Usually, at this point in the summer, I start getting antsy about the school year starting. By mid-July, I’m usually over here trying to figure out how to keep the kids busy, how to keep myself from losing my mind and I’m anxiously counting the days until school starts!
I can’t imagine I’m the only one that feels this way, or am I? 😉
Well, school started this week and I’m so unbelievably excited! This year, it’s for another reason though. Believe it or not, we’ve decided to homeschool ⅗ of our children! That’s right, we are voluntarily keeping three of our five children home during the school year!
The best decision for us? Absolutely!
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What Do I Need to Homeschool My Child?
That was my very first question after deciding to start this new and exciting journey.
I had absolutely no idea where to start.
Why This Homeschool Idea Got Started
Our adventure in homeschooling was born out of necessity. You see, we adopted our 12-year-old daughter out of the foster care system. Needless to say, she comes from a background of severe instability. She’s had a hard life and faced challenges that no child should have to. As a result of the chaotic environment she grew up in, she naturally developed some difficult behavioral issues.
She moved into our home the summer of 2015 and started middle school that fall. We quickly began to realize the severity of her behaviors once she started middle school. Her first year in middle school was a tough one, to say the least, but we made it through thanks to the top notch support we received from the faculty, staff, and administration at the school. Through the following summer we witnessed tremendous improvement in her behavior and were very hopeful that the following school year would play out much better. Unfortunately, that was not the case.
Should I Homeschool my Middle Schooler?
Or, more appropriately, can I homeschool my middle schooler? Those were the questions I was struggling with. By mid-November of 2016, my husband and I realized that while the school was doing its absolute best, our daughter’s behavior was beyond the school’s ability to handle effectively. So, over the Thanksgiving break, my husband and I made the decision to pull her out. While it was a difficult decision to make, it was definitely the right decision.
She was in need of much more structure, discipline and supervision than what the public schools could provide. She tends to thrive when things are very structured and predictable and she definitely needs constant supervision. It was the middle of the school year, and we were a little unprepared and didn’t really know what to expect. We had a rocky start, but things have been progressively getting better.
Homeschooling a High Schooler for the First Time
Around the same time, our son Ryan, who was a sophomore in high school, started insisting that we homeschool him as well. Ryan had no behavior problems at school, he was on the varsity tennis team and had plenty of friends. His grades were good, but we were finding he would come home and spend several hours a day learning how to code and reading his dad’s books on business and physics, instead of doing his homework! He had two advanced classes that he was taking at school and he was doing great in them, and in the rest of his level classes, he was just doing OK.
He, unfortunately, had an undesirable teacher in one of his classes, who dedicated her time in the classroom to putting the students down, and not doing much teaching at all. One day when Ryan had finished taking a test in her class, he pulled out one of his dad’s books and started reading it. At which point, she told him he wasn’t allowed to read after the test, he just had to sit there. (This wasn’t a standardized test, just a regular test). This was extremely frustrating to him, and he just felt like he could thrive in a homeschool setting, where we could tailor his classes to be challenging and interesting at the same time.
We agreed. So, in January, we pulled him out of school as well. We took him to our local community college and he took the test to be able to take dual credit classes. He passed the test, so we enrolled him in some online classes.
Since we had different reasons for taking each of them out, their learning had to be tailored to each one individually. We picked different programs for both based on their needs, goals and learning styles. I’m happy to say that the decision to homeschool turned out to be a good one for both of our kids and they both have been doing far better than they were in the public schools.
Another One Begs to be Homeschooled
When my middle son, Phillip, saw how much his older brother was enjoying being homeschooled and was even taking some online classes at the local college, he insisted that we take him out as well. We told him we’d wait for the school year to finish and we’d make a decision over the summer. Phillip has an unbelievable thirst for knowledge but just wasn’t happy at school.
Both my boys were doing well academically, but both were wanting to learn more than what they were learning at school. I’m not trying to say that they are intellectually gifted, they just both happen to have interests that go beyond what they were being taught.
Well, after giving it much thought we decided to give it a go. Needless to say, he was thrilled when we told him we had decided to homeschool him as well.
Sorting Through All The Choices
I’ve been so surprised at how many choices we have as far as curriculum! It’s overwhelming to do a simple search on homeschool curriculum.
The possibilities are endless!
We’ve done so much research on curriculum and homeschooling in general over the last year. If you know me and Ryan at all you know that when we do something, we go all in! That means hours of research, and getting valuable info from our friends and family that know more on the subject. We are lucky enough to have 3 close friends and family that have been homeschooling for a while and in my eyes are experts in the field! They were gracious enough to put up with our texts and phone calls of countless requests for advice and information. So for that, we thank you, Kim, Andie, and Jennie!! 🙂
This summer we went to an amazing Homeschool Convention right here in our hometown. The convention is put together by the Texas Homeschool Coalition (THSC). Let me tell you, I came out of there feeling like I could rule the homeschool world!! If you’ve ever considered homeschooling, I highly recommend you attend one of these conventions.
Ryan and I had done some research prior to going in, so we wouldn’t feel overwhelmed with all the choices. We were able to get some of the curricula we had decided on as well as make decisions on the ones we were unsure of. While we were there we joined the THSC since they offer some great benefits and perks to members. You can check out their website here.
Prepping For Our First Full-Year of Homeschool
In order to get ready for homeschooling this year, we had to do a lot of preparation. It’s because of this preparation, that I feel so confident going into this school year. I feel we have all the necessary things in place to make it a successful year for all the kids! Oh, and if you’re wondering why we’re not taking out our other two, well, one has special needs services that we don’t feel we can improve on, and my little one, Jacob, is in a fantastic Catholic school where he’s getting exactly the education we want for him. Plus, I don’t want to take on the responsibility of teaching a child how to read and write!!
In any case, back to being prepared.
I thought I’d share with you everything we did in order to prepare for this journey, as well as share the curriculum we chose, and why. I’m hoping this will help make it a little easier for those of you that are considering homeschooling or that are just starting to homeschool. I’m not claiming to be an expert, but like I said, we had lots of support and we really did our homework to find quality programs for our kids.
Getting Our Home Ready for Homeschool
In order to run a successful homeschool, you have to get your home ready. I’m not saying you have to set up a classroom full of posters and boards, but you have to at least create a space where your child can work and be able to focus. We had to create separate areas for our kids to work since they are doing completely different things. We already had desk areas in our boys’ rooms thanks to the beauty of built-ins, so it was easy to clear a space for them to have everything they need available. Both of them are very independent, so I feel more than comfortable letting them do the bulk of their work in their rooms.
As for our daughter, well, she needs a little (and by little I mean a lot) of supervision. We had to have her work area in a place that would be completely visible to us, so we could stay on top of her. We were short on room, so we had to find a solution that wouldn’t take up much space. This desk was it! You can see the whole post on how we put it together. It’s perfectly slim, and the chair doubles up as a storage bin for all her notebooks and supplies! It matches our home decor perfectly, so I was more than willing to put it in our family room.
It’s so important to remain organized for the school year. You need to set up an area where you can have everything you need available. You certainly don’t want to spend half the day looking for things that your child needs in order to do their work. So I recommend having a dedicated cabinet or desk to keep everything related to homeschooling. We’re keeping each child’s things in their own desks, and I have an area of my own where I keep important papers and extra materials. I really feel that being organized is key to having a successful year!
We try to keep our paper usage to a minimum. The kids have notebooks for their classes, but most of their assignments are online. One of my least favorite parts of the end of the school year is throwing away endless amounts of worksheets that came home with the kids. In this day and age, it really isn’t necessary to have so many papers. We will still be using certain workbooks, and notebooks, but we try not to print unnecessary things. And I always keep my shredder handy to quickly get rid of anything we no longer need!
Choosing the Best Curriculum for Each of Our Children
So this is a big one, of course! We talked to our friends who had homeschooled and did lots of research in order to put together the best curriculum for each kid.
Homeschooling our Middle Schooler
With our daughter, we needed something simple, that would allow her to learn to work independently, and would require minimal “teaching” from us. With her, we need to focus on teaching her how to work and how to become a better learner. We wanted to be able to focus on that, instead of teaching her the material.
A Complete Online Homeschool Curriculum
So we chose an online program that does most of the teaching through interactive videos and lessons and takes care of about 90% of the grading. Short answers, essays, projects, and experiments are graded by us. Monarch offers 5 subjects for grades 3-12: Language Arts, Math, Science, History, and Bible. Our daughter works through all 5 subjects each day.
One really great thing about Monarch is that you can choose different levels for different subjects. For example, she does well in Science in Language Arts, but is several years behind in Math. We were able to mix and match grade levels according to where she’s at.
We’ve now been using Monarch for close to a year now and have been very impressed with it. We will continue to use it for the foreseeable future.
Homeschooling our High Schoolers
For my older son, we did a mix of things. He will be taking some more dual credit classes at the college this year, as well as some courses at home. He’ll be taking English, History, and Economics at the college and the rest at home.
Homeschool Math Curriculum for High School
Last year we used Aleks for math and he really enjoyed it. As I mentioned, we started him halfway through the year, so this was a perfect program for him at the time. There’s a lot of practice with Aleks, and he felt he understood some things faster and easier than he did when they had been explained at school. Aleks has a math placement test the child takes, and it works from that point to make sure they complete a “pie” with all the different areas of math for that school year.
We finished out the year with Aleks and were really satisfied with it. It’s a great resource, and I feel it can be used as a supporting program for whatever course your child is taking.
A First-Class Math Teacher Right in Our Home
For this year, we wanted to have access to an actual teacher. My husband did a lot of research and found a great program that got awesome reviews. It’s called Mr. D. Math and offers math for high school, so we could use it for both our boys. We had already decided on using Mr. D. Math before going to the convention, but when we went to the convention, we were lucky enough to meet Mr. D!
Well, after meeting him, we were definitely convinced this was the high school math program we wanted to use! He’s a great man, with a love for math and teaching. He offers courses for high school, as well as an SAT boot camp that I’m looking forward to the boys taking. He also offers extra live help sessions every week for his students. You can take his classes live or self-paced. We chose self-paced Algebra I and Algebra II. You also get a sibling discount if you let them know you will enroll more than one student!
These are all the courses available from Mr. D.:
Now, that we’ve been in classes for a week, I can tell you without a doubt that my kids LOVE Mr. D! They love the method of teaching, and are loving doing Math! They’re loving it so much, they actually both worked a few nights this week, trying to get ahead! That was so surprising to me! One night, my son Phillip came in our room and exclaimed “I just learned a new way to divide! It’s so easy! I’ve been lied to my whole life!” We thought it was hilarious!!
Homeschool Science Curriculum for High School
For science, the boys are using Apologia. We’re doing Physics and Biology. I have a friend that uses it and loves it. I also got to speak to several kids at the convention that use it and they really seem to enjoy it. It’s a creation based science curriculum and I’m looking forward to the boys using it!
We chose the self-paced pre-recorded videos for both our boys. So far, they are both enjoying the videos, and seem to be very interested in the material. For Biology, Apologia has an extra Student Notebook you can purchase. When Phillip first saw it, he was overwhelmed and thought it would be hard. After using it for a week, we think it’s genius!
It’s perfectly organized and leads them through the units meticulously. I’m so glad we got it for him. Unfortunately, they don’t have one for the Physics class. I’m hoping they’ll come out with one soon.
Homeschool English Curriculum for High School
For English, for Phillip, we are using a great program called Total Language Plus. My niece, who is homeschooled, highly recommended it. They have these bright yellow workbooks for all kinds of great literature books. For example, we’re starting out the year reading Around the World in 80 days, and using the workbook that goes with it.
This is a comprehensive language arts homeschool curriculum. The workbook covers grammar, spelling, vocabulary, writing, critical thinking and communication. We are doing 5-6 of these workbooks for the year. We purchased our workbooks from The Center for Home Education.
My son picked the books he wanted to read and he’s so excited to start reading them and working on the workbooks! The books he chose for this year are:
- Around The World in Eighty Days
- The Hiding Place
- The Screwtape Letters
- The Scarlet Pimpernel
- Jane Eyre
- Taking Back Astronomy
- The Ultimate Proof of Creation
Total Language Plus offers materials for kids in 3-12 grade. We even got a couple workbooks for our daughter to use as a supporting activity for her language arts curriculum.
As for Ryan, he is taking his English class in the college, but we still wanted him to do some extra reading. He’s not a huge fan of fiction these days, so we picked these books for him:
- Gravity’s Arc
- The Elegant Universe
- The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World
- How to Win Friends and Influence People
- A Short History of Nearly Everything
- Taking Back Astronomy
- The Ultimate Proof of Creation
Homeschool Geography Curriculum for High School
Finally, we had to decide on a Geography course for Phillip. We were completely undecided when we went to the convention so we made sure to stop by several booths to see our options. One of the booths we came across really caught my attention. It was a program called Visualize World Geography.
When they first started talking about the program, my initial thought was “this is cheesy”. But by the time we were done, my mind was totally made up that this was the program I wanted to use! See, they use mnemonics and silly stories to teach you the locations of countries. So here I was thinking it was cheesy, but by the end of our conversation, I knew where Algeria, Morocco, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique are located when you show me a blank map of Africa. I was impressed! You have to open your mind to the silliness because it works!
My son and I did a sample lesson the other day, and we were both amazed at how we really learned the locations, in a way we’d never forget! The program also has lessons on culture and physical features of each country. So the student gets a full high school geography course.
It really is awesome! It’s perfect for all ages, and I will probably be using it with my other kids as well. Phillip has started the Americas unit and he’s loving it!
I’m secretly hoping to be able to do most of the geography program with him. Maybe I’ll pretend to be cleaning behind him as he’s watching the videos! I would love to know the locations of countries instantly when looking at a map!
Homeschool Electives for High School
As far as electives, the boys are doing piano, art, p.e., and Phillip is trying his hand (or should I say tongue) at Japanese!
For piano, we decided on an online course called Playground Sessions. The boys are enjoying it so much! The program was co-created by music legend Quincy Jones and it got amazing reviews.
So far my kids would agree with those reviews. The boys have worked together on the lessons, which is perfect brother time!
For Phillip’s art classes, we decided on Proko. After much research, we decided this was the way to go. Phillip has been taking his free lessons on YouTube and loves them. The paid course got amazing reviews. Phillip is quite versed in art, but some of his courses are “approachable enough for beginners and detailed enough for advanced artists”. A word of warning: do your research before choosing one of his courses because some of his courses (the Figure Drawing & Anatomy courses specifically) do include nude models and are intended for a more mature audience. For high school students with an avid interest in art, I would suggest his Portrait Drawing Fundamentals course and his Art of Caricature course. He also provides a huge library of free lessons as well.
Finally, for Japanese, we are using Rosetta Stone. We figured it’s a well-known name in language learning, and are hoping it will allow Phillip to achieve his dream of speaking Japanese!
That’s it for curriculum! Phew! That was a lot, but I feel we have some great programs in place for this next school year.
Additional Homeschool Curriculum Support and Resources
After we finished the year with my daughter, we decided she needed some math reinforcement over the summer. She used (and continues to use) Komodo, Reflex Math and Xtra Math, and they’ve all been wonderful! These are great for the kids improving their math facts fluency, and they adapt to their level based on how they’re doing.
Support and Resources for Our Middle Schooler
We make a lot of use of YouTube for learning support. For instance, if our daughter has an experiment to do that we don’t have supplies for, we will look up someone performing the experiment on YouTube. Some of our favorite YouTube channels are:
- Math Antics for additional math support.
- Crash Course Kids for science support.
- It’s Ok To Be Smart
- Life Noggin
- The Bible Project
Other support resources that we use are:
- Kahn Academy primarily for additional math support.
- Reflex Math
- Xtra Math
- Brain Games on Netflix.
BrainPOP looks great and we’ve debated whether to get a subscription but have not yet made a final decision. There are so many great, free resources out there that we haven’t been able to justify the subscription. So, for the time being, we’ll be making due with what we’re currently using.
Support and Resources for Our High Schoolers
Our high schoolers are more independent and self-directed. If they need help with a subject, they will usually look it up online. I know that some of their favorite YouTube channels are:
Setting up Our Homeschool Schedule
Having a schedule for the kids is important. You don’t want to have a schedule that’s too firm nor so detailed that every minute is scheduled out. But you do want to have a schedule. The beauty of homeschooling is the flexibility it offers. So you want your schedule to allow for movement and flexibility.
For our daughter, Monarch lets her know what she needs to get done each day in order to stay on track. Most online programs will do this.
For Ryan, his schedule has to revolve around the college classes he’s taking, since those can’t be changed. But for Phillip, we’re using the same system they use at the local high school. He’ll work for approximately 1.5 hours on each core class, and we’ll separate them into two groups. So he’ll alternate his classes every day. One day he’ll do English, Geography and two electives and the next day he’ll do Science, Math, and two other electives. He helped me come up with his schedule, which for him was important since he always wants to know exactly how everything will go down! Unlike my older one, who just always goes with the flow!
As for me, it’s super important to stay organized. Having one child in public school, one in private and three in homeschool, means I have to make sure I know when anyone has holidays, days off, early releases, conferences, etc. I printed out all the school calendars and took note on my Happy Planner of all of those days for the whole year. My planner will come in handy more than ever this year!! It will keep me on schedule, and I’ll always know what’s going on for each child.
Fun Benefits of Homeschool
More Bonding Time
When our daughter was in school we’d get constant calls asking us to go pick her up. This kept us on edge and in a constant “upsetness” with her. Now that she’s at home, and her behavior is better, we’ve started forming a better relationship with her. We’ve definitely made a huge improvement in this area, and hopefully, things will continue to move forward.
More Time With My Boys
I’m looking forward to the little “extras” this school year will offer. More time with my older boys, which, as they get older, this time is hard to come by! It’s been fun planning with them. I find them coming in my room more often asking me to explain how things will work, and what they’ll be doing, etc.
Visits to the Museums
I’m planning on visiting some local museums during the day with them since I know they would enjoy it. Museums are free on certain days so we’ll make sure and check on that so we don’t miss those days!
Learning Focused Road Trips
Finally, I’m really hoping to take some nice road trips on weekends to complement what they’re learning.
So that’s it! We are ready for this school year! Who knows, in a few years we may be homeschooling all the kids! Yikes!! This coming from someone who on several occasions said she could never homeschool her kids!! Yup, sometimes our plans are not God’s plans, and somehow, His plans always win, and if you allow it, He may pleasantly surprise you!!