It’s almost dinnertime. I take a quick stretch break from my work and walk out to the kitchen in our condo by the beach. My husband is chopping veggies to put into a soup while our youngest plays with her Peppa Pig toys on the living room rug. Our younger son is curled up on the couch reading his latest Bad Guys book, while big brother is on his laptop at the dining table, listening intently to a YouTube video about space travel. Our older daughter calls me over to show off her latest computer programming project, an image of a smartphone with various apps.
“I’m going to make them actually work!” She proudly exclaims.
When we set out on our family gap year, one of the biggest things we had to consider was how it would affect our kids. We knew they’d love the travel and adventure, but we had to make sure their education wasn’t neglected. We took a deep breath and dove headfirst into a brand-new journey: Homeschooling!
Guess what we found out. Homeschool can be EASY! It can be SIMPLE! It can be – wait for it – FUN!
Don’t get me wrong, the kids work hard. We have good days and bad days. But homeschool doesn’t have to be complicated, and today we are going to share all of our best tips to help you start your homeschool journey off on the right foot!
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First, a little backstory…
When we started our travels in September 2018, our kids were 10, 7, 5, and 2. The three oldest were entering 5th grade, 2nd grade, and Kindergarten. Now it’s December 2019, and the kids are 11, 8, 6, and 3. The three oldest are halfway through 6th, 3rd, and 1st grade. We’ve been homeschooling for a year and a half, with plans to go for about another full year.
The year before we started traveling, our two oldest children were in accelerated classes at a great charter school, and our younger son was due to join them. It wasn’t an easy decision to pull them out of a school we adored, but the big wide world was calling us, and we knew they could get an education on the road unlike they could ever get in a classroom.
Plus, since our kids were in accelerated classes, they were basically doing the work of the grade above them, so we didn’t have to stress about them falling behind for any reason. What we didn’t realize was that with the 1-on-1 (or at least 1-on-4) attention they could get at home, they would be able to skyrocket past all expectations of their grade level. As a 5th grader, our son was doing high school chemistry; our 2nd-grade daughter was reading The Hobbit.
Meanwhile, we were exploring caverns in the southwest, digging for clams in the PNW, witnessing a sea turtle release on the Gulf shore, hiking the Appalachian Trail, touring the White House, navigating the NYC subway system, and so many more fun adventures!
We taught the kids how to budget for, meal plan, and cook basic meals. They learned how to clean, do laundry, and care for younger kids. They played chess, coded their own video games, and designed a live escape room. They learned to read and write music and play an instrument.
Related: Teaching Life Skills in Homeschool
Since I work full-time during the day, my husband has been taking point on homeschooling; and he’s doing awesome! So awesome that I begged him to write up some tips. Whether you’re thinking about homeschooling because of travel plans, issues with your local school, health considerations, or any reason at all- these tips can work for you!
Okay, I’m going to pass you off to my husband, Daniel, to share all of his homeschooling secrets! This is the post to read if you’re ready to get started homeschooling. We have a whole series of posts planned to go into more detail on all these tips, tools, and more!
Easy homeschool: How to get started
We take a simple approach to homeschooling- no complex curriculum system, no lesson planning, no major purchases to make- just a bit of organization and guidance! And our kids are flourishing academically. They are smarties, no doubt, but they are also excited about learning, motivated, and very independent.
State homeschool requirements
When you decide to homeschool, the first thing you need to do is look up your state’s legal requirements. In Arizona, we just had to fill out an affidavit for each school-age child, stating our intent to homeschool, get it notarized, and turn it in to the County School Superintendent office. They require the teaching of core subjects: reading, grammar, math, social studies, and science and recommend that records are kept. Lastly, we would need to submit a letter of termination if we decided to stop homeschooling. Other states may have more in-depth tasks, and you may need to complete them if you move to a new state.
National & state education standards
Next, spend a little time looking at the national and state standards for each grade and read up on what is generally learned at different stages. You don’t have to follow these standards and guidelines to the letter, but it’s good to have a frame of reference for what kinds of things your kids should be learning in each grade.
Our top tips for easy homeschooling
While we started this year with plenty of ideas (both Megan and I have spent time as classroom teachers) we’ve really refined our process along the way. Here are eight tips, tricks, and hacks for homeschooling parents!
1. Do what works for you
One of the main advantages of homeschooling is the fact that it can be personalized. Every learner has individual strengths, weaknesses, and ways that they’ll be more successful.
And guess what? Teachers are the same! You can experiment with different approaches and routines and figure out what works for you and your kids. Keep experimenting as you fine-tune your homeschooling methods and leave the one-size-fits-all approach for the traditional classroom.
2. Switch it up
Even as a classroom teacher, I knew that using the same routines, day in and day out, month in and month out, would result in bored students. In addition, it’s important to always be trying to improve, which requires you to change your approach from time to time.
We have days where we do a dozen subjects for a short time each, days where we intensely focus on one thing for hours, and lazy days where we do almost nothing! Variety is the spice of life!
3. Expect some ups and downs
My wife has always told me that this is a failing of mine, but it is very easy for me to take things personally and get down when things don’t go so well. It’s hard to see the good when you feel like things are going poorly, but it’s important to remember that there are ups and downs to everything we do in life.
Enjoy the good days when they come, and don’t take the bad days to heart. Tomorrow is another day!
4. Enlist the kids to help teach one another
One of the disadvantages of homeschooling is that you’ll often have multiple students at wildly different educational levels, all learning together. You can turn this liability into an asset by having them help one another!
I can ask my oldest son to help his younger sister with her math, I can ask her to help her younger brother with his writing, and everyone can take turns reading to the youngest! Nothing helps you solidify a concept in your mind as teaching it to someone else. Your children are teaching, learning, and taking some of the load off you, all at the same time. It’s a win-win-win!
5. Embrace the screen
I am often struck by the amazing technologies that make our travels possible. Airbnb, Google Maps, working from home—these kinds of tools make possible a lifestyle that didn’t exist ten or even five years ago. Homeschooling is no exception!
I know that screen time is a hot-button issue for many parents, but if you’re not utilizing digital tools, you’re really depriving yourself! There are so many online tools for homeschooling parents, it’s mindboggling. Khan Academy, Duolingo, Google Docs—the list goes on.
Khan Academy alone has self-paced courses in math, science, history, civics, grammar, and more. We’ve even used video games like RPG Maker as a tool for learning programming and design. If you haven’t already, it might be time to give the screen a second look!
6. Use non-screen tools, too
We love the Brain Quest books as a simple, all-inclusive workbook. There are sections on math, science, reading, and many more subjects, all in one easy-to-use book. And there are books for every grade level, so it’s as simple as picking one up.
There are a lot of other great workbooks out there as well, taking away the pressure of coming up with curriculum. In addition to general workbooks, we also bought music books and handwriting books. And lots of reading books!
You can find some of the products we recommend and use for homeschooling at my Homeschooling Made Easy Amazon Store!
Don’t forget the library! If you’re town-hopping like us, you might not be able to check books out, but you can always go there to read, and be sure to check out the local library’s calendar of events. They usually have great programs for kids!
7. Use a school tracker
One of my favorite discoveries as a homeschooling parent has been to use what we call a “School Tracker.”
One of the things I struggled with early on was always coming up with what to do next for each child. They’d finish an assignment and ask me what they needed to do next (not-so-secretly hoping that I’d declare the day over). Being put on the spot over and over every day was exhausting.
To deal with this, I created a shared Google Sheet to track each child’s progress. The sheet can be viewed and edited by all of us and lists the assignments they are expected to work through each day. At any point, I can look through the sheet and see what they are working on, or track what they completed on any previous day. It’s such a great tool that it probably deserves its own post, so stay tuned! It’s been a real game-changer!
8. Use your environment
When we first started, my wife planned out some homeschool units based on where we’d be in our travels. For the Pacific Northwest, she planned units on Orca whales, the Cold War, the Oregon Trail, and the 1990s. We didn’t keep up with planning overall units, but we did continue to use our environment to educate beyond the classroom.
We planned a field trip day to Friday Harbor where we visited the Whale Museum and then spotted porpoises playing in the water. We went clamming at the beach and learned how to cook them. We visited an air raid tower in Seattle that still stands- a relic from the Cold War. In Portland, we visited the Oregon Trail Museum. When we visited Washington DC, we taught the kids about government. When we visited Harper’s Ferry, a town in West Virginia, we learned about how it changed sides eight times during the Civil War! We learned about the battle of the Alamo…AT THE ALAMO.
It worked better for us to work on school subjects without a specific theme when it was a day of doing schoolwork at home and then to go on field trips and explore the history and culture around us firsthand.
You can also use the time of year to direct learning, including fun holidays. On Root Beer Float Day, the kids put together a Google Slides presentation on the history of the root beer float, and then we made some and drank them!
In other words, you don’t have to plan everything out, and you also don’t have to be completely unstructured. Embrace a combination of the two!
Yes, you can homeschool!
In this day and age, we put too much pressure on ourselves to always be perfect, to always be up-to-date, to always be the absolute best. When our reality doesn’t live up to our imagined perfect life, we’re often too hard on ourselves.
I have always believed that if a parent truly loves their child then that love will shine through, despite any shortcomings the parent might have or mistakes they might make. The same principle applies to homeschooling. If you are genuinely trying to educate your child and do what’s best for them, they’ll take that love of learning with them, even if you’re not a perfect teacher.
So what do you think? Are you ready to go for it?
I hope these tips have been helpful. Please feel free to leave a comment or send an email if you have any questions for us! If you have tips of your own, feel free to share!
And the very best of luck on your homeschool journey. It’s gonna be great!