What Do You Need to Homeschool Your Child?

Young Asian mom working from home on the laptop computer while her little daughter reading e-learning resources on the digital tablet in the workspace at home.

Tang Ming Tung / DigitalVision / Getty Images

Once considered a rarity among American families, during the COVID-19 pandemic homeschooling came to the forefront as parents scrambled to put together educational options that made sense for their families.

Parents who have had children in school for many years may find the idea of homeschooling confusing and complicated. You may have practical questions like how to withdraw your children from their school districts legally. And you may wonder if you are qualified to homeschool your children.

Whether you are homeschooling or bringing school into your home via virtual or distance learning, you likely have many questions about how to make learning at home fit into your lives and make it a positive experience for your children.

However you are approaching learning at home, the good news is that it’s probably simpler than you think—and although it may take a little while to get into a routine, homeschooling and learning at home can have many surprising benefits for your children.

Choosing Homeschooling

There are many reasons why a family might choose homeschooling or virtual learning, even as the pandemic begins to abate.

  • Your child or someone in your family is medically vulnerable, and you are not yet comfortable with your kids entering a school building.
  • You want to wait until kids under 12 have access to the COVID-19 vaccine.
  • You do not feel safe with your school’s coronavirus safety plan.
  • You are not happy with the virtual learning options your district is offering, and you want to homeschool your child instead.
  • Your school district’s in-person schedule does not work with your family’s work/life schedule.
  • You are choosing a virtual or distance learning option through your school district and want to learn the best practices for at-home learning or supplementing distancing learning with homeschool elements.

Aside from these pandemic-related considerations, parents may choose homeschooling or virtual learning at any time for other reasons. They may want:

  • A flexible learning schedule because of frequent family travel
  • A controlled environment for a medically vulnerable or immunosuppressed child
  • A less traditional learning environment for a child who is gifted or who has learning disabilities
  • To add religious elements to their child’s education
  • To offer a less traditional and more child-centered approach to education
  • To opt out of current educational philosophies or practices

Some families choose homeschooling due to specific circumstances, such as the coronavirus pandemic.

Other families decide to homeschool their children for their early years but enroll their children in school during their middle school or high school years.

There is no one right way to do it—it’s all about what works for your family, which is part of the beauty of homeschooling.

Homeschooling done successfully can be a very child-centered, family-centered approach.

Practicalities of Homeschooling

Once you have chosen to educate your child at home, you will want to consider the practicalities. What do you need to make the switch from traditional school to homeschooling? What other preparations should you make to ensure a positive experience for you and your child?

Homeschooling Laws

Homeschooling is legal in all 50 states, but the regulations surrounding homeschool vary from state to state. In most cases, you will need to contact your state’s school district to withdraw your child from public school enrollment formally.

Once you are officially homeschooling, each state will have different requirements. For example, some states require you to submit education plans and student assessments. Other states require your child to be tested formally at different stages in their education. Other states have virtually no formal requirements.

If you choose a distance-learning option provided through your school district, you will not be separating from your child’s school district at all, and there is nothing further you need to do.

If you choose a virtual school that is not tied to your school district, you should contact your school district for instructions.

Many virtual schools are similar to private schools, and their classes count toward attendance and learning requirements. If you are enrolling in a la carte distance learning classes, you should contact your school district to see how these courses will count toward your child’s educational requirements, especially if your child is in high school and needs credits to graduate.

You can look up your state’s homeschooling requirements through interactive maps provided by HSLDA, Home School Legal Defense Association.

Parent Qualifications

One of the top concerns parents have about homeschooling or learning at home is that they feel underqualified to teach their children. First of all, especially for elementary school, most parents know plenty and can easily consult a few sources to brush up on certain subject matters (most of us are rusty on 4th-grade math, for example!).

Most people who homeschool invest in curricula that fill in gaps in their knowledge, so it’s not as though you will be homeschooling your child with no guide. In addition, homeschoolers of older kids often enroll their children in virtual classes or even have their children attend in-person or online community colleges geared toward homeschooling kids.

As for legal requirements, almost all states will allow a parent to homeschool their child regardless of their own educational background. However, a few states do require parents to have a high school diploma—and even then, they may waive this requirement under certain circumstances. Other states require homeschooling parents to be “competent” and “capable,” but don’t offer many guidelines on what that means.

Again, since there is so much variation here, it’s best to contact your school district or state legislature to learn about the requirements. The majority of states in America do not have any educational requirements for parents who wish to educate their children at home.

Different Approaches to Learning at Home

There are many approaches that parents take to homeschooling. A more traditional homeschool approach will involve purchasing a homeschool curriculum and setting up your home similarly to a classroom, with a desk for your child, textbooks, and school supplies.

Families who choose a less traditional approach—for example, families who "unschool” their children—may not follow a particular curriculum. Instead, they follow their children’s interests and supplement with educational materials as needed.

Most homeschool families do not remain at home, either! Instead, they may form homeschool co-ops with other homeschooling families for additional coursework and socialization. They may take trips to museums, botanical gardens, or anywhere in the community that offers a hands-on educational experience.

If you are doing virtual learning with your child, you may be able to connect with other families who are doing the same to participate in playdates, family gatherings, or other educational opportunities.

The wonderful thing about learning at home is that there are so many ways to do it. There are many opportunities for your child to connect with others.

What You Need To Homeschool

Curriculum

If you are homeschooling on your own, you will likely want to choose a curriculum to follow. Unfortunately, there are so many out there that it can get a little daunting.

Consider what kind of educational approach you are looking for in a curriculum. Do you want a Montessori approach? A Waldorf approach? An approach that more closely matches a traditional school curriculum? One of the best ways to choose your curriculum is to talk to other homeschooling families to see what they have liked best and why.

If you enroll your child in your school district’s virtual learning program or in a standalone virtual school, you will not have to choose a curriculum yourself. However, you may want to supplement your child’s learning with other homeschool activities or online programs.

Basic Supplies

Setting up a learning environment at home can be pretty simple. You will need many of the same school supplies you purchase for a child who is entering a school building, including:

  • Paper, blank notebooks, and folders
  • Writing supplies, including pencils, erasers, and pencil sharpeners
  • Glue and scissors
  • Crayons and markers
  • A calendar for planning
  • A dry erase board and markers for teaching
  • Storage containers for keeping track of materials
  • Any other educational materials your child might enjoy or find helpful, including flashcards and math manipulatives

Some families choose to decorate their child’s home learning space, but this is optional, of course.

Homeschooling Space

If your child will be distance learning or will be using any internet-based learning modality, it’s best if you can designate a space in your home for this learning to take place, whether it be at your child’s desk or the kitchen table.

  • Have a designated computer or tablet for your child to use if you are distance learning or using the internet for learning if you can afford it. If you are distance learning through your child’s school district, the district may be able to provide this for your child at no cost.
  • Make sure you have a strong WiFi connection if you are using any internet-based learning. If you can’t afford WiFi for your home and are doing a distance learning option, you should contact your school district for help.
  • Stock up on drinks and snacks (if you or the online teacher allows it) since your child will be learning on the computer for extended periods of time.
  • Invest in some fidget toys to keep your child’s hands occupied. Many young children will be fidgety sitting at a desk for a long period of time, so this can help. Some children also do well sitting on an exercise ball while they learn.
  • Allow your child to take screen breaks whenever possible. Young children cannot sit in front of a screen for too long without them, but even older children need to stretch and get physical movement into their day. So make sure to schedule this in.

Homeschooling Schedule

Children thrive on routine, and having a clear routine, will help your child stay focused on homeschooling. If your child is doing virtual learning, you will likely be given a schedule for your child to follow.

If you are homeschooling your child, it can be beneficial to make a schedule similar to a school day schedule for you and your child to follow. This will help structure your day—and most importantly, help your child know what to expect each day.

Many homeschoolers report that having a schedule or routine is vital for homeschooling success. At the same time, one of the joys of homeschooling is that the schedule can be more flexible than traditional schooling is, which can be helpful if you are a parent trying to balance homeschooling with your own work or responsibilities.

Many families report that the actual teaching part of homeschooling only needs to last a few hours a day, especially for younger children, allowing working parents to fit homeschooling into their lives.

A Word From Verywell

Being creative and thinking outside the box can be helpful when considering homeschooling options. For example, some families team up with other families learning at home to share some teaching and childcare responsibilities. Others get the extended family involved. Others rearrange their work schedules to fit homeschooling or distance learning into their days.

As for our children, they are more resilient than we might think. Of course, learning to adapt to a new learning environment will not be without bumps in the road, but you can think of these as learning experiences as well.

Teaching our children to adapt to changes is actually a huge educational lesson in and of itself. And as long as you are tackling these challenges with love and care, your child will end up fine in the end—they may even have one of their most unique and memorable years of school yet.

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