Homeschooling 101 USA

So you find yourself homeschooling?

 

Well then... welcome to a broad and liberal education for your child or children, instead of a career-oriented education as suggested by the public school system.

 

Homeschooling is the oldest form of education and the most proven to be effective. No reputable body refutes the value of homeschooling.

 

Homeschoolers, in the modern age, represent all income brackets, ethnicities, political viewpoints, religious backgrounds, and philosophical walks of life. It is an exponentially growing field of education.

So, however you find yourself homeschooling in the USA, here is where we start:

First Step: Find out the regulations for your state:

Currently, out of the 50 states, 11 states do not require parents to inform or alert their local school districts that their children are homeschooled. The majority of the states do not require parents or guardians to submit proof of their children’s academic progress. In most states, parents can homeschool their children without having to prove educational attainment, while some require that parents be at least competent in teaching their children. No state requires that parents should be college degree holders. The Homeschool Legal Defence Association (HSLDA) has all the information you need regarding this.

Second Step: Find the official pages for your state:

Each state and/or county has a homeschooling section. It might be a whole site or just one paragraph, but it's usually a small page. It is usually referred to as 'non-public' schooling and also includes private schools, religious schools, and private tutoring. This is the Minnesota page for the MDE (Minnesota Department of Education). Within the state SPPS (Saint Paul Public Schools) has recently added a very basic info page due to the large increase in homeschooling within the district. You will be able to find contact information on you official state pages for a home school liaison in your district.

Third Step: Things to ask regarding the above info.

Do you need to notify the state?

In some states you do not need to notify anyone if you decide to homeschool. States requiring no notice to the school district about homeschooling include Alaska, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Texas. It is seen as your choice and no one else's. In all other states some form of notification or registration is needed to stay within the law. Individual school or districts may not always give you the correct information. Always refer to state regulations or contact HSLDA.

If yes, what is the applicable paperwork?

Unless you are in a state that doesn’t require any notification of homeschooling, there will be some paperwork to be submitted. This is somewhat varied. The most important thing is to locate your state or district home school liaison and open up a route of communication via email or phone. You should be able to find out their details on the official state pages linked to above. The paperwork provided by the state may request more information than is legally required. Other veteran homeschoolers often have simpler, less intrusive, yet completely legal paperwork you can use.

Do you need to submit paperwork regarding vaccinations and exemptions?

The realm of vaccinations and exemptions is a constantly changing landscape. In most states homeschoolers are not subject to the same rules as public school children but there are exceptions to this. Some states impose that parents keep a record of their child’s vaccination, while some states do not require any record.

If you are in a state that requires vaccination records to be submitted you can also submit an exemption. Exemptions are Religious, philosophical, or medical. Each state honors at least one of these exemptions. Start off by looking here and seeing if the records are required and if so are they required to also be submitted (usually notarized) and then look here to see which exemptions are honored (if that is what you need to do.)

Do you need to administer statutory testing?

Again, this is state specific. Some states require testing and some do not. Even in those that do, not all require the results to be reported. Testing can also be something that parents choose beyond state requirements because some parents choose testing in order to know how their child is progressing. It's useful to do some kind of formal assessment in the eventuality that you child returns into the public school system.

The homeschool liaison should be able to advise you on appropriate tests, or else a homeschooling group. Popular tests include Peabody, IOWA, and CAT.

Do you need to submit a curriculum or timetable?

In some states you must submit a timetable, in some a curriculum, and in many more, nothing at all, but there is usually a general guidance regarding which subjects should be covered and the approximate hours that should be given to homeschooling.

Generally speaking a broad curriculum should be covered which includes literacy, mathematics, and social studies. Most states are very flexible and therefore you can deliver these areas of learning in any way you wish, when you wish, and where you wish. Think science and geography on a family camping trip or reading at the beach.

Who is there to support me?

Within every single state there are multiple homeschool support organizations. You will find co-ops, social groups, legal support, and parent support. There are also, more than ever before, numerous online programs and educational resources.

Search social media for local groups and try to make connections. HSLDA are there for legal questions, and your state homeschool liaison for general guidance. You can also contact us and arrange some consultation.

A Quick Word about Curriculums...

You really don't need to worry about this straight away. Children are naturally inquisitive learners (when not overly distracted or restricted). However, here are your broad choices to start thinking about. You will find your own groove soon enough.

Virtual online school

These seem appealing (and certainly offer a lot) and may be a great fit for you, but they are not technically homeschooling and are generally affiliated with a public school or charter school system. Little of the information here will be helpful to you. If you want to pursue this route contact your school district.

Online subscriptions

There is an amazing array of online programs both free and paid for anything from maths to coding to writing to languages. In addition there are the usual online classes that children might take even if not homeschooled. Scholarships are also sometimes available. Sometimes just choosing one subject and tackling that through an online option will lighten the load quite a lot. Outschool is a great place to look.

Complete curriculums

​Some parents choose to buy complete homeschooling curriculums. These are spendy but if affordable for you can be a great launch point. Just bear in mind that one of the strengths of homeschooling is to be able to encourage your child at their own pace. A second grader may be 1st grade in reading but 4th grade in maths. Most public schools cannot compensate for this with every single child. You can so don't rush into buying a complete curriculum straight away and talk to some veteran homeschoolers first.

Tutors

Private tutors can be a great addition, especially in states where a qualification is needed in order to homeschool. Even the most confident homeschooler may reach out for a specialist tutor for music, languages, or sports.

If you hire a full time tutor the laws may affect you differently so check with your state liaison. In many states the only person who can legally homeschool is the parent or legal guardian, not even a grandparent.

Ad-hoc curriculums

Possibly the most common form of homeschooling. This means using books and curriculums from across the country (or world) and putting together a complete learning program which covers all necessary learning areas. Some new homeschoolers choose a complete curriculum for the first year but move onto creating their own ad-hoc curriculums in future years as their confidence grows. It will probably look like a mixture of workbooks, online subscriptions, and a couple of tutored sessions.

Unschooling

Unschooling is a more free-form version of homeschooling which rejects usual timetables and curriculums. It is a type of homeschooling that promotes organic, self-directed learning without the structure of traditional education. While unschooling is less studied, it is known that unschooled individuals are known to have very good outcomes academically. Read more here.

Deschooling

Deschooling is a period of time in which the child is actively ‘deschooled’. This could be because school has been a negative experience for the child (or parent). The idea is a reset so that the child is ready to learn in a completely new way and not bound by the traditional timetables and methods. Deschooling is an adjustment period after leaving a school environment when a child (and their parents) disengage from the previous school experience. If you are new to homeschooling, a period of deschooling is perfectly respectably and will give you time to think. No rush. More here.

Traditional homeschooling methods

Traditional homeschooling is more like what you experienced in the classroom, kind of like 'public school at home'. It involves timetable and specific subjects. However, there are other styles you may not have heard of yet that are established and more traditional forms of homeschooling. These could include Charlotte Mason, for example. There are many resources available for people who wish to follow this route. Ad-hoc homeschoolers will utilise some more traditional methods within their curriculums.

Fourth Step: What are the homeschooling organizations in your state?

Every single state has at least one homeschooling organization and many have dozens. These can range from playgroups and hiking groups to online support groups and part time co-ops. They are a constantly changing landscape and the best way to find them is via social media as any list will be quickly out of date. There is unlikely to be an 'official' home-schooling group for a state but in a small state it's possible. Many groups will have a general focus such as 'Christian' or 'secular' or 'outdoor'.

Fifth Step: What do I do now? 

You are the parent and you are the teacher already. All paperwork is filed. You are now legal now. This bit is easy. You can do this! (just as so very many have done for so very long before you.)

Before diving in take a short time to relax and dip your feet in the water. There really is no rush.

  • Start with what you know.

    • Do you have any skills or hobbies or areas of expertise you can share with your child?

  • Move on to what you want to know.

    • What are you interested in that you and your child could learn together?

  • Add in a dash of what you love.

    • What are your passions? Maybe it's time to share them?

Sixth Step: Some facts about homeschooling.

It's not unusual.

  • There were an estimated 4.5 to 5.0 million homeschool students in grades K-12 in the United States during March of 2021 (roughly 8% to 9% of school-age children).

  • There were about 2.5 million homeschool students in spring 2019 (or 3% to 4% of school-age children).

  • The homeschool population had been growing at an estimated 2% to 8% per annum over the past several years, but it grew drastically from 2019-2020 to 2020-2021 (and this is not including 'distance learners'.)

It's highly effective.

  • Approximately 74% of homeschool graduates aged 18 to 24 had taken at least some college classes while only 46% of the general population in that same age bracket had done the same.

It's growing in diversity.

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High school and beyond!

  • High schoolers constitute the majority of those being homeschooled due to concerns regarding safe school environments for older students.

  • In your state you may be able to write your own high school transcripts and organize your own graduation.

  • Options such as participating in PSEO or public school courses are generally available to homeschoolers.

  • Even past high school there are a wealth of online degrees to choose from, although generally homeschoolers are sought after by the best colleges and universities.

Seventh Step: The naysayers.

One of the most difficult aspect of homeschooling can be the attitude of others towards your decision, often family members. The good news is that most who aren't particularly convinced at first will come around in time, when they see the fruits of your work. There will be some, however, that won't. You are going to have to grow a thick skin and arm yourself with some sound facts and witty comebacks. It's really not your problem because the facts are in your favor.

 

  • Know your facts.

  • Make sure you are legal.

  • Have some great questions at the ready.

  • Surprise them with this list of 100 famous homeschoolers.

  • Lovingly remind them whose child it is.

Eighth Step: Formal resistance.

There can unfortunately be a somewhat aggressive resistance against homeschooling by some individuals, organizations, media, and even political movements. This is not something to be tackled here, just something to be aware of. If you come across anything like this just know that good people are most likely aware of it and working to tackle disinformation about homeschooling. Remember - neglect is neglect. If someone is just 'sitting around doing nothing', they aren't homeschooling at all.

Ninth Step: A way of life.

Whether you choose to homeschool for a short time, a season, or a lifetime, at this point you should consider yourself well educated on what homeschooling is and is not. You will most likely become an advocate for homeschooling regardless of whether or not it worked for you. If it did work for you it’s highly likely that it becomes a viable, if not preferred, option for education in your family from now on. You are the expert. This is your child. This is your life now. Enjoy every moment.