By Ann Zeise and Carol Moxley
So many people have written, asking for my “Homeschooling Guide,” I figured I’d better write one! I hope this will help clarify some of the misconceptions about homeschooling, and promote a better understanding of what homeschoolers really do.
I. What is homeschooling?
Homeschooling is a viable education alternative to institutional schooling. In compliance with state laws regarding this type of education, children learn under the general supervision of their parents. Parents and children, conferring with each other, assume control of the content of their learning. It is a complete substitute for institutional schooling.
There are other forms of alternative education that, though they may be called “homeschooling,” fall directly under the supervision of school personnel. Examples are independent study programs (ISPs) or some kinds of “visiting teacher” programs for the infirm In, while these plans may be called “homeschooling” or “home education” and involve the student learning at home, neither the students nor the parents have much control over the content. “Home Study” is often confused with homeschooling. Such programs are offered by school districts so that children confined to home or hospital because of illness or injury may keep up with their classmates in school.
b. Who homeschools?
People from all walks of life homeschool: homeschoolers live in large cities, small towns, on farms and ranches, in mountains and deserts; homeschoolers live in families where mom stays home and dad works or vice versa; homeschoolers are blended families, two-parent families, single parent families, gay and lesbian families, families that work from their homes or where both parents work and a grandparent takes an active role in the education process; families that are religious and those that aren’t; families who have been in their country for generations and those that have recently immigrated; people who enjoy good health and those who live with disabilities. We are homeschoolers. We are your neighbors.
c. Why do families homeschool?
Ask ten homeschooling families why they homeschool and you might get a variety of reasons. Usually it is the positive ways homeschooling benefits their families that keep them going, however. Here are just a few of those benefits:
- Continuing the parent-child relationship that has developed since birth. There is no reason to end this just because the child has reached compulsory school age.
- Better supervision over the content of their children’s education. School curricula can be questionable.
- Better ability to meet the special needs or learning style of their children.
- Concerns about the safety of local schools or the long bus rides to the schools.
- The wonderful flexibility! Homeschooling allows for more frequent travel and for long periods of time.
d. How many people homeschool?
Because not all homeschoolers are required to register, it is nearly impossible to get an accurate count. About 350,000 children were being homeschooled. That estimate is now closer to 1,300,000. That’s roughly 2% of the school-aged population of our country! A dramatic increase in applications from homeschoolers are being reported by colleges and universities as well. There is no question; homeschooling is growing.
II. Legal Options
a. Is it legal?
Homeschooling is legal in all fifty US states. The laws vary from state to state. It is also legal or becoming more acceptable in all provinces in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, in the United Kingdom, Puerto Rico, Japan, South Africa and other countries as well. In some countries it is practiced illegally as homeschoolers work to change the laws.
b. What is the law where I live?
In some places there are requirements that you inform the government of your intent to homeschool in order to avoid truancy questions. In some areas you may declare your home a private school and thereby be exempt from government interference. In other areas, you must be supervised by a cover school.
You only need to concern yourself with the law if your child falls within the age range for compulsory education in your state. You may certainly live the homeschooling lifestyle if your child is younger or older, you just can ignore any registration or reporting requirements.
c. Do I have to have a degree or special training?
Not usually, but credentialed teachers have it easy in some places: they may tutor their own children without any supervision in areas that require such oversight of non-credentialed homeschool parents. Most states don’t even require a parent to have a high school diploma. One state requires a “How to Homeschool” course. Requirements vary from state to state.
d. What’s the best source of legal information?
The people in your area. Local homeschooling groups have experienced homeschoolers who will prove to be the best sources of information on how to meet the legal requirements in your school district. Be sure you have an experienced, reliable source for information. And remember: these people are not lawyers! It is up to you to read the law for yourself. After all, you are the one ultimately responsible for compliance.
III. Actually Homeschooling
a. What approach should I take?
Nobody can make this decision for you. It is up to your family how to best approach the education of your children. That’s the good news. More good news: whatever approach you do choose to take, you will succeed. Your children will learn far faster and more thoroughly because of the personal attention and personalized education than they would have in school. While schools have to wait for new standards to be developed over several years, you have the luxury and the privilege of altering you approach as soon as you see it isn’t working as you would like. Instead, focus on helping your children grow and flourish according to your own family‘s loving values of what makes a successful human being.
b. What approaches are there?
- Structured – Sometimes called school at home, it can also include those who just like to have a very organized, goal-oriented day: A Day-Timer® School!
- Interest-initiated – Some call this approach “unschooling.” These families learn from real life experiences. Kids pursue their interests with encouragement and resources provided by their parents. These families might have a monthly calendar with a few key events noted on it.
- Learning-style – Learning materials and activities are chosen based on how their children learn best.
- Philosophical – These homeschools are structured around educational philosophies studied by the parents.
- Accelerated – Resentful of being called “pushy,” these parents feel their gifted children have special talents that deserve intense, daily focus. The children may also have determined goals to reach.
- Accommodating – Some families need to structure their homeschooling around the special needs of one or more people in their family.
- Unit-based – AKA the unit study approach, all learning is focused on a particular topic for for a period of time, each child learning at their own level of understanding.
- Community – Community activities: religious involvement, youth organizations, volunteer work: group situations that they or others like them have organized. Families spend a significant portion of their time learning from involvement outside the home.
- Eclectic – Any combination of the above! Families pick and choose from all the wonderful options available to them and alter their course as needed.
c. What do we need to buy?
Nothing really. Maybe a little time. Go through what you already have. Chances are these materials can be used to help with your homeschooling. Even the pet dog can be a lesson in the life cycle of fleas! Good books can be reread. Toys can be used to explain physics. Games provide delightful practice in a variety of areas. Ask relatives and friends for attic treasures such as microscopes and telescopes or costumes for make-believe. Learning materials will trickle in. It’s amazing how you will begin to look at even the simplist household item in a new light when you ask yourself, “What can my child learn from this?”
Borrow. Your local library is your best source and it’s FREE! Fellow homeschoolers who have outgrown materials are another great resource. You might find some real treasures in Goodwill or thrift stores and garage sales. There’s a great geometry lesson in building some nice, solidly square, bookcases to hold all this stuff.
If someone says they need to “approve your curriculum,” find out what that really means. It might not mean which text books are you using. It might mean what skills or concepts do you hope your children will learn this year and how do you plan to meet those objectives. Often you can just hand them your state’s “scope and sequence” for the ages of your children, telling them you plan to use materials from everyday life to get these concepts across based on the XYZ philosophy of education.
d. Where can I get ideas?
- Organizations – many national, state and local homeschooling organizations have publications and conferences full of great ideas. Enrichment programs such as Scouts, Campfire and 4-Hhave books and materials you can purchase even if you aren’t members. Local museums and industries have learning opportunities for children.
- Publications – while homeschooling publications will help you with specific homeschooling concerns, don’t forget to check those general parenting and hobbiest publications for great project and learning ideas.
- Web Sites – just type any topic in any search engine, and voila! You have loads of suggestions on things to do! It almost seems as though there is no end to the educational resources available online. You want a reasonable amount? Try our search engine at the top right of any of our pages. Our search bar searches both posts on a2zhomeschooling.com and those of our bloggers on a2zhomeschool.com.
- Books – Read about successful homeschooling families and their approaches to learning. True, the authors only write about their best days and most creative ideas. After all, what family is perfect? But even if you only manage maybe one really great project a week from these books, you’re doing great!
- The Library – The children’s librarian is your friend. Cultivate and nurture that relationship. She’ll be your best resource for years to come. Ask her to watch for new books and publications with ideas of things you can do with your kids.
e. I couldn’t possibly do this!
The challenges some homeschooling families face are incredible, yet still their children learn and thrive. Within these family exists the “Love Factor” that serves to make these families more cohesive, more capable than they were before they decided to homeschool. A hyperactive, climbing-the-walls boy kept at home will lose his “bad boy” image and calm down. That rebellious, bored teenager, now able to get some respect at home finds the path to becoming a productive and creative adult person right before your eyes. Single moms with livelihood issues, create family businesses, with the help of the kids, that keep them solvent and content. Disabled parents wind up raising compassionate youngsters who might wind up in medical or social services occupations. Critical relatives become more accepting as they participate in activities with your children and see the results of your efforts.
Kids don’t need geniuses or a team with teaching certificates. They need resourceful parents who will help them find the answers to their questions, who are willing to spend the bulk of each and every day with them, who will drive them to enrichment activities or over to their friends’ houses, who don’t obsess about test scores. They need parents who believe in them, who are confident enough to let them find their own destiny and help them be all they can be.