How To Homeschool: We’ve Decided To Do This, Now What?

Welcome to How To Homeschool—a series addressing all aspects of secular homeschooling. You can view all the posts in the series so far here.

The first post addressed the initial overwhelming feelings when you first begin researching. Today I would like to talk about what I should have been concerned with at the very beginning. This next post will cover the basics of what you actually need to do to start homeschooling. 

Sharpened colored pencils in order from light to dark form a semi-circle. Text reads: How to homeschool, we've decided to do this, now what?

Know the Laws

{Note: For purposes of this post, I am focusing on regulations in the United States.}

The first thing you should do is find out how to homeschool legally where you live. One simple way to do this is to go to the Department of Education website for the state where you will be homeschooling. This should include basic information about home education guidelines—most importantly whom you need to inform of your decision, and what paperwork and evaluations you must submit. {Tip: You may need to search for “homeschool” as they do not always make it the easiest to find.}

A few things to keep in mind: 

Some states require almost nothing—not even a letter of intent—and others will expect significant correspondence on your part, as each individual state has their own regulations.

Even for states with more stringent demands, the process, record-keeping, and assessments will almost always be easier in practice than it seems at first glance. When we were preparing to move to New York, I heard horror stories about how complex homeschooling would be there and how much paperwork and bureaucracy awaited me. I looked over the requests for individualized plans, quarterly reports, and end-of-year testing, and thought wow that sounds like so much! In reality it took very little time to figure out the system, and the reporting was not bad at all. 

Also, standardized testing is often optional—although they might not make that clear—and there may be an alternative evaluation method, such as submitting a portfolio for review. So even if it looks like having your student test is mandatory, read further and make sure you know all the options.

Even for states with more stringent demands, the process, record-keeping, and assessments will almost always be easier in practice than it seems at first glance. Click To Tweet

Very important to remember: You follow the laws for the state in which you physically reside.Even if you own a home in another state with more lax requirements, you cannot claim that as your state of residency. Likewise, if you are military {like us} and move frequently, you must abide by the laws of the state where you are currently living, even if the active duty member has a different state of record. 

One additional tidbit I should point out: In your research you may come across a group {or two} that touts itself as a beacon of legal protection and advice in the homeschooling world. Often this will involve unabashed scare tactics in an effort to drum up supporters {i.e., paying members}. Do not fall for it. Not only is it extremely unlikely you would ever need legal representation, but also these folks tend to be fundamentalist and may not even entertain taking your case as a secular homeschooler. 

Brainstorm Resources

Next, you will want to have a general idea of the kinds of tools you would like to use in your homeschool. 

You may be thinking, wait—shouldn’t I have a better idea of what “type” of homeschooler I want to be first? Or find out more about my student’s learning style? You can if you like, and it is easy enough to Google quizzes and books that can help you assess.  However, most families will find themselves using a more eclectic approach—taking what works for them and leaving the rest.

Your chosen materials do not need to be part of a traditional “curriculum” at all. I mean, if that works for you, great. You can find all-in-one, pre-packaged options for every grade level. But you can very easily “build” your own with a little research and planning. 

Of course you should take your student’s {and your own} preferences into account. A book-based curriculum might not be the best for someone who is not a strong reader. You probably don’t want an online-only program if you have one computer and multiple students. 

My Agents, for example, all love books and learn best from reading and written work. Podcasts and audiobooks do not work for them. They would not enjoy online classes at all. They prefer a paper copy of something in front of them that they can see and hold and reference. While they enjoy art, they are not as impressed with many of the “hands on” type assignments like building models or dioramas. They like longer science and nature documentaries, but are not into short YouTube videos or online lessons.

Once you establish the kinds of resources that would best fit, then you can move on to specifics.

Open book with two pages wrapped into the shape of a heart. Text reads: How to homeschool, we've decided to do this, now what?

Develop a Flexible Routine

Even if you tend to be the spontaneous type in other areas, having a basic outline to your days/weeks will be beneficial. This does not mean you need a strict hourly—or even a daily—schedule. But it will help tremendously to have at least a vague idea of what homeschooling will look like in your home. 

Will you “do” school every day? Four days a week with one day for outings? Will you start first thing in the morning? Ease into the day? Does a parent’s work schedule mean you might choose to do work in the evenings? On weekends? 

How long will each day be? Will you try to hit every subject every day? Or would a loop schedule be beneficial? Will you have a certain day/days set aside  for field trips and library visits? 

You will also want to consider potential travel plans, time off for holidays, and whether you want to follow the traditional August/September to May/June calendar or go year round.

In the early years establishing a routine is almost entirely for your benefit. It will help you to feel more in control of your time, and get your kids on board with the idea of school at home. This is all part of finding your groove, and to be perfectly honest, it will probably take a while. 

Find Support

Do not stress or struggle alone. The secular homeschooling community has grown quite a bit in recent years. With minimal effort you will be able to find a mentor who has BTDT as well as someone in the same stage currently. 

Keep in mind when looking for camaraderie, this does not need to be a co-op or organized classes, or even an in-person group at all. Online homeschooling groups can provide emotional support as well as answers to all your questions. Having just one close friend who also homeschools can be better than a park day full of acquaintances you don’t feel comfortable discussing your challenges with. 

Personally, we never connected with any of the homeschool groups where we lived, yet we still always manage to meet one or two homeschooling families that become friends. This works for us, because we are {mostly} introverts and so one-on-one time or small groups meets our need for interaction. If you or your student skews extroverted, however, you may not be as satisfied with that set-up. Take time to figure out the right balance for you. 

The next post in the series will share some essential resources you need to get started homeschooling with any age or grade.

Thanks so much for stopping by today. If you enjoyed this post, I would love to connect with you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest. You can also sign up to receive new posts via e-mail here.

This Post Has 4 Comments

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      I’m not familiar with CHEA, no. We are also in CA, and things are very different here from other places we’ve homeschooled.

  1. Avatar

    This was so great, thank you for sharing! I am looking forward to homeschooling my children and the information you shared will be invaluable.❤

    1. Avatar

      Thank you stopping by. Glad you found it useful.

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