How Does Homeschooling Work? FAQs & Tips for Homeschooling Your Child

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You’ve probably heard rumblings about homeschooling for a while. Your best friend’s sister homeschools her children; your husband’s work colleague homeschools his children. There’s no doubt that you’re intrigued by the idea, but you’ve been wondering for a while...How does homeschooling work?

I wondered the same thing many years ago when we started on our homeschooling journey. I had so many questions floating around that it was hard for me to even verbalize my questions. I didn’t even know where to start, and at that time, I didn’t personally know anyone to ask. So, I started on an internet quest to find the answers to all my questions. 

If this sounds familiar, let me assure you that you are in the right place. So friend, make yourself a cup of coffee, and settle in and let’s talk about all the ins and outs of homeschooling.

How Does Homeschooling Work? FAQs & Tips for Homeschooling Your Child

How Much Does It Cost to Homeschool Your Child?

Let’s dive right in with the question that everyone wants to know...how much does it cost? This is kind of a tough question to answer because every family is different. 

Let me begin by saying that there is no flat fee for homeschooling your children. However, you also will need to know that you may not have access to the benefits from your taxpayer dollars in the public school system after choosing to homeschool. Some states make public school resources available to homeschoolers and some do not. It just depends on the state laws. 

Once you decide to homeschool, most of your costs will depend on the curriculum that you choose to use. I know families who homeschool entirely free by using their library and the internet solely. 

The Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) estimates that most families spend between $300-$600 per child per year. Those stats hold pretty true in my family. When I was new to homeschooling, I remember thinking that it seemed like a lot of money; however, once we got started with our first year of homeschooling, I realized that I was actually saving money compared to sending my kids to public school. 

First of all, my child no longer desired every new toy or every pair of super-cool, must-have sneakers that he saw the other kids wearing. Also, I found that the amount of money I was spending on school fundraisers the previous year was more than I spent on a whole year’s worth of curriculum! Once we put it in perspective, we were getting quite the bargain as homeschoolers. While cost is certainly something to consider, lots of families find that homeschooling actually saves money in the long run.

What Is Homeschooling? How Does It Work?

Parents who homeschool are essentially taking on the primary responsibility for educating their own children. To begin homeschooling in most states, you’ll need to somehow register with the Department of Education informing them that you will be responsible for your child’s education that year. 

Be sure to check the HSLDA website or your state Department of Education website to find all the laws in your state and the contact person in your county. Some states are more relaxed on homeschooling laws, and some states have pretty strong laws concerning homeschool families. Either way, your best bet is to be knowledgeable about your state laws. 

After you make sure you comply with all your local laws, your next step is to choose your curriculum. This can be fun, but it can also be daunting. The good news is that there are so many great options now. Of course, the bad news is that there are SO many great options now! 

Of course, I am a fan of Sonlight curriculum, so I would highly recommend that you begin your search there. After you get your curriculum, set your start date, arm yourself with pencils and paper, and you’re ready to go!

Two sisters share a book

Do Parents Get Paid for Homeschooling?

No matter how many times I’ve presented my children with a bill for my services, I have yet to receive their payment! Ha! I tease, but not entirely. 

I feel that the rewards in my homeschooling journey have come in ways other than green paper. The endless kisses, years of bonding, and memories we’ve made together are absolutely priceless, and I wouldn’t trade those things for any amount of paper money.

However, while your kids are unlikely to make good on their bill for homeschooling services, there are ways that you can earn a little extra money while you homeschool. Some parents find that if they open up their homeschools for a few more children to join in, they can earn extra money as a tutor. Of course, always check your state laws on homeschooling before you begin this type of endeavor.

 Some homeschool parents are able to find online work such as writing or consulting. For centuries, parents have been finding ways to make ends meet, and as a homeschool parent, you can do the same thing. There are absolutely opportunities out there for homeschool parents. You just need to look.

Is It Free to Be Homeschooled?

It can be. A good portion of the cost of homeschooling is wrapped up in curriculum. The expense of homeschooling typically depends on which curriculum you choose to use. Curriculum costs range from free to thousands of dollars. I would encourage you to be careful of both extremes. A completely free curriculum option will keep you run ragged and guessing about whether you’re covering everything or not. You’ll be rushing to the library every week just to find that the book you need is at another library. Shipping will take three weeks….I’ve been there, and it’s rough.

On the other hand, spending thousands of dollars on a single curriculum is a lot to spend, and if that curriculum doesn’t teach itself, grade itself, and file itself, you might find that it’s just not worth it. In all my years with Sonlight, I’ve never felt that our curriculum cost was a waste. Even long after our school year is finished, my kids still go pull out the books they read. Many of our Sonlight books have been read and reread many times over. I’ve also been so thrilled by how many times I’ve reused our Sonlight curriculum. You get a lot more for your money when you choose a curriculum that can be passed down to siblings. 

What Are the Qualifications to Homeschool Your Child?

Again, always check your state laws before making the decision to homeschool. But in most states, you don’t have to have a teaching degree, or any degree for that matter, to homeschool your child. Some of the best teachers I know never went to college for teaching. Some of the best homeschoolers I know could only list a deep, abiding love for their children on a resume. 

If you want to know the absolute truth, I believe that the only necessary qualifications for homeschooling should include the following:

  • A desire to glorify God in every word and action
  • A deep love for your children
  • A passion for being a lifelong learner

If you have these things, I have confidence that you will be successful in homeschooling!

an entire family reads outside

What Are the Disadvantages of Homeschooling?

After ten years of homeschooling, I find it tough to pick out any disadvantages. As I look back, I am honestly 100% satisfied with the work that God has done in our family through homeschooling. However, if I had to think of a disadvantage, I would think back to our early years. Homeschooling wasn’t quite as widespread in our area as it is now, and of course, my children were very little. Sometimes, homeschooling was lonely for me as a mom. I remember when my husband arrived home after a long day at work, I would talk his ear off for the last six hours of the day! 

As my children grew, I made more of an effort to connect with other homeschoolers, and I found quite the thriving little community. Sometimes, it takes a little work to find them, but homeschooling friends are out there if you’ll just keep looking. Socialization doesn’t have to be a disadvantage for homeschoolers.

Now there are many myths out there about homeschoolers, but most of these are really quite comical to us in the homeschool community and only serve to provide something for the non-homeschoolers to whisper about by the pool. If you are interested in the myths you may hear about disadvantages to homeschooling, you can read more here: What About Socialization?

How Many Hours a Day Should a Child Be Homeschooled?

I wish it were that simple to know that if I homeschool three hours and thirty-seven minutes, I will have an excellent, well-educated child. Unfortunately, there’s no magic formula to how long each day of schooling should be. Remember, you’re not only homeschooling, but your child is doing life with you. That alone is quite the education.

Consider for just a moment our public school system. Now, the children are there for 7-8 hours per day, but are all those hours instructional? Of course not. While there aren’t many formal studies on the topic, there’s a fairly good consensus that between 2-3 hours of the day are totally wasted with transitions, classroom management, and breaks. One teacher estimated up to 5 hours of the day were wasted. That’s pretty shocking. 

You can probably see why homeschoolers don’t need to worry so much about hours spent on schooling. Homeschoolers tend to think quality over quantity, depth over width. 

As a new homeschooler, you’re probably wanting to scream at me by now, “Just tell me how many hours I need to do school!” No need to worry, there are some guidelines to get you started. Just remember that none of these are set in stone, and as you get more confident homeschooling, you’ll find that it’s hard to tell the difference between “schooling hours” and “life hours.”

The average homeschool student in the elementary years will spend 3-4 hours homeschooling each day. However, younger elementary students will likely need less, more like 1-2 hours in kindergarten, building gradually as they mature. High school will probably require more hours, even up to six or more hours per day, especially if your child is interested in advanced classes. 

Are Homeschooled Students Happier?

I would be remiss to make the grand generalization that homeschooled students are happier. However, I would tell you that my homeschool students are absolutely happier. My oldest son decided to try public school again when he got to junior high. He almost immediately began having migraines, which was a new development for him. He did excellent in his classes, but his health was failing under the long hours and tremendous pressure. Normally, he is a very talented basketball player, but we could see that he was struggling even in his beloved sports. As soon as he returned to homeschooling, the migraines disappeared, his basketball was better than ever, and he has stated firmly that he never intends to go back. He loves homeschooling and sees the great value of it.

Not every child will feel the way my children do about homeschooling. Some children may miss friends. Some children love the fast pace of school. I do think, however, that the benefits to homeschooling far outweigh the few disadvantages for most families.

It certainly wouldn’t hurt to give it a try and see if your child is happier as a homeschooled student. You can read more stories of families who have found that homeschooling makes their children happier here.

three children explore a pond

What Do Homeschoolers Do All Day?

Homeschoolers generally have many vibrant days, filled with field trips and job shadowing. We also have a lot of routine days, filled with the comfortable predictability of home. 

One of the things I’ve loved so much about homeschooling is seeing my children flourish in extracurricular areas. I mentioned earlier that my son loves basketball. A lot of his extra time is devoted to getting extra shots up. My youngest son is an outdoors guy. He can tell you all about the best way to start a fire in any type of weather. He’s the guy I want to have around in a survival situation. Both my boys absolutely love to play chess, so they also have chess matches in their off time. My oldest daughter is an artist. I’m not exaggerating when I say that she may become a modern day Picasso someday. If she’s not doing her schoolwork, you’ll find her sewing, drawing, painting, or creating something from treasures she finds in our recycle bin. Our youngest daughter plays piano beautifully. Both of our girls love to go to gymnastics, ride bikes, and play with the neighborhood kids. Some days, I take our children to the church to volunteer. Some days, we go to the library and the park. I can’t imagine being bored in a homeschool setting. There are just too many options.

Of course, we all help with chores around the house. This is a full time job when you are at home the majority of the day. With everyone pitching in, the work doesn’t take long and there’s always plenty of time for the interest areas I mentioned earlier. I wrote more extensively on this topic at the Sonlight blog. Feel free to hop over there to see the logistics of a day in a family with multiple children.

How Long Is a Homeschool Year?

This is another question where I will first direct you to your state laws. Some states require homeschoolers to keep a log of how many days or hours they are “in school.” My state doesn’t require that. 

Our Sonlight curriculum is divided into 36 weeks, and that has always been a good, full school year for us. However, if I were being totally honest, I would add that we usually end at 34 weeks. Of course, with our Sonlight curriculum, we get all of our work done in four days instead of five, so our Fridays are always utilized for fun family activities or a good day of deep cleaning at home. As you can imagine, the latter isn’t as popular with my children, but necessary from time to time.

Most schools attend an average of 180 days in a school year, so if you are doing 36 weeks of curriculum, you are falling right in line with public schools. Although, we all know that in homeschool families, everything is a learning opportunity, so a lot of homeschoolers would tell you that they school year-round. There is no right answer for how many days a child should attend school, however, so be sure and check with your state and use that as a starting point.

happy Sonlight student poses with his books

Does Homeschooling Have a Summer Break?

Ours certainly does! I think we are just as excited when May rolls around as the public school crowd! We love our lazy summers. I would say, however, that even though we consider ourselves on summer break, there are some things we never stop. We never stop doing Bible Study together and we never stop reading. Those two things go throughout the summer, mostly because in our minds, those are not school subjects, those are life habits. I hope to teach my children that we never stop studying the Bible (no matter how old we grow), and we never stop reading. Of course, we also do a lot of cooking (math!), a lot of field trips, and a lemonade stand or two each year, so there’s still a lot of learning going on in the summer around here.

How Many Days a Week Do You Homeschool?

As I mentioned in the question above, we homeschool with Sonlight and we use their four-day curriculum option. So we are officially schooling only four days per week. Some homeschoolers choose to do five days, but our family seems to be able to do better with a four-day schedule. We use our fifth day for fun activities, doctor’s appointments, and housework. 

There isn’t just one right way to homeschool though. Some families homeschool only on the weekends. Some homeschool in the evenings and have free days. That’s part of the beauty of homeschooling. It can happen anytime, anywhere.

How Does Homeschooling High School Work?

It’s really not that hard, believe it or not. First, check with your state laws on homeschooling. You’ll want to be sure to familiarize yourself with any laws pertaining specifically to high schoolers or graduation requirements. Once you educate yourself on your state laws, you will simply need to make a rough sketch or plan for your child’s high school years. Then, choose a curriculum and begin the transcript.

I highly recommend you keep a running transcript and keep it updated each year. It’s much easier to fill in the classes as you go rather than wait until your child is ready to graduate. As you fill out the transcript, you’ll simply assign credits to each class depending on how many hours your child puts into the class. Homeschooling high school is absolutely doable. 

Homeschooling Is Flexible

Homeschooling is such a great way to educate children because it’s so flexible. As you read through these questions, you probably caught that theme. Aside from your state laws (be sure to follow those!) homeschooling is truly about doing what you believe is best for your child. 

Homeschooling is all about bringing your children to do life alongside you. This is the best preparation for adulthood, because they will have had years of front row experience. You might feel like a fish out of water when you begin your homeschool journey, but it won’t be long, and you’ll feel like an old pro. 

sonlight catalog

The Sonlight catalog is a great starting point for a parent investigating homeschooling. Not only can you browse the literature-based curriculum options, but you can also read helpful articles and get a fuller picture of what homeschooling could do for your family.

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