Updated: May 4
Parents have been teaching their children at home for centuries. So while it may seem intimidating at first, once you've identified the key elements of how to home school you too can be successful teaching your student how to be effective in society. After you've determined "why" you want to home school the next step is understanding how you will do so successfully.
How to home school is a question with answered as varied as people are. Each child is different, each family's situation has unique factors that tune the work of homeschooling and the experience your child will have to create an outcome as unique as your child is. That being said, there are some how’s that are unavoidable. Things that regardless of your situation you have to factor in include:
Homeschooling is legal in every state in the United States with varying levels of requirements depending on the state. Those requirements could include:
Official Notice of Intent to Homeschool: Public record of home school status
Affiliated School: School that keeps records and may provide services to students.
Attendance Requirements: Ages kids must be in school and how many hours
Curriculum Outline: Breakdown of explicit subjects/topics
Proof of Advancement: Standardized test scores, portfolios, or other means of showing advancement to completion.
These requirements vary significantly from state to state. Several places detail the explicit requirements by state.
Secondary Education Expectations
While the requirements for your state are easy to find and may or may not be easy to follow, from an educational perspective they may not provide enough guidance for future trade school or other secondary education. As your students enter high school it’s important to begin to gauge if they are going to pursue secondary education and if so what are the entrance requirements this includes:
Academic Course Completion: This could include foreign language, mathematics, or other subjects that might be considered electives in the high school requirements but represent a minimal set of instruction for college entrance.
Standardized Test Scores: Tests like the SAT and ACT are still used by most schools at some point in the decision-making process.
Extracurricular Activities: While these may not be required, they do have an impact on scholarships or the ability to engage in these activities formally at the college.
As a home school family, you are not alone. Across the country, there are national, state, and regional cooperatives, associations, and clubs that specifically bring home school families together to address specific needs. The simplest breakdown might be
National Organizations: These are a mix of for-profit and not-for-profit groups that provide legal aid, political advocacy, and structured programs specifically aimed at homeschoolers.
Regional Associations: These groups represent homeschoolers in a particular geography. They tend to accept all home school families in an area and provide shared resources and possibly host regional conventions.
Cooperatives: These are usually smaller groups of homeschoolers who have collected around a common “why”. The “why” often sets entrance criteria for families into the co-op. For example, a co-op focused on a particular academic philosophy might expect all families to teach that way.
Clubs: These are home school groups gathered around a specific topic, more on this in the extra-curricular topic.
There are many different educational methods available to home educators. Each has a core underlying philosophy of education, approach to structuring content, and possibly organizations in your area dedicated to teaching according to that philosophy.
Traditional: Mirrors the coursework students might have in a traditional classroom. This includes sequentially working through text and workbooks which might be the same as those being provided in public school.
Classical: Focuses education on three distinct stages of learning based on the student’s age known as the trivium. Each stage has unique educational processes that focus on learning objectives appropriate for that stage.
Unit Study: Takes topics of interest for the student and expands learning across all available subject areas. For example, if a student was fascinated by airplanes, a unit study might include a short story about flying somewhere, math problems related to air travel, a science experiment on how air flows over wings, and an art assignment to paint an airplane. This is usually more of an elementary school approach.
Unschooling: Allows the student to chart the course of their education based on personal interest and aptitude. The focus is on cultivating the student’s curiosity and appetite for learning.
Other Methods: In addition to the previous broad approaches to study there are several other educational paradigms based on distinct learning philosophies that are too many to name in this short work, here are a few of the more popular methods:
Once you’ve decided on a method, the course of study and curriculum choices come into focus in alignment with the method you choose.
You can find more details on various methods here:
The activities outside of classroom learning are often as important if not more important to your child’s lifelong learning. Whether it is an appreciation for physical activity and health, skills in leading others, or cultivating an interest in a specific topic area these activities help round out your child’s educational experience and provide an opportunity for interacting with other children. In the context of homeschooling, many of these items can be used to count for high school class credits or provide the basis for amazing experiences to document in college entrance essays.
Sports: In elementary and middle school this usually looks like taking part in a sports club no differently than a child in a traditional school. However, in Junior High and High School, this can take a different turn as some states mandate attending a traditional school to participate in high school sports. This can become a challenge to continuing homeschooling.
Leadership Development: This takes many different forms, scouting organizations, 4H, Future Farmers of America to name a few. The goal of these organizations is to provide children the opportunity to develop skills and abilities in a wide variety of fields with a long-term focus on developing their ability to lead.
Special Interest Clubs: Most every topic or interest you can think of has a special interest group or club a student might be able to join to learn more about that topic. STEM clubs of various types abound, for example, every county in the state of Iowa has a First Robotics organization. However, the Internet now provides your student with the ability to connect with other students from around the world to learn and grow.
Volunteer Opportunities: Many not-for-profit organizations offer a student the ability to volunteer with them in various capacities, from junior zookeeper to maker space assistant the opportunities are as varied as your students are.
Like everything else in homeschooling, record-keeping falls to the parents so you must understand what you will be tracking.
State Requirements: The previous section on understanding your state-level records outlined several different things you might have to track from the number of hours to specific course progress.
College Entrance: This usually takes the form of a high school transcript. This is a record of the various courses taken from 9th-12th grade and how they align to specific entrance requirements the college might have. Here's a great article on creating a transcript How to Create a High School Transcript for Your Homeschool - Homeschool Compass
This provides an overview of the many different aspects of homeschooling that must be accounted for to successfully educate your child at home. Next Month’s article will delve into "What" homeschooling looks like day to day.
About the Authors: Allen and Janet Brokken are veteran homeschoolers of 12 years with two children in college and a third in high school. Janet is a co-founder and director of the Wellspring Home School Cooperative and volunteers in multiple home school enrichment organizations. Allen had been the leader of a Cub Scout Pack, award-winning First Robotics Teams, and a Theatre Club. Together they operate Towers of Light Christian Resources LLC that provides resources for home school families from a Christian worldview.