Several weeks ago I was emailing back and forth with a woman that I connect with regarding transitioning her kids from compulsory school to home. This particular correspondence was a little bit more detailed with the nuts and bolts of our content. There is more to say, of course, especially regarding context, and perhaps I will say it soon here as well. This is shared here with my friend's permission.
First off, I want to begin by saying that I really do not believe that any one approach to educating kids is in any way superior or inferior to any other. From what I can tell, kids can thrive or completely languish in any setting, be it public or private school, homeschool or unschooling. I also think, in many ways, that choosing what works best for the parents is often what works best for the kids. That is not the same as what is easiest for the parents- just best. Often I think that I live right on the edge of that. There are times when I very much wish that I could free up some of my time for some other personal pursuit, but at this point in time, that is outweighed by the benefit that I perceive in our homeschooling lifestyle.
One thing that it is very important to be aware of when moving kids from school to home is the de-conditioning that they need from their lives at school. I've read and heard a number of folks say that they needed to give their kid quite a bit of unstructured and open time just to make the transition. Even if a kid didn't particularly like school, they are going to be really quick to say things such as: but at school we did it this (other) way! They really just might fight it. Even if they were in full agreement with the move home. So, I think allowing for a period of adjustment is important. I have heard some folks say that they gave their kids as much as 6 months to settle before beginning any official schooling at home. That seems like a lot to me, but maybe if you count the summer? We began in the fall of Maple's 3rd grade year and she had only gone to 1st and 2nd grade- she was home before that- and it took a full year for me to feel like we had settled into anything.
Like the rest of parenting, support is really key. Even if it is minimal. It is epically hard to find secular home schoolers in rural environments, so when you find them- hold on for dear life. Plus, they need you and your kids as much as you need them and theirs. I have always found that my kids want relationships with kids in which their parents are my friends as well and we can therein create webs of familial community.
Another piece is that both of my kids are significantly dyslexic. Maple took a long time learning to read and still has great difficulty with spelling. Eider is still struggling to learn to read at almost 9. They have both been seeing an Orton Gillingham tutor for the last 2.5 years and I rely on her immensely in terms of academic support and encouragement. Often, the bulk of what I work on with the kids for reading, writing, spelling, grammar- all literacy really- comes from her.
So, we do not use a specific curriculum perse, especially because each of my kids is at such different level in terms of grade and norms and averages and the dread "on track". I choose to focus mainly on literacy and math because that is what I feel is the most important and that their fluency in those subjects is what will launch them into everything else. For example, this year Maple expressed a keen interest in history, so I helped her to pick out a bunch of books, some of which we read together and most of which she read on her own. She also really enjoys listening to podcasts and has a few history ones that she listens to every few days.
Before I get too far in the direction of particulars, here are a few specific resources that work for us:
Reading and Writing: Explode the Code- these are great, especially for the younger set.
Kumon Writing books have been great for Maple as have some of the Wordly Wise books for reading comprehension and vocabulary.
Math: I have liked the Singapore math books up until about 4th grade- at which point I find I need some help explaining things to my kids. I just bought a year of Math Help- an online curriculum that seems to be going well. There are lessons and quizzes which my kids really weirdly enjoy.
We haven't done much for science save earth science. We have a subscription to Tinker Crate thanks to my mom and those are amazing and fun. Our homeschool group does a science fair once a year and as of yet my kids have not expressed a ton of enthusiasm there. This year the group also put together a geography fair this fall which was fun.
While I'm on the topic of homeschool groups- I have to say this is clutch. We are a part of a group that has been around a long time and while it isn't necessarily secular- it sees the most involvement from those of us who are. During the school year we have monthly book clubs for 2 or 3 different levels of reader. Each facilitated by a parent. These are amazing ways to connect. We also put together classes with local artisans for the kids. Most frequently they do fiber arts classes at the local yarn shop because we have a group of very enthusiastic knitters. We have also done clay classes with the local potter as well as circus classes with the local Circus folks. A few times a year our group coordinators will organize field trips to different places in the area. Some unusual places, but mostly very everyday places where the kids get to see behind the scenes. They love that the most I think.
We live in a small town about 30 minutes outside of Madison and so there a quite a few programs designed for homeschool kids- which, when you think about it, really makes a lot of sense for businesses in terms of filling their school day hours a bit.
My kids are also a part of a program called Wild Harvest Nature Connection. They are each in a group with other kids and a couple of mentors and they meet at a local county park for 6 hours once a week. Rain, snow, sleet or shine they are outside learning outdoor skills as well as managing group dynamics. This has been big for both of my kids in both amazing and difficult ways. It gives them a lot of time to navigate social situations and group dynamics in supportive environments.
Oh god this is long. And looks like a lot. But a lot is really not the thing. If anything, less is the thing. Don't do everything. Take your time. Listen to your gut. I know I said that kids need to go through a period of de-conditioning, but parents really do too. We have all been brought up in this culture of compulsory education and it is hard to shed that skin, or even be able to look at it with any objectivity. Maybe homeschooling will be the right next step for you. Maybe not. One thing that always helps me along as a homeschooling mom is to remember that no matter where my kids are in school or by whom they are being taught, at the end of the day it is me and my husband who are accountable to their education. No one else.
I hope this is helpful! If you even managed to read this far.... If you have any questions or whatever, please feel free to ask! I look forward to hearing what unfolds for you.