Note from Outschool: Laws about homeschooling vary from state to state. Be sure to learn about and follow all state laws and guidelines, including public health orders, before beginning any program.
If you’re thinking about homeschooling, or you’ve already made the leap and are now making plans for the fall, then you’re not alone.
Homeschooling has seen a steady increase in popularity across the United States over the past decade. After the dust of back-to-school 2020 settles and the numbers are in, it’s likely that these numbers will be higher than ever.
However, just because homeschooling is more popular does not mean it gets easier for each individual family. The decision to homeschool can invite a range of emotions, from anxiety about making it work day-to-day, to excitement about a schedule with more freedom and flexibility.
Fortunately, many families have been in your shoes and have come out on the other side as happy, confident homeschoolers.
Whether you’ve already made the decision to homeschool, or you’re still on the fence, here are seven steps to help you get started, if and when you decide that it’s time to make the change.
1) Research your state’s homeschooling regulations
The U.S. is made up of 50 states, and has almost as many variations in its laws about parents’ responsibilities around homeschooling.
In other words, we won’t make too many specific recommendations for this step except that it is imperative that you check with your state and local government, and make sure you follow their guidelines about registering and other specifics of homeschooling in your state. One reference you can use to determine the laws in your state can be found at the Homeschool Legal Defense Association.
Right now, many variations on homeschooling are entering conversations among parents. These include Microschools, homeschool co-ops, or learning pods. Each of these has different levels of formality, organization, and credentialing requirements.
However, just because an option feels more official and organized does not exempt it from laws and regulations. Be sure to check that your specific situation falls within what is legal where you live.
2) Find a community of like-minded people
A community of fellow homeschooling parents and a group of friends for your child are critical parts of the homeschooling journey. There are several ways to make sure you are part of communities that support you, and that you, in turn, can support.
Three ways to find community as you begin homeschooling include:
- Find some homeschooling groups, either online or face-to-face. To help you get started, A2Z Homeschooling has a helpful list of homeschool groups organized by state.
- Consider ongoing classes with Outschool to help your child connect with like-minded peers around topics they’re passionate about. While children on Outschool come from a variety of schooling situations, bonding over a common interest is a great way to make new friends.
- Lean into your existing communities. Your child may still thrive by continuing existing after-school activities and sports, and having playdates with friends from school and other groups. Also remember that flexible homeschooling schedules let you become more involved in your local community during hours when other kids may be in school by volunteering or getting to know local businesspeople.
3) Find the homeschooling approach that works for you
Car schooling is what some homeschool families jokingly call it because of how much they travel for learning opportunities.
While lots of travel opportunities are unavailable during the current COVID-19 context, this joke highlights one of the things many families love about this approach to education: the flexibility.
Take, for example, the approach called “Worldschooling,” which often involves extended travel intertwined with planned or spontaneous learning experiences for the children.
Outschool parent Astrid Turner describes Worldschooling like this:
Taking classes on the road has helped my children to see that opportunities for learning are everywhere. Teaching on the road has been a great experience for me, as well. I love it when I can relate to a student more and find common ground with them because of my travels.
Of course, not all approaches to homeschool require extensive travel, and there is approach to fit every budget and lifestyle.
For example, you might want to consider school-at-home, Charlotte Mason, Unschooling, Classical, Eclectic, Waldorf, Montessori, Multiple Intelligences and more described in this helpful overview.
Many families initially try school-at-home. However, this can also lead families to experience burnout. Our best advice is to ask around. Talk to other families about how they approach homeschooling and why. Then adapt your approach to fit your child’s needs and your needs.
4) Explore the smorgasbord of existing homeschool resources
When it comes to initially finding resources for teaching your kids, don’t reinvent the wheel.
Ask other homeschooling families about the resources, classes and tutors they’ve found useful, and explore them for yourself. Here are some evergreen resources* to kick off your search:
- Live online classes, in a variety of lengths and formats, with Outschool
- High quality free apps and websites like Khan Academy, TED-Ed and DuoLingo
- Park days for meeting other homeschoolers
- Public libraries and the interlibrary loan system for wonderful books, videos, and audiobooks
- Museums for exploration, docent-led tours, and classes
- Community centers and parks & recreation centers for extracurriculars
*This article is being updated in Summer 2020, during the context of COVID-19. Please follow all local, state, and federal health guidelines when planning your child’s activities.
5) Consider creating your own resources
Despite what we said in tip number four, sometimes you actually can reinvent the wheel.
After experimenting with a variety of approaches and resources, and learning from those in your community, you’ll learn a lot about teaching and learning. Many parents realize they can do it better, in ways that work best for their child and family.
Who else will find a way to incorporate your child’s interest in music, LEGO, astronomy and manga into a series of activities, homemade videos, songs, models and stories better than you will?
Don’t be afraid to cut, paste, and copy your way to creating your own custom learning resources that perfectly fit your child’s needs. If you think you’ve made something that other teachers or parents will find useful, you can even share it (and earn some money) on sites like Teachers Pay Teachers.
6) Officially leave your child’s current school
Unless your children are very young, it’s likely that they are already enrolled in a school system in some capacity. In that case, one of the big steps you’ll need to take - outside of researching and talking with loved ones - is to notify the school that your child will be exiting the school.
Your reason for making a change may dictate how far in advance you notify the school. If you decide for health concerns that you are keeping your child home, then you can notify the school as soon as you are sure of your plans. Over the summer, this might mean you give the school a few weeks’ advance notice. In other cases, though, parents need to make faster, less planned-out decisions based on a child’s experience in the school.
You’ll likely need to tell the school in writing that you are withdrawing your child. Most people also tell the school where their child is transferring to. These requirements vary depending on the way homeschool is classified in your state and how you will be proceeding.
7) Start teaching on Outschool
You’ve made the long journey towards learning about the best way to educate your child. You’ve put in the effort to create valuable resources and fun activities. At this point, we notice that many parents in our community come full circle in their homeschooling journeys and help other families by sharing what they've created and teaching on Outschool.
Take that unique approach to teaching math, that creative way you teach science, or the fun read alouds you do for your kids and turn them into a class that other families can learn from and enjoy!
Even though there can be some uncertainty, fear, and excitement around homeschooling, following a process that others have done before can help to make the transition as smooth as possible for you and your children.