Since mentioning a few days ago that my husband and I decided to homeschool our third- and first-grade sons this year, I’ve gotten several questions from readers about how (+where, why and even when) we do school.
Rather than answer everyone individually, I decided to put together this FAQ on our homeschooling choices. Keep in mind three things as you read this:
1. We’ve only been homeschooling since September, so our experiences are hardly “seasoned”. We are definitely figuring this out as we go.
2. There are as many ways to homeschool as there are homeschooling families. Please take what I write here as descriptive, rather than proscriptive.
3. Homeschooling is the right choice for where we are right now. I am sharing what has worked for us – but I certainly don’t think in any way that this is the only answer or the best answer for everyone. (I.e. I don’t judge anyone else’s choices – please extend that same kindness to me.)
Why did you decide to homeschool? Was it a financial decision?
Given the topic of this blog, I guess it’s no surprise that I got asked this question several times. I am not sure that I can put my finger on one specific reason that we decided to homeschool. I think there were three converging factors:
- Homeschooling feels like a better match for our sons’ educational needs. Kansas City has only one Jewish day school option, which is a community school. While no school is perfect (not even homeschool!), we felt that our educational goals for our children — both secular and Judaic — could be better met at home, at least for the time being.
- Homeschooling is a good fit with our “lifestyle” (both my husband and I work from home), and I’ve toyed with the idea for years. I’m sure people were surprised when we said we decided to homeschool, but it didn’t come from “out of the blue” for us.
- Homeschooling is definitely less costly than day school – and with two, soon to be three, children in school, the cost of educating them for twelve years was admittedly daunting. (When I say “cost”, I don’t mean just the annual cost of tuition, but also the opportunity cost – of college savings not able to be funded; retirement savings not able to be maxed out; vacations not able to be taken; etc.)
How long do you plan to homeschool? Is this your long-term plan?
Everyone from our parents to our rabbi to our friends to KOAB readers have asked me this question and I always answer the same way: “I have no long-term plan. We’re taking this one year (one month!) at a time.”
For right now, homeschool is working for us. Will it work when my oldest is in middle school? Will it work when I have all three at home? (My daughter is three years old and goes to preschool five days a week right now.) I don’t know. Life is ever-changing. I’ve learned never to say never — or always.
What are you doing for your children’s secular studies curriculum?
We are fortunate to live in the state of Kansas, where homeschool laws are pretty liberal. (Ironic, because it’s a very conservative state!) You can learn more about your state’s homeschool laws here.
In addition to homeschooling families being able to completely pick their own curriculum in Kansas, we have a few different public school options for homeschool children. We decided to go that route – and enrolled our sons in the Maize Virtual Prep School, which provides all of the secular curriculum – from math to reading to science to geography.
In addition to sending us four HUGE boxes of text books, workbooks, and teacher manuals, Maize also provided laptops for each of our sons, and tons of other resources – like amazing math “manipulatives” and even a year’s worth of graph paper.
Each family is assigned a teacher from the school district, and she helps me evaluate where my kids are at, and how we can better meet their needs. She is also very supportive of adapting the curriculum as needed, which I love.
For example, I’ve started introducing some unit studies on topics I’d like my kids to learn about – or that they want to learn about. If my kids are either behind or above grade level, we can adjust that, too. My first grader, for example, is really strong in math, so we’ve been able to cruise thru most of the first grade curriculum – and will probably start him in second grade math by February.
Despite my constant tinkering, as a first-time homeschooler, I really appreciate having this whole package, from a state-certified school district. It lets me have the autonomy I crave, while giving me the confidence that someone has my “back” – and won’t let me lead my kids astray.
(For those that are going it on their own, I will also note that in the brief research I’ve done into homeschool curriculum, many of those choices — even for secular subjects – are theologically driven (i.e. Christian), which obviously wouldn’t have been a good fit for us.)
What are you doing for your children’s Judaic studies curriculum?
This is another area that is “under construction”: They daven daily with my husband. I work with them on Hebrew reading – fluency and comprehension. We already integrate much of what they need to know (about brachot, Shabbat, chagim, etc.) into our daily lives. And they have tutors for limudei kodesh.
As far as specific resources go: For Hebrew reading, we have been using the Aleph Champ curriculum from Chabad and are very pleased. My third grader was quite behind in his reading fluency, so that was my #1 goal with him this year. I am very pleased to see how far he’s come in just a few months! (My husband and I are both fluent in Hebrew, which definitely is a plus in terms of teaching our sons.)
For kodesh, both of our boys have a tutor. We’re making some changes to our first grader’s routine, but our third grader meets with his rebbe twice a week. I was worried that just two hours wouldn’t be enough, but after seeing this in action, I have been amazed at how much gets done in two hours of concentrated, one-on-one time. He’s definitely making huge strides in his chumash skills.
I also do unit-studies with them on the chagim, and have found that chinuch.org is a huge help for curricular ideas and resources.
Where do you get lesson plan ideas from?
Google has been my friend for finding teaching resources and printables. For secular studies, one of my favorite resources is Teachers Pay Teachers. You can search by topic, and then drill down to grade level and even price (of course, I start with the free options!).
I also read a lot of homeschool and teacher blogs – and get inspiration from Pinterest. (Here’s my “school” board on Pinterest, where I pin my favorite ideas, to keep them all in one place.)
For Judaic studies, again, I recommend chinuch.org. If you have younger children, you may like Mommyz’s Jewish Homeschool Blog for Montessori-inspired parasha and chagim activities.
What is your daily schedule?
Truthfully, our schedule changes daily – so for those of you who were hoping to see a neat and tidy calendar, I’ll have to disappoint you.
Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, I am in charge of their schooling. On Tuesdays, my husband is with the kids all day (while I work). He does Science Tuesdays – and is able to use the third grade curriculum to instruct both boys together.
Each M/W/Th, we start out with a “morning meeting” – usually we do calendar work during that time. Then they do math, English reading, Hebrew reading, handwriting and sometimes social studies/geography or keyboarding (computer skills) with me.
Most of the time, these subjects need to be taught individually – so I go back and forth between them, setting them up for independent work, while I then try to teach the other. My first grader needs more one-on-one instruction than my third grader, but they both still need a lot of individual attention. Balancing this has proven to be challenging to me — and I marvel at moms (and dads) that homeschool even more children at once.
As I mentioned above, I also work on “unit studies” with them together. This week, for example, we’ll be doing work on Tu B’Shevat. Sometimes the unit studies are Judaic, other times they are secular. We did a three-week unit on American politics leading up to the Presidential election. The unit studies are taught to both of them, together, with individual assignments to their ability, as appropriate.
Fridays are our catch-all day. If there are lessons we didn’t get to during the rest of the week, we do those on Fridays. But often we go “out” to have school – our favorite spots being Starbucks or the public library. We all enjoy this change of scenery! We occasionally do field trips on Fridays, or special projects. Some Fridays are “life skills” days – aka, helping mom in the kitchen get ready for Shabbat. I throw in some lessons about fractions (measuring) and elapsed time (if we put the challah in at 1:15 pm and take it out at 1:40 pm, how long did it bake for?).
What extra-curricular activities do your kids do?
When our kids were in dayschool, I had a strict “one activity per child” rule. I didn’t want to spend the three hours we had together each evening driving around like a crazy person.
Now that they are home with me, we’ve (significantly) relaxed that rule!
Once a week, they have a one-hour art workshop with a friend of mine who is an artist and can integrate Judaics in their art studies as well. (This is wonderful for me to get a break, and great for the kids as well to be instructed by someone other than mom or dad.)
In the early evenings, they take Tae Kwon Do twice a week (my first grader has been taking it for three years and is a brown belt!) and have basketball practice or games three times a week. Our kids really love sports – and I’m happy for them to have the work-out while being with their friends.
This year, we want to introduce some music studies, too. My third grader got a guitar from his grandparents for Chanukah, so we are starting lessons this month. For my first grader, we have a piano at home, and I’m looking for a teacher for him.
How much time do you spend homeschooling every day?
It’s hard to say exactly how much time we are schooling, since at home – anything can be “school”.
At a traditional school, you know your child is there for, let’s say, eight hours. But are they “learning” all eight hours? Of course not. There’s lunch and recess and library and waiting-for-everyone-to-be-quiet-so-we-can-start.
I’d say that I do three to four hours of formal academic instruction with my boys most days. (Fridays are a bit less structured, as I said above.) I don’t count their time with their Judaics tutors – since that time is “outsourced”. I don’t count art, music or athletics in that either. The three to four hours is strictly time that we spend in our school room on the “core” curriculum. There are no “filler” activities in that time, so I suspect their quality academic time is comparable to what they were getting in school.
Do you school year-round? When do you take vacations?
I love the flexibility that homeschool provides in terms of our schedule. We haven’t hammered down our summer schedule exactly, but I think we will school thru the end of June and then take July off. I plan to take most of September off for the chagim, so we may try to get a jump-start on school in August.
Homeschooling has really driven home the message for me that we, as parents, are always educating our children. There are always opportunities to learn and grow and teach – and we don’t have to be in a museum (or a classroom) to do that!
Don’t you worry about “socialization”?
Ah, the socialization question.
The short answer is no, I don’t worry. Our kids were in school until last May and have lots of friends that they are still in touch with regularly. They see them at basketball practice, at Tae Kwon Do practice, and at playdates.
In addition, we are part of a very tight-knit community and they see their friends every Shabbat at shul – and we are often together with these families for meals.
When my kids ask for a playdate, I honor their request as often as I am able. But no, I definitely don’t think homeschooling is hampering their social skills in any way.
Plus, I think it has done wonders for our family-ization. They still fight, don’t get me wrong, but my sons’ relationship is much stronger and they have learned to turn to each for comradarie. I also love seeing them include their three year-old sister in their play more and more, as well.
What’s your homeschool set-up like?
We had a small guest room in our basement, which we have converted into our school room. I know plenty of homeschool families do homeschool at their kitchen table, and we often do lessons there as well. But I really felt like I wanted / needed a dedicated space.
I find that being there puts all of us into the “school” frame of mind – and it helps me keep everything organized. (In fact, I’ve had to put a lock on the door, as my three year-old more than once helped herself to all of the supplies and created some mural masterpieces. On the walls.)
My friends in real life will attest to the fact that I LOVE our school room. It’s my favorite space in our house and makes me smile whenever I walk in there.
I’ll do another post soon with some photos of our school room and show you how we set it up – on a budget of course.