Online Home schooling

The American homeschooling movement is gaining steam, and some say technology is leading the charge. Online homeschooling programs and resources can make learning accessible and engaging, but they may not be right for every learner. Many may cater to specific communities and philosophies. The following guide offers a crash course in homeschooling, including key demographics, educational methods, frequently asked questions and online learning resources.

Online Homeschooling: An Introduction

The U.S. homeschooling community is thriving: National Center for Education Statistics reports their numbers have at least doubled since 1999. These families cite many reasons for opting out of classrooms, but as Dustin Woodard, maker of the documentary film “Class Dismissed,” told WIRED, the Internet helped drive the trend. Online homeschooling can make learning more accessible and engaging for students, giving them more control over what, how and when they learn. Woodward said that putting kids in touch with a world of information online is “incredibly empowering,” but few schools capitalize on it. The home learning market is.

Online homeschooling resources and curricula are booming, as are online learning programs like Khan Academy, DIY.org and Codecademy. Even some public schools now offer online learning options. These programs can be used supplementally or exclusively in the home learning environment. Either way, they are diverse; many cater to certain learning styles and education philosophies. For families new to homeschooling, finding the right programs requires a little experimentation and a whole lot of research. The following sections of this guide offer a crash course in common homeschooling communities, pedagogies, resources and more.

Who Homeschools: Key Demographics & Communities

The National Center for Education Statistics reports the number of U.S. homeschooling students doubled between 1999 and 2012 to more than 1.7 million. Some advocacy groups put this number closer to 2 or 3 million. These children come from all types of communities, races and incomes. The following chart highlights key homeschooling demographics for 2011-12 from the NCES.

Table: Key homeschooling demographics for children
ages 5-17 in 2011-12
Characteristic Number Percent of Homeschoolers Homeschooling Rate
Total 1,770,000 * 3.4%
Male 876,000 49% 3.3%
Female 895,000 51% 3.6%
Kindergarten-2nd grade 415,000 23% 3.1%
3rd-5th grade 416,000 23% 3.4%
6th-8th grade 425,000 24% 3.5%
9th-12th grade 514,000 29% 3.7%
City 489,000 28% 3.2%
Suburbs 601,000 34% 3.1%
Towns 132,000 7% 2.7%
Rural 548,000 31% 4.5%
Source: National Center for Education Statistics

Common Homeschooling Communities

Homeschool families come from many different communities, cultures and belief systems, some of which impact their educational choices. The following are just some of the groups that comprise this much larger homeschooling community.

Families with logistical challenges

Geography, travel and other lifestyle commitments make it difficult for some students to report to school or adhere to a conventional schedule, including rural or military families. The same is true for young artists or athletes with extensive training and travel demands. Homeschooling makes education accessible to children facing these types of logistical challenges. Some states with large rural populations even offer public online homeschooling programs.

Children with special needs

Students with certain learning, mental, behavioral and physical challenges may not thrive in traditional special education programs. Some medical conditions also require special monitoring, equipment and therapies that make attending school difficult, if not dangerous. Online homeschooling programs allows parents to maximize individualized instruction and support, including adaptive technologies, while tending to other needs.

Gifted & exceptional learners

Despite their talents, many gifted children fall behind in school–even when filtered into gifted programs. Some of these children need more freedom; others are just bored. Self-paced programs and online homeschooling resources for exceptional learners offer these families an alternative

Proponents of alternative learning methods

Desks and rote memorization do not work best for all children. Homeschooling programs can be customized to meet the needs of hands-on, kinesthetic, visual-spatial, and other such learning styles. Montessori, Waldorf, Reggio Emilia and other specialized online homeschooling resources are increasingly popular among parents not drawn to conventional learning methods. There are also more classical, but advanced programs ideal for parents looking for a more rigorous academic education.

Cultural & Religious Groups

Faith is no longer the number one reason most families choose to homeschool, but it remains a popular one–at both ends of the belief spectrum. Just as Christian parents may want to offer their children more biblical education, secular parents can seek learning programs that emphasize their beliefs and values. Some online homeschooling programs offer direct religious instruction, but others ensure content in areas like science or history reflect families’ worldviews.

The Most Important Reasons Families Give for Homeschooling

The perception that homeschooling is almost exclusively religious is old hat. According to the NCES, the number one most important reason families gave for homeschooling in 2012 by far was a desire to provide a nontraditional approach to learning. A 2015 WIRED feature on tech-savvy homeschoolers suggests many of these families hope to instill innovative thinking and other practical skills they believe conventional education lack, which might explain why Sir Ken Robinson’s lecture, “How Schools Kill Creativity,” became is the most-viewed TED Talk ever.

Alternative learning advocates still comprise only one segment of the general homeschooling population, and few families base education decisions on one factor alone. Here is a breakdown of the important and most important factors parents said drove their decision to homeschool in 2012.

Table: Reasons parents gave as important and the most
important for homeschooling in 2011-12
Reason Important Most important
A concern about the environment of other schools 91% 25%
A desire to provide moral instruction 77% 5%
Dissatisfaction with academic instruction at other schools 74% 19%
A desire to provide religious instruction 64% 16%
Desire to provide a nontraditional approach to learning 44% 51%
Child has special needs 17% *
Child has a physical or mental health problem 15% 5%
Other reasons 37% 21%
Source: National Center for Education Statistics

Choose a Curriculum: Popular Homeschooling Philosophies

More than half of homeschooling families may prioritize nontraditional learning methods, but individual philosophies vary. One family may believe strongly in experiential learning while the next ascribes to a more classical approach. Online homeschooling resources and curricula are often designed with a certain educational theories in mind. New homeschooling parent should identifying which appeal to them most to minimize frustration. The following are some of the most common homeschooling philosophies and curricula.

Classical or Socratic Education

Taught by Socrates and popularized by the bestselling homeschooling book “The Well-Trained Mind,” classical education emphasizes the passing of learning throughout various stages of development, often with a strong literary focus. Students often use textbooks and worksheets in additional to any online homeschooling programs. Classical education is the theory that drives most traditional classrooms, but some families recreate it in a homeschooling environment to provide more one-on-one instruction, bypass school barriers or meet other needs.

Unschooling

The unschooling philosophy emphasizes how to learn over what to learn. Proponents believe children are naturally wired for learning and that conventional schooling undermines this ability. Contrary to popular perception, unschooling does not mean no schooling: unschooled children are self-directed learners whose parents often serve as facilitators. Unschooling was popularized by educator John Holt in the 1970s and, more recently, psychologist and “Free to Learn” author Peter Gray.

Biblical Education

Biblical curricula caters to Christian families who want to incorporate faith into learning. Some programs offer direct religious instruction while others offer more classical instruction, ensuring content in areas like science and history reflect families’ worldviews. Because religion was once the primary reason families chose to homeschool, biblical curricula like the Sonlight Christian and A Beka Book programs are prevalent.

Charlotte Mason Education

Charlotte Mason homeschooling is founded on the ideals of British educator Charlotte Mason, whose methods impacted education in the early 1900s. Mason taught that children are individuals deserving of respect. Lessons should never exceed 20 minutes and use rich, engaging materials that are in no way “dumbed down.” Online homeschooling resources like Ambleside online help parents apply these philosophies to learning, often through original literary sources (called Living Books), narration, dictation and copy work.

Waldorf Education

The Waldorf educational philosophy began in Germany when Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner was tasked with creating an educational program for employees at the famous Waldorf Astoria hotel. Steiner rejected excessive academics for young children and the concept of standardized, rote learning. Waldorf-inspired homeschooling programs like Live Education and Christopherus Homeschool emphasize play, imaginative thinking, nature, daily rhythm and gentle instruction. Reading instruction is not introduced until at least age 7.

Montessori Education

Montessori schools are increasingly common the United States, but many homeschooling families apply the same philosophy in their own homes. Montessori education was pioneers by Italian educator Maria Montessori, like Mason and Steiner, believed children benefit from delayed reading instruction and rich, experiential learning methods, often using high quality materials. Montessori also promoted the idea that children learn best through imitation, so playing “house” is more beneficial than puppets or costumes. Montessori learning environments are multi-age, aesthetically simple and organized in a way that promotes independence.

“Maker,” Project-Based and DIY Homeschooling

WIRED reports that hands-on, project-based learning is increasingly popular among Silicon Valley homeschooling families who prize creativity, ingenuity and a can-do brand of confidence, but tech-savvy parents are not the only ones on board. A number of online homeschooling blogs and resources, like DIY.org, help parents seeking this type of learning approach. Many schools and libraries have also added “makerspaces” or “tinker spaces” that promote maker education.

Unit Studies

Unit studies refers to the practice of focusing on one particular topic for a period of time within the learning environment. Parents may, for instance, spend several days teaching their children about sharks or Harry Potter, often using many different resources and projects. Unit studies can be used supplementally, but some homeschooling families organize virtually all schoolwork into interdisciplinary units. In March, 2015, Finland announced it would reform its education system to emphasize units rather than specific subjects like math and history. There are a multitude of online homeschooling blogs and publishers that offer unit study materials and ideas.

Eclectic Homeschooling

When homeschooling families say they are “eclectic,” they mean they use many different methods and resources throughout the day. They may use worksheets for math, a hands-on curriculum for science and a Waldorfian approach to literacy.

Frequently Asked Questions about Homeschooling

Homeschooling is an increasingly popular alternative to conventional classroom learning, but for most families it is uncharted territory. Myths and outdated perceptions only confuse matter. When it comes to something as important as a child’s education, due diligence pays. Here are answers to some of the most common questions potential homeschoolers ask.

Is homeschooling legal?

Homeschooling is legal in all 50 states, but each state sets its own home learning requirements and standards. Parents must usually announce their intentions and show that they meet certain educational criteria themselves, like holding a high school diploma or higher credential. States can also require homeschooling families to regularly submit proof of academic progress through standardized tests or official letters from licensed educators who have reviewed portfolios of students’ work. Parents can research their states’ homeschooling laws through state government and homeschooling advocacy websites. The Home School Legal Defense Association also clarifies regulations and offers legal support to homeschooling families.

Is homeschooling effective?

Contemporary homeschooling is still a fairly new phenomenon, at least on a broader scale, but studies from the National Home Education Research Institute, Vanderbilt University’s Peabody School of Education, St. Thomas University, Dr. Peter Gray and other researchers suggest homeschooled students tend to graduate college at a higher rate than traditionally educated peers and earn higher grades and ACT/SAT scores. Many homeschooling graduates report feeling more self-motivated and independent. Sample sizes for this research can be small or narrow, however.

How do colleges view homeschooling?

The same research that suggests homeschooled students have higher college graduation rates and standardized test scores has translated into higher admissions rates at hundreds of colleges nationwide, including Harvard, Stanford, Princeton and Cornell. Many of the students enroll in community college programs in high school to establish academic records and transfer on to four-year schools upon graduation. Some colleges have different admissions processes or criteria for home educated students.

How do homeschooled children socialize?

Research from experts like Vanderbilt researcher Joseph Murphy, psychologist Peter Gray and others suggests homeschooling children not only have rich social lives, but may have higher quality social interactions than many conventionally educated students, especially since many schools offer less recess and free time than they did a decade ago. Homeschooling organizations, co-ops, community programs, sports, play dates and many other activities offer home educated children a chance to interact and collaborate with others.

A Checklist for Parents Considering Homeschooling

Homeschooling can be a positive and effective learning experience, but it requires planning. The following checklist can help keep families on track.

  • Research and comply with state homeschooling laws
  • Research and select curricula and other materials
  • Purchase programs, materials and supplies
  • Make a long-term lesson plan
  • Make a weekly schedule
  • Make a daily schedule
  • Prepare 1-2 weeks of lessons
  • Prepare and organize learning area
  • Research and join local homeschooling communities, co-ops and programs
  • Buy memberships to area museums and other cultural centers (Hint: Inquire about homeschooling discounts)
  • Research and join homeschooling communities for parents, locally or online

Quiz: Is Homeschooling Right for You?

Online homeschooling can make education learning more accessible, but it may not be right for every child (or parent). The following quiz can help potential homeschooling families decide if this is the right path for them.

Answer by dragging a statement in the ”True” or ”False” boxes
  • Your child is not thriving in the classroom
  • Your child’s learning needs or style are not being met in school
  • Geography, travel or other lifestyle barriers make it difficult for your child to attend school regularly
  • Your local school system does not reflect your family’s beliefs or philosophies
  • You are dissatisfied with the current classroom environment, locally or systemically
  • You have or can make the time to teach your child
  • You are prepared to guide, support and encourage your child, even on rough days
  • You are prepared to monitor your child’s academic progress and adjust your teaching to meet his or her shifting needs
  • You have the means to buy curricula, supplies and other educational materials
  • You have researched homeschooling laws in your state and can comply with them
  • You have access to homeschooling co-ops, clubs and other social organizations
  • You have or can find a support community for homeschooling parents, online or in your community
  • You have discussed homeschooling with your child, spouse and anyone else that would be impacted by home instruction
  • You know or can identify local professionals and organizations who offer additional academic, social or physical support as necessary
True (0) False (0)
If you answered “true” to at least three of these statements, homeschooling may be for you.

Important Homeschooling Success Factors

Many families see homeschooling as a path to rich, individualized educational experiences that resonate with students’ learning styles and needs. This takes work. Here are a few ways parents can help.

Parental involvement

Online homeschooling resources and child-directed learning can sometimes move parents from the role of teacher to observer, but that does not mean they can check out. Having parents on hand to answer questions, monitor progress and participate helps students feel more confident and supported in their studies. It also allows parents the opportunity to identify and respond to challenges.

Flexibility

Illness, unexpected guests, family emergencies, siblings and even the weather can interfere with planned lessons and activities. Substitute homeschooling teachers are also in short supply. Parents must allow for these hiccups and have a plan for responding to them.

Patience and grit

Even experienced homeschooling families go through difficult patches. Sometimes this is an indication that a program or project is not working, but developmental spurts, stress and other issues make also learning difficult. Everyone has rough days. Students benefit when homeschooling parents remain calm and supportive under pressure.

A plan B

Not all curricula and teaching methods work for every student, and even those that do may become less effective as children grow and develop. Homeschooling parents must be engaged enough to identify problems and make the changes necessary to overcome them, even if it means scrapping months of lesson plans and moving on to another plan.

Community

Local and online homeschooling communities and resources can help parents and their children feel motivated, supported and inspired.

Q&A with a Homeschool Mom

Judy Arnold has homeschooled her children since 2002. She currently teaches her daughter Raine, 11, and her son Fox, 8, from her home in Pennsylvania using a myriad of online programs and tools. In the following interview, Arnold lends us her experience and advice.

Interview
What drew you to homeschooling?

I had never planned to homeschool. I had always thought it sounded intriguing, but it also didn’t seem like something I thought I could be successful at. When my older children had some issues with bullying and things got to the point that I was seriously concerned, I decided that we could at least give homeschooling a try. That was in 2002. Today I am still homeschooling my two youngest children who have never set foot in traditional classroom.

Do you ascribe to a certain educational philosophy or method?

I have always been drawn toward the idea of classical homeschooling, but my kids are completely focused on STEM. I make sure they read classical literature and we have been studying Latin, but they love learning online and using the computer. We have subscriptions to an all in one online curriculum that we use as a base for our studies. Both kids are very Internet savvy and enjoy spending time on websites that teach coding and they spend some of their free time watching Youtube videos to learn how to create Minecraft mods.

As a homeschooling family, how do you use technology and what are its benefits?

Our entire homeschool program is built around technology and the Internet. We use a private online curriculum. We take advantage of websites to get access to free classic books. We use a combination of textbooks and a free language learning program through our local library to study Latin. We have literally thousands of videos and documentaries on any subject under the sun available to us at any time. There are so many top quality resources and texts available for free, including current math and science books. The internet has allowed us access to resources that I could have only dreamed of during my own time as a student.

The kids enjoy the flexibility of being able to work at their own pace and the online curriculum we use lets them work on their own level no matter what grade they would be assigned to in a traditional classroom. Their education is being completely customized, thanks to the Internet and computer technology.

What advice would you offer families considering homeschooling?

The mistake I made in the beginning was that I tried to plan everything ahead of time and on my own. I found it is better to dialogue with your children and partner with them to find what their interests are and how they want to learn. I talk to the kids to share my ideas about what our goals should be, and ask them to work with me to find the best way to achieve those goals. If something isn’t working we talk about it and work together to come up with a better plan.

Online Homeschooling Glossary

Online education is a relatively new mode of learning, so not all parents are familiar with its concepts and lingo. Here are some of the most common online homeschooling phrases defined.

  • Blended or hybrid learning:Blended programs offer a hybrid of online and more traditional learning activities like worksheets and hands-on projects.

  • Fully online education:Fully online learning programs offer 100 percent Web-based instructio

  • Synchronous:Online homeschooling programs with synchronous scheduling require students to log on at set times to stream lectures, interact with peers or take exams.

  • Asynchronous:Asynchronous scheduling allows online homeschoolers to log in to programs and submit work whenever convenient, though some require students to meet deadlines.

  • Public online schools: Some states and districts offer public online schools. These programs can be especially helpful for rural students and those with medical or other challenges.

  • Private online schools: Some private schools offer online homeschooling programs. These programs may cater to certain goals or faiths.

  • Supplemental learning: Online homeschooling is not an all-or-nothing affair: Learning resources like BrainPop and Khan Academy offer Web-based instruction on a supplemental basis.

  • Complete online curriculum: Programs that offer complete online homeschooling curricula allow students to complete a full battery of subjects online, including math, science, reading and more.

Callout: Balancing Technology and Homeschooling

Online education is a relatively new mode of learning, so not all parents are familiar with its concepts and lingo. Here are some of the most common online homeschooling phrases defined.

Face-to-face

Face-to-face homeschooling is an important way build connections with parents and peers, helping students develop collaboration and other key social skills. Many children learn best through movement and multi-sensory, hands-on work. Visiting museums and other cultural institutions makes learning meaningful, especially when they connect students with potential mentors in the community.

Technology

Technology is a doorway to a world of new information and ideas; adaptive technologies make them more accessible to learners with special needs. Online homeschooling can enrich the learning experience through videos, interactive games and Web-based community projects. Students can also use digital tools and apps to track their work, organize their thoughts and take notes quickly. Some research suggests technology that integrates movement improves memory and comprehension.

50 Online Homeschooling Resources for Students and Families

The Internet is a goldmine of information for new homeschool families. The following online tools and resources are an excellent place to start.

Resources for Parents