How to Make the Public School to Homeschool Transition Easy


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Most of us probably think of easing into a new homeschooling year as a topic for the summer months. However, I know that there are lots of brand-new homeschooling families trying to figure out how to transition from public school to homeschool right now. If your Christmas break involved pulling your student from a more traditional school setting to homeschool, you may be floundering right now. You may be feeling overwhelmed and wondering if you can really do this.

Take a deep breath. You can do it. And, hopefully, these tips will make the transition go a bit more smoothly.

Allow yourself time to adjust.

Going from public school to homeschool is a big adjustment for all of you. Not only has your child’s learning environment completely changed, but your family roles have taken on new dimensions. You’re not just the parent; you’re now the teacher, too. Your child isn’t just your child; now he’s your student, too.

It’s very unlikely that you’re using the same curriculum your child used in school, so her source of learning and her entire daily routine (and yours!) have changed. She’s probably missing her friends and, if you’re honest with yourself, you may be missing your familiar routine.

If you’ve ever had the experience of moving to a new school or starting a new job, you can get an idea of what your student is feeling. It’s not that the new situation is bad; it’s just very, very different. It takes awhile to find your new normal, to adjust to the new routine, and to find what works best for your family – for everything from your daily schedule to your curriculum.

Help your child maintain friendships.

Help your child maintain friendships with his public or private school friends. When we began homeschooling at the start of my daughter’s second grade year, one of the aspects of public school that she missed the most was, understandably, seeing her friends regularly. We made a concentrated effort to maintain those friendships while also providing ample opportunities to form new friendships with homeschooled kids.

how to transition from public school to homeschool

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We had her girl friends over for sleepovers, but one of her closest friends was a boy. The two of them loved having “almost sleepovers,” in which her friend would come over for movies, pizza, playing – all the usual sleepover stuff – until bedtime, when we’d take him back to his house.

The first year we homeschooled, Brianna let me know that she missed classroom parties. That was the start of our annual Valentine’s party. The first year, the party was hosted at our house. Brianna and two other girls whose mother I’d known for years were the only homeschooled kids. The rest were friends from our neighborhood, church, and Brianna’s former public school. The next year, the ratio was about 50/50 public school to homeschool kids, evidence of the fact that Brianna was making friends in our new homeschool circles.

Include yourself in this, too, Mom. It’s often the case that our friends are the parents of our kids’ friends. Make an effort to maintain your public school mom friendships while investing in the new circle of homeschool moms in which you find yourself. Remember the Girl Scout poem?

Make new friends, but keep the old.

One is silver, and the other is gold.

Take some time off.

Families who start homeschooling after Christmas break have a bit of a disadvantage compared to those who start at the beginning of the school year in that there isn’t a built-in deschooling time. I explained deschooling in-depth in the article, What Is Deschooling and Is It Important? at Real Life at Home. The gist of it is: deschooling is taking time off from formal learning and giving kids a chance to rekindle their natural curiosity and love of learning.

If you jumped into a full course load after Christmas break and you’re struggling now, it’s not too late to spend some time deschooling. It’s okay to set aside the books for a time. That doesn’t mean your student isn’t learning. You can do things like:

  • Take field trips
  • Visit the library for biographies, historical fiction, non-fiction books on topics of interest
  • Go to museums
  • Watch documentaries
  • Do a nature study
  • Do cool science experiments
  • Bake together
  • Explore living math

Deschooling is a time for your student to decompress from the highly structured, teacher-directed learning style of a traditional classroom setting and rediscover his natural curiosity. It’s also time for you to explore his learning style, your teaching style, and the homeschooling method(s) that is best going to fit your unique family.

Utilize the library.

It often takes some time, along with trial and error – despite your best research – to find the best curriculum for your family. I advise new homeschooling families not to jump into a full course load right away, but, instead, take some time to find the best curriculum fit for your student. That could mean observing the way your child learns, trying free samples, asking homeschool friends, visiting a curriculum fair, or scouring the internet.

While you’re doing that, the library can be an invaluable resource.

History and science can easily be studied through great books – those biographies, historical fiction, and non-fiction books I mentioned earlier. The library has resources for art, music, economics, and – you guessed it – reading!

You’ll also find a great selection of documentaries and don’t forget fun and educational videos such as The Magic School Bus. You might even be fortunate enough to find some homeschool curriculum options available for loan at your library. Ours doesn’t have much, but I do remember checking out the Five in a Row books when the kids were younger.

Utilize the library for more interest-led learning while you nail down your curriculum choices for other subjects, such as math or spelling.

The early days – and months – of homeschooling can seem daunting. Just remember that it’s a time of change for everyone and allow yourselves time to adjust without expecting smooth sailing right out of the gate. You’ll find your groove. I hope these tips for the transitional period help!

If you’re a homeschool parent whose kids started out in public or private school, what tips would you offer? If you’re a parent who is just making the transition, are there any areas you’re struggling in right now?

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18 Comments

  1. I have such respect for families who do this. My oldest when to 4K preschool. She finished the year, and then we decided to homeschool. It was so hard for her to make the transition, and she wasn’t really even in school!! From my experience in reading blogs and talking with moms, taking time off is the biggest things. Kids need time to decompress from whatever the issue was that prevented public school from being an option. Thanks for the tips on documentaries. My kids love to watch education videos with their dad on the weekends. I somehow always forget that during the week! Thanks!!

  2. I just recently pulled my 3rd grade son out of school. He is doing fine but I am struggling with guilt when he mentions what activity he would be doing in school right now. I know I made the best decision for him but the guilt is very hard to overcome some days. I am also struggling because we are mid year and I am not sure where to start in some subjects such as math. I feel panicky that we are going to get behind and then the guilt starts all over.

    1. I can understand that, Jen. We went through some of that with my daughter. I think your son talking about the activities is just part of the adjustment – he’s making observations about the differences. I mean, if he’d gone from homeschool to public school, he’d probably be telling his classmates and teacher what he would be doing at home right now, you know?

      It can be difficult to know where to start in the books when you start midyear. We’re going through something similar because we just switched curriculum mid-year. Placement tests can help with that, if they’re available. Conceptual subjects like math are probably the toughest because you have to make sure he’s learned the concepts he needs for where you’re starting. Luckily, at such at young age, it should be fairly easy for you to work one-on-one with him and make sure he’s got the skills he needs to do the work wherever you decide to start. For example, if you see an area where he’s struggling, you can work with him on that particular skill.

      I know it’s hard to worry about being behind, but, really, “behind” is a very subjective term. If you’re going for mastery and he’s mastering skills before moving on and he’s working at the pace that allows him successfully do that, he’s right where he needs to be. I hope that helps!

      1. Thanks!! It does help to hear from someone else that “behind” is a relative term. He isnt “behind” to me and right now that is all that matters. Yesterday he was reminding me that he would be in P.E. so we took 25 min to play one on one dodgeball in the livingroom and he was as happy as a clam, so I was as well.

        1. That makes me smile. That’s such an excellent reaction. You’d be doing P.E. right now? Great! Let’s do P.E. Love it!

  3. We pulled our son after his Kindergarten year last year. We took the summer to unschool/deschool. That was huge. It gave us some perspective 🙂 Thanks for sharing this. I’ve had some friends inquire recently and I’ll be sure to share this with them.

  4. We find the ‘I’d be doing this at school’ thing happening a lot. Yes, I get it. You loved chatting with the other kids, but that isn’t the point of school. We tried. We only know one set of parents, and we sent home the dreaded school photos (apparently we were the only ones suckered into buying those)… including our phone number and email and saying we wanted to keep in touch. No contacts. And since none of the other kids could actually WRITE their phone numbers, she didn’t come home with any, either. We have her signed up for tball and hope that between that and soccer in the fall it will help to get her solidified with some friends to hang out with… but when you just don’t know anyone, it’s not that easy.

    1. That’s a shame that you didn’t get any replies from the other kids/parents. I think sometimes the parents feel intimidated/offended by your choice to homeschool – like it’s a commentary on their choice not to. I got that from a couple of parents. Bash on, regardless. Getting her involved in activities is great. You might also search for homeschool groups in your area. Most states have a statewide homeschool organization with listings of support groups by county or city and HSLSDA has some listings, as well. Our homeschool group was an email-based Yahoo group, so you might try searching there, too – your city + homeschool support groups. Hope that helps!

  5. Argh! 1 year too late! 🙂 I pulled my son out of public school, over Christmas break, last year! This would’ve been great help! I did dive right in, and started full force with the curriculum I had researched (though only through internet research…didn’t actually SEE it or look first hand at anything) and bought.(and which we switched away from, after finishing that year)..and went through quite a bit of growing pains the first few months.

    First, I wished I had taken time to de-school (and yes, I did read about it on blogs, and a homeschooling friend really encouraged me to take a few months to de-school), but I was stubborn and was afraid he’d lose out on ‘learning time’, and I just dived right in, not really knowing what I was doing, but thinking I did!

    Second, I didn’t realize just how draining it would be for me (as an introvert), to be with someone else 24/7. I remember feeling like that when my kids were toddlers/preschoolers, but they at least were away for naps, and some years I had them in preschool a couple hours a day, or a daycare a couple days a week because I worked…so to be in the presence of someone who could potentially talk to me ALL day long, EVERY day, really took its toll! I had a bit of a meltdown, and determined that I needed regularly scheduled time to myself! I was really used to having my kids away during school hours for the past 4 years, so coming from that, to having no time on my own, was really hard.

    Third, I was really concerned about ‘what everyone else was learning at school’. I’d ask other kids his age what they were doing in school, even! It’s taken me a year to let go of that…but there’s still a side of me that wants to ‘make sure he’s on track’. I took him out so that he could be OFF track, yet I still felt the pressure of doing what the schools were doing.

    I think your advice in this post is spot on. We ended up maintaining one school friendship (my son didn’t have many friends to begin with…another reason we pulled him out). My son actively disliked school for the 4.5 years he was there, so there wasn’t a lot of stuff he ‘missed’, he was glad to get out! But I will be taking my 8yo daughter out sometime either this spring, or next fall, and she has LOVED school, so I feel like I will certainly need to use some of the tips you mentioned, since she does have school friends, and loved the parties, and activities at school. I hope this time around, there won’t be as many adjustment issues!

    1. Thank you for your comment, Elaine. I could have written so much of that myself years ago. I’m thankful that we began homeschooling at the beginning of my daughter’s 2nd grade year because, although I see the benefit of deschooling now, I think I would have been just like you back then – I would have barreled on ahead, fearful that she’d get behind. Thank goodness for summer break!

      Even now, I find myself comparing what we’re doing to what kids in public school are doing. It’s so hard to get out of that mindset! I have to remind myself that this isn’t a competition and I want our homeschool to be a different experience – that it’s okay, even good, that my kids aren’t doing all the same things their public school peers are doing.

      I appreciate your insightful feedback. It’s nice to hear from someone who has been through this experience recently. I’m sure your comment will be helpful to families just going through this.

  6. We pulled my daughter out mid-year during her first year of highschool, because she was miserable in school and begged me to homeschool her. I told her to at least try it out for one semester, so that gave me some time to research it and figure out how to make it work around my 30 hr. work week schedule. She stepped right up and was glad to do more household chores, to help make it work. At first I used a lot of books that former homeschool families gave to us and the library, until I started finding more books online. I gradually began ordering more through E-Bay and Amazon. And now in our last year of homeschool I actually developed my own curriculum for her art class and for her to learn about her native country of Thailand. We adopted her as a teen six years ago. Homeschooling has worked out very well for us and it’s definitely been the best choice. But, I’m pretty excited that after a few more months, I won’t be in charge of grading papers anymore!

    1. Yes, I bet there aren’t too many of us homeschool parents who will miss grading papers. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your story!

  7. I am in my 3rd week of homeschooling. I pulled my kids out of their school where they had been going for 3 years. My son is in the 5th grade and my daughter is in 2nd. I was wondering where I could find information in my area where my kids can meet up with kids their age and “hang out” for a while. I have found many groups on Facebook but none that is specifically set up for just play dates, or fieldtrips. I wasn’t sure if there was another way to find these groups. I am trying to maintain there school relationships as well. Thanks for any suggestions you may have. I greatly appreciate it.

  8. I love this. We are pulling our daughter out this Christmas break. She is excited, but I feel guilty. I know it’s best for our family and we are going to do fine, I just am worried about the change. My 4th grader can’t wait to homeschool. My preschooler will probably be depressed. Glad to find that we aren’t the only ones that struggle to bring it all together.

  9. This was great to read, Thank you… I just pulled my son out of public school the beginning of Jan. I was super stressed the first week, but a friend recommended deschooling! What a great idea.. I\’m still wondering if I am doing it right and hoping I don\’t make him stupid. One day at a time. I love your website!!!!!!

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