Build a Better Homeschool With These Educator Insights
If you’re new to homeschooling or just feeling stuck in a rut with your current at-home education plan – fear not, educators on Outschool are here to help. We asked four educators who teach online classes for learners ages 3-18 and homeschool their own children to weigh in on common questions and dilemmas.
Read on to what you can do to find the right curriculum for your family, address the stress of unfamiliar teaching subjects, and support different learning styles at home.
Meet the educators
Martha is a former public school teacher (certified in English, grades 6-12) and a current homeschool mom. She’s been homeschooling her own four kids (including twins) for the past eight years and offers a variety of ELA classes on Outschool designed for middle and high school homeschoolers.
Darby teaches social studies classes to middle and high school learners on Outschool, and she has 11 years of experience homeschooling her own children. She also teaches in-person classes for homeschooled students through a non-profit organization in her area.
Katie Fallon deFur
Katie is a certified math teacher who believes that people learn best when they can find a personal connection to the topic they’re studying. She’s also a homeschooling parent, and her farm animals are known to make an occasional appearance in her Outschool classes.
Meagan is a homeschool mom of three who teaches baking, cooking, and book club classes on Outschool. She has a background in corporate training and enjoys teaching in-person at her local homeschool co-op.
What should parents know before deciding to homeschool?
Katie Fallon says it’s helpful to start by asking yourself, “Why is my current schooling plan not working, and how can it be changed?” Answering this simple question can help you set goals for your education plan and more easily wade through the many homeschool options out there.
In the end, choosing to homeschool is a personal decision that you and your family need to come to together. Our educators emphasized the importance of recognizing that homeschool doesn’t mean the same thing to every family, and how your kids learn may look different than how your neighbor's child learns.
“Deciding to homeschool isn’t a one-size-fits-all decision or a forever decision. It’s fine to try it for a semester or a year, and then reevaluate. If it doesn’t work for you or your family, then switch it up. It also might not work for all of your children. Some kids in a family might really thrive being homeschooled, and some might not. You don’t have to make the same decision for every child.”
“You are not locked into a specific curriculum or idea. You could even change mid-year if you wanted to. I was overwhelmed with all the choices and options in the beginning. I just picked something, just to get going, and we have changed [curriculum] several times over the years … Depending on where you live, you may have more leeway in what you choose to teach each year. If you are following state standards on the chance you want to return to public school, you can follow along with the standards and create different units as you would like to.”
Several educators emphasized that homeschool doesn’t need to look like school at home. While students in brick-and-mortar schools may follow a certain daily schedule or learn in a specific environment, homeschool gives your family the freedom to decide what a school day looks like.
“I think one of the most important things to remember when a family chooses to homeschool is that they don't have to recreate traditional school at home. Homeschooling can take so many wonderful forms, and being open to that can reduce the pressure and anxiety that a lot of parents experience at the outset.”
“Do you need a Pinterest-worthy school room? Absolutely not! Many new homeschoolers are full of gusto and set one up, then within months, they find it never gets used. Kids tend to lay on the living room floor, gather around the dining room table, flop on the sofa, and change it up constantly … School becomes integrated with life. Learning can happen anytime, anywhere.”
One of the biggest advantages of homeschooling according to these educators is the ability to be flexible and accommodate changes to your family’s lifestyle, interests, or schedule. You don’t have to stick with the first (or second, or third) homeschool curriculum you choose.
“Don’t buy an expensive curriculum on day one … Start off with some unit studies, online classes, or some inexpensive workbooks to get a feel for how your kids operate. Eventually, you’ll have more experience under your belt and can make a more informed decision about what would work best.”
“It's OK, and normal, for something to not work for your kid or your family. And it's OK to dump [a curriculum] in the middle, sell it to someone who wants it, and start over. Homeschooling is about choosing to step outside the lines, and sometimes that means giving yourself permission to admit that something didn't work well.”
Captivate kids’ interests with learner-led instruction
When it comes to how parents can keep their homeschool learners engaged in school lessons, educators recommend focusing on what your kids are passionate about (see also: unschooling).
“One way to make home instruction engaging is to pay attention to what your children enjoy. Do they love Legos? Let them build the pyramids. Do they enjoy cooking? Find a recipe from the time period in a book you’re reading and make it together. Pinterest, YouTube, and of course Outschool are your friends here. Don’t feel pressured to reinvent the wheel, and don’t feel like everything has to be interactive and highly engaging.”
“Recently a parent said to me, ‘If I let her have her way, all we’d study is horses!’ OK, well let’s examine that, shall we? What are the origins of horses being utilized in battle? How are horses utilized today on farmland? Let’s take a look back to when horses were the main form of transportation. What sort of care do horses require? What breeds of horses are there? Oh, wow, look! Some are larger than others. How much larger is an XX horse versus a YY horse? Would it be possible to complete a shadow day with an equine veterinarian? Is there a horse rescue nearby that accepts volunteers? All of this organic exploration will result in [learning about] science, math, social interaction, we’ll find a place to squeak some writing in there 😉, reading … and so much more.”
“It's important to realize that there are lots of ways to learn that don't involve a purchased curriculum. Cooking, hiking, field trips, watching movies, and reading books are all ways that learning happens and are just as legitimate as any purchased curriculum. Pursue a passion as a way of learning! You will be amazed at how much a student learns and retains when they are pursuing something they feel passionate about.”
In addition to finding subject areas that light up your learners, noticing how your children like to learn can help you design and deliver lessons that hit home.
“I think paying attention to your learner is key. What do they enjoy? Reading, writing, art, building, playing outside? Those things will give you big clues. If you tell them something, do they remember it? Are they more likely to remember something if they’re jumping around when they hear it, or if they watch a YouTube video explaining it? Those cues from your child will help you determine the best way to teach them.”
“Pay attention to what works and what doesn't work, and change things whenever needed. For example … instead of reading a book on electricity, you could watch a documentary on electricity, or go to the science center. If a learner struggles with writing, they can type their work. Some learners are active, so you can allow them to be active while learning. A learner does not need to sit upright in a proper chair at a table to learn. My son liked to read books upside down on the couch with his feet up in the air! It looked silly, but he learned the material. I taught a learner [on Outschool] that took class on a trampoline. The learner answered all the questions correctly, so go with whatever works best for them!”
Use local or online resources for challenging teaching subjects
One of the most daunting things about homeschooling for a parent can be the prospect of teaching a topic that you may not feel comfortable instructing. This is completely normal and you’re not alone! Luckily, there are plenty of resources available to help share the workload; you don’t need to be an expert in all things to homeschool.
“One of the biggest pain points for parents becoming home educators seems to be feeling out of their league when it comes to teaching certain subjects, especially as students head into middle and high school. To that I’d say, first, take a deep breath. You can do this! Take it one day at a time, buy and use the curriculum that works best for your family, and outsource when you need to. Think of yourself more as a facilitator rather than as a teacher here. My own kids take Outschool classes in subjects that I’m not strong in, and I love seeing their confidence and passion grow in those subjects. As a teacher, I really enjoy igniting a passion for reading and writing in learners, and taking that off the plate of their parents.”
“One of the scariest parts of homeschooling is approaching a subject that you don't know much about or that you struggled with in school. The good news is that there are so many options out there for non-traditional education that you can find an expert in a subject to help your student. Always be willing to look for help.”
In addition to online classes taught by experienced educators, local homeschool groups can be an incredible resource for finding new learning opportunities, asking questions, and learning about local events or classes geared towards homeschoolers.
Find what style of homeschool works for you
As you explore different schooling styles, remember to give yourself room to try new things, make mistakes, and ask for help when you need it.
“Homeschooling is a journey and it looks different for everyone. Some families follow a strict schedule, some stay in pajamas all day and start whenever they wake up. Some families follow specific curriculum guidelines, much like a public school, others piece together library books, YouTube videos, and student interests. There’s no specific right or wrong way to homeschool. And of course, Outschool has classes and teachers for all types of learners and all types of homeschool philosophies.”
Explore over 140,000 classes that complement every schooling style on Outschool.