Yes! You’ve made the decision to start homeschooling a military child, your military child —congrats! Now you have some decisions to make, and you may not even know what you need to ask!
Start at square one; are you going to use a secular or non-secular curriculum? The majority of homeschooling curriculums are Christian in design and content. Finding the curriculum that best suits your family will be one of the more difficult aspects of beginning your homeschooling journey. Our family is not of traditional faith, so pinpointing a curriculum we loved took a significant amount of time. Keep in mind that what works for one child may not work for another, and it is OK if your curriculum changes every year or every kid. This is not uncommon!
Identifying some key characteristics in regard to play and learning will help you pick the best curriculum for your needs. There are all sorts of curriculums out there — strictly textbook-based, nature-based, book-based, manipulative-based, and the list goes on. Using a combination of them all is common as well! There is no right or wrong way to homeschool. There is only the right and wrong way to do it for your family.
Some families do not use a structured curriculum at all. This is especially common during the elementary years. If you are a hardcore Pinterest mom, you may be able to create it all yourself — in which case, bravo to you!
Considering PCSing and State Laws When Homeschooling a Military Child
Homeschooling is legal throughout the United States. But, each state has it’s own homeschooling laws. (You knew that was coming!) These laws vary drastically! Some states have almost no laws at all and others are incredibly strict. If you have already begun to homeschool and are not sure of the laws in your area, do yourself a favor: Keep samples of work from each subject. Being organized and having a paper trail can be a saving grace in these types of situations.
If you are not sure where to start in regard to the legality of homeschooling a military child at your current duty station, HSLDA is a great place to start your education. It’s full of wonderful resources no matter where you are in your homeschooling journey.
Flexibility that Military Families Need
Most homeschooling families follow a standard 36-week or nine-month school year. This can be great, especially if your service member works a regular schedule. In our household (pilot family) we have never experienced standard working hours. Therefore, I began homeschooling our children year round. We take off all major holidays, but for the most part, we follow a six week on, one week off schedule. What this scheduling does for our family is amazing.
Post-deployment leave is spent loving daddy hard. No one is missing out because of school, and we just have to do six weeks of schooling on either side of it. When family comes to visit, we can plan that visit to fall at the end of a six-week unit study. Even with this type of schedule, you are looking at a 40- to 42-week school year, which is longer than most. The remaining weeks I tend to leave open for sickness and PCS season if that is something on the horizon.
Scheduling School Days
When most families begin homeschooling, they compare their scheduling to that of a mainstream school. Mainstream schooling is misleading in regard to scheduling. An eight-hour day is not necessary for your homeschool classroom. In all actuality, about three to four hours a day of actual classroom work is done in traditional schools. The rest of the time is spent lining up, recess, lunch, etc. We do about four hours of school on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. We are always learning and creating things throughout the week, but standard subjects of math, language arts, geography, living books (curriculum specific), history, art, and science are focused on from approximately 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. three days a week, including lunch.
Spending time outdoors is a huge passion for our family and a huge part of our curriculum as well. We do additional learning activities in nature. For example, we keep nature journals and practice plant and tree identification, animal tracking, and — everyone’s favorite — fort building. This side of our homeschooling falls closer to the forest school description that you may have heard about. Our afternoons are spent outdoors and sometimes our mornings are as well. We aim for a minimum of three hours outside per day.
Every family — and further, every child — is different. What is working for us right now may not work for your family at all. It may not even work for us in a few years. Homeschooling means being incredibly flexible at times. This can also be one of the biggest perks to homeschooling! Embrace it, but give yourself enough time to feel like you are accomplishing things as well.
Finding a support system is huge for new homeschooling parents, and finding one quickly after a PCS is critical when you’re homeschooling a military child. Co-ops are a wonderful option. Though we are not currently part of a homeschooling co-op, we have been in the past and loved it. Some duty stations have lots of co-op options, and others do not. Do your best to be a part of something larger a couple of times a month. It will help you, as the teacher, feel more supported. When we are part of a co-op we typically reserve a weekday for those types of gatherings.
Check out your local library! Libraries typically have a homeschool meetup, or homeschool events scheduled where you can meet others and learn more about local resources. Libraries also do homeschool resource fairs and bring in speakers and businesses that teach free classes. If you are heading into a new duty station where you know no other homeschoolers, your library is the perfect place to start!
One of the reasons that most families find themselves homeschooling is because of their child’s interests, or lack thereof in the traditional school curriculum. When you choose to homeschool you are saying “yes” to so much more than the time commitment. Homeschooled children get to spend more time pursuing their interests than they would in a classroom with 20 other students. There are more opportunities and more time to do so. There is more freedom to suggest a non-traditional subject.
Our 6-year-old’s school year goals include learning to whittle. As a parent who most likely attended traditional schools, you will have to work the most on yourself. I understand that this seems like a strange statement, but children tend to fall into the homeschooling life quite easily. Parents are the ones who have to rewrite their lives to fit this new change.
Child-Led Learning for Parents
I never wanted to be a teacher. Are you saying the same thing to yourself? Teaching was never in my life plan. When there is ample time to teach and someone willing to learn, you may discover that teaching can be done anywhere, doing anything. If your child wants to cook with you, use it as a teaching moment, no matter the age.
You may begin a space unit study that is only supposed to take two weeks, but it turns into a two-year rocket building, room-decorating obsession. Go for it. This is what homeschooling is all about! It is not that they will never learn how a snake sheds their skin or the life cycle of a butterfly. It is about a love of learning that they find themselves. When they come across it on their own, you are winning on so many parenting and adulting levels. Give them the structure they need to learn, then loosen the reins.
Not every child, parent, and family is made to thrive in a homeschooling environment. You have to decide what is best for your child. Sometimes, homeschooling is a season. Sometimes it is necessary because of a rough duty station, bullying, learning, and teacher conflicts. The important thing is your child’s happiness and the happiness of your home. Search for resources so you’re informed. Join groups and go to events. Get out there soon so when you’re home attempting to blow the homemade volcano up for the umpteenth time, you feel supported and confident in your choice to homeschool.