Thinking about how to homeschool as a new homeschool parent can be overwhelming at first. You have a lot to consider—from the curriculum to state requirements. But the time invested at the beginning will be well worth it. In the end, you’ll have more time to spend with your kids and a more flexible schedule and learning experience. If you’re new to homeschooling and wondering where to start or are not sure what you need to homeschool your child, we’re here to offer homeschool help. After years helping families get started homeschooling, we’ve gathered a list of steps to follow as you begin the homeschool journey, as well as many of the questions new homeschoolers must consider.
How to Start Homeschooling
- Decide why you’re homeschooling.
- Learn your state’s homeschool laws and requirements.
- Decide when to start homeschooling.
- Consider accreditation.
- Create a plan for your first year.
- Decide where to homeschool.
- Choose a homeschool method.
- Learn how your children learn.
- Research your homeschool curriculum options.
- Find support.
Decide why you’re homeschooling.
As you’re thinking about how to start homeschooling, consider why you’re starting on this path. The reasons behind your decision can inform the goals you set. In turn, your goals for your homeschool journey can inform decisions you make about your homeschool method, teaching style, and curriculum choices. The following questions can help you decide on your goals.
- Do you want to ensure your children learn from a biblical worldview foundation?
- Do you want to protect your children from an unhealthy environment or certain negative influences?
- Do you want your children to meet higher academic standards?
- Do you want your children to be able to learn at their own pace?
- Do you want your family to have a more flexible schedule for spontaneous adventures or extracurricular activities?
As you set goals for your homeschool, think about where you’ll be starting. If you’re learning how to homeschool your 4-year-old, your journey will be different than someone starting to homeschool a tenth grader.
What age should I start homeschooling my child?
There’s no right age to start homeschooling a child. Whether now is the best time to start homeschooling depends on your family and, specifically, the needs of each child. If your child is suffering in a public or private school environment and you are confident homeschooling will help them succeed or thrive, it doesn’t matter if you start in kindergarten or halfway through eleventh grade. On the other hand, if you believe your children will be more successful if they go through the elementary grades in a public or private school before starting to homeschool, then that can work just as well.
Can you start homeschooling in high school?
Yes, you can begin homeschooling at any level. However, you’ll have a few more questions to consider if you decide to start homeschooling your child later. But resources for independent learning and online teaching make homeschooling through high school 100% doable.
Learn your state’s homeschool laws and requirements.
Homeschooling laws vary from state to state. Since some states require notice of intent to homeschool, you need to learn which laws apply to you early in your research. The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) shares a resource for quickly finding information on state laws.
What states do not allow homeschooling?
Homeschooling isn’t illegal in any state, but some states do have strict laws that can make it difficult to homeschool.
States with the strictest homeschool requirements
- Vermont—in addition to standard requirements (notice of intent to homeschool and annual testing), Vermont requires you to submit an academic narrative detailing everything you will teach.
- New York—in addition to standard requirements, you must submit an academic plan that details all the materials you will use as well as quarterly reports on your children’s education.
- Massachusetts—in addition to standard requirements, you must inform your local school board or the state department of education of what curriculum you’ll use.
- Rhode Island—in addition to standard requirements, you must be approved to homeschool and review your district’s homeschooling requirements for additional expectations.
- Pennsylvania—in addition to standard requirements, you must submit a plan, maintain a portfolio, and have your children evaluated by a licensed teacher or other qualified person (this evaluation is unique from standardized testing).
Can you begin homeschooling outside the U.S.?
International homeschool freedoms vary by country. Military and missionary families may have unique opportunities for homeschooling that may not be the same for families working internationally or for citizens. The HSLDA monitors homeschool freedoms in other countries and may be able to help you get started in your country.
What do I need to homeschool my child?
In most states, you don’t need to qualify as a certified teacher to homeschool your children. Many states only require that you have a high school diploma or GED to homeschool. But others, like Washington and Minnesota, do require you to be a certified teacher, have a college degree, or be overseen by a certified teacher.
Homeschooling requirements for parents
- GED or high school diploma
- A notice of intent to homeschool
- Annual standardized testing requirements met
- A written curriculum covering all core courses
- A plan to homeschool for at least 180 days
What is a notice of intent to homeschool and how do I submit it?
A notice of intent to homeschool is a form required by many states notifying your local school board that you will be homeschooling your child. States requiring an educational plan will also require this information with your notice of intent. You should print and mail your notice to your local school board or email it if your school board provides an address. State departments of education may provide a form for you. If no form is provided but a notice is required, templates are available online.
Decide when to start homeschooling.
You can start homeschooling any time you want, even in the middle of a school year. Once you are sure you want to homeschool and are satisfied you’ve completed all the legal requirements and that your children are free from any obligations in public or private schools, you can begin your homeschool year. But remember, you must meet reporting requirements as they come. Be sure to include any reporting deadlines and requirements in your homeschool plan.
Should you start homeschooling in the middle of the school year?
You can start homeschooling mid-year. You may meet some resistance from school administrators if you are pulling your children out of public school, but if homeschooling better fits your children’s emotional, spiritual, academic, and medical needs, you can find support in homeschool communities and legal associations like the HSLDA.
What to consider when starting your homeschool mid-year:
- Can your curriculum be started at any time in the year?
- Will your children need to restart their grade?
- Does your curriculum allow you to skip content your children have already learned?
- Can your homeschool begin fast enough to meet legal requirements?
What is year-round homeschooling?
Year-round homeschooling maintains an ongoing teaching and learning schedule without extended summer or winter breaks. Year-round homeschoolers often enjoy a more relaxed but consistent schedule throughout the year. They don’t usually complete material faster or proceed through grade levels quicker. Instead, they might have a four-day-week, more regular breaks, or shorter school days.
How long does it take to start homeschooling?
You can start your homeschool year in 1–2 months with proper planning. With a bit of determination and decisiveness, it’s possible to start your first homeschool year in one week—the time it takes for textbooks to ship to your house. Just make sure you’ve fulfilled all your state’s requirements.
Accreditation is not required by any state laws and typically does not apply to homeschooling. Depending on your goals, pursuing accredited homeschool programs may not ever be relevant to you. If you’re planning on homeschooling high school, you should review some additional information about accreditation and what it might mean for your homeschool.
How do you get school credit?
States don’t require you to submit a list of credits your child has earned, but it may be helpful to know your state’s graduation requirements if you intend to homeschool through high school and issue a homeschool transcript yourself. Your state’s department of education provides graduation requirements on their webpage. Once you know your state’s credit requirements, you’ll also need to understand what counts as a credit.
Create a plan for your first year.
You don’t have to plan the next 18 or more years before you can start homeschooling. You just need a starting place for this year. Experienced homeschool families often say they didn’t find their groove until their second, third, or even fourth year of homeschooling. Your plan will change as you learn more about your children and yourself. Your first-year plan can be very fluid, but you’ll need to consider what your teaching schedule will look like, what kind of records you’ll be keeping, and where day-to-day learning will take place.
How do I keep homeschool records?
Depending on state requirements, you’ll need to save—and store—records from your years. Recording your grades will help you create a homeschool transcript. You might also need to track days spent homeschooling. A good homeschool planner will be a helpful resource for these aspects of record keeping.
You may also want to save copies of graded tests (chapter tests and finals), graded essays, writing assignments, projects, and any associated rubrics. These items can be instrumental in creating a digital homeschool portfolio. Joining a homeschool record-keeping service can also help. Homeschool record-keeping services take grade reports from homeschool families and turn them into official homeschool transcripts.
You won’t usually need to keep curriculum for your records, but saving and storing books might be helpful for homeschooling younger children.
Decide where to homeschool.
Homeschooling implies your kids will be learning from home, but you should create a homeschool space for focused learning. Your homeschool space can be just as fluid as you need it to be. Many homeschoolers do most of their schooling at the dining room or kitchen table. Some have dedicated homeschool spaces. Others choose to homeschool wherever the kids prefer to be—the living room couch, the front porch, or up in a treehouse.
You should homeschool wherever makes the most sense for your family and your space. Just note that you’ll need to store your curriculum for the year and all other resources somewhere accessible for everyone who needs them.
Choose a homeschool method.
A homeschool method is the approach or style you take for teaching your children. Different homeschool styles impact what curriculum you use and may also affect your day-to-day life. Some methods are heavily child-focused while others are more learning-focused.
Popular homeschooling methods:
- Charlotte Mason
The traditional method of homeschooling most closely resembles a brick-and-mortar school. You typically use a standard, big-box, or all-in-one curriculum, and you might find yourself with a fixed schedule. This is often the method new homeschooling families start with because it’s what most people are familiar and comfortable with. It’s a good starting place, especially if you live in a strict homeschooling state.
Charlotte Mason was an author, educator, and speaker who emphasized teaching the whole child with quality literature (also called living books), exploration of nature, art, and direct interaction with learning concepts. In the Charlotte Mason method, activities require students to fully engage with what they’re learning—they have to move and interact with nature, they copy lessons word for word, journal about their thoughts and ideas. Her method makes learning a way of life rather than a task to be done. With consistent use of narration, dictation, and journaling, learning becomes an ongoing conversation between parent or teacher and the child.
Perhaps one of the oldest teaching styles, a classical education is designed to move with children through their own states of development so they learn skills they are mentally and developmentally ready to learn. The three learning stages, called the Trivium, represent the developmental stages children progress through: grammar, logic, and rhetoric.
What is unschooling?
Not to be confused with deschooling, unschooling is a homeschooling style that focuses purely on the child’s interests. Textbooks and curriculum are only used if they satisfy a child’s desire to know what is in them. There is no class schedule, there are no assignments, and students don’t take tests or complete regular projects.
Unschooling allows children to just be children, and it encourages them to follow and learn about their interests—at their own pace and on their own time.
Learn how your children learn.
The better you know and understand your children, the better you will be able to customize their education according to their unique learning needs. Getting to know your children might mean observing what most often prevents them from learning or discovering the learning style or styles that most often engage them.
What are learning styles?
Learning styles are the ways children process information with their senses. Some children learn better when educational activities fit a certain style. All children learn best when they can interact with information using multiple senses.
Styles of learning
- Visual Learners: These learners need to see information. They learn best from infographics, graphs, charts, pictures, and video material.
- Read/Write Learners: These learners prefer to learn by reading information and taking notes. They use their inner monologue and writing their thoughts to understand and process information.
- Auditory Learners: These learners need to hear concepts explained and explain concepts themselves. They do best with lecture and discussion.
- Kinesthetic Learners: These learners must do things to learn. They need to move manipulatives around, act out information, and feel the shape of each concept.
Research your homeschool curriculum options.
Your curriculum is a vital tool for your homeschool journey. Given its importance, it’s ok to devote time to research curriculum options and find one that meets your needs. As you research, look for curriculum publishers that fit with your family’s needs, your goals, and your children’s learning needs.
- Does the curriculum publisher offer all-in-one or à la carte resources?
- Do they teach from a biblical worldview?
- Do they offer materials that support multisensory learning?
- Is their material designed for parent-led homeschooling or independent learning?
All-in-one vs. à la carte
An all-in one (sometimes called big box) curriculum option includes everything you need for all the subjects for a whole year in one package or kit, like BJU Press’s K5 program. If you prefer to pick and choose the materials you use from subject to subject from different publishers, you need a curriculum that allows resources to be purchased separately.
Christian vs. secular homeschool curriculum
If discipleship and biblical worldview foundations are part of your goals and reason for homeschooling, then Christian curriculum resources will support you in your approach.
Top Christian curriculum publishers
- BJU Press
- My Father’s World
- Easy Peasy All-in-One Homeschool
Parent-led vs. independent learning
Parent-led curriculum are designed to be taught to each child, while resources for independent learning are either given directly to the child for learning or are alongside video teaching resources. Parent-led homeschooling means that you or another primary instructor teach lessons yourself with a teacher edition, answer keys, and other resources. This method is often best for children with unique learning needs. Independent learning resources allow children to take responsibility for their own education. The teaching content is heavily weighted to the student edition or video lessons. The parent is more of a facilitator who checks each child’s progress and evaluates work. Curriculum that can support independent learning is especially valuable for large families with children in multiple grades.
Best all-in-one curriculum options
- BJU Press—Offers resources and support for both parent-led and independent learning for all subject areas for K–12 as well as elective courses.
- Abeka—Offers resources and support for both parent-led and independent learning for all subject areas for K–12 as well as elective courses.
- AOP—Offers resources and support for both parent-led and independent learning for all subject areas for K–12 as well as elective courses.
- Sonlight—Offers resources and support for parent-led learning for K–12 history, Bible, literature, science, electives, and AP studies and curriculum partnerships that include independent learning for math.
- My Father’s World—Offers resources and support for parent-led learning for all subject areas for K–12 as well as elective courses.
- Time4Learning—Offers resources and support for independent learning for all subject areas for K–12 as well as elective courses.
- Easy Peasy All-in-One Homeschool—Offers resources and support for independent learning for all subject areas for K–12 as well as elective courses.
Can I homeschool for free?
Yes, either by gathering materials and planning lessons yourself or by using a pre-made, free curriculum. You could also join an online public school, but make sure the school’s requirements don’t conflict with your homeschool goals. While homeschooling for free is possible, you should be aware that a free curriculum may not be complete for your needs—depending on state requirements or requirements from any other relevant organization—and the resource may not be up-to-date.
Resources for free or low-cost homeschooling
- Easy Peasy All-in-One Homeschooling
- Connections Academy (online public school)
- Homeschool Buyers Co-op
No parent can take on the soul responsibility of training and raising their children without adequate support form family, friends, and mentors. While having family that supports and validates your choice to homeschool is valuable, you will also want friends who share the homeschool experience with you. These friends can offer advice and encouragement based on personal experience.
Co-ops are groups of families that meet up to teach classes, plan field trips, or just provide a much-needed break from the day-to-day routine. The main drawback to co-ops is they’re hard to find. A co-op may not be available in your area. But if you know several families in your area that homeschool, there’s no reason you can’t start your own homeschool co-op.
Online homeschool communities
Online groups of homeschool families often come together on social media or as followers of homeschool bloggers. Search on Facebook for like-minded homeschool communities to join and collaborate with.
A local homeschool convention brings together many homeschool families for a special time of learning and growing. Homeschool conventions are usually large events that happen once or twice a year in each state. Speakers share wisdom, insight, and encouragement, and many vendors set up booths to share homeschool curriculum and other resources. These events can offer a valuable opportunity to connect with other families attending. Teach Them Diligently and Great Homeschool Conventions are national organizations that set up conventions in many states. There are also state-level organizations that set up state-specific conventions.
HomeWorks by Precept consultants
HomeWorks by Precept consultants are experienced homeschooling parents who have been on this journey for a while now. They love connecting with fellow homeschooling parents to offer insight and help form connections. Being able to offer discounts on BJU Press materials is an added perk. You can reach a consultant near you either at an event or by messaging them.
Starting to homeschool is very much like researching a private school or a neighborhood to raise your kids in. There’s a lot of information and questions to answer, but it’s all an investment in your children and their future. But as you research and prepare for your journey, you will be able to recognize what is and is not important for your homeschool.
This is the beginning of a 12-to-14-year journey with each of your children. It’s a big choice, and it might be overwhelming at first. There will be seasons of planting, seasons of growing, and seasons of harvesting. Anyone can homeschool, but homeschooling may not be right for every family.
Throughout each step as you get started, keep talking and walking with God, and include your whole family in the decisions ahead.