Masks, social distancing, online classes and scheduling conflicts have led many parents to consider homeschooling for the 2020-2021 school year.
The good news for Missouri residents is the state’s homeschool law allows parents the freedom and flexibility to homeschool in the way that best meets the needs of their children.
Here are five easy steps to get you started on your journey:
First and foremost, are you actually homeschooling? Homeschooling is not “school at home,” where kids are enrolled in an online program like Launch or public school Zoom classes. In those situations, children must still fulfill their school’s requirements. By contrast, homeschooling parents assume total responsibility for educating their children.
To begin homeschooling, parents with students previously enrolled in public school must send a formal withdrawal letter notifying the school of their intent to homeschool. However, if you’ve just moved to Missouri or your child has never been enrolled in a Missouri public school, you don’t need to notify anyone.
Begin by following the Missouri statute, which requires logging a minimum of 1,000 hours of instruction between July 1 and June 30 of the following year. During that time, at least 600 hours of instruction must be in core subjects of reading, language arts, math, science and social studies— 400 hours of which must happen at the designated homeschool location. The remaining 400 hours are often devoted to PE, art, music, foreign language, religion, etc. and may happen away from your home or “off campus.”
The complete Missouri homeschool statute and a sample withdrawal letter are both available at Families for Home Education (fhe-mo.org). You may also want to consider membership in the Home School Legal Defense Association (hslda.org), a nationwide homeschool advocacy group.
First time homeschoolers often want to jump in and get started, but the most crucial next step is establishing a routine.
Talk to your family and get buy-in from your kids. Discuss bedtimes and wake-up routines. Do you want to school five days a week or seven or three? Maybe parent work schedules make it more convenient to school on nights and weekends?
Keep activities and downtime in mind, too. Establishing a routine means scheduling time for sports practices, church activities, piano lessons, scouting or 4-H. Making time for those activities is important because they’re now your school’s extracurricular activities. Factor in daily quiet time where kids can nap, read or play quietly. And remember to schedule in vacation days, so you’ll have something to look forward to.
However you decide to organize your family’s homeschool routine, understand that there’s no one right way to homeschool, only the way that works best for your family.
Homeschooling is truly an educational odyssey, and the journey is more fun (and easier!) when you “find your people” with homeschool groups. Connecting with other homeschoolers means friends, play groups and activities to participate in. Homeschool kids often put less emphasis on having friends their own age and are apt to have older and younger peers, and they’re very accepting of kids with different interests and backgrounds.
Homeschool groups are important for parents, too. Whether they’re virtual or in-person, homeschool groups provide a community of support and encouragement. This is especially true when hit with the inevitable challenges of life. A new baby? Prolonged illness or death in the family? Special needs children? Homeschooling only one? Hop online and ask a question, because there’s almost always someone who has been there and done that.
Search for homeschool groups on social media, or here in Mid-Missouri, check out the Jefferson City Home Educators (jeffersoncityhomeschoolers.info).
In Missouri, parents have sole discretion as to what to teach so long as it meets the guidelines set forth in Missouri’s homeschool law. So the question is: what should you look for in a curriculum?
Do you want to call all the shots with an eclectic or unschooled/child-led approach to learning? Or do you prefer a structured approach with all the lesson plans laid out for you? Religious or secular? Whatever your answer, there’s a curriculum out there for you.
Talk to other parents about the curriculum they’ve used and loved (or hated). Ask if they have used curriculum for sale. I’ve yet to meet a veteran homeschool parent who doesn’t have a storage closet filled with books, DVDs and educational games.
Whatever you decide, remember to work with your children, not against them. Young children need more wiggle time and learn best through play. And it’s okay to get to November and change the curriculum completely if what you’ve chosen isn’t working the way you like.
There’s an old riddle that goes, How do you eat a literal mountain made of ice cream? The answer, of course, is one bite at a time. Kids don’t need to — and they won’t — learn everything in one day, week, month, year or even in 12 years of school after that.
Keep yourself grounded by asking questions like, is it more important for them to learn to recognize 100 words by the first of November or nurture a love of reading? Should I work hard so I can be sure my children won’t fail, or should I teach them to understand failure is part and parcel of the road to success?
When all is said and done, perhaps the most important things you can do as a homeschool parent are things like helping your kids build emotional resilience, crafting a love of learning that will stay with them all their lives. And most wonderful of all, you’ll be right there beside them, exploring and learning new things yourself, fostering your family’s growth and strengthening your familial bonds.
Gina Prosch is a writer, homeschool parent and entrepreneur who lives in Central Missouri. Prosch works as a life coach for homeschool parents, and you can find her online at thehomeschoolway.com. She also co-hosts The OnlySchoolers Podcast, which is available on all major podcast platforms. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.