(Frequently Asked Questions About Homeschooling)
Q. What does it mean to homeschool?
A. Homeschooling means different things to different people. For some families, homeschooling means duplicating school at home, complete with textbooks, report cards and regularly scheduled field trips. For others, homeschooling is simply the way they live their lives – children and adults living and learning together with a seamlessness that would challenge an observer to determine which was ‘home’ and which was ‘school.’ If you think of a kind of homeschooling continuum, with ‘school at home’ at one end, and ‘learning and living completely integrated’ on the other – you would find homeschoolers scattered along that line with every possible variation of what homeschooling could mean.
Q. What are some of the benefits of homeschooling?
A. A wise man once said, “We can teach our children to have courage, faith and endurance; they can teach us to laugh, to sing, and to love.” For many, the deepest and most abiding benefit of homeschooling is the claiming (or reclaiming) of their family. Homeschooling families spend incredible amounts of time together living, learning and playing. They have the opportunity to develop a depth of understanding and a commitment to the family that is difficult to attain when family members spend their days going in separate directions.
Many families like the flexibility homeschooling provides both parents and children. Children can learn about things they are interested in and at a time in their lives when they are ready to learn. No preconceived schedule forces them ahead or holds them back. Vacations and outings can be planned for times when the family is ready – and often when the crowds are smaller or the costs are lower. Children can learn about the ‘real world’ by being a part of it – no artificial settings to ‘provide exposure.’ Children can receive a superior education attuned specifically to their own needs, learning styles, personalities, and interests – at far less cost than that of a private or public school.
Q. Is homeschooling legal?
A. Yes, homeschooling is legal in all 50 states. However, laws and regulations vary from state to state, and interpretations can vary from school district to school district. We recommend that you read the laws for your state yourself, in addition to asking homeschooling organizations for information. The reference librarian at your local library will be able to help you find this information. It is not usually a good idea to ask your local school district or state department of education for information before informing yourself about the laws. In many areas, local officials and even state officials will not truly understand the laws relating to home education, and may therefore ask for far more information than the law requires.
Q. Is homeschooling expensive?
A. Homeschooling can be as expensive or as inexpensive as you make it. It depends on many factors, including what kinds of materials and resources you choose to use, how many children you will be homeschooling, and whether or not you will be giving up paid employment in order to homeschool your children.
Parents can easily spend a small fortune on all the wonderful learning materials and books available. On the other hand, a superior education can also be accomplished using free resources found through the public library, interlibrary loan, and learning opportunities found in your community, such as museums and trips to interesting places. If you have only one child and decide to use real life experiences, the public library, garage sales and thrift stores for your resources, you may be talking about a couple hundred dollars or less for an entire year. If you decide to purchase a curriculum for five children you could be looking at several thousand dollars over that same year.
Q. How do I know which materials and resources to use?
A. This is, perhaps, the most difficult question to answer – be prepared for your answer to change over time and be aware that you may make choices that won’t work out. Before you think about what you need, think about what learning means to you. School curriculum and methodology have evolved to reflect an environment where 25 or 30 children learn at the behest of one adult. Curriculum developed by experts for this useage has been designed for ease of teaching, but not necessarily for sparking the interest of an individual child.
As a homeschooling family, you can accept as many or as few of these materials as you like. Some families like the ease and security of having a prepackaged curriculum, while others choose to make their own decisions about what is important to learn and what is useful and helpful in their daily lives. Discuss this with your children. What do they want to do? How do they learn best? Look at sample copies of materials before you choose. As homeschoolers, you will be in charge of your learning – take advantage of all the adventure has to offer!
Q. Where can I get materials and resources?
A. Materials and resources come in all sizes and shapes – and many don’t look ‘schoolish’ at all. Many families find their most treasured learning resources at garage sales and thrift shops. Think of building and needlework materials, cooking tools, books, magazines, motors, gears, etc… Other families frequent the bookstores and educational supply stores in their communities. Some find videos from the video rental store valuable. Most think the public library is the best possible resource. Send for the catalogs that look interesting to you. They are filled with resources which you may find helpful. If you are interested in finding out more about prepackaged curriculum or correspondence schools write for their brochures and informative flyers.
Homeschooling conferences and learning fairs are another place for looking at materials and getting ideas. Check with your local or state support groups for information about these.
Q. What if my child wants to learn something I can’t teach?
A. Children have the most amazing ability to want to learn the one thing about which we know absolutely nothing! It’s a universal attribute. Homeschooling families are blessed in having the ‘world as their classroom.’ There are classes (correspondence, video, support groups, community centers, colleges, etc…) taught by experts, but many children are very capable of teaching themselves – just as adults do when they have something new they want to learn.
The most powerful learning experiences for a child is to have a parent learning right alongside the child. Parents, thankfully, do not have to be the expert in every area. Learn with your child, or search your community for resources that will help your child learn. And when searching for ‘teachers,’ don’t overlook friends, acquaintances, and businesspeople in your community – most people are delighted to have a young person around who is sincerely interested in what they do and know.
Q. How will my child learn to get along in the world?
A. This is the question homeschoolers often grimace about and call the “S” question (socialization). The real concern, it seems, is whether homeschooled children will be able to function out in the world if they don’t have the experiences schooled children have.
Think for a moment about what schools really do. They classify and segregate children by age and ability, reinforce class, gender and racial prejudice, and strip from children the right to any real interaction or private life. Socialization, in this respect, becomes submitting one’s will to that of the group (or person in charge). This is not the basis for healthy relationships. Home educated children, because they spend so much of their time out in the real world, generally are able to communicate well with both adults and children and to have friends of all ages. They choose to spend time with others because they enjoy their company or have a similar interest – just like adults.
Q. Can I work at a job and still homeschool?
A. Homeschooling families have often been portrayed as “Dad going to work, Mom staying at home with the kids.” The reality, for many families, is much different: single parents homeschool, working parents homeschool, dads at home homeschool, parents with ongoing illnesses homeschool. Some families homeschool some of their children but not others. Grandparents homeschool grandchildren. It may take a little creative juggling, but many of the perceived barriers can be gotten around with some thoughtful problem-solving.
Q. How do I know if my children are learning?
A. Children are always learning – they just can’t help it! Just like when they were babies and toddlers, you can discover what they are learning by spending time with them and observing the growth in their understanding of the world. Observation as an assessment (titled ‘authentic assessment’ and a big educational buzzword these days) acknowledges growth in understanding and skill level. Unlike standardized testing, it doesn’t give a ‘snapshot’ that attempts to quantify learning at one point in time. It is fluid and flexible and has no preconceived notions about what a child ‘should’ be able to do. You can look at the whole person and concentrate on what your child knows, instead of what your child does not know.
Q. Should I test my child?
A. Testing, like many other educational concerns, should be a personal decision. Some questions to consider before making this decision include: which tests will be used and why, how might the testing process affect the learner, how will the test results be used, and are there less intrusive alternatives that can be utilized instead? Testing, in the home environment where parents are always very aware of how well their children are doing, is unnecessary and intrusive. Testing is under fire from many teachers and educators ,and many educational establishments are attempting to eliminate standardized testing in their schools. Very careful consideration should be taken before any testing is done to children for any reason.
Q. What about higher education?
A. Hundreds of colleges, universities and vocational institutes all over the nation are accepting homeschooled students. Most are thrilled with these intelligent, responsible, capable young people and many are actively recruiting them. Most of these institutions value ability and attitude over formal transcripts, diplomas or GEDs. Most libraries and bookstores carry a wide assortment of books, directories and guides that will help older homeschoolers get information and prepare for this next step. On the other hand, many homeschoolers ultimately choose an apprenticeship over formal schooling as a faster and more satisfying entry into their adult lives. There are many good books which can be great helps to families working through these decisions. It should be noted that college is not neccessarily the only or even the best route for every young person. Going to college without a clear idea of what you expect to gain can be a very expensive form of self-discovery. And for many teens who already know where they are headed, apprenticeship opportunities and other forms of ‘on-the-job’ training can be a faster and more satisfying entry into their adult lives. And remember, the decision to forgo college is never irrevocable. Most institutions highly value older students, since they are usually enthusiastic and focused on learning.
Q. How do I find out about homeschooling in my state?
A. A complete listing of homeschooling support groups, organizations, listservs, websites and helpful individuals can be found at Home Education Magazine’s Support Groups Pages.
If you’re thinking about homeschooling, contacting your state or local homeschooling support group is the best place to start. Often local public libraries can assist in locating them. The support groups usually have copies of the state law, information about getting started, lists of activities and resources and many offer a newsletter as well. They can offer opportunities for getting together with other families, activities for children and adults, advice and help with resource materials and even cooperative classes for children. Some have a purely social focus – others have an academic or religious focus as well. Every support group has a different ‘flavor,’ – be sure that, if you choose to join one, the one you choose is compatible with your own needs and beliefs. And remember that many families get along just fine without belonging to a support group at all.