Homeschooling: You-Can-Do-This FAQs

Thinking about homeschooling? We’ve answered 30 of the most common burning questions parents are asking about homeschooling.

Can I teach my own children at home without any official teaching experience?

Homeschooling can be very intimidating at first, especially if you are a parent who was not homeschooled yourself. You likely attended K-12 at a regular school. Perhaps you went on to study at a university or other college. In every case, you were taught by someone who went to school to get a degree to educate you. It’s no wonder that you worry about whether you measure up.

Never fear. A fancy degree is not required to teach your kids. But keep in mind, there are a lot of teachers out there who think that homeschooling is a poor substitute for the experience a trained teacher could provide. In my experience, people on both sides of the debate are convinced that their way is the right way, and disregard the arguments of the other side.

Parents ARE teachers

Besides, don’t forget that you are already an expert teacher. If you are the parent of a school age child. You’ve been teaching all day, every day for years! You’ve been through potty training, putting on clothes, washing hands, cleaning up, reading, writing, explaining science, religion, the way computers work, why cats like to poop in the sandbox, and more. Just because you haven’t been teaching the kids calculus doesn’t mean that you aren’t capable of doing it.

Homeschooling advocates argue that traditional teaching methods are actually a disadvantage in the home environment (and out in the real world). Teaching only a few children (or perhaps only one) is a drastically different experience than running a classroom. Traditional teaching methods separate the various subjects and teach them all separate and apart from one another. This rigid structure forces students to compartmentalize their learning.

School isn’t much like real life…

In real life, skills are integrated. You need reading and writing to do math and science. History involves reading and geography. Art incorporates reading and listening skills. This translates in a practical way. There’s almost no job in the world where the employee does only one single thing a day. Most businesses incorporate marketing, accounting, writing, and other skills on a daily basis, and often at the same time.

When you are working with only a few students, there is less of a need to segregate subjects from one another. The student can get a lot of one-on-one interaction with the teacher (you), and there is tons of flexibility to use techniques that couldn’t be used in a large classroom setting.

And finally, there’s no laws that I know of that require a parent to be a certified teacher to homeschool their children.

Are there laws about homeschooling?

Yep. There are. Every state in the US has a different take on homeschooling regulation. There are a few categories for homeschooling laws: home education laws, private school laws, and equivalency laws. It is best to read up on the situation in your own particular state to see what sort of requirements exist to homeschool your child where you live.

Some states are very strict about the homeschooling process. Your children may have to submit to testing frequently to track their progress. Other states require that you submit your curriculum on a regular basis.

Some states don’t require that you do anything at all, aside from notifying the state that you are homeschooling your children.

Who decides what I teach my children if I homeschool them?

For the most part, you do.

Every state is going to be different. Some states have requirements about what you are supposed to be teaching your children. Other states do not. You’ll want to get the low-down on the requirements before you get started.

Aside from state mandated requirements, some parents choose to follow the local school curriculum closely. Parents who aren’t sure if long term home education is in the cards want to make sure that their kids could easily transition back into the regular school system in any given year.

Keep in mind that you are always free to teach your children what you wish, within the structure of your homeschool efforts or outside of it. If you want to teach your children about string theory at the age of 6, who is going to stop you? As a parent, you have the freedom to provide the information you want to your children, even if they attend a regular school.

Further, there is little that the state can do to regulate how you teach your children.

One of the main reasons that parents choose to keep their kids at home is that they want children to have more freedom in their education. To explore their interests. And learn in the way best suited to their circumstances. The state might mandate “P.E.” but who is to say that a brisk hike in the forest can’t count?

How much does it cost to homeschool?

The costs of homeschool will vary for each family. You can outfit your house with a “classroom” if you want, with desks, supplies, white board, computers or other technology, and tons of textbooks.

Or you could spend very little, if anything at all. You can check out books from the library if there a good facility available. A good library should have hundreds of books about science, mathematics, language, art, and more. You could also stock up at a local used book store.

If you want to purchase a pre-packaged curriculum (with books and other materials), you should see if your state has any sort of package deal available. Otherwise you can get a fairly decent prepared curriculum and materials for a few hundred dollars a year, per child. If money is tight, you can look to local community groups on social media to see about trading for used homeschool textbooks and other materials.

Try this to avoid wasting money…

Some parents say that purchasing curriculum is actually one of the places they waste the most money in homeschooling. It is hard to know if the materials you are spending so much money on are going to be the right ones. Often you are a few chapters in before you realize it isn’t working. If you can connect with other homeschool parents, get some recommendations before you drop a lot of cash on a program, or ask to borrow the materials to take a look at them yourself.

The internet is also an incredible resource. Aside from having every fact in the world at your fingertips, you should be able to find free lesson plans and curriculum that you can simply download. In minutes, you can find free online books, poetry, art, photographs, foreign language resources, biographies, quizzes, science experiments, and more.

Traditional school costs money too

When you are thinking about the costs of homeschooling, don’t forget to balance the costs of sending kids to school outside of the home. When you do that, you spend money on transporting the kids to school, school clothing (that they lose and destroy), school lunches and snacks, extracurricular activities, fundraisers, and field trips.

Depending on how you homeschool, you might also end up spending more. Instead of sending your child to sit in a classroom to learn about history, you might instead buy plane tickets and take them to Washington, D.C. Certainly this costs more, but this is going to be a decision you make as you invest in your child’s education.

Do I have to quit my job to homeschool my children?

Not necessarily. There’s no requirement that children who are homeschooled be taught by a parent, have a parent with them all day, or be at home all day. If you want your children educated at home, you can develop the curriculum (or buy it) and have someone else supervise them as they move through it. A lot of parents who homeschool want to be present and be really involved in this process, but it isn’t necessary.

Many homeschool parents choose to work from home, or flex their work if possible to hours when the children are not “in school.” They might decide to spend the morning with the children and their studies, and then have a baby sitter or a grandparent watch them in the afternoon. One of the great things about homeschool is the class size. It takes hours for a teacher in a large group of kids to teach a topic. The same material can be taught to one child in a relatively small amount of time, freeing up more of the day to play or explore other interests.

You can also look into local homeschooling groups. These are groups of other homeschool parents who group the kids together to free up parents to work. Spouses can manipulate their work schedules creatively to facilitate homeschool.

There’s not one way to arrange your home school. For the most part, if your children are safe and appropriately supervised, they are learning, and you are compliant with the state’s requirements for their education, you can make this work for you in just about any way you want.

Do I have to be at home all day with my children?

Nope. Homeschool learning is home-based, but it doesn’t mean that everyone has to be at home all day. There are stores, art galleries, animal shelters, mountains, rivers, fish hatcheries, and theaters to visit.

Why stay home all day?

Is homeschool a better option for my “talented and gifted” child?

Homeschool advocates argue that homeschool is better for any child, not just a talented and gifted child. But homeschool advocates aside, a one-on-one setting is an ideal situation for a child that is already ahead of her peers. The child can pursue her studies at her own pace. She won’t struggle with boredom. Further, there wouldn’t be any social repercussions for the gifted child who is ahead academically but immature socially.

Homeschool gives children freedom to participate in their education. They can concentrate on developing their own strengths and abilities. However, some children outpace what their parents can provide them. This is especially true when a child excels in particular specialized subjects, such as art or music. In these cases, the child is actually benefited more by having the opportunity to study with an expert in that subject (a real, actual, educated teacher).

The question of “what is best for my family” is going to vary from family to family. Be wary of anyone who tells you that you have to do it one way or another. Your children, your choice.

Is homeschool the best option for a child diagnosed with ADHD?

Unfortunately, homeschool might be the only place where a child with ADHD can truly succeed. Traditional schools operate best when children are calm, quiet, and compliant. Most children aren’t by nature calm, quiet, or compliant, whether or not they have ADHD.

Homeschool advocates argue that ADHD is not a learning disability, but instead a teaching disability. This means that the school teaches children in one way, while the child learns best in another.

Children, especially young children, learn best when they are moving. Sitting at a desk for extended periods of time just isn’t possible for many young children. A well-thought out homeschool plan is ideal for a little girl or boy who simply can’t handle the rigid requirements of a traditional school.

I’m transitioning my child out of public school to homeschool. How do I prepare him for the change?

Honestly, your son or daughter isn’t the one who needs the preparation. Most like, it’s you.

The key to a successful transition to homeschool is the relaxation of the parents. This is very hard for parents to do, especially if parents have pulled a child out of a school to correct a problem.

Make sure you factor in several weeks (or even months) of “relaxing” about school. This is not to say that your child shouldn’t be learning or doing anything proactive. In many cases, artificial schedules and fake structure to make the classroom caused the problems the child was having in the first place. Homeschool at its best is driven by the interest of the child. The child needs to become motivated and interested in learning. This inborn desire to learn is often discouraged in school. It can take a long time for them to find it again.

Make something new at home

A major mistake you should avoid is trying to recreate the public school environment at home. The public school environment didn’t work for your child, remember? If you are unfamiliar with homeschooling, it might make you feel better to create the only school environment you’d ever known. But again, this comes back to what I said earlier. The person who needs to prepare to transition is you, and not your child.

This isn’t to say that the transition won’t be hard for your child. If he has been in public school for many years, or the circumstances of the transition were traumatic, it might take a while before any sort of real “school” starts to occur.

If you still feel anxiety about the transition, consider joining a homeschooling support group in your area, or start one of your own.

My child is always in trouble at school. Is a home environment a better place for him?

As always, this answer is going to depend upon who you ask. Traditional teachers say no, and homeschool advocates say yes. I’ll say that this depends on the circumstances,

Trouble at school is a sign of something that needs to be looked at. It may be that bringing a child home for school doesn’t actually solve the underlying issue. Before making the decision to transition the child home, I think you should make a concerted effort to get to the real bottom of the problems first.

Look at your child’s life. Does he eat well, and sleep enough? Has he been through something traumatic or significant? Does you provide stability and consistency in his schedule? Sometimes small changes to diet, sleep, and schedule at home can help clear up discipline issues at school.

Take the time to talk with your child’s teachers, and administrators. Talk to your child. Seek the assistance of other professionals (therapists, psychologists, pediatrician, etc) to get information. Once you know what is going on, then you can make the right decision for your family.

How can my children develop social skills if they are schooled at home?

The social question is a big one for parents considering homeschooling. One thing you should consider is that “socializing” and “socialization” are two different things. Socializing is the regular day-to-day interactions between people. Socialization is the process of learning the proper behaviors of a society.

Is school required to learn to socialize? It’s not. So long as your child has opportunities to interact with other individuals on a regular basis (of all ages), he will learn how to socialize. Sending a child to a school with hundreds of other kids will do little more than meeting with other people in smaller groups. Besides, most of the socializing children do at school is punished (talking in class, horseplay in the halls, passing notes, etc).

Is school required to learn the behavior rules of our society? It’s not. You’ve been teaching your children the rules of behavior since they were small. If anything, children are exposed to behaviors in school that we would rather they not emulate (bullying, coarse language, sexuality, violence).

Finally, children do develop social skills at home. By talking and interacting with their family members. Every. Single. Day.

You can take the lead on the social stuff

If you are worried about the social maturity of your child, you can help them gain confidence and skills. Schedule play dates with other families. Have them play sports or join local clubs (YMCA, 4-H, church groups, youth groups). There’s no reason why homeschool should equal social awkwardness.

Okay, so what about prom? Isn’t this a big deal?

Traditional school is full of rituals. It seems almost harmful to kids to prevent them from participating in them. Think various grade graduations, dances, pep rallies, band practice, etc.

Some homeschooling parents have chosen to re-create some of these rituals. Homeschool groups in larger cities come together and host a homeschool-dance/prom. Others get together to hold a graduation ceremony.

Other parents (and their kids) just forget about all of these rituals entirely. Instead of trying to make their home school situation into public school, they create a whole new type of school. Maybe, instead of going to a middle school dance, tweens might enjoy a mani-pedi night with close friends instead. Instead of going to senior prom, they might take a trip with you to Paris instead. There’s more than one way to make lasting and wonderful memories.

This is yet another one of those situations where you the parent needs to relax. Keep in mind that a good number of teenager who attend traditional school don’t go to prom, or go to prom and fail to have a good time. If you spend a lot of time laying your own worries and anxiety on top of your child’s homeschool experience, it is going to be very hard for her to succeed.

How does homeschooling affect the child’s ability to transition into the adult world?

People disagree on whether homeschooling helps or hinders the development of children. Often, it depends upon who you ask. Part of the problem it is very difficult to get concrete and empirical data on homeschooling. Each “homeschool” is going to be radically different from the next.

However, in the research that has been done, homeschooled children have been shown to score high in leadership skills, self-concept, and community involvement, all of which are reflectors of positive socialization.

Homeschool does not = isolation

The truth is that most homeschooling families are not “isolated.” When freed from the regimented schedule of going to school during specific hours, many families use that free time to get out of the house and go out into the community. While children in traditional schools are grouped with other children of the same age, homeschooled children socialize with people of all ages, including a lot of adults.

Lacking empirical data, I would argue that the likelihood of success or failure in life as an adult has less to do with how a child learned (at home or at school). I would argue that it has more to do with how involved the parents are in the child’s education and growth, with an eye on helping the child develop real world skills. If a parent fails to do these things, then it won’t matter whether the child learns calculus at home or at school.

What is “unschooling” and how is it different from “homeschooling”?

Homeschooling takes many different forms. Homeschooling is the umbrella term for the kind of education that happens outside of traditional school. The method of homeschooling varies. “Unschooling” is a version of homeschooling where the control and choice of learning resides with the child.

Rather than having the parent choose the subjects and guide the instruction, the child does it. In unschooling, the learning is something the child does for herself, what she wants, when she wants, how she wants.

Sometimes unschooling looks a lot like what you’d imagine homeschool to look like. Books on a desk, or art at the kitchen table. In other cases, it can look a lot like life. Unschooling might look like going fun places and meeting interesting people. It might look like gardening, cooking, hiking, or dancing.

Unschooling is a just another way to homeschool.

What do you do all day?

The answer: all kinds of things. Some families have a very structured day. They might dedicate a specific part of every day to “school.” Others start the day with the goal of working on something in particular in mind, and then go about their day learning it wherever they are.

When you are homeschooling, you have the freedom to turn every part of your day into a learning experience. Or not. A trip to the store for a child is a learning experience. You can teach practical math skills while comparing the price of eggs. Or not.

A lot of homeschool families focus on engaging in fun and interesting activities that public school children never get to do. Zoo. Pool. Library. beach. River. Hike. Music. Art. Language.

There’s no one way to do a homeschool day. Ask 100 families and you’d probably get 100 answers.

How do you develop a curriculum?

This is a touchy subject with homeschool advocates. Many “purist” homeschooling families object to the use of the word “curriculum.” Textbooks are the tools of teachers in traditional classrooms, produced with the goal of shepherding a student through the material and to a test.

Many parents choose homeschool to shed the traditional teaching/test method. They want their children to get excited about learning, and to explore their own interests. Curriculum is something that someone else developed. It cannot be tailored to a particular student, and presupposes that the child wants to learn what is presented.

If you aren’t purchasing a pre-made curriculum, you can create your own curriculum in one of several ways. Also, keep in mind that yu don’t have to plan the entire school year all at once. You have no idea how quickly your child will learn something. It might be easier to plan a month at a time rather than 12 months at a time.

Here’s a few practical ways to get started:

  1. Find other families and take a look at what they are doing, and model what you like.
  2. Take a look at the local public school curriculum and model a plan that follows the schools
  3. Make some decisions about what is important for your child to learn and plan out books, activities, and trips with that in mind.
  4. Talk to your children about what they are interested in, and what they want to learn about. Then make a plan to help them immerse themselves in what they are already interested in.

Again, you’ll want to make sure that you have consulted and reviewed your state’s requirements to make sure you are compliant with the local rules.

Where can I find ready-made curriculum to get started with homeschool?

The internet is a wonderful place. Many homeschool purists won’t even answer this question for you; they find the concept of curriculum to be offensive. I can see how an established curriculum could help parents new to homeschool to get started and gain confidence in homeschooling.

I’m not going to recommend one set of materials over another. This post isn’t about endorsing anything. But I think that there is a ton of info available on the net now about the various options. Search for “reviews” of the particular packages you are looking at to get the impression of other parents before you buy.

How do I schedule our homeschool days?

The needs of a homeschool family come first. Things like cooking, eating, chores, and naps have to happen. If you must have a structured day, make sure to factor in a lot of time for the practical family needs in a given day.

As for when the “learning” should begin, consider your children. Are your children bright eyed in the morning, or sluggish and slow to move? Get an idea of when your child is the most alert and then plan the “learning” time accordingly.

As for how much of the day to devote to learning, keep in mind that you have a lot of time. One-on-one, your child can accomplish a lot more than she could in a classroom of 25. If you have requirements from the state, you know much of what you have to accomplish in a given year. Until you get a handle on what homeschool looks like for your family, it might be best to set aside just 1-2 hours a day as “learning time” until you get your feet wet. After a few weeks, you’ll know what you are capable of, and what your children are capable of.

Remember, there is no need to duplicate what is done in school. School schedules are designed with large classrooms in mind. There’s no sense in transitioning children from one project or subject to another at a specific time if they are really engaged and fired up about the work she is doing.

How can homeschooled children possibly learn as much in a few hours as the children who go to school all day?

In a study from the 80s, standardized tests were used to compare the academic output of homeschoolers. The study found that the number of hours per week in formal learning had no relationship to academic performance.

In traditional schools, a lot of the school day is wasted. Minutes are lost putting away coats, and lining up. “Getting ready” to do whatever they are doing in the classroom takes a long time. With close to 30 children in some classrooms, it is no wonder that organizing anything and everything takes a lot of time.

Do I have to use textbooks in homeschooling?

Nope, you don’t. Textbooks tend to be pretty dry. Generally, they are a summary of information gathered by someone else. Why use a textbook when you could use an encyclopedia? Why look at pictures of a tree when you can go out the back door and touch it?

I am bad at math. How can I teach it to my kids?

You don’t have to be a specialist in everything your child needs to learn. The main thing you need to do when your child is small is help them learn how to teach themselves. Once they get the hang of looking to the books or materials to learn a concept, you’ll be in a good place by the time they get to the tough stuff.

Before you freak out about your poor math skills, remember that homeschooling is a way to remove the obstacles that you had back in school. In public school, the class moves on when the teacher is ready, not when the students are ready. When you are lost in traditional school, you wouldn’t get the individualized help that you needed to move on. At home, your child can spend as much time as necessary to master a concept before moving on.

Still worried? Some parents tag-team with other parents on tough topics. Others hire tutors for one specific area. If your child is old enough, they could even enroll at the local community college for help in difficult areas.

Can I get other people to help with my homeschooling?

Yes. Of course.

Homeschool doesn’t mean that one parent has to be the teacher in all things. The important thing is that the child gets the education she needs. Does it matter where it comes from?

Can my child participate in sports if we choose to homeschool?

This depends.

Some states have laws that allow homeschooled children to participate in interscholastic sports in the school district they live in. (Interscholastic meaning school against school).

Some don’t.

Many states (or specific school districts) allow participation in some sports, but not others.

Some don’t.

You’ll have to do your research where you live.

But we are talking about public school sports. There are tons of community sports programs for your children to participate in. Instead of playing basketball, your child might ski, swim or do martial arts. It won’t matter where your child goes to school for these types of private sports arrangements.

How do I homeschool children of different ages?

This depends upon how you structure school for each of your children. You could put each of the kids on their own separate path. Or, you could do one global activity and have them each participate in the “lesson” at their age/ability level. For example, if you are studying the state of Texas, each of the kids could have their own age appropriate tasks. Or just do the task to their ability.

I suspect that trying to handle the ages of the children would be less hard than juggling the differing interests of the children. (History versus art, etc).

How do I get my children to be motivated to learn at home?

There’s no “one” way to motivate kids. But here’s a few suggestions from some homeschooling families to help keep kids on track:

  1. Make sure the children have access to interesting things, such as cool books and other printed materials, supplies, math and science equipment, collections of specimens, charts or models, and opportunities to get out and explore.
  2. Talk to your children about their interests, and then look for materials that fall in line with their interests.
  3. Allow the child to make choices about her learning. If you are buying workbooks, give her a chance to pick one. If there’s a few subjects to cover in a day, let her pick the order.
  4. Eliminate or limit television time.
  5. Eat nutritious foods.
  6. Give children opportunities to relax and recharge.
  7. Incorporate experiences into learning.

Often parents fail to recognize that unmotivated children are actually uninterested children. If you are struggling to get your kid to the table to do the work you want her to do, maybe the problem isn’t with her, but instead with the work.

Do I have to give tests?

Great question. First, you should check your state regulations to confirm whether its the law or not.

Many homeschooling purists argue against testing. They believe that teaching a child to do well on a test is a waste of time.

Other parents like testing, because they want to know how their children are doing compared to their peers. They also want to be able to measure growth from year to year.

How do homeschooled children compare academically?

There is data on this question, but I think it is questionable. The data suggests that homeschooled children do better on standardized testing than public school educated children. The data seems to put homeschooled children around the same level as children who attend private school. But the reason I don’t like the data is that many homeschooling families don’t participate in standardized testing. I think it is really hard to say overall how the children compare.

Will my child get a high school diploma?

There are a few ways to go about this:

  1. Create one as a family and give it to him
  2. Check with private schools in the area that support homeschooling families. Many of these schools and other independent study institutions award high school diplomas
  3. Some states grant diplomas to teens who have completed certain requirements or a specific independent study program
  4. Take the GED or state-approved equivalency test

How can my child get into college if we homeschool?

Homeschoolers are currently being admitted into Ivy League schools, small liberal arts colleges, community colleges, and state schools. I know you worry, but homeschooling won’t hold her child back from attending college.

In preparation for the college admission process, homeschooled students can help themselves by creating transcripts or a portfolio of their work. Another option is to participate in a homeschool study program that grants a diploma.

Homeschoolers tend to have a wider variety of experiences than traditional students. This gives them an opportunity to stand out in the other parts of the admissions process–essays, activities and volunteering, and recommendations. Homeschoolers also take the SAT and/or ACT, which helps colleges compare them to their peers.

Further, you should know that homeschoolers have equal access to financial aid.

Should my child take community college classes while still high school age?

It seems that anything called “college” should be more difficult than high school. But that isn’t always the case. Oftentimes the first and second year courses at the community college level are very similar to high school level classes.

If your child is interested in taking community college courses, I wouldn’t try and stop him if he is going to be serious about it. If the material is the same, and your family can afford it, community college courses can be a great way to get a year or two of college out of the way ahead of time.

The reason I would confirm that your child is serious about it is that the college credits will follow him. If he blows off the course and gets a D, that’s a college level D that future colleges will want to know about. The eventual transcript, if your child does well, can be used as another verification of your child’s skills and abilities as he applies for college later on.

But if he isn’t interested, it isn’t worth it to push him.

In closing…

I’m not coming out as for or against public school, private school, homeschool, unschool or any other school. I’m a firm believer in parents making decisions for their children. I understand that families are different, and children are different. You do your best every day for your children.

You don’t need to me lecture you about your school choices.