Making the transition to homeschooling? Here's how to start homeschooling right away -- even if you haven't yet worked out your ultimate plan.
Suddenly, your kids aren't attending their old, bricks-and-mortar school. You want to provide them with educational experiences at home, and you're scrambling to get up to speed.
What to do? I have a lot of personal experience with this. Trying out a local public school for a while, and then switching -- mid-year -- to homeschooling.
It's happened with each of my kids, and at various educational levels -- elementary, middle, and high school. And it always begins the same way.
You want to develop a plan, a program, a curriculum. But this takes time, and meanwhile, your child needs something intellectually rewarding to do.
What you need is help with the transition to homeschooling.
So let me share my own self-help kit. I begin with some thoughts about scheduling. Then I lay out my two, basic, go-to options for getting home-schooling off the ground.
Option #1 is highly structured. Option #2 is more free-wheeling.
This is a good choice for many students -- particularly if they are older and self-motivated. They want to continue whatever they were studying before, and they're ready to plunge into the outstanding, free, self-paced coursework that is available online, including:
For example, suppose Maria stops attending school mid-year. She was taking high school chemistry, precalculus, computer science, and AP world history at her bricks-and-mortar school, and she wants to continue her studies.
She can find all of these courses at Khan Academy, and supplement those programs with video lecture series by Crash Course and other excellent YouTube content providers. She can access interactive textbooks at CK12.
Right away -- without leaving home -- Maria can get started.
The same is true for lots of other kids ready to plug back into a traditional curriculum. Khan Academy, for example, offers comprehensive instruction from kindergarten through high school.
And of course there are many other programs and resources available, including self-paced curricula for purchase; private tutors; and public and private online schools.
Maybe you have a child who will require substantial tutoring and support from you. You need time to brush up on the material your child will be learning.
Or maybe you aren't interested in re-inserting your child into the standard curriculum. You'd like to develop your own alternative, and -- once again -- you need time to prepare.
Or maybe you just want a stop-gap. You expect your child will return to institutionalized schooling soon. You just want to find something intellectually rewarding for your child to do until he or she returns to bricks-and-mortar school.
If any of these apply, I can offer some help: A quick remedy I've used multiple times myself.
In broad outline, this is a plan for letting kids devote themselves to "passion projects," while also providing them with opportunities to develop their mathematics skills.
It can be useful for multiple weeks -- potentially longer, if you cycle through several different projects.
And your key responsibilities are these:
How exactly does this work?
I'll let the last item speak for itself. You need to make yourself available at certain times, and be prepared to talk, tutor, and listen.
But as for the rest -- let's drill down. How to do you pick a topic? Where can you find student-friendly educational resources? Help with generating assignments? Help with math?
How do you choose a topic for research? It will be helpful if you know something about it. But the most important criterion? Your child's own interests.
If your child loves his or her topic, learning will come easily. Curiosity is the best learning drug. And your child will be self-motivated to spend blocks of time engaged in independent, self-directed activities. More "alone time" for you. It's a win-win.
So help your child pick something exciting. Here are a some ideas to get you started (with a few, select links to relevant resources).
Your child's research topic doesn't have to fit what we normally think of as "academic."
Part of the value of the research will come from the process -- tracking down information, absorbing the material, and then communicating it to others (e.g., through written work or an oral presentation).
But just as importantly, you are going to give things a nudge. You're going to take your child's interests, and find academic angles for them to explore.
For example, if your kid is keen on superheroes, you might try a project inspired by Spiderman. What are the abilities of real spiders? What can spiders do that Spidey can't?
These probably aren't going to make suitable research topics. But there are ways to incorporate these interests into your child's passion projects.
For instance, does your child like Minecraft? Scholastic.com offers these ideas for making use of the game in academic projects. And visit Minecraft: Education Edition for a huge collection of educational Minecraft lesson plans and projects.
I also suggest that you introduce your child to computer programming. It isn't hard, even if you have no experience yourself. That's because of Scratch, the free, easy-to-learn computer programming language and online community hosted by MIT.
Scratch (for kids aged 8-16) and Scratch Junior (for kids aged 5-7) provide kids with a drag-and-drop system for writing code. There are tutorials online, and tools for creating games, stories, and animations. In addition to learning principles of programming, your child will have a new medium in which to communicate about his or her special research topic!
For more information -- including recommended books about Scratch -- see my discussion in this Parenting Science guide to STEM resources.
And for movies and television?
Check out the website Teachwithmovies.org.
It offers discussion questions and project ideas for a wide variety of movies and television shows, including Disney and Pixar films (like Mulan and Wall-E), historical epics (like Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus), docudramas (like Never Cry Wolf and Hidden Figures), and science programs (like Planet Earth).
Finding excellent educational resources can be a pain. There is a bewildering amount of material published off- and online.
How do you find the really useful, appropriate, high-quality content? Engaging, relevant material that is tailored to your child's academic needs, interests, and abilities?
My advice? Keep searching for the best, but don't wait for it. Get your child started with material that is "good enough."
That's the whole point of this method -- to get your child busy now, to give you some time to plan your next move.
While you keeping looking for the educational mother lode -- or creating your own curriculum -- your student will be learning. Learning to take charge. Developing a specialized knowledge base. Learning how to learn.
With that in mind, here's a short list of my own recommendations -- free, high-quality resources available online.
If you feel intimidated, I understand. Activities and assignments are partly what makes teaching so time-consuming and challenging.
I also understand if you're trying to avoid regimentation and busy-work.
But there are ways to provide structure without overburdening yourself or your child. And there are good reasons to incorporate written work and other agreed-upon projects into your home-schooling program.
1. Clearly-stated goals and assignments provide structure, and structure helps kids avoid feeling confused, lost, or overwhelmed.
It might sound fun, "go learn more about your favorite topic." But there's a lot of information out there, a lot of shiny objects vying for your child's attention.
When we assign specific tasks or activities, it's like giving kids a road map. Kids can still take detours. But they have a basic structure to guide them. They know where (at minimum) they need to go.
2. Kids learn better when they actively engage with the material and explain what they're learning to others.
Reading, listening, and watching are important components of learning. But if we want to process the information more deeply -- if we want learning to stick, we need to do something active, too.
When kids explain what they've learned -- by talking, writing, drawing pictures -- they are more likely to store it in long-term memory. They are also more likely to master the material. (Read more about it in this Parenting Science article.)
3. When kids are busy -- writing, drawing, creating -- it provides parents with some time to themselves.
It doesn't always work that way. Some assignments require your ongoing presence and involvement. But there are lots of activities -- even for young children -- that kids can work on independently.
So what are some examples? Consider these.
The next step is to add some mathematics to your child's schedule, and here's why.
Students don't usually make progress in mathematics unless they are actively engaged in regular lessons and practice.
In fact, if they stop practicing their mathematics skills, they start forgetting. Researchers have found that kids lose up to 50% of their school year learning gains over the summer break (Paechter et al 2015; Thum and Hauser 2015; Cooper et al 1996).
So it's important for kids to keep exercising their "math muscles."
One approach -- which you can begin immediately -- is to set aside some time each day for your child to practice mathematics skills.
For preschoolers, this may take the form of number games, like the ones I outline in this Parenting Science article. For older kids, this may include basic drills and problem-solving.
IXL is a well-known, solid option if you're looking for guided practice exercises online. The curriculum covers preschool through advanced high school mathematics, as well as other subjects (like English, science, and social studies). I've used it in my family, and found it to be helpful. Kids get immediate feedback -- and instruction -- when they choose the wrong answer.
Years ago, I also used Dragonbox, which produces a series of award-winning, children's mathematics game applications.
For a no-cost option, be sure to visit Homeschoolmath.net, a teacher-created website that allows you to generate and print out your own math worksheets -- complete with answer keys.
In addition, you'll find interesting mathematics activities and puzzlers -- with solutions -- on NRICH, an online mathematics resource created by mathematicians and educators at Cambridge University.
A more ambitious approach is to re-establish a formal mathematics curriculum for your child.
I'll be frank. This may require a considerable amount of work on your part.
At minimum, you'll need get acquainted with what your child is learning, and be ready to help when your child has questions.
But here's the good news. You don't have to bear the full burden of explaining, teaching, and testing. Online instruction is available.
My favorite resource, hands down, is Khan Academy, which offers self-paced courses in mathematics (preschool level through calculus).
You can sign your child up for free, and get a parent's account for yourself. Via your parent's account, you can monitor your child's progress, and preview all the videos and testing materials that your child will see.
A tip for saving time: You don't have to watch the instructional videos at speed. If the child-friendly version is too slow for you, you can adjust the playback speed in the settings.
Another extremely helpful resource for online mathematics learning is the previously-mentioned CK12 foundation, a nonprofit that provides free access to open source educational content to students from kindergarten through high school.
If you're looking for a free, textbook-based curriculum -- with practice questions and answer keys -- this is it. Some textbooks are highly interactive and must be used online. Other textbooks can be downloaded for use offline.
But kids need to do mathematics calculations on paper, and there is nothing quite as handy as a "consumable textbook" -- i.e., a textbook designed for students to write in. A good one provides lessons and explanations in addition to practice problems.
For example, when I was teaching one of my kids elementary school mathematics, I used the Envision Math series (published by Pearson), and I found them to be very comprehensive.
New concepts are introduced gradually and intuitively. Once a student has grasped the material, you can skip ahead as needed. To save money, I purchased only the student books. So I can't comment on the quality of the teacher's editions and support materials.
There are many other publishers, too. Scholastic provides an overview of some of the most popular textbook-based programs in the United States, including Envision, Go Math!, Singapore Math, and Saxon Math. You can read the article here.
That's easily done, and in fact you might find that your child's "passion project" is the perfect stepping stone to more systematic coursework.
For instance, if your child has enjoyed studying bees, your next step might be to begin a more comprehensive study of biology. The resources mentioned above, including Khan Academy and CK12, may provide you with what you need to get going.
Homeschooling is also an excellent opportunity for kids to begin formal study of subjects in the humanities that are often lacking in traditional schools -- music, art, and foreign language instruction.
And on a personal note, I'd like to make a suggestion.
In my experience, kids rarely get presented with a survey of world history. Nor do they learn very much about world geography.
These subjects are crucial for us to understand --now more than ever. And they are extremely well-suited to homeschooling because
So I'd encourage you to consider delving into history and geography. It's an investment that will help your child make sense of the world.
I've written a wide array of articles about teaching and learning. Search the website for your particular interest. And check out this sample of Parenting Science offerings:
Cooper H, Nye B, Charlton K, Lindsay J, and Greathouse S. 1996. The effects of summer vacation on achievement test scores: A narrative and metaanalytic review. Review of Educational Research 66: 227–268.
Paechter M, Luttenberger S, Macher D, Berding F, Papousek I, Weiss EM, and Fink A. 2015. The effects of nine-week summer vacation: losses in mathematics and gains in reading. EURASIA J Math Sci Technol Educ 11(6):1339–413.
Thum YM and Hauser CH. 2015. NWEA 2015 MAP Norms for Student and School Achievement Status and Growth. NWEA Research Report. Portland, OR: NWEA
Vlach HA, Sandhofer CM. 2012. Distributing learning over time: the spacing effect in children's acquisition and generalization of science concepts. Child Dev. 83(4):1137-44.
Content last modified 4/6/2020
Title image credit of girl with book by istock
image of the solar system adapted by Image Editor /flickr (from public domain NASA image)
image of diver and shark by Bruce / flickr
image of rainforest panorama by Hubert / flickr
image of camel and pyramids by Simon Matziger / flickr