Homeschooling: How to start

I admit: I’ve had my biases and prejudices against homeschooling, but I’ve come to see that my attitude has more to do with my lack of knowledge than any real, rational data. Just about every homeschooler I’ve met, locally or on the Internet, regardless of religious or political background, has incredible things to say about the resources, community, and the learning process. Homeschooling isn’t for everyone, but for both parents and kids with the right temperament, it can be an amazing journey together.

Here’s how Tom got started homeschooling his kids:

After 4 years in a great daycare we decided to take our son Ben out and start the process of schooling. He was in a half day PreK for a month and then we moved out of district. Seeing as I was already doing the stay at home tango with our 1 year old I decided to take on home schooling Ben.

Googling on Home Schooling resources was a bit frightening, I seemed to be in the minority in wanting a secular education for the kids. Then I found / which led to /

Pay Dirt! Worksheets, lesson plans, full story books, coloring pages and projects covering PreK To Grade 3…all for the click and printing. We are working thru the Space-themed module which includes letter skills, math, reading and the constructing of a space mural for the wall.  Ben is chewing thru the Pre and K level work and has started Grade 1 level stuff last week.

Add this to other resources like Project Gutenburg, Story Nory and Wikipedia and we now have a nice little classroom set up in the house. [Be careful with Wikipedia — a good place to start, but not necessarily the definitive source of accurate information. — Ed.]

For field days we hit the amazingly well-stocked and staffed Multnomah County Library, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry as well as a local coffee shop for some social time.

A few months ago the idea of taking on the education end of things full time seemed daunting at best and nightmare inducing at worst…now it is a little less of a fright and more a delight.

I’d love to hear the Parenthacker perspective on homeschooling — care to share?



  1. Shelley says

    Thank you so very much for posting this. I’ve just started the search for information about secular homeschooling and appreciate the resources.

  2. says

    If you’ve got cable, you also have access to many educational cable television and internet resources designed specifically to support and enhance education at no additional cost. For more details, including for schedules of upcoming television programming of interest, see:

  3. says

    We homeschool. Never thought we would (NEVER!). All of the homeschooled kids I’d met growing up were… um… socially awkward to say the least. But I didn’t know many. It ended up being the right thing to do with our daughter, though. We homeschool mainly for educational reasons.

    I’ve come to realize that many socially awkward homeschooled kids are awkward in part because their parents are, and probably would have been no matter what their choices for schooling.

    More and more people are homeschooling, though, and the negative stigma is lessening. So many cool people homeschool! It can be done well. Homeschooling, for us, has been an amazing road so far.

    Also, you don’t have to get involved with the typical homeschooling ‘lifestyle’ to homeschool. We tried some local groups and didn’t really meet anyone we clicked with so we don’t really get involved with them anymore. We socialize through church, neighbors, dance, and other extracurriculars.

    Homeschooling is WAY easier than i thought.

    An EXCELLENT resource is The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise-Bauer.

  4. says

    p.s. If you are interested in homeschooling, the best thing you can do is read lots of books on the subject and talk to other homeschooling families. I’m sure they’d be happy to answer any questions you might have. Keep in mind, though, that everyone homeschools differently, so there are lots of different styles out there. It may take a while to find yours.

  5. says

    I think the most important thing to do is to just start. Think about it – reading a book on how to play piano can help but not nearly as much as actually hitting the keys. Whatever you do will probably be better than ‘away’ school.

    When we first started homeschooling about ten years ago, we started by doing the ‘school at home’ thing – emulating the traditional school model with worksheets and structure. Pretty quickly, we relized we hated it.

    So we became unschoolers. Dropped the structure. Lots of travel, because of my job doing computer seminars. Had the kids help with that, too. Lots of reading, because they like reading and lots of TV and video games because they like that too.

    My son Shane was homeschooled from 1st grade, then decided to try regular school for 7th and 8th grade. He didn’t know very much math at all because we’d never focused on. The other kids had had YEARS of math and knew fractions and all kinds of stuff Shane didn’t. And – no big deal. It took him a few weeks to catch up. Lesson : maybe your six year old doesn’t really NEED to know a lot of math but can learn it reslly easily at age 12.

    So, just do it. Find your own way.

  6. says

    Thanks for sharing…I can relate with the feeling of nightmare inducing taking on the new task of schooling your children at home…I’ve been thinking of homeschooling my teen son…He has been suffering with language arts for many years and I just don’t see him improving going into high school next year and he has been getting in to trouble with peer pressure and misbehaving. So yes I’ve sent for the forms to apply for homeschooling and have been reading up on it…I really appreciate your honesty here and links…I will continue to check into this…I want the best for my son and I just don’t feel public high school will be right for him …..Anyone here home school High Schoolers?

  7. says

    Kirsten — thanks for the Well Trained Mind reference. My husband and I have talked (even before Miss J. was born) about “coschooling” — basically, acknowledging that school won’t be able to do everything and that we would want to supplement at home — and that book looks to be the perfect reference for this sort of activity.

  8. says

    yes that is exactly why we checked that book out in the first place –
    co-schooling was our original plan.

    Plans change! :)

  9. airwick says

    I will definately be checking out the secular home schooling link … though we’re a few years out from that officially … I’m very curious.

    As to the caution about Wikipedia not being a definitive source – that can be said about many sources out there and not just on the web. Any good “teacher” – homeschooling or otherwise should make sure the “student” learns how to evaluate a source, how to look for bias, how to check the sources sources, and how to look for other resources (adjusted to be age-appropriate, of course). Encyclopedias (either Wikipedia or traditional hardbound versions) are good starting points for a quick into to a topic – but for any thing more substantial, one should certainly look for something more authorative and thorough.

    If you need some help on research skills – visit the reference desk at your local library! (from husband of a librarian – though I wasn’t presured at all to post this -grin-)

  10. says

    I’m not a pro home schooler per se BUT with the preschools doing learn by play. I do like to supplement a little…otherwise, she’s just learning social skills.

    Thanks for sharing the links!

  11. Kristina ElSayed says

    I have my degree in secondary education, and after a short time of teaching I decided not to go back. Traditional teaching did not fit my ‘ideal’ classroom. My children now attend West Side Montessori school (grades PP and 2). A lot of aspects of Montessori education could fit in very well with homeschooling as it is not paper driven, but experience driven. It is much more than what you see in preschools and kindergarten. Look up Maria Montessori at your local library. If you want more titles, I’ll be happy to share!

  12. reg says

    i dont home school, but i am a museum educator- soo many museums and historical sites have resources for parents to use either to supplement school learning or for home schooling field trip purposes and many of these programs include other families so there is a social aspect as well

  13. says

    Regarding the style in teaching kids in homeschool, I also agree that it’s a up to everyone to find their own style. The important thing is that both the parents and the children benefit from it.

  14. says

    Thanks for this post about homeschooling! It’s a wonderful lifestyle and a great option for many families. I’ve created a “Homeschool Hacks” web site to help families find resources for homeschooling. The site is just relatively new and I hope you’ll all check it out!

  15. momof4 says

    I’ve had a wonderful time teaching from There’s lesson plans, printable books, worksheets, etc. and each grade is mapped out from k-12.
    Thanks to all for sharing all the links and advice. It’s great finding new resources in addition to what we already have! God Bless.

  16. says

    Sometimes I feel like the “minority of a minority,” being a secular homeschooler. I’ve met lots of people with vastly different attitudes and goals in the homeschool community.

    I have discovered lots of wonderful resources–last November, I did a daily blogging challenge, and many of my posts were about what kinds of lessons we were doing, and many of the websites I liked.

  17. says

    As a former teacher and daughter of teachers I was not planning on homeschooling until I got pregnant and realized that I didn’t want my child learning in the environment I struggled with. Our homeschool is all hacks–no curriculum just learn as you go and as needed. (This morning we learned cooking safety while I made pancakes, the middle child learrned all about measuring as she helped me measure then went off with a bucket of water and all my mearsuring cups to see what different measures made, the youngest did some sink float after measuring and watching the condensationin the skillet (had the lid on) and talking about the water cycle.

    Homeschooling is not a reason to panic–and yes the kids often don’t know the “norms” according to regular kids but they are great with kids of all ages and especially good with adults. It is fun to explore things with them and learn along with them. (mine are 9,7,5 and we have homeschooled since they were born.) If you make learning a ifestyle instead of a “this is school, this is not ” then you can do it, regardless fo your style. It is only when the focus is on trying to “fit in all the subjects” that it bogs down and becomes impossible.

    There are tons of free resources available –all the major tv stations and NASA have their own sites full of information–Discovery channel, History Channel, etc. not to mention all the other resources out there.

  18. says

    We’ve homeschooled from the beginning. While yes, you can do a lot for free, your kids will suffer if you try to do it totally for free. If you can find a local homeschooling group, you can often band together to get group tickets for field trips. And many homeschooling groups have used resources sales. Sometimes you can even find group pricing on lessons and classes (like music or art). And there are also co-ops; either for older kids/difficult subjects; or younger kids/difficult personalities. ;-)

    But sometimes, something shiny and new is its own motivation!

    A good resource is . It’s an inclusive online support group that spans the globe.

    But to start, find out your state’s regulations. There may be deadlines to meet and paperwork (there are many states where there are and many states where there aren’t). Things may also be different if you are pulling a child from school vs. homeschooling from the start or moving to a new area.

    Woman with Many Hats

  19. Todd says

    My wife and I began homeschooling our 5 and 7 (now 8) year old boys this year. We had been on the fence about starting the whole homeschooling process until we went to the Charter school our oldest attended and determined that the academic challenge was not there. Fortunately there are a couple of homeschool groups in our part of Colorado and after talking with current homeschoolers and doing some online research we settled on a virtual school based in Denver. You can check out or for information on a virtual school that provides all class materials, online lessons/lesson plans, time tracking and teacher support. Going through a virtual school uses your tax dollars to purchase materials, provide a computer and internet access and have educational professionals provide all sorts of information and help. I suggest going through a virtual school to see if you like homeschooling. If homeschooling is not your cup of tea, then you can just go back to public school. I hope this helps.

  20. says

    I was raised in a setting where all of my siblings were homeschooled until the high school level, primarily for educational reasons. My sister, upon returning to high school, jumped two grade levels. All three of us girls were valedictorians of our graduating high school classes. Homeschooling can turn out some great success stories, especially when its carefully administered and there is plenty of opportunities for social interaction.

    I have set up homeschooling programs for parents of both elementary, middle and high school aged students. The first thing to do is to go online and look at your particular state’s requirements and curriculum. Most of this information can be found through the Department of Education. Often, they’ll even have the forms and waivers you’ll need to sign available online. If your child is currently enrolled in a public school, speak with the principal. Often they’ll have people they can refer you to for assistance in setting up a schooling program and in some states, they’ll even allow you to keep textbooks until the end of the year. However, be warned that not all school personnel are friendly towards the idea of homeschooling, so be prepared to get the cold shoulder as well.

    Research curriculum and available resources on line, scour Amazon, Ebay and used textbook sites for the best deals and use internet sources as a supplement to your curriculum rather than its core. Buy a laser printer- you’ll appreciate the efficiency and savings! Set up a schedule and try to stick to it, but allow for those teachable moments that happen throughout the day and use them as opportunities for enhancement. Making your day as similar as possible to a school day schedule will make it easier for your children to transition back to the world of public education when they needs to and it will give both you and your students the discipline it takes to homeschool.

    If you’re not strong in a certain subject, make sure you’re working ahead and teaching it to yourself before lesson time. I was never good at math, but I’m a whiz at high school algebra now because I had to take the time to teach it to myself from the ground up in order to homeschool it. If you don’t have the time or the patience for that, hire a tutor. You want to give your child the best possible education they can get, not the best possible one you can give them.

    I disagree though that you need to go through an organized homeschool network or organization in order to be successful. You just need to put a lot of effort and thought into designing a curriculum for each of your children that is age appropriate, addresses their interests and meets state requirements. It’s not as hard as it sounds!

  21. says

    Personally I think knowing your kids really well is the best foundation to your homeschooling journey.
    Imagine all the kinds of things that you loved as a child… Now imagine that someone designed a whole curriculum around those things, in exactly the learning styles that suited you! That’s what we are aiming for with our kiddos. It’s working amazingly well so far.
    There are plenty of secular resources out there.
    Try a free preview of Home Education Magazine. Check out any writing from John Holt. Surf the blogs and boards that are out there. Take advantage of every learning opportunity that comes your way.
    I would encourage anyone to “find your tribe”- seek out others who are on the same learning path as you.
    Good Luck!

  22. says

    I am sure that it’s going to be difficult at the beginning, especially if the parents are not in to it and just trying it out.

    Interest is definitely not a big factor. As long as we learn about it.

  23. Jen says

    You can also find a homeschooling consultant to help you. This is particularly helpful if you are looking for a non-religious approach to homeschooling. Just Google “homeschooling consultant” and you will find some great professional teachers with experience in this area.

  24. says

    I am not a home schooling parent, and I really don’t want to be (at least not yet). My kids tend to be the type that learn better from others than from their parents.

    However, I noticed a cool resource when I was signing my son up for swimming lessons at our local YMCA. Our YMCA has “homeschool” gym & swim time during the day. This would be especially nice for those homeschoolers who live in colder climates (like ours) but would like some physical activities.

  25. says

    Hi! I just wanted to plug the company I work for – K12 Inc. K12 focuses on providing distance learning solutions to grades K-12. There are varying offerings, depending on where you live. Some states even offer K12’s solutions as a public school alternative, so computers, curricula and materials are offered for free (via tax dollars).

  26. tomhiggins says

    Great comments. I am getting a copy of “The Well-Trained Mind” asap.

    Some things I have found since starting on this back in Sept…

    Not having cable gives us a better chance to control the flow of what the kids see. DVDs from the library and the ever growing wealth of online video our a treasure trove. GoogleVideo has turned up such gems as The Secret Lives Of Machines, Connections (all there series) and Bill Nye. Ben has a portable DVD player that also plays divx and mp3 which goes where ever he goes.

    The worksheets and printouts from the various online sites are fantastic and can be worked into a ton of situations that come up during life. I thought at first there would be a structured scheduled type thing but it has become more of a on the fly teaching tool. Improv has never been this much fun.

    Of all things, SecondLife is a much loved place to go to explore. I stayed off SL up till now, muds and such I have had my fill years gone. We went in one day on a lark and found a ton of places to learn on a rainy day. The space center, the various school sites, even some of the more family friendly areas just make Ben’s day. The plethora of adult content though has kept it such that Ben is a tourist only, we play via my avatar and ONLY when I am at the keyboard.

    Ben will devour whatever I toss in front of him, he is a ravenous learner. The big boost to all this though is games. He has found, on his own, several flash based games he loves to play. He also loves to find new things on the web, this in itself has become a whole other skill set he is loving. Some of the better finds… – lots of online reading and activities – since we do not have cable this was a surprise to see on his sceen, but there it was. – Long story short, a talk about where his uncle Andy lives (London) went to me playing some BBC radio for him which then gives him the chance to find this sit. Charlie and Lola is a fave.

    I have been asked a few times if Ben and latter Isaac will be going to public school. The answer is Yes…BUT the homeschooling will continue. Public School I look to for socialization-fu in all its double edge worth and if he learns stuff there then so much the better. The home front though will still be the place that the rubber hits the road whether its incorporating public school material into our studies and/or doing what we are doing.

    The way I figure they will get the best/worst of both worlds.


  27. Paula says

    As a homeschooler myself, I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to find these comments. Usually, when I find comments about this subject on the internet, they are overwhelmingly negative. It’s made my day!

  28. Kelly says

    I have to admit, I am not a fan of homeschooling. I went to boarding school with many kids who had been homeschool and across the board, they were the smartest kids in the class, but socially awkward. I can see the benefits, but as a corporate banker, so much of the job is actually social. Managers generally don’t hire people they think are slightly strange. The best model I’ve seen are kids who start school, but are pulled out for 3 or 4 years during the middle years, and then go back. I think that school socializes kids in good and bad ways, but mostly useful ways, even when painful.

  29. Kitwench says

    I’ve been a secular homeschooler for 12 years, and my oldest goes off to college in the fall – whoot !

    I find the one most important thing that beginning homeschoolers neglect that leads to burnout more than anything else is DEschooling.

    If you have a child coming out of an organized educational setting- public or private school, preschool, or even daycare deschooling can save your sanity
    and your child’s love of learning.

    For every year that your child has been in an organized educational system, take a month off and do no schoolwork at all, whether your plan is to unschool, secular organized curriculum, religious Abeka, etc- doesn’t matter.

    If you pull a 3rd grader from school, take 4 months off and let the child lead.

    This may seem contrary, pointless or a waste of time, but kids coming out of the system need a break that allows them enough time to deschool- time to let go of what the school’s expectations, policies, and methods were, and be emotionally and intellectually ready for what the family will be doing.

    The second thing that saved my sanity was starting a homeschool group in my local area for secular homeschoolers.

    I posted our info and meet times at the local library, on homeschool sites that allow this, and at ‘walmart’ ‘local info’ boards.

    We do not ‘do school’ together, we don’t hold classes – we are a play group/ support group.

    Having that free time for 2 hrs a week (some groups only meet twice a month) to get together with other like-minded parents and for the kids to get together with other homeschooled kids in an environment that allows them to just BE and get to know each other.

    I have found that this helps the socialization complaint more than 15 organized structured activities could ever do.

    We’ve met in local public parks and libraries, and even at a local mall’s food court on rainy days – our groups has had as few as 3 families and as many as 15 (we are small) but it has been such a wonderful journey together.