As students head back to school this fall, many parents are exploring homeschooling as an alternative to online schooling or as a way to supplement the unique learning situations provided by schools. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all schools are affected in degrees ranging from prohibition of all in-person education to students on campus with masks and social distancing–and everything in between.

Homeschooling is not for the faint of heart, but this year in particular it offers parents some attractive benefits:

  • Reducing exposure to other people who may be infected
  • Supplementing the limited online offerings provided by some schools
  • Ensuring that your student’s learning is personalized
  • Verifying the learning your student is getting at school
  • Taking advantage of the excellent online curriculum and available tools 
  • Taking advantage of a unique social experiment with educational pods

If you are new to homeschooling, the good news is that many people have blazed a trail ahead of you, and many best practices are already in use.

If you are new to homeschooling, the good news is that many people have blazed a trail ahead of you, and many best practices are already in use. The number of tools available to homeschoolers is overwhelming, and the failure rate is high. So taking best practices to heart is highly recommended.

Here are my top 10 tips for new or curious homeschoolers:

  1. Brush up on child development. You don’t need to be an expert in child development, but you do need to know what to expect from different ages and to understand that every child is different. Is your student a kinesthetic learner, a visual learner, or an auditory learner? Middle school students need more socializing, while younger students need more games and activities, and high school students may want time to get a job or an internship.
  2. Be flexible. You’ve already heard that homeschooling is difficult, so don’t set expectations too high, especially at first. Recognize that learning happens in different ways, in different places, at different times, for different kids. You may suddenly have to address a household crisis in the middle of a lesson, so have a toolbox of self-paced activities or fun projects handy.
  3. Organize. Create a homeschooling space in your home that has all the resources necessary for self-paced learning, including school supplies, books, & games.
  4. Research curriculum. There are a million websites touting educational curricula for homeschoolers, both online and in print. Find one with recommendations and good reviews from people like you.
  5. Assess your student. Use objective assessment tools, like Let’s Go Learn’s math and reading assessments, to gain scientifically validated insight into your student’s strengths and weaknesses. A good diagnostic assessment results in a roadmap for lesson plans and will make personalizing the curriculum easy. Moreover, you need to find the zone of proximal development for each student to help make learning fun and effective.
  6. Understand your knowledge gaps. Few people can teach all subjects effectively, so invest in data, tools, and curricula that help you in those areas that aren’t your specialty. Diagnostic assessments for your students will also help greatly in these areas.
  7. Partner with public schools. Many school districts now have a free homeschooling resource center where you can find information about curricula, electives, and tutoring support. Your local public schools may also allow your student to participate at little or no cost in certain group activities, such as athletics, music, and standardized testing.
  8. Be aware of the law. All states have laws that govern homeschooling, and you should be aware of yours. For example, Michigan does not require homeschools to register with the state unless you are also asking for special education resources. But the state does require a curriculum of your choice in math, reading, English, science, social studies, and a variety of history subjects, including the Constitution of Michigan.
  9. Make it fun. Volumes of research show that students learn best when they are engaged and interested in a subject. Find ways to make learning fun. Curricula that includes music, games, activities, and real-world experiments help boost engagement. Long-term projects, group projects, internships, and social activities all build educational grit in students while helping to keep education interesting.
  10. Help yourself decompress. Make time for yourself to recover from the sometimes arduous task of teaching by keeping a routine schedule that is regular but not strict. Schedule fun, relaxing, healthy ways to relieve stress and recharge your enthusiasm for homeschooling. Exercise, eat well, calm your mind, spend time with other people, and most importantly, get enough sleep.

You’re going to run into roadblocks in homeschooling. Perhaps your students are tired and can’t focus one morning. Or maybe the dishwasher starts leaking and distracts you. Regardless, keep these best practices in mind and your homeschooling efforts are more likely to succeed in the long run.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon