I started on the homeschooling journey from ground zero… even though I have a background in education! I wasn’t sure about how to get started and all of the legal requirements. Honestly, the whole first year ended up being comparable to what happens with a first baby and a gift registry… you find out what you really need and what you don’t! Below are the essentials you need to homeschool your child.
To homeschool your child you need to research the state laws, teach appropriate content, and provide basic supplies. You will need to determine associated costs, designate a space, create a schedule and keep essential records.
Homeschooling comes with a lot of advantages and is well worth considering! Below I will go through each homeschool need- where to find it and the most important things to know! In addition to these essential steps, connecting with local homeschool groups virtually and in person is a great way to establish a support network and meet others.
Understanding homeschool state laws-
First and foremost is knowing what your state requires to legally homeschool. This sounds more intimidating than it is. For example, in my home state, I had to submit a letter. That’s it! I will have to ensure my child participates in periodic standardized testing and I am keeping some essential records, but the legal requirements for my state (currently) only require a letter of intent to homeschool.
There are three resources that can help you research and understand your state laws about homeschooling.
- HSLDA website- This website has a listing of each state’s essential information in regards to homeschooling laws. It’s a good start, but I believe the information here should be compared to your state’s Department of Education website as laws and guidelines in education can change and evolve from year to year.
- State Department of Education Site- Your state’s DOE website will have the most current requirements for homeschool families. Some may require a letter of intent, proof of attendance, or other documentation. Every state is different and some require more than others.
- Other Local Homeschool Families- After you have researched state requirements, the best source of specific information and “how-to’s” are the other local homeschool families or co-ops. Some of them have been homeschooling for several years and have navigated the requirements ahead of other families. They will likely be glad to support other families who are just starting the process.
Finding appropriate homeschool content-
After you understand and meet the state legal requirements, you will need to decide what resources you will use to teach content.
This can quickly turn into a Pandora’s box! You will find out that asking other parents leads to all different answers. That’s a good thing! There’s so many choices available because homeschooling was never intended to be a “one size fits all.” The flexibility and options is a reason some choose this path over a traditional brick and mortar classroom.
Parents know their children best, but understanding how they process academics is more involved. This is true for both traditional classroom teachers as well as homeschool parents and why we hear a lot about the need for more “personalized learning” and “differentiation.” For this reason, although some common curriculum paths are listed below, you may find that a mix of various resources and approaches works best. You may also find that what works for one sibling doesn’t work for the other. It will take some trial and error but your kids will continue to learn along the way!
Three common curriculum paths are:
- An all in one curriculum. This is typically one of the more expensive options but kids who like paper/pencil tasks and parents who like a laid out plan to follow would be the most likely to benefit from all in one curriculum sets. They are available with both religious and secular viewpoints.
- An online curriculum. Online curriculums options continue to grow for homeschooling families as well as within traditional public schools. I don’t think they are going anywhere and will just get better over time. These are a good choice if your child is self-motivated and enjoys learning in a digital format. There are some great free online curriculum resources available to homeschooling families.
- A DIY pieced together curriculum created from various resources. Maybe you do not want to rely on a full all in one curriculum or an online curriculum. If you prefer more variety in the day to day lesson plans and activities, you can definitely pull resources from various sources to create a DIY curriculum.
There are many other curriculum paths families can take. To name just a few:
- Thematic Unit Studies
- Charlotte Mason
- Private virtual academies
The best approach is really the one that molds and supports your family’s lifestyle and beliefs. The important thing for families starting out to know is that you can change the instructional format as you discover what does/does not work for your homeschoolers.
Basic homeschool supplies-
The supplies you need to homeschool is pretty dependent on what curriculum you use and whether or not you do a lot of hands-on learning experiences or supplementary activities.
For an all in one curriculum that comes with consumable workbooks, you shouldn’t have a lot of printing to do. These curriculums are more expensive up front but may save costs in things like printing and ink over the long run. For this type of curriculum, your homeschooler would just need pencils, a notebook and basic supplies.
If you use a digital curriculum, your homeschooler will need an electronic device that has a compatible operating system with the digital platform. If it’s a digital curriculum that requires printing, then you would need a reliable printer, copy paper and ink.
A DIY curriculum requires supplies depending on the individual activity/lesson requirements. It will look different for everyone depending on the resources utilized.
Many of the basic supplies are probably things you already have at home, such as pencils, paper, notebooks and pens. As stores have back to school sales or offer discounts on supplies, you can also stock up on basic supplies that will last throughout the year. Some stores give homeschool parents the same discounts as teachers, it doesn’t hurt to ask!
Some families find discounts on curriculum by using libraries, used book stores, curriculum exchanges, secondhand stores and yard/church sales.
Costs of homeschooling-
I have in depth articles on the costs of homeschooling. In the first article, I cover costs associated with a paid curriculum and the second article talks about ways for families to find free resources.
Homeschooling is like many other purchases- it’s very much a sliding scale depending on budgets and personal choices about curriculum and extracurriculars. It could cost as little as $200 or as much as $2000 (and much more if a tutor or teacher is hired by parents).
The difference in costs spent do not mean a compromise in quality of homeschool! It may mean that field trips involve more free community events and that you have to get more creative with learning activities.
Your homeschooler needs a workspace. It does not have to be a formal area designated just for homeschooling but they do need a place with enough room to work and write.
We use a small rectangular table that I purchased at Goodwill. It has enough space for two people and workbooks. We also have a small computer desk that’s set up for our software programs.
You may want to use your dining room table, or find desks for each student. If you plan on homeschooling long-term, then you will want to consider a space that can grow with your child(ren). Small desks or workstations may not last as long as you need them.
Everyone’s homeschool schedule will look different depending on the dynamics of their family situations. One of the most unique (and appealing, in my opinion) aspects of a homeschool schedule is that it is entirely flexible and does not look like a traditional brick and mortar school schedule.
Many homeschool students are able to finish their academic work before mid-day, or in 2-4 hours depending on the grade level of the student and the content area. This leaves time for pursuing other interests or extracurriculars.
Kids who are not ready to start first thing in the morning may need to ease into the day with a couple of subjects before lunch and a couple afterwards. It’s great to be able to build the schedule around your child’s learning preferences.
One misconception of homeschooling is that the students are not connected in the community. Homeschool families are very active in community groups and activities like sports, scouts, clubs, and scheduled activities with other homeschool groups.
Essential record keeping-
Extensive records are not required of most homeschool families, but some essential record keeping is necessary.
You will need to keep the records that may be required by your state (letter of intent, attendance, test scores, etc.) When your homeschooler reaches middle school, it will be important to start and maintain a transcript that is ready when it’s time to transition to college.
This system can be as simple as a 3 ring binder for each student or a file folder. It will be much easier to keep along the way than try to recreate anything.
In summary, those are the essential parts of homeschooling. In my opinion, it is an experience that is well worth the sacrifices. As long as your child’s emotional, social and physical needs are met, learning at home will become a natural extension of an environment that allows them to thrive and become successful adults.