If you are thinking of homeschooling or are just interested in learning more, here is a look at some common ways to go about it. You do not have to be an accredited teacher to homeschool: you simply must be willing to put your time and effort into the process. Most methods of homeschooling fit into one of four categories: pre-packaged curricula, self-designed curricula, charter schools, and “unschooling.” The choice you make should depend on your family dynamics, expectations, needs and capabilities.
A pre-packaged curriculum provides lesson plans on a daily or weekly basis, teacher and student manuals, and support staff via computer and/or phone for both student and teacher. Standardized testing is often provided through pre-packaged curriculum programs, and some programs require the regular submission of student work for grade verification. These curricula are especially helpful for new homeschool families, as they provide all the materials and teacher and student support. They are also accredited and keep official transcripts for students, which streamlines the college application process and ensures that the student meets all state and common college entrance requirements. Pre-packaged curricula require a registration fee and school expenses are incurred by the family, but they do end up costing less than private schools.
Over the past decade or so a plethora of resources for homeschooling has become available, from science labs specially designed to be done at home to online classes taught via computer or video to homeschool-oriented textbooks and so much more. There are even cooperative classes that homeschool children can attend, taught by parents for children from multiple homeschool families. Many families make use of these resources to design their own curriculum, picking and choosing from the many options to design a program that best fits their needs and interests. There is no registration fee, as in pre-packaged homeschooling programs, but the family must pay for any materials or courses taken by the student. Researching the options takes effort, but it can be very rewarding to implement such a customized approach to learning.
Depending on state availability and requirements, charter schools may be another option for homeschooling. In California, charter school programs are run through the public school system, but much of the schooling is done at home. The amount of money that would be allotted the student in the public school system is available for the parents to use for school-related expenses, such as classes, books and other school supplies. The student is required to take standardized tests and meet state-mandated requirements for each grade level. The program is overseen by an accredited teacher in the charter school program, who meets with the student to collect sample work at regular intervals and make sure that the student continues to meet the state requirements. The process of participating in a charter school may vary by location, but will always include the basic principle of homeschooling work being overseen by a state-accredited teacher. Families interested in this option should check with their local public school to determine the availability and requirements of charter schools in the area.
“Unschooling” is a method of learning outside of traditional approaches to education. The idea of unschooling is that learning is student-led and the course of study is directed by the student’s interests. Parents design their own program without following any specific curriculum or requirements. Many parents who unschooled their children do so because they do not want to be restricted by the classroom environment. Therefore, unschooling often emphasizes hands-on experiences, experimentation, and exploration. The success or failure of unschooling is highly dependent on the parent’s and child’s motivation; I have known unschooling families with children who have earned college degrees or even Master’s degrees. However, the lack of structure and standardization in unschooling can be a very difficult challenge for a student to overcome when entering into the workforce or a normal academic environment such as college.
The success and duration of a family’s homeschooling experience is largely dependent on the environment in which they homeschool, and is heavily influenced by like-minded families. Support groups are important throughout homeschooling, but especially so for those just beginning. As a young homeschooling family, we were able to rely on the guidance of those more experienced than us, and the children were able to socialize with a large group of peers. Now, as a veteran family of fourteen years, the support group is still important because the younger children are still benefiting from the social aspect of the group, while I, as a more experienced parent, can now provide support for younger families who are new to homeschooling.
Another factor in homeschooling is not just the curriculum or the support group but having support in the legal aspects as well. In my opinion it is important to associate with a group like the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA). We as parents and teachers, who have the best intentions, do not always necessarily know all the laws surrounding education. Having a knowledgeable and reputable group to answer simple questions or defend you if legal challenges arise is a source of both confidence and practical support for the homeschool parent.