Homeschooling 101 Guide

Learn all about the basics

By Beth Neely & Kara Willis February 6, 2022

Thinking about homeschooling next school year? You are not alone. A lot of families are researching whether homeschooling is right for them.  It can be intimidating and overwhelming at first with a ton of information, choices, and decisions to make. 

To help curious or new soon-to-be homeschool families, I created this Homeschooling 101 Guide to help answer the most common questions and misconceptions that families may have when looking into what homeschool life will look like. Read more about if homeschooling is right for you here

I reached out to a friend of mine, Kara Willis. I met Kara about 12 years ago when my son stepped into her K/1 class in public school. When I was thinking about homeschooling four years ago I reached out to her for advice. She coincidentally had made the decision to homeschool her kids at the same time I was! It has been such a blessing to have her as one of my biggest sources of homeschool support which has helped me get through some of my hard days as I navigated this new homeschool life. 

When I decided to create a Homeschool 101 Guide I knew she would be the best person to help me pull it all together. As a past public school and charter school teacher, I knew getting her perspective would help new homeschool families.

Tell our Macaroni Kid readers a little bit about you.

My name is Kara Willis.  I am married and together we have two children.  My son is 12 and a 11-year-old daughter.  My kiddos are currently in 6th and 7th grade.  I am a homeschooling mom who also works from home.  I have worked for an independent study charter school that works specifically with homeschooling families, working in this model of education for almost eleven years.  Previously, I taught in our local public elementary school for six years. I attended California State University, Fullerton where I received my bachelor's in child development and teaching credential.  I also have a Masters in Education from Walden University. 

What is your personal why for homeschooling?

My why has changed over the course of our homeschooling journey as I think it does for many families.  The short answer is I wanted each of my kids to be able to learn in an environment that best suits the way he/she learns.  

My kids attended the local brick-and-mortar public school for the first part of their elementary years.  I was active in their school and volunteered regularly.  So when we chose to pull them I often was asked what happened?  Because of course there had to be a drastic reason as to why I would pull them.   And honestly, nothing.  I was happy with our elementary school and the teachers.  But as a mom, I knew that this was not necessarily the best place for my children to learn.  I knew that my two kids were not reaching their full educational potential in a traditional school setting.  I have two very different learners.  My son is a quick learner.  He is great at memorizing material and then remembering it for the test only to discover later he never really fully retained all the information. He likes knowing exactly what he has to do and getting it done as quickly and efficiently as he can.  He typically was always one of the first kids done on assignments in class.  My daughter on the other hand struggles.  She has difficulty reading and spelling.  She works ten times harder than my son but her grades did not show that.  We later discovered she is profoundly dyslexic.  She is creative and verbal. Given the choice she would rather draw out her answers or verbally retell than write a sentence or two explaining what she learned.  

But you see I didn’t really know all this about them until I brought them home to learn.  I really had no clue what type of learner they were at school.  I just knew my son was quick to finish assignments, received great grades, and was doing well both academically and socially.  And that my daughter struggled. She was in all the intervention programs, and could not retain or remember how to spell or read simple words no matter how many flashcards we did or how many times we would rainbow write them with chalk on the driveway.  But my mom instinct knew that brick and mortar schooling was not a good fit for them.  So my husband and I made the joint decision to bring them home to learn.

What would you say to someone who said, "I don’t know if I am equipped to homeschool?"

Homeschooling is both a scary and beautiful thing all at the same time.  There are many days when I feel that I am not equipped to do it and I am an elementary school teacher.  And there are days when nothing can stop us.  The thing is you are a mom (or dad) and you love your children more than anything. You would and will do whatever it takes to protect them, care for them, give them the best that you absolutely can, so that right there is the beginning of what equips you to homeschool.  Now of course loving them with every part of you is not going to teach them how to do long division or how to read but it is a place to start.  My deep desire for them to do great things, to succeed, to make this world better is what gets us through the really hard days and keeps me motivated to learn right alongside them.  There are many days where I am teaching something that I never learned but you know what we sit there and we work it out together.  Learning should be a lifelong journey and letting your kids see you work through a math problem first and struggle is okay.  While struggling, you are teaching them determination and perseverance and for me patience because oh man math and I battle it out some days.  And I am grateful for technology, the internet, and teacher manuals that can help me navigate through those subjects or units that I am not as strong in.  

You see you are equipped, you are their parent and you love them and you will make sure that they are getting the best education possible. 

Where should someone start if they are thinking about homeschooling? 

Start this spring or summer. Grab a few workbooks from Costco or Amazon or Target or even Dollar Tree.  Grab some games and puzzles.  Go for a walk.  Grab some books from the library. Observe them while they play and interact with others.  Then spend a little bit of time each day doing “school” with your child(ren). Watch how they learn.  What peaks their interest?  What do they ask about?  What do they want to read? How do they play?  How do they complete tasks?  Are they moving around constantly or are they seated and focused?  These things are all important and will help you see the best way to begin. Read this article from to find out what learning style is best for your child

There are so many options when homeschooling. What is the difference between PRIVATE SCHOOL HOMESCHOOL vs. INDEPENDANT vs. ONLINE vs. CHARTER vs. PUBLIC SCHOOL HOMESCHOOL PROGRAMS?

There are many homeschool options out there:

Private School Homeschool:  There are private schools that offer homeschool programs and usually you pay tuition.  Some of them are a hybrid program where you go to the actual school site some days (usually 1-3 days) and then do the remaining learning at home.  

Independent/PSA:  In the state of California, you can file an affidavit to be your own private school.  You will see this abbreviated as PSA.  The California Department of Education has a whole section on how to complete this process.   When filing a PSA, you do not report to anyone or have a teacher assigned to you.  You are the sole provider of your child’s education. 

Online:  Typically online homeschool programs use a specific curriculum and all work and teaching is done virtually.  There may be teacher office hours to be in contact with a teacher if questions arise. Some are tuition-free and some require tuition.  

Independent Study Charter School: Most homeschool charter schools are publicly funded and tuition free.   The student and parent work closely with a credentialed teacher who assists with creating a personalized learning plan that best meets your child’s individual needs.  Instructional funds are provided through the school (money is never given directly to you) to order curriculum and some extracurricular activities that are part of your educational plan.  All orders go directly through the school. You are the main source of educating your child, but a credentialed teacher is partnering with you and meeting with you regularly, once a month, to assist in your child’s learning and instruction.  During the monthly meetings, the credentialed teacher will review the learning plan, provide resources to support the plan, and review the entire body of work. 

Charter schools can be still considered public schools and are held to the same requirements as brick and mortar public schools.  Students are still required to take state testing and school benchmark testing.  

Public Homeschool Programs: Some school districts have provided parents with the option to do school at home. These are also tuition-free.  I suggest looking into your local district to see if this is an option.  In this setting, you are typically meeting regularly with a credentialed teacher and you are doing the curriculum that is chosen by the school district. 

TIP! Start researching and applying for the schools you are interested in now! Don't wait, they will fill up! 

What should families be looking for when selecting a school?

When choosing a school it is important to consider these things:

  •  Support-  How much support from a credentialed teacher do you want and/or need?  A charter school typically is going to offer a lot of support and filing a PSA will offer very little if any. 
  • Funding- Do I need instructional funds to help cover the cost of purchasing my preferred secular curriculum or extracurriculars (music, art, dance, theater, STEM, etc..)? or can I pay for things out of pocket on my own?
  • State testing- Charter and public school homeschool programs are going to require your child (grades 3 and up) to take state testing. 
  • Flexibility- Is attending classes important to you?  Would meeting with a teacher regularly be difficult? How important is choosing your own curriculum versus being provided one? 
  • Do your research.  Look into different charter schools, check your local school district’s website, look at church or private schools.  See what best meets the needs of your family.  Many programs have a lot of information on their websites. 

What is a teacher facilitator/education specialist’s job at a charter school?

When going through a charter school you will be assigned a teacher.  These roles can have different names such as teacher facilitator, education specialist, education advisors and others but no matter the name they are credentialed teachers. These teachers assist in curriculum choices, assigning and planning out the school year, and record keeping (report cards and transcripts).  The parent and student are required to meet with their assigned teacher once a month (about every 20 school days) to discuss learning, evaluate/review student work, assign and plan out the next month’s learning plan, answer questions, order curriculum or extracurricular activities and provide additional support and resources to the parent and student. The charter school teacher is not responsible for the day-to-day teaching of your child.  That responsibility falls on the parent. 

Some Charter Schools also have Virtual Learning or In-Person Learning Centers as an option where a credentialed teacher can teach the lessons.

Can parents work and homeschool their kid/s? 

The beauty of homeschooling is flexibility in your day.  There are many parents who work and homeschool.  Creating a schedule and routine can greatly assist both you and your children when juggling work and homeschool.  There are very successful homeschool families who do a lot of their schooling in the evenings.  Of course, this is dependent on the ages of your children and how they are during that time of the day.  But I have seen it done and done well.  I have also seen families who school on the weekends.  Embrace the flexibility. 

I work from home while educating my children.  I have built-in designated times throughout the day for me to work and to teach.  We have established routines that both allow for flexibility and some structure.  

What time commitment should families plan for? How many hours does it take to homeschool?

This is a hard question to answer.  There are so many styles, theories, methods when it comes to home educating your child.  It is dependent on grade level, personalities, learning styles, curriculum.  The day really can be as long or short as needed to meet the needs of your family and learners. I do think it is important to note that your day will typically be shorter than that of a student who is in the local public school or private school.  I provided a basic framework of what our typical day looks like below. 

What does a typical homeschool day look like? 

This is an example of our learning day when we are not attending classes or field trips outside of the home. 

We do a read-aloud every morning.  Sometimes it is a picture book based on something we are learning in science or social studies and sometimes it is from a chapter book.  I found this time to be so beneficial as we ease into our day.  My kids are in 6th and 7th grade and they still love being read too.  We read thirteen chapter books this past school year.  Listening to good literature is just as important as students reading on their own. 

  • Morning Time: I follow the morning time structure laid out in Pam Barnhill’s blog post
  • Math
    • We use Saxon Math and I purchased and downloaded the teaching videos to assist with teaching the new material.  Both my kiddos listen and watch the teaching videos and then I assist them if they are unable to complete the lesson after watching the video. 
  • Language Arts: grammar, vocabulary, reading 
  • Writing
  • Science or social studies (we alternate this every other week or sometimes every two weeks) 

What would you say to someone who says "My kid struggles to listen to me when we do their homework - I’m afraid my kids won’t listen to me as their teacher!"

This is a common fear and honestly one I worried about for some time before we decided to home educate.  But I think it is important to think about the time of day you are doing homework with your kids and experience struggles with them.  It typically is in the late afternoon.  They have been in school since 8:00 am and have been required to sit still, at a desk, and listen and work quietly for the majority of the day.  Some kids are able to hold it together the whole day and others are not, but either way they have had to be quiet and sit still for a long time.  Then they come home from school, have a snack, and then have to sit down again to do homework.  Their brains are tired.  You are getting your child after a full day of learning and now you are expecting them to do more school work.  Of course they are going to resist. But when homeschooling you are getting them at their freshest hours.  Their optimal time for learning.  For some kids and families that is first thing in the morning and others do better with a later start time.  Again, the beauty of homeschooling is the flexibility it brings. 

I also think having a designated area, at least when you are beginning the home educating journey, helps differentiate between mommy as teacher and mommy as mommy. Sometimes the physical space is just important as the time of day, but not always and not for every family.  

We start our morning on the couch doing our read aloud and morning basket.  Then we move to an area in our living room where we have designated as our school space.  We don’t have a separate room, we just made space in our living room. The kids start here but many times will move throughout the house as they are working on assignments.  Again, the beauty of homeschooling.  Schooling can look different; it doesn’t always mean sitting at a desk or even right side up.  My son likes to lay on our kitchen bench when he is doing his reading. Is it conventional?  No.  But is he reading?  Yes.  And I am not worried because he is doing the assignment and he is doing it in a way that is comfortable to him.  No arguing about reading and that makes me happy. 

Use your kitchen table.  Put out a flag or pencil box or something that can designate school time.  At first just seeing something will trigger it is time for school and they can mentally prepare.  Over time, it will become more routine and you may not need a visual reminder. 

All of that to say that you can do it.  You can be both mom and teacher and still have a loving and caring relationship with your kids.  Set boundaries and be flexible in the way that they complete assignments.  Desks are not for everyone and you most definitely do not need an entire room designated just for school.  A small space will work just fine, even just the kitchen table.  

If someone has multiple children, how can they teach multiple grade levels?

Teaching multiple grade levels can be challenging but it is totally doable.  Think of it as a one-room schoolhouse.  The younger children can learn from the older children and vice versa.  

It may be helpful to get the older children started before the younger ones.  Get them going on assignments and teach them first.  Then let them work independently. If they have questions, encourage them to try and figure it out on their own.  Teach them how to use resources like looking back in their book for help, using a dictionary or thesaurus, create “cheat” sheets with math formulas or vocabulary words for them to use.  Allowing the older children to take some time to look for an answer helps with problem-solving skills.  It took my kids a while to do this and a lot of reminding them to use their resources, but they are now able to do this.  There are also many curriculums that have online components that can teach the lessons and then the student does the work after.  These types can be very beneficial as the students get older. 

Then while the older kids are working independently you can work with the younger ones.  Their lessons are not as long and usually more hands-on with games or manipulatives.  Let the younger kids read to the older kids.  Make learning a family affair and involve all the kids when doing it whenever possible.

I have also found and seen many families teach science and history/social studies together.  Pick a topic or unit that interests the whole family or majority and learn about it together.  Get books from the library, go on a field trip (virtual or in-person), find educational videos or play games about the topic.  Learning doesn’t just need to come from a textbook.  Talk about what you learned.  Let the younger ones draw a picture or tell you verbally about what they remember.  The older children can write a paragraph or essay (depending on grade level) create a Google slide presentation, do a project, or something else that interests them to show what they learned.  At the dinner table each night talk and share about what was learned together during the day.  My husband works all day and is not home while I am schooling our kids.  So we use dinner time to share with him what we learned during the day.  It is always fun to see what the kids remember or don’t.  

I think the hardest thing is realizing that homeschooling is not just doing school at home.  It builds relationships within your family, siblings learn from one another and can help teach the younger ones.  Home education is for the whole family. 

How do you figure out what curriculum to choose? 

There are so many choices, so many theories, so many methods, so many opinions, so many ways to feel overwhelmed.  Friends who homeschool will give you ideas, blogs will give you ideas, Google, Pinterest, Amazon all will give you ideas and then your mind will feel like it will explode.  Write them down in a notebook that has been designated just for homeschool ideas.  Then slowly start researching them.  Think about what you know about your child.  What is important to you?  What is important to them?  Then take those into consideration as you start researching. 

Now if you choose to go with an independent study charter school, your teacher that is assigned to you should help you choose curriculum and navigate through what is best for your kids.  They are there to help you through your home-educating adventure. 

TIP! If the teaching and selecting curriculum part scares you, know you can always utilize a tutor service. Resources like Outschool, Sylvan and Mathnasium are always a great resource to help you with teaching.

Whether you choose to homeschool next year or not, I hope this guide helps you on your journey to find the best fit for your family's needs. 

🌸 Thank you Kara for taking the time to share your homeschool knowledge, resources, experience, and personal journey with us. I appreciate you so much! Thank you for your friendship, encouragement, and support throughout our family's homeschool years. You are the best! 

Do you have Homeschool questions? Are you ready to dive into learning the basics? 

I will be hosting a Homeschool 101 Class on Facebook beginning Tuesday, March 1st! If you are a seasoned homeschool family or a new/thinking about homeschool family you are welcome to join the FB Group - Rancho, Alta Loma & Etiwanda Homeschoolers. Ask any homeschool questions here! I will be answering all of your questions during the class.  

Looking for Learning and Enrichment Resources?

Whether you are heading back to school or choosing to homeschool this coming school year, you can find ways to add fun, excitement, and learning opportunities for your kids! We have a list of some great online resources to refer back to when you need a little extra help with math, language arts, science, social studies, Spanish, music, arts, and more!  

Find the Best Subscription Box for your Kids!

We love subscription boxes! The excitement on my daughter's face when she sees one on our doorstep with her name on it makes me so happy! Knowing that what’s in the box will help expand their learning in a fun way, makes it that much sweeter.  

So how do you pick the right subscription box for your kids? We have some great tips for helping you pick the perfect box. Plus, a list of our favorite boxes that we’ve tried.