Homeschooling 101-ish

First, I’m writing with a migraine today (wrigraining?), so my apologies in advance if anything comes out as gibberish or snark. I can usually keep the pain under control, but the other neurological symptoms just are what they are.

Second, I’ve had several people ask me about homeschooling lately (not here on the blog, but I’m going to share my stuff here on the blog so I can just send any future askers this link). What with all the educational uncertainty brought on by the pandemic, more and more people seem to be interested in taking things into their own hands, and I’m happy to give whatever help I can.

Third, those who are asking me about homeschooling have been doing so because they know I’ve been homeschooling since shortly after the last pterodactyl fell from the sky. Well, practically. I’ve actually been homeschooling since, I believe, the fall of 2003 (I can’t math with a migraine — it’s really weird, but that part of my brain just shuts down, sometimes to the point that numbers lose ALL meaning). For those who care for such things, here is my full resume of that which maybe qualifies me to share insights on educating one’s own children:

I am a parent.

I have a BA in English with a minor in journalism from Brigham Young University. I also graduated with my secondary education teaching certification (which I admittedly let lapse years ago).

As previously stated, I have been homeschooling since 2003 (I homeschool until the end of junior high and then send them off to high school, but with six kids? It just keeps on going).

My eldest was a National Merit Scholar finalist, was involved in her high school drama club, Key Club, choir, National Honors Society, and Quiz Bowl team.

My second graduated as Valedictorian of her class. She was a varsity sideline and competitive cheerleader, did Key Club for a bit, and was also in NHS.

My third is entering her senior year with straight As and is in her school choir and honors choir as well as NHS (maybe she’d be more involved in extra-curriculars had we not moved across the country at the end of her sophomore year).

They have all gotten ACT scores above 30.

I wanted number 4 to take the ACT last spring, at the end of his sophomore year (which I normally have my kids do), but COVID. So nothing there to report yet, except that he’s gotten one B one semester (I think only the one semester). His lowest grade. And he has more friends than that Carnegie guy.

5 and 6 are still homeschooling, and this is where I’m learning more about homeschooling those with some extra challenges. One of my kids suffered a brain injury when he was younger, and that has left him with discalculia. Sometimes we can laugh about it, other times we cry. We are figuring it out, quite literally, together.

I don’t share any of this to brag about me or my kids. I only share this to show that homeschooling really can provide a solid educational foundation, and I take it seriously. Also, I share this to show that homeschooled kids don’t inevitably wind up sitting in the corner eating paste and talking to their imaginary friends. Kids can be homeschooled and function in society. Actually, let’s not even have the socialization conversation today, if that’s okay. If anybody really wants to, we’ll do it another day. And we’ll do it in a rational, non-contemptuous way. I might be too migraine-y to keep the snark at bay today.

With that said, whether the pandemic and its fallout make you want to homeschool or not, there is no judgment here. Homeschooling has been good for my family, but I totally understand it is not for every family, so I am not here to advocate that anyone make one decision or another. I am just here to answer the oft-asked question, “What do you do/use???”

If you are wondering what those answers are, well, here we go . . .

Before you do anything else, check the homeschooling laws in your state. Yep, states’ rights, baby. Each one has its own set of laws governing homeschooling. Some are super easy (if you live in Michigan, Texas or a smattering of other states, you’ve hit the homeschooling jackpot), but most are less easy. You can probably find your laws on your state website, but for a quick resource that does a good job of explaining things for each state, I’d suggest going to the Homeschool Legal Defense Association website. They have a handy-dandy map that shows if your state has no, low, moderate, or high regulation. Click on your state to find out more.

When we first started homeschooling, we were in Ohio and we did it all through a virtual charter school. I think there are roughly a fragillion of these things in existence these days. Just Google “virtual charter school” and you’ll find them. There are some real benefits to virtual charters:

  • You don’t have to pay for anything because it’s a charter school.
  • They already have all the curricula picked out and pre-determined, so you don’t have to figure it all out.
  • You don’t have to worry about reporting anything to your state, if it requires reporting, because your kids are officially enrolled in a charter school.

We started with a virtual charter because I wanted the accountability when I was first starting out on this homeschooling adventure. I was afraid it would be too easy for me to put things off and not get around to it otherwise. It helped us establish the habits we needed to be successful. We also started with a virtual charter because I’d done my research, and the one I chose had the solid, academically advanced curricula we wanted and needed. And? I didn’t want to have to worry about contacting my local school district each year and jumping through their hoops like a trained poodle. I have no regrets about the way we started out.

Then the virtual charter started to morph. More online classroom session were being required and, quite frankly, they were always behind where my kids would be. What I’m saying, in case you are too kind to read between the lines, is that they were a waste of time. Other changes started happening, too. After we moved to Michigan (a land of zero homeschool regulation), we dumped the virtual charter but continued to purchase and use its curricula. Then the big shift to Common Core came, and I watched our tried-and-true lessons and workbooks become the stuff of nightmares.

By the by, just before, or right around the time we got all of those new CC materials, I attended a conference on Common Core at the University of Notre Dame. As my kids got into their school year, I watched every criticism of CC become reality in my living room. My sons, who had previously loved and been good with numbers and math, were suddenly struggling with lessons that were developmentally inappropriate and did not allow time for mastery before moving on (until the middle school years, where one of my daughters was, at which point the math was a laughably easy review of the most basic concepts). Our literature-rich curricula became watered down. We were being told a new history curriculum would be rolled out the next year. We did not wait around for the next year.

What I did at that point was make a list of the best non-proprietary parts of that charter school’s curricula. Some of what they used were workbooks that they developed and printed (proprietary) and some of it was books printed by others that anyone with a couple brain cells, a credit card, and the internet can find and buy (non-proprietary). I did mention I’m wrigraining today, right? Migraines sometimes make me snarky.

Anyway, so what we use now is a combination of those non-proprietary but really excellent materials and other materials/resources that I’ve found to replace the proprietary stuff. Ready for the list?

Lord have mercy woman!” you’re thinking. “I’ve slogged through all the above drivel just to get to the list!”

This is why I have published two books at once. Hector the Inspector and the Quest for Kindness was too long for one book, so I made it two. I’m wordy, is what I’m saying.

THE CURRENT LIST

History: Story of the World by Susan Wise Bauer

Science: Apologia

Grammar: Exercises in English by Loyola press

Vocabulary: Vocabulary Workshop books then Vocabulary from Classical Roots books

Math: CTC Math, Khan Academy, Life of Fred (especially for Algebra). This kind of depends on each kid.

Art: Creating a Masterpiece. I don’t pretend that we’ve been really consistent with art, but when we do it? This is what we use, and I’ve been amazed with the results.

Reading/Lit: Just get good, age appropriate books, including poetry, and read, discuss, and have your students write about them. I wish I could give you a list by grade level, but most of our books are packed away while we wait for the wood we’ve ordered to build some bookshelves. I would not discourage you from getting a set of McGuffey’s Readers as well. If nothing else, you’ll get an up close and personal look at the disparity of expectation between modern educators and those of yore, like, way yore, and you may suddenly realize just how much your kids are capable of. Of course, go to the library regularly (unless you prefer to buy and hoard books, then go to the bookstore) so that your kids can choose and read books that interest them in addition to books you *make* them read. Yes, I’m an advocate of having kids read what is good for them from their perspective and from yours. Be the adult they need you to be. Make some of those decisions.

Writing: 7th Grade — Cover Story
8th Grade — One Year Adventure Novel
Elementary Years — Have them write books reports, short stories, poems,
etc.

Though I have linked to specific websites for each of the various books and curricula, you can get most of it from Amazon or Thriftbooks.com. Just learn from my mistake and don’t buy workbooks from Thriftbooks unless they say *Brand NEW.* Trust me. You can get them from various other places as well. The only ones I’ve found hard to find anywhere else are the Loyola Press books and the writing curricula. I always buy direct from the publishers.

Before I end, I just want to say a quick word about the Apologia science books. They are definitely written from a Christian worldview, but the science, as far as I’ve been able to discern, is solid (remembering we haven’t used them from the very beginning, so I don’t know how they approach the creation of the world). As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, my family and I are Christians (I hear some of you rolling your eyes, and that’s okay), but not the mainstream Christians these books are written for. I have had zero issues with skipping the religious stuff that doesn’t quite mesh with our beliefs (or skipping the religious stuff altogether because we just want to get science done and go have recess or whatever). What I’m saying is, even if you don’t want religion in your science, Apologia can work for you. If you don’t mind, or even want, religion in your science, you’ll probably like these books. The more advanced the books get, the less religion they offer, as well. So, there’s just a heads up about that.

There are endless homsechooling resources out there. What we use is only a small drop in the bucket of what is available. I would highly recommend finding the closest Great Homeschool Convention and attending that, but, COVID. At least check out the website and see what they have going on during the pandemic (I need to do this myself). I’ve been fortunate to attend the Cincinnati convention a couple times, listen to some great speakers, and find some really good resources. It’s always helpful.

I know, even with all the words, I couldn’t possibly have answered every question you might have about homeschooling, so feel free to ask in the comments or to shoot me an email. I do not consider myself an expert on all things homeschooling by any stretch, but I do think I’m a fairly successful homeschooling parent, so I’ll give you the best advice I can and let you take it from there.

E.

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