This post, Deciding What to Learn in Your Homeschool, is part of a How to Start Homeschooling series. If you would like to have more help getting started with homeschooling, check out How to Start Homeschooling, a comprehensive guide to establishing your homeschool.
You’ve decided to homeschool and you’ve made it official by registering as a legal homeschooler. Great! Now what?
Deciding what to learn in your homeschool can feel like somewhat of an afterthought. You put so much time and effort into the decision to learn at home, that you’ve almost forgotten you need to think about what you’ll actually do each day!
Once you start doing research into what homeschoolers should study, the amount of options out there can feel totally overwhelming. Math, reading, writing, spelling, typing, handwriting, foreign language, speech, history, social studies, science, art, music, dance, handicrafts, logic… the list goes on and on, and within each subject thousands of good options await your discovery.
When the risk of overwhelm and decision fatigue is so high, it’s important to know how to decide what you will focus on in your homeschool.
Helping you decide what to learn
There are several different factors to consider to help you narrow down your choices.
- Legal requirements where you live.
- Your beliefs about learning.
- Your child’s interests.
- Your family culture.
Clarifying your position on each of these points will help you to decide what to learn in your homeschool.
Legal requirements where you live
Is there anything that you are legally required to study where you live? In our state, our students have to study certain subjects over the course of their elementary career, others over their secondary education, and every year we have to study fire safety. In some places, requirements are much more specific; in others, there are hardly requirements at all.
Check the homeschool law where you live to find out if there is anything you must study, and if there is any particular method with which you must study it. Once you know that, you can make sure to include that subject in your homeschool plans.
Your beliefs about learning
Your beliefs about how students should learn will influence what types of curriculum you choose. You may feel strongly that it’s important for your child to have a rigorous education, so you lean towards a classical curriculum model. Or, you may want your student to experience a slow childhood, without much emphasis on academics until a later age, so you lean towards unschooling. These choices will determine what books and curricula you choose to study.
The same can be said for subject matter. You may value the arts and want them to have a prominent place in your homeschool. Or perhaps, you want academics to be applied to the real world as often as possible. You may want your child to study Latin, Spanish, violin, piano, coding, or some other specialty subject. You can choose to include any subject that you find important in your homeschool rotation.
Bottom line: your beliefs, values, and desires will shape what types of things you decide to put into your homeschool. Make sure that you choose learning options that fit with you and your child, and don’t feel the need to compare to anyone else.
Your child’s interests
Of course, it wouldn’t be fair to ignore the child’s interests! Your child should definitely have at least some say in what they learn as a homeschooler. (No, they don’t have to make every decision. Yes, they will maddeningly change their minds at some point. You’re still the parent, and you can decide how you’ll handle these situations.)
Maybe you’ve got a child who absolutely loves horses, and so you make sure to include a biology unit with a section on equines. You also study what a veterinarian does in a social studies career unit. And, you can include horse back riding lessons as an extracurricular activity.
Maybe you have a video game loving child, so you include a coding app as part of your daily activities. Perhaps your child just loves being read to, so you find stories to introduce almost any subject: historical fictions or engaging biographies, math picture books, books that explain grammar concepts in poetry form.
There are so many ways to make sure you include your child’s interests in your homeschool. Ask them what they would like to learn more about, or just observe them and make sure you include their passions in your learning time. Better yet, let their passions serve as a guide for how you approach learning time whenever possible.
Your family culture
Whether or not you realize it, everyone has a family culture. It’s made up of your traditions, habits, values, and beliefs. These can include things like your faith, your favorite foods, the holidays you celebrate, your routines, and your interests.
The fact that your family loves to go to the state park every Saturday morning, and the fact that you tend to play video games each night are both part of your family culture. If you have a habit of tidying up before each meal, that’s part of your family culture, and if you have a habit of dropping your dirty socks on the floor, that’s part of it too.
This does play into your schooling choices. If you’re a very organized, scheduled person, then chances are your homeschool curriculum choices will fit into this mold. You might be drawn to lesson books with color-coded schedules, clear assignment due-dates, and easy-to-follow task lists.
If you’re a very relaxed, creative person, then you’ll likely want open-ended curriculum as you work through things at an easy-going pace. You may be drawn to books with suggested routines, art projects, and open-ended assignments. You may choose to forgo curriculum entirely and follow the child’s lead through books, games, activities, and nature walks.
How these factors influenced our learning choices
I had to learn this in my own homeschool. My first two years, I bought into a Waldorf style curriculum that emphasized art, beauty, creativity, and stories. I love and value these things dearly. However, at the time, I was working about 20 hours a week and rushing to finish homeschool each day so I could get ready for work. I felt impatient with the time the artistic projects took, and often ended up hurrying my poor son through each task so we could just get it done already. Not to mention, he just wasn’t jiving with all the handicrafts.
I had to realize that the curriculum I had purchased was for my fantasy life- one that maybe I will have when I am retired, or maybe I would have if didn’t have ambitions to build something professionally. I also had to realize that it just wasn’t what grabbed my son’s attention, as much as I wanted it to.
My real life was rushed and full. I needed to be able to check off the boxes so I could move on to the next task: prepping dinner, putting on my business casual clothes, and going off to teach each night. I didn’t have time for long, leisurely paintings each day. It wasn’t our family culture to do those things all the time, though I certainly enjoyed them when I did have time.
I also had to learn that my son benefited from clear instructions more than open-ended assignments. I also had to recognize his real interests- large, powerful vehicles, fantasy adventure books, Star Wars, biking, and hiking- and see that they were just as valuable as all the watercolors, knitting, and clay molding that our curriculum was asking of us.
I’ve had to learn to give my kids school materials that check off the boxes for our legal requirements. (Yes, worksheets and apps!) I’ve also had to choose materials that they can do mostly independently, because #fourkids. Then I schedule in work hours for me in the afternoon, and that’s when they can have that wonderful free time playing outside, doing art projects, practicing music, and being creative. This way they get some of those things that I so wanted them to have, without me having to hover over them and cram all that beauty into the academic portion of the day.
Obviously, I am still learning as I go, and I know I will have to make more adjustments over time.
Deciding what to learn
The best part about homeschooling is that you have so much freedom in deciding what to learn. I encourage you to think about these factors and journal about them.
- Do you have any legal requirements for what you study?
- What are your beliefs and values about education?
- What is your child interested in?
- What is your family culture like, and how will that affect your learning choices?
Once you have a better idea of what exactly you would like to learn, then you can go ahead and hunt for resources that meet your wish list.
I’d love it if you came back and let me know how you decided what to learn in your homeschool. I appreciate your thoughts!