Many parents are considering homeschooling now, and it’s 100 percent understandable. The transition to distance learning because of COVID-19 was challenging for so many families, and with the uncertainty of how schools will handle things in September, many parents are considering keeping their kids home as an option for this year. The state has issued guidelines for schools to provide all-remote learning, but you might not find that your school district’s style works for your family. Making the switch to homeschooling can be tricky and I’ve got some tips for starting that process. Here’s what you need to know:

Homeschooling is nothing like the COVID-19 remote schooling through your school.
It’s much more flexible, you’re in control of the aspects you like and dislike, and you can tailor your child’s education to be the best fit for them and for your family’s needs. If you don’t like doing a lot of video classes, you don’t have to. If you love video classes your child can attend independently, there are homeschool programs for that. If you feel comfortable choosing educational materials and planning lessons for your child, you can do that. If you’d rather work with a curriculum that completely guides you and your child through the year, those exist too. Homeschooling also goes at the pace your child needs, and even with many standard purchased curriculum programs you can allow your child to move ahead in the subjects they are excelling in, and spend extra time on the ones they need more support with.

What does the process look like?
If your child has already been enrolled in school, you will need to write a letter of intent to homeschool and send it to their school district so that they know of your plans. If your child is younger and has not previously been enrolled in school, you don’t need to do this. You can just proceed with your homeschool plans. You don’t need to include the reason why you’re homeschooling your child, what curriculum you’re using, or any other information in your letter of intent.

In New Jersey, there are not many regulations for homeschoolers. You don’t need to check in with anyone to monitor your progress (though you can with a consultant if it makes you more comfortable). The state doesn’t require that standardized tests be done for homeschoolers, or that you send in your materials or anything like that. The only requirement is that you aren’t neglecting your child’s education, but that’s not something that anyone checks up on unless authorities are called.

Choosing a curriculum
Choosing a curriculum is a process that will look different for every family. You may hear about various types of homeschooling including unschooling, Montessori, Charlotte Mason, hybrid schooling, and more. There are many homeschool support groups throughout the state that you can join based on the style of learning you choose for your child.

Some things to consider when choosing a curriculum:
– Do you want a religious or non-religious program?
– Do you want to purchase a full package program, or put together the subjects yourself?
– What specific needs of your child and family do you want to take into account?
– What is your homeschool budget? (homeschooling need not be expensive at all, there are thousands of free resources online and at your library)
– If you have high school-aged children, do you want them to get an accredited diploma or is a GED acceptable? There are many homeschool programs that do offer regular diplomas.

Choosing a curriculum is a personal family choice and the best thing you can do is research on your own which would be a good fit for you and your child. There are curriculum review websites such as this one, and there are many Facebook groups where you can ask questions and read opinions from other homeschooling parents. What my family chose to do was use a curriculum recommended by several friends, and then once I got a feel for things I began to substitute out subjects that I felt weren’t a great fit, and build a custom curriculum for my children. If you’d like to put together your own curriculum, it can be very helpful to see what your state’s curriculum looks like and what learning objectives are set for each grade level.

Here is a link to the NJ model curriculum for every grade level.

Finding support
One of the biggest concerns people have with homeschooling is the socialization aspect, and it’s an important one. Though it’s possible to homeschool with zero support, you and your child will find it much easier if you have some kind of support system and plan for socialization. This can be in the form of online support groups, local in-person meetups (which look different right now due to COVID-19), homeschooling friends, and even consultants who you can check in with if necessary, or if an issue arises.

What we have done is selected extracurricular activities that give that “classroom” feel (many take place via Zoom right now). We have local homeschool friends that we met up with when weren’t social distancing pre-pandemic, and I am in several online groups for homeschooling moms where I can ask questions, see what other families are doing, and receive support. You don’t need to have all of these things set in place immediately, but it can be helpful to build a support network as you homeschool so that you’re comfortable, and your child has some social interaction, even if it is currently in a distanced way.

Legal matters
Most homeschoolers never encounter any legal issues, but if you’re concerned about this you can contact or join the Homeschool Legal Defense League.

If you have any questions, put them in the comments and I would be happy to answer them as best I can for you.

Michelle Solomon is a work from home illustrator and mother of 3 homeschooling her children in New Jersey. She blogs at www.michellesolomonart.com and you can connect with her via Instagram at @michellesolomonart.