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Homeschooling Tips from an Experienced MA Homeschooler

Fifth in a series of articles about Homeschooling in Massachusetts

By Emily Classon, Contributing Writer September 8, 2020

Fifth and final article in our series on homeschooling.  


It’s back-to-school time!  This year feels different without the rush to stores to purchase supplies from a list and with families settling into their choices of hybrid or remote schooling.  If your family has chosen to homeschool or is still weighing your options, this final article in our series has a few more tips for you to consider.

If you’re considering homeschooling this year, you’re probably balancing a lot of different ideas and concerns.  It can seem overwhelming at first!  It’s okay to take some time to find your groove and to decide out how you want to proceed for the year.  Once you figure out the requirements and think about if you’d like to use curricula or not, you can focus on enjoying this journey and start planning how you’d like to spend your days together.  

I’ve homeschooled my daughter for the last five years.  One of the best pieces of advice I ever received from a homeschooling friend was to take it a year -- or even partial year -- at a time.  It helped to know that any decision I made didn’t have to be permanent.  If we didn’t like the materials we were using or how we were approaching things, we could make changes.  It was also helpful to know that if homeschooling really didn’t work for us, my daughter could always enroll in school.  

Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about how homeschooling works for my family, and we continue to enjoy finding new ideas to try.  I’ll share below some of the interesting ones we’ve come across in our journey in case they will help you too.  


Scheduling

  • Rhythm or Schedule: While many homeschoolers participate in scheduled classes, co-ops, and activities, the general nature of homeschooling does not have to rely on a set schedule.  Days and learning can be more fluid.  You can work around your best times to teach and your child’s optimal learning times.  Learning happens throughout the day and doesn’t have to be confined into traditional school hours.  Some homeschoolers seek to find their groove or rhythm during the day without a set schedule, while others piece together chunks of time for learning that fit into parents’ work schedules or other class times.  There’s no right or wrong way to plan your days or weeks; find what works best for you!
  • Morning Baskets: Some families incorporate a morning basket routine to encourage everyone to start the day together.  It doesn’t necessarily matter what is in the basket because the focus is that everyone is joined together before they branch off into their own projects or work later in the day.  Morning baskets may include books to read aloud, songs, poems, games, projects, lessons for everyone to do together, and more. It’s a great time for your family to have discussions about important topics and for setting the tone for the day.  Morning baskets don’t have to be done in the morning either! Pick a gathering time that works best for your family.  If you’re interested in learning more about morning baskets, there are many websites, YouTube videos, and Facebook groups related to different ways to incorporate the morning basket idea in a religious or secular homeschool.
  • Block and Loop Scheduling: To help fit in all the subjects you might want to cover, you could try different scheduling approaches.  
    • Block schedules involve setting aside a certain timeframe -- a few weeks, a month, a semester -- to focus on a particular subject in depth.  This idea works best for topics that don’t need daily practice or reinforcement throughout the year.  A block schedule helps reduce the number of subjects covered at the same time and allows time for deep exploration of those topics.  This is even common in middle schools and high schools that might focus on one topic for half of the year and another for the remaining time.
    • Loop schedules involve making a list of subject areas and working through it in order as your time permits.  The loop can continue across days or the week until it is finished and started again. Subjects that you’d like to cover more can be inserted into the rotation more often.
  • Strewing: If you’re focusing on an unschooling or child-led approach, strewing may help your kids find new passions and ideas to explore.  Strewing involves leaving a variety of different things, such as books, puzzles, games, art supplies, and experiments, around to be discovered.  You could try leaving out items related to topics your kids have mentioned to see if they spark interest.  These aren’t meant to force your kids into doing the activities, and they don’t have to be educational.  Instead, they are invitations to find something they’d like to explore.  
  • Siblings: If you’re teaching multiple children at once, try seeing if any of your lessons are applicable to everyone.  You can always add additional reading or projects related to the topic for your older children.  When it’s time for one-to-one time with each child, you can try different games, books, and fun projects to keep the others engaged.  Don’t forget that your older children may learn valuable skills by helping to teach younger siblings too.


Fun Ideas

  • Gameschooling: Kids love to play, so why not incorporate game playing into their learning?  Games can be a great way to practice a learned skill while having fun.  Gameschool Academy offers reviews of different games by subject and age level.  Connect with other gaming families in their Facebook group for more great ideas.
  • Travelschooling: Take learning on the road!  Learning and exploring ideas can happen anywhere.  You can start small with nature hikes and museum visits or venture out into exploring other states and even countries.  It’s amazing to see artifacts or animals up close to help reinforce interests in history or science.  Geography can be easier to picture if you’ve actually been to some of the places.  Even if COVID-19 might restrict travel this year, you can explore through travel videos, documentaries, and books illustrating special places and people around the world.  Driving in the car is a perfect time for audio books and great discussions too!
  • Life Skills: Homeschooling is a perfect time to learn about essential life skills that benefit us all.  You can help your kids explore cooking, sewing, gardening, home maintenance and repairs, automotive repairs, personal finance, entrepreneurship, habit building, travel appreciation, cultural appreciation, volunteerism, and more.  Many of these are easy to incorporate through your daily household activities.
  • Field Trips: As you feel safe doing so this year, explore all the exciting museums, zoos, attractions, and natural sites around us.  New England has a wealth of fun places to visit.  If you connect with other homeschoolers, you might find others to join you too!


Costs

  • Budget: Homeschooling can work with any budget. There are many free resources available online and from area libraries. Remember to look for sample chapters of any curriculum you’re considering to try before you buy.
  • Group Buys: Homeschool Buyers Co-op offers free memberships to a group buying program for discounts on homeschool curricula and resources.  Homeschool families also often work together to get a group buy discount toward online products.  Search homeschool Facebook groups to see if any current group buys are in order.
  • Teacher Discounts: Some stores and museums offer teacher discounts and may extend that offer to homeschool teachers as well. Often, you can use your approval letter from your school district to apply.  Some places may accept a homeschool membership card from Advocates for Home Education in Massachusetts (AHEM).  A few local places that offer these discounts include:
  • Materials and Manipulatives: You don’t have to buy all the things (unless you want to)!  While there are many great products on the market for homeschoolers, much can be done with items you probably have at home. Kids can learn to spell or count with LEGOs, explore shapes with magnetic tiles, and conduct science experiments with items in your kitchen.  Look around your house for fun things you can repurpose.
  • Libraries: Don’t forget to check your local libraries for interesting and fun programs for kids and teens as well as books, audio books, movies, music, downloadable ebooks and audio books, and other items you can borrow. Libraries offer online databases to research a variety of topics for all ages too. Most libraries offer discount passes to area museums and attractions as well.


Managing Expectations

  • Deschooling, or taking a break from school, helps homeschooling families let go of their ideas and experiences of traditional school.  Doing this allows you some time and freedom to discover what you’d like to do this year.  What do your kids want to learn?  What are you excited to share with them?  How will learning look in your household?  Taking some time lets you breathe a bit while you make a plan together.
  • Pacing: Just like when they learned to say their first words or walk, children learn at their own pace.  Many homeschoolers follow their child’s interests in learning a new skill or topic that doesn’t have to fit into a certain timeframe.  Homeschoolers can have more flexibility even if a skill is typically expected by a particular grade in school.  Kids often learn better when they’re interested and ready.
  • Learning Standards: Massachusetts has Curriculum Frameworks for what is taught each year in the public schools.  They have condensed this information into learning standards guides to help parents understand what their children are expected to learn and to understand by the end of a particular grade.  While homeschoolers are not required to cover the same material on the same schedule, these guides can be helpful to review or if your plan is for your children to return to school in the near future.
  • Your Day: Homeschooling doesn’t have to recreate the school model at home. You can work during times that are best for you and your children. You can take breaks throughout the day or week as it suits your child’s needs. Learning still happens all day long even if you aren’t sitting down pouring over a math workbook.  It also takes less time to teach one child a topic than an entire classroom.  You’ll find that you may get more done in an hour or two and have extra time in the day for other fun activities.
  • Falling Behind: If you are concerned that your children will be behind their school peers, it’s important to remember that kids learn at their own pace, and we all have gaps in our education.  This year, in particular, will likely be more difficult for everyone because school will not look the same as usual.  
  • FOMO: There are many discussions in homeschooling and parenting groups about the Fear of Missing Out. While it’s true that a child may miss something by participating in a different schooling environment, that doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing.  Homeschooling is what you make of it.  If your child misses their school friends, set up play dates as you feel safe to do so.  You can connect to the homeschooling community to make new friends and to join in co-ops or field trips.  It’s helpful to remember that the grass may look greener to anyone.  Students who attend school may also be missing out on the fun field trips and outings that are often part of homeschooling.  There is no perfect setup for every child, and there is always something that might be missed out on.  If something is missing, see if you can find a way to incorporate it into your homeschool life.


Parent Tips

  • Trust Yourself: It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the idea of homeschooling. Remember that you’ve been teaching and guiding your children thus far in their lives.  You know your kids and want what’s best for them!  
  • Be Flexible: Homeschooling is all about flexibility!  One of the greatest parts about homeschooling is having the ability to change things that aren’t working and to try new ideas.  Your schedule, what you cover, and how you approach learning can change from day to day as your family’s needs change.  You may get a lot done some days and find that you’re just not into it on other days.  It’s okay to finish at another time or to scrap your plans for the day as needed.
  • No Right Way: Remember that there is no right way to homeschool each child.  Each child learns differently, and there are many ways to learn.  Take some time together to find the ways that work best for your family.
  • Attention: If homeschooling feels like a struggle, think about trying a new approach.  Do you need more breaks or snacks in the day?  Are the materials you’re using too difficult or not challenging enough?  Do your kids need to try something hands on?  If something isn’t working, it’s worth it to take some time to think about why so you can find a way that will work better for everyone.  Check out “Homeschool Tips to Maximize Attention” from Massachusetts Home Learners Association (MHLA).
  • Parent First: Remember that you are a parent first.  This time that we’re all facing during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge for everyone.  No matter which educational path each family chooses this fall, our kids will need our support.  Your children may need additional emotional support and bonding time this year.  This is a wonderful time to focus on building your relationship while reinforcing that you’re there for your children and will help them through this difficult year.  


Whatever the reason you’ve decided to homeschool, this is a choice you’re making because it’s what you feel is best for your family at this time.  Trust yourself as a parent.  You’ve been teaching your children all along and understand their needs and wants.  Homeschooling is a lot of fun and can be a great way to bring your family closer as you explore new ideas together.  Have an exciting homeschool year!


For upcoming online presentations related to homeschooling, please check out the following:

  • Advocates for Home Education in Massachusetts, Inc. (AHEM) presentations
  • Massachusetts Home Learners Association (MHLA) presentations 


Emily Classon is a homeschooling mom in Tyngsboro.  She and her daughter have homeschooled for the last five years.  She has a Masters in Information and Library Studies degree and worked in public libraries for over 20 years.  Emily also teaches Zentangle®, a meditative art form.




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