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Homeschooling 101: How to Begin Homeschooling

 

If you are contemplating home schooling or have recently made the decision to homeschool, you probably have many questions regarding this important decision.

Deciding to take complete responsibility for your child or children’s education is a huge undertaking, but fear not, it can be done and it’s not as complicated as some individuals may suggest.  You may be wondering how to withdraw your child from public school or how to notify the local school district about your decision.  Perhaps you have questions regarding the legalities involved with homeschooling in the state you reside, how to select the best curricula that meets your child’s needs, where to locate learning activities, and much more.  If this sounds like you, and you aren’t sure where to begin, I’ve outlined below my top tips for transitioning to homeschooling.

Deciphering Homeschooling Laws

Deciphering Homeschooling Laws

Legalities of Homeschooling 

The first place to start is with the law.  Homeschooling is legal in all 50 states, though each state has different laws and regulations.  States vary with their regulations with some like Massachusetts and New York requiring more from homeschool families (i.e., in New York, you must file a letter of intent, homeschool for 180 days, file quarterly progress reports, teach specific required subjects, submit an annual assessment) vs states like Michigan (No notice of intent required along with end of year tests or number of days mandated.).  Before you do anything else, you will need to understand your state laws well.  Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) has outlined the laws for your state here: https://www.hslda.org/laws/

Essential Homeschooling Laws

The following are some of the questions you will need to address before beginning homeschooling:

  • What are the homeschooling laws in your state?
  • Does your state require a letter of intent? When is this letter due and where do you send it?  (If you join HSLDA, they will walk you through this and provide you with a form letter to give to your school district).
  • What qualifications are necessary to teach your child?  Do you need a B.S., high school diploma, etc.?
  • Does your state offer religious exemptions and is this something your family should pursue?
  • Does your state require proof of progress in the form of standardized tests, a portfolio of your child’s work, or a professional evaluation?
  • Does your state require attendance records or a certain number of homeschooling instructional hours per year?
  • What is the required attendance age (usually six but can be five) for starting school?
  • What subjects are you required to teach?
  • If applicable, are there any regulations regarding homeschooling a special needs child?

All of these questions can be examined by studying your state laws.   Sometimes a quarterly report is a simple compliance like submitting a basic progress report and although your state may require you to teach certain subjects, you can choose the curriculum that best meets your child’s learning styles and or needs.  If you choose to join HSLDA, members enjoy guidance with 24/7 legal assistance ranging from answering small issues like how best to send in a letter of intent (If you are a member, they can provide you with a form letter on HSLDA letterhead for you to fill out and send notifying your district),  an attendance issue or what types of proof of progress (i.e. professional evaluation, types of standardized tests, acceptable scores, etc.) and any other legal question or issue you may encounter.  For more information on HSLDA, click here:  https://www.hslda.org

If Required, Send Your Notification

If you are required to send notification, make sure to send it certified mail with a signature receipt and file it with your homeschooling documentation.  For more help with this, click here:  https://about.usps.com/publications/pub370/pub370_006.htm)

So, you’ve notified your school district if that’s required by law or if not, you have skipped this step.  Now it’s time to figure out your schedule and curricula.

The Louvre in Paris. Homeschooling Doesn't have to be Limited to the Confines of Your Home or Country.

The Louvre in Paris. Homeschooling Doesn’t have to be Limited to the Confines of Your Home or Country.

 

Before you decide upon your schedule and curriculum, first ask yourself a few questions:

  • How does my child learn best?  Is your child an auditory, kinesthetic or visual learner?
  • Does your child have ADD, Autism, or another special need?  If for example, your child has Autism, a program like SKILLS created by Dr. Doreen Granpeesheh, PhD, BCBA-D of the Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD) may work well for your child.   This special ABA program was designed for both educators and parents to use at home or in the classroom with their special needs child.  For a monthly fee, parents can enroll their child or children in this learning program.  https://www.skillsforautism.com
  • Why are you choosing homeschooling?  To best fit your child’s academic needs?  Religious instruction?  Special needs?  Does your family travel often or do you have a child with special medical needs?
Admiring Penguins at Sea World©

Admiring Penguins at Sea World ©

A Few Examples of Available Homeschooling Styles 

Though you don’t have to limit your homeschooling to just one learning style, and are free to combine whatever instructional methods you like, I would be amiss if I didn’t include some of the most common and popular types of homeschooling styles available:

Charlotte Mason

  • Charlotte Mason:  Based on the philosophies of a 19th century British educator, this educational model is based upon the belief that children learn best when learning is centered around their needs.   She wrote and published several educational books that still inspire homeschoolers, public, private and charter schools today.
  • Mason believed formal academics should wait until age 6 and that good habits are of utmost importance.
  • Quality over quantity:  It’s best to allow the child to focus their attention on doing their best possible work for a short period of time rather than long and incorrect.
  • Child centered is the central underlining guiding premise of Charlotte Mason teaching.
  • Mason believed: “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.”
  • Living Books:  The polar opposite of a textbook, Mason believed it’s best to learn from an author who shares the knowledge, passion and enthusiasm for the subject at hand, rather than a textbook compiled by a lackluster committee of individuals.
  • Textbooks are acceptable if they are the best available educational materials for the child to learn with.
  • Narration:  Children need to be able to express what they have learned.  This can be done via oral recitation or written prose.  For proper learning to take place, a child should be able to describe what they have learned and why it is important.
  • Lessons:  Should be short, concentrated and focused with time added for older students and lengthened when students have mastered prerequisite materials.
  • Dictation:  Mason believed dictation and copy work were essential once a student had mastered the fundamentals of handwriting.  Copy work is used to teach grammar, spelling and composition.
  • Mason also believed a student should learn about Shakespeare, art and music appreciation, history, the Bible, geography, music appreciation, nature study and outdoor education (especially as young children exploring outdoors), learning math first with concrete manipulatives before moving  to the abstract written versions, and more.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlotte_Mason
Exploring Discovery Space Shuttle at the Smithsonian Education Event

Exploring Discovery Space Shuttle at the Smithsonian Education Event

Unit Studies

  • These were my favorite when I taught in schools, they offer limitless opportunities for fun, creative and informative lessons.  Unit Studies allow the educator to cull lessons from a multitude of platforms.  One main subject, such as oceans or a continent, are selected and from this subject lessons in language arts, math, science, art, geography, history and all other subjects may be incorporated into the lessons.

Unschooling

  • Child-centered learning that does not follow a specific curriculum or use any particular method or set lesson plans.  Parents select based on what their child is most interested in learning and select materials accordingly.
  • For more information on this method:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unschooling

Classical

  • An education of the classics.
  • Based on the trivium comprised of grammar, logic, and rhetoric.
  • Early years are spent learning facts, middle years educational argumentation, in high school they learn self expression.
  • Early years are spent learning phonics, spelling, grammar, language arts, foreign languages, history, nature and the human body, and more.
  • Middle years are spent in the “Logic Stage” where the student learns how to apply logic to all subjects.
  • High school years are spent in the “Rhetoric Stage” where the student learns to apply the knowledge from the early stage and logic from the middle stage to express their knowledge.  Students focus on their strengths and interests.
  • Classical education is language centric with emphasis on writing and speaking well.
  • For more information on this method:  http://www.welltrainedmind.com/classical-education/

Waldorf

  • Based on the educational philosophies of Austiran Rudolph Steiner.  This method focuses on developing the child through three phases:  intellectual, emotional and physical.
  • Students experience writing, theatre, dance, music, literature, and more.
  • A Waldorf education consists of three stages:  Imitation, Imagination and Truth, Discrimination and Judgement.
  • Waldorf method does not believe in teaching via media (i.e. computers or television) and
  • For more information on the Waldorf teaching methods: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waldorf_education

Other Methods

  • Montessori, Eclectic, school-at-home via online learning programs, and eclectic homeschooling that combines multiple methods.

 

Civil War Field Trip "Stonewall Jackson Shrine" Woodford, VA

Civil War Field Trip “Stonewall Jackson Shrine” Woodford, VA

Finding the right curriculum for your child might seem stressful — so many choices, what should you pick?   In the beginning, try not to put too much emphasis on trying to select the perfect curriculum, like most things in life, trial and error will help finalize your decision.  Also, you may want to limit your purchases while you try out books and programs — what works for someone else’s child may not work for yours.  What is essential, of course, is whatever method and materials work best for your child.  As long as progress is being met and the child is learning what he or she needs to learn, do not worry if what you change course after a few months or your first year of homeschooling.

Homeschooling Conferences

Homeschooling conferences are a great way to meet fellow homeschoolers, learn about new and existing curriculum choices and programs, and browse books and other curricula firsthand at the Expo.  Here are a few examples:

Extracurricular Activities at the Community Center

Extracurricular Activities at the Community Center

Socialization & Extracurricular Activities 

Despite the perpetual myth that homeschooling students are not socialized, homeschooling families enjoy sports, music, field trips and many other extracurricular activities.  Often students can enjoy classes during traditional school hours.  Check out your local Y, community center, community colleges, colleges and universities, professional gyms such as Lifetime Fitness, museums and government buildings for learning and physical fitness.  Many museums and theaters offer discounts for homeschooling families and  some participate with the children’s museum reciprocal network:

http://www.childrensmuseums.org/family-reciprocal-membership.html

 

National Archaeological Museum Athens, Greece

Finding Support with Other Homeschooling Parents & Homeschooling Co-Ops

Other homeschooling parents are a wealth of information regarding everything from curriculum, local activities and organized group field trips, teaching co-ops and play dates.  HSLDA lists some on their website:  http://www.hslda.org

 

Homeschooling Volunteer Learning Opportunities

Older students can find amazing volunteer opportunities, often during traditional school hours (Monday-Friday 8-4) that afford fantastic learning opportunities in your community.  Wherever you live, do your best to locate volunteer learning experiences that best meet your child’s interests.  Examples include:

  • Museums
  • Libraries
  • Churches, Synagogues and Mosques
  • Universities and Colleges (Some high school students take classes for credit or audit courses (as a traditional student, not online) at universities and colleges.  Others volunteer to work alongside professors assisting with academic research).
  • Botanical Gardens
  • State Parks
  • Various Government Offices and Officials
  • Nursing Homes and Hospitals

Take Your Field Trips to the Next Level

I love TravelZoo.  I’ve used them for drastically reduced four and five star hotel stays, four star restaurant vouchers in top cities, discount airline flights, Broadway theatre tickets, Nationals baseball tickets and much more.  Membership is free with your e-mail.  Be sure to check out their “Top 20” which is a compendium of their absolute best travel deals published every Wednesday morning EST.  Use TravelZoo to help locate the very best field trips, classes and extracurricular activities for your homeschool family.  http://www.travelzoo.com

A Few TravelZoo Ideas for Your Homeschooling Trips

  • Worldwide discounts for top events, trips and tours.
  • Discount museum passes and tickets to top major city attractions such as opera, play or symphony tickets.
  • TravelZoo offers frequent promotional offers for the best performances at places like The Kennedy Center in D.C., Lincoln Center or Broadway productions in New York.
  • Discount professional sporting tickets for baseball, basketball, and other sports including the Boston Red Sox, Nationals, New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs, Texas Rangers and more.
  • Discount art, music, science, and sports classes at businesses, museums, and other venues throughout major and smaller cities.
  • Promotional offers for kayaking, skiing, indoor and outdoor rock climbing, camping, fishing, rafting trips, and photography lessons and workshops.
Sydney Harbour Bridge, Australia

Sydney Harbour Bridge, Australia

CityPASS is another terrific resource for parents looking for some of the best extracurricular activities for their homeschooled child.  CityPASS has discount tickets for top attractions within major US cities such as Boston, NY, Atlanta, Seattle, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Chicago, Houston and more.  They also offer selections for Toronto.  During one of our trips to Boston we utilized CityPASS for tickets to the Science Museum, New England Aquarium, Museum of Fine Arts and the Prudential Center for enough less than the standard admission price.  While in Atlanta, we purchased CityPASS tickets for the Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta Zoo, Coca Cola and more.

http://www.citypass.com

 

Taking charge of your child’s education is a worthwhile endeavor, albeit intimidating.  If your heart is set on homeschooling, remember that though it may be time consuming and a tremendous amount of work, you can do it and succeed.

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