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If you’re unfamiliar with how home schooling works, you may have questions. You may be wondering how parents know which subjects to teach and how children make friends if they don’t attend traditional school. We’re here to give you a general overview of what home-schooling is and how it works.

“One of the biggest misconceptions is that we are recreating school at home. We’re not all using worksheets that follow a specific scope and sequence,” says Julie Schneider, creator of Boco Learning, an online mathematics resource for home-schoolers. Because Schneider doubles as a home-schooling parent, we asked her to give us some insight into the world of home schooling. 

But before we dive in, it’s important to note that home schooling requirements vary by state and Schneider agreed to discuss her experience as a parent abiding by Colorado law. Each state defines requirements for attendance (academic contact hours), curriculum, and assessments for home schooling. For more information, contact your state’s branch of the U.S. Department of Education.

Home schooling basics

Across the United States, parents have the option to educate their children outside a traditional classroom setting through home schooling. Home school can begin in kindergarten and continue through high school. According to a 2016 study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education, nearly two million children are home-schooled. 

“I know parents from a variety of backgrounds who home-school their children. People from every socioeconomic status, single parents, parents who share custody, secular families, and those from all religions choose home schooling. The one uniting factor is the premise that we can educate our children as we see fit,” says Schneider.

Each state provides guidelines for home-school curriculum. Subjects may include: communication skills (reading, writing, and speaking); mathematics; history; civics; literature; science; and courses regarding the Constitution of the United States. States generally view home school as “nonpublic school,” which means it’s unregulated and leaves the parent(s) responsible for any related costs.

How do parents teach? 

Parents have the prerogative to teach their children using a variety of tools and methods.

 “One of the benefits of home school is freedom – freedom to learn what we want, when we want, how we want. There are a lot of different ways to approach teaching and learning.”

Schneider often creates projects to tie in learning with her children’s interests. 

“My son loves to play this card game, so one of the goals we set together is to build his own version of the deck. He plays the game with people of a variety of ages, so he’s using communication skills as he’s learning to talk with people older than he is. He’s also going to need to use communication skills to explain his game to me once he’s finished and then tell me what he’s learned. He’s not writing an essay, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t done good work. It just looks different than what some people are used to.”

Evaluating academic progress

“There’s a lot of different ways that parents measure progress, and different states have different requirements. In Colorado, we need to submit proof of progress beginning in third grade. Some parents choose to keep a portfolio of their child’s work, some choose to have their child evaluated through an interview with a qualified person, and some opt for their child to take a standardized test.”  

Speaking of standardized tests, Schneider also pointed out that if a home-school graduate wants to attend college they still need to take the ACT or SAT if required for admission.

What does a typical day look like?

While each household may structure their day differently, Schneider informed us of how she approaches academics with her children. 

“Everyone defines their day differently. For us, we work on projects in the morning and then we meet up with other home-schoolers in the community in the afternoon.”

How do home-schooled children make friends?

“Socialization is a hot topic, and a lot of home-schoolers just laugh about it. Our kids are out there in the community making friends and using their communication skills to talk to people from all different ages and backgrounds.”

Schneider arranges meet-ups for local home-schoolers in her area in addition to enrolling her children in karate and movement classes. 

“My kids have friends who attend public schools in addition to hanging out with other home-schooled kids. In our area we have the option to enroll our kids in computer classes, robotics classes, and even a reptile-based class. We make friends with a variety of kids.”

Do home-schooled children go to college?

Another common misconception about home-schooled children is that they can’t or won’t go to college. This is simply untrue. 

“From our research, we know that many Peterson’s customers are home-schooled students or parents. In addition to SAT and ACT prep, these students use CLEP and DSST prep materials to earn college credit by exam,” says Elizabeth Barry, Director of Marketing for Peterson’s.

Colleges and universities are becoming increasingly aware of home-schooled applicants and many have created information on their websites providing guidance and recommendations for home-school students. Home-schooled students should contact an admissions representative from colleges to which they are interested in applying, as requirements and needed documentation may vary.