I have a decade of homeschooling under my belt with children in every grade level. I have been asked the question often by future homeschooling moms, “How do I start homeschooling?” My response is always the same. The key to understanding how to begin homeschooling, is to know if your child is ready to begin homeschooling.
There are three primary components to timing both when you begin homeschooling a child and how you choose to have them progress to the next grade level.
- Know your state’s homeschooling laws.
- Know your child.
- Know yourself.
I will expand on these three key principles for beginning and continuing homeschooling your child below.
Know Your State’s Homeschool Laws
The very first thing you need to know as a parent before beginning your homeschooling journey is your state laws on homeschooling. These must determine when you begin homeschooling your child and often will include which subjects you teach, when you teach them, as well as how many hours you are required to teach per day. I love to share the Homeschool Legal Defense Association’s website with friends because they have an easy to navigate guide on state laws pertaining to homeschooling.
Know Your Child Before Starting Homeschooling
In addition to understanding your state’s laws, you need to strongly consider the age and maturity of your child. Is it is truly the right time to formally begin your homeschool journey? I will grant that there are some children who mature early and are reading and writing by five years old, but this is by no means the majority of children. There is a lot to be said for letting little children be little for longer.
My argument is not that preschool is harmful, but that preschool isn’t ultimately as effective as we think it is. Just take a look at this study from Cambridge and this one from Stanford. There is overwhelming evidence that play time for young children is the best teacher.
These articles are from the world’s most notable institutions and, therefore, are largely based on public education, but you won’t have to go far within the homeschool realm to find this same approach being encouraged in home education. Charlotte Mason, a British educator from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, has this to say about the early years.
“The educational error of our day is that we believe too much in mediators. Now, Nature is her own mediator, undertakes, herself, to find work for eyes and ears, taste and touch; she will prick the brain with problems and the heart with feelings; and the part of mother or teacher in the early years (indeed, all through life) is to sow opportunities, and then to keep in the background, ready with a guiding or restraining hand only when these are badly wanted” (Vol. 1, pp. 192, 193).
Charlotte Mason advocated waiting until the age of six to begin formal education of the child. The early years were meant to be ones of exploration and imagination, a time when fine motor skills could be developed through play. This is also a good time to focus on character training and habit building.
In my own experience, I found that delaying formal reading and math lessons with my own children until the ages of six or even seven saved us a lot of heartache. It meant that my children picked up the information I presented immediately, rather than laboriously drilling math facts and sight words for months on end during the younger years.
Learning through play and life experience is an education unto itself. Teach beginning math skills while cooking together. Learn colors while taking a walk through the woods during the Fall season. Develop a morning time routine and read good books together as a family to inspire your child’s imagination and love of reading. Get messy with finger paints and build with blocks to develop fine motor skills and coordination.
The younger years are not “wasted” if formal lessons are not being taught. Each day is a new opportunity to follow your child on their natural path to learning about the world around them. You are there to answer questions and sow opportunities for them to glean a rich harvest of knowledge at their own pace and in their own time. Facilitate their natural desire to learn, but consider stalling formal lessons until they are developmentally ready to begin.
Know Your Child Before Continuing Homeschooling
In the same way that a homeschool parent needs to consider when their child is developmentally ready to begin homeschooling, it is important to consider your child’s age, maturity, skill sets, and challenges before progressing your child to the next level of learning once you have begun formally educating your child.
As homeschoolers we often think we must stick to the same schedule as the public schools. Most states do not require the homeschool parent to structure their child’s education in this way, and it may not be particularly helpful to your child to progress to the next grade level before he or she is ready to do so.
For instance, I have a dyslexic child who should be formally in seventh grade, but she is working at a sixth grade level due to natural learning challenges she has. We have not run into a single problem with completing her end of year testing required by our state even though she is working an entire year behind her formal grade level. In fact, she always tests above average on these standardized state tests. This is due to the fact that homeschool curricula on average operates at a grade level higher than its public school counterparts.
It is more important that you progress to the next grade level when your child is ready, than it is to keep up with what you perceive to be the standard. It is more important that your child really understand the material, than it is to continue presenting more and more challenging material that will only confuse and frustrate. Laying a foundation for your child that is strong will inspire confidence especially in those who learn differently. Taking this route will also give you as a parent room to breathe if you don’t fully complete a textbook by the end of the year.
I took this little online quiz years ago from Eclectic Homeschool called “What Kind of Homeschooler Are You?” It isn’t scientific by any means, but much like a personality test, it was helpful in giving me a view inside my personal pedagogical philosophy. My answers to the questions on this quiz have changed over the years as I have developed more clear cut methods.
It is important to know a few things about yourself before you begin homeschooling your children.
- What is your reason for homeschooling?
- Do you have a philosophy of education?
- What is your preferred method of teaching?
- How do you personally learn best?
The answers to these questions will first keep you homeschooling when the going gets tough, and they will also guide you on your homeschool journey. You may not be able to answer some of these questions until you have some experience under your belt, and your answers probably will change a little over the years. However, being more self-aware can be helpful when homeschooling your child.
What happens if your method of teaching or learning clashes with one of your student’s learning styles? This happened to me. I have one child who is very Type A, and I am not. It was important for me to learn to meet her where she was at. On the other hand, she has had to learn a lot of patience with me. It has been a process of compromise and growing in our relationship together. She had to be come more flexible, and I had to learn how to offer her the structure she craved.
Assessing your child’s abilities and challenges, as well as your own preferences and expectations is extremely important before beginning or continuing your child’s home education. Definitely align your homeschool schedule with your state’s homeschool laws, but consider your child as a whole person and meet him where he is at. Don’t pressure your child to begin or move on just because you fear not keeping up with a perceived cultural standard. Allow your child to move at the pace for which he is developmentally ready. You both will be happier for it and more confident in the outcome.