Are you considering homeschooling? Read our best homeschooling tips and tricks along with our top homeschooling curriculum choices!

Over the last few weeks, several friends have approached me with questions about homeschooling. With the uncertainty about school reopenings, many families are considering this alternative and looking for more information from friends.

This post is essentially just a tidied up version of the correspondence I have had with curious friends. If you’re considering homeschooling, I’d like to be such a friend to you!

We have been homeschooling for three years. That is not all that long, but that makes it so I can vividly remember the teeming questions from when we first started. Sharing the answers that we have found for ourselves is something I can offer. Every homeschooling families will settle on their own solutions, but I hope that this will help you find them.

In this post, I have included a list of general homeschooling tips and tricks that came to mind, but also a very specific list of secular resources on different subjects. It may be difficult to know where to start when you first consider homeschooling, so I would be happy if you looked at them as a starting point.

General Homeschooling Tips and Tricks

Homeschooling doesn’t have to take very long. As a work-at-home mother, this was one of my biggest concerns. But, after a few years of homeschooling my son and talking with other families of homeschoolers, I believe that few families do more than 1-2 hours of focused studies a day. At least, that is the case for elementary students. It may be more for older students, but they also do more on their own.

When I say “focused homeschooling”, I don’t mean rigorous mathematics exercises either. We read books aloud, both fiction and non-fiction, discuss them, write stories, play educational board games, follow art tutorials on YouTube, and work on crafts. I often see it as family time with a self-improvement agenda. As for math, my children mostly do that on their own. How?

Educational environment matters. Let there be books and board games, LEGO and wooden blocks, art supplies, embroidery hoops, woodworking tools, microscopes, and telescopes! Just keep them around, and sooner or later children will gravitate to them and make use of them.

If you allow screen-time in your family (and we do), use that strategically, and fill your children’s tablets with math apps and reading/writing apps. For three years, my son has been using a math app as his main curriculum. We’ve used supplements and tried deviating from it a few times, but in the end the apps have worked best.

Audiobooks are another big part of our family’s life. We read aloud for about 1-2 hours every day, but the rest of the time, our children can listen to audiobooks as much as they want. My son fills about eight hours in his day, listening to one of his favourite books while keeping physically active. Like last month, when he listened to the How to Train Your Dragon series (12 books, about 60 hours of listening time!) on repeat. At the same time, he usually draws, builds with LEGO, or even jumps on the trampoline outside.

Homeschooling doesn’t stop all day long. While focused learning only accounts for a few hours a day, the actual process of learning never really stops. In my opinion, this is one of the best things about homeschooling. We live in an era when information is readily available to us, so it is the desire and ability to self-educate that matters.

I personally believe that it doesn’t even matter much what children learn. Of course, there will be some necessary standards for math and ELA. But other than that? There can be lessons on princesses (that would combine history and geography with studies of etiquette and conversations about feminism) or lessons on dragons (that could include mythology, biology, and creative writing)! In the end, it is all about developing a love for learning and encouraging curiosity.

Children learn better when they are having fun. The truth is, we all do. So, try to make learning fun. Watch documentaries, play games, read good books, build a pyramid from Lego and animal habitats in Minecraft. Of course, there will likely be some topics or some exercises that will not be fun, no matter how you try. Remember the genius educator Mary Poppins and add a spoonful of sugar. Have a platter of cookies or plan a pleasant activity for afterwards.

Relationships matter more than education. When choosing to homeschool, many families do it because they want to stay close with their children. Then, math problems strike and the illogic of English attacks, and suddenly it may be difficult to keep calm. Be prepared for that, and have a plan. Sometimes a little treat might help you get through a sticky spot; other times, the promise of some fun activities afterwards. There may be days when it is better to call early quits on the topic and try again another time. We take a break from structured learning during the summer, and it is amazing to me that, while my son forgets some things, he also seems a lot more developmentally ready to understand other things when we get back to it.

If a schedule doesn’t work, try a routine. While a schedule is more rigid, with certain times allotted for certain activities, a routine is more flexible. Where a schedule states “reading at 9:00, math at 1:00”, a routine generally says “we will do reading between breakfast and lunch, and math between lunch and supper”. It does relieve some stress.

When planning for a year of homeschooling, you can also consider a block schedule (dedicating months instead of days to certain subjects) and loop schedule (instead of assigning certain days to certain subjects, put a number of subjects, such as history, science, geography on a rotation basis). Both ideas are described in detail here!

Plan sparingly. Choose a few things and do them well. It is easy to get overwhelmed by the choice of curricula, not to mention all the fun finds in homeschooling groups! Plan for things that have to be done, like math and ELA. In addition, choose one or two more things that matter to your family. Rotate a few others. Leave plenty of room for spontaneous exploration and fun activities.

Even if you plan for your children to eventually return to public schools and want to make sure that they don’t fall behind, the science and social studies curriculum in elementary grades is generally pretty easy to complete, and that should leave a lot of time for interest-led learning.

Check your state/province/national requirements. They can vary significantly. We live in Canada, and in our province, we have to write an educational plan in the beginning of each year and submit a year-end report, but within these guidelines, we are free to make our own choices and choose our own philosophy. By the way, as far as homeschooling philosophies go, you can read about them more and take a test. It helps to know where to look for ideas, but in the end, most homeschooling families I know end up being eclectic.

In other states/provinces, the rules may differ. Some don’t ask for a plan or a report; other do. Some will pay a small subsidy for your homeschooling needs; others won’t.

Homeschooling can be done on a budget. Cost is a concern for many parents thinking about homeschooling, so I will give you some ideas. Last year, for grade 2, we spent $135 on our reading program, $50 for our spelling program, and $90 for math. Those weren’t tight-budget choices, but they were the things we used on a regular basis. We also acquired a history curriculum for $60, which we enjoyed, but only used sparingly. Instead, we read a lot of library books. I plan to revisit that history curriculum though, in a few years. We also tried a science curriculum for $80, that got mixed reviews from us and wasn’t a big success overall.

I would very roughly estimate $500 per child for curriculum needs per year. Of course, if there is budget for more, it is nice to be able to treat your family to extras, but in a pinch, homeschooling doesn’t have to cost much to be enjoyable and effective!

Our library system is definitely our biggest friend. My next favourite resource is a printer that is compatible with HP Instant Ink services. Buying materials digitally and only printing what you need can sometimes be a way to save money, not to mention all the free printable materials available. HP Instant Ink is the most cost-effective way to do printing, if you print at least 50 pages a month.

Make homeschooling your own. All the tips and tricks that you read above are based on what we have chosen for us and for now. We love books, we love art, and we also choose to use electronics sparingly, but enthusiastically. Those are the things we do a lot at this point, so it is no surprise that I added pictures of Mount Olympus, a tuk-tuk, the life cycle of plants, and Harry Potter to our last year-end report.

Your homeschool may be completely different in that regard. There may be lots of baking or slime experiments. Or, possibly, there will be more outdoor exploration and photography. We would like doing more hiking and nature exploring ourselves, but currently live in a city with long, harsh winters. When we move, our homeschooling will probably change. It may even become travelschooling for a while! Homeschooling is pretty flexible, and it’s great!

Read books and find communities that reflect your views on homeschooling. One of the books on homeschooling that inspired me was Brave Learner by Julie Boggart. It speaks about developing a love for learning and a need for enchantment in education. It is very engaging and reassuring. I highly recommend it.

Likewise, the facebook group Brave Writer Braveschoolers is full of supportive and creative parents. Another one of my favourite groups is Secular Unit Studies and Homeschool Baskets. I also follow a couple of local groups to know what is happening around here. There are, of course, many more amazing groups that you can find, based on your interests and philosophical beliefs!

Homeschooling Ideas for Different Subjects

Homeschooling families often divide their attention between a few main areas of study. They are Math, English Language Arts, Science, and Social Studies. Some families may add Art, Drama, Music, Sports or Second Language as additional subjects. Other families may focus mainly on Math and ELA and do science and social studies whenever the opportunity arise, like when going for a walk, gardening, reading historical fiction or watching a documentary.

While multiple variants are possible, in this post, I’d like to give ideas for four main areas of study – Math, ELA, Science and Social Studies. I will give suggestions for a few full curricula that I have either used or heard positive things about, as well as some interesting supplemental materials to make the learning process more engaging.

Homeschooling

Math Homeschooling Tips & Tricks

Math is one of my favourite subjects to teach. Not because I am particularly fond of math (though I never hated it either), but because nowadays there are actually a lot of fun ways to teach and learn math. There is a good choice of curricula for different needs, and it is always great to add math video games and math board games for more engagement!

Below, you will find the list of materials that I recommend as a starting point. Don't see anything that catches your eye? Read this detailed comparison of all the most popular math curricula by Orison Orchards! And here is an extensive list of all the math programs by Cathy Duffy Reviews.

ELA Materials

Teaching ELA is not as straightforward as math. Children of the same ages can have strikingly different reading abilities. Some second-graders have no difficulty reading chapter books, while others are still working on phonics. While this isn't usually a problem as abilities tend to level out in the long run, it does make the recommendation of ELA programs difficult, without knowing the particulars of every student's situation.

While there are a lot of skills to teach, it's generally considered best to take it slowly. Teach phonics, but find children's books that they could not bear to put away or let them play video games where they would have to read. Many of the skills - spelling, grammar, and vocabulary - will eventually come naturally to children who read a lot.

I'm going to put down our first choice for a particular skill set and then a couple of alternatives.

Science

Some years we've tried a curriculum-based approach, and other years we've tried interest-based exploration. I must say that for the lower elementary levels, interest-based exploration has worked better for us.

If you would like a more structured approach, you can also pick a few (five or six) topics of interest and acquire study guides for them. Some of the topics we did, were anatomy, birds, and space.

We love getting books on a subject of interest from the library (DK Publishing, National Geographic, Usborne, etc.) and watching documentaries. (Planet Earth, Cosmos, Blue Planet, etc.)

Social Studies

What are social studies, anyway? Well, it depends! Many homeschooling families tackle history on a spiral basis (Ancient times one year, Medieval times next year, and then Early Modern and Modern era), but some years they do geography instead. You can also include psychology and sociology, on a level that would be understandable for children.

The biggest challenge for me is to choose one thing, so that we would not get too overwhelmed, and to ensure that we leave plenty of time for interest-led exploration.

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