Beginning to homeschool is both daunting and doable. Fortunately, many homeschool families have paved the way over the past several decades. Quality resources and curricula abound. This makes getting started increasingly easier. Follow the steps in this How to Homeschool guide and gain the confidence you need to succeed.
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1. Learn the requirements for your state or country.
In the United States each state has its own homeschool laws. Your homeschool must abide by the laws of your state, so make sure you understand the rules for your location.
The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) keeps an updated list of requirements for each state. The HSLDA answers these common questions for each state’s requirements and provides detailed guidelines to homeschool families.
- How many options are there for homeschooling?
- At what ages are children required to attend school?
- Must the parent notify the state of intent to homeschool?
- Must the parent (or specified teacher) meet certain education qualifications?
- Does the state mandate certain subjects?
- Are assessments required? If so, what options are available?
- Are immunizations required to homeschool?
If you reside outside the United States, HSLDA may still be able to help you understand the homeschool laws in your country.
Notification and Record Keeping
As mentioned above, notification and record-keeping requirements differ from state to state. Since I live in Ohio, I’ll use it as an example.
Ohio is a notification state. This means that homeschool parents (or guardians) must notify their district superintendent of their intent to homeschool each academic year. This notification includes the following items.
- A promise to complete 900 hours of home education and to cover the required subjects.
- A list of intended subjects and resources for teaching them.
- If the child was homeschooled that year, an assessment by a licensed teacher or a standardized test score to confirm progress.
Ohio requires no other record keeping. We do not log hours teaching, nor do we report grades. Parents of students who participate in athletic, academic, or artistic extracurricular activities through the local school district may need to submit grade reports.
Parents should keep their own records for the high school years so that they can create transcripts as needed for colleges, trade schools, or jobs.
Different states have different requirements for subjects taught in homeschool. In Ohio, parents promise to cover all of the required subjects over the course of the homeschool years. This doesn’t mean that they must teach all of the mandated subjects every single year. For example one would hardly expect a homeschool to cover Ohio history for all thirteen years from Kindergarten through high school.
If state or country homeschool regulations have you overwhelmed, reach out to others in your community who have walked this path before you. This list of homeschool organizations from HSLDA may help you connect with others in your community.
2. Find your homeschool style.
There is no one-size-fits-all model of homeschooling. That’s a good thing. Homeschooling puts you in the driver’s seat of your children’s education. As the one who knows your children best, you get to pick the style(s) that work well for your family.
Homeschool styles abound. Some are listed below. Learn more about these styles, and see which ones resonate with you.
- School at home (textbook based)
- Unit Studies
- Moore Formula
- Charlotte Mason
When we began our homeschool journey several years ago, I found the book So You’re Thinking About Homeschooling to be very helpful in confirming our homeschool style. I also gained a greater appreciation of the homeschool styles that weren’t a good fit for us.
3. Determine which resources work best for your homeschool.
It is both a blessing and a curse that there are so many homeschool resources available today. Ask anyone who has ever set foot in the exhibit hall of the Great Homeschool Convention. Even seasoned convention attendees still feel overwhelmed at row upon row of options.
This is why it is so helpful to determine your homeschool style before you begin looking into the myriad of available resources. Knowing your style first helps you narrow your focus.
There is so much “green grass” in the homeschooling world – resources that are phenomenal in helping us teach our children. There is also “dry, brown grass” – the kind that causes us to loathe rather than love learning. Reviews help us weed out the curricula choices that won’t be a good fit for us.
Among the many homeschool review sites, Cathy Duffy Reviews provides a wealth of insights for homeschool families. Not only can you read her thorough review of a particular curriculum you’re interested in, but you can also discover other curriculum options you didn’t know existed.
Along with checking Cathy Duffy Reviews, it’s also a good idea to read reviews from blog posts and online retailers. Most likely you’ll find both positive and negative reviews. That’s a good thing, but it can also lead to worry and uncertainty. You will be hard pressed to find a curriculum that doesn’t have at least one passionately negative review from someone. Let negative reviews inform you but not necessarily deter you unless they far outweigh the positive reviews.
Contact Curriculum Companies
Many homeschool resources are created by fellow homeschoolers. They see and understand a need and then create curriculum that meets that need. What is perhaps unique to homeschooling is that we have the opportunity to get to know the people behind the products.
Attending a homeschool convention is a great way to meet the very people whose products you’re using. For our family, this has been true of almost every homeschool resource we’ve used. Even if you can’t meet in person, the next best thing is to contact the company online or over the phone. Ask your questions directly of the company so that you can make informed decisions.
Ask Friends for Recommendations
If you know others who are already homeschooling and have the same homeschooling style, reach out to them and find out what resources they use. Most likely they will be thrilled to share what works and what doesn’t work for them. If they live nearby, you may be able to flip through their resources and learn far more than you could from a catalog description or online shopping.
4. Make a budget.
For many families homeschooling is not free. In fact with so many great resources and opportunities, the costs can add up quickly. Look at the types of resources you identified in step three, and create a realistic budget based on the information you’ve learned and your family’s financial picture.
There are many ways to save money when homeschooling. You can purchase curriculum used rather than new. There are also many free online options. In addition, you can borrow books from the library for free. Many libraries offer their teacher cards to homeschool teachers. With a teacher’s card, you can often check out a greater number of books for a longer period of time.
Our homeschool budget includes the following items.
- Various curricula resources: math, history, language arts, science, etc.
- Homeschool necessities: paper, pencils, pens, binders, etc
- Assessment fee:
- We pay a licensed teacher for portfolio reviews each year.
- The alternative in Ohio is to pay for standardized testing.
- Convention: registration, hotel, meals
Co-op: registration fee(We loved our co-op but opted for a simpler schedule in 2021.)
- Field trips
Until this year I’ve always purchased a set of history and literature books from Sonlight along with the instructor’s guides. Because we need to stay within budget, I plan to make use of the library for the vast majority of these books and only purchase the guides and resources that will be used on a regular basis.
5. Gather resources and supplies.
If you’ve made it through steps three and four, you’re now armed with a list of potential resources and your budget. Here are a few more considerations as you go about gathering everything you’ll need for your homeschool year.
You Can’t Do It All
One of the hardest parts of homeschooling is realizing that you can’t teach all the things you want to in a given year. Electives are important, but try not to overschedule your days and weeks. There are many times that I’ve had to wait a few years to add a resource that would work well for our family.
Check for a Money-Back Guarantee
Some curriculum providers offer a money-back guarantee if you purchase directly from them. This may be limited to a certain time period, and it may or may not depend on the condition of the materials when returned. Depending on the guarantee, this can be a reason to order directly from a curriculum company rather than a wholesale vendor.
At least three curriculum companies that we use have money-back guarantees (current as of 2023).
- Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW)
- IEW offers a 100% satisfaction guarantee with no time limit when materials are purchased directly. This is the best guarantee I’ve seen. Note that a reduced amount is offered for IEW materials purchased from resellers.
- All About Spelling
- While All About Spelling’s guarantee is limited to one year, it’s still very generous. The guarantee only applies to resources purchased directly through them.
- Sonlight’s guarantee is more restrictive, but it’s still worth mentioning.
Reuse Resources When Possible
If you have more than one homeschool student, consider how the resources you purchase can be reused by younger siblings over the years. Many curricula come with two types of resources: consumables and non-consumables.
For example, our math program comes with a teacher’s manual and DVD instruction video. These are non-consumables that we use for younger siblings and can eventually sell or give away. However, the workbook pages and tests are consumables that we must purchase for each of our children.
Consider Digital Workbooks
If you have a printer, you might consider purchasing digital workbooks when available. These are sometimes priced a little cheaper than their printed counterparts, and you generally have access to them as soon as you buy them. If the digital workbook can be reused for multiple students in your family, this may also provide a savings.
Follow Copyright Laws
Each homeschool resource has a copyright page that lets you know if you can legally make copies for your own household use. Some allow use in a single classroom which is handy for teaching at a co-op. Please follow the copyright so that those who produce homeschool resources are paid for their hard work.
Both print and digital consumables may allow you to make copies for your household. For example, Sonlight allows me to make copies of our science worksheets. While most of my digital resources allow for multiple copies within my household, I do have one that does not.
When sharing resources with others, also check the copyright. Although it may be okay to loan your teaching manual to a friend, it’s probably not okay to print a copy of the student worksheets for use outside your family.
6. Be willing to learn alongside your student.
Homeschooling is a way to foster the love of learning. As homeschool teachers, we don’t have to know it all, but we do need to be willing to learn. A do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do attitude won’t endear you to your children.
You Don’t Have to Know It All
When it comes to homeschooling you really don’t have to know it all. The teaching resources we have at our disposal are amazing guides that often require very little planning on our part. But unless your children are working independently, you do need to be willing to learn right alongside them.
Be Willing to Learn
You can outsource any or all of your homeschool teaching to other experts, and that is perfectly okay. But if you are your child’s main teacher, be willing to learn the subjects as you are teaching them.
For me, this looks like working out math problems myself rather than referring to the answer key, which I do until we hit Algebra. Why would I do something that takes more time? Because this lets my kids see that I’m willing to work just as hard as they are. It also restores all those math concepts I’ve long forgotten.
It’s Okay to Struggle
This concept applies to you and your children. Don’t we learn best and feel the most achievement when we work out a solution for ourselves? Struggling teaches us perseverance and builds character.
Look for ways to let your kids struggle. This doesn’t mean holding back help, but it may mean gradually offering less help as they realize that they really can write that paragraph or complete that long division problem on their own.
Provide Help When Needed
Some kids need more hand holding than others. This may be especially true if they are younger and their daily schedule involves a lot of writing.
When my oldest began learning long division, it took me a while to realize that he really needed me to work through problems with him. He balked at the amount of writing involved in the problems more than the mental effort they required. So I wrote the problems while he told me what to write. It took more of my time, but he gained confidence in his ability and eventually did those problems independently.
7. Have a plan.
You can have the best intentions for the homeschool year, but if you don’t have a plan, those intentions may scatter with the wind.
When I talk about lesson planning, I don’t mean writing your own lesson plans from scratch although you can if you want. Instead, I am referring to the action of figuring out how much of each subject you’ll cover each day so that you can complete it in the time frame you choose (e.g., a year, a semester, or a month).
Some curriculum resources come with complete lesson plans for an entire school year. The history and literature program that we use has a 36-week, 4-days per week schedule. This program is pretty much open-and-go for me, so I have very little planning for these subjects.
Other curriculum may have a certain number of lessons that easily correspond to days or weeks. Our math curriculum has thirty lessons per year, so we tend to complete one lesson per week. Similarly for spelling and writing, we usually complete one lesson per week but can stretch a lesson out if more time is needed.
Look through the resources you hope to use this year, and make a plan for how you will use them. You may even decide to split some resources into multiple years. We do this with our poetry program that is mastery based. My children make progress each year by learning new poems, but they advance at their own pace as there is no rush to complete the program.
Scheduling is deciding which days and times you’ll focus on homeschooling. You are not restricted to a Monday through Friday schedule from 8AM to 3PM. You may have outside activities or a work schedule that require more flexibility.
Make your schedule to fit your family. If you naturally sleep in, there’s no reason you have to get up earlier for school. You can choose to do a 4-day schedule and reserve one day a week for a homeschool co-op, field trips, or time with friends or family.
Allow for flexibility in your school day. You can schedule every half-hour with certain subjects and activities, or you can let each day have its own flow but still complete the day’s lesson plans.
Will you have a homeschool room? Is the kitchen table a good place for your kids to complete their work? Is the couch an ideal place for both read-alouds and math lessons? Can you take your lessons with you while you wait for an appointment? Are you open to studying outside if the weather is favorable?
With homeschooling you get to decide where your lessons take place. You can even go on a road trip or visit family and still keep up with homeschooling.
8. Keep records, but only keep what you need.
The records you need to keep will depend on the laws in your state or country. Keep any records that are required, but don’t feel like you have to document or save anything that isn’t required. I keep copies of all paperwork submitted to and received from our school district.
We have been homeschooling for several years now, and I have yet to create a grade card for my children. I do grade their math tests, but I don’t assign grades for the year. After their portfolio reviews, I throw out most of their schoolwork for that year. I have hung on to writing assignments and lap books thus far, but I will not store those long term. Within reason, my kids decide how much artwork to keep.
When my children are in high school, I will keep records of their grades for transcripts. I may also need these if they decide to play sports at our local school.
9. Find support
Without support, homeschooling is daunting. Whether in person or online, search out homeschool groups in your area. Consider whether a homeschool co-op might be right for your family, but you don’t have to do this right away.
If you have the opportunity, attend a homeschool convention. Find out if the homeschool style or curriculum resources that you use have support groups online where you can bounce ideas off others who homeschool similarly to you.
Connect with local friends who homeschool. Talk about what’s going well and what isn’t. Lean on and encourage each other.
10. Stay the course, but detour when needed.
You will be hard pressed to find a homeschool family that doesn’t make changes now and again. Homeschooling is a process of continuously reflecting on what is working and reevaluating what’s not.
It’s okay to change the resources that you use. It’s okay to decide that homeschooling isn’t working for your family or even one child. Some families homeschool some of their children while sending others to school. You have your child’s best interest in mind.
Staying the course is not about sticking with homeschooling at all costs. It’s about seeking the best for your child and your family whether that’s through homeschool or another option.
Give yourself permission to take a detour when needed. Perhaps you need to outsource a certain subject to a local teacher or an online class. Maybe that curriculum you bought isn’t working like you thought it would, and it’s time to try something else.
Homeschooling is about freedom in learning. You don’t have to check every box, read every book, or complete every lesson for the curriculum you use. If you ever feel stuck, use that freedom to find a detour.
I hope this How to Homeschool guide has given you the confidence and encouragement you need to begin your journey. There are so many resources and support groups available to help you get started. If you do have any additional questions, please contact me.