I get asked about homeschooling on a weekly basis. I am so glad that so many parents are interested in helping their kids find an education path that really works for them! Every homeschooling family is different and most families try a few things before they find their groove. Many even change over time as kids’ needs change. All of this is okay!
I thought I’d come up with a quick guide to homeschooling for families who are brand new to the concept. Hopefully this answers many of your questions!
How do I homeschool?
You are probably already homeschooling, believe it or not. Kids are sponges that learn even if you don’t know it’s happening! That said, to homeschool in Missouri, there are a few very simple legal requirements. Basically you write down what you do each day, you keep samples of work on hand and you do this from ages 7 to 17. There is no curriculum requirement, no testing requirements, or anything like that. Here are the actual laws (you can find more info at the link above):
“According to Section 167.031 of the Revised Statutes of Missouri, a parent or guardian of a child, between the ages of seven (7) and seventeen (17) years of age, shall cause the child to attend regularly some public, private, parochial, parish, home school or a combination of such schools. Any parent may educate a child at home. The parent does not need a teaching certificate or need to meet any education requirements in order to provide home instruction.
If a parent decides to home school, he or she must offer 1,000 hours of instruction during the school year, with at least 600 hours in the basics, which will be in reading, language arts, mathematics, social studies, and science. At least 400 of the 600 hours shall occur in the home location.
Home school education enforcement and records pursuant to this section, and sections 210.167 and 211.031, RSMo, shall be subject to review only by the local prosecuting attorney.
A parent who is home schooling a child must maintain the following records:
A plan book, diary, daily log, or other written record indicating the subjects taught and the activities engaged in with the student;
A portfolio containing samples of the student’s academic work;
A record of evaluation of the student’s academic progress; or
Other written, or credible evidence equivalent to a, b, and c.
The school year is defined as beginning July 1 and ending the next June 30.”
What should I do first?
If you are homeschooling small children, you can just carry on reading, playing, doing art activities and exploring nature together. I am a huge proponent of child-led learning. Children are designed to learn through play! You also don’t have to start logging hours in Missouri until your child is 7, so why worry? Enjoy these years–they will pass by so quickly! That said, many of parents do choose early childhood curriculum for their children, and that is fine, too. Many kids enjoy using a curriculum for learning and may be ready to progress faster than other kids. As I said earlier, every family is different, so there is no need to worry about comparing your child to any other child. Do what works best for your family.
If you are homeschooling a child in the elementary through high school levels, you may want to take a month or two to de-school first. Homechooling is much different from public school and many families have found that taking some time to just do some field trips and get to know each other again really helps before you jump into homeschooling.
You might want to check out this article about types of homeschooling that people do to get an idea of how you want to start. Most of the families I know would identify as some sort of “ecclectic homeschooler.”
How do I log hours?
This is another question I get pretty frequently! How you log is up to you. I’ve kept a grid for my daughter since she was four or five so she could see what she has done over the years. Now I print out the page here every other week (double sided). I used to buy a plan book at the Teacher’s Lounge for $7. Both are cheap and easy. 😉 You can use all kinds of free online programs, print out your own spreadsheets, try out an app, blog it… Whatever floats your boat. You just need to hit those hour/attendance requirements listed above. Keep in mind that no one has the right to ask to see your records except for the prosecuting attorney, and the request usually only comes up in a custody dispute.
The same goes for the samples of work that you keep. Many parents put their kids’ work in binders or portfolios organized by year to easily find what they need. Kids are often in charge of keeping these records so they get the experience of maintaining a portfolio. They will have the work to not only use as a reference in the future, but also to look back on to experience the memories. Kids who love computers may keep theirs online as well.
If you’re unsure of what to log where throughout your day, just think about it for a moment. Took a hike? Use it for PE hours. Identify flora and fauna during the hike? There’s some science. Catch the State of the Union address? Works for social studies. So does the documentary you watched over the weekend and the discussion you had in the car about how Congress works. Chores can often be used as practical art hours, or even as science if you live on a farm! Fine arts can be found everywhere, from learning new music to practicing an instrument to drawing manga.
How much does homeschooling cost?
Believe it or not, homeschooling does not have to cost a dime. Of course, many families find themselves purchasing resources like Netflix, lab kits and art supplies or paying lots of overdue book fines, but if you have a library card and/or computer access, homeschooling is easier than ever. There are thousands of free resources for every subject online. Once you start searching, you may never be able to stop! For math, for example, many parents like the free programs Xtra Math or Prodigy to practice skills.
That said, many parents and students find a curriculum to be helpful. You can attend a homeschool expo or search online to find the best curriculum that fits your needs. Many libraries carry the What Your X Grader Needs to Know books, so you could even use those for free. Homeschoolers often make use of the $1 workbooks at Target, Dollar Tree, etc. as well. Companies like Little Acorn, Oak Meadow, Global Village School and Build Your Library offer curriculum for sale. There are hundreds of options available. You can talk to other parents at homeschool support meetings and park days to see what they are using, read online reviews, ask for interlibrary loans to test out products… there are lots of ways to see what works for you. You can also search for free curriculum online. You’ll find some options here, here and here!
But what about the socialization?
This question makes most homeschoolers laugh because it’s just so off the mark! It really emphasizes how little most people know about homeschooling. Sure, you encounter a few homeschoolers who actually just stay at home and complete workbooks all day, but most homeschoolers are involved in their local homeschooling communities. Some have internships or jobs or are in groups like 4-H club, Girl Scouts and Earth Scouts. Some participate in co-op classes that can actually be so social they get overwhelming and you have to choose between two to three offerings that are available on a daily basis! In our area, there are park days between homeschool groups 2-3 times per week, weekly skate times, weekly rock climbing, weekly trampoline jumping… and that’s not counting all of the classes, hiking excursions and other opportunities available to homeschoolers. Most feel as if they are too social and get just as burned out by the end of the semester as parents and teachers in public school.
Many would also argue that socializing is for people; socialization is for dogs. 😉 Some parents are even worried that kids in schools don’t socialize enough since they are limited to one peer group of people the same age as themselves for 12 years, which is very unnatural in the “real world,” and many kids have little to no recess, sit at desks for the majority of their day and are put “in silence” on the bus and during lunchtime. That’s not much opportunity to practice social skills.
Aren’t all homeschoolers religious?
Nope. In fact, in one study, about 1/3 of homeschoolers cite religion as the reason why they homeschool. Homeschoolers come from all backgrounds. I know homeschooling atheists, Buddhists, Wiccans, Christians, agnostics, Humanists, liberals, conservatives, libertarians, you name it.
How do I know she’s learning?
I always laugh when people ask me this question about my own daughter. I say, “How did you know that your child learned to walk or speak or know his colors and numbers?” You aren’t managing a class of 30. You are having one-on-one conversations with your child all the time, every day. If you DON’T know what she’s learning and you’re homeschooling, you’re just not paying attention, eh?
Of course, if you want to see how your child measures up at his or her grade level, you are welcome to have your child tested. Many parents still do testing for homeschool children, and homeschool kids who go to college usually take the ACT or SAT.
These sites and books are wonderful resources for St. Louis homeschoolers. They are by no means exhaustive. Homeschooling is growing at a rapid pace and there are always new resources being created. I like to argue that homeschooling is how most people in history learned up until the past 150 years! Don’t believe me? Search for “homeschooled presidents” or “famous homeschoolers.”
By the way, Google is about to become your new best friend if you are a homeschooler (if it isn’t already)! Seriously. Google “free language arts program” or whatever you need right now and be prepared to be amazed. The Internet has truly revolutionized the way we learn. Good luck on your incredible new journey.
Here is a list of many free or low-cost kit rentals in our area you can check out as well as some of the most popular monthly homeschool events.
St. Louis Homeschool Events
Did you know that the St. Louis Zoo, Magic House, Barron Gymnastics, History Museum and other cool places offer homeschool days? Those and many more activities are often features on this blog. You’ll also find links to many of the local homeschool support groups and co-ops for regular park days, parties, classes and more.
St. Louis Area Secular Homeschoolers Facebook Group
There are dozens of Facebook homeschool groups on the web. This is merely one of them.
Holt is the author of lots of great homeschooling books!
Guerilla Learning is the book I always recommend for parents who can’t homeschool but still want to be involved with their children’s education as much as possible.
John Taylor Gatto
If you read just one of his books, I recommend Dumbing Us Down.
Laura Grace Weldon
Free Range Learning is a must-read for homeschoolers.
While Kohn’s not a supporter of homeschooling, he is trying to implement most of the ideas behind homeschooling (such as approaches based on unique needs of the child, following the child’s lead, etc.) in schools and his works have been very helpful to the homeschooling community. If I had only one book to give to every parent, it would be his Unconditional Parenting.
If you had a piece of advice to give a new homeschooler, what would it be?
Know and trust your child. You can see your child learning every day. Use his or her interests and enjoy being with him or her! This time flies by so fast. Also, trust yourself. You are qualified to do this. We live in a world where we are taught to only trust experts on all things and have forgotten how we once relied upon ourselves for everything from making our own butter to growing our own food and, yes, teaching our children. We know our children best. You can seek out all of the resources and help you want, of course, but as your child’s parent, you have your child’s best interest at heart.