Learn How to Start Homeschooling Today
*Full Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, meaning that if you make a purchase after clicking through, The Unexpected Homeschooler may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Read full disclosure policy here.
Does the idea of homeschooling sound like something you’d love to try, but the thought of actually doing it makes you a nervous wreck? I think everyone feels that way at first. It’s kind of a scary thing and takes a lot of courage to take that leap. I want to take some of those fears away and explain how to start homeschooling today.
I’m going to walk you through the entire process. Getting started with homeschooling is really not as hard as you think. In fact, you have a lot more choices and freedoms in many areas, and there are so many benefits your family will gain from it.
Table of Contents
- Homeschool Laws
- Homeschool Resources
- What Qualifications Do You Need to Homeschool Your Child?
- Homeschooling Methods
- Learning Styles in Children
- Homeschool Curriculum
- How Much Does Homeschooling Cost?
- Homeschool Socialization
- Homeschool Schedule
- Homeschool Room
- Transferring from Public School to Homeschool
- Homeschool Grades
- Homeschool Portfolio Reviews
- Consider Becoming a Member of HSLDA
Homeschooling is legal in all fifty states; however, each state can have its own requirements you must meet. For example, some states make it mandatory that families homeschool under the umbrella of an online school that is accredited, while others have private tutor laws. These can vary significantly from state to state. That is why it’s important to find out your state’s policy before you begin.
States with No Notice
States that Require Notice
States that Require Assessments but Have Exceptions
States that Require Assessments-Moderately Strict
States that Require Assessmets and Other Stipulations
Homeschooling is a big decision and one that should be researched thoroughly before you start. Luckily there are a wide variety of resources available to help you do that.
Searching the internet can help you find a wealth of information. Homeschooling has become very popular, and because of that, there are numerous places you can go online to begin learning about it. Just searching Google will provide you with a lot of sites to read.
Facebook groups are the most popular way homeschoolers meet and discuss ideas with each other. There is a group out there for everyone. Here are a few you may want to check out:
Many excellent books have been written on homeschooling. Below are just a few popular ones you might be interested in. If you search Amazon and Google you’ll come up with a lot more to choose from.*
Teaching from Rest
For the Children’s Sake
A Charlotte Mason Companion
Educating the WholeHearted Child
The Homeschool Experiment
Weapons of Mass Instruction
Attending a homeschool convention is a fantastic way to learn about homeschooling. However, I do need to warn you that it can also leave you feeling confused due to the large number of vendors selling curriculum. I’m talking over 500 of them at some conventions!
The first time I walked into a homeschool convention, I could not believe the massive amount of curricula to choose from. Even as a former school teacher, I was overwhelmed with all the choices. Despite that, don’t let it keep you from going if you’re able to. Choose one that has seminars because you will get to listen to speakers on a variety of topics and learn so much.
Many conventions have a track that is specifically for new homeschoolers. You will also get to meet other homeschool families. It’s a wonderful experience that has become a yearly tradition for me. It’s even more fun if you take a few other homeschool moms along with you. If you don’t know other homeschooling moms yet, you can take your family. Most conventions have activities for the kids to do while you are shopping or taking classes. To get the best price, be sure to register in the late fall. The conventions are usually held sometime in March through June.
If you are unable to attend a convention in person, there are several online ones you can attend. There are speakers every day, and when you sign up, you will be emailed a link to listen when it starts. Each days’ speakers are usually free for the first 24 hours. Many online conventions give the option to purchase all the recordings, but really you can pick and choose a topic from each day and get a lot of information for free.
The cyber conventions are just as beneficial and perhaps a little less overwhelming without the vendor hall when you are just gathering information.
There are several homeschool magazines published. The biggest two are probably The Old Schoolhouse Magazine* and Homeschooling Today. Depending on the magazine, they may come quarterly or just two or three times a year, but they have great articles to read and advertisements for new curricula that is out. Some of these can be delivered digitally instead.
What Qualifications Do You Need to Homeschool Your Child?
A huge concern for a lot of parents is whether they are qualified to homeschool their children. You need to remember you have been teaching your children since the day they were born. Everything they have learned up to school age they have learned from YOU. You are qualified! I have written an entire article on homeschool qualifications. Check it out to see why you are the best choice to teach your kids.
You may not have realized there are different ways to homeschool. In fact, there are several approaches. The first thing you want to do is learn about each one of them and then see which fits your family best.
Homeschooling methods are kind of like the overall style in which you will teach your children. This can change over the years so don’t stress over it too much. You can’t get it wrong. It’s more about your personal preference. I have written an entire post to help you understand the different methods out there and even suggest the best ones to start with. It’s called Different Types of Homeschooling Methods- Which One Are You?
Learning styles in Children
When you think back to your school days, did you have a certain way you learned best? Maybe you always learned your vocabulary words easily by writing them down. Or perhaps you were able to remember what your teacher taught just by listening. That’s because we all learn a certain way.
Your child is no different, and once you start to pay attention to the way he learns best, you will discover his learning style and be able to present information to him in the manner that best meets his needs. Learning styles are one of the most essential elements you can incorporate early on in your homeschooling journey because it can have such a positive effect on your child’s success. Find out more about the different learning styles in children so you can help your child have a great start.
Once you have determined your method of homeschooling and your child’s learning style, it’s time to choose a curriculum. Unlike the public school system where every child has to learn from the same book, one of the greatest things about homeschooling is that you have so many options to choose from. I mean a lot!
One of the best places to start is reading homeschool curriculum reviews. This is going to give you an idea of how the materials have worked with other families and hear the pros and cons of them. There are so many different types of curricula out there, and you need to determine which ones are going to fit your teaching preference and your child’s learning style. Keeping those two factors in mind will help you narrow down your options and make better choices. Remember that you do not have to do the same thing as the public school system.
These are just a few examples of the types of curricula to consider:
This is a curriculum where everything is done for you and it doesn’t require a lot of thought on your part. Some even include videos to do the teaching for you. You basically just open the teacher’s manual and start. Some of the most popular are Alpha Omega*, Timberdoodle, and Sonlight.
Some children prefer to learn on the computer. Whether you plan to have your child do all his learning online or just a few subjects, there are a lot of choices. The downside to this is you will need a computer and access to the internet or a DVD player depending on the format. On the other hand, if you have the internet, you can find some free options online. One that a lot of people use is Easy Peasy All-in-One Homeschool. If you choose to do the Charlotte Mason method, Ambelside Online is a free option to check out.
This is a curriculum where your child can explore a specific subject for a week, month, or even the whole year. A unit study is designed to explore the chosen topic through all or some subject areas, depending on how specific it is. This is a great way to break up your regular curriculum with something that is more hands-on and very interesting. It can cater to your child’s specific learning styles and needs. You can create unit studies yourself or purchase them online. This is an inexpensive way to homeschool because of the amount of resources available such as the library, internet, and nature.
Create Your Own Curriculum
A significant benefit of homeschooling is the ability to have your child study what he is interested in. You may not always find a prewritten program for that and want to make your own. This may or may not be something that interests you right away, but as you get more comfortable, you might want to give it a try.
How Much Does Homeschooling Cost?
Many people wonder how much it costs to homeschool. That all depends on what your budget is, the curriculum you choose, and the types of activities you want your child to be involved in. Homeschooling is definitely cheaper than the tuition for private school, but there are expenses involved. However, there are a wide variety of materials to choose from, and you can search for free or low-cost options.
Some examples of homeschool expenses:
- Homeschool materials– programs can range from free to several hundred dollars per subject.
- Testing/Portfolio Assessments– If your state requires an assessment, whether it is standardized testing or a portfolio assessment, there is most likely a fee involved.
- Co-ops– If you choose to belong to a local homeschool co-op, there can be a small cost required to help pay for the materials and use of the facility where the group meets.
- Extra-Curricular Activities– One of the added costs homeschoolers run into that perhaps public school students don’t are extracurricular activities such as art, music, physical education, and sports. To provide these activities, we often have to seek outside sources and pay out of pocket for them.
If you plan to homeschool, you need to get used to this word because you are going to be asked about it often. First off, let me say that it’s a myth that all homeschoolers aren’t socialized. Yes, you may find some children who are reserved, but I believe the same could be said for some kids in the school system. A lot of times homeschoolers have a much busier schedule than most public school students. They are also around people of all age ranges and walks of life on any given day, compared to being in a classroom all day with their same-aged peers.
However, if you fear this could be a problem, you can search for the co-ops I mentioned earlier, as well as find other homeschoolers in your town to hang out with and go on field trips. Homeschooling has become so popular that you most likely won’t have a big problem finding other families in your area.
Just because the public school starts in August and ends in May, doesn’t mean you have to follow the same format. It is still always best to set up some kind schedule for your homeschool to keep things on track. This helps you have a general idea of when your year starts and ends so you can evaluate it from year to year and move your child on to the next grade/level.
The first thing to check is if you are required to do school for a certain number of days. You also need to check the compulsory age your child needs to start school. With those in mind, there are several formats that families often follow. See which one sounds appealing to you.
Traditional school is precisely what it sounds like. You follow the regular schedule the public school system follows. You start in August and finish in May. You also take the same summer break and holidays throughout the year.
Year-Round homeschooling is becoming more popular and has a lot of flexibility. This is a 52-week schedule where there are 36 weeks of school and 16 weeks of breaks built in. Many families will take at least one week off in between each quarter and then allow longer breaks over the holidays and summer. You can start and end when you want. It’s a good idea to make sure you pick a specific month that is your starting month so you know when your year ends.
Sabbath schooling is based on the principle of work and rest found in the book of Genesis in the Bible. There are six days of work and one day of rest. This translates into six weeks of school and one week of break for this type of homeschool schedule. It’s very similar to year-round homeschooling because it continues throughout the year, but some families do take a little longer break in summer or whenever the weather is nicer where they live.
Both year-round and sabbath homeschooling makes it easy to work around family vacations and any other unforeseen circumstances that can pop up throughout the year. The downside is if you start your year in the middle of the traditional public school year and need assessments in March or April, your child may not be through all his work and therefore, not have covered all the material on the test. If you have the option to have portfolio reviews done, this may work better in that type of situation.
Calendar schooling is a form of year-round homeschooling, but the school year begins in January instead of August. A lot of families will take the entire month of December off as you would a summer break before the new year begins.
Block scheduling is very much like splitting your year into terms, but they can vary in length. You are also not doing every single subject during each term. You pick and choose certain ones to concentrate on and then switch to different ones in the next block.
This type of scheduling is often used in the middle and high school grades in the public school system. An example of how this might work would be to have your student do literature, math, and history for one block and then English, science, and an elective for the next, and so forth. Some blocks may be longer than others depending on the subjects. Even though only a few subjects are done during a block, the student is working longer, such as two hours a day for each subject instead of 30 minutes. This means at the end of the year the student is still getting full credit for a subject even though he only did it for one block.
Because we do school at home, there are many interruptions. A lot of times we have to stop in the middle of the subject we’re working on and it doesn’t get finished that day. If that happens again in the same subject a few times, you start to get behind. Loop scheduling is a method that’s very effective for making sure you aren’t leaving out certain subjects each week.
The loop schedule solves this problem because you make a list of all the subjects you want to include in the loop. Pick the days you want to do it and set a specific amount of time you will work for. On the days you are working through the loop, you pick up where you left off the last time. Some days you may make it through three subjects and others maybe one. But by the end of the week, you will have rotated through all the subjects on the list and not left a gap in a certain one.
I wanted to include this one because almost everyone who homeschools has probably done car schooling. This is when you have a hectic schedule and need to be several places during the day. In order to get school done, you have your child bring his schoolwork along so he can do it in the car.
Another take on car schooling is using that time where your children are a captive audience to do some educational learning together. This is especially easy in the younger years. Have your child find things that start with a certain sound or letter. Find items with specific colors or count objects. As they get older you can have them read words on signs or even do some geography by playing the license plate game. Print out a paper with a map of all the states and each time they see a license plate with a different state, they can color that state in on the map. My son used to love this game!
If you think you’re not able to homeschool because you don’t have a specific room to do it in, you are wrong. I have never had a “room” to homeschool in for 14 years. Our kitchen table has served as the central place for our homeschool. Of course, the bedrooms, back porch, and living room couch are used quite a bit as well.
You don’t need a big house or little desks (In fact don’t waste your money on those, I know!) because homeschooling isn’t about doing public school at home. If you can find a place to put a bookshelf and a corner of a room where you can organize a few materials, you are good to go. It’s even possible to homeschool in a tiny apartment.
You will find that you can be very creative when it comes to saving space and organizing your materials. Pinterest has tons of ideas! But please, if you do look on Pinterest, don’t let those beautiful school rooms you see discourage you. I don’t think many homeschoolers have those anyways. Simply search for organizing ideas in small spaces and you will come up with lots of ways to make it work.
If you are one of the lucky ones to have a room you can dedicate to your homeschool (I’m just a little jealous of you), you are blessed and will have more room to work with. Just know that either situation is not going to make a difference in how well your child is educated.
Transferring from Public School to Homeschool
9 Steps to Transfer from Public School to Homeschool
If your child has been in the public school system and you now want to homeschool, there are a few steps you need to take to make a smooth transition.
Step 1: Check with your state’s laws to see how and when you can give the notice to withdraw your child. Make sure you follow the requirements so you start the right way. You don’t want someone knocking on your door the first week of school because you didn’t follow the correct procedures.
Step 2: Hand in your notice to the proper school officials and your child’s teacher. Not every state requires you to do this, but it’s just a thoughtful thing to do. Not only that, you want to stay on good terms with the school system if your state allows homeschoolers to participate in extracurricular activities or if you plan to have your child reenter the school system at some point.
Step 3: Ask for your child’s records. Getting a copy of them is smart in case they get lost and also because it will help you to get a good picture of what your child’s experience has been in school up until now.
Step 4: Talk to your child. This is a big change, and it’s always a good idea to sit down and discuss what is happening. It also gives you the opportunity to let him have a say in what he wants to learn. Find out what he liked and disliked about school. What he would want to learn if he could study anything he wanted to. Take these into consideration when planning.
Step 5: Have an adjustment period. There is something called deschooling, and it is the time period your child needs to transition from a formalized education into homeschooling. It is recommended to give your child a 2-4 week break to settle in and adjust to these new changes. During that time, if you’re worried about your child not doing any school, you could do fun things such as a field trip or hands-on activities where learning will still occur.
Step 6: Start Slow! You don’t need to jump into six subjects a day in the first few weeks of school. Start with a couple and then add another one each week until you work up to the regular schedule. This will give your child time to get into a routine without the normal workload.
Step 7: Homeschooling is not school at home. What I mean by that is you removed your child from the school system because something wasn’t working. Don’t put him at a desk and do school in the same way you would in a classroom. You are going to want to individualize his instruction according to how he learns. Take his interests into account and have an atmosphere of learning and discovery instead of teaching to a test.
Step 8: Have some patience. This is a big change, and it’s going to take some time before your child can get away from the public school mindset and start to relax and embrace the idea of homeschooling. Along with that, remember there are going to be interruptions, and the sooner you realize that, the better you will be at handling them. Life happens and it’s okay is something doesn’t get done once in a while. It all evens out in the end.
Step 9: Expect that not everyone is going to agree with you. You are going to find that even though you think homeschooling is a wonderful idea, you will run into people (even relatives) that don’t think that at all. They may even try to talk you out of it or tell you you’re making a big mistake and your children will be ruined. You will also come across people who think you are strange. If you and your children are in a store during school hours, just know that most checkout people will ask some question about why they aren’t in school. Learn to deal with it and even have prepared answers to the most common questions or comments you get.
Here is a video talking about transitioning from public school to homeschool.
No matter what homeschooling method you use, you will need to determine how to keep track of your child’s progress. You do not need to use the traditional procedures used in the public school system unless you want to. Find creative ways to assess if your child is learning. You will need to develop a plan for recording that information, especially if you have to do a portfolio review for your state. In the high school years, it’s important to keep track of grades for the transcripts you will need to create.
Homeschool Portfolio Reviews
Some states that require assessments will give the option of having a portfolio review done instead of standardized testing. This is where a certified teacher in your area will look over your student’s work for the year and determine if your child has shown progress in all subject areas that are mandatory.
In order to prepare for a portfolio review, you want to keep good records. If you plan to do more hands-on activities, field trips, and lots of reading, be sure you take some sample pictures of what you have done and also make lists for things like the books that have been read. Date everything you do because these will serve as part of your records.
Workbooks can be left together and the reviewer can just look through them. If you have one or more subjects where there are a lot of loose papers, organize them in a binder by subjects and then put each of those in order by date. This makes it much quicker for the teacher to go through everything.
If you have a child who is a kinesthetic learner that likes to move and be actively involved, you can take a few videos of those types of activities throughout the year.
Online programs that keep track of your child’s work usually have a place where you can print out the scores to show his performance. Not all curricula have this so you will want to check that out before your child starts so you know if you need to keep track of that information yourself.
Something you need to keep in mind is that you do not have to show every single thing your student does all year. It is supposed to be a decent sampling of his work from the beginning of the year to the end. But I would include some grades or evaluation system to show your child has met the minimum requirements.
Most teachers who do portfolio reviews can book up quickly. It’s a good idea to contact your school board at the beginning of the year to find out when reviews are due and get a list of the approved reviewers with their contact information. When you are at least two months from the deadline, you should start contacting reviewers to find one you like and set up a date to have the portfolio review done. That way you are not scrambling at the end of the year or miss the deadline because you couldn’t find a reviewer to get it done in time.
Consider Becoming a Member of HSLDA
The Homeschool Legal Defense Association is a non-profit organization that works to protect the rights of homeschooling families if they run into legal difficulties. Because it is a group membership (more than 80,000 families), they are able to provide low-cost legal defense. What you pay in an entire year to be a member is about what you would pay to meet with an attorney for an hour. That is all you ever pay! If you need their services, they cover everything. They have lawyers that work for all 50 states in the U.S. and they even have an international department.
That alone is enough to justify the small membership fee, but they offer so much more! Here are some benefits of joining:
- Many resources on their website about homeschooling
- Updates on state and federal legislation that could affect homeschooling
- Seminars to continue to learn
- Transcript services for high school
- Discounts for members on products and services
- A constant presence in Washington, D.C. fighting to keep our freedoms
- Experts in the areas of high school and special needs to assist you
While I hope you never need them, you will be sure glad you joined if you ever do!
I know this has been a lot of information to take in, but I wanted to answer the many questions you may have if you are new to homeschooling. Don’t let all this information overwhelm you and keep you from taking the first step. It is an amazing feeling to be able to homeschool your child. I have had such a thrill watching each of my children learn to read and know that I was responsible for that. Yes, it’s a huge responsibility, but you love your children and want what is best for them. Who else is going to take that job more seriously than you?
My goal with this article was to help you learn how to start homeschooling today, and I hope I have done that. If you have any questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments below. If you haven’t started homeschooling but want to, what is keeping you from doing it? What are you most concerned about?
You picked all your curriculum out for the year and are very excited to start. Shortly into the new school year, you realize something isn't working quite right. Maybe your child is bored or complaining about the work. Perhaps he is struggling with all the writing it requires. Maybe sitting in the chair for long periods of time makes him antsy. Even though you've had him write his spelling words ten times each twice this week, he just can't seem to remember them. He wants to touch everything you put in front of him and do anything except his work.
All of these situations could be that your child just doesn't want to do his work. But what if that wasn't it? What if the curriculum you chose isn't right for him? The different learning styles in children can play a large role in how they respond to the curriculum you choose.
Whether you are new to homeschooling or just getting started, you probably have a teaching method that you lean towards. Most people favor a style that caters to their personality. These different types of homeschooling methods can be categorized into six main groups.
Science is a subject that many children enjoy in school. It's fun to learn about plants, animals, electricity, molecules, and even blow things up. There are a lot of exciting careers in the science field. Many of these are in great demand with a positive outlook for the future and offer a sizable salary. If you have a child who loves science and seems to be leaning in that direction as a possible career, you may want to check out a few of these options. There may be something he hasn't heard of and perhaps this will spark some interest.
Planning is probably one of the most daunting tasks about homeschooling. Staying organized is critical for making sure things get done, keeping a good record, and not forgetting important events. Trying to keep up with your home, family, and school can be exhausting. I don't know about you, but my brain can only remember so many things, and it seems to remember less as each year passes. I constantly have to write things down or I will forget them. Unfortunately, I often lose those little scraps of paper I write on as well. And then came the Homeschool Planet planner!
Getting started with homeschooling is really not as hard as you think. In fact, you have a lot more choices and freedoms in many areas, and there are so many benefits your family will gain from it. I'm going to walk you through the entire process.