Homeschooling: Frequently Asked Questions by Parents

Most American children start their K-12 careers in public or private schools, but some find their way into homeschooling at some point before they earn their diplomas. Surprisingly, the trend is catching on. Government and news media reports both show that homeschooling is on the rise as more parents decide to give it a try versus “traditional” schooling.

There are many different reasons for homeschooling. Each parent has his or her own motivation for doing it, but some of the most popular arguments for it include:

-Freedom. Many parents homeschool their children so that they can teach religious concepts and beliefs along with “regular” schoolwork. Some parents choose homeschooling because they want more influence over what their children learn. This is a common choice in low-performance school districts, where children might not actually be prepared for college or the working world after they graduate.

-Safety. Some school districts aren’t safe for students. When there’s a metal detector at every entrance, some parents consider alternatives to sending their children to that school.

-Flexibility. Just like adults, children learn in different ways. Some do better when they can finish math homework before going on to English. Some learn by seeing. There are many different ways to learn, but because teachers have well over a dozen students per class, it’s very difficult to make sure that each child can grasp the concepts. With homeschooling, the classes are smaller (yes – some homeschoolers still go to classes), so there are more opportunities for one-on-one assistance.

Because each child works at his own pace, it’s easy to get lost in public school – or, worse, to be so far ahead that boredom sets in. That’s when many students begin disrupting classes, slacking off, or causing other kinds of trouble. Homeschoolers can work at their own pace in every subject, which solves most of the problems. For example: if your child grabs a concept in math very quickly, then he can do the work and move forward even if it’s ahead of schedule. If it takes him a while to figure it out and catch on, then he can spend more time with it. When he grasps the concept, he’ll move on and be able to do the next, and the one after that, etc.

It’s also nice to plan vacations around the breadwinner’s work schedule instead of trying to work it in with the child’s break from school.

So, now you’re thinking about doing the same with your child, but you have a million questions. That’s okay: there are answers out there, and this is one place to find at least the basic ones.

“Do I have to be a stay-at-home parent to teach my child?”
It’s recommended, but it isn’t necessary. With homeschooling groups, your child can go to central locations (or another group member’s home) for studying, field trips, science experiments and other school-related activities. There are also private academies devoted to homeschooling. Just like the “regular” school district, they have classrooms and certified teachers on hand to help your child learn. The difference is that the classes are much smaller and the curriculum is often the same thing that homeschoolers tend to use.

“What’s the coursework like?”
Most of the companies who make any homeschooling curriculum tend to create more challenging and advanced work. The fourth-grade curriculum for homeschoolers, for example, might cover the same concepts and lessons that public-schooled fifth-graders are doing.

This isn’t to say that your child must be a prodigy to make it as a homeschooler. There are plenty of non-geniuses in the homeschooling world who do very well in their coursework as well as the real world.

“Do I have to buy books?”
Homeschooling is usually done by curriculum. It can be one giant book that your child works from a few pages at a time every day or a series of smaller packets. You can supplement any required learning materials with field trips, the Internet and other computer software, tours of relevant places, and guest speakers. There are plenty of people who will come speak to a group of homeschoolers about their professions: it isn’t uncommon for a scientist to take an hour or two to talk about DNA, for example.

You can also set aside “library days” in which you take your child to your public library and let him pick out books and other reference materials that he might want.

“What if I can’t afford curriculum?”
Check on prices before you decide that it’s not within your budget. In many cases, you can also get payment plans. And remember: you don’t have to order all twelve years’ worth of curriculum this year.

“Can I teach my child?”
That depends on your state. In many areas, you don’t need any special training or certification. If you happen to live in a place that requires such things, go online and start searching for homeschooling groups near your home. They’ll be able to help, as many of them provide certified teachers as well as more information that will help you get started.

“But I don’t know anything about algebra/high-school science.”
That’s okay. Homeschooling groups in your area can help you with it. Some of them have science labs, full-time teachers and current students who know what they’re doing. You don’t have to know everything to be a homeschooling parent: you just have to know where to go for help.

“Can I teach my child whatever I want?”
For the most part, you can come up with almost any lesson plan that you want. There are dozens of ways to do it. In some cases, you don’t even really go with any set lessons plans: you give your child the required schoolwork on Monday and tell him that he can do it in whatever order he pleases as long as it’s turned in by Friday afternoon.

“Who keeps track of my child’s grades?”
That depends on your state and local requirements as well as whether or not you are actively involved with a homeschooling group. In most cases, you have the option of keeping the grades yourself or letting a homeschooling group or school do it for you.

“Doesn’t my child have to take the state’s standardized tests?”
It depends on your state. You should contact a homeschooling group for information on this.

“What about social skills?”
Your child is either a social person or he isn’t. It doesn’t matter where he goes to school: he’ll make friends in his own time, in whatever way that he does it best. Public and private schools aren’t the only places to meet people or spend time with non-family. Church and civic activities, team or individual sports, scouting, and special-interests clubs all encourage children to socialize and make friends. Your child can meet other children in home-schooling groups too.

“What about field trips?”
These can be lots of fun. You and your child can go by yourselves or with a homeschooling group. Either way, you have the advantage because you can show up at popular field trip destinations (museums and the like) during school hours. The buildings will be less crowded, the traffic will be lighter, and you’ll be able to see and do more during your visit.

“But my child wants to play varsity football/baseball/etc.”
Check with your homeschooling group and your school board. Some states and school districts allow your homeschooled child to play on the public school’s athletic teams (provided that a few conditions, which vary from district to district, are met). You might also have access to your public school’s science labs if you pay the fees that the rest of the student body pays every year.

“What about prom night?”
You can still have a prom if your child really wants one. Some care about it; others don’t. Your homeschooling group can put one on. And nothing says that your child won’t be invited to attend the high-school prom with a student currently attending classes there.

“Will my child be able to go to college?”
Yes, provided that he meets the same standards as everyone else who wants to go to school. In fact, if your child wants to apply to a college or university in the state of Texas, he will probably have to fill out an online form called the Texas Common Application: a standardized form that many schools use for screening potential students. One of the questions on this form asks if the student was homeschooled. It seems that universities are very open-minded when it comes to admitting students of “different” backgrounds.

“Will my child be able to get a good job?”
Some large corporations actively recruit homeschoolers. If nothing else, many companies don’t care where you went to school as long as you’re a hard worker who can do the job efficiently and correctly.

“How do I find homeschooling groups in my area?”
Do a Web search. Many of them have Web sites, and there are some state-by-state indexes available that will give you phone numbers at the least.

You don’t have to join the group to get information in most cases. Many groups will tell you what needs to be done before you can start homeschooling and offer support after you’ve begun.

“What if my child hates it and wants to go back to public high school?”
That’s a good possibility. Homeschooling doesn’t work well for every single child. If yours doesn’t like it at all, you can always re-enroll him in public school.

Homeschooling requires a lot of investment from you to make it work, but it’s worth whatever you put into it. You’ll be more involved in your child’s life, even if he goes to an academy for lessons. You’ll learn with him: when a concept that you’ve never seen before is brought up in his lessons, you’ll figure it out with him so that you’ll both know something new. The memories, bonding and opportunity to share time together are endless with homeschooling, so you should ask yourself if it really could be what’s best for your child.

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