Although most homeschoolers will consider a child to be in a certain grade, it is common for a student to be working at many levels other than his actual grade level. For example, a nine-year-old fourth grader might be doing sixth grade math and third grade language arts. In this way, homeschooling offers the wonderful benefit of tailoring a child’s education to his academic needs and strengths, allowing him to take more time in difficult subjects or progress to the next level of a subject that has become too easy, even in the middle of the school year.
Scope and sequence charts, offering a detailed list of what a child typically learns at each grade level, are available in different forms and from a variety of publishers. While these publications can be very helpful as a guide, it is not necessary to follow them exactly. Instead, you might want to consider your children’s school years with broader divisions, such as those below, and use the charts as a place to get ideas and track progress.
Preschool Do’s and Don’ts
If you have had the wonderful privilege of deciding to homeschool before your child reaches school age (maybe even before he was born!), you might be anxious and excited to get started as soon as possible. That’s great! There are many things you can begin doing right now that will lay a strong foundation for your child’s school years.
DO – Pay attention to your preschooler. Get to know his learning styles. (See Curriculum section for more information.) Identify his strengths and weaknesses.
DO – Spend time in the library. Check out books about anything in which your preschooler is interested at the moment. Read aloud as much as possible. Make those books come alive by using voice inflections, pointing out the illustrations, talking about the story, and asking follow-up questions.
DO – Explore and discover with your preschooler. Be “interruptible” enough to look at the cool bug he found. Go for long walks or just sit in the park and talk about what you see. Set an example for observing the world around you.
DO – Begin now to establish discipline. Teach your child how to sit still, be polite, wait, obey, listen, and be quiet at the appropriate times. If discipline is not established early it will not be easily attainable in the older years.
DON’T – Establish a rigorous school schedule for your preschooler.
DON’T – Emphasize reading and writing or sitting at a desk for long periods of time.
DON’T – Expect too much of your preschooler.
Kindergarten: Easy Does It
Kindergarten is not required by Colorado law and not every five-year-old is ready to sit at a desk for even an hour each day. Be sensitive to the needs and abilities of your kindergartner.
If your child is ready and excited to start school, start a very basic phonics program and progress as slowly as needed. Add to this some fun math activities like playing games, sorting and grouping, charting and graphing, and counting. Continue to read aloud regularly remembering to read nonfiction as well as fiction. Don’t overdo it! Kindergarten may take only an hour a day and this hour could be split into smaller segments throughout the day.
If you have a child who has no desire for school, consider waiting to start formal schooling. During this time of waiting, there might be some character traits or behaviors you could work on with him. There is wisdom in asking, “What skills does he need in order to start school?” Work on equipping your child with those skills before starting school.
Whether he is ready for academics or not, one of the best ways to teach a child is to invite him to work alongside you as you go through your day. Cooking, sorting laundry, emptying the dishwasher, and putting toys away can be wonderful educational moments.
First Grade: Laying a Firm Foundation
First grade is a good time to focus on foundational reading and math skills. A good phonics program is a must. It is also a good time to incorporate a manipulative-based math program that thoroughly covers beginning math skills. Handwriting can be started, but only if the child seems ready. Science, history, and geography can be taught using projects, field trips, and library books. Make sure these subjects are taught at an appropriate level. It would be a mistake to expect a first grader to comprehend world history or biology. Instead, choose a few interesting people and events from history to learn about and two or three simple scientific concepts to explore over the course of the year. It is important to instill into a first grader a positive attitude toward learning.
Elementary Grades: Exploration and Discovery
Grades two through five can be exciting years as a student discovers the world. Continue individualized language arts and math studies. Develop a greater emphasis on science, history and geography by using the library and the myriad of resource providers able to supply creative ideas, lesson plans and unit studies which make these subjects come alive for your student.
It is not too early to start learning computer and keyboarding skills. If your child is ready and shows interest, get her started with some educational software.
Junior High: Transition
Junior high students are entering that time between childhood and adulthood. Be especially sensitive to your child’s needs and emotions during this time. Overloading a young teen who is floundering emotionally with a mountain of school work can be disastrous. Equally dangerous is inadequate challenge or too much freedom.
Academically, junior high is a transition to high school. Now is the time to make sure learning “gaps” are filled. Good study and test-taking skills are necessary. Writing skills need to be honed. It is time to start charting a course of study for high school and to make sure your student is going to be ready.
Emotionally, the junior high student needs support, encouragement, and direction. The older student who might be able to work more independently still needs attention, a listening ear, available help, and lots of love.
The decision to continue, or to begin, homeschooling through high school is one that requires serious consideration. Choices involving classes, career goals, college preparation, work, volunteer experience, driver’s training, and social development will all affect your young person’s entrance into adulthood.
Since the essence of home education is individualized instruction, CHEC cannot outline one perfect course of study for your high school student. Deciding upon the best course of study will involve research and multiple decisions. Class choices should be made with consideration of your student’s long-term goals, interests, and abilities.
Once you start homeschooling your high school student, be prepared to follow it through! In the elementary years you may have homeschooled on the theory, “If it doesn’t work out she can go back to public school next year.” That is not necessarily true in high school. The acceptance of homeschool credits has varied from district to district in Colorado (a home-ruled state), and you cannot assume that your local public high school will accept your student’s work without question. The homeschool law was amended in 2000 to require schools to accept homeschool credits, but this law is very new and has not been tried and tested yet. Private schools are usually more accepting of homeschool credits if re-entry into a traditional school becomes necessary.
If homeschooling is begun during the high school years due to a dissatisfaction with the previous school situation, parents may have additional challenges to consider. Social problems can take time to overcome, especially if rebellion is involved. Take whatever time is necessary to address problems with your child’s heart and attitude. Make it your highest priority. Academic problems are more easily addressed when godly attitudes and relationships are restored.
Even if you have homeschooled for many years and feel fairly comfortable with the way you have always done things, ninth grade is still a time to take a deep breath and dive back into the research mode. Start with “A Comprehensive Guide to Home Education in Colorado”, then expand your reading with additional supplemental books and resources. This is the home stretch; plan to finish strong!
Taking a Child Out of School
A child who has been in a traditional school for a period of time is going to have different needs than the one who has been homeschooled exclusively.
The reason you removed your child from a traditional school setting will affect the curriculum choices you make. If you have taken him out of school because he is struggling academically, be careful not to duplicate the curriculum (along with the problems) at home. Carefully evaluate his learning styles and consider a different teaching approach. Consider having him tested or evaluated. Test and evaluation results can be valuable tools in determining a course of study. Each child’s special needs whether developmental disabilities, physical limitations, or giftedness need to be taken carefully into consideration when choosing curriculum and setting up a program.
If you take a child out of school because he is not being challenged academically, beef up his program by bumping him up to his ability level or expanding his work in a favorite subject.
If your child is coming home because of behavioral or social problems, you might need to temporarily back off academically and can concentrate on relationships and character. Meaningful learning cannot take place until your child’s heart is willing and receptive.
No matter what your reasons for bringing your children home, transition from traditional schooling to homeschooling is important. Prayerfully consider: Do you need to take some time off before your official first day? Do you need to ease into homeschooling little by little or start everything at once? Have you taken ample time to communicate with your children why you are doing this, what it is going to look like, and what is expected of them? Have you and your spouse talked through how life is going to be different now? Answering questions like these will help to diffuse some of the stress of taking a child out of school.