Homeschooling has become increasingly popular among families in the U.S. People of all backgrounds are choosing to educate their children independently, and in growing numbers. According to the Office of Non-Public Education (ONPE), 3.4% of the school-age population in the U.S. was homeschooled in 2011, up from 2.9% in 2007.
Technology is a significant factor in this expansion, and online homeschooling has taken the at-home learning experience to a new level. Families can now find fully-developed homeschool curriculum on the internet, plus a wide range of learning apps and self-paced learning tools to help their children. Technology also helps build a community for homeschooling families by promoting connections with homeschool groups and providing support for students and parents alike.
The decision to homeschool a child is complex, and the reasons for home education are as varied as the people who choose it. Once considered the province of religious, rural, and white families, homeschooling is now more diverse. Although white students are more likely to be homeschooled than nonwhite students, 72% of homeschooled students live in urban areas, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). When asked in a national survey why they choose to homeschool their children, parents cited several different reasons that range well beyond the traditional perceptions of homeschooling families.
Reasons for Homeschooling
Can give child a better education at home – 48.9%
A desire to provide religious or moral instruction – 38.4%
Family reasons – 16.8%
To develop character and morality – 15.1%
Object to what school teaches – 12.1%
School doesn't challenge child. – 11.6%
Other problems with available school – 9%
Child has special needs or disability – 8.2%
Source: National Center for Education Statistics
Getting Started with Homeschooling
Homeschooling your children will affect almost every aspect of life in your household. Before you get started, explore the world of homeschooling. Look at your schooling options and the cost, and consider how you and your family will respond to the freedom of setting your own schedules, spending more time together, and living your lives a step or two outside the mainstream.
Are you ready to Homeschool?
Research will help you determine when and how to start your homeschool program. The first step is making sure you know and understand how homeschooling is regulated in your state. Tap into national and local resources, like homeschooling organizations, to find homeschooling curriculum and tips. Review homeschooling teaching philosophies, study other homeschooling programs, consider your children’s learning styles, and look for an approach that will meet their needs. Develop a comprehensive plan for how you will approach home education, and be prepared to adapt it frequently.
The time it takes to “deschool” depends on how long students spent in a traditional school, and how they left it. Students may miss the familiar markers and guidelines of a traditional school and have a hard time figuring out what to study and how to organize their time. During this transitional period, it can be helpful to delay implementing a formal homeschool curriculum. Take advantage of informal learning opportunities instead, such as museums, nature centers, historical sites, and libraries. Check out the educational offerings available online and through broadcast media.
Homeschooling doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. Public alternative schools, such as web-based virtual public education, let students study independently while still following a public-school directed curriculum at a rate and level set by the district. A wide variety of online homeschooling programs are available to support homeschooling families. If local schools are flexible and the state allows it, some parents find part-time homeschooling to be the best of both worlds. With this option, students split their time between public school and homeschooling programs and focus on emphasizing their talents or strengthening their weak spots.
Parents who start homeschooling will soon discover that while it is a cheaper alternative to private school, it can be more expensive than public school. Teaching materials are likely to be one of the greatest expenses, so borrowing from friends and sharing resources with other homeschoolers can help you reduce these costs. Spending on sports, field trips, and other extracurricular activities add up, as does the cost of school supplies. Parents with multiple children will find that once they have set up their in-house library and purchased homeschool curriculum, the per-child cost of homeschooling will go down. Memberships in home school associations and the cost of homeschooling conferences are expensive as well, but they can save you money in the long run.
Classroom and Curriculum Planning
There are two key steps in getting ready for homeschooling; classroom preparation and homeschool curriculum planning. Students should have a designated place to read, write, and study quietly. Line up resources for both kinds of experiences. Your curriculum should reflect your homeschooling philosophy and how your children learn best.
Setting goals for yourself, your children, and your family will help you get the most out of homeschooling, and it’s a great way to start preparing your homeschool classroom. Determine where each child is in his or her development, and set realistic, measurable goals for each student. Develop a schedule in line with legal requirements for homeschooling in your state; as long as you are meeting state standards, you can configure your school year any way you’d like. Make the most of this opportunity by considering teaching and learning styles and seasonal cycles. Select homeschool curriculum, while keeping in mind what kind of learner each child is. Research will help you find the right fit, so use catalogs, conferences, curriculum guides, used book stores, recommendations from other homeschoolers, and other education resources in your community. Acquire supplies as needed, and remember you can always trade resources with other home educators.
Popular Homeschooling Philosophies
Classical Education (Socratic Method) – Based on the Trivium, or the phases of child development (reason, record, research, relate, and rhetoric) this approach builds knowledge around concrete, abstract, and analytical approaches to learning, and is often age-based.
Goal: Teach students to learn for themselves.
Charlotte Mason – Focused on teaching the whole child, this approach is based on a three-pronged vision of education; atmosphere, vision, and life. Respect for children is key. Real-life situations are the best tools to help children learn. Narration and discussion are the best way to demonstrate knowledge.
Goal: Learn from real-life situations.
Waldorf Education – Based on the work of Rudolf Steiner, this approach focuses on educating the whole child; body, mind, and spirit. Use of televisions and computers is discouraged. Students develop their own textbooks.
Goal: Children are taught how to figure things out for themselves and practice self-awareness.
Unschooling – Children are encouraged to follow their own curiosity, and learning will develop naturally. Formal lesson plans and curricula are not used.
Goal: Living and learning should be thought of as the same thing.
Unit Study – Also called cross-curriculum, this approach takes the cue of a child’s interest in a certain subject, and uses that to prompt lessons in multiple educational disciplines, such as history, art, science, spelling, math, and reading.
Goal: Learning improves when children are interested fully immersed in a topic.
Montessori – Organization and a strong aesthetic sensibility are central to this approach, which emphasizes “errorless learning” and students learning at their own rates. Homeschoolers most often use this method for younger children.
Goal: The best way for children to develop their full potential is for children to learn at their own pace.
Online Education – Online homeschooling provides direct access to online schools, homeschooling programs, and curriculum choices for all ages and disciplines, as well as expert resources and content. The challenge is sifting through all the options and evaluating quality.
Goal: The Internet provides families with all the resources homeschooling curriculum support they need.
Recommended Online Programs
These days, parents can access comprehensive, quality homeschool curriculum with just the click of a button. This can include online lectures, online textbooks, regular assessment of student learning, and access to counselors. A wide range of learning software is available to students, offering them a structured approach to learning plus the flexibility to master material at their own pace. Interactive CD programs, for example, are widely used in homeschool settings. Tablets have also proven to be a powerful learning tool, and can be stocked with educational apps that complement subjects such as math, reading, and foreign languages. The Internet is full of material that can be used to supplement homeschooling programs, including animated lessons, interactive learning activities, and printable guides and worksheets. Several online organizations, such as the popular Khan Academy, also provide short lectures in the form of YouTube videos. It should be noted that technology plays a crucial role in helping homeschooled students stay connected, either in the formal setting of an online course or in informal settings, such as chat rooms and online communities.
Building a Network
Homeschooling adults and students can’t rely on the automatic social connections created by traditional public schools, so they’ve become very adept at developing their own networks. Connecting with other homeschoolers, both online and in-person, can fill you in on new homeschooling programs, legal issues, innovations in online programming, and more. Find online groups for homeschoolers in your area and keep up-to-date through Facebook, Twitter, and blogs. The Homeschool Mom, for example, is one of many popular blogs that provide encouragement and support for homeschool parents. Bookmark your state homeschooling organization’s website and visit it frequently. Sign up for email lists for events, and set up alerts for homeschool headlines on your newsfeed.
Take advantage of community resources, like museums and nature centers, and sign up for newsletters to be aware of field trip opportunities and special events. Organized sports are a great way for young people to connect, and sites like the Home Schooled Sports Network (HSPN) offer a Team Locator, making it simple for homeschool students to find nearby teams.
Homeschooling laws and requirements
Homeschooling has been legal in all 50 states since 1998. However, the regulations affecting homeschooling and how families implement it vary considerably from state to state. In some places, parents don’t even need to notify the state of their plans to educate their children at home. In others, parents need to file annual curriculum plans and learning assessment materials. It’s very important to be thoroughly familiar with all aspects of state homeschooling regulations where you live.
State Laws and Regulations
Notification of Homeschooling – The requirements for notification of homeschooling vary in different states, which underscores the importance of reviewing local and state regulations when you plan to homeschool. According to the Council for Responsible Home Education (CRHE), in 11 states, no notice is required. In 10 states, parents only need to let the authorities know they are homeschooling when they begin the practice. In the other 29 states, parents need to file a homeschooling notice with state officials every year.
Parent Education Minimums – There is great latitude in state regulations regarding the parent education minimums required in order to homeschool. In 40 states, homeschool teachers don’t have to be a high school graduate, even if they plan to homeschool through the 12th grade.
State-Mandated Subject Requirements – Only 17 states have state-mandated subject requirements for homeschooling, and the requirements vary depending on the location. Some states require parents to teach certain subjects, and others say instruction must simply be “equivalent” to public schools. Out of the 33 states that do mandate teaching of certain subjects, only 11 have any means of checking to see if students are actually learning the required material.
Assessment Requirements – Less than half of the states in the country have any assessment requirements for homeschooled students. There are no ramifications for poor student performance in many of the 23 states that do mandate periodic evaluation. Some states require assessment, but do not set standards for passing or failing.
Earning Credits/Diploma – High school graduation requirements and the definition of a “credit” vary from state to state, and also change with time. Check your state’s earning credits/diploma requirements to plan with precision. Parents who homeschool their children can develop their own diplomas; however, accredited diplomas are only available from schools which have gone through the process of receiving accreditation from a recognized agency. Virtual online schooling offers students in many states the option of earning an accredited high school diploma online. If you do not live in one of the states listed here, you may be able to purchase online homeschooling curriculum.
Vaccination Requirements – In 25 states, there are no vaccination requirements for students who are educated at home. Some states mandate vaccinations, but parents do not have to provide documentation. Proof of required vaccinations is only required in five states. In some states, homeschools are not defined as “schools,” so they are exempt from immunization laws, but in other states they are considered “private schools,” and must comply.
Preparing Students for College
Growing numbers of homeschool students are moving on to colleges and universities, and multiple studies suggest they perform better there than traditionally educated students. Plan ahead to structure your homeschooling programs with college applications in mind, beginning when students would enter high school.
Grades and Transcripts
Most colleges and universities require transcripts detailing your homeschool curriculum for grades 9-12. A typical college preparatory course load includes multiple credits in science, English, math, social studies, foreign languages, and electives.
Make your transcript easy for busy college administrators to read, or use a template available online. Include the grade level of all courses completed, evaluation methods, grading scale, grades earned, and the student’s grade point average. Attach separate sheets to detail work experience or internships, and describe non-traditional courses.
Entrance Exams and Applications
Contact admissions offices to learn the details of each school’s application process, from transcripts to essays to entrance exams. In general, colleges and universities are becoming more open to non-traditional students, although they may require a bit more from them. Standardized tests, like the SAT, ACT, or AP exams, are only offered at specific times. You can register online for these exams, but remember to schedule in test preparation.
There is growing interest in including assessment of non-cognitive skills, such as creativity, resilience, and teamwork, in the admission process, primarily through letters of recommendation. Extracurricular activities are also important in admissions decisions. By all these measures — standardized tests, non-cognitive skills, and extracurricular activities — research shows homeschool students do very well.
Earning College Credit
Many students in homeschooling programs complete college level work, either at a nearby community college or through online classes from accredited colleges, before they finish high school. Students may also take college level exams, such as the CLEP and DSST tests, to earn college credits.
Like many families, homeschoolers face the challenge of coping with the cost of higher education. Scholarships can help, and homeschool students are strong candidates for these awards. The following scholarships target graduates of homeschooling programs:
- The Homeschool Foundation is the charitable arm of the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA). Through the Patrick Henry College Scholarship Fund, the Foundation offers scholarships to freshman from HSLDA member families attending Patrick Henry College.
- The Kimball Memorial Scholarship is awarded to students who have had at least three years of homeschooling in high school, received a high school diploma, and have been accepted into a college or university.
- HERO offers three different scholarships to homeschool students; the Craig Dickinson Memorial Scholarship is for those excelling at academics; the Mason Lighthouse Scholarship for service-minded students; and the State of the Arts Scholarship for students planning to study the visual or performing arts.
In addition, state and regional scholarships, available throughout the country, are typically awarded on the basis of academic excellence, targeted student populations, career plans, and high-need fields of study. Homeschooled high school graduates can apply for various federal grants and loans by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
The following sites are full of useful information and resources for those interested in continuing their exploration of homeschooling. Inclusion of these links does not imply endorsement of any particular organization, service, or product.
- The National Home Education Research Institute
- The Home School Legal Defense Association
- Homeschool World
- The Coalition for Responsible Home Education
- National Homeschool Organizations
- Homeschool Organizations by State
- The Homeschool Mom
- Secular Homeschool