So. Our area (King County) has closed all schools until April 24. This whole thing is mind-boggling and surreal, but as someone who’s homeschooled for the last two years… our daily lives haven’t really changed.
I thought I’d offer up some advice for parents who are worried about school curriculums and how this will all pan out. I’ll tell you up front that what I’m going to talk about will not be possible for everyone—having been able to work from home and have the flexibility to homeschool my kid is an extraordinary privilege, largely afforded by my husband’s career.
That being said, if going full-on homeschool is a viable option for you (and you don’t want your kid going to school through Summer to make up this time), here’s how homeschool works:
For starters, let’s talk about the word “homeschool.” I see lots of parents talking about being unexpected homeschoolers now. What they are doing is not homeschooling, it’s “alternative schooling” or “virtual schooling.” I’m not being an asshole about the terminology, like “I’M homeschooling, YOU’RE not.” There’s an important distinction between homeschool and alternative or virtual school. (Important for your freedom and flexibility, should you choose to homeschool. But very important when it comes to the laws and protections for homeschoolers.)
Alternative/Virtual schooling means that you’re still following your school district’s curriculum. If you’re following a curriculum by cobbling together resources recommended by your child’s school and following the topics and subjects taught to your child’s grade, that’s alternative schooling. Meaning, it’s an alternative way to get the same education. If you’re doing it all online, or taking classes through something like WAVA, that’s virtual schooling (also alternative).
Alternative and virtual schooling means you are still legally required to adhere to your school district curriculum and all it entails. It means you are still legally required to adhere to their assessment standards and participate in standardized testing.
So what makes homeschool different?
When you homeschool, you must send a declaration of intent to homeschool to the school district by September 15. (Here’s a link to the form on the Washington Homeschool Association website. You can also find these forms on your school district’s website.) You do this each year. (We’ve homeschooled for two years now, so I emailed a form in September 2018 and again in September 2019. I’ll send a third one this year, September 2020.) Each year, I just download, print, and fill out the PDF form. Then I scan it and email it to the district superintendent. She emails a blanket “we received your form” response and done.
If you decide to homeschool before the school year starts, the form is all you need. If you pull out after the year has started, you also need to include a signed and dated letter that states you are formally withdrawing your child.
As a homeschooler, I have no freakin’ clue what his former classmates are learning this year. I mean, I have an idea… but not specifics. We follow my son’s interests and abilities. Does that mean he’s “behind”? Nope. I have him occasionally do courses on Time4Learning to cover some fundamental basics. On Time4Learning, I set his grade level for each topic. As a “fourth grader,” I had his account set to 7th grade language arts, 3rd grade math, 5th grade social studies and 5th grade science. We’ve drastically weaned away from Time4Learning modules in the past few months only because he’s gotten bored with their interface. My point is, we’re not tied to the public school curriculum.
You can return to public school any time.
If you decide you want to return to school, you just contact the district and register them again. That’s it. You can go back at the beginning of the year, the middle, or the end.
If you don’t want your kid going to school through the Summer (because of this coronavirus/closure situation), you can choose to file a declaration of intent to homeschool for the rest of this year. Then return to public school in September.
You do not need to be a teacher to homeschool.
Homeschool laws vary from state to state. I don’t think any state requires homeschool parents to be teachers, but don’t quote me on that. You’ll have to look up your state’s laws if you don’t reside in WA. If you reside in Washington State, in order to homeschool your child, you only need ONE of the following:
- 45 college credit hours (For example, if you’ve taken at least 9 college classes that are 5 credits each, you’re good to go. I have a Bachelor’s degree, which is more than enough.)
- Take a parent qualifying course (The Washington Homeschool Association regularly offers them. You get a certificate afterwards, and it never expires.)
- Pay a qualified teacher to manage your schooling
- Contact your district superintendent and have them approve it
How much time does it take?
I originally had this towards the end, but I think this is the biggest question people have when considering homeschool.
Ok. So legally, you’re supposed to have the same number of educational hours as public schools: 1,000 hours per school year, which is the usual 180 days/5.5 hours per day.
Listen. Homeschoolers don’t really count actual hours. I sure as hell don’t. Also “1,000 hours per year” doesn’t need to be crammed into June-September. We go all year long, and if there are activities or exhibits to see, then we go through the weekend, too. But we also get to take time off (like to go visit grandmom) whenever we feel like it. And we include something educational in any trip we take!
So then. Shh… this is up to you how you count those hours. Do I sound like I’m cheating? ACTUALLY, I’d say my son has MORE educational hours as a homeschooler than he did in school—and more than those 1,000 hours. That’s why I don’t count.
This time thing is flexible. I used to be the strictest parent alive when it came to screen time. And I mean STRICT. Well, that was all blown to hell in the past year. My son is really, really into programming, game development, writing, and drawing. So that’s where we put most of our energy. He spend a lot of time on the computer creating modules and coding. It’s a marketable skill that will very likely translate into a career and job prospects as he gets older. So I threw my screen rules out the window. Every hour he spends coding counts towards his 1,000 hours. Every hour he spends working on his book in Google Docs counts. Every hour he spends recording and editing his videos counts. Every hour he spends watching documentaries about the plague and other pandemics throughout history counts. Every hour he spends handing me change while playing Monopoly counts. Every hour he spends measuring and calculating ingredients when we double the recipe for cookies counts. Every hour he spends going over budgets and finances and paying bills with me counts. Hours spent at museums, writing out answers to discussion questions in workbooks, learning how to do home renovation, learning about ecology and preservation during our walks in the state park, taking the bus downtown and discussing social services and social structure when he observes all the tent cities along the way. THIS STUFF COUNTS. It’s the real-world equivalent of what they’re learning in school.
My point is: those 1,000 hours are not all “hands-on teaching time.” Time in school is bulk, one-size-fits-all learning that simply cannot accomodate kids who either need more time or have already mastered something. Homeschool means personalized, tailored learning, which often means you’ll cover what public school considers a years’ worth of learning into far less.
Homeschoolers can also do part-time enrollment at public school and there are a few umbrella schools (private schools that that oversee homeschoolers) in the area.
As long as you cover basic subjects, you have the freedom to teach how and what you want.
You are NOT required to follow the school district’s curriculum. You are required to cover broad subject areas, NOT topics. The eleven required subect areas are: reading, writing, spelling, language, math, science, social studies, history (for the upper grades), health, occupational education, art, and musical education.
Each of those eleven subjects can be combined into one lesson (or every day life), and they do not need to be taught every day. This means you can focus on what your kid actually needs to learn. My son is highly advanced in language areas, so we don’t put much “teaching” into reading, writing, spelling, and language.
For example: He’s been working on a book (that he randomly decided to start writing a few months ago). There’s writing, spelling, and language. We also do one lesson each week from Space, Structure, and Story: Integrated Science and ELA Lessons for Gifted and Advanced Learners in Grades 4-6. The first lesson we did involved thinking about Mobius strips through the art of MC Escher (art appreciation), space (science) and form, structure, and function. It involved reading a short story and answering some discussion questions, and writing his own story or creating a comic strip. That’s a wildly simplified summation, but it was a really cool lesson that covered four or five different subject areas.
My son’s weaker area is math—he’s actually really good at math, but he had a very bad experience at his last school that created some severe (and I mean severe) math anxiety. So we eased off on math stuff for a while and he’s technically “behind” by public school standards. But I know he’ll pick it all up when he’s ready. Do you know what counts as “covering math” in homeschool? Playing Monopoly and other board games. Helping me bake bread and pastries. Coding. Sitting with me when I pay bills and learning how to manage finances. Board games do count! If I ask him to sit down and “do math,” he’ll get almost everything wrong. Forget mental math. But when we play Monopoly and he’s kicking our butts with all the hotels he’s buying…? Suddenly he can calculate exactly how much money he needs for four houses and calculate change when we hand him two 500-dollar bills for the $850 in rent we owe for landing on his property. When he wants to purchase something on Roblox, suddenly he can easily multiply the number of Robux he needs to figure out how many dollars to ask us for. ( I won’t get started on a rant again, but with homeschool, we get to teach him real world math skills and the actual math he needs. Schools waste a lot of time on math topics that are not useful nor necessary for everyone. Don’t get me wrong, I actually like higher math. But most people will never need or use it.) Here’s the disinction: ALTERNATIVE or VIRTUAL schooling will require you teach geometry (as an example). HOMESCHOOL requires that you teach “math.” You don’t need to teach geometry. You can teach financial management, estimation, budgeting, etc.
A couple other quick examples:
Language: I’ve already mentioned the reading, writing, and spelling. He’s also learning Spanish (online and with my help).
History: My son has, surprisingly, become a history buff. He watches history documentaries on Curiosity Stream, and he loves the Extra Credits video series on YouTube. He doesn’t get tested on memorizing dates; he absorbs ideas. We follow his interests, and his deep dives into things like the Titanic (a brief obsession) have him asking questions about social issues, surrounding history, etc. You do not need to teach your kids the same stuff they teach in school. I’m sorry, but I don’t think they need to memorize the names of all the presidents or the state capitals. There’s more pressing issues these days. I’m more concerned with him having a broad overview and understanding complex social issues. Yes, I’m that parent: the history he’s learning is not White-America-centric. We’re teaching him the NOT whitewashed versions of colonialism, immigration and refugee issues, and racism. Ok, ok… I swore this post wouldn’t be a rant.
Health: I mean, every day is an opportunity to learn about nutrition and making healthy choices. I’m obsessed with brains and have a weird, encyclopedic knowledge of neurobiology, brain disorders, and psychiatric conditions. He’s always trying to get his hands on my medical-model brain and probably knows more about how the human brain functions than most adults. And yup, this coronavirus thing has been a GREAT opportunity to teach him about how viruses work, herd immunity, social health, etc. Phys ed is not a required subject. So all his physical activity also checks off the “health” box. He regularly does three-to-five mile walks in the woods with me. He rides his bike frequently, does Parkour, archery, etc… He also learns basic life and home skills. He can cook. He cleans. He helps me with home renovation. (He helped smash up our old bathroom floor like a champ.) He doesn’t know it yet, but he’s about to learn how to sort the laundry and run the washer. *grin*
Art and music: Museums! Museums, museums, museums. This kid has been going with me to museums since he was two years old. I gave him access to my Adobe Creative account and got him a stylus. He spends hours on the iPad creating some pretty incredible stuff. He makes comics, draws, takes pictures, and has been really into making videos and video editing lately. His Dad is an audio designer by profession, which includes music. They not only record songs together, but Husband has also been teaching him about recording and manipulating sound to add to games and videos. This all falls under the umbrella of art and music.
Occupational education: What the heck is this? From the Washington Homeschool Association website: “In the public schools, occupational education is that one day that the police officer, firefighter, and doctor parents come in and share about their jobs.” My son is always sitting next to me while I work and asking questions about what I’m doing. CHECK! All done. The stuff I mentioned above, that he does with his Dad? Also occupational education. Learning about his grandfather’s previous work as a firefighter? Also counts. Sitting in the cockpit of the plane when he flies on the “unaccompanied minor” program back and forth between home and grandmom’s? Also counts.
What about assessments or testing?
What about it? LOL
You need to do yearly assessments, and you have options. You can choose to do the same standardized testing that public schools do. (But… why would you choose this? I don’t know.) You can choose: standardized test, assessment by someone coming to your home, or filling out an assessment and sending it in. This is the part I was stressing about until I finally got the first one under my belt. We chose to send in forms. I paid $60 to order two forms from the Family Learning Organization. I orderd a “freeform” assessment and a checklist. The freeform assessment is a couple pages with each subject area listed, and you just write down everything you did that falls under that category. (Many things will fall under more than one subject.) I was going to do this, but filling out pages of information overwhelms me. So I sent the checklist form in. The checklist couldn’t be easier! You order the assessment for your child’s grade level, and you’ll receive a checklist (about 3-4 pages long) of things a child is expected to do or know at that grade level. Check off what they know/can do. The items are categorized by subject, and as soon as I receive it, I check off almost all the things listed under reading, writing, spelling, and language. I like the checklist because it’s a handy way to see what I should review with him… but at the same time, I skip some of it because I don’t think it’s valuable or necessary. There’s a blank page at the end to write down everything you want to include as part of the assessment—so I list the level of coding he’s accomplished on CodaKid (a programming website for kids), field trips we’ve taken, travel (because when we take him to Iceland, it will absolutely count as part of his education), projects he’s been working on, lessons we’ve covered in the couple textbooks I use… You also include a writing sample with the assessment. (I sent along a few pages of his book.) Yearly assessments are “yearly” by your choosing. You could do January to January as your year. We do it by the traditional school year just to make it easier for me to remember. I sent last year’s assessment at the end of September, and received their “stamp of approval”/proof of assessment within a few weeks. You must keep these for your records, but you don’t have to even open their response. Ours was signed and dated, and had a note from a qualified teacher noting what he’d covered and that his writing sample clearly showed is language/writing/reading/spelling ability. Assessments are reviewd by qualified teachers (as required by state law).
I have not done the home visit assessment, but I hear that all the person does is talk to your kid, look over a portfolio of work, talk to you, and done. Nothing scary, especially if you have it done by someone who specifically works with the homeschool community.
There are a LOT of homeschoolers in Washington State. The first year is terrifying. The first year is really about you, the parent, unlearning what’s been pounded into your head about what an education is. Once you realize you’re not going to ruin your kid’s life.
There are stats floating around that homeschooled kids do better on college entrance exams, are more civic minded, and less prone to experimenting with drugs and alcohol. I can tell you this: I’ve met several adults who were homeschooled, and all of them went to college. Many were at UW. They’re all high achievers and have noticeably struggled less with social issues and academic pressures. Homeschool requires a different kind of discipline and motivation. I dropped out of high school, but I easily picked up everything I needed at community college later, which I then used to apply to the University of Washington. (I graduated Magna cum Laude, by the way.)
Not everyone can homeschool, because of job demands, finances, time constraints, etc. My kid is a very independent learner, as well. This would not be working as well for us if he needed my attention and direction every day. But if the thing that’s holding you back is the idea that public education is the be-all end-all, or that you’ll “ruin” your child’s life, then rest assured—YOU WILL NOT.
I’ll post more resources and information later. Feel free to comment or email with questions.