Homeschooling 101: Everything Parents Need To Know To Get Started

A Parent’s Guide To Homeschooling 101: How To Get Started

March 17, 2020 Updated August 19, 2020

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Growing up, you may have known a homeschooler or two. You may have been one. Still, it wasn’t exactly a sweeping movement in the ’80s and ’90s. Today, you’re much more likely to meet a family who has chosen to educate this way — in fact, according to a 2019 report released by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the number of homeschool families nearly doubled between 1999 and 2016, from 850,000 students to 1.7 million. Another fun fact: That figure grows by 7 to 15 percent each year.

More families, for more reasons than ever, are choosing homeschooling. (And yes, wanting to spend as much time as possible with your kids while they’re still kids is a valid reason.) As such, homeschooling is thriving and you’re hearing more about it than ever. So you may wonder, Could it be for me, too? You’re not alone in that thinking. The freedom offered by homeschooling might make it an ideal solution for many families. And if the latest search data is any indication, interest is high — homeschooling tips, hacks, books, and methods are searched for nearly 250,000 times per month.

If you’re curious how homeschooling might work for your family, keep reading to learn more about this movement.

What is homeschooling?

Let’s tackle the obvious question first: What is homeschooling and how does it work? Well, homeschooling is a progressive movement around the world in which parents opt to educate their children at home as opposed to sending them to a public or private learning institution.

Modern homeschooling began in the ’70s and ’80s when popular authors of the time started publishing pieces on education reform. It has since evolved into an ever-widening network of resources, opportunities, and learning methodologies.

Why do some parents choose to homeschool their kids?

One of the most common questions that comes up when discussing this movement is why parents choose to homeschool. And, TBH, that question is impossible to answer because it varies from person to person. Some parents want to incorporate their religious beliefs into their child’s education in a way that isn’t allowed in secular public schools. Many parents worry about problematic social issues such as bullying, drug use, and school shootings.

In a 2016 study by the National Center for Education Statistics, the highest percentage of homeschooled students’ parents (34 percent) cited concern over the school environment as the biggest motivator for choosing to homeschool.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of homeschooling?

If you ask a homeschooling parent what they believe to be the biggest advantage of homeschooling, the odds are high that they’ll say freedom. Homeschooling offers loads of flexibility, from day-to-day scheduling to customizing the curriculum to meet the individual needs of each child. The parent and child decide on a pace that works for them, whether that is taking things a little more slowly when the student needs to or learning ahead. This also means that if a parent is sick or the family wants to take a vacation, they have the flexibility to do so as long as they continue to meet their state’s mandated guidelines.

You can also address issues — academic, mental, emotional, behavioral, etc. — as they arise, not once they become problematic. There is also more time for alternative (but character-forming) activities such as community service, entrepreneurship, and exercises in sustainability. And on top of all of that, parents get the added benefit of spending more time with their child and helping to further shape the person they’ll become.

Dr. Raymond Moore, author of Better Late Than Early and advocate of the homeschooling movement, argues that a negative of the classroom setting is the expectation that development of new skills will and should happen at the same rate for all children. He argues that the individualized style of homeschooling will not label, say, slower readers as behind their peers, thus impacting their self-esteem.

On the other hand, there are some potential downsides as well. Some parents find that they just aren’t cut out for the mental and emotional fatigue that can come from being both parent and educator 24/7. Similarly, some children don’t respond to learning in this type of environment. And if a household had family dynamic issues to begin with, homeschooling can exacerbate them and ultimately create more stress for the child.

How much does it cost to be homeschooled online?

As you know, there are various price points for quote-unquote traditional schooling — virtually free for public school on one side of the spectrum and costly for private institutions on the other. Homeschooling also stretches across a range of budgets. Is it possible to homeschool for free? Almost. You could rely on public resources like libraries, educational programming on free networks such as PBS, internet sources, and the generosity of hand-me-downs to create a super-low-cost curriculum.

But many parents opt to pay for a pre-prepared curriculum or create one à la carte using independent programs and supplements. For example, a 1st-grade curriculum kit from Timberdoodle (a popular homeschool curriculum provider) runs between $419 for basic and $907 for the elite package.

Meanwhile, the Level 1 curriculum from another popular option, Torchlight, will only set you back $43.

So, really, it can be a very cost-effective way to educate your child… but creating an effective and affordable curriculum may take time (and will definitely require research).

Is there a tax break for homeschooling?

While it would be nice to think that homeschool parents get a tax break, that’s not the case according to Forbes. If you feel like you’ve seen something about an educator deduction on your federal income tax return before, it’s because you probably have. On federal form 1040, line 23 is held for an Educator Expense deduction. This means that, even if you don’t itemize, you can claim up to $250 for educational expenses. But there’s a big catch for homeschoolers.

See, you have to fall under the definition of an “eligible educator,” which is defined as “an individual who is a kindergarten through grade 12 teacher, instructor, counselor, principal, or aide in a school for at least 900 hours during a school year.” And according to the IRS, qualified expenses do not include expenses for homeschooling.

On the plus side, several states offer some form of government-funded homeschool program or service.

How many hours a day do you have to homeschool?

Here’s the thing: Homeschool schedules are as unique as the families who create them. Accordingly, how long it takes to finish a day’s school depends on various factors in that family’s life and chosen homeschooling style.

However, most states stipulate a minimum number of hours a homeschooled student must devote to education each school year, which is typically the equivalent of the state’s public school system. The majority of states set the limit at 180 instructional days per year comprised of 1116 hours of instruction. If you do the math, you’ll find that comes out to just over six hours per day.

But because homeschooling instruction boasts such a small student-to-teacher ratio, it takes far less time to get through lessons. Many homeschooling parents say they get through their daily material in two to three hours. So, what about the other three to four hours needed to hit their annual hours total? Well, those hours are still spent learning, but it looks different than classroom instruction. It might include things like studying flora and fauna at the local park, visiting a museum for a history-lesson field trip, or counting cans to place in the recycling bin.

Guide to hours of homeschooling per age

According to How Do I Homeschool, the number of hours children get homeschooled increases with their age. They break it down ahead:

1st to 3rd graders get homeschooled roughly 2 hours a day.

4th to 6th graders get homeschooled roughly 3 hours a day.

7th to 9th graders get homeschooled roughly 4 hours a day.

10th to 12th graders get homeschooled roughly 7 hours a day.

How do homeschoolers get socialization?

Although it’s a widely perpetuated stereotype that homeschooled kids aren’t well-socialized, the opposite is often true. You’d be surprised by how many opportunities for socialization exist for today’s homeschooler! From co-ops to homeschool days at local attractions, play dates to recreational extracurriculars, homeschoolers whose educator-parents are proactive experience no shortage of socialization.

What are the other legal requirements?

While homeschooling is legal in all fifty states and throughout Canada, different states have different laws. Some states are considered homeschool “friendly” due to easy-to-adapt-to laws. Others, however, require you to fill out extensive paperwork and meet other criteria to fulfill your legal homeschooling obligations. So, if you’re interested in pursuing homeschool for your family, you need to start looking into your state’s specific laws stat. The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) is a great place to start.

Do homeschooled kids get grades?

Some parent-educators choose to give their children grades. And even if they choose not to, several states feature laws requiring standardized testing at specific intervals that are assigned grades. Fun fact? A study performed by the National Home Education Research Institute found that homeschoolers had an average standardized test score in the 87th percentile, compared to the average score in the 50th percentile by children in public schools.

Another study from the University of Minnesota compared the GPA and SAT scores, among other factors, of 732 homeschooled students and a comparative number of students from public or private schools and found that homeschooled kids had a higher high school GPA, higher SAT scores, and higher GPA at the end of their first year of college. Researchers concluded that homeschooled students could be as academically successful and their classroom-educated counterparts.

How do you start homeschooling your child?

By now, you’re probably wondering where to start — how to do homeschool, if you will. And don’t worry; you don’t need an education degree to homeschool your child. You shouldn’t let your insecurity get the best of you in that regard, as there are countless resources today to help parents adequately and thoroughly educate their little star students.

To get the ball rolling, you need to first and foremost find out what your state’s homeschooling regulations are. Again, HSLDA can help point you in the right direction regarding legalities. Next, you’ll want to seek out a community of homeschoolers in your area. Whether it’s a co-op or just a like-minded group of parents, this community will serve as an invaluable support system in your homeschool journey.

One of the most difficult decisions can be nailing down what educational philosophy and/or method you think will work best for your family. Will your child benefit from the Charlotte Mason method, which hinges on the premise that one should educate the whole person and not just the mind. Are or you keen on a more classical education style? Hey, maybe your match is child-led unschooling.

This part of your journey will take time and lots o’ Google tabs, but it’s worth it to find the right fit for your family.

What are the best homeschooling books for mom?

Glad you asked. There are a ton of resources from outlets who specilize in homeschooling, and here are some of the best books on the topic according to Thought Co.

Homeschooling: The Early Years by Linda DobsonThe First Year of

Homeschooling Your Child: Your Complete Guide to Getting Off to the Right Start by Linda Dobson

So You’re Thinking About Homeschooling by Lisa Welchel

The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling by Deborah Bell

Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakable Peace by Sarah Mackenzie

Homeschooling for the Rest of Us: How Your One-of-a-Kind Family Can Make Homeschooling and Real Life Work by Sonya Haskins

Blueprint Homeschooling: How to Plan a Year of Home Education That Fits the Reality of Your Life by Amy Knepper

The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise

The Unschooling Handbook: How to Use the Whole World As Your Child’s Classroom by Mary Griffith

Quotes about home homeschooling

“There is no school equal to a decent home and no teacher equal to a virtuous parent.” ― Gandhi

“Knowledge which is acquired under compulsion has no hold on the mind. Therefore do not use compulsion, but let early education be a sort of amusement; you will then be better able to discover the child’s natural bent.” ― Plato

“Too often we give children answers to remember rather than problems to solve.”
― Roger Lewin