There are as many different reasons to homeschool as there are parenting styles. Some parents choose homeschooling for religious reasons, so they can incorporate more of their faith into their child’s day. Other parents make the choice so they can control the content their children are exposed to. Still others choose to homeschool because of learning styles or disability needs that aren’t being met, medical reasons or social concerns. The list of reasons that families choose to homeschool goes on and on. What almost all parents homeschooling have in common is the belief that teaching their children outside of a formal education system is the best choice for their individual child, family or both.

Once you’ve made the often-stressful and overwhelming decision to homeschool, you are then faced with a decision on how to homeschool. It’s important to know that you don’t have to go it alone. Thankfully, Austin has a very robust homeschool community, and there are many members who are willing to share tips and advice to help you along in your journey. You also don’t have to be your child’s primary teacher if you’re not up for it. There are essentially four ways to homeschool: at home, with a co-op, through dual credit or a hybrid of those three.

Weighing Your Options

Homeschool co-ops are typically groups of homeschooling families that join up to learn from and with one another. Many co-ops also get together for field trips, sports and other extracurricular activities. Some co-ops meet daily, while others might meet once a week or even less frequently. Some groups require that all participating families also have a parent who will teach, while others don’t carry this stipulation. A benefit of joining with other like-minded families is that the teaching load is spread out, ideas can be shared and children form friendships due to a built-in social outlet, much like they would in public or private school. The way co-ops operate will vary, so you’ll need to select the one that fits best with your family’s particular needs.

In the case of dual credit, high schoolers — as well as advanced middle schoolers — can take college-level courses, earning high school and college credit at the same time. Some homeschooling families elect to use in-person or online college courses as their high school-level classes. By completing the required coursework, the family counts the high school credit as earned, and the student banks college-level credits for the future.

Many families build a hybrid homeschool option – they might be their child’s primary teacher several days of the week, connect with a co-op one or two days of the week, and as the child ages, they take advantage of college courses, whether at a community college, university or online.

A Matter of Courses

An important part of the decision-making process is to choose which homeschool curriculum you’ll use. Like many aspects of the homeschool world, the choices are seemingly endless. This is when Google and a good homeschool resource group become your best friends. It’s helpful to get others’ thoughts and advice when selecting your curriculum. You can purchase extremely detailed materials, which give you the coursework and even the wording to use when teaching. Or, you can build your own curriculum by selecting from various books and workbooks. Some families choose online learning options, while other parents choose not to use any curriculum, but to create their own as they go along. It will be important to select materials that align with your family’s beliefs and learning goals.

Making Friends

Critics of homeschooling raise concerns that homeschooled children are isolated and don’t get enough peer-level interaction. With a little bit of resourcefulness, however, this objection is easily overcome. Joining a co-op is one way to guarantee instant peer-interaction for your child. There are also museums, art schools, gyms, dance schools and more that offer special classes for homeschooled children. Finally, even if you don’t want to join a learning co-op, there are still homeschool social groups that meet up on a regular basis, allowing children — and their parents — to form lasting friendships.

The Fine Print

Texas courts have determined homeschools to be private schools for the purposes of compulsory attendance. It’s required that your child is taught the subjects of math, reading, spelling and grammar, and a course in good citizenship. You must also use some form of written curriculum (online programs meet this requirement) and operate your homeschool in a “bona fide” manner. As long as you follow these requirements, you’ll be operating within the law. It should be noted that although science and history aren’t required by state law, any college your child applies to will require them for admittance. Finally, if your child is currently enrolled in a public or private school and you want to start homeschooling them before the year’s end, you should formally withdraw your child so the school doesn’t consider your child truant.

Alison Bogle is an Austin-based freelance writer and mom of three.

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