Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of parents, teachers and students were thrown unexpectedly into distance learning. For many, it’s been a struggle—teachers were forced to completely retool their curriculum, mothers shouldered the bulk of leading e-learning at home, and many of the country’s most vulnerable students fell through the cracks without adequate support or critical supplies.
However, there are countless success stories as well. Many parents report their children are thriving in a homeschool environment, for reasons ranging from fewer distractions to an ability to pursue educational interests in a less structured format. Lots of these families are now thinking of switching to homeschooling in a more intentional way next year—as are many parents who are concerned about the safety of sending their kids back into a traditional classroom. With the possibility of a pandemic still going on, and school districts still undecided about whether they’ll open and what safety measures they’ll put in place if they do, some families would prefer to simply opt out and make plans of their own.
Regardless of your reason for wanting to pursue homeschooling as an option this fall, it can be daunting to figure out where to start. We spoke to parents who already homeschool to get their best advice and resources—here’s what you need to know to make the switch.
Make sure you can jump the hurdles
Obviously, homeschooling is only an option if a parent is able to be at home, or if the family can afford to pay a teacher—which in some cases requires some pretty major life changes and financial shifts. “We had already been thinking about homeschooling,” says Tiffany Pierce, a Queens, NY-based mom with a son in third grade. When a work contract ended, Pierce, an arts educator with a Master’s degree, realized this was the catalyst she needed to start the homeschooling process with her son when he was in Kindergarten.
You might have some mental obstacles to process, as well. “It’s also a lot of working on your own issues, such as, ‘Am I smart enough?’” Pierce shares. “Just remember, you homeschool because it’s best for your child and you two have now become partners.” If you and your child have decided this is the best move for your family—and you’re financially and logistically able to handle it—go ahead and push yourself to take the plunge!
Know your state’s requirements
Remember, real homeschooling is much different from the e-learning many of us have been doing to close out this school year. As difficult as it might have been to be on time for scheduled Zoom classes and follow tech-heavy instructions for turning in digital assignments, teachers have been doing the work of creating the curriculum, grading assignments, and making sure your child will meet requirements to advance to the next grade. With homeschooling, that’s all on you.
The first big step is figuring out what your state’s requirements are. Jessica Watson, a mom who homeschools her children in Michigan, recommends checking the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) website to find your state’s requirements. It’s important to make sure you’re complying with local regulations, because there’s so much variation from state to state.
For example, “In New York City, all homeschoolers must submit…a Letter of Intent (sent to the NYC Department of Education which states you are going to homeschool your child) and an IHIP (Individualized Home Instruction Plan) which is due quarterly,” explains Pierce. “The first IHIP you submit is tentatively what you will cover for the year, and how.” Pierce further explains that all NY homeschool students are required to complete 900 hours of learning time. “For homeschoolers this can be easily met because students are learning all the time. Keep records of how you homeschool, but don’t stress too much.”
In contrast, another homeschooling mom shared via Facebook what sounds like a much simpler process in Illinois. “In our state we just had to fill out one piece of paper that was optional and could also call the local department for homeschool to let them know what our plan was. That was it for the actual process to homeschool. Then the district themselves offered to help with resources.” Figuring out your state’s requirements—and determining whether or not you’ll realistically be able to comply—is a critical early step to deciding whether or not homeschooling is for you.
Pick a program
When it comes to the curriculum, find the ones that fit your state’s requirements, then test a few and see which ones work best for your child.
“Definitely ask other homeschooling families about curricula,” says Pierce. “You will notice there is a split. Some use a set curricula, like Abeka. Some will use several at a time to keep their child’s interest, like us. And others will use more of life and travel for their education.” One of the benefits of homeschooling is the freedom to make education fit your needs and personality.
Hybrid homeschooling might also be an option for you, in which kids go to classes a few days of the week and do the rest of their work at home. “This was our first year trying out a hybrid homeschool,” Watson shares, “ and it was a nice balance for us.” She says the program they’re a part of, HighPoint Hybrid in Michigan, was modeled after a hybrid program in California several years ago. You can search for hybrid programs in your state to see if any are offered.
You can further customize your child’s schooling with the schedule you keep, matching it to your child’s personality. For example, if you have children who wake up full of energy, asking them to sit and do copy work first thing in the morning is painful for everyone. “Instead, start the day with exercise,” advises Jennifer Elliot Bruno, a professional children’s book photographer who homeschools her young son. “Or, if you have a child who is a bit more calm in the mornings, maybe start the day reading under a blanket.”
You can—and should—turn to others who homeschool within your state for help. You can find social media groups dedicated to homeschooling, and like every aspect of parenting, homeschooling is much easier once you find your tribe.
“The site Homeschool NYC was founded by homeschool expert Laurie Block Spigel,” says Pierce. “She has been a Godsend! She’s like my mentor and we speak regularly.”
“Social media can definitely put you in touch with other homeschooling parents as almost every community has a homeschooling group on Facebook,” agrees Elliot Bruno. “There are secular, non-secular, traditional and other groups to help each family navigate their journey.”
Team up with others
Speaking of getting connected, homeschoolers don’t just confine those connections to online groups. Pierce operates a homeschooling co-op from her home with kids of different ages who learn individually, and from each other. The kids take educational trips together in New York City (which are temporarily via zoom due to Covid-19) and are even learning Mandarin. Pierce’s co-op community is a mix of working and non-working parents—you don’t have to be a stay-at-home-parent to homeschool.
Co-ops are a popular way to let kids reap all the benefits of homeschooling, while also enjoying the social and group-learning benefits of traditional school. “The biggest homeschooling misconception involves the belief that home educated children lack socialization,” says Elliott Bruno. “It’s quite the opposite, really. Typically, homeschool children are out in the world much of their days in parks, in stores, at museums, in extracurricular sports or activities.”
Pierce wholeheartedly agrees, especially because her son is not only in a co-op, but has met homeschooled kids from other cities at planned homeschool get-togethers.
Note that co-ops have their own regulations, in addition to the requirements for homeschool in general. For example, Pierce’s co-op is limited to meeting for 420 hours each academic year, “because anything 50% or over the 900 required hours in New York, would mean we’d have to apply for independent school status.”
Be aware of the costs
“Many parents homeschool on a strict budget,” adds Elliot Bruno, “but there are costs to consider.” This can be a shock, particularly for parents who are used to public education being largely free outside of fundraisers and buying tissues for the classroom.
For example, many U.S. elementary schools use ReadingEggs.com; it’s chock-full of literary-themed passages, quizzes, and games for kids ages 2 to 13. Chances are, parents don’t pay for each public school student’s membership to these types of resources—they’re covered by the district.
But in a homeschooling situation, parents usually pay for memberships to programs that may be free in a public school setting. Some of the costs homeschooling parents might encounter include:
- Co-op teachers, or individual co-op classes
- Membership fees
- Purchasing curriculum
- Supplies (regular school supplies, as well as ones normally supplied by schools such as globes, microscopes, workbooks, art supplies, books, etc)
- Field trips and transportation
- Extracurricular activities (sports, music lessons, etc)
These fees can add up, so consider splitting the cost with another homeschool family or taking advantage of some of these money-saving tips.
Go easy on yourself
Pierce’s core advice for parents new to homeschooling is to be forgiving of yourself.
“It’s a roller coaster of a trip, you’ll get into a groove and then and you’ll hit some bumps, but you’ll come back to the love.” It might not be the easiest road, but for many it’s the best possible fit for their family. The end goal is a child who thrives, grows, and learns, and homeschooling parents agree: Being a part of that every day can be one of the most rewarding experiences parenting can offer.
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