Word on the street-slash-Facebook is that, what with covid and all, lots of parents are considering homeschooling their kids for this upcoming school year.
I see posts with all sorts of questions, from notices of intent to curriculum to how to hire in-home tutors. I don’t know the answers to many of the questions — we’re a pretty laid back bunch over here — but considering that I’ve been homeschooling for the last fifteen years, I figured I could at least share the barebones of how to get started.
Or rather, how not to send your kids to school.
Disclaimer: States have different homeschooling laws; I live in Virginia and I write of what I know, nothing more (and sometimes not even that), so doublecheck everything I say and correct me if I’m wrong. Thanks.
Now, there are two main steps to homeschooling: 1) notifying the school system of your intent to homeschool, and 2) evaluating the child’s progress at the end of the year.
Let’s break it down.
Delay, delay, delay!
You don’t have to declare intent to homeschool for kindergarteners! In Virginia, kids are expected to go to kindergarten if they’ll be age five by September 30 (I think?), but legally, they aren’t required to attend school until age six. So if you’re homeschooling a kindergartener, a simple letter to the school district superintendent (if in VA, find your superintendent here) stating that you’ll be delaying your child’s entrance to school is sufficient.
Here’s a sample of one that I wrote: We have decided to delay our daughter’s entry into school because we feel that she is not yet ready. Her birthdate is February 29, 2004. And that’s it!
Notice of Intent
Once kids are legally required to be in school, you must send in your notice of intent to homeschool. This is a simple, one-page form asking the child’s name, age and grade, and your address. The form is due by August 15 (though last year I forgot to send it in and they had to send me a reminder letter a couple months later — they were quite friendly about my mess-up, too) and you can print it off here.
Regarding parental qualifications, a copy of your high school diploma is sufficient; send it in the first time and they’ll keep it on file so you don’t have to resubmit each year. (If you’re a certified teacher, you get a little more autonomy but since I’m not certified, I’m not exactly sure what that means…)
Along with your notice of intent, submit a curriculum. I’ve heard that it’s better to provide as few details as possible — the less information the parents supply, the more flexibility and freedom all homeschoolers have — so that’s what I’ve done.
Here’s a sample of this year’s curriculum for my rising ninth grade son:
Reading and writing skills will be developed by reading, and listening to, a wide variety of literature and working with assorted reading books.
Math skills will be developed by participating in a variety of everyday activities such as cooking, shopping, singing, carpentry, problem solving, etc.
I’ve used the same lines year after year, only editing to account for the changing year. (And according to a reader’s comment — see below — I’ve been providing even more information than necessary!)
So all you need to do to start homeschooling is mail in a single envelope with three papers — notice of intent form, curriculum, and a copy of your high school or college diploma — by August 15 to your superintendent.
Then you proceed to live together for a year at the end of which you have to submit proof of progress…
In Virginia, the only homeschooling requirement is evidence of progress. In other words, the child doesn’t have to be at any particular grade level — just, they have to be improving, learning, and growing. Since children do this naturally, it’s not hard to prove.
There are four ways to show evidence of this progress: testing (CAT tests, available to order online and protored by parents, or some such thing), creating and submitting a portfolio, being evaluated by a licensed teacher, or claiming religious exemption (this requires a lot of paperwork up front, but no year-end evaluation). We’ve always opted for the home evaluation.
Each spring, a teacher/friend pops over (this year it was via zoom) to chat for about an hour with me and the kids. We talk about books they’ve read, trips they’ve taken, their projects and interests. I show the evaluator the textbooks we’ve used, and I print out a copy of the year’s informal log: a loose list of each of the kid’s activities. For example, last year my younger daughter’s list included children’s concert choir, regular babysitting jobs, started job at farm and did yard work for friends, prealgebra, physical science lessons with Granddaddy, went to Puerto Rico for two weeks over Christmas, piano lesson from her aunt in exchange for babysitting, got her driver’s permit, and so on.
Our current evaluator (we’ve had several and they’ve each had different, but similarly relaxed, styles) comes with the “I’ve evaluated this child and she shows adequate progress” letter that I then mail to our superintendent by August 1. She keeps a file on our family in case problems ever arise and she would be called on to provide specifics, and she also offers the option of doing a more detailed write-up should we want one for our personal files (we don’t). Cost of this entirely painless and fun little evaluation is about 50 dollars per child.
Each year, mid-summer, I send in my intent to homeschool form for the upcoming school year, along with a copy of our curriculum, and the superintendent responds with a letter saying, Okay, fine, whatever. (It’s a little more official than that — something to the effect of “we wash our hands of you and good luck” — but it’s a form letter so I only bother to read it every five years or so.)
Then in the spring, April or May, usually (and no later than August 1), I send in the evaluator’s letter saying the kids have shown evidence of progress, and then I get another “okay, fine, whatever” letter.
Actually, I was so on the ball this year that I sent both the evaluation letters and info for the upcoming school year all in one go back in April!
And that, my friends, is all you need to know about how to start homeschooling, okay, fine, whatever.
And good luck!