Getting Started in Homeschooling: The First Ten Steps
By Mary Pride
Homeschooling has some surprising benefits. Here's how to start
Are you thinking about homeschooling but:
- Aren't sure it's for you?
- Don't know where to start?
Then you're in the right place!
"Is Homeschooling the Right Choice for My Child?"
The short answer: yes, it is, as long as you're a committed and involved parent with normal intelligence and no history of serious mental illness!
You don't need an impressive educational background or lots of money to succeed at homeschooling. Research has shown that parents with only a high school education or less can do about as good a job as those with advanced degrees, or education degrees.1 It has also shown that those who spend less than $200 per child per year on homeschool curriculum can get as good results as those who spend $400-$599 per child per year.2
The Unsung Benefits of Homeschooling
Homeschooling yields positive academic, social, emotional, and spiritual benefits for any family that gives it an honest chance. By now it's no secret that all the research shows homeschooled children outstrip both their public- and private-school peers in every academic area. Less well known are these benefits:
Safety Benefits. Years ago, strangers used to ask me, "What about socialization?" Now, when I tell them I homeschool, they say, "I don't blame you. The schools have become so dangerous!"
As a homeschooler, you won't have to worry about who is taking guns and knives to your local school. Your child also won't have to fear school bullies. According to a press release we received early this year:
Six out of ten American teenagers witness bullying in school once a day or even more frequently, reported John A. Calhoun, President and CEO of the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC). The national group... released findings from a survey conducted by Wirthlin Worldwide that show that bullying is the terrorist threat that most frightens America's teenagers and interferes with their education. Young people are far less concerned about external terrorist attacks on their schools and communities than they are about the bully terrorizing them and their classmates in the hallways and classrooms of their schools.
Less Exposure to Alcohol and Drugs. Most kids don't get their drugs at home. They get them at or near school. According to a study conducted by the National Center for Substance Abuse, and reported in Family Research Council's Washington Update online newsletter, "5 million high schoolers - 31% - say they "binge drink" at least once a month... A teenager who starts drinking at 15 is four times more likely to become alcohol dependent than one who waits until the legal age to drink." Add to this the huge numbers of kids abusing inhalants, street drugs, and even their classmates' Ritalin, and it's a problem many of us would just as soon avoid.
Emotional Benefits. Emotional bullying-name calling, mockery, and humiliation-can be just as devastating as physical bullying. Smart kids, special-needs kids, and anyone unlucky enough to appear "different" can expect a steady diet of this negative emotional input in a typical school. Since research has shown that kids need to feel safe in order to learn, simply removing a child from the emotional pressure cooker of peer pressure, gangs, and cliques may produce enormous learning gains all by itself.
Ritalin-Free Kids. Boys get a double dose of labeling, as schools increasingly label typical male behavior as "ADD" or "ADHD." In fact, any child with low body fat (making it uncomfortable to sit still for long periods in a hard chair) is at risk of being labeled "ADD" or "ADHD," which in turn leads to pressure put on parents to medicate perfectly normal children with psychoactive drugs such as Ritalin, Adderall, or even Prozac. At home, kids can sit on a nice soft couch, lie on the rug, or run around when they need to burn off energy. Homeschool parents also tend to learn child training methods that work, if only for self preservation! Instead of blaming the kids' behavior on invisible "disorders" that are undetectable by any medical test3, homeschoolers learn to accept a wider range of normal behavior. Kid still misbehaving? Don't pay big bucks to a psychiatrist or open a self-help book. Ask any veteran homeschool mom with a big family. She'll tell you what works!
Removes Sexual Pressure. According to a recent survey from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, 81 percent of kids aged 12-14 - including those who have lost their chastity - believe that kids today are pressured to have sex too early. Younger and younger kids are trying to dress and act sexy as well. Both school culture and sex-ed classes promote the idea that "everyone is doing it" and that this is OK. And don't assume this is not true in your local Christian or Catholic school, unless the administration is making a real effort to keep things simple and sweet. In homeschool, parents can wait until their children are of a reasonable age to learn the facts of life. At home, parents are also free to add morals and Scriptural teaching to the mix.
Builds Family Bonds. Homeschooling brings families closer together. Kids thrive under parental attention, and parents get to really know their kids. Homeschooled siblings tend to be more kind and helpful to each other, also.
Better Preparation for the Real World. Modern schools only seem normal to us because we have been brought up from birth to accept them. Actually, they are highly unnatural environments. Where else in your life will you have to spend all day with a group of 15 to 35 people of your same age, doing activities that never yield any usable result? In the real world, you are with people of different ages, working together on real projects. Families are more like this than schools are. And it's easier to give homeschooled kids real-world adventures, such as participating in community theatre, volunteering in a hospital, etc.
The Best Environment for Spiritual Training.
In the New Testament, the followers of Christ are called "disciples," not "students." There's a reason for that! Disciples observe and model their teacher's behavior. Students merely study; the word implies they receive information, not application. At home, your children can see you apply your beliefs, and hear what you think about life's various experiences, if they have the chance to be around you enough.
"So, Where Do I Start?"
In my book, Mary Pride's Complete Guide to Getting Started in Homeschooling, I list steps to getting started with a successful homeschool. While the book has lots more information than I can provide here, at least the 10 steps below will clue you in to your best next moves.
- Locate your state homeschool group. Just click on the word "Groups" on the black menu bar at the top of this page (and at the top of every page on this website!). Then go to your state listing. The group(s) at the top of the page are state groups. Those below are regional and local groups. We have provided phone numbers and addresses as well as web links to as many state groups as possible, so it should be easy for you to contact them.
- Locate your local support group. For most states, you'll find it right on the "Groups" page you were just looking at! If you can't find one listed on our website, just ask your state group. They'll know where your nearest support group is.
- Join other homeschoolers online. I recommend you start with our Forum area, not just because it's our website, but because we have a boatload of great forums on all sorts of homeschool topics, including a "Getting Started" forum. Post your questions here!
- Subscribe to a homeschool magazine. Naturally, we'd like it to be Practical Homeschooling. Nothing gets you "in the swim" as quickly in a new professional area as reading a magazine on that topic. Homeschooling is no exception. The ads are an education all by themselves. You'll find yourself saying, "I had no idea there was a product that taught that!" Even articles on topics you think you will never need often turn out to be useful later on. There's a lot to be said for mentally preparing for high school while your child's still in preschool!
- Read "how to" books about homeschooling. Carefully read the author's biography (if one is supplied) to see if he or she is a veteran homeschooler who has demonstrated success, or just a professional writer whose publisher assigned the job of creating a book about homeschooling. Anyone can homeschool one child for a few months, but that does not make them a homeschool expert.
- Locate curriculum providers. To do so, just go to the "Mall" area of this website, where you'll find all kinds of resources organized by type (software, online, or print curriculum), school subject, and more.
- Go to your local teacher's store. They have great workbooks, educational toys and games, and school supplies.
- Attend your first curriculum fair. Plan to buy, not just to browse. Go to the Events page on this site to find upcoming homeschool conventions and curriculum fairs.
- Now that you've picked out your curriculum and have a plan, you're ready to join HSLDA. That stands for "Home School Legal Defense Association." The cost is $100 per year for your entire family, and well worth it in protecting your (and everybody else's) right to homeschool.
- Like the Practical Homeschooling page on Facebook. While our Forum is the place to ask specific questions, buy and sell used curriculum, follow threads on academic topics, and so forth, our Facebook page provides inspiration, current news, homeschool humor, and lots more! Visit us and hit the "Like" button. This final step will welcome you into the full nationwide (and worldwide!) homeschool community. Join us!
You can skip a few of these steps, but for best success, try to do them all. The best homeschool teacher is a prepared parent. Think of it this way: the time and money you spend on your education as a homeschool teacher could save thousands of dollars more in college scholarships some day!
- Home educated students' test scores remained between the 89th and 90th percentiles [on nationwide standardized tests] whether their mothers had a college degree or did not complete high school. Home Schooling Achievement, 2001, Home School Legal Defense Association brochure.
- See Ritalin is Not the Answer by Dr. David B. Stein or even better, Talking Back to Ritalin by Dr. Peter Breggin. You can also find quite a bit to start with online at Dr. Breggin's website. And if you've ever been told or suspect that your child has ADD or ADHD, please first look over this excellent checklist, "50 Conditions Mimicking ADHD"
Mary Pride is the publisher of Practical Homeschooling magazine. She is the mother of nine homeschooled children, two of them National Merit Scholarship finalists.
This article is based on an article by the same name originally published in Practical Homeschooling #53 (May/June 2003).
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