; sexism in the ways toys and games are marketed to children; and questions about sex, reproduction, and gender identity.
If you’re interested in writing your own curriculum but the process feels overwhelming, you can begin by purchasing curricula for a few areas that you feel less confident in, and write weekly lesson plans for the subject areas that you feel most confident.
6. Figure out your approach to lesson plans.
Lesson plans can be as simple as writing down one specific activity that you’d like to do as a family, like taking a nature walk or doing an art project. They can also be as detailed as aligning your activities with Common Core or state standards.
Our family strives to balance self-directed education with intentional weaving of cultural practices and knowledge. For us this looks like time in our homeschool cooperative that centers BIPOC identities, and then starting each “home” day with the children setting their intentions for the day or week, depending on their age.
I typically plan out ways that I can support learning for their long-term projects, by doing research of my own, and asking community members for help. For example, when my oldest wanted to write a book about orca whales, a friend introduced us to a marine biologist, who offered a couple hours of her time for an interview.
If you’re wondering “Is homeschooling right for me,” know this: Curiosity and resourcefulness are more important than certification and coursework in your homeschooling journey. However, learning about child development and various stages and styles of learning can be helpful in giving you the confidence you’ll need along the way. You can also stay connected with contemporary research and best practices in traditional school settings through websites like Edutopia.
7. Make a homeschooling “pod.”
Many who wonder “Is homeschool right for me?” often think that they have to homeschool by themselves.
Our first winter as homeschoolers was long and “polar-vortex” cold. The kids and I felt really restless, and lonely for the company of others. We joined a local homeschool group, but still felt isolated as one of only two Black families.
The online forums I’d found for Black homeschoolers were often more traditional and Christian than our style, and left me longing for a few families who would fully embrace and welcome us. Building community was key to maintaining my mental health, and keeping the joy in homeschooling.
Whether virtual or in-person, you’ll need a few other families who share your values and have experience or resources to share with each other. Connect with three to five other homeschooling families and decide how you’d like to stay connected with each other. Whether you’re connected by your faith, homeschooling style, neighborhood, or any other important parts of your identity, make sure you have enough commonality to share some core values, and enough diversity to challenge each other and mutually grow.
If your state has a lot of curriculum or testing requirements, more experienced homeschoolers in your area will be an incredible resource. Group chats, private Facebook groups, or emails are a few ways that you can stay connected. Ask each person how they’d like to participate and what kind of support they need and then choose the platform that best suits all of you. Your pod can be as formal or informal as you like, but having a space for purposeful connection with a few peers will help you process information and issues as they arise, give a space for collective resource sharing, and help you build a few deep relationships rather than superficial ones with the thousands of people available online.
8. Create a daily rhythm.
Now you’re equipped with your core values, interests, passions, and a pod, create a daily rhythm that generally outlines how you all would like to spend your time. Remember, you’re homeschooling, not doing school at home. This can look however you want it to!
Some homeschooling families choose the hours between breakfast and lunch to use their curriculum, and spend the rest of their day playing together as a family. In the beginning of our homeschooling journey I offered my kids activities in one hour increments, three times a day, with a couple hours of play in-between. This made it easy for me to meet the needs of my infant, while my older children got a steady balance of free play, supported exploration and meals.
Homeschooling gives you the opportunity to create a schedule that meets your family’s needs, so feel free to create pockets of learning around meals, prayers, or nap schedules.
9. Set up your space for success.
Sometimes when you wonder “Is homeschooling right for me?”, it’s because you’re not sure how it will fit into your existing home life.
Successful homeschooling requires intentionality in your space. Your home doesn’t have to be covered wall-to-wall with alphabet posters or kids’ toys. But it does need to be organized in a way that reflects the values that you’ve identified and supports the learning that you all are doing as a family.
Considering how you can set up the common spaces in your home is a helpful focal point. Do you want your kids to access materials on their own? What’s your tolerance level for messy art projects and untidiness? Where can you store small or delicate materials for the older kids, that will stay out of reach for the toddlers? Visualize the rhythm you’ve created and walk through your home imagining your child in each part of the day.
I usually suggest that folks have a small but diverse, collection of books and materials that kids can access on their own. Everything else can be kept in storage or tucked away. I’ve also wanted to try out a “toy cooperative” model with some friends, where you can swap toys, books, and other learning materials with each other on a monthly basis. This allows everyone to try new things, without having to purchase all of the items, or have endless bins of storage in their home. (If you try it, please let me know how it goes!)
10. Embrace change.
Octavia Butler reminded us in her Parable series: “The only lasting truth is Change,” and motherhood is my constant reminder.
Just like good music allows for riffing on the base rhythm, a homeschooling family needs to be adaptable. Hold the daily rhythm and design of your space loosely so that you all know what to expect, but stay flexible enough to thrive with the changes as they come.
11. Trust yourself.
You are more than capable of educating your child, and you are not alone! With a supportive network, open communication with your child, and listening to your intuition and ancestral wisdom, you’ll create a homeschooling experience that allows you and your family to learn and grow together for years to come.
If you’ve decided the answer to “Is homeschooling right for me?” is yes, then hopefully this guide will be what you need to get you and your family started on your journey.