Thinking about homeschooling this year? You're not alone—the coronavirus has parents across the country considering keeping their kids out of classrooms this fall. Experts weigh in on how to make the change and offer the pros and cons.

By Sarah Bradley
July 16, 2020
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Welcome to back-to-school season in the time of COVID-19, where debates abound over everything from mask-wearing to social distancing to whether kids should be in a physical classroom or a Zoom one (or some combination of both).

If all the uncertainty and upheaval—not to mention the likelihood of a second wave of COVID-19—has you wondering if sending your child back to school in a couple months really makes any sense, we hear you: Many parents are weighing the intense classroom restrictions and risk of viral illness and asking themselves if it's worth it. Wouldn't it just be easier to homeschool?

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The short answer? Um, sorry, there is none! But if you've moved past wondering and into actual pursuit of a homeschool reality, you need to know the advantages, disadvantages, and next steps. We asked homeschooling experts what to consider, what you can expect, and how to make it happen.

How to Start Homeschooling

Step one: Do your research

First things first: investigate the homeschooling laws in your state. This will ensure that you're following the right process for a) unenrolling your child from their current school and b) assuming responsibility for your child's education at home.

Every state has different homeschooling regulations, some stricter than others. In California, for example, homeschooling parents must file a Private School Affidavit (PSA) that essentially establishes their home as a small private school. In Connecticut, on the other hand, there are virtually no legal requirements.

Whatever state you're in, it's important to officially withdraw your child from their current school to avoid falling out of compliance with mandatory attendance laws. If you don't, you could be charged with truancy.

Researching your state laws also sets you up as a knowledgeable source when it comes to advocating for your child—and your own right to be a homeschooling parent. (Tip: You can visit the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) for a state-by-state breakdown of regulations.)

"Homeschooling is legal in all 50 states," says California-based homeschool consultant Jamie Heston. "As long as you're complying with whatever you need to for your state, be confident [in your choice]."

Step two: Explore your options

Depending on where you live, you may be able to enroll your child in a homeschool charter school, which is like an independent study program you can do at home with a packaged curriculum and virtual assistance from licensed teachers. Heston recommends it for parents who are using homeschool as a temporary "stop gap" measure, since it can keep you on track for easy reentry into the public school system in the future.

You may also choose to join (or form!) a homeschool cooperative with other families in your area. Many coops offer a variety of classes to choose from and some even assign "academic credits," while others are more flexible and focused on non-academic instruction.

Finally, you can go it alone; lots of families choose to be independent. This gives you the most freedom, but it can be intimidating for newbie homeschoolers making the transition from public school.

Step three: Choose a curriculum

You can purchase one comprehensive homeschooling curriculum that covers all academic subjects for the grade level(s) you need; there are many to choose from, so make sure you research the instruction methods of each as well as the materials they require or provide for the cost. Popular curriculums among homeschoolers include Time4Learning, Oak Meadow, Abeka, and Alpha Omega.

Some parents love the structure of having a preset curriculum, but many families buy smaller, subject-oriented curriculums (like only for math or language arts), and then take a more hands-on approach with other subjects. Many even choose to put together an entire customized curriculum, studying what they want, when and how they want.

Step four: Determine your style

Think there's just one way to homeschool? Think again! There's traditional, classical, Montessori ... even unschooling. Whatever your life is like, there's a style to suit your needs, so it's a good idea to review the different varieties of homeschooling to see which one feels like the most natural fit for how your child learns.

That's really the key, says Tonya Abari, a Nashville-based writer and homeschooling parent. "Most parents aren't aware that there are many different ways to deliver instruction; I advise exploring your child's learning style and researching the best ways your child can learn at home."

This might mean more typing and less handwriting, more video instruction and less textbook reading, more oral presentations and less persuasive essays. Try not to box yourself in right from the beginning; be flexible and open to change, leaving yourself room to find your own unique approach within a specific style.

The Pros of Homeschooling

Safety

One of the main reasons you're probably considering homeschooling right now is because you're worried about COVID-19. (P.S. You're not alone!) Schools across the country are still navigating what fall will look like and what proper safety precautions to take, making the idea of keeping kids at home a better option for some families.

You won't have to worry about your child wearing a mask all day at school or only being able to interact with their peers from a distance (or how all of that will interfere with their learning).

Freedom

Want to teach math by baking cupcakes? Study nature with a daily hike? Take art class outside, practice writing letters in shaving cream, or teach history after dinner? When you homeschool, you get to make the rules, and learning can happen anytime, anywhere, in nearly any form.

"You don't have to replicate school at home," says Heston. "So much great learning happens when you're not at a desk or chair." Heston adds that homeschool parents are facilitators rather than instructors, leading their kids to resources before stepping back to let organic learning happen.

In addition to having a say in what your kids learn, you also have a say in what they don't. Abari, a former educator, knew she wanted to homeschool her kids so they wouldn't experience the systemic racism found in many traditional curriculums and teaching practices. Homeschooling puts you in the driver's seat of your child's education and you can take it wherever you want to go.

Flexibility

If you're only homeschooling because of concerns about COVID-19, you're probably wondering what happens when the pandemic (eventually) ends and life goes back to normal-ish. Is it impossible to get your kids to readjust to a traditional school setting?

No—and the transition may be easier than you think, says Heston. Public schools have to enroll your child by law (at any time during the year) and private schools aren't likely to turn away tuition funds. Elementary- and middle-school kids, especially, can fit right back in, needing only to take a placement test to determine their grade level in some cases. The time transitioning may hit a speed bump is with high school kids.

"Sometimes there are certain requirements for graduation in terms of subjects and a school doesn't have to accept your homeschool credits even if your child took an accredited class outside the home," explains Heston. "So they could require your child to retake algebra, for example."

The Cons of Homeschooling

Scheduling

Yes, you can homeschool while maintaining a full- or part-time job, but you may feel like a juggling clown in a three-ring circus.

"If you don't have a flexible schedule or supportive work environment, homeschooling could be difficult," says Abari, noting that even in the current pandemic climate, some employers are not offering accommodations for parents who work inside or outside the home.

While homeschooling can take on an infinite number of shapes and styles, you still have to be able to do it (and if your kids aren't enrolled in school, they'll be home all day instead). You need to be sure that's possible with your work schedule.

Personality clashes

You don't need a master's degree in education to teach your second grader, but you do have to be able to work with them toward a common goal. If your child can't learn to accept you as their teacher—or if you can't stop slipping into "parent mode" during math—then homeschooling might be a year-long exercise in frustration and resentment for you both.

Additionally, some parents and kids have personalities not well-suited for homeschooling. A child who thrives on lots of activity, conversation, and attention might find the quieter social setting of home to be lonely. Likewise, a parent who struggles to stay organized or manage normal household tasks might become discouraged by the additional responsibilities homeschooling adds to daily life.

The Bottom Line

With cases of COVID-19 surging in parts of the country and schools unsure of what fall will look like, temporary homeschooling may be the right option for your family. But before you opt for it, make sure to do your research in order to learn the rules in your state, what homeschooling your kids will entail, and to weigh the pros and cons.

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