Your Complete Guide to Homeschooling Basics

How to homeschool legally, successfully, and sanely
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So, you’d like to homeschool? Or maybe you already are but feel stuck or confused. It’s no wonder! There is a lot of information out there, some of it contradictory, all of it overwhelming. 

The recent boom in homeschool information follows the growing trend among U.S. families. According to the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI), “There were about 3.1 million homeschool students in 2021-2022 in grades K-12 in the United States (roughly 6% of school-age children).” And it’s growing every year!

The purpose of this guide is to give you a deep dive into the fundamentals of homeschooling. Just the basics. What do you need to do to get started? How do you choose curriculum? How do you find success and sustain it?

By the end, you will be empowered to get your homeschool off the ground (or back on track) and find the support and resources you need to keep it there.

Table of Contents

How to Homeschool Legally

Once you have made the decision to homeschool, the first step is determining how to do it legally. Starting out on the right legal foot is critical to ensuring long-term homeschooling success!

Since homeschooling is regulated on the state level, this process can be more complex than one would like. Homeschooling is legal in all 50 states, but each state has its own requirements for things like notifying the school district, keeping records, attendance, testing, and more. To make things even more complicated, many states offer more than one option for homeschoolers to meet legal requirements, each with its own set of pros and cons.

For comprehensive information on each state’s homeschooling regulations, check out our state-by-state guides, or the website for your state’s Department of Education. Equipped with this knowledge, you can make an informed decision about which option is right for your family and know exactly what steps you must take to ensure legal compliance. 

Homeschooling varies state by state. Select a state that applies to you

Determine your Homeschooling Style

When you step into the world of homeschooling, it won’t be long before someone asks you what your “style” is, and they’re not talking about what you wear to co-op. A homeschooling style or philosophy defines your educational values and your approach to educating your children. It may prescribe what techniques you use to teach or what resources you choose.It’s important to know your style because it will help you find your tribe among the many homeschool groups and help you identify curriculum choices that might be a good fit. In fact, the NHERI lists, “use[ing] pedagogical approaches other than those typical in institutional schools,” as one of the top reasons parents choose to homeschool.There are many well-defined homeschooling styles. But the truth is that most homeschoolers are a mix of styles—a little bit of this with a dash of that. Here are five of the most common. As you explore styles, think about which aspects speak to you and pull those together into a unique style that fits your family.
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Classical Homeschooling

Classical homeschooling divides the 12 years of primary education into a trivium: three stages called the grammar, logic, and rhetoric stages. Each stage takes a different approach to learning based on the developmental stage of the child.

Common elements in a classical homeschool will be reading widely from classic literature and other high-quality books, a deep study of history in chronological order, a study of logic, an exploration of the natural sciences, and classical languages like Latin and/or Greek.

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Charlotte Mason

The Charlotte Mason method has many similarities to the classical method. There is a large emphasis on “living” or high-quality books. Children learn grammar through the practices of copywork and narration. Art and nature are central. And in the early years, habit training or character development is prioritized over academic learning.

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Montessori

The Montessori method is practiced at home in the same way you would see it applied in a private school. The environment is curated to promote independence, and learning is primarily child-led. Hands-on projects, incorporation of practical life skills, and time spent in mixed-age groups are hallmarks of this style.

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Unschooling

Contrary to popular belief, unschooling doesn’t mean no schooling. Rather, unschooling embodies a partnership where parents support children in learning through their interests. This approach relies heavily on life learning through immersive projects, volunteer work, and other real-world experiences. It is flexible and may or may not incorporate a formal curriculum.

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Eclectic/Relaxed Homeschooling

An eclectic or relaxed homeschooling style mixes and matches both educational resources and elements of various other styles. The majority of homeschoolers wind up here while still maintaining their own unique recipe of style elements.

Eclectic homeschoolers highly customize the educational experience for each child. They are flexible and adaptable in their schedules and approaches and incorporate curricula from a variety of sources.

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What Subjects to Teach

Many states have regulations about which subjects must be taught. When they do, it is typically some version of the core subjects: math, reading and/or language arts, science, and history/social studies. Some states throw in an extra or two. For example, California includes physical education and Texas requires civics. 

But no matter which subjects your state requires (or doesn’t), parents should craft a robust academic portfolio that will prepare their child for employment, potentially college, and life in general.

Here are some common subject choices to consider in different categories:

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Choosing the Right Curriculum

These days, it seems like there are almost as many homeschool curricula as there are homeschoolers. Finding the right one can feel as insurmountable as finding the proverbial needle in the haystack. And just doing a general Google search on the subject will have you wondering, “Where do I even start?!” 

Fortunately, there is a way to narrow the search results and weed out the obvious non-starters.

Ask yourself these questions before you start asking Google:

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Creating a Workable Schedule

Next to choosing the right curriculum, creating a framework for your day and week is the most critical thing you can do to ensure homeschooling success. Equally true is the fact that most homeschool schedules are made through the rosiest glasses and burned in a fit of rage.

Here are tips to create one that actually works:

Keeping Homeschool Records

Your state’s laws will dictate which records you need to keep, but best practices suggest that you should keep organized documentation of your homeschool activities regardless of legal requirements.
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Here is a list of possible records to consider including in your homeschool portfolio:

Unless the law states otherwise, work samples should be kept for a minimum of 2 years and official forms and correspondence with authorities should be kept indefinitely.

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Finding Help and Resources

The library may be a homeschooler’s best friend, but even a bestie doesn’t make a robust support system. Homeschoolers are wise to cultivate a wide range of help and resources they can rely on for advice, challenges, or just to lessen the load

Outsourcing Subjects & Activities

Many homeschoolers belong to co-ops which are groups of homeschoolers who organize themselves for specific reasons, often to cooperatively teach one or more subjects to all the children as a group. Co-ops are as unique as the homeschoolers who comprise them. They may be very informal or extremely formal with application processes, rules, and membership fees. They may have schedules, rotating teaching duties among the parents using a set curriculum, or they may get together for ad-hoc projects and activities. 

Your community is another rich source of homeschool supplementation. Art studios hold classes and workshops. Family gyms offer great options for P.E. Small businesses are often happy to have a hard-working homeschooler intern in exchange for experience and skills.

Hiring a Private Teacher or Tutor

There are times when even the most experienced homeschooler needs to call in the reinforcements. Hiring a private teacher or tutor can be the best homeschooling decision you ever made. It is an option to consider when faced with one of these circumstances:

We have homeschool teachers in every state. Select the state that apply to you

Community & Socialization

Finding your tribe among other like-minded homeschoolers is a critical part of building your support system. Despite stereotypes to the contrary, according to NHERI, “the home-educated are doing well, typically above average, on measures of social, emotional, and psychological development.” So, to ensure that happens, developing a social network for you and your children should be a top priority. 

Homeschool groups can be found organized around community centers like churches or libraries. They also abound online, particularly on Facebook, where families can find a wide variety of homeschool communities, either online or in their neighborhood. These groups are often geared toward a particular homeschool style, age group, or value system.

These communities provide friends and peers for you and your children. They are people you can turn to for advice, sharing resources, or who just understand what your day-to-day experience is like. They are also people with whom you can have group events and celebrate those special homeschool milestones. Homeschool groups frequently gather for science projects, field trips, graduation ceremonies, or just good old-fashioned fun at the park.

If you’re having trouble finding a group that’s right for your family, consider starting one yourself. Homeschooling allows you to build the social environment you are looking for with the same intention you now apply to your child’s education.

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