When we decided to start homeschooling, it was because of a deep belief that it would be the best thing for our family. We had no idea how to start homeschooling, but we were ready to take a risk for our kids. We researched it thoroughly, had family discussions, and then chose the path we felt was best.
Two months later, we threw most everything out the window and started all over. Why? Because there is no way to prepare yourself or your family for homeschooling. It is wonderful, amazing, horrendous, scary, beautiful, and messy. There are hundreds of curriculum options and dozens of philosophies. And there's no shortage of people telling you how to do it best even if those "how-to's" directly contradict each other.
In short, it's overwhelming.
But, I wouldn't trade one crazy moment of it. And I've come to realize that I have even begun to take it for granted. Homeschooling is not something to jump into lightly. It's a huge decision. But, it's worth all the anxiety to find the best option for your children and your home.
For many lately, the decision to homeschool has not been one of choosing a new way of educating, but out of necessity or even out of fear. This is not an ideal way to start homeschooling and has created enormous anxiety for the parents scrambling to develop a homeschool environment on the fly.
After answering many, many questions from friends, family, and readers, I decided to compile some of these answers into one document to help anxious new homeschoolers. This isn't an exhaustive list but should get you started on the right path.
YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED - Click on the question to be taken to it.
How do I start homeschooling legally?
Learn your Country's Laws
Homeschooling legally depends on first your country and then your state. Most countries have ways to legally homeschool. However, that is not the case in all countries. So, start with your home country and learn the laws.
Learn your State's Laws
If you are homeschooling in the United States, the laws for homeschooling are on the state level. You will need to research your state to find out what those laws are. HSLDA is an excellent resource for a quick summary of your specific state. You can search your state's department of education for more details.
Each state is different, and some are stricter than others. In Tennessee, where we homeschool, the rules are considered moderate. We have the option of homeschooling independently or with an umbrella school. In general, you will need to notify the state of your intent to homeschool and then submit any required materials, plans, and/or testing.
What is the difference between an Umbrella School and Filing Independently?
Filing independently with the state usually requires filing an Intent to Homeschool. This is a form that you will fill out and submit to your local school district before you begin homeschooling. It may require items like:
- Names and ages of children homeschooling
- Proof of teacher's education
- Immunization record
Each year you will need to submit a new Intent to Homeschool. You will also need to provide any requirements for the year, such as attendance records, portfolios, and testing results.
An umbrella school is a school (virtual or physical) that handles all the reporting to the state for you. There are advantages and disadvantages to umbrella schools.
Pros of using an Umbrella School:
- The school handles all reporting requirements.
- Often have classes and activities for your child to participate.
- Often have graduation ceremonies.
- The school prepares transcripts for colleges.
- Most have a guidance counselor who can help you plan your year.
Cons of using an Umbrella School:
- Most have requirements that expand beyond the needs of the state, such as additional testing and reporting.
- They have a fee associated with their services. The cost can depend on what services you require – from basic homeschooling to participation in school activities.
How is homeschooling different from distance learning?
This is a new question because of the recent development of virtual learning options by local school systems.
Homeschooling is different than distance learning in that homeschooling is governed by you and your family. Curriculum, philosophies, attendance, and all other decisions regarding your homeschool are decided by you and not a governing board.
Distance learning is not homeschooling. With distance learning, students log on to an online school that is run by the school system. Teachers are assigned to the student and can be reached for questions during appointed school hours. Assignments and tests are reported directly to the school system and are graded by the assigned teachers.
I need a curriculum that is open-and-go and is aligned with the public system. Which one does this?
The short answer? None.
See distance learning above. If you need a curriculum aligned directly with your school system, you will need to look into distance-learning options available in your county. Homeschooling curriculum will not completely align with your school system.
Help, I need to make sure my child isn't left behind so they can go back to public school at a later time.
First, let me assure you that your child isn't going to be left behind. Children learn at different rates and have different abilities. So, let's focus on some positive ways to provide an atmosphere for learning in your home.
Let's start by embracing the idea of education as the joy of learning over what the standards are for your child's grade. Children learn more from exciting, self-motivated projects than they do from workbooks and textbooks. Give them the freedom to discover even if it doesn't completely align with the standards your school has set.
Find out what subjects and topics will be studied in your child's grade in your school system and follow a general outline. If you know that your child will be studying early American history, then coordinate your curriculum choices around that era. The same goes for other subjects like science. If this year focuses on the human body, then look for a good anatomy curriculum.
In the homeschooling world, we often combine these things like we did with our science this year. It focuses on the Industrial Revolution and the science discovered in this time period. This directly relates to our studies in American history so that we can reinforce these areas in multiple subjects LINK.
For subjects like Math, you might want to choose one with a spiral approach or topic approach like Teaching Textbooks as these are more aligned with the school system. However, if you have a child who has struggled in particular areas, you may want to choose this time to reinforce those concepts. You can use a mastery program like Math U See or one you can easily jump to different topics in a curriculum like CTC Math.
But, remember that "falling behind" is an idea that has been forced on you. Children can't fall behind because there's no set determination for when they mature and understand concepts. These are simply standards that have been accepted by the traditional education system. And though they help keep things standardized from district to district and state to state, they mean nothing when it comes to the education and development of your child. Your child may not study a concept introduced during the year by the traditional school, but they also may explore ten concepts that weren't.
As homeschoolers, we are training our children to be life-long learners, not school-long learners. Teaching them that learning can be stimulating and exciting is far more important to their growth than this week's grammar lesson.
How can I homeschool AND work?
I'm not going to tell you it will be easy because it won't. But, it can be done with some modifications to your schedule and your thought process.
Time management is the key to learning to juggle homeschooling and working, but the truth is that you've already been doing a lot of this while your kids were in school. How many times have you come home from work to cook dinner while helping a child with their math homework? Or folded laundry while listening to someone read you their reading assignment? Or my favorite – sat in the car at one child's practice/rehearsal and helped someone with their history questions?
You've been juggling for a while. Take those skills and use them in a different way. Set a schedule that works for you. School doesn't have to be from 8-3, and it doesn't have to be with a teacher monitoring everything the child does. Allow yourself to think beyond the traditional school you grew up with and be inventive.
Some great resources for homeschooling while working are:
- The Working Homeschool Mom Facebook Group is a huge Facebook group devoted to moms who work inside and outside the home. They have great ideas and unique ways of juggling schedules.
- Relax! You Can Have a Relaxed Homeschool Lifestyle As A Working Homeschool Mom - Homeschooling doesn't have to be stressful. You can maintain a relaxed and inviting homeschool while working. I know. I am one of many who do.
- The Working Homeschool Mom Coffee Club is a more intimate group (if the large Facebook group is intimidating) where you can learn from workshops and live meetings by working homeschool moms on how to get it all done.
I can't homeschool high school. There's too much pressure, and I don't remember everything I learned in high school.
You are not alone! None of us remember everything we learned in high school. In fact, I'm pretty sure 99% of the French I learned was forgotten before I even graduated.
But here's some great news! You don't have to remember everything you learned in high school. And, you don't have to teach high school. There are many fabulous programs for upper grades. You are the facilitator. It's your job to help your teenager find a program that is a good fit and encourage them as you would if they were in a traditional school setting.
Some programs that make it easy on the parents for homeschooling high school are:
- The Society of Literary Adventurers – Each month, we walk you through a specific book club and what to expect from your students. Your teen can choose any book club or from one of our series. Students are encouraged to work through the book clubs mostly independently, but there are also great opportunities for deep conversations with parents.
- VideoText Math – this math program has videos and an online or printed text.
- Teaching Textbooks or CTC Math – these math programs will grade the student's work for the parent
- A local co-op or enrichment group – many areas have programs that meet periodically and help parents by providing experiments, hands-on activities, and instruction.
Which curricula are accredited? My local school system says I need to use XXX curriculum, or it won't count.
First of all, you should keep in mind that it is counterintuitive for the school system to encourage you to homeschool. School systems receive money based on their numbers of students. So, they want to make sure to have all students in their district enrolled.
This is not to say that anyone is deliberately misleading you. Still, most school system administrators don't know the laws about homeschooling and certainly don't have a handle on the curriculum available.
Secondly, there is no such thing as an accredited curriculum.
Let me restate that since this is a hot-button topic.
There is no such thing as an accredited curriculum.
Curriculum cannot be accredited. The accreditation process is for schools only. There are several organizations that accredit schools, and you can choose to enroll in one of these options. In this case, the school system will not have to test your child if they decide to reenter the system. See Distance Learning above.
So, to summarize: you can use an umbrella school that is accredited, or you can purchase a curriculum from a school that is accredited. But, you cannot purchase an accredited curriculum.
How can I get compensated for using my tax dollars when I'm not sending my kids to school?
Some states do allow you to deduct homeschooling expenses on your state tax return. You can search for that information or ask your local CPA. However, you cannot deduct any expenses on your federal U.S. tax return.
If you are homeschooling in another country, you will have to research that country's laws regarding your ability to receive deductions or other compensation.
In some areas, vouchers are allowed to be used by homeschooling students. These vouchers can be used for private school classes or for curriculum.
But, let's consider the bigger picture.
If you choose to homeschool your child or enroll them in a private school, you are making a decision that is outside the standard choices ordinarily available. But, it doesn't mean you are not benefiting from living in an educated community. An educated workforce creates a better society and community for everyone.
How many hours should I be homeschooling per day?
This is one of those loaded questions.
First, you need to research your state's laws. For example, in my home state, our children are required to school for 4 hours per day for 180 days per school year. In simplest terms, you should spend a minimum of your state's required hours schooling each day.
But, homeschooling doesn't look like traditional school and so our hours are not always typical. Some days we may become engrossed in a project and spend 8 hours in school. Other days we may finish up in a couple of hours. And, on some of my favorite days, we spend all day fieldschooling.
In general, it really doesn't matter how much time you homeschool per day. As an educator, my goal is to help my children be inspired to learn. I'm not concerned with how many hours I clock doing that. So, if we spend 10 minutes or two hours learning a concept, the end result is the same. My children have mastered the concept, and that's the goal in any educational setting.
Now for those of you concerned with recording attendance and time, especially for high school, there are many ways to record this.
- Record the actual hours spent in the subject.
- Use the hours estimated in the curriculum.
- Estimate time based on what the "average student" would spend learning a concept.
- Count completion of the day's work as the total hours.
But what about socialization?
Ok, I'll bite. What about it?
The socialization question is one I rarely, if ever consider. The reason is that I'm too exhausted from running my kids to book club, ballet, biology lab, archery practice, poetry teatime, and every other activity they have even to consider if they are properly socialized.
Take a moment to look around. Do you see children who are socially awkward? Are these kids all homeschooled?
Do you see kids who are outgoing and friendly? Are these kids all in traditional schools?
Some children need lots of social activities to be happy, and some need a minimal amount – just like adults. Personally, I love to be surrounded by people. I'm an extrovert. My husband can spend much more time alone. He's an introvert. My kids fall on each side of these spectrums.
There are plenty of opportunities these days to get your children involved in activities. As a homeschooler, your children can be as active as they or you want. They will be interacting with broader ranges of age groups, which is more indicative of regular social interactions outside of a school building. This will ultimately prepare them more for life than only knowing how to relate to people their own age.
How do I schedule my day?
There are as many homeschool planners and ideas as there are homeschool questions. So, scheduling your day is a preference and there are no absolutes. Some use loop scheduling, some block scheduling, some time periods and some just go with the flow. There is not right or wrong.
If you want to see the ins and outs of many different types of schedules and plans, then you should read The Ultimate Guide to Low-Stress Homeschool Planning and Scheduling. There are dozens of options and you can choose the one that fits you best.
Do I have to do every subject every day?
No, you do not.
Homeschooling is about freedom. You have the freedom to do only math one day and science the next. You can study one subject in the fall and then switch to another subject in the spring. Or, you can do every subject every day and take Fridays off.
Choose a schedule that works best for you and your kids. If they prefer to spend all day in a deep dive, then schedule your days with one subject per day. But, remember that there will be subjects that your child does not care for and those subjects may need to be learned in shorter bursts. Try out different ways and pick your favorite.
Which homeschool philosophy should I follow?
There are many different homeschool philosophies and each have their pros and their cons. I can't speak to each in detail because I don't use each philosophy. We are relaxed Charlotte Mason Homeschoolers. This means we follow a more modern take on the traditional Charlotte Mason Method. Our typical day will include many of the Charlotte Mason principles like: nature study, copywork, narration, art appreciation, and lots of literature.
Some other homeschool philosophies are:
- Traditional Charlotte Mason
- Traditional Schoolers / School-At-Home
- Unit Study
- Eclectic - a mix of all of the above
If you are unsure what type of philosophy to follow, you can always take a quiz or two to help you determine which one best suits you. But, keep in mind that choosing a homeschooling philosophy is a personal decision. It should match your family's personalities and beliefs. So, it's important to individualize this decision and not compare to others. And also to choose a curriculum that matches this core belief.
Where can I get free curriculum?
There's an old saying, "You get what you pay for."
Though there are plenty of places to get pieces and parts of free curricula, I would hestitate to recommend any full free curricula. There may be some awesome free resources out there that you can piece together to create a full-year, but that has always seemed like more trouble than it was worth to me.
However, many fabulous curriculum creators create free samples or products, so you can get a feel for their entire library. It lets you test-drive the curriculum without having to spend money on something you might not like.
We do that at Literary Adventures for kids. We offer a free nature book club for elementary and a free American Classic Literature book club for high school. These courses let you spend a month getting to know our curricula and seeing if it's a good fit for your homeschool.
So, definitely check out these free resources, but keep in mind that you will probably not be able to create a year's worth of meaningful lessons from them.
I’m struggling with choosing a science curriculum. My child has all kinds of “scientific” interests such as birds, plants, and weather. Is it wrong to not purchase an entire science curriculum?
No, it is absolutely not wrong. In fact, you didn't have to purchase any curricula. Granted, it's a lot more time consuming when you create your own, but I've done it for years.
Based on her interests, let's go with a nature study approach. It may not look like what you expect in a traditional school, but it is science and a very important part of science at that.
If she has an interest in birds, plants and weather, then start there.
- Spend several weeks studying birds.
- Purchase or check out from the library field books that will tell you what birds are in your area.
- Have her do research on different types of birds and narrate to you (written or verbally) about her findings.
- Then you go outside with binoculars and nature journals and try to find some of the birds she's studied.
- Sketch them, take pictures of them, and look for their nests and eggs. Teach her how to observe nature without disrupting it.
- Then you can do some experiments. One year we studied owls and dissected the owl pellets. The kids thought that was hilarious during our Poppy Book Club.
- Research the flight patterns and migration of your local birds.
- Learn about the areas that these birds fly to during the winter and then create a mini geography/cultural exploration.
You could literally spend an entire year studying birds. Or, switch off to plants after a few weeks and create similar studies. Creating your own curriculum is a lot more time consuming, but it can be tailored to your child and more interesting to them.
What other questions do you have about how to start homeschooling? I'll be happy to answer them and add them to the article!
Hi, I’m Dachelle. I’m a homeschooling mom of 3 in the South. I love chocolate and have been known to hide it from my children. I can often be found reading a good book (or even sometimes just an okay book) and enjoying a jar of Nutella — don’t judge. I blog, here, at HideTheChocolate.com when I’m not creating book clubs and making lists…lots and lots of lists (it’s an addiction). Learn more…