"Frequently Asked Questions"
This material is designed to give general information to assist the parent. It should not be considered legal advice in any way. Each family is responsible for ensuring the legality of their homeschooling efforts.
1. Is homeschooling legal?
For now, homeschooling is legal in every state. Each state sets its own regulations, and these vary from state to state. Some states are more regulated than others. Those that are regulated often require some sort of registration, may specify subjects and topics, and may mandate testing, the number of days of school, and the number of hours per day.
So the first step in considering homeschooling is to find out your state’s regulations. These will give you the boundaries in which you have to operate. You can do an Internet search for your state’s homeschooling law. We provide links to the major state-wide homeschool support groups on our website; click on the Legal Questions button on the right and then click on your state. This will take you to the support group’s website.
The state regulations will tell you what procedures must be followed and what subjects must be covered. If you do not need to register with the state or local school board, then at the very least you will need to contact the school your child currently attends to let them know you are withdrawing your child. The school has to account for the child because of truancy laws. We recommend writing a letter and sending it return receipt so that you know the school received it.
2. How do I actually get started?
Once you know your state’s regulations and the basic structure you have to follow, the next step is to research which curriculum you want to use and the approach you want to take.
Families decide to homeschool for a variety of reasons. Your specific situation, family needs, your reason for homeschooling, your view of education, and what you want your homeschooling to accomplish, will determine your choices. So will the amount of structure you need, whether you will be homeschooling for the long-term or only for a short time, and your child’s learning style.
If you don’t know the answer to these questions yet, then we suggest looking at our curriculum packages. We have several options, each designed to fit typical situations. You can get more information by clicking on the Curriculum Packages button on our homepage. Once you have a general plan for your homeschooling, then it is a matter of obtaining the curriculum and getting started.
3. How do I know what to teach each day?
The method of homeschooling you choose will help answer this question. For new homeschoolers, it is recommended that you use a structured textbook curriculum since this is probably what you are familiar with from your own education. These structured programs have comprehensive teacher guides that include lesson plans and information for teaching. Most structured programs are set up so that you do one lesson in each subject per day. Or they will tell you how often to do the lessons in the teacher’s guide.
If you decide to go with a less structured program, you will need to make some sort of lesson plan to guide your efforts. Various types of lesson plan samples are included in our Quick Start Forms Packet.
4. Is there a set time or number of days?
This depends on your state’s regulations. Some specify the number of days per year, while others state the number of hours per day. Generally speaking, one-on-one teaching is more efficient, so it usually doesn’t take as much time. Most families spend between 4 to 6 hours a day. But this varies depending on the method you use, the topics covered, and the ages of the children. For younger children, you will want to break up the day, doing more varied activities in between structured learning. If your state does not require a set number of days or hours, then you can set whatever schedule works for your family. You can also go year-round.
5. What about grades and record-keeping?
Once again, this depends on your state’s regulations. Some states specify the type of records that must be kept, including attendance; some even have forms that must be completed. Otherwise, it’s a good idea to keep as many records as possible to cover yourself.
At the very least, you should keep a listing of the curriculum you use, including the title, author, publisher and copyright date. You will want to keep a record of the activities done each week – this can be in the form of daily or weekly lesson plans or a journal.
Keep all tests, projects, and any lab reports. Most families keep a portfolio that contains a sampling of the student’s work, including writing assignments. A simple way to collect this information is to have a file drawer, file crate, or file box for each student.
As the homeschooling parent, you are responsible for keeping adequate records and deciding what, if any, form of grading will be used.
6. How do I know what material must be learned for my child’s grade?
There is no set curriculum for each grade. Each state sets its own standards, and these tend to be general guidelines only. This means each publisher decides what is to be covered. Certain subjects such as phonics or math are sequential – each skill is based on a previous skill. What is taught at what grade is pretty consistent from publisher to publisher. Other subjects such as history and science are topical – each topic can be studied on its own in whatever order you want. What is taught at what grade varies quite a bit from publisher to publisher.
If your state has specific subject requirements, they will be listed in the regulations. Otherwise, you can follow the sequence provided by the publisher. Or you can design your own; you can find materials to help you in the Teaching section of the website.
7. How do I know which curriculum to choose?
There are many curriculum providers and the choices can be overwhelming. Be sure you know who you are buying from. Not all providers are equal! A curriculum provider should be able to give you a detailed listing of the products they offer by title and publisher, particularly in their curriculum packages. Product descriptions should give complete information and not just “sales copy.” Ideally, you should be able to search by grade level, subject, publisher, and product. Our webpage also features a one-of-a-kind search of products by learning style. You also want to find a provider that offers materials that fit your education goals, the method you want to use, and learning style.
If your student is already struggling in school, then you may want to consider other types of curriculum that do not use intensive textbooks. To continue with a structured program often leads to “burn out.” The value of homeschooling is the flexibility it offers to design a program that fits your child. There is no perfect curriculum. The key is to use what fits your goals and concerns.
There is a variety of curriculum types available. On one end of the continuum are structured curriculum programs. These use standard textbooks or workbooks with daily lessons and student exercises. They offer extensive teacher guides that give learning objectives, scripted lessons, teaching tips, and the answers to the exercises. Most also offer structured tests and test answer keys.
At the other end of the continuum are real books or “living books” and real-life experiences. Living books are books that are written by someone who is passionate about the topic. Hopefully that passion comes through the book and excites the reader more than a dry textbook written by a committee. The topic comes alive to the student. Obviously, there is no structure here. No tests. No study guides. It’s a much more relaxed form of homeschooling.
In between these two are all sorts of variations. There are structured programs that use less intensive textbooks. There are “real book” programs that incorporate study guides to measure learning. There are hands-on kits and activity books that can supplement the real books or guide learning through exploration. Which method you choose will depend on your view of education, your family’s educational goals, and your child’s learning style. Our Learning Styles Kit includes materials to help you evaluate these issues.
There is no perfect curriculum. What works for one family may not work for your family. And you don’t have to use the same program for every subject. You can draw from a variety of programs and publishers. That’s why it is important to spend some time researching what is available, rather than just picking a curriculum by price or name only.
If the choice is still overwhelming, then we suggest using one of our pre-configured packages. The research has already been done for you.
8. What about homeschooling at the high school level? What about credits and transcripts? What about a diploma?
Many families homeschool through high school. It can be done. Much of the curriculum for high-schoolers is designed to be self-taught with parental guidance and interaction. The key is to choose a curriculum that is substantial enough to meet your needs and your child’s future plans.
What a student needs to graduate depends on each state’s requirements and standards. This information should be included when you research your state’s homeschooling requirements. Each state also determines the number of credits involved, how those credits are determined (e.g. one year’s work equals one credit), and how those credits are spread across the core subjects. The number of credits for each year is also set by the state’s homeschool regulations.
If you live in a state that does not list specific requirements, then you as the homeschool parent determine what is necessary for graduation. The number of credits required for graduation vary from state to state, even from district to district. Typically, the number ranges from 18 to 28 credits (using the Carnegie system of one credit per year). How these credits are distributed across the subjects also varies.
The state’s graduation requirements may not be what your student needs to get into a specific college or apprenticeship program. Since entrance requirements for advanced education and training vary from program to program, a good approach is to take the entrance requirements needed for the college, major, or vocational training of choice and work “backwards” to ensure that all subjects are covered in a logical sequence.
Unless your state mandates otherwise, the parent generates the student’s transcript and issues the diploma. The diploma is a sheet of paper that simply means your child has completed the necessary courses to graduate. When a potential employer or college asks if your child has a diploma, they do not need to see the diploma itself. They are only asking if the student has completed high school. You can go to your local office supply store and get a blank certificate that can be filled in as a diploma. Or you can find diploma forms online that you complete for your homeschool. The parent signs the diploma as the “principal.”
In reality, the transcript is more important than the diploma. If your child attends a college or vocational training institute, a transcript will be required. It will be compared to any entrance exams taken to ensure that the two are consistent. Now that homeschooling has become so widespread, most colleges have some sort of procedure for admitting homeschoolers.
For high school students, the parents complete the transcript. The transcript is a listing of the courses the student took, the number of credits possible and the number earned, plus the grade achieved. There are resources and software available that can help you generate the transcript. Or you can simply design your own.
9. What if I decide to put my child back into the public school system?
In the past, this was not much of a problem. But the No Child Left Behind Law has changed how the public schools view homeschooling. Even though homeschooling is legal in every state, the schools no longer have to accept the work. This is because they now set their own standards, and the monies they receive from the federal government depend upon how well they meet these standards. This means they are reluctant to accept any child who is an “unknown factor” when it comes to the test scores.
Usually this is less of a problem in the elementary and middle school grades. Some schools may have your child take a placement test to determine the grade level. Others will have a trial period to see if your child can handle the work.
If you are homeschooling for the short-term, we recommend using a more structured approach since this will be more recognizable to the schools. Ideally, you should check to see if the program you want to use is acceptable to your school system.