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Make Homeschooling Work For You

Tips to Avoid Taking on More Than You Can Handle

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Girl studying at home with her mother
ONOKY - Eric Audras/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

Taking on the task of homeschooling can mean big changes, no matter how you go about it. And families who want to homeschool have made it work in almost every circumstance imaginable.

Before you turn your life upside down, however, it's helpful to ask yourself some questions. As you consider the different homeschooling styles you can use, you'll want to keep your child's personality and learning style in mind.

You also need to consider your own strengths and preferences -- as well as your limitations. Coming up with a realistic plan is the first step towards happier homeschooling for everyone in your family.

Here are some things to think about:

How much structure feels right to you?

If you're the kind of person who likes knowing what to expect every day, or if your kids function better when they've got a regular schedule, then a structured homeschool style may be your best choice. This can mean going with a school-at-home approach that uses texts, workbooks, and regular exams.

On the other hand, if you enjoy being spontaneous and the idea of following someone's else's directions sounds stifling, then an Unschooling approach may work for you. This leaves you free to seek out your own research materials, community resources, and opportunities for hands-on exploration whenever a new topic catches someone's interest.

And if you like a certain degree of flexibility but still want your kids to learn about particular topics, then an Eclectic philosophy might be what you need.

How much planning do you want to do?

Maybe you want structure, but don't have the confidence or the desire to plan your child's school year yourself. For you, an all-in-one curriculum -- real or virtual -- might meet your needs. If you'd like some ability to customize the year's curriculum, you can also go with individual texts and workbooks from one publisher, or pick and choose from different series for each subject.

Or perhaps you'd rather stay away from texts and workbooks altogether and draw up your own "scope and sequence" outline of what to cover and when. Or even follow your child's lead in selecting what to include in an ongoing, adaptable process.

If that's your goal, be prepared to spend a lot of time and effort gathering a variety of resources such as picture books, nonfiction, reference volumes, novels, movies, music, theater, art, hands-on materials, and websites. The payoff is a learning environment tailor-made for you and your child.

How much of the teaching can you handle yourself?

It's possible to be your child's only teacher, but at one time or another most parents share that responsibility with others. You have lot of options for supplementing your child's at-home learning, including homeschooling coops, private tutors, online classes and tutorials, and afterschool enrichment programs.

Of course, as kids get older, they can often take charge of some or all of their own learning. Help tweens and teens build self-reliance with materials designed for self-teaching, or task them with finding their own outside teachers or mentors. Even younger kids will get satisfaction out of keeping track of their own work, or helping younger siblings. Learning to take responsibility for their own education is just one of the benefits kids get from homeschooling.

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