Homeschooling in Okinawa & Overseas
I truly never thought that I would write a blog post specific to homeschooling in Okinawa. But here we are in July of 2020 looking at a new school year. If you're living overseas, you're probably just trying to do your best to survive each day! The 2020/2021 school year hasn't even begun yet and it seems crazy already! Different states, counties, and school districts are trying to figure out how they're going to handle the challenges from COVID-19. The DODEA school system overseas is no different. Everyone is trying their best to adapt and overcome with these changes. Every family is making the best decision possible for their kids and I applaud that!
Homeschooling in Okinawa often comes with its own set of challenges and unknowns. Questions like "Who do I report to?" and "Is there anyone to help me?" are often on parents' minds as they consider homeschooling. Fortunately for everyone living overseas, you have lots of options! But unfortunately, it can also be difficult wading through all of those options.
Q - What curriculum do you use?
A - While this is not an Okinawa-specific question it is the most common one so I wanted to include it. Curriculum is such a huge choice for families! It's also one of my favorite parts of homeschooling. I love being able to choose curriculum based on my kids' interests and strengths. I have experimented with many different curriculums as my kids have been at different levels and stages in learning. I often start with one curriculum for PreK and Kindergarten and switch as they get older. Here are some curriculums we have enjoyed in the past and ones we currently use:
The Good & The Beautiful - I love that this curriculum allows me to teach multiple ages and grade levels at once. I use it for the 2 subjects that are always grade-specific - Language Arts and Math. You could also do a full homeschool curriculum with just The Good & The Beautiful.
Math U See - We loved Math U See for Kindergarten - 2nd grade. It was fun, simple to follow, and really encouraged the mastering of math facts. However, we felt that it got a little monotonous for the higher elementary grades.
Math Lessons for a Living Education - We are currently using this math curriculum along with The Good & The Beautiful. I love this one because it is easy for kids to work through on their own (independent work is so important as kids get older!) It also reinforces concepts learned by reviewing them throughout the whole book. This is a simple curriculum to follow and that makes it easy to love as a teacher!
Beautiful Feet Books - This is my favorite "one stop shop" for all electives! Some of the electives we use from Beautiful Feet Books are: Geography, History of Science, and Teaching Character Through Literature. I love this curriculum because it's literature-based, meaning it teaches through books. There's nothing better than a living education and learning through books together! I also love that the curriculum from Beautiful Feet Books is age-inclusive and is great for the whole family. I always try to pick as many curriculums as possible that include all the kids since there's only one of me!
BookShark - This is another literature-based homeschool curriculum that is secular and comes with rave reviews. It can be completed in 4 days a week instead of the usual 5. I also love that BookShark uses levels instead of grades and the instructor's guide makes it so easy to teach!
Options for Quality Secular Curriculum - Sometimes parents want an option for curriculum that isn't faith-based. Instead of giving you another extensive list, you can read the "STEAMsational" blog post with some amazing options for kindergarten - 12th grade.
Q - When should I buy the curriculum for the new school year?
A - As soon as possible! If you've lived in Okinawa or overseas for any amount of time you know that mail can be sloooooow. If you're ordering books from Amazon, you'll wait at least 2 weeks to receive the package. If you're ordering books from a curriculum company back in the states, they often send it via "media mail" which is less expensive for shipping but can take up to a month to arrive. So go ahead and decide what curriculum you want to use, order it, and hope it arrives by the beginning of the school year!
Q - Are there any homeschool co-ops or groups that we can be a part of?
A - Yes! The great thing about Okinawa and many overseas communities is that they're full of them! The best way to find your homeschool community is usually with a search on Facebook. There are structured co-ops in Okinawa such as FISH (Faith In Schooling Homes) and Classical Conversations. There are also some wonderful unstructured groups that meet at fun playgrounds and nature trails to let the kids play while the moms connect. My kids and I are a part of the FISH Homeschool Co-op. We meet on Friday mornings during the school year September - May. I also started a Wild + Free Book Club with another fun homeschool mom and we meet as often as we can! There's also a group in Okinawa called "Okinawa Homeschool Recess" that organizes unstructured play time for kids of all ages. One other local Okinawa resource is a wonderful support group called OCHEA. They were created to provide homeschooling families a way to connect through field trips, parties, and even curriculum sales. No matter where you are in the world, a great resource for finding your group of fellow homeschooling families is through Wild + Free. You can join this wonderful community for free and find a group close to you! Whatever you decide for homeschool groups, just make sure that you find a group so you can connect with other families walking the same road. Trust me, you'll have "those days" where you need a kind, listening ear! If you haven't found your group yet you can always message me, too!
Q - Can I homeschool my kids and still enroll them in DODEA schools on base?
A - Yes! DODEA schools in Okinawa have a special program for families that choose to homeschool. It might differ from school-to-school on the different bases, but there is an option to keep your kids enrolled in DODEA schools and utilize some of their classes and programs for kids. I wasn't knowledgeable in this area so I asked my friend, Maria, to help out with this question. Maria said that she simply called the school secretary and changed her kids' status to homeschooling over the phone. (Even if you're not already enrolled with the DODEA schools you can still enroll your kids and then sign up for this program!) Kids that change their status to homeschooler will be assigned a home room teacher and will receive a schedule with special classes they can participate in. They will also have access to the library and other fun school activities. If you're interested in learning more about this program, Maria said you can message her through her website or Instagram! Thank you, Maria!!
Q - Who do you report to - your home state, local school, DODEA, or no one?
A - The easy answer is you report to no one. It sounds crazy and overwhelming and it certainly can be if you are just starting out with homeschool. You definitely need to "have your ducks in a row" when homeschooling overseas. There won't be anyone standing over your shoulder to check records and make sure that your kids are achieving certain standards. There won't even be anyone to check in with at the end of the school year. If that stresses you out, there are ways to manage the records. I use a homeschool planner that I purchased as a PDF and I print out the parts that are helpful for managing our homeschool. I focus on keeping track of attendance, grades, and the curriculum/books that we finish. Also, if you know for sure that you are going to move back to a certain state and enroll your kids in school there, it might be a good idea to research that state's standards and try to stay on top of those.
Q - Should I do end of year testing?
A - Again, the choice is all up to you! When I talk to fellow homeschooling moms I find that the answers are often split 50/50. Some moms religiously do end of year tests so they know exactly how their kids are doing in all subjects. Then some moms know intuitively if their kids are progressing forward at a level they're comfortable with. One of the best places to start when looking for testing options is with the Homeschool Legal Defense Association. Their website answers lots of questions about testing and can even direct you towards the best option. Academic Excellence came highly recommended from a friend as an affordable and reputable option for end of year testing. Some curriculums like Abeka will include testing when you complete the program. Don't worry about testing too much at the beginning, though! You can figure this part out as you go along.
Q - Do you enjoy homeschooling in Okinawa/overseas?
A - I think this is my favorite question that I get and the answer is always "YES!" We all truly love it! There are so many things to appreciate about homeschooling while living overseas. One of my favorites is the flexibility it gives us as a family. We can take last-minute field trips and let the books wait until another day or we can take trips during the school year without having to worry about days missed at school. We either work a little extra before trips or play catch up when we get back. My husband's schedule can have sudden changes and trips, so homeschooling really allows us more quality time together as a family. I especially love that homeschooling gives us so much time to explore together! Our school work can usually be accomplished in half a day so that leaves us lots of time for getting outside.
Whenever I talk to people about homeschooling, whether overseas or stateside, I always remind them that it's a BIG decision! You have to take it one little bit at a time and see if it's the best option for your family. And if you're making this decision with a spouse then it'll be even easier if you have their support. Just make the best decision you can for the current school year. You can always change your mind later if your schooling choice is not working. Or you can simply change curriculum if that was an issue.
If you've made the decision to homeschool, check out my "Intro To Homeschooling" post with some encouragement and important things to remember as you start the school year.