Once you have made the decision to homeschool your child or children, then a certain amount of preparation is necessary to ensure that you are equipped (both mentally and in terms of ‘stuff’) to do the best possible job. Many families know that they want to home educate before their children are even born or at least before they reach school age and so preparation may take a slightly different form to how we found ourselves preparing – my daughter went to school until the age of just 13 before we removed her from mainstream education.
There are also different ways to homeschool – some will see it as a school situation just in a different setting and will adopt the ways of a school day in terms of timing and the types of subjects/lessons that are taught. On the other hand unschooling is an educational method and philosophy that advocates learner-chosen activities as a primary means for learning. And then there is radical homeschooling:
“Radical unschooling extends the philosophy of unschooling into all aspects of life. It involves partnering with our children, not just with regard to academic pursuits, but in daily activities such as eating, television viewing, and going to bed. The bedrock of radical unschooling is trust: a belief that our children possess an inner wisdom or intuitiveness far beyond what mainstream education gives them credit for. Parents act as guides and facilitators, helping children to connect with that inner wisdom.” (unschoolers.org)
I would say that we adopt a mix of all of the above – what was so important to us was that we created a situation that our daughter was happy with and that works for the rest of the family too. She was and is included in all of the planning aspects of daily life and the bigger picture bits too (sitting exams etc). To us it is important not to be pigeon-holed in terms of our home education experience (does it really matter if we call ourselves homeschoolers or unschoolers?) and as we are relatively new to this, not to be afraid to adapt as we learn and progress on this journey.
So, Tilly and I have compiled a list of the top six things that we feel are the most important when preparing to homeschool. This list is not exhaustive and will vary upon different situations and according to the age of the child/children involved.
Having a designated space for Tilly to work and leaye out her pens and art and know that this is ‘her’ space, is far more important than I first realised. This may not always be possible depending on your situation, but we have adapted our dining room to include a table/bookshelves where Tilly keeps all her homeschool related things and her laptop etc. It gives her some ownership over her situation and allows her to work independently without feeling like she is taking over space in the house.
2. Know and prepare for what you want to teach
If you decide that you want to teach your child, some/all of the subjects that they would follow at school and potentially sit the exams for said subjects then familiarity with specific awarding bodies and their teaching tools is key. I definitely feel like we had an advantage here as I was a secondary school teacher for 15 years and so am very familiar with teaching specifications and how to break down the work load etc – I would have found this aspect rather daunting had I not had the background knowledge that I did, so give yourself time to really research and learn about all this. For instance, you may need to find out if there are local centres that will accept external candidates to sit an exam and those centres may only offer exams from certain awarding bodies, such as edexcel or AQA.
This will allow you to make the decision about which teaching specification to use. So, I found out that Tilly will be able to do her English Lit/Lang and Maths GCSEs at a local centre but they only use edexcel – so I had to scrap original plans to teach using AQA (I was familiar with AQA from my teaching days and I have marked examinations for them before) and switch to edexel, which was fine, but I’m glad I found this out early on.
3. Arm yourself with teaching resources
One of the best resources that I have used are the websites for awarding bodies. You can download a copy of the teaching specification (this is literally what teachers use) and so you know that you are teaching the right things if you are expecting your child/children to sit an exam in the future. The websites also offer other teaching tools and give you access to past exam papers and mark schemes as well as a variety of other teaching ideas.
Take the time to explore the website and don’t be afraid to email them or give them a call if you have any qeuries – I have, lots of times, and I’m so glad I did. I have also found having access to Amazon Prime and Netflix a fabulous resource as they offer a plethora of documentaries, which both Tilly and I love and they are a great way to learn. Another useful online resource is BBC Education.
4. Get Equipped
There are basic things that homeschooling requires such as paper, pens, pencils etc but take a look at the subjects that you will be teaching your child/children and make a list of the things that you will specifically need (for us that meant getting copies of particular books for example – most of which can be found for £2/3 on amazon). Tilly is a really organised child and has enjoyed decorating jam jars to keep her pens and pencils in – this in itself is a pleasant task. She is responsible for keeping an eye on when we get low on other resources such as paper or glue or cellotape. This gives her a sense of ownership over her own learning situation.
Access to the internet is really useful for a child at any age in our ever changing digital world and last year we asked all our family members to chip in so we could buy Tilly a laptop – this has been wonderful for her as she stores all her stories here and has access to the internet whereby she can do research when learning independently. It has also meant we are using a lot less paper!
Save newspapers and magazines (or ask friends and family for donations) as they are useful for a variety of reasons – ripping up to make a collage or actually reading and making comments on a particular story. Files and/or exercise books may be useful to store work – we are however trying to get into the habit of working in a resourceful way and not using unnecessary ‘stuff” if we don’t need to. Work books (available as an online resource also) are useful to check your child’s knowledge after they have been learning about something in particular.
5. Learn from others
One of our biggest resources by far is other people. I have learned so much from homeschooling communities on social media (FB and Insta – national/international and local) and have spoken to local homeschool groups (also join a local homeschool group as it’s a great way to get to know other like minded folk and for your child to make new friends!) to pick their brains about everything from how to stay motivated to where to sit an exam. This resource has been invaluable. Don’t be afraid to ask and ask and ask…
6. Adapt to survive
It may not seem like it, but being aware of the possibility of things not always going according to plan is really important. We have changed our plans so many times I’ve lost count and every day I learn something new or pick up an idea about how to move forward. We’ve used a number of different resources before we found the ones that really worked for us. We also now see that when the sun shines, forget sitting down to do those maths tasks as planned, get outdoors and enjoy a walk or a picnic and don’t feel guilty about it – life is too short and so this is exactly what we are going to do when I have finished writing this! Such is the beauty of homeschooling – remember why you took this route in the first place and enjoy the time that you have created to spend with your offspring.