Wednesday, January 14, 2015

How to Homeschool, Part I

with the dog, of course

People are fascinated with homeschooling. Mention that you are doing it and their will be questions: What do you do? Is it legal? How do you know they're learning? Do you use a curriculum? How do you stand being around your kid all day? (The last one has never been asked but I sense it in some people's minds. And the answer is that I like MY kids. Yours, not so much).

Just kidding. I do like kids, though. That's why I became a parent and also why I like having my kids' friends over the house, even though it's messy and loud and they need to be fed and all that. But life's messy and kids are fun, so why not?

I also should put in the disclaimer here that my wonderful husband is the driving force behind our home school. We sit down prior to the school year and write down our plans, our goals, and the subjects we're going to cover. However,  the reason we get up, brush our teeth and do actual school work everyday is him.

The reasons we chose to homeschool are many. I could write a whole post on nothing but that and maybe one time I will. Suffice it to say, we weren't pleased with our public/charter school options and too poor to afford private school. The legality of homeschooling varies by state. NJ is very liberal in its requirements, other states like Pennsylvania are very strict.

Here's the legal highlights for NJ:

  •  all children 6-16 must be in school or receive "equivalent instruction." 
  • You do not need to tell the school you are homeschooling, however if you are taking your kid out of school, it is prudent to send the school a letter that you are taking them out. 
  • If your kid has never been to school, you do not need to notify the local school board that you're homeschooling. 
  • On rare occasions, a school board has taken a family to court for truancy. In this case, the parents must prove that they are providing "equivalent instruction." Keeping a folder of work/dittos or proof of programs that you use are enough. The burden of proof is on the school board to say if it is "equivalent." 
  • "A notification letter need only say that your children are receiving their education via homeschooling. Other than names and your family’s address, no other information is required." (
  • Homeschool children in NJ do not have to take standardized tests, provide lesson plans or portfolios or any thing else. If a school says they do, mail them a copy of FAQ page found on the NJHA link below. 

Legal links:

  • HSLDA, The Homeschool Legal Defense Association, has requirements by state on their website. They are a Christian organization but they do provide legal assistance to any homeschooler in the U.S regardless of belief or lack thereof. They charge a fee of $120/year for website access and services. 
  • The NJ Homeschool Association: an all-volunteer organization. Their site has legal info and other general info and resources for homeschoolers in NJ. Check on legal link in left column for exact requirements. 
Don't be intimidated. We've been HS'ing going on our 4th year now without issue and I haven't met anyone else in our HS circles who've had trouble, either. 

The Real Intimidating Stuff-Everything Else!!

Just kidding. But the thought of coming up with content for 1, 2, 3....or more children every day can be mindboggling. 20 years ago when I met my first homeschoolers I bet they found it hard to find enough resources and material. Today, it's the opposite problem. Every homeschool mom seems to have a blog with printouts, ideas, planners and more. I was more than a little overwhelmed when I started looking at it. Charlotte Mason or unschooling? Unit studies, lap books or computer programs? There are full curricula you can buy, online shops, interactive games....where to begin?

Here are some terms you might read on the internet or in other resources for homeschooling:

  • Unschooling-Unschoolers believe children learn best through life experiences rather than specific, structured school time. For example, they might write a letter to Grandma or add up items during grocery shopping to learn writing and math. Or a trip to the zoo might lead a child to look up information and learn more about polar bears when they get home. It's child led learning. People I know who unschool tend to be very passionate about it. 
  • Classical-Remember the 3 R's? Reading, wRiting and 'Rithmatic. Classical homeschoolers believe that a good foundation of the basics is necessary for your child to explore and learn. This also includes lots of rote memorization for younger kids, like reciting poems and time tables. For older kids, they teach logic and debate. Although a generalization, think of the Christian homeschoolers who win the National Spelling Bee every year. This may be the type we follow the most, because our daughter has ADHD and this provides the structure she needs. 
    • The Well-Trained Mind-Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Bauer's book was practically our bible for the first couple of years. There website is very good and they sell resource and text books that we've used also. 
    • Classical Education made much Easier-good overview of Classical Education
    • Life in Grace-the blogger has a lot of links and info about her experiences
  • Charlotte Mason-An educator at the turn of the 20th Century, Mason felt that children needed to learn from "living ideas", not utilitarian instruction. Instead of textbooks, she believed it was better to read the original authors. She also believed that formal education should not start too early and that nature and natural settings were an important part of learning. Many homeschoolers, but also private and charter schools, use her methods. There was a resurgence in Mason's methods in the 1980's with the publication of For the Children's Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macauley. 
  • Montessori-You may be familiar with Montessori early childhood education, but Montessori principles can be used for any age. Maria Montessori was an Italian physician and educator. She enrolled in medical school in 1890, which is pretty amazing in itself. Her concentration was pediatrics and psychology. She developed a style of child led learning with the children of working class Italians based on observing them. She saw that with the right materials and environment, children would become naturally self-motivated and engage in learning that interested them. 
That's enough for right now, I think, so that I don't overload any. I think my next post will what our typical day is like. 

sometime the cat participates. she's um, not so helpful.