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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ's)
Last Revised: May 12, 2009
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  1. Accreditation
  2. Changing Curriculum
  3. Grading Reading
  4. Grading
  5. Is Homeschooling Legal?
  6. IEP - Individualized Education Plan
  7. Multiple Students
  8. Placement
  9. Qualifications
  10. Readiness
  11. Record-Keeping
  12. Resistance
  1. Set Time or Number of Days
  2. Socialization
  3. Sports - Clubs - Classes
  4. Subjects
  5. Support Groups
  6. Temporary Homeschooling
  7. Tests
  8. What Must be Learned
  9. What Is Included On A Transcript?
  10. What to Teach Each Day
  11. Worldview
1 — What is accreditation? How do I know if the curriculum I am purchasing is accredited?

Short Answer
Accreditation means that the program has been reviewed by an organization according to certain criteria or standards, and that organization has rated the program as acceptable.

Explanation
There is a lot of confusion about what it means to be accredited. For example, a few states may provide a list of "accepted" or "credited" curriculum publishers for homeschooling purposes, but this is NOT the same as being accredited. Some school systems and colleges require homeschoolers to use a "certified" program, but again this is only a list of programs the school has reviewed and evaluated as similar to their own program.

The word "accreditation" comes from the Latin credito, meaning to trust. Accreditation is a way to determine which programs or institutions are credible, believable, or trustworthy. The key is who decides what is credible and trustworthy. For example, large regional accrediting commissions "maintain a common protocol, ensure standards, and conduct evaluations of schools. This process is validated through external review by trained and experienced peer review teams." In other words, unless you conduct a program exactly in the prescribed manner with the prescribed types of textbooks and approaches, you cannot be accredited through that organization.

Families often want to know if a specific curriculum is accredited because they are concerned about the quality of their children’s education. They use the term without necessarily knowing what it means. What they are really asking is if the materials they purchase will be accepted by the state, public school system or colleges.

Some companies advertise that they carry accredited curriculum. The problem with this is that curriculum itself is not accredited. Instead, a school using a curriculum is accredited, and many factors go into evaluating a program in addition to the curriculum used. A particular package of curriculum cannot be accredited because it depends on how it will be used, who will do the teaching, and how it will be evaluated. No curriculum supplier can offer accredited curriculum. Only an institution or program can be accredited. Don't be misled.

If your state or school system requires an accredited program, the first thing you need to do is find out what accrediting institutions are recognized by the state or accepted by the school system (when mainstreaming a child back into the system). For example, most school systems are accredited by regional bodies such as the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools and the New England Association of Colleges and Schools. There are also national agencies such the Distance Education and Training Council. And there are specialized agencies such as the National Association of Private Schools, the National Council for Private School Accreditation, National Private School Association Group, and The Accrediting Commission for Schools –WASC.

This last example brings up an important point: different agencies have different criteria. That criteria may not match what the state or school system requires. Not all agencies are “created equal” and not all agencies are acceptable.

So the next step is to find out how the word “acceptable” is being defined. This may not be as easy as it sounds. An institution may not have a written policy or listing. States that require a certain type of program should have a listing of what is acceptable. This may not be part of the homeschooling law itself, but it should be found in the regulations and subsequent documents generated by the law.

In other states there is no specific listing, but rather conditions that must be met by the curriculum you use. Still others only require that your program be evaluated or validated by a designated education official (such as your local school board superintendent). In most cases, what administrators are looking for is structure, comprehensiveness, and a core of knowledge and skills generally recognized as appropriate for that grade level.

In short, because of the number, variety, and diverse reputations of the various accrediting agencies available, there is no guarantee that just because a program is advertised as accredited the school system or state will accept it.

Some public school systems are reluctant to accept homeschooling programs. The very nature of homeschooling means the family is not going to be educating their children exactly the way it is done in public school. In many cases, the public school system has proven ineffective. Chances are the family is not going to use the prescribed teaching approach because it doesn't fit the child's learning needs. Many Christian families specifically choose homeschooling so they can teach Christian values, virtues, and the Christian heritage of this nation — all topics that are off limits in public schools; and, incidentally, off-limits for most accrediting agencies.

For a homeschooling program to seek accreditation under the same agencies that accredit the public school systems does not make sense. The two systems are not the same. Such agencies do not understand the basic philosophy and uniqueness of homeschooling.

So how important is accreditation? Homeschooling is legal in every state. You do not have to belong to an accredited program in order to homeschool. Requirements for homeschooling are set by each state, and in some cases you must register with the state or select curriculum from an accepted list of publishers. But the curriculum itself is not accredited.

Homeschooling has become so widespread that almost every college and university has procedures in place for accepting homeschoolers. This includes the “ivy league” universities and the military colleges. An accredited program is rarely required. Instead, colleges look at the student’s program, transcript, and scores on entrance exams to evaluate the application.

One of the main advantages of homeschooling is that the parent can design a program that fits the specific needs and interests of the child. The family’s educational goals are what control the program and guide the family in selecting curriculum. By opting for an “accredited” program, the homeschooler automatically gives up some of that control since it is the accreditating institution that defines what is important, what must be covered, and what cannot be covered. This loss of control can be a concern, particularly for Christians and families with special needs.

KEY WORDS: accredited, accreditation, accepted, credited, creditation

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2 — The curriculum we have isn’t working for us. Can we change programs in the middle of the year?

Short Answer
Generally, yes. Since there is no set curriculum, you can follow whatever program fits your needs. If you live in a state that requires that you submit your program each year, then you will need to check with the state to see if changes can be made and how to make them.

Explanation
Most structured programs follow the same basic scope and sequence for math, reading, and language arts. The order in which science and history topics are covered may vary from publisher to publisher, but since there is no set way to do these subjects, it doesn’t really matter.

The only time it might be a problem is if the curriculum you are using presents the material in a unique way, as with certain hands-on math programs. You can still switch programs, it just may take some extra time to re-teach some of the material according to the new program.

One of the advantages to homeschooling is that you are not tied to a calendar – you teach until it is learned. There is enough built-in review in the typical academic program that eventually you can catch up.

Your curriculum is a tool, not your master. If something isn’t working at first, give it a month to see if you can adjust to it. Research other options in the meantime, looking at programs that take a different approach. Try adjusting what you have first – such as deleting certain types of exercises, cutting back on the number of exercises (such as doing odd or even problems only), using the text but doing other activities to cement the material, or adding hands-on supplements. Then if it still isn’t working, switch programs. You can always sell the original program on the used book market.

Just about every homeschooler has made a mistake in choosing curriculum. It comes with the territory and is part of the learning process. At least you know what doesn’t work! It’s also helpful to remember that education is a process. Not everything has to be learned this year. That’s why goals and objectives can be helpful. They can keep you on track when adjustments have to be made.

When shopping for curriculum, don’t just respond to the sales pitch given at a curriculum convention or the sales copy on-line. Look for websites that give more detailed descriptions, including table of contents, sample pages, scope & sequences, and user notes from veteran homeschoolers. And don’t buy a curriculum just because it is working for your friend or it’s popular among homeschoolers. What works for one family doesn’t always work for another. It’s important that the curriculum match your family’s educational goals and your child’s learning style, needs, and interests.

KEY WORDS: curriculum, program, change, switch, problem, working, textbook, publisher, middle, mid-year

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3 — We don’t use a separate reading program. We just use regular books. How to I grade my child’s reading?

Short Answer
If your state requires grades, then one option is to use the grade from the language arts program instead (usually grammar, spelling, and penmanship). If your child is still reading aloud, then you can assign an A for smooth, fluent reading, a B for fluent reading that requires correction of a few words here and there, a C for reading that still needs correction throughout the entire passage, and a D for disjointed, poor reading. If your child is reading on his own or is reading literature (at the high school level), then the simplest way is to assign points for each book read. You then assign a letter grade based on the total number of books read.

Explanation
There are several ways to evaluate reading assignments. The method you choose depends on your education goals and philosophy. Every reading assignment should have a purpose; it should contribute in some way to your student’s preparation. Here are some possible goals:
  • Develop a love for reading.
  • Develop a habit of reading, both for information and enjoyment.
  • Increase reading fluency or speed of reading.
  • Practice basic comprehension skills.
  • Provide experience in different forms or genre of literature.
  • Provide exposure to different authors and writing styles.
  • Provide exposure to the “classics.”
  • Identify parts of a story – introduction, setting, characters, plot, conflict, resolution.
  • Analyze a piece of literature for theme, meaning, symbolism, and worldview.
  • Critique a piece of writing.
When you evaluate a reading assignment, you are deciding whether or not the goal has been met. If your goal is to develop a love for reading or a habit of reading, then all you really need to do is ensure that the book has been read. Please understand that a book report is NOT necessary for every book read. The point of a book report is to give a classroom teacher with 20-30 students a way to know if the students have read the book. Hopefully, in a homeschool setting, this will be obvious.

So how do you assign a grade for reading, particularly at the high school level? One option is to assign points based on the length and difficulty of the book. The final grade is based on the total number of points earned – adding up the points earned for each book. For instance, if each book is worth either 10 to 12 points and there are 8 books, an A could be worth 80+ points, a B equal to 60-79 points, a C equal to 40-59 points, and so on.

Another point to consider is to what extent you want the student to interact with the material. For younger children, the point is to practice reading. For older students, the key is to interact with the material enough to remember the content, evaluate it in light of their own experiences and knowledge, and recognize the underlying assumptions and worldview of the author.

This “interaction” can come in many forms. One obvious way is to use the student’s preferred means of expression, sense mode, or natural talent. Artistic students may draw a picture, design a collage, make a mobile, or make a mock-up of one of the scenes. Musical students may compose a piece of music or sing/play a song that fits the story. Spatial and interpersonal students may mime a scene from the story, act out an event, or do a dramatic reading from the piece. Hands-on students may do a model of the setting, do a museum display appropriate to the book, draw a map, cook a meal from the story, or do a craft from the story.

Auditory students could do a narration, make an oral presentation, have a discussion, or pretend to be a TV critique reviewing the piece. Visual students could do a poster advertising the piece, do a graphic representation/organizer of the piece, or design a costume from the story. Creative or linguistic students could write a different ending to the story, add another character, make themselves the main character, make themselves part of the story, or complete a study guide. In other words, there are lots of different ways to interact with the material besides writing a book report.

Remember, you do not need to have an elaborate project for each book read because most of the time the primary goal is to practice reading. If you assign a project, then you will need to determine what specific tasks are to be completed and how much these tasks are worth to the overall project and goals.

The easiest way to do this is to set up each project as 100 total points. At least half of the points should be for content and ideas (50-60 points). Another 10-20 points should reflect the mechanics of the presentation (such as neatness, accuracy, organization, correct grammar) and the remainder of the points should be for the quality of the presentation (such as visually pleasing, entertaining dramatic piece, covers the story well, creates desire to read the piece, style).

This is where things can get sticky. Content of ideas and quality of presentation can be quite subjective. Who is to say what is visually pleasing? Or when is an idea adequately supported or well-thought out? For younger students, give them the benefit of the doubt, so to speak. The “journey” or doing the project is what is important.

For older students, don’t be afraid to evaluate the presentation based on your own reaction – this is what professors will do in college or employers will do on the job, so your student might as well get used to thinking in terms of the audience rather than his/her own way of thinking.

When evaluating a presentation, always give specific feedback and pointers for improvement. A dose of positive feedback goes a long way in making the corrections bearable. In every case, the points earned should be based on the specific objectives of the assignment. The more detailed the assignment, the easier it is to assign points. This works well with sequential, detailed-oriented students/teachers. The more global the student, however, the more “general” the assignment needs to be (and the harder it will be to assign points earned!). If this is your situation, be sure to discuss it with the student ahead of time so both of you know what is expected.

KEY WORDS: grade, grading, reading, lit, literature, assign

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4 — What about grading? How do I grade an assignment? Who do I report the grades to?

Short Answer
This depends on your state’s regulations and the method of homeschooling you are using.

Explanation
  • Only a few states specifically require that grades be kept; usually the grades have to be reported to a certain education administrator by a set time. Check with your state’s Department of Education or your state-wide homeschool support group.
  • A few more states require some sort of periodic evaluation; the type of evaluation varies from state to state and may include grade reports, informal evaluations with a certified teacher, submission of tests, or standardized testing. The evaluations may be once a year, every two or three years, or several times during a year, in the case of some special needs children.
  • If your state does not require grade reports, then it is up to you to decide how you will keep track of your children’s progress, whether with formal grades or informal evaluations of goals and objectives.
  • Grading and correcting a child’s paper is not necessarily the same thing. You will always want to check the student’s work as quickly as possible to ensure that he or she understands the material and to give immediate feedback. Most families check the work daily before the student does the next lesson.
  • Grading is assigning a letter grade to each exercise and recording it. The grades are then averaged together for a specific time period and recorded on a report card (or progress report).
  • Most umbrella organizations, correspondence schools, on-line courses, and homeschool academies have their own grading system that must be followed. In some cases, the parent still grades the daily work, but then sends in the assignments and/or grades at a pre-determined time. A few programs have you send in the student’s work for grading by the company; the obvious disadvantage to this is the time lag in giving the student feedback.
Is Grading Necessary?
The whole point of grading is for a classroom teacher to be able to monitor how a group of students is doing. As a homeschooler working with your child one-on-one, chances are you already know this. You will know whether or not your child is grasping the material. And you will probably teach the material until the child masters it, so it’s very feasible that your child will end up with all A’s and B’s.

If you do not have to report grades, then you can consider other ways to track progress or assess your child’s work. Some families do not bother with grades or report cards until junior and senior high; they begin grading and testing in high school to prepare the student for college and to make it easier to put together a transcript.

Choosing a Grading System
If you still feel you need to assign grades or are more comfortable doing so, then you will need to decide what grading system to use. The easiest is the percentage system – assigning a grade based on the number of problems correct. Divide the number correct by the total number of problems. At the end of the marking period, add all of the percentages and divide by the number of assignments. This will give you the average grade for the period. Most families use the 90-80-70 percent system (90% and above is an A, 80% to 89% a B, and so on). You can set the scale higher or lower.

Other systems are: the plus/minus (+/-) system, a coded evaluation system (such as Excellent/Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory), a point system (each assignment or project is worth so many points which the student earns upon completion), and a combination of the above.

Not all assignments have to be treated the same. You can give more weight or consideration to daily work or to tests. Or you may give more consideration to projects instead of daily work. The system you use will depend on your educational goals and homeschooling method. And whether or not you grade will depend on your view of education. That’s why it is important to think about your purpose for homeschooling and what you want to accomplish through it.

KEY WORDS: grades, grading, assignment, report, records, regulations, required, record-keeping

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5 — Is Homeschooling Legal?

Short Answer
For now, the answer is yes. It is legal in every state in America and every province in Canada.

Explanation
Each state sets its own regulations for homeschooling, and these vary from state to state. Some states are more regulated than others. Those that are regulated often require some sort of registration, they may specify subjects and topics, they may mandate testing, and they may specify the number of days of school or the number of hours required each day.

So the first step in considering homeschooling is to find out your state’s regulations.
  • These will give you the boundaries in which you have to operate.
  • You can do an Internet search for your state’s homeschooling law.
  • Usually you can find at least one major state-wide homeschooling support group in the search. The support groups usually list the state’s requirements and laws.
  • We provide links to the major state-wide groups on this website; click on the Support Groups button on the left side of the homepage.
  • You can also contact your state’s Department of Education or your local library.
  • We recommend that you begin with a homeschool support group since they tend to have updated information, offer explanations of the laws, and any forms that may be needed.
The state regulations will tell you what procedures must be followed, such as registration and notification letters. At the very least, you will need to contact the school your child currently attends to let them know you are withdrawing your child. The school has to account for the child in some way because of truancy laws. We recommend writing a letter and sending it return receipt so that you know the school received it.

The state regulations will also tell you what subjects must be covered. Most states require the same core subjects offered in the public schools. The core courses are:
  • English or Language Arts (including phonics, reading, literature, spelling, penmanship, grammar, and vocabulary)
  • Science
  • History or Social Studies (including geography)
  • Math
Electives vary from state to state, and may include art, music, physical education, computers, civics and health. Apart from these requirements, the courses you choose will depend on your view of education, your goals, the homeschool approach you use, and your child’s learning needs and interests.

KEY WORDS: legal, legality, laws, regulations, withdraw

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6 — What if I suspect or know that my child has a learning disability or learning issues? My child has an IEP from the school system. Do I have to follow it? What is an IEP?

Short Answer
Learning takes place in stages, and children progress through those stages at different rates. The changes are similar to the differences in how quickly children grow or reach certain “benchmarks” in their physical development. There are mental (cognitive) and learning benchmarks that signal that a child is learning at a “normal” pace. If not, then a learning disability is “diagnosed” or at the very least labeled as a “learning issue.”

A school, teacher, and/or medical professional will then decide what needs to be done to correct the problem or compensate for the condition. These interventions and plans are written in an IEP.

An IEP is an Individualized Education Plan. It is designed to be used by the people who develop it; others may decide to follow it as well or devise their own plan. An IEP includes:
  • Background information about the student and what led to the diagnosis or concerns;
  • Documentation, testing, and baseline measurements to describe the current situation;
  • Goals that address the problem at hand and outline what intervention or remediation is planned;
  • Objectives that give detailed steps to correct the situation or to increase the child’s progress as much as possible;
  • Criteria for re-evaluating this progress and subsequent testing to be compared to the baseline measurements.
Explanation
More and more educators are realizing that many so-called “learning disabilities” are actually due to differences in learning style. There is no way a group classroom teacher can cater to the individual needs and learning style of every student. The teacher will often present material in several ways in recognition of these differences, but time and resources are limited. The teacher cannot teach until EVERY child has mastered the material; the class must keep moving forward and complete the prescribed material for the calendar year.

Any child who can’t keep up or who may need just a bit more help, is often overlooked. Generally, the child is passed along with the idea that he or she will get it next year. The problem is that most don’t. They keep getting further behind until they are “diagnosed” with a learning issue.

If your child is struggling, it is highly recommended that you identify his or her learning style and make adjustments accordingly. This will be the first step. If the problems persist, you will have a better idea of where breakdowns are occurring and under what circumstances. This can help you target specific areas and find a remedy.

If your child has already been “diagnosed” as having a learning disability, it’s important that you get as much information about this diagnosis as possible. Who diagnosed it? What is their area of expertise? How was it diagnosed? Through observation, testing, or a combination? Under what conditions did the observations or testing take place? Do you observe the same conditions when the child is at home, out in public, or in other settings? Was the diagnosis made solely on the basis of the child not keeping up in the classroom or not behaving in class?

The next step is to determine if there are any physiological conditions that are causing the learning problems or at the very least, making them worse. Often times there are many factors involved, and the process is much like peeling away the layers and dealing with them one by one. Contributing factors include: diet, nutrition, food allergies, medications and anti-biotics, lack of exercise, growth imbalances (thyroid), hormonal imbalances, misalignment in the body, exposure to toxins during the mother’s pregnancy, exposure to toxins in infancy and toddlerhood, and reactions to immunizations.

Environmental conditions can also impact learning. These include: stress, behavioral patterns, lack of routine, disruptions in the home or classroom, class size, lack of individual attention, readiness, and, of course, learning style.

Finally, there are certain cognitive (mental or brain-related) developments that take place from birth through todderhood. If these developments don’t take place within a certain time frame, then learning can be impacted. An example is the development of the connections between both sides of the brain that should take place when a child is crawling.

One of the advantages of homeschooling is that the parent can take the time to examine all these issues and observe them first-hand. The more familiar you are with the conditions, the easier it is to begin to deal with them one-by-one. If your child already has an IEP, then you will need to decide if you want to follow it, have another one written, or design your own with input from experts and those “in the trenches” who have dealt with similar conditions. Incidentally, an IEP can also be developed for gifted children to ensure that they are being challenged.

There are several organizations specifically devoted to homeschooling special needs and gifted children, such as NATHHAN. These can be found by doing an Internet search. Your homeschool support group may also have contacts.

KEY WORDS: IEP, Individual, individualized, Education Program, learning issues, remedial, remediation, disability, disabilities, diagnosis, diagnosed, challenge, labeled, special needs

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7 — Can I homeschool more than one grade? What if I have several children with different ages?

Short Answer
Many homeschool families have multiple children, and teach children with a wide range of ages. It can be done. The key is organization – and selecting an approach and curriculum that fits your situation.

Explanation
If you think about it, your situation would be similar to the one-room schoolhouses of the past. Instead of dividing children into arbitrary grade levels, they would focus on skill levels. A topic would be presented to all the children at once, and then the teacher would work with children at the same skill level on specific assignments.

This approach works well with topical subjects such as science and history. You can cover areas of interest, and then assign different projects or activities, depending on your children’s ages and abilities. In some cases, the younger children would just “listen in” while someone reads aloud. They can then play or do simple activities (such as coloring books or activity sheets) while older children answer questions, do more involved activities, or complete workbook pages. You would be surprised at how much learning is absorbed “naturally” this way!

Even sequential subjects such as math and language arts can be done together if the students are close enough in age or are at the same skill level. Remember that there is no such thing as a 1st grade skill, a 2nd grade skill, and a 3rd grade skill. Instead, skills are categorized across broad categories such as primary, elementary, intermediate, and high school.

This makes it possible to use the same material with children who are close in age. In fact, most structured curriculum programs spiral skills across three years, teaching the same skill each year, perhaps with more detail or practice.

If your children are spread out and are not close in age, then it will require more planning on your part. When you make out your master schedule, think about which subjects come easily for each student and which require more work. Schedule easy subjects for one student at the same time as harder subjects for other students. This way you can get the first student started while you spend the bulk of your time with the other student. Schedule harder subjects while younger siblings are taking naps.

You can also take a pointer from the one-room schoolhouses – have older students work with younger students. In fact, this is one way to ensure that the older student gets plenty of practice and has mastered the material. If students can explain something in their own words, then they’ve got it.

Once children reach the junior and senior high levels, they are pretty much learning on their own anyway. Most curriculum programs assume children can read-to-learn by the third grade. Since most of the baseline skills have been covered by the end of the elementary years, usually it is just a matter of adding more detail or applying the baseline skills to different applications.

In your situation, it will probably be easier to use some sort of structured curriculum since these programs tend to have the lessons already laid out, with corresponding activities and tests. Even if this is not your ideal approach, it’s probably worth it for your sanity. You can take advantage of the structure without doing every single exercise or lesson. Remember that the curriculum is only your guide – not your master. You can make any adjustments necessary to make the program work for you.

Keep in mind, too, that you will never be able to teach all your children everything they will ever need to know in life. There’s just too much information available – and it’s mushrooming fast! So your focus should be on teaching your children how to learn so they can learn whatever is necessary when it is needed.

Be sure to join a homeschool support group. Chances are there are other families like yours there you have “been there and done that.” They can share pointers and tips for getting things done.

One final point – in case you haven’t noticed, you have not been given super-human abilities! You cannot do it all. You will need to let some things go. Your house may not be immaculate. Your spring cleaning may not get done until winter – if at all. You may not be able to complete all the elaborate unit studies that you have planned. You may end up throwing a meal together at the last minute.

You will also need to delegate. Part of your planning will involve deciding who can do what chores and when they will be completed. It will take time to come up with an organization system that works for you. Just keep experimenting. The journey is half the fun.

Yes, fun. Keep a sense of humor, don’t sweat the small stuff, and remember to set aside time for yourself and time with God. A heavenly perspective will go a long way in getting you through the daily schedule.

KEY WORDS: multiple, more than one, ages, grade, grade level, child, children

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8 — How do I know where to place my child? What grade level do I use? Are there placement tests available?

Short Answer
There are several options for placement:
  • A few publishers offer placement tests, but these are for use with their curriculum only. Typically, only a few questions are given for each topic, which makes it hard to use these tests for general placement.
  • There are a few tests offered by testing organizations for math and reading; these can be used with any curriculum, but are usually only administered when there are major concerns.
  • Some publishers provide “test prep” materials that are designed to prepare students for specific state-wide standardized tests (e.g. FCAT, Texas, and Pennsylvania). These can be used to give you a general idea of where your student is grade-wise, but the questions can vary a lot depending on the curriculum used. Your child may not have had those topics yet. (See the review of Spectrum’s Test Prep; click on the Products Review button on the homepage.)
  • Alpha Omega offers Diagnostic Tests that are used to place students in their LifePac program. Unlike other curriculum placement tests, these are longer so they can be used as a general guide for placement. (You can read a review of this product by clicking on the Products Review button on the homepage.)
Explanation
General placement tests are hard to find because there is no set way of doing school. There is no set scope and sequence for each subject, which means each publisher decides what gets covered when. Placement tests must be based on the specific curriculum. Yet designing tests is a very expensive process, so few publishers develop them. If they do, they are short, giving just enough questions to decide what level to start the student. They do not give a full view of the student’s abilities in that subject.

Likewise, standardized tests (such as the Stanford and Iowa Basic Tests) are so generic that they can only give you a general idea of where the student is grade-wise. They may report a grade equivalency score, but this tells you little in terms of what the student actually knows.

Topical subjects such as history and science can vary widely from publisher to publisher, so placement is not a major issue with these courses. The major concern is with the sequential subjects – math and reading. The baseline skills should be mastered before the child moves ahead. Since most skills are covered across three grade levels, chances are the material will be reviewed again. If the student just needs more practice, then placement is not a major issue. But if the student is really struggling in math or reading, then remedial materials should be considered for those subjects.

Grade levels are arbitrary labels. In fact, they are a relatively recent creation. The emphasis throughout history has always been on skill levels. Students moved on to the next level only when they mastered the previous skills. With the onset of compulsory education, it became necessary to process larger groups of students. A set system had to be developed that was somehow based on an “average” – even though that average fit few students. To make matters worse, students are passed through the system by grade level rather than subject level, despite the fact that it is not unusual for a student to do better (or worse) in some subjects.

One of the advantages of homeschooling is that the parent is not confined to these arbitrary grade levels – unless the state mandates otherwise! Homeschoolers can review the material until it is learned. Even if this means the student is behind temporarily, in most cases, the student progresses faster in the long haul once the material is grasped. You can choose whatever grade level curriculum fits your child’s needs and interests. You can even use material that is for older students if your child has a lot of interest in that topic (although you may need to explain some of the vocabulary). Bottom line - it is not unusual for a student to use materials designed for different grade levels for different subjects.

If you are bringing your child home from public school, don’t worry if you don’t know what your child has been learning. That is typical (and often times deliberate on the part of the school systems). If your child has been struggling, you may want to consider using the Alpha Omega Diagnostic Tests (you can read a review of this product by clicking on the Products Review button on the homepage). These can give you a general idea of grade level as well as specific information about what the student has mastered and any significant gaps that may exist.

That word – mastered – is important. When a child takes a diagnostic test, it is considered a “cold test” in that the child has to recall the information without any warm-up exercises to remind him of the material. So the test is measuring what the child has mastered, not necessarily what he is still learning.

If the student was doing okay in school, then you can assume that your child is at grade level. Any specific skills that have not yet been covered or mastered will be reviewed in the spiraling approach used in curriculum programs.

It’s important to realize that there is no such thing as a 3rd grade skill, a 6th grade skill, and a 9th grade skill. Skills are not based on arbitrary grade levels, but on readiness. Different children are ready to learn different skills at different times. This is partly due to physiological changes that take place in the brain and body, and partly due to differences in learning styles. So it is better to think in terms of skill levels rather than grade level.

These skill levels fall into broad categories – usually primary (e.g. preK-2nd), elementary (e.g. 3rd – 5th or 6th), intermediate (e.g. 5th or 6th-8th), and high school (e.g. 9th-12th).

Baseline skills are introduced and practiced during the primary and elementary years. Application skills are introduced and practiced during the intermediate years. Advanced concepts and specialized application skills are covered at the high school level.

If you are teaching several students who are close in age, then you can usually teach the same material to all of them at once (although a separate math course is often needed). Topical subjects such as history and science can often be taught across a wide range of ages; the only difference is the breadth and depth of the assignments given to older students.


Placement becomes a bit trickier if you are homeschooling for a limited time only. Due to the No Child Left Behind Law, schools receive federal funding based on competency. Competency is measured through standardized tests. This means public schools are often reluctant to accept homeschool students who have not been following the same program, let alone those using less structured approaches or making accommodations due to readiness and learning styles. If homeschooling is a short-term option for you, then we recommend that you meet with the school the child will be attending to see what is required for placement when the time comes.
KEY WORDS: grade level, placement, standardized test, diagnostic

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9 — What qualifications do I need as the teacher? Do I need to be certified? Am I really able to teach my child?

Short Answer
For most states, the only qualification for the parent is a high school diploma. A few have required a college degree. Any qualifications will be listed in the homeschool law or regulations. Check with your state’s Department of Education or state-wide homeschool support group.

Several states allow someone other than the parent to teach the child at home (usually a grandparent or other relative); if the person is not a family member, then these states usually specify that the person be a certified teacher.


Explanation
The reason most states don’t require anything beyond a high school diploma is that they recognize that parents are teaching their children from the day they are born. It’s a part of parenting. So adding academic instruction to what is being taught is natural.

The reason you may be questioning your ability is because society as a whole has accepted the idea that only “professionals” can teach our children. The fact is, throughout history parents have been teaching their children successfully. Professional teachers really came into being as a result of compulsory education laws, and these laws were designed primarily to teach the influx of immigrant children whose parents were working in the factories. By the way, not every teacher in the public school system is certified!

So let me ask you this: Is your child walking? Is your child talking? Is your child potty-trained? Can your child get dressed in the morning? How did your child learn to do these things? Congratulations, you’re a teacher!

Teaching is primarily communication. When you teach, you build on the child’s natural curiosity and ability to learn by showing the child what needs to be done and then encouraging and working with the child to practice it. Before long, the skill is mastered. That’s the process.

As for the content, few of us actually remember everything we learned in school. If you don’t use it on a regular basis, it’s natural to forget it. In most cases, just reviewing it brings it back to your memory. If not, then you can relearn it as you work together with your children.

Now that homeschooling has become so prevalent, there are many more resources available, including comprehensive curriculum all the way through high school. If you are unsure about teaching a certain subject, then select a program that is all-inclusive and offers extensive teaching helps. Many high school programs are designed to be self-taught by the student; these publishers often include on-line helps or contacts for assistance.

In other words, the tools are available to help you teach your child. Linking up with a local homeschool support group is very helpful, not just for the information but for encouragement along the way. Many groups offer workshops that are similar to the in-service training that teachers receive through the schools.

Finally, most people would accept the idea that whenever a person receives one-on-one instruction, it is more effective. What your child will get by having individualized attention and curriculum designed specifically to meet his or her needs will more than compensate for any lack of professional training on your part. Of course, this assumes that you are actively involved in training your child.

KEY WORDS: qualification, teach, teacher, teaching, certificate, certified, professional, required, requirements, regulations

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10 — How do I know when my child is ready to start school? How do I know when to start the next subject or level? What is meant by readiness?

Short Answer
You can tell when a child is ready to begin structured education by observing how he or she reacts to simple learning tasks. The same is true with a new subject or the next level in a subject. “Test the waters” to see how the child responds. If the child is overwhelmed, gets fatigued easily, or loses attention very quickly, then chances are the child is not ready. Back off, and try again in a few months.

Explanation
Children have a natural curiosity and desire to learn. Young children mimic what they see older persons doing. They want to be like the “big kids.” It’s natural to want to grow and develop. Learning is a part of life.

The difference between learning and education is that education is much more structured, systematic, and planned. A child is learning from day one. The key is to know when a child is ready for more structured education.

Unfortunately, compulsory education laws force the answer to this – whether or not the child is indeed ready. The whole idea behind preschools and pre-Kindergarten classes is to try to “encourage” the child to get ready to sit in a structured classroom with a group of children of the same age. This is not a natural way of learning, which is why it has to be taught.

Young children learn naturally through physical play and exploration. They learn by watching what their parents and siblings do, and then doing it themselves. Many times a child will come to you to ask a question or how to do something such as writing his or her name. Or asking what a word on a page says. You can introduce counting while preparing meals.

God’s design for the brain is absolutely amazing. When a child is born, he or she has the ability to learn potentially everything there is to learn. As the child interacts with others and the environment, these learning connections are reinforced. Any that are not used disintegrate. The more a child practices a skill – such as walking and talking – the more the connections are reinforced until the skill becomes automatic. The child no longer has to think about how to do it.

The key point here is interaction. The more the child plays and explores, the more connections are made and reinforced. Unfortunately, with the advent of television, videos, and computer games, children are playing less and watching more. Rather than interacting with their environment, they are passive spectators. This is one reason why so many children have short attention spans and have a hard time concentrating on a single task – they haven’t practiced these skills because they are passive spectators only.

As a child develops, certain natural chemicals and hormones are sent to specific areas of the brain to enable the child to learn basic abilities such as seeing, crawling, walking, and talking. By the end of the toddler years, most of these basic abilities have been developed. They are often referred to as “body-in-space” abilities or “pre-planned gross motor skills.” Examples include a sense of balance, coordination, rhythm, directionality, and laterality.

Other underlying abilities such as visual perception, auditory perception, concentration, attention, memory, and eye-hand coordination are also developed during the toddler years and beginning of the primary years. All of these underlying abilities must be developed before a child can move on to the next level of structured learning successfully.

This is what is meant by readiness. These skills develop at different rates in different children. And they develop differently in boys and girls. Part of it has to do with the amount of interaction with the environment. But part of it has to do with physiological changes that take place in the brain. These changes can happen at different ages and still be considered “normal” – just as children can lose their first baby tooth at different ages.

In order to be able to read, for example, a child’s vision must be developed to the point where both eyes are focused at the correct point and working together. The eyes must be able to track together and be able to move from left to right and from line to line accurately without losing focus. The child must be able to distinguish the various letters of the alphabet. The child needs to understand that the letters on a page represent words we speak and that the words can tell a story.

These changes do not take place automatically at the turn of the calendar or the beginning of an academic year. That’s why some children are more ready than others to begin structured education. That’s why some children can learn to read at three while others take longer, even up to age ten or twelve. And that’s why some children can learn to write legibly at age four while others struggle all their life.

It’s important to understand that readiness is NOT the same as intelligence. It does not indicate whether a child can learn something. It only shows that more development has to take place.

One of the advantages of homeschooling is that you can adjust the training to the child’s readiness. You can continue to challenge the child conceptually while allowing for more practice to develop underlying abilities. The key is to stay tuned to your child’s reactions and adjust accordingly.

So far we have been looking at when a child is ready to begin structured education. The same principles hold true throughout the learning process. For instance, there are four stages of reading, and a child must be proficient at each stage before much progress can be made at the next stage. A child must be fluent in reading before he or she can read-to-learn (that is, read a section of a textbook on his/her own and answer questions). But almost all curriculum programs assume that a child is ready to read-to-learn by the third grade.

Likewise, many curriculum programs stress reading comprehension even before a child has mastered the mechanics of reading. The child is so focused on reading the words on the page that the meaning is lost in the process. They also begin spelling lists before a child has mastered the decoding stage of reading. Full-fledged writing programs, including writing short stories and book reports, are started long before children have enough life experiences and basic knowledge to grasp the concepts involved. That’s why so much writing at this level sounds stilted and “childish.” They are children!

As you work one-on-one with your child, you will learn what comes easily and what takes more work. You will learn to recognize the signals that tell you the child is struggling. You will learn when to push and when to back off. It’s all part of the homeschooling journey of learning and growing together.

KEY WORDS: ready, readiness, start, preschool, pre-K, kindergarten

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11 — How do I keep track of our homeschooling? What about record-keeping? What records do I need to keep?

Short Answer
It depends on your state’s regulations. Some states specify the types of records that must be kept, including attendance; some even have forms that must be completed. These can be obtained from your state’s Department of Education or state-wide homeschool support group.

Explanation
If your state does not mandate specific records, you will still want to keep track of what you have done. Your records can help you track progress, show improvement, and identify areas that still need work. They are a precautionary measure in case there are any questions or complications. Some sort of records will be needed to document the student’s work and for placement purposes should you ever need to put your child back into a group classroom situation.

As the homeschooling parent, you are responsible for keeping adequate records.
  • At the very least, you should keep a listing of the curriculum you use, with complete bibliographical information such as title, author, publisher, and copyright date.
  • You will want to keep a record of the activities done each week; this can be in the form of daily or weekly lesson plans or a journal.
  • Keep all tests, projects, and lab reports. Most families keep a portfolio that contains a sampling of the student’s work, including writing assignments. A simple way to collect this information is to have a file drawer, file crate, or file box for each student, with a folder for each subject.
  • Most families have a way to keep track of progress (grading system), whether with formal grades or informal evaluations of goals and objectives.
KEY WORDS: records, record-keeping, keep, kept, report, grades, track, required, requirements, regulations
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12 — We’re having problems in our homeschooling. It’s not working for us. How do I know what I need to change or if it is just my child being rebellious or lazy?

Short Answer
It depends on how long you have been homeschooling.
  • If you are new to homeschooling, and particularly if the child has been in a group classroom setting, there is an adjustment time.
  • If you have been homeschooling for a few years and are just now having problems, chances are it is a readiness issue. (For more information on this topic, click on the "Archives" button on the homepage and search for Readiness.)
  • If you have been homeschooling for a few years and have seen little progress, then chances are there is a learning style issue and you probably need to change the curriculum; at the very least, you need to change the teaching method. (For more information on this topic, click on the "Learning Styles" and "Archives" buttons on the homepage.)
  • Recognize that not all resistance is necessarily rebellion, laziness, or your child not trying.
Explanation
If you are new to homeschooling, the first thing you need to understand is that it is a journey. It is a learning process for both you and the child. If your child has been in a group classroom setting, you have additional issues to deal with. Your child is used to someone else telling him what to do. And often times these authority figures have undermined your authority as parents. Many children develop a dependency on their peers and find it hard to shift gears to learning one-on-one and shift loyalties. There may be issues of low self-esteem, poor learning habits that have been developed, emotional adjustments, and “burn-out” as schools push skills earlier and earlier.

Sometimes children have been passed through the system even though they haven’t learned the material. When homeschooling, you will want to teach until it is learned.

Often you don’t even know what the child has been studying or what the student has mastered. The first year may be spent just “getting a handle” on what the child knows and becoming acquainted with how your child learns.

Most curriculum programs spiral skills across three years and tend to shift approaches every few years. So a child may be doing fine for a couple of years and then appears to “hit a wall.” In this case, the child is probably not ready for the next level (For more information on this topic, click on the Archives button on the homepage and search for Readiness.)

There are basic learning goals for the different grade levels, usually grouped as primary, elementary, intermediate and high school. (You can see a sample list by clicking on the Articles button on the homepage and search for Learning Goals.) With each new category, there is a shift in emphasis that usually favors a certain learning style. For example, the primary and elementary years focus on learning baseline skills that tend to favor sequential learners. These include arithmetic facts, science facts, learning to read, and history dates, events, and people.

A sequential learner will seem to “cruise” through school and learn “naturally” when in fact it’s because the material fits the way the child learns. It’s not unusual for these children to “hit the wall” in junior and senior high when there is a shift to synthesizing information, applying it in different ways to different situations, and recognizing underlying meanings. These are skills that don’t match the child’s way of learning; the child now has to work harder to learn. If the student is not used to working at school and has not developed perseverance and diligence, it may appear to be laziness or not trying.

On the other hand, global children and random learners often struggle in the elementary years as they try to master sequential skills. If you’re not careful, they can get down on themselves and think they’re stupid or that there is something wrong with them. Then when the material does shift gears and favors their way of learning, they still struggle because they think they can’t learn. They give up before they have a chance to shine.

Children who have learned to read using the whole language approach may be able to read fine at first, but then start to struggle in the third or fourth grade. This is because the brain can only handle a limited number of images or “word pictures.” When the child’s visual memory bank is full, they have to forget a word in order to learn a new word. They may be able to read the words, but comprehension suffers.

The Heart of the Matter
Homeschooling is more than academics. It is also developing relationships. As you spend time with your child and interact together, you should become more “in tune” with your child. You should have set definite boundaries for discipline, described what behaviors are acceptable and what are not, and defined what is expected in each area of your child’s training. That’s why goals and objectives are so important.

Sometimes when problems develop, it is because these areas have not been clearly defined or followed consistently. In this case, it is often helpful for the parents and child to discuss the issues in a loving atmosphere.

Outward behaviors and frustrations are usually only symptoms. Many factors influence learning, including attitude, emotions, feelings, stress, and anxiety. There are literally changes that take place in the chemical-rich bath that surrounds the learning connections that can inhibit learning. Changes in routine, family issues such as the loss of a job, serious illness, or having to take care of elderly parents, can all impact learning.

So you need to get at the “heart of the matter.” If learning style issues, readiness issues, your family’s situation, and boundaries have been dealt with, and there are still problems, then it may indeed be an attitude problem or a spiritual issue.
KEY WORDS: difficult, resists, resistant, rebel, lazy, bored, not trying, refuses, not working, problems, frustrated, frustrations, attitude, hates

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13 — Is there a set time or number of days?

Short Answer
It depends on your state’s regulations. Some specify the number of days per year, while others state the number of hours per day. If your state does not require a set time, then it is up to you how and when you homeschool.

Explanation
You can follow the typical 9-month academic year or you can homeschool year-round. Some families do block scheduling, where they set aside a large block of time for one subject and cover only a couple subjects at a time. Others cover every subject every day. Some families take longer holiday breaks and then start earlier or go longer in the summer. Still others do the bulk of the work during the typical 9-month academic year, and then follow a reduced schedule during the summer to keep key skills current and sharp. From a practical standpoint, some families find it easier to follow the same schedule as the local public school system so that the children are on break at the same time.

Generally speaking, one-on-one teaching is more efficient, so it doesn’t usually take as much time. In a group classroom setting, a portion of the class period is spent managing the group (such as taking attendance, passing out papers, and getting everyone quiet). Studies have shown that the typical high school student is “on task” – learning what he or she is supposed to be learning – for 25 minutes out of each class period.

Most families spend between 4 to 6 hours a day homeschooling. But this can vary depending on the method used, the topics covered, and the ages of the children. For younger children, you will need to break up the day, doing more varied activities in between structured learning.

Which subjects you cover when will depend on the method you use, how many children you have, the grade levels involved, the child’s readiness, and your educational goals. Since reading and math are such important skills, you will probably want to do these subjects every day. You may want to schedule an afternoon for science labs or a “game day” where you use games and hands-on activities to reinforce learning.

When you are introducing a new topic, the lesson will take longer because you need to show the student exactly what is involved and what to do. If the lesson reviews a skill, then it will take less of your time as the student does the exercises to reinforce learning. By the time students are in high school, they should be able to learn on their own, with the parent guiding and checking progress.

In one sense, this could be considered a trick question - for a true homeschooler, learning is a lifestyle. It happens everyday, all day long! That’s because education is more than just academics and formal instruction.
KEY WORDS: time, days, hours, school year, schedule, number, required, requirements, regulations, instruction

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14 — What about socialization?

Short Answer
This is probably one of the most misunderstood questions asked of homeschoolers. First, what exactly is socialization? In most cases, the person is referring to interaction with other students in a classroom. But does this really teach social skills? Can children of the same age and lack of maturity really teach your child how to act? Do cliques and playground bullies really teach healthy social skills?

One of the best ways for a child to learn a skill is to see it modeled by someone “older and wiser” – which is the whole point behind mentoring. Research has shown that the vast majority of homeschoolers interact with more adults and children of different ages than their public school counterparts. This same research has shown that homeschoolers tend to have more advanced social skills and have more self-confidence.


Explanation
Socialization refers to a child’s ability to relate to others. In a group classroom situation, the child interacts with children of the same age and maturity level – or lack thereof! So the socialization skills that are learned may not be what you want your child to learn. And that’s not even touching on the subject of peer pressure, bullies or lack of supervision in the lunchroom, playground, halls, or buses.

Most children these days are involved in outside activities such as sports, music lessons, scouting, 4-H, or church. At the very least, they interact with children in the neighborhood. So there are plenty of opportunities for so-called socialization. One of the reasons we recommend joining a homeschool support group is for networking. Many groups organize field trips, extra-curricular activities, play dates, and social functions. Each of these is an opportunity to instill and practice social skills.
KEY WORDS: social, socialize, socialization, extra-curricular activities

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15 — What about sports, band, choir, or other school-related activities? Can my child still take these classes at the public school?

Short Answer
It depends on your state and your local school system. Many states have “school-of-choice,” and this can include homeschoolers (but not always). Some states allow homeschoolers to take “non-essential” courses (such as band or choir), but not core courses (such as science or math). It really varies from school to school, and the administration’s attitude toward homeschooling.

Sports are a totally separate issue because most high school programs are governed by a national or state-wide sports body (similar to those that govern college and professional sports). This governing body decides who can play and under what conditions. For example, the student must attend the school for a minimum of four hours a day to play on that school’s team. Check with the state-wide homeschool support group for specifics.


Explanation
This is a controversial issue in homeschooling circles. Many homeschoolers assume that since they still have to pay property tax and school taxes, that they should have access to the public school system. They don’t understand why the local school has a problem with this. Here’s the catch: each individual school receives funding ONLY for those students in attendance on the state-wide count days. Homeschoolers are not counted, even if they live in that school district.

Our taxes go into a general fund, rather than the local school. So when we want our student to be able to take a class or be part of a program, the school must pay “out of pocket” without receiving the funding. And most school budgets are already under pressure. This is one reason why public schools are asking that homeschoolers be registered – so they can get some sort of funding to compensate for the lost monies. The more homeschoolers press for these “rights,” the more calls there will be for registration.

Practically speaking, most public school classrooms are already over-crowded. School-of-choice works only when there is space available. As school budgets tighten, chances are your homeschooler will not be able to attend anyway.

This is why many larger homeschool groups develop programs and activities specifically for homeschoolers. These programs tend to be more flexible and more accessible since homeschoolers are not tied to a specific schedule. Most homeschoolers find resources within their community for these specialized activities, such as the local YMCA/YWCA, local recreational programs, travel sports teams, classes from local art and music stores, and classes/activities offered through libraries, museums, and zoos.

KEY WORDS: sports, clubs, classes, band, choir, gym, public school, local school, school-related, extra-curricular

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16 — What subjects do I need to teach?

Short Answer
Most states do not specify a particular curriculum, but they do require the same core subjects covered in the school systems. The core courses are Language Arts/English, Science, Math, and History/Social Studies.

Explanation
At this point in time, there is no set curriculum or federal standards for courses. Every state has standards that must be met by the curriculum the individual school systems select. These standards tend to be general, and allow for some leeway as to what is covered. Highly regulated states often have a list of topics, some of which must be covered in certain grades. If you live in such a state, you should be able to find the list as part of the homeschool law, as part of the supporting documents released by the state, or in the information provided by the state-wide homeschool support group.

The specific topics presented in each subject will vary with the publisher. This is known as the scope of the curriculum. The order of the topics and in what grade level they are covered is known as the sequence. Most publishers have a Scope & Sequence available so that you can match the program with your state’s regulations or your own homeschool goals.

Some states also recommend certain electives be covered. These may include physical education (gym), music, art, computers/technology, health, state history, and civics (citizenship). All states consider Bible an elective. Apart from these recommendations, any electives or other topics you choose to cover should be based on the student’s interests and talents, and your family’s educational goals (which is another reason for having written goals for your homeschooling).

How you schedule the core courses and electives is up to you. You may choose to teach the core subjects everyday and the electives on alternating days. Some families use block scheduling. Others keep one day for hands-on activities, experiments, and field trips.

KEY WORDS: subjects, need, teach, schedule, required, courses, classes, taught, requirements

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17 — What is a homeschool support group? How do I find one?

Short Answer
Homeschool support groups are organized to provide:
  1. Opportunities for the exchange of information
  2. Encouragement
  3. Common activities, field trips, and group programs
  4. Networking and socialization
  5. Legislative updates and discussion of issues important to homeschoolers
  6. Workshops, teaching tips, and curriculum fairs
Being part of such an organization can be vitally important to the success of your homeschooling – and to others!

For your convenience, we have provided links to the major State-wide and Province-wide
support groups along with many local groups. You can find these links by clicking on the
'Support Groups' button which is in the left column of buttons on the home page.


You may also search the Internet yourself. Details on how to do so are included below in the 'Explanation' section.


Explanation
  • Support groups can be organized on a state-wide basis or on a local basis.
  • Some state-wide organizations have local “satellite” groups that are separate but loosely connected to the larger group.
  • Some support groups are designed specifically for a certain approach to homeschooling (such as the Charlotte Mason approach, classical approach, or Montessori). They are organized more for the sharing of ideas, resources, and encouragement.
  • Other support groups are tied to a specific religion, faith, or church denomination. You may or may not have to be a part of that faith or congregation to participate.
When you do an Internet search, type in your state and the phrase “Homeschool Support Group.” You may have to scroll down the page or go to the next page or two in order to get past the sponsored links that often have nothing to do with support groups. It’s usually more efficient to look for an actual group rather than clicking on a generic homeschool site that lists groups. The state-wide groups often have listings of local groups. Another alternative is to check with your local library or call churches in your area.

KEY WORDS: support, group, groups, support group, organization, network

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18 — What if we are only homeschooling for a short time or for one year? How do I mainstream my child back into school?

Short Answer
It depends on your child’s age and grade level. Elementary and intermediate students should have no problems. High school students may encounter problems. It is recommended that you discuss the matter with the school the child will be attending to see what is required AHEAD OF TIME. This way there are no surprises. You don’t want to do the work and not have the child get credit for it.

Explanation
Most school systems, whether public or private, will probably accept your elementary or intermediate child at the grade he or she is at based on your records. In some cases, a placement test may be required. Otherwise, the school will let the student start at grade level and then make any adjustments necessary after a month or so.

Once a student is in high school, however, the situation is complicated by graduation requirements. All high school students must complete a certain number of credits for each of the core subjects, and pass these courses at a certain grade level. When the school issues a transcript and diploma based on those credits, it is certifying that the student has done the work.

Some high schools are reluctant to certify homeschool credits because the work is not supervised by a “qualified” teacher or administrator, even though homeschooling is legal in all 50 states. They say that they do not know what was actually taught and whether the student actually did the work. Yet they will accept transfer students from other public and private schools without questioning the work – even though they have no idea what was taught or if the student actually did the work!

Under the No Child Left Behind Law, the schools set their own standards, and the monies they receive from the federal government depend upon how well they meet these standards. This means they are reluctant to accept any child who is an “unknown factor” when it comes to the testing scores. The problem is complicated even further by the fact that each principal makes the decision on an individual basis. There is no set procedure from school to school. The effect for homeschoolers is that they have no way of knowing for sure what will be demanded of them.

Some schools accept the work done through homeschooling as part of the credits, but the courses are not included in the student’s grade point average. Some high schools will accept standardized tests as verification for a student’s home-generated transcript. Others only accept courses if they were monitored by a third party such as an umbrella organization or homeschool academy. Some high schools blatantly reject courses with any Christian input even though this is unconstitutional. A few reject any homeschool courses.

Without going into the injustice of such a system, homeschoolers will have to plan accordingly. If you are homeschooling for the short-term, you will need to follow a more structured program. Ideally, you should check to see if the program you want to use is acceptable to the school the student will be attending when you are done homeschooling.

KEY WORDS: mainstream, return, back into, public school, short, temporary, expelled

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19 — What about tests and testing? What about standardized tests?

Short Answer
Once again, the answer depends on your state’s regulations and the method of homeschooling you are using. If you live in a state where you have to report grades, then giving tests is part of that process (see the article on Grades & Grading). Some states also require standardized tests, which is a separate issue. If a state mandates standardized testing, then it will say which tests are accepted. You must follow the state’s directions for having your student take that test.

Explanation
  • If your state does not require grading or testing, then you can decide what kind of tests, if any, to give. Most structured programs include tests as part of the curriculum, but that does not mean that you have to use them.
  • Some families give the tests, but treat them as just another daily exercise. This gives the child experience in taking tests. In this case, you will want to review the test afterward to show the child how to think through any questions that were answered incorrectly.
  • Giving tests is a lot like assigning grades. The whole point of testing is for a classroom teacher to be able to monitor how a group of students is doing. As a homeschooler working with your child one-on-one, you already know this. Chances are you will know whether or not your child is retaining the material, or if he or she knows it one day but not the next.
  • Whether or not you give tests will depend on your view of education, your homeschooling approach, and the child’s learning style.
Testing and Assessment
A test or other form of assessment is designed to see if the material has been mastered. The key word here is mastered. If all you are trying to do is introduce the child to a new skill or provide more practice, then you’re not ready to test.

There are many ways to tell if a child has mastered the material. A structured test is not the only way – although it is probably the easiest way for the teacher. Ideally, you should test in a way that matches the student’s learning style, using his or her preferred sense or method. You can have a hands-on child do a project. For an auditory child, you may discuss the material or have the student do an oral presentation. The point here is that how you determine if a skill has been mastered will depend on your educational goals and the teaching method.

Standardized Tests
Standardized tests are general knowledge tests that are based on typical age-level responses called norms. Examples are the Stanford Achievement Test and the Iowa Basic. The norms or “standards” are like a nationwide grading curve. When you get your test results, your child is compared to the “norms” or average for that grade. By the way, these norms can vary from year to year in the same way that a grading curve can change from class to class.

The questions on standardized tests are drawn from a set number of publishers’ programs so that you end up with “generic” questions. These generic questions may or may not match your curriculum. That’s why classroom teachers “teach to the test” rather than focusing on the curriculum. This tendency is one reason why standardized testing is controversial.

Another reason is that there is a lot of debate about whether standardized tests even measure what they are supposed to measure. Standardized tests are based on “average” questions drawn from major curriculum publishers. If you do not follow this “average,” then your child is at a disadvantage. Plus, many children are unnerved by the whole test-taking process - the tests are not an accurate measure of what they know. If your state does not require standardized testing, then chances are you won’t want to bother with it because it may not give you the information you are seeking.

Generally, what you need to know is if there are any major gaps in your child’s education. These can be identified more effectively through diagnostic and placement tests. These are often available through the publisher. There are also “generic” diagnostic tests available.

If you are unsure what grade level curriculum to buy, then start with a diagnostic or placement test. In most cases, you can assume that your child is “grade-level” and start there. You can always make adjustments along the way, either using simpler or more challenging materials, or a different grade level for certain subjects. Most skills and concepts are reviewed across three grade levels. So unless your child is really struggling with a certain subject, then chances are there will be enough review in the grade level curriculum.

If you still want to do standardized testing, it is available through a variety of sources. Depending on the type of test, it may require a certified proctor or administrator; a few standardized tests can be administered by the parent. This information can be obtained from the testing company. You can do an Internet search to find testing companies or check with your local homeschool support group.

College Entrance Exams
A specialized form of standardized testing is the college entrance exam. The most common are the SAT and ACT. There are also practice versions for each test (PSAT and PACT). Each college decides which test it will use as part of the application process. You can get information about and register for the college entrance exams directly through the college boards online (search for SAT or ACT).

Some colleges have their own entrance tests. You will need to make arrangements with the college to take the test at the pre-determined times.

Some states also have merit exams. These are used to ensure competency before graduation from the public school systems and for awarding state scholarships. The scholarships can only be used with that state’s universities and colleges. You will need to register with your state or local school system to take these exams.

State Tests
Some states require public school students to take curriculum assessments. These are state-wide tests that measure how well students are absorbing the specific curriculum used by the state or meeting the specific standards set by the state. Examples are the FCAT in Florida and the MEAP test in Michigan. The state may or may not require homeschool students to take these tests. Check with your state Department of Education or state-wide homeschool support group to find out.

KEY WORDS: tests, testing, exams, standardized tests, merit exams, assessments, evaluations, college entrance, ACT, SAT, required, requirements, regulations

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20 — How do I know what material must be learned for my child’s grade?

Short Answer
At this point in time, there is no set curriculum for each grade. Each state sets its own standards, and these tend to be general guidelines only. This means each publisher decides what is to be covered. If your state has specific subject requirements, they will be listed in the regulations. Otherwise, you can follow the sequence provided by the publisher. Or you can design your own.

Explanation
This question actually has to do with a specific philosophy of education known as essentialism. This view of education says that there is certain information, skills, and concepts that are essential; every person needs to know the material in order to be successful in life. You can find a number of books that attempt to describe what is essential or what your child needs to know.

The problem is that no one can know everything. Information is mushrooming faster than we can categorize it and search for it. Consequently, decisions have to be made as to what gets covered and what doesn’t. What material must be mastered and what material can be introduced but not mastered?

In order to make these kinds of decisions, you have to make certain assumptions about what is important and vital. And that depends on the worldview of the individual author or publisher.

What you think is important may not be what the publisher thinks is important. For example, a major secular publisher has one page devoted to the war on the Pacific Front during World War II and one page devoted to the war on the Western Front. A Christian publisher devotes four pages on the Pacific Front and five pages on the Western Front. The text specifically explains that the detail is provided so that students understand the extent of sacrifices made and the amount of effort that went into fighting the war and maintaining our freedoms. That same secular publisher makes no mention of Thomas Edison, despite the number of inventions he produced that greatly impacted our society. Why is that?

The point here is that what is considered essential will vary depending on the worldview and the underlying assumptions of the author/publisher.

Most people would probably say there is a core of information that everyone must learn. Examples would be knowing how to read, knowing how to do basic math, having a basic understanding of how science works and the world around us, and having a basic understanding of the chronological flow of history. But how do you define “basic?” Does the child have to know the specific date that an event occurred, or is knowing the general timeframe sufficient? Are there some dates that must be memorized, while others don’t need to be? Hopefully you see the problem here.

Ultimately, you as the homeschooling parent must decide what your child needs to know and to what extent. There are tools available to guide you: the publisher’s scope and sequence, skills checklists, or books that attempt to define what needs to be known. Use these as guides only. And don’t panic if you haven’t covered a specific topic yet. I can tell you right now that you will not be able to teach your child everything he or she will need to know throughout life. There will always be some sort of gap somewhere. The key is to teach your child HOW to learn so that he or she can learn whatever is needed whenever it is needed.

Learning takes place in stages.
  • The first stage is to introduce the child to the skill or expose him or her to the topic under study. Most of the early elementary years are spent introducing the student to the basic skills.
  • The next stage is to let the child practice the skill or interact with the material in some way. Most of the upper elementary years are devoted to giving this sort of practice for the basic skills. The amount of practice needed will depend on the difficulty of the material, the child’s learning style, and the importance of the skill.
  • The last stage is mastering the material. Not all information has to be mastered; what needs to be mastered will depend on your approach to education, your goals, and the student’s needs and interests. Certain skills such as reading and arithmetic must be mastered. Most families recognize that a child needs to have a basic understanding of the other subjects in order to function well in society. Whether or not every detail in each textbook must be mastered is up to you.
Remember that what matters most is the child’s learning, not the grading. That’s why most families teach until the material is learned.

You may see the term Scope & Sequence used to describe a program or certain grade level. To put it simply, scope and sequence means what gets taught when. The scope tells you what topics are covered and the sequence tells you in what order those topics are covered. Publishers use a scope and sequence when they plan their textbooks. Some school systems do the same thing. State standards often reflect these plans.

But technically speaking, there is no one set scope and sequence. It varies with each publisher and each curriculum. One publisher may cover a topic in third grade while another publisher covers it in fourth grade.  Remember the exposure-practice-mastery process? That influences scope and sequence as skills and topics are covered across several years in order to provide the necessary practice. Most publishers spiral skills over a three-year span, covering the same topics over and over, but with more detail each time.

Certain subjects such as phonics or math are sequential – each skill is based on a previous skill. What is taught at what grade is pretty consistent from publisher to publisher. Other subjects such as history and science are topical – each topic can be studied on its own in whatever order you want. What is taught at what grade varies quite a bit from publisher to publisher.

Instead of thinking of specific grade level skills, think in terms of broad categories such as early elementary, upper elementary, intermediate and high school. Set your goals to have key skills practiced during certain years and mastered by a certain time if necessary.

KEY WORDS: standards, curriculum, guidelines, subject, learned, needs to know, must be learned, topics, material, grade level, essential, scope & sequence, scope and sequence, required, requirements, regulations

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21 — What is included on a transcript?

Short Answer
A transcript is a summary of the courses a student has taken in high school, the credits earned, and the grades achieved. There is no set format for a transcript, but most are divided into eight semesters (two semesters per year), with a summary of the credits by subject category. Click here for a sample transcript.

Explanation
Colleges, training institutions, and sometimes employers request a transcript to evaluate a student's application and fit for the position involved or the college's program. A transcript should have the following information:
  • Student's full name
  • Student's Identification Number (usually Social Security Number; using the SSN is optional, but if you are applying for financial aid, it must be included)
  • Grade
  • Gender
  • Birthdate
  • Parent/Guardian's name
  • Enter date (year began program, either at a particular school or year began high school)
  • Leave date (year finished program, left a particular school, or year finished high school)
  • Official name of school issuing transcript (for homeschoolers, use your family name or come up with a name for your homeschool program)
  • Name and address of organization keeping the school records if other than the parent
  • Summary of each semester or year, including course name, credit possible, grade achieved, and credit earned (a student must pass a course to earn the credit; a course may be worth 1 credit, but if the student didn't pass the course or complete the work, then the column for credit earned would show a zero)
  • Specify credit system used (e.g. Carnegie)
  • Total credits earned each semester (or year)
  • Specify grading system used if not the standard (i.e. if classes were weighted in any way or if advanced placement or CLEP course)
  • Semester (or yearly) and cumulative grade point averages
  • Summary of credits across subjects
  • Official signature, printed name, and date of person issuing the transcript (for homeschoolers, one of the parents)
Click here for a sample transcript.

Depending on the college or training institute, you may want to have a second page (or flip side of the paper) that includes additional information about the student's educational program. This page includes:
  • any standardized test scores such as ACT, SAT, or CLEP, including the date the tests were taken and the scores achieved.
  • extracurricular activities such as clubs, sports, volunteer work, participation in church activities or youth groups, fine arts, 4-H – in short, anything that shows the student's interests, skills, talents, and educational activities that the student did NOT receive credit for. For instance, a young person may attend the Student Statesmanship Institute. The parent may decide to include this as part of a government credit (in which it is included on the main page of the transcript), or it may be listed under extracurricular activities if no credit was given.
  • any explanations of unusual or non-traditional procedures or programs (e.g. different grading system, different credit system, internships, or apprenticeships).
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22 — How do I know what to teach each day?

Short Answer
The answer depends on the method of homeschooling you choose. Most states require a minimum number of instruction days, usually based on a 9-month calendar (36 weeks or 180 days).

Explanation
  • Structured Curriculum/Textbook Approach - the program will be divided into lessons. Most publishers give a suggested schedule in the teacher’s guide or introduction. Some include detailed lesson plans. The vast majority are designed to do one lesson per day.
  • Workbook Approach – divide the number of lessons in the workbook into the number of weeks of instruction for that time period. This will tell you how many lessons need to be done each week. Be sure to look at the lesson itself to see if it is divided into daily activities or if it can be done in segments or all at once.
  • Real Books Approach – divide the number of pages in the book by the number of weeks of instruction. This will tell you the average number of pages that need to be read each week.
  • All Other Approaches – you will need to plan what gets covered each day, combining the suggested schedules from any structured programs, number of pages to be read from real books, and any activities, field trips, or assignments you want to include into one planner.
Since there is no one way of doing homeschooling, there is no one way to schedule your day. One of the major differences in homeschooling approaches is the amount of planning needed by the parent. If you do not have a lot of time available for planning, if you are a highly disorganized person, or if you feel you cannot possibly plan a program on your own, then you will want to choose a structured curriculum that includes detailed teacher’s manuals and/or lesson plans.

There are many organizers, planning forms, templates, and even software programs available to help you plan. In short, the tools exist to help just about anyone plan a program. So don’t let this task become a major stumbling block for you. The particular type of planner you use doesn’t really matter.
  • Teacher Planning Books (usually set up for multiple students, but can be easily adapted for homeschool use)
  • Year-At-A-Glance, Month-At-A-Glance, Week-At-A-Glance
  • Daily Calendar Sheets with five to eight columns for different subjects
  • Weekly Calendar Sheets, one for each subject
  • Assignment Sheets
  • Journals
  • Computerized Tracking System
At the very least, you can buy a binder, fill it with notebook paper, and keep a simple journal of what each child did each day. The key is to use whatever format or organizer works for you and helps you complete any documents required by your state.

In short, your planner is a tool. Use it to make your job easier, but don’t become a slave to it. As the homeschooling parent, you direct the program and you control what gets done each day. The planner does not. You want to maintain enough flexibility to take advantage of “teachable moments” or opportunities that arise for special activities. The role of the planner is to keep you basically on track and to help you make adjustments when changes are made to the day’s schedule. You may find that your child needs more review to master a concept. Or your child may have already mastered the concept in the lesson and does not need to do all the exercises or problems. A lesson may take longer than expected or your child may be able to “breeze right through” the material.

Every child learns at his or her own pace. One of the problems with structured programs is that they are designed as “one size fits all.” Chances are you will need to make adjustments along the way to fit your child’s needs. Even if you are designing your own program, the whole point is to observe how your child is doing and respond accordingly.

KEY WORDS: what to teach, subjects, course, class, schedule, content, lesson, plan, curriculum, required, requirements, regulations, taught

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23 — What is a worldview? Why does it matter in homeschooling?

Short Answer
Everyone has a worldview, whether or not you realize it. A worldview is simply how you view the world around you. It answers the basic questions of life such as what is true, what is important, and what is the purpose of the individual. A worldview includes your values, morals and ethics, and assumptions about life. Your worldview determines your behavior and way of thinking.

All publishers have a worldview, too. It is used to help them decide what is included in the curriculum program and how much space is given to each topic. These decisions are based on the publisher’s underlying assumptions about truth, values, and social institutions. These assumptions influence how information is presented – or if it is presented at all – which determines what a child learns.


Explanation
Since your worldview determines your behavior and way of thinking, it’s only natural that publishers’ worldviews impact their behavior and way of thinking also. When designing a curriculum, there is always more material available than can be covered in a textbook – at least one that is manageable in size! So publishers have to decide what gets included and what doesn’t, based on what they consider to be important and interesting.

Worldview also influences the presentation of the material – whether it is presented in a positive or negative light. One current example is the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock. For years the site was commemorated with a historical marker celebrating the beginning of a new nation and experiment in government. There is now another marker designating the event as a reason for mourning, degrading the Pilgrims as invaders who brought death and destruction to the “Natives.” Many public schools no longer celebrate Thanksgiving for this reason.

What is often misleading, particularly for homeschoolers, is that we generally assume that what is written in a book is true. In the past, there was a conscious effort in publishing to be fair, balanced, and objective when writing textbooks. But as with journalism, there is a movement that recognizes that objectivity is impossible, so material is presented in a way that is useful and enjoyable instead.

The key is who decides what is useful? Is it useful to present both sides of a story, or is it more useful to present material in a way that pushes a certain agenda or way of thinking? In case you haven’t noticed, that latter approach is taking over.

Since objectivity is no longer the goal, then we must decide whether the publisher’s goals match our goals for homeschooling. Does the publisher’s worldview reflect our own? If not, is it worth using?

This is not to say that we should never present something that goes against our worldview or values. There comes a point in a student’s life when he/she must recognize other ways of thinking and evaluate them accordingly. But this involves advanced critical thinking skills and requires enough life experiences to be able to judge accurately and weigh the consequences. You see, ideas have consequences. They determine how we live our life.

Worldview training is absolutely essential since our worldview is what “grounds” us. If we do not consciously recognize our worldview, then we can be easily tossed to and fro by whatever ideas are being presented at the time. We can flip-flop back and forth on issues and behavior. The problem with this is that our human nature craves stability and equilibrium. Eventually, we either have to decide on a set way of thinking (worldview) or become useless because we cannot make a decision and stick with it.

For homeschoolers, worldview training is recommended particularly for college-bound students who will be confronted by an educational environment that pushes secular humanism or post-modern Marxism. In many cases, the college campus is adamantly anti-Christian. Even Christian campuses can be dangerous because in order to teach at the university level, a professor usually needs an advanced degree, and there are very few advanced Christian degrees available. It is not easy for a college-aged student to be confronted with such hostility and be able to stand his/her ground without a thorough understanding of what he/she believes and why. That is why almost three-fourths of Christian students lose their faith while in college.

Part of our goal in homeschooling should be training our children to be successful adults. That includes laying a strong foundation of values, morals, ethics, and worldview that enables them to stay grounded.

KEY WORDS: world view, worldview, apologetics, beliefs, values, character, curriculum design, purpose, goals, thinking skills, critical thinking

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