In my previous “How to Homeschool” post, I shared with you the importance of:
- celebrating your family’s uniqueness
- customizing your homeschool to fit the members of your family and your current season of life.
I also promised you that I will help you to customize your homeschool with three key steps to take before doing anything else. Today, I’m sharing with you the first step. Honestly, it’s the most boring step, but it’s still critical.
How to Homeschool – Step #1: Learn Your Local Homeschool Laws
Connect with HSLDA
First and foremost, learn your local (state) homeschool laws. If you live in the United States, you can learn about your state’s or territory’s laws from the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA). The Texas Home School Coalition (THSC) is also a good resource for Texas residents.
There are a lot of differences between the states about what is required to homeschool, so this is a critical step. Your state may require a certain number of school days a year, or a certain number of hours a day of schoolwork. It may require standardized testing, meeting with a local representative, or making a portfolio of work. Even what subjects are required varies from state to state. And if you currently have kids in the school system, you’ll also need to learn about the withdrawal process. It’s up to you to find out.
Find out your local laws before doing anything else! Before watching curriculum videos, before reading books about homeschool methodologies, before anything. Print out your local laws and put them in a binder or glue them into a notebook or laminate them. Whatever works for you. Just keep them ever-present as you’re making your plans.
Connect on Social Media
Connect to HSLDA on social media. I personally follow them on Facebook, along with THSC. Both organizations keep followers in-the-know regarding legislation involving homeschooling and parental rights. They also share stories about specific homeschool families that they have helped. While those aren’t the most fun posts to see in my news feed (show me all the cute and funny babies and pets!), I’ve found their posts to be helpful and eye-opening.
Get Legal Protection
You’ll notice a link to join the organization on the HSLDA website (or THSC or whomever). I highly recommend that you join! The small fee is worth the peace of mind of knowing that you have legal protection should the need arise.
When I connected to these legal organizations on social media, I started seeing the stories they shared of cases where attorneys needed to get involved in protecting specific homeschool families. What surprised me was that, often, those families hadn’t done anything wrong. There were times where the local school district didn’t know or follow the law, or simply made mistakes and lost records. I shudder to think what might have happened if those families hadn’t had legal protection.
Other Reasons to Learn Your Local Laws
Homeschooling is a huge lifestyle change, especially if you’re withdrawing kids from public school. When you first start homeschooling, you may want to do the minimum while your family is adapting to this new lifestyle. And by minimum, I mean the legal minimum for your state (see above).
When I first started homeschooling, I didn’t understand how much homeschool laws varied from state to state. So I piled us up with a lot of work that we really didn’t need to do. During the year, I did end up letting a couple of things go so that we could manage our time better. Looking back, I wish I’d taken a “minimum homeschooling” approach while I got my sea legs, so to speak.
(Disclaimer: If you’ll be homeschooling kids in high school that may attend college, you’ll need to consider college entrance requirements and maybe even explore dual-enrollment at a local community college. Candice from Homeschool on the Hill created a video about homeschooling high school that you may find helpful.)
When you watch YouTube videos about homeschooling, or read blog posts, or peruse Instagram, you’re going to get a front row seat to how families from other states incorporate homeschooling into their lives. They may be doing things that aren’t required in your state. Or maybe they’re not covering a subject that is required in your state. At the least, you’ll be confused. At the most, you could get yourself into some trouble if you’re not doing the minimum for your state.
This is the reason that I ended up overloading our schedule during our first year of homeschooling. I searched the web for curriculum videos and blog posts, not understanding that the homeschool parents that created that content were working to satisfy a different set of requirements.
So don’t be like me. Enter the research phase of homeschool preparation (after the next two steps!) armed with the very important information of the legal requirements for homeschooling in your state.
REAL TALK: Don’t waste time complaining about laws.
The homeschool laws in your state or territory may irritate you. You may think that they’re ridiculous or require too much oversight or are just unfair. But focusing on these negatives is not productive.
Certainly join organizations that support and protect homeschoolers (like HSLDA and THSC), both directly and by working with legislative bodies in regards to parental rights. Those organizations may even suggest ways that you can make a difference in how homeschooling is addressed in your state.
But if you don’t like your state laws and don’t want to follow them, please reconsider your decision to homeschool. Breaking the law by doing your own thing is putting your family at risk, and frankly setting a terrible example for your kids.
So instead of looking at your local laws with angst and frustration, see them as a helpful framework for ensuring that your kids get a good education.