A Parent's Brief Guide to Great Homeschooling

Have you considered homeschooling your child but wondered whether it will work for your family? Learn from Noodle Expert Molly Brown what you need to know to get started and make the experience a success.

Rhyanne's mother Erin taped a number line along the length of the hallway to help her daughter learn math, a subject she had struggled with in school. With this visual learning support in place, Rhyanne thrived. She exhibited the strengths of a kinesthetic learner — someone who blooms when she can engage her whole body in learning.

Erin describes her daughter moving along the taped line, learning how to add and subtract with ease: "I finally found something that would work.”

The Advantages of Homeschooling

Rhyanne had been having a hard time with math and other subjects in school. She would often wiggle at her desk and had trouble focusing. Erin decided to try homeschooling, and soon, her daughter’s issues with learning began to disappear. Erin was able to tailor lessons to match Rhyanne's learning style and strengths.

With the pressure off, I was able to find ways that made Rhyanne comfortable with expression. She wrote in a journal. And I found I could combine lessons in English, music, and art. We would watch a movie about an author she was reading and find museum exhibits that matched the topic.

Erin and Rhyanne live in California, a state that doesn't require annual testing for homeschoolers. Still, Erin did follow educational guidelines, and eventually, her daughter was exceeding the state standards. Erin used a variety of curricula, online resources, and supplementary material, usually tweaking the focus to support Rhyanne's strengths and allow for additional connections to current events, local politics, or history. "You can tell when your kid masters something," says Erin, "because [her] learning is no longer a chore, even in subjects that [she doesn’t] find that fascinating."

Homeschooling Approaches

Parents choose to homeschool for a variety of reasons, but most are guided by the idea that their child will flourish when she is given the individualized curriculum and structure that homeschooling permits.

There are many different homeschool approaches that allow parents to uniquely tailor their teaching within broader state or district guidelines. As a homeschooling parent, you have the ability to adjust instructions and pacing precisely, or tweak them to match your own family's needs.

Parent-Directed

If you use a parent-directed method of homeschooling, you serve as the primary teacher. You’ll choose or design the curriculum yourself. Typically, parents who follow this model consult a variety of resources and put together lessons of their own.

Commercial

There are a number of free homeschooling resources online, but there are also many available to purchase. Most commercial curricula do the heavy lifting for parents. You'll still be the teacher, but you won't have to design, write, or develop the materials yourself. The cost of these programs can vary tremendously, with some running as much as private school tuition.

Group Instruction

Often, homeschooled students will gather formally or informally to learn in groups. These sorts of lessons can take place in museums, libraries, or even family living rooms.

In addition, local schools or colleges may offer courses that students can take together to supplement their at-home curriculum. These classes foster camaraderie and enable students to build friendships with peers outside of their homeschooling community as well. They have the added benefit of providing instruction in topics that a parent may not feel comfortable teaching.

School-Based and Online Courses

As with group instruction, your child may be able to take classes at your local school or community college. There are also many online education courses and resources available to supplement, enhance, or replace your homeschool curriculum.

Assessing Homeschooling

How can you make sure that your child isn't falling behind her traditionally educated peers? This can be a nagging concern when families first embark on homeschooling.

Here are some of the most popular means of measuring a student's progress:

State-Mandated Evaluations

Certain states, like Florida and Virginia, require homeschooled students to complete state evaluations annually, and parents have a number of different exams to choose from in these communities. Even if your state doesn't mandate testing, it is likely to have guidelines on its education department website to enable you to determine whether your child is meeting or exceeding learning standards for her grade. You can also check with your local school district to learn which standardized tests it uses to assess children annually, and download sample questions from the appropriate testing companies to confirm that your child’s learning is on track.

For more information, check out this article about how states support homeschooling.

Standardized Tests

Tests like the PSAT, SAT, ACT, and APs are useful as your child advances to high school-level coursework. These exams are valuable for assessing readiness for college and can be used to supplement the transcripts you create. They take place in formal settings and have associated fees; students usually register weeks or months in advance.

Read From Homeschool to College: Application Tips for Homeschooled Students for more guidance about preparing for college as a homeschooled student.

Curriculum Assessments

Formal curricula will come with grading and scoring keys. You’ll receive a teacher’s manual that offers discussion questions, guidance for further study, and other ideas for teaching and evaluation. Quizzes and tests may include multiple choice, true/false, fill-in-the-blank, and other objective measures.

Many parents adapt these assessments to align with their own instruction, but if you choose not to, the materials are ready-made with everything you need to grade and measure progress.

Independent Evaluators

The support that districts provide to homeschooling families will vary from state to state. For example, some communities are required to assist homeschoolers by providing access to materials, classes, and extracurricular activities — and this may also include permitting families to submit student work to teachers for evaluation.

Call your local district office to ask if someone could review a portfolio of your child’s work to determine whether she is on track. Even if this isn’t an option, their staff may be able to point you towards local professionals who can provide such an evaluation.

There are also numerous consulting services available online to assess homeschoolers’ progress. While there is not a formal accreditation for these professionals, many are former teachers who have extensive expertise. Some offer phone consultations, while others provide in-person portfolio assessments or administer standardized tests. It’s a good idea to request references and check with other families who have used the service.

Best Practices for Record-Keeping

Though designing your child's curriculum can be a freeing and eclectic experience, don't do her a disservice by failing to keep records of her lessons and progress. This step is crucial when she applies to college, but it will also serve her well if she eventually enters a K–12 school or enrolls in a class that may have prerequisites.

  • Keep track of courses and subjects with an organized timeline.

  • Make sure your child is working at grade level relative to her age, and be sure the curricula you use are appropriately aligned.

  • Give your child regular report cards. If you don't want to assign traditional numerical or letter grades, you'll need to write detailed narrative assessments that have strong accompanying data (such as test scores and details from completed work).

  • Create a portfolio assessment, which is a collection of sample work and projects that your child has completed over time. Portfolios can be organized by subject, timeframe, or grade level, and may include a range of projects like worksheets, essays, multiple-choice exams, and artwork. All of these samples can be used to gauge your child's progress and aptitude.

Making Adjustments

One of the great aspects of homeschooling is the speed with which you can remedy problems — sometimes within the same hour they arise. You'll be able to avoid the protracted process that occurs in traditional schools where conferences and meetings can sometimes take days or weeks to schedule once a child begins to struggle.

One mother I spoke with, Violet, homeschools her two children. The methods that worked well with her daughter failed when she tried them with her son Marvin. Her daughter loved book-work and structured assignments that followed a traditional school plan. Marvin, on the other hand, resisted structure, books, and desks.

Violet described her son as fiery and active. He did not want to sit still, and he struggled with reading and math. He did, however, enjoy imaginative play. He would tell stories and create songs endlessly. He also loved to question everything. Violet had to adapt her methods to Marvin's needs, an experience she describes as a "formidable challenge."

She explained that she learned to adjust her teaching methods for each child, adapting them so that they drew her kids into the curriculum. "Marvin didn't do math, he did 'army math.' This meant that his vast collection of army-men toys were part of every lesson," she recounted.

She went on to describe creating equations that involved calculating the quantities of supplies needed for different numbers of troops: "Subtraction became about deployment, multiplication about enlisting, division about rationing."

Violet remarked, "If Marvin was at a traditional school, I would be going to parent/teacher meetings to find out how he was doing. As a homeschooler, I already knew how he was doing — every single day. That was enough for me to reinforce that homeschooling was working for my family."

One More Thought

Homeschooling can provide extraordinary opportunities for families to meet the learning needs of their children. Tailoring the curriculum to each child’s interests and to your family’s values can foster a deep and abiding love of learning. Understanding how to create these educational experiences and how to know whether they’re working is key to setting your child up for success in any path she chooses to pursue.

Follow this link for more free homeschooling advice from members of the Noodle expert community.

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