If you are new to homeschooling, the responsibility can seem overwhelming, and you may be a bit nervous about it. It’s really not that hard. You’ve gotten the kids this far, and you’ve already taught them a lot of things without thinking twice about it — stuff like bathing, brushing their teeth, tying their shoes, how to use crayons or markers, etc. You succeeded in potty training them, didn’t you? Hey, you are already a great teacher! You can do this!
But maybe you are unsure about what to teach. Of course, there are the basics — math, science, language arts (which is made up of reading and writing, basically), and social studies (history, geography, cultural studies — not all necessarily taught in the same year).
Many states have a requirement that you teach health. You don’t need a textbook or a special class time for this. You can use what Ruth Beechick called the “total immersion method” — which is a fancy way of saying you teach it on the fly, as needed. When they’ve got an owie, teach first aid. Talk about what to do to get better when they are sick, and what not to do, so they won’t get sick. Teach them the four basic food groups or the food pyramid, or however you want to instruct in healthy eating, as you prepare meals together. It’s all just common sense knowledge that you would probably pass along to them at appropriate ages anyway.
What about art, music, and physical education? These are not generally state-required subjects, so you can relax and just have fun with them. For art in the younger grades, you can simply provide the materials and let the children explore as they choose. Get each of them a sketch book and encourage them to use various art media to fill its pages. One of our children had a talent for drawing. We initially bought a few simple how-to books for her to practice with, but eventually she took art classes from a professional artist in our area.
Farm out music education, if you are not a musician yourself. (And yes, you can count those outside lessons as school time!) Sing songs together. Listen to classical music on your public radio station or YouTube. If you are a Christian, worship together using worship music found on YouTube or at other music sources.
Have Dad teach the kids to play basketball or baseball. Go hiking at a local park. Ride bikes or go walking together. Take advantage of your community recreation department or YMCA for sports or swimming lessons. It all counts as phys. ed. and if you do it on the weekends just because you are having a good time together, you can still count it toward school hours accomplished.
Art, music, and phys. ed. do not each need to be done every day of the week. Get a little exercise several days a week, and do the art or music once or twice a week.
If you are a Christian, a Bible course is just as important (really, more important) as all the other core subjects. You can use a course from a curriculum publisher, but there may be times when you will need to discuss areas of doctrine which don’t agree with what you believe. We used a prepared curriculum which came from our denomination for our first child, but with our second, we simply read the Bible aloud together and stopped to talk about what we were reading along the way. I really liked the second approach much better than using a canned curriculum, and I think our daughter learned just as much. We also used Character Building for Families (which I wrote, and am therefore fond of) to teach Christ-like character to our girls. It worked for us — maybe you would like it too!
So those are the basic classes.
What about record-keeping? Requirements vary from state to state, but for your own sanity, keep it as simple as possible. Save the work the children do in their core classes as proof, in case authorities ever question whether you are legitimately teaching the children. Keep a copy of whatever forms you filed with your state department of public education.
If you are required by your state to homeschool a minimum number of hours annually, divide that number of hours by 180 days (for a 9-month school year) to find out how many hours you should put in per day, on average. Keep a record of what days your school was in session, and for how many hours each day. I did that by simply recording the starting and ending time of each day on an ordinary wall calendar.
I also kept track of any hours we spent over the summer doing educational things. Count those camping excursions, summer recreational activities, vacation visits to away-from-home places, or anything which could qualify as a field trip, and add the hours spent doing them into your next school year’s hours. You would be surprised how much legitimate learning goes on over the summer months.