"Back to school" looks a lot different this year. Some schools are returning to in-person learning, while others are going fully digital, and many districts are offering a hybrid version of the two. Parents who are worried that virtual learning isn't right for their kids or who aren't satisfied with the school's in-person learning protocols are turning to homeschool. Homeschooling allows students to learn in ways that aren't possible in an institutionalized environment. Chart your course to success with our guide below on the laws, benefits, multiple methods, programs, schedules, and curricula for homeschooling in 2020.

Legalities

Mother and daughter working on note pad

Homeschool laws vary from state to state. The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) offers an overview of how to withdraw from public school (you may need to notify the board of education), as well as required testing and subjects, and whether there are any necessary teacher qualifications. Learn which records need to be kept, such as attendance and report cards, and how many hours of instruction are required. For example, in my home state of Kentucky, homeschoolers require at least 1,062 hours of instruction over at least 170 days. Visit your state's Department of Education website for further information. For instance, you may have to come up with a name for your "school".

Homeschool Benefits

Young girl doing school work outside

Flexibility and freedom to "do school" whenever you want, wear whatever you want, and go at your own pace are just some of the appeals of homeschooling. Academically, learning can be personalized to the individual child with customizable curriculums. Homeschool does not have to look like public school. It's a veritable choose-your-own-adventure that allows your child's education to be tailored to their specific needs and learning style. Perhaps most importantly during this global pandemic, you can provide a safe environment for learning.

Styles of Homeschooling

There are many styles, methods, and approaches to home-based learning. While many are hands-on or video-based, the classical method is language-based, with a three-part process: grammar, logic, and rhetoric. According to The Home School Mom, "In the Grammar stage, you lay the groundwork; learning how to learn. The Logic stage begins around fifth grade and focuses on reasoning and analytical thinking. High school students move into the Rhetoric stage, which applies the rules of logic to the foundation of skills learned at the younger ages."

Waldorf Homeschooling provides a liberal arts education through a more holistic approach, where activity precedes work. Often called the "grandparents of homeschooling," Raymond and Dorothy Moore developed the Moore Formula, which revolves around a balance of study, work, and service. The pair believed that children shouldn't formally start school until they are between the ages of eight and 10, at which point units of study are built around the child's interests.

Unschooling is basically freestyle. Self-directed in nature, unschooling follows your child's natural curiosity and interests. There are also all kinds of education hybrids that incorporate aspects of homeschooling with other traditional learning models.

Homeschool Curricula Options

School assignment for elementary math

Each state provides standards for what students should learn and be able to do at each grade level. (See your states education.gov website for details.) How those learning experiences are designed and what resources are to be used are up to the instructor. This is where it gets overwhelming. According to Scholastic, curricula "vary from traditional textbooks and workbooks that cover reading, writing, and arithmetic to more individualized approaches that are guided by a child's own interests."

As the HSLDA puts it, "Curriculum comes in many shapes and sizes. Sometimes it covers every subject, sometimes it covers just one subject—like English or math. It might be textbook-based or completely online. It might be highly structured, even providing lesson plans—or allow you total freedom in planning out your year." Homeschool.com warns to read the curriculum's description to make sure the style will work for your family, citing that, "A certain curriculum may incorporate all of the subjects at once into each lesson in a unit study approach, while others have individual textbooks to work through each subject."

Instead of a hod-podge approach, where you take your state's standards and try to create a lesson plan yourself, homeschool newbies may feel most comfortable with all-in-one curricula. Also known as "boxed curriculum" or "multi-subject curriculum," this turn-key solution covers all of the core subjects. For example, Time4Learning is an "online learning system" that "combines interactive lessons, multimedia reinforcement activities, printable worksheets, learning games, and assessments with reports into one homeschool curriculum."

Homeschool Programs

Young girl taking a virtual class

If parents don't want to bother finding a curriculum themselves, they can enroll their child in an online homeschool program. There are two general types of online homeschool programs: live classes and self-paced. K12 matches kids with local public and private schools so they can have access to a teacher. Think of online schools more like distance-learning. This is a good choice for those whose current school is not offering a fully virtual option this year. Programs include:

How to Choose Which Curriculum Is Best for Your Child

Young girl learning from mother with play-doh

Before you purchase a curriculum, consider your budget, your child's learning style (visual, auditory, or kinesthetic), your teaching style, your educational approach/philosophy, and your child’s educational goals. Obviously, the age range/grade is the main concern. The best curriculum for preschoolers, kindergartners, and first graders will look much different than high school. Save money by purchasing used curricula.

When researching, pay attention to the content, the approach to learning, and the delivery. Cathy Duffy and The Homeschool Mom offer reviews of curricula from homeschoolers who have used the resources. Filter reviews by age, grade level, learning preference/style, educational philosophy, and more. HSLDA educational consultants offer personalized guidance for its members.

Homeschool Schedule

Homeschool schedule example

Home is not school and does not need the same schedule or structure. The Well Planned Gal offers a planner for homeschool parents. She says the key to creating a schedule that works for you is recognizing that schedules are as unique as the kids themselves. She recommends "evaluating your stage in life and prioritizing each daily goal."

Scholastic says to be organized and have a mission. Their advice? "Consider how you want to break up your child's academic schedule and each subject you want to work on. Consider how you want to break up your learning week by week too." The Art of School Planning suggests making "a list of essentials for each child" and "a separate list of extracurricular and additional subjects" you'd like to cover, and then, "determine what can be done independently or with the help of someone besides the primary teaching parent."

Consistency is key, but one of the beauties of homeschooling is that it is adaptable to your child's changing needs and your own schedule. Heck, you can even homeschool at night! In 7 Simple Steps to Start Homeschooling, the HSDA says, "you may want to mix it up occasionally, but starting with a routine and a clear schedule will help you and your kids be on the same page and establish good habits that will last all year long." Establish consistency by setting a goal of two to three hours of learning a day, then create a plan to meet those goals.

Khan Academy notes that "Many students are most fresh in the morning, so that’s the best time for them to tackle reading and math." Adding to be sure to "Build in breaks for playtime and physical exercise." Under normal circumstances, you would also make time for field trips and visits to the library.

Younger kids may benefit from visual schedules, like this one from Khan Academy, while older children can be more self-directed with checklists. If spreadsheets give you hives, you might be a Type B homeschooler.

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