Homeschooling in Texas FAQ

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In the past few weeks, as cases of Covid-19 have climbed rapidly, several people have sought homeschooling advice. I've been asked about homeschooling many times over the years, which led to the creation of this document. I decided to update it this week and begin sharing it again.

I am not an expert, but I am happy to talk about what has worked for my family. Homeschooling can be difficult, especially due to other circumstances in our family, but it has been the most rewarding aspect of parenting I have experienced. I love teaching and I love learning. I get to do both of those things each day with the people I love most in the world. That is a true gift.

During a pandemic, the choice to homeschool may not be seen as a gift. I fully recognize this. That is another reason I wanted to share this information. I am trying to support my community and friends as much as possible.

I also want to reiterate that I do not believe homeschooling is right for every family. I do not share this with the belief that it is the only way or the best way to do things. It's the way we're doing it and it works best for us. It is also important to point out that I am a product of the public school system. I used to teach in public schools. I fully support public education and I believe quality education is a right of every person. We pay taxes to support our public schools without hesitation, because we believe in the power of community. Please do not interpret this willingness to help homeschoolers as anything other than that.

PS...please feel free to share this information. It is specific to Texas residents in a few ways, but could also be helpful to those in other states. You can post questions in the comments if you'd like. I will also continue to update this post so it is current.

Here is *my* official Homeschooling in Texas FAQ:

Homeschooling in Texas 101

    These are some basic responses to popular questions about homeschooling in Texas. I am a homeschooling mom of 3. We’ve been doing this for 14 years. My oldest is a college junior, and I also have a high school junior and a fifth grader. My kids are all very different (personality and learning style) and we have made many adjustments along the way. What I write here may not apply to my family at a later date. Our homeschooling style is constantly evolving to fit the changing needs of our family.
Disclaimer: Although I am a professional educator with a degree in elementary and early childhood education, I am not claiming this information to be the only way or the best way to do things. This is just what has worked or is working for our family.

If your student was previously registered in public school:
Before you start homeschooling, you should send your child’s school a letter of intent to homeschool. There are many sample letters available online. When we decided to homeschool, I hand delivered the letter to the school and at the same time filled out a records request. I was able to get copies of test scores, report cards, etc. This isn’t necessary in Texas, but I wanted to have it in case we relocated at any time in the near future. Each state has different requirements, so if an out of state move is imminent, you may want to do the same thing.

Do not forget to submit this letter. The school district needs your child to be in school to receive state funding, and schools will count them truant if you fail to complete this step.

What does the state of Texas require of homeschoolers?
Homeschoolers in Texas are not supervised by the state. There are no reporting agencies and no tests required. You do not have to keep track of attendance/hours, and there are no specific required subjects. There are suggestions, but at this point there is no agency to oversee this so that’s all they are, suggestions. It is my personal opinion that, as a parent or guardian, you should do what is best for your child. That means you want to teach them and have a successful educational experience with them. You want to see they are learning and do what they need to make progress. How you do that is up to you.

Assess your student’s learning style
As a former teacher, I firmly believe that it is important for you to know your student’s learning style prior to choosing a curriculum. You can homeschool inexpensively if necessary, and the first step to doing that is to know where to spend your money. There are several types of learners: visual, auditory, kinesthetic, reading/writing. If you look at descriptions of each style, you may be able to tell where your child fits best. If not, there are several online quizzes available to help you make this determination. There are loads of graphic organizers online that describe learning styles. I’m all about saving time and not reinventing the wheel, so I’ll pause while you do a google search: 4 learning styles.

Research curriculum
Once you know your student’s learning style, you can begin to think about which curriculum would be best for your child. Again, there are simple ways to save money (free lessons and activities, and downloadable or online programs), or you can spend $$$ on a boxed curriculum. It really depends on what you’re looking for. If you are working outside the home or overtaxed with other responsibilities, boxed curriculum may be best. You may choose something online that is self-paced, and then supplement with enrichment activities. You may choose unschooling (which I know very little about, but I’ve always been intrigued by this approach and definitely see its benefits), but I honestly feel that may be difficult during a pandemic (my idea of it is based on lots of hands on, field trips and travels, and new experiences that aren’t safe during this time).

Make the best choice for your family
We’ve been homeschooling for quite a while, and have met countless homeschooling families. I haven’t come across two families that do it exactly the same way. Everyone has different needs, kids with different interests, and varying limitations. The best part about homeschooling is that you truly can choose what is best for your child. I have 3 children, and all 3 learn a bit differently. While there is some overlap, I have used different methods, books, and activities with each. I see it as my responsibility to take the information I know about their learning styles and teach them to seek information, grow in their education, and ultimately love learning.

The things *I* think you should look for when choosing a curriculum:
1. What do you value most?
Do you want your child’s educational experience to look like your own? You would likely be considered a traditionalist. Do you want to make sure you’re meeting your child at his/her specific level/need? You’d be considered eclectic, and will probably need to piecemeal different programs together to make what your child needs. Do you want your child to completely drive their learning situation? You are an unschooler. Don’t let this frighten you. I know many unschooled kids who have gone on to graduate college with honors, who follow their own paths to achieve their dreams, who are empowered by their educational experience to march to their own beat.

2. Religion or not?
There are a lot of stereotypes about homeschoolers, one of them we often hear is that homeschoolers are super religious. That can be true, but it isn’t always. It definitely could impact your decisions. If you’re looking for a curriculum with a religious theme, you will find it. If you’re looking for a completely secular curriculum, you may have to look a bit harder in some subjects. You can find this information by reading reviews online or checking out homeschool forums.

3. Budget
This is a huge issue for most of us. A lot of homeschooling families are one income families. I do know people who homeschool while both are working (different schedules, one works from home, another friend or relative helps with schooling, etc). Either way, it is important to be realistic with the budget. There are ways to save money when purchasing curriculum or teaching tools. We always look on ebay or homeschool garage sale groups on Facebook. Use the library! Most libraries will bring your holds out to the curb right now so you can stay safe inside your car. Some libraries have online apps with documentaries and educational games. YouTube is an excellent resource, and you can find loads of documentaries on Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video, etc. I also use Teachers Pay Teachers (TpT) for fun activities when we’re in a rut or just want something different. If you leave a review you earn points, and with those points you get discounts on future purchases. I could go on and on about saving money as a homeschooler, but the main thing is to research and try things out before you buy, if you’re able. If not, make sure what you buy can be resold. Some companies will specifically say you may resell their product (as an example, Teaching Textbooks will give out product codes for access to you if you call and tell them you purchased their courses secondhand).

Start slow
It’s easy to get excited about Day One. I do it every year, and I’m EXHAUSTED by the end of the day, wondering why I did it again. I’m always excited about new curricula, new school supplies (I mean, who isn’t?!), and learning with my kids. I try to make Day One fun. We don’t usually do a ton of review unless the concept hasn’t been taught in quite a while. (Math: we won’t usually do the review section at the beginning like a public school teacher would. If your student shows signs of struggling with a concept, you can review that specific concept with your child, meeting them where they are.) Often, Day One is full of “this is what we’re studying this year” conversations, we take a walk through any text books we have, play a game related to a subject, decorate new interactive notebooks, and get ourselves organized. You can make it whatever you want it to be. You could read a simple book and then bake cookies. Reading: check. Math: check. Science: check. Language arts: check. Social studies: check. How? You read a recipe, used measurement and temperature and time, learned about abbreviations, learned about physical changes (maybe chemical if you used certain ingredients), and baked cookies from a family recipe, so you discussed and learned about your family’s culture. That is a simple, fun, and educational day for a homeschooler!

What about the rest of the days?
The second most asked question is, “What is your daily schedule?” Well, in our eclectic, secular homeschooling family, a typical school week is full of 7 very different days, but I’ll save that for a later section (see Homeschooling During a Pandemic). Our family doesn’t do well with really rigid schedules, so we try to stay flexible. However, I will say that we attempt to follow a basic outline each day. The kids are supposed to be up at 7:30 and have 90 minutes to eat, do chores, and get ready for the day. We have an agreement that I can’t be in charge of all of the chores and animals, plus myself, plus homeschooling. Everybody puts forth effort to keep things running smoothly, and that time allows them to do what they need without feeling rushed. By 9 am everyone should be working. If I need to do one-on-one work with anyone, they take turns. This is when I turn into the juggling clown a bit, but nothing too awful. I do an activity with one while the other does independent work, then we switch off. At this point, I have one in fifth grade and one junior in high school, so I spend much more time with my fifth grader doing school work. The high schooler comes in from time to time to ask for materials, get clarification, or follow-up on an assignment. Most of the time I spend directly interacting with her has to do with post-reading discussions, or developing ideas for projects. (More about homeschooling high school a bit later, too.)

If you’re the type of family that needs a rigid schedule to survive, I suggest writing out what you *want* your day to look like. Try it out for a few days, then make necessary adjustments. Set forth ground rules (no screens during breakfast/chore time is the one that is most often broken here). One of my biggest pieces of advice: remain flexible! If you’re two weeks in (or one) and realize this schedule isn’t working, re-evaluate your family’s needs and restructure your schedule. Nothing is set in stone. Our family has shifted, reset, made changes, overhauled the entire plan, and just called it off indefinitely (yes, you can do this, but let’s talk first).

When you’re having a bad day
SO MANY people have said, “I just don’t know how you do it.” Somedays, we don’t. Someone wakes up (me) and just can’t fathom teaching. Sometimes a kid just isn’t into it. Sometimes we’re having a pity party for whatever reason and we need to leave the house (or stay home if we had a field trip on the schedule). We call these Mental Health Days, and we believe everyone (no matter the age) is entitled to them. That’s why employers give PTO days to use at the employee’s discretion. Sometimes you just need a day to be yourself.

Sometimes these days involve minimal daily work tasks (think math warm-up and handwriting type activities), sometimes they involve absolutely no school work but we still do chores, sometimes we watch a documentary or read together, and sometimes everyone retreats and plugs-in to their own (de)vice. Usually that quick reset is all we need. It’s like turning the computer off and then back on again.

How do I know when we’ve done enough work for the day?
This is another question homeschoolers are often asked. Well, this is what I say: plan your day and start working. If you or your kid is showing signs of burnout, melting down, or just having a hard time focusing, take a brain break (look for ideas on Pinterest or TpT). Brain breaks at our house include dance parties (Alexa is always ready to DJ), bike rides, dog walk, skipping rope outside, sitting in the hammock for bird watching, etc. After the brain break, things may turn around, or you may find that you just need to call it a day. There are a lot of people who try to put a set number of hours per day on their homeschooling schedule. We do not do that. Sometimes our school day is 2 hours, some days 4. I can tell you that many times with my younger kids, we are completely done with school work before lunch (so 3 hours or less). This is not abnormal. This does not mean you’re not doing enough. What it means is that you can focus on one student (yours), while a classroom teacher has to meet the needs of all of his/her students.

But how do I know my kid is learning enough? 
That can be hard, but it’s not something I stress over on a daily basis. You will see your kid making progress but won’t even realize it. Math is probably one of the easiest to assess. They can do yesterday’s work, and today’s, and the next, and so on. They’re learning and mastering. Other courses can be more difficult. Keep samples of their work. Use spiral notebooks when you can (all of our science experiments and lab write ups go into a spiral for science, language arts work gets written in or glued into a notebook, etc). By flipping through the pages of these spirals you will see growth. You will also see areas that need extra work. Your kids are also great barometers. Are we working fast enough? Do they get it right away and then they seem bored? Do they argue that your spiral math curriculum is boring because they do the same kind of work each day? Listen to them, check in with them, and ask them to tell you what they like and don’t like about specific subjects. You can also tell if your child is frustrated with their work. That could be a sign of boredom, but also that they need to slow down or go back and review. Unless you choose the exact same text books your children were using at school, and you know for sure they mastered all concepts, it is likely you will find gaps in their education. What a gift homeschool is at that point, because you can stop where you are and fill in gaps, and nobody is “behind” or waiting for you.

But I have several kids, how can I teach ALL OF THEM?
Clusters! If your kids are close in age, determine what they can do together. You are giving your students a gift if you cluster them together. Your older children having the opportunity to teach what they know is great reinforcement. It also helps them develop a bond that will make your heart smile. The younger kids will know they can rely on older siblings for help and support, and the older kids will feel empowered by these opportunities. It also saves you time. When my two oldest were younger, we did a lot of reading work together. I’d read the same book with both of them, and then have different activities for them to show understanding. We’d have discussions together and I’d ask my older child higher level questions. They are spaced just far enough apart that when the oldest was in high school world history, the middle was in junior high world history. They were able to work from different texts (appropriate level) but stay within the same historical period. They could play games together relevant to what they were learning, have discussions, and even watch some documentaries. Their texts were written by different companies so they contained some different info, and the kids enjoyed comparing what they knew about certain topics.

In elementary school, this is even easier. If your kids are a couple years apart, you can choose to do a unit study on something that interests them and then find activities that meet the needs of both, or can be adjusted to the level of both/all students.

Joining a homeschool group

First, you chose to homeschool, then you chose a curriculum. Now, I highly advise you to choose a homeschool group. There are groups that fit the needs of all types of homeschoolers. Some are large, well organized, and require dues. Others are Facebook based, less structured but just as vital, and some are groups of neighborhood homeschoolers who just enjoy working together to educate their kids. The first group you try might not be the best fit for you. Just remember, what's happening right now in homeschool groups is not what they're used to. Group leaders are having to make major adjustments to fit with the current public health situation, so things may seem a little less organized. Just remember, these are also veteran homeschoolers who have much wisdom to offer you.

A lot of people who ask me about homeschooling also want to know about homeschool co-ops. Co-op is one of the best parts of homeschooling, and my kids love their co-op classes and friends. But, most of the time you don’t just join a co-op. Co-ops are often (but not always) part of a larger homeschool organization. The larger organization may offer various activities and events, and co-op is just one facet of the group. Often (again not always), parents are required to teach a co-op class and/or volunteer in some other capacity. This is what makes it a co-op (cooperative). The idea of pulling your kid out of public school and finding a homeschool co-op to take over their education is unrealistic. The idea of pulling your kiddo out of school and cooperatively working with others to educate your child is not impossible. In addition to co-ops, homeschool groups provide countless enrichment opportunities. If you have an idea for a homeschooling activity but don’t know where to start, brainstorm with other homeschooling parents to see how you can make it happen! 

Elementary School
Elementary school is pretty straightforward. We all remember what we loved about learning at this age, and we try to make that happen at home (or through field trips). At least that’s how I always saw it. It is also easier to combine subjects or content areas in elementary school. If we read a section of a book for social studies and they show comprehension, we can call reading done for the day. Another example of overlap is with math and science. If we find a science experiment that requires calculations, drawing a graph, or other math concepts, we’ve covered two content areas in one activity. Science and language arts also go well together if we need to write a lab report (grammar, punctuation). There are many ways to find overlap so we can keep our focused learning time brief. Then, we can spend our time playing games, adventuring, going on hikes, exploring their interests, etc. These are also learning opportunities but to the kids, they feel like play (side note: play is much learning).

Middle School
Middle school is a whole new ball game. My approach to middle school is to consider it high school light. We still do hands-on activities/projects, go on field trips, and meet the kids at their level, but it’s less parent involved. I teach lessons and lead discussions, but I give them a bit more control over their daily schedule, let them choose some topics, or vote on “which of these two/three” they would like to cover. We have electives (You want to learn ____? Let’s find a class or a resource and figure it out!) and less overlap between content areas. There’s more focus on helping them organize their tasks into a school day, and less of me telling them what to do next. I try to think about what other kids would be learning, what would be expected of them, and think of ways to translate that in a homeschool environment. I may even choose one subject that doesn’t need daily supervision, and hand that entirely over to them. During my middle kid’s junior high years, she had an elective called Independent Studies. For this class, she was required to choose topics to study on her own throughout the year. She was to use various sources (from the library, online, interviews, etc) to gather information, and then choose a way to present it (project, presentation, speech, research paper, etc). She loved this class, and it gave her an opportunity to learn about whatever her heart desired. It was fun to see her dive down rabbit holes or hit dead ends and take things in a new direction. Remember, my goal isn’t to spoon feed my kids, it’s to teach them how to learn.

High School
High school definitely requires some strategy planning. When people approach me about homeschooling at this age, I suggest they make some serious decisions prior to choosing how to start. These are the questions I present:
    1. Are you 100% certain there is no way your child will go back into public/private school before graduation?
    2. Is there a chance this is a “let me see how I like this” year?
    3. Is your child willing to start over with high school if they decide homeschooling isn’t the way to go?

High school students receive credits for each class they pass, and the state requires a certain number of credits for graduation. When you go to public high school, this all happens magically in the administrators’ offices. When you homeschool, classes taken at home don’t count toward state requirements unless they are accredited. You can find accredited classes if your student intends to return to public school. Several colleges and universities offer high school courses. These are done through online platforms. There are also accredited homeschool programs that you can pay for. Another option is a K12 or online homeschool. Community colleges may offer dual enrollment courses, which your student can attend as a homeschooler (you are considered their advisor).

If your high school student intends to homeschool through graduation, there is much more flexibility. You are the principal/counselor/teacher who will sign graduation documents, create transcripts (so much easier than it seems), and hand them a diploma. You decide what counts as a class, and you decide what is required of them to graduate. If you have questions specific to graduating a student from high school and/or college prep, I am happy to answer those in another document. 

Homeschooling During a Pandemic
Last but not least, and probably the most important section of this document, how is homeschooling different during a pandemic? There are so many differences that I don’t really know where to begin. Often, people direct homeschooling questions my way after seeing social media posts of our educational adventures. Those adventures are all happening virtually now. It is a very unusual time for all of us, including those who are used to educating our children at home. I would say that during a normal school week, pre-pandemic, we spent about 40% of our school days at home (and a smaller percentage of that time actually doing focused learning activities). Most of our time was spent at book club, park day, field trips, Odyssey of the Mind meetings, game day, social activities, holiday parties, comic book club, co-op, Forest School (nature study co-op), Lego club, American Girl Club, geography club, and on and on! When we weren’t at those things, we were doing school work in the car on the way, or sitting at a coffee shop having a game day (and maybe doing a bit of school work between rounds of Dixit or Press Here). I’ll never forget the time a neighbor asked, “Why is it called homeschooling if you’re never home?” He loved to hear the kids talk about their days full of fun activities. My kids long for these days to return. To be honest, as exhausting as it is at times, I miss them, too.

In March, when “flatten the curve” began, all of the activities on our homeschool calendar were canceled. Once the group got the hang of Zoom and other online platforms, book clubs and movie nights (Netflix Party!) began reappearing. And, now that we realize we’re in this for the long haul, many parents are figuring out ways to offer virtual clubs and activities, and even some virtual field trips. These look different and don’t appeal to all learning styles, but it’s nice to see that we’re rolling with the changes.

I’m including this information because I want to be completely honest. The way I homeschool now is not my personal preference. We’re taking virtual field trips, traveling to other continents via YouTube videos and documentaries and creative menu planning, and trying to make the most of our virtual staycation. We may be a bit more used to it because we’re used to creating our educational experiences, but we’re tired of being “stuck” at home, just like you.

If this document has brought up any other questions about homeschooling and I can help, please contact me in the comments of this post.

I wish you all the best in these uncertain times,