Overwhelming. That’s the word you hear when you ask homeschooling parents about the resources available to them today. The homeschooling and unschooling movements, along with the open-education resource movement, have led to a wealth of free or low-cost and high-quality material available, especially online. The tough part is finding the time to wade through and evaluate it all.
Lisa Nalbone, a “self-directed education” proponent and former schoolteacher in California, helped her son, UnCollege guru Dale J. Stephens, as he unschooled from sixth through 12th grade, starting about 10 years ago. Today, Nalbone has a website and email newsletter with tips for unschooling parents, and is working on a book on the topic.
Nalbone suggests that when it comes to finding resources, unschooling parents should find a community – a support group of like-minded folk who can help – and, as early as possible, involve your child in the process of finding resources. This helps your child learn how to find learning materials -- an essential skill for the lifelong learner.
“Without helping your child learn that underlying skill, you’re missing out," says Nalbone.
It must be noted that unschoolers do distinguish themselves from homeschoolers. Unschooling is centered around what the child wants to learn using any and all resources available, not just fixed, school-prescribed curriculum, while some maintain homeschooling sticks to the same general curriculum as traditional schools, but brings it home.
Either way, for both groups, learning resources can include not only online materials -- courses, worksheets, videos, podcasts and the like -- but also things like your local library or museum, or even your backyard. With that in mind, here’s a brief overview of some of the types of resources to consider.
These are some of the top sites recommended by home educators. Keep in mind that there are many more out there!
* Comprehensive resource lists can be found on some homeschool blogs. The Only Passionate Curiosity blog has a list of free online academic resources for homeschoolers -- everything from administrative tools (lesson planners and organizers) to lesson plans, worksheets, games, full curriculum sets and videos for preK-12, covering everything from art to math and science. Similarly, Ree Drummond, who blogs as The Pioneer Woman, has a list of free online educational resources organized by subject and grade, covering all K-12 levels. You'll find links to printable math worksheets, handwriting practice lessons, quizzes, games, free learning apps and more; comments on the blog also contain newer resource links. ThePioneerWoman’s homeschooling materials blog contains updated items as well.
* Khanacademy.org has hundreds of free video tutorials on a wide range of subjects and grade levels – from first grade through college, with many K-12 materials that have been aligned to the Common Core State Standards. This site also offers quizzes, activities, assessments, AP art history, tours and tutorials based around art museums, and links to partnered content -- material from sites such as the Museum of Modern Art, Massachusetts Institute of Technology materials geared to K12, Stanford Medical School, and even interactive content such as "Lebron Asks" (in which NBA star LeBron James poses math and science questions such as, "What muscles do we use when shooting a basket?,” answered by pros, with the ability for students to ask their own questions and discuss answers).
* Hippocampus.org provides free educational resources for middle-school, high-school, AP, and college, with video tutorials for subjects ranging from biology to English, including real-world STEM applications. The site lets you compile video from various sources, including Khan, into customized playlists.
* Free online college courses can be found on many sites, with directories available at sites like MIT's Open Coursework Consortium. Big players in the open-educational resources movement include Coursera and EdX, which offer MOOCs, or massive online open courses, based on content from top universities such as Stanford, Harvard and many others. FutureLearn is UK-based, with free online courses from UK and international universities. More information about these can be found in MindShift's guide to free quality higher education, plus previous collections of open educational sites and resources.
* iTunes University is a section of iTunes filled with more than 500,000 free resources for K-12 through college, put up by many educational institutions as well as organizations such as museums, art associations, NASA, and many others. Resources include videos, animations, podcasts, lectures, online games and other tools. iTunes U is divided into three main sections: Universities & Colleges, Beyond Campus, and K-12; you can also search categories such as For the Classroom, where content is divided into typical core areas (chemistry, literature, and so on), or Virtual Field Trips, where you can "visit" (via video) places such as Carnegie Hall, the Library of Congress, or the Florida Everglades.
SUPPORT SERVICES & GROUPS
* Education co-ops run by local home-schooling groups that allow parents with expertise to share knowledge can be invaluable. A list of groups, including co-ops, by state as well as in countries outside the U.S., is available at Home-school.com. If you don’t have a co-op in your area, consider creating your own; a book describing how to do this is Homeschool Co-ops: How to Start Them, Run Them and Not Burn Out, by Carol Topp (Ambassador Publishing 2013).
* Online community support groups are another great resource. These can be found on social networking sites such as Facebook, Yahoo, and Google-plus. For example, on Facebook, consider unschooling author Lisa Nielsen's group, Homeschooling, Unschooling, Uncollege, Opt Out, DIY, Online Learning, or community pages such as Unschooling, which has 21,000 followers and is frequently updated with discussion questions and resource links. A popular Google-plus homeschool group is Homeschool.com, with 400-plus members.
You can also find online support groups through websites such as Circle of Moms, which has 10 million members, including a group for mothers who homeschool (about 4,000 strong). Here you can join and discuss such issues as which phonics curriculum is best or how to juggle full-time work with homeschooling.
* Pinterest is another place to find collections of resources. William Salley's homeschool site for example, has hundreds of free resources, tips and links; Unschooling is Awesome is another, featuring such things as lists of best tech tools, DIY toys, and a recipe for slime.
* Homeschooling and unschooling blogs and books proliferate. Some to check out: The Innovative Educator, by writer Lisa Nielsen. Her blog offers info about innovative learning tools and links to other education blogs. The Homeschool Mom is a comprehensive site that has curriculum reviews, a homeschool newsletter, units of study, links to resources and more. Confessions of a Homeschooler is by Erica Arndt, author of Homeschooling 101: a Guide to Getting Started, and includes tips, planners, printables, and discounted curriculum. And for intrepid unschoolers, there's Alternatives to School.
* Twitter can also be useful for finding homeschoolers and homeschooling organizations to follow. Hip Homeschool Moms (@HipHmschoolMoms) has almost 16,000 followers; both moms and dads can use the Twitter account to connect with each other and find practical advice, conversation with other homeschoolers, links to resources and more. Homeschool Lounge (@homeschoolounge) has 14,200 followers and similarly lists resources and learning research.
* Trade groups and associations. The National Home Education Research Institute lets parents sign up for free updates on notable research findings, plus buy materials such as the "Getting Started Packet," which includes information about choosing a curriculum and finding support groups in your community, for $10. The Home School Legal Defense Association has a great, updated map of the U.S. listing the legal requirements for homeschoolers in each state.
* Conferences by homeschooling/unschooling associations and organizations can be a great source of resources. To find what's near you, visit Homeschoolconventions.com or check out The Homeschool Buyers Co-op, which has a searchable list of homeschool conferences and conventions. Your local homeschool association also may be able to provide you with information about events in your area.
* Free or low-cost memberships to community sites, like nature centers, parks, zoos, museums, and libraries, which often offer classes and host gatherings, are a big benefit to homeschool families. Unschooling mom Ellen Jenkins of Dubuque, Iowa, often takes her 8-year-old son, Nyle, to the town's nature center. "We talk to the nature guides and naturalists," she says. "We did a bird-watching unit there and they were helpful. The amount of information and resources is just incredible."
Nalbone also points out that joining local museums sometimes means you also get access to a nationwide network of museums; if you're able to travel, this can mean saving the cost of separate entry fees. "For a $20 family membership at a local science museum, we could go to different ones around the country."
* Tours of area businesses, manufacturers, and historic sites can provide real-world business and history lessons (“Dale loves tours of any kind; once he found a behind-the-scenes tour of the Toyota factory,” recalls Nalbone.) One great website to find tours in your area is Factorytoursusa.com, which lists more than 500 places to visit, organized by state and searchable by category. You can find information about tours of everything from kaleidoscope makers to auto and boat manufacturers to fabric mills to film studios, government facilities, space centers and much more.
* Your backyard garden is an ideal place for kids to learn lessons about science, math, art and other subjects. In a unit about insects, Ellen Jenkins first reviewed library books showing insects in different stages of metamorphosis, then sent Nyle outside. "He was digging in the ground looking for things for almost two hours and found different insects."
* Other activities of daily living can be used to foster learning. Children can plan meals and be part of the grocery-shopping process. They can keep track of prices, determine the best values per unit, and assess nutritional value, bringing in math and science skills.
* Community service work: Children can learn much from volunteering at organizations like libraries, food pantries, homeless shelters – everything from empathy to organizational skills and independence. Nalbone's son became involved with his library board as a teen, for example. "Service learning offers such rich resources for children as they get older," she says, "so they can learn beyond what a parent's own skills are."