Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Suddenly Homeschooling - How To Get Started

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Almost two years ago I started writing a series of "How Do You Homeschool?" articles with the idea that even veteran homeschoolers are curious about how other homeschoolers do things. And homeschoolers who are newer to the game obviously have lots of questions! The series attempted to answer some of the questions homeschoolers ask each other. Questions about how we handle some of the little details and about our opinions on different aspects of homeschooling. Questions that we all might answer differently because what works great in one family might not work at all in another. 

Enter 2020 and lengthy public school closures and uncertainty about when and how schools may open in the fall, and this series may prove helpful to families that are deciding to continue educating at home in some fashion rather than deal with changing or awkward scheduling, uncomfortable restrictions in the school setting, or a distance learning set-up that wasn't working out. So to follow up on the Suddenly Homeschooling - Pro Tips articles that I've shared, here is some of the nitty gritty stuff that you might need to look at if you're planning on joining the growing ranks of homeschoolers, even if it's just for this year. (This information is geared for my home state of Maryland, but most of it applies across the board in the US.)

For a summary of the homeschool laws by state, visit the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) website: HSLDA Homeschool Laws by State

This is a checklist of things to know as you get started with homeschooling!
  • You will need to send a "Letter of Intent" to your county school system. In most cases, this notification should be submitted about two weeks before the school year starts or two weeks before you plan to begin homeschooling. Search your county public school website for the details that apply in your district. See my district's website for an example of what to expect: CCPS Home Instruction page
  • In most states, you will need to submit to some kind of oversight - either a registered oversight group or the public school system. Many, if not most, of the oversight groups are faith based, and the membership fees and requirements vary, as do the additional services they provide. Some parents have very positive experiences using the public school system oversight, but others don't. In general, I've seen that families who are not religious at all, or that intend to homeschool for only a year or two choose the public school system and do well with that. Keep in mind that you can change your oversight! If the oversight program you'd like to join has a waiting list for new members, for example, you may use the public school oversight until a spot opens up. Whichever you choose, the duty of the oversight is simply to make sure you are in compliance with the law regarding homeschooling. 
  • If you've given your notice and you've chosen your oversight, you just need to provide "regular, thorough instruction during the school year in the studies usually taught in the public schools to children of the same age." (See COMAR Home Instruction Regulation 2016, 13A.10.01) You can choose the curriculum and publisher, and you may set the schedule that works for your family. You may do all the teaching yourself, or use a co-op or tutor, or choose an online school, or a combination. Even if your child's education is provided by someone else, you as the parent are making the decisions for what they are studying, and how it gets done!
  • You should plan on including English, mathematics, science, social studies, the arts, health, and physical education; however, you have a lot of flexibility in how to include these. For instance, many curriculum options combine two or more subjects such as language arts, social studies, and art or music. And music lessons or community sports can be considered part of your homeschooling.
  • Standardized testing is not required at any grade level in Maryland! 

Registered Oversight Group or Public School System Oversight? 

The public school system oversight is free, but generally it will not provide any curriculum or a diploma upon graduation. Don't count on getting much in the way of assistance or advice from your public school reviewer - some (probably most!) are very helpful and encouraging, but their job is really just to review your portfolio. 

Oversight groups do charge a fee for membership, and usually this is an annual fee per family. Many oversight groups provide diplomas as well as transcripts for graduating students. Groups vary in the additional services offered, but most are happy to help you figure out curriculum choices and because your reviewer is also a homeschooler, she is usually a great resource for advice and encouragement. 

Okay, what about . . .
  • school sports? In Maryland, homeschool students are not allowed to play on public school sports teams. Some private schools do allow homeschoolers, and there are some teams that are specifically for homeschool students.
  • high school credits? Check your district's website for the general requirements for high school graduation and plan courses accordingly. (For reference, here is my county's graduation requirements page) If you are in an oversight group, they will let you know what's needed for graduation, and the group may have additional or adjusted requirements. For example, my oversight group is faith-based, and we require two credits of Bible for graduation from our program. If your student is college-bound, it's best to check what coursework and credits the college will be looking for.
  • a high school transcript? Again, oversight groups often come through here because they can provide transcripts and send them to the colleges or wherever they are needed. You can also produce your own transcript, and parent-provided transcripts have been accepted by colleges and military without any problem. You can make your own or use one of several programs to produce one.
  • classes I don't know how to teach? First, don't borrow trouble! If your kids are elementary age, you probably just need to be able to read ahead in a teacher's guide and you'll be fine. Online curriculum is an option that many find useful. Homeschooling does allow you the opportunity to learn along with your kids too, so don't feel like you need to be the expert in everything! Probably your most valuable tool for the subjects you don't feel confident about is a co-op. There are a lot of co-ops and they come in many different varieties. Many oversight groups have their own co-op classes as an option. For high school classes there are co-ops and tutorial groups that give students a classroom experience and specialized instruction. 
See also:

The previous Suddenly Homeschooling - Pro Tips posts:

The rest of the How Do You Homeschool Series here on Homeschool Coffee Break, particularly:

How Do You Make a Four-Year Plan for High School? Part of the How Do You Homeschool Series on Homeschool Coffee Break @ kympossibleblog.blogspot.com

Do Your Students Take Outside Classes? Part of the How Do You Homeschool series on Homeschool Coffee Break @ kympossibleblog.blogspot.com

If you have specific questions, I would love to help! Leave a comment or message me using my Facebook page.

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