The 2021-22 school year will welcome quite a few new homeschoolers. With the COVID-19 pandemic still very much a part of our lives, and school districts battling governments over mask mandates and vaccinations, so many parents have said to themselves: “You know what? I’m done with all of this uncertainty and chaos. I’m taking control.” And those parents should be applauded, because they’re exercising their fundamental right to educate their child as they see fit.
And while the decision to homeschool may have been made with plenty of confidence, it’s entirely understandable (and normal!) for parents to feel apprehensive, nervous, and a little bit anxious to start their homeschooling journeys. That’s why Bridgeway Academy CEO Jessica Parnell–a longtime homeschooler herself–is sharing her top six tips and strategies to help homeschoolers (both new and experienced) ease into the new school year.
“Many parents are nervous, but what’s beautiful about home educating–especially when you have a partner alongside you, is that there are so many resources at your fingertips,” Jessica says.
And with those words of wisdom, let’s look at Jessica’s top six tips and strategies for homeschooling!
- Know the Law! Jessica’s #1 tip is to know the law in your country or state. Homeschooling is legal in every state, though some have stricter rules and regulations than others. So, it’s crucial to know the law and then follow it because then your rights and freedoms are protected.
“I remember when I started homeschooling here in Pennsylvania, which is one of the more strict states when it comes to home education,” recalls Jessica. “The law protected me because, if I followed it, the district couldn’t complain.”
Mike Donnelly, senior counsel with the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), adds, “There are some states where there’s very little regulation by way of notification or assessment requirements. But most states do have some kind of paperwork requirements.”
He recommends visiting hslda.org/legal, where you can click on your state and find helpful videos from the organization’s attorneys on how to comply with your state’s home education laws. Also on the website are forms and other resources specifically tailored for the requirements of your state so that you understand the law and comply with it.
- Define Your Purpose. Everyone has a slightly different purpose in mind when it comes to why they homeschool their children. The important thing is to keep your sights set on that purpose, especially on days where homeschooling has completely exhausted you. But when you have that purpose defined, Jessica says, neuroscience helps pave the way for you to achieve your goals.
“There’s actually a lot of information in the neuroscience that shows that when you set a purpose and when you set a goal, you will naturally continue to pursue that goal without consciously doing it, because our brains are wired for that,” explains Jessica.
Some homeschoolers are intent on getting their child into the best college in the country; others might be more focused on building character in their children. It could even be something as straightforward as making sure your kids catch up after a trying academic year, so they’re back on track.
Whatever it is, “if you can get that deep-seated purpose defined, I encourage you to write it down,” advises Jessica, “because it’s something that you can always come back to.”
Also important to consider is what Jessica calls “Purpose vs. You”, which encourages you to think about the role you want to take in homeschooling, as that will help in your decisions. For example: Are you willing to pull out all the stops and make a huge mess when conducting a science experiment?
“My first child was extremely creative and crafty,” Jessica explains. “As I look back on it now, I wish I would have discovered sooner the importance of the corner in the basement where she could just make a mess.
“Because, probably the first two years of homeschooling, I was constantly saying, ‘no, no, no, no, no, we’re not going to do that now’ because she just liked to explore creativity and do all sorts of neat things. Once we recognized the ability and gift that she had, we found a little corner for her and let her just make a mess. And her creativity has continued to this day.”
Jessica also warns not to get caught up in the comparison game, where you see other families doing certain things and think that you should be doing those as well. “You can get into this consistent kind of spiral trying to make sure you’re keeping up with everybody else…just focus on your kid and your family, and work with your kids in a way that fits them.”
- Determine Your Approach. Is your child independent? Or do you think he or she will need you to be a big part of their education? Perhaps you want to play a major role in their education. Or maybe your family travels often, and you’re looking for more of a “portable education” to complement the itinerary. Whatever your lifestyle or approach, there are plenty of options out there for curriculum as well as learning format.
Some options allow you to be very involved and hands-on with your child’s education; others let you step away and be a partner and supporter rather than the educator. Once you determine your approach, we can help you select a curriculum that fits.
“One of the greatest things about Bridgeway is that we don’t choose one set of curriculum,” says Jessica. “We look for the best of the best, and that best of the best fits typical learning styles as well as personality, as well as parent involvement…so we can really help you find the perfect fit to meet the needs of your children.”
Another factor in determining your approach is to know your child’s learning style, and Bridgeway makes that a priority by having each student complete a learning style and personality style assessment. “In your child’s personality report is a really insightful parenting report that helps you think about how your personalities both collide with and complement each other, along with communication strategies based on both of your personalities,” Jessica explains.
“This is part of our assessment when a student enrolls with us, because we want to know who they are and what drives them,” she continues. And as a parent, having that knowledge goes a long way toward figuring out the approach you want to take with homeschooling.
- Know Your Child. Jessica recommends a simple exercise…picture your child at school. What do you see him or her doing? Working in textbooks that can be taken from place to place? Collaborating closely with you while studying? Sitting with a computer and taking online classes? As you contemplate homeschooling, knowing your child and how he or she works is important.
Is your child a listener who communicates well with others (auditory)? Or is he/she an insightful learner who is adept at solving problems (visual)? Or perhaps your child learns best when touching, feeling, and moving (kinesthetic). Bridgeway offers programs that fit every child’s learning style and preference.
- “One of our fastest-growing programs is our live online program, where students can take courses live and online, and then work independently at home throughout the week so they’re not coming to online classes all day, every day,” says Jessica. “They meet once or twice a week per class, and this is a very popular home education option because it allows parents to really leverage the expertise of teachers while still having that opportunity to work closely with their kids and be highly involved in their education.” Our teachers provide feedback and grading, while students are able to interact with fellow classmates from all over the world.
- Grade Level Kits are designed around learning style from 1st through 6th grade, with a specific kit made for each different learning style. These kits include everything you need for a full year of homeschooling, including the best hands-on curriculum, instructor guides, activities that keep kids moving and exploring, and online connections.
- Self-Paced Online courses are pre-recorded, so kids can jump on at any time and complete their daily lessons, graded by teachers. This is a great combination of instant, computer-generated feedback and teacher feedback.
- Elephango.com, one of our own products, is an online resource for homeschoolers filled with fun, interactive lessons written for students and vetted by teachers.
- For those who prefer hands-on learning, we also offer a textbook program as well as a blended program that provides a combination of textbook and online learning.
- Find a Support Network. Everyone needs a helping hand from time to time. Homeschoolers are certainly no exception. Especially those who are new to it. That’s why it is so important to find homeschool groups in your community–and you’d be surprised by how many there probably are, right within driving distance!
“As a homeschooler, you have similar challenges, similar purposes, a lot of the same things that your students are questioning or needing assistance with,” explains Jessica. “When you have that support group around you, you can share those with one another and understand one another in a way that other parents don’t quite get.”
Within these groups is also the built-in benefit of socialization for your child. Many of these homeschool groups ultimately decide to work together and create group classes or organize regular field trip outings, which means your child can be in a classroom-like environment with other children. And these efforts often lead to friendships that last a lifetime–for both the parents and the children.
It might take a bit of research, but you more than likely have homeschool resources nearby, such as libraries, museums, zoos, religious institutions, and gyms/athletic clubs that are happy to work with homeschoolers and even set up a regular class or learning opportunity. “I went to our local gymnastics organization and local art school and was able to get them to add homeschool classes as long as we could bring 10 kids,” recalls Jessica. “They started the classes, and I know that both are still offering homeschool classes as a result.”
HSLDA can also help you track down a homeschool group. As Mike Donnelly points out, there are thousands of them across the country–some on Facebook, some in person. “Our website has a new group locator that allows you to find groups in your area,” he says. “It’s just one way we’re trying to make it easy for people to find each other, because it’s really important as a new homeschooler–or even as a continuing homeschooler–to connect with other people who are sharing the journey.”
Bridgeway offers opportunities for parents, such as our Coffee Chats, to be a part of a homeschool community.
As important as peer support is for homeschoolers, just as critical is the support you receive from your homeschool partner. And nobody does it better than Bridgeway. “You want someone who’s walking with you every step of the way,” Jessica says. “Our Total Care programs are just that. Once you enroll with us, we are with you throughout the school year.”
A main source of that support is our expert team of academic advisors, who truly become a trusted partner and an extension of every family.
- Get Organized. As we alluded to earlier, many states require homeschooling families to provide some type of progress reporting either during or after the school year. Again, this depends on the state, so be sure to consult your state laws to determine what the requirements are. Because reporting is often needed, it’s extremely important to keep yourself organized. The best way to do so, according to Jessica, is with a homeschool portfolio.
“It’s not needed in every state, but a homeschool portfolio is a fantastic way to keep track of your year,” she says. “Not only do you have it for yourself to look back on, but if your school district needs to know what you’re doing, it’s simple to pull out the portfolio and show them what our kids have done.”
If you’re enrolled with Bridgeway Academy, however, we can handle all the records for you…but it’s also smart to have everything at the ready to update and to be able to show a school district when needed.
Organization is also key in maintaining a homeschool classroom. Jessica recommends having a specific place for books and supplies so they’re always easy to find. She also advises scheduling time for the most important subjects, because “there will be days when you have an opportunity to drop everything and go enjoy a different event or activity.” Keeping the most important subjects on a schedule ensures you don’t lose track of that learning if and when the day pulls you in a different direction.
While homeschooling can feel like a daunting prospect, it’s important to know that you’re not alone. If you’re homeschooling with Bridgeway, we’re always here for you whenever you need help. And by using these super-helpful tips and strategies from Jessica, a master homeschooler in her own right, you’ll be able to make the most of your child’s education and set him or her up for a lifetime of success and a lifelong love of learning.
To determine whether homeschooling is the right fit for your family, take our “Should I Homeschool?” quiz today.
Then, to learn more about our homeschooling programs and services, call us at (800) 863-1474.