So You Want to Be a Homeschooler...

How to Homeschool - Your Questions Answered

So You Want to Be a Homeschooler...

What makes parents think they can teach their own children?

Homeschooling is on the rise.

More than 60,000 Canadian children are being educated outside public and private school systems. This represents 1 to 2 % of the school-age population and these numbers only include those who are officially registered. Meanwhile, in the US, there are somewhere in the neighbourhood of 2.3 million kids (or 3 to 4%) learning outside of traditional classrooms.

So what gives?

What makes parents think they can teach their own children? And more importantly, why are they doing it?

The truth is, there are many reasons why parents choose to homeschool their kids (I wrote about mine here).

One thing’s for sure, homeschooling is changing. According to Deani Neven Van Pelt, author of a Fraser Institute Study on homeschooling, where once it was ideologically or pedagogically driven, more and more families are choosing to educate their own kids simply because it is possible and practical.

Regardless of their motives, most homeschooling parents had lots of concerns before deciding to take their children’s education into their own hands. If you are considering an alternative to public or private school, then the following frequently asked questions will be like sunshine on a cloudy day.


I love to learn but I hate to be forced.

Is homeschooling legal?

Yes. Except where it isn’t. How the process works and where to start depends on your location. Laws for homeschoolers vary from province to province and state to state and it is the responsibility of the parent(s) to register their children and to follow the rules.

All provinces in Canada require that parents notify authorities of their decision to teach their children at home and some also ask that regular reports are submitted. The three high-regulation provinces (Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Quebec) require official approval of education plans and/or student progress. (See the end of this post for links to provincial laws.) In the US, each state has its own laws when it comes to homeschooling. A comprehensive chart can be found here.

Can homeschooled kids go to college or university?

The short answer is yes. Some universities accept homeschoolers on a case-by-case basis and perform individual evaluations. Others offer a choice of credentials that can be presented in lieu of a diploma. Some schools (like the one where my friend teaches) actually prefer homeschooled students because they say they are used to studying independently, have superior test results compared to their peers, and have a clear understanding of their own interests, right from the get-go.

As an example, at Western University in London, Ontario, homeschooled applicants are evaluated for admission on an individual basis and Ryerson in Toronto, considers applications for admission from home-schooled candidates who satisfy certain requirements. Some homeschoolers attend high school for at least one semester (or take correspondence courses), in order to obtain a diploma in order to fulfill university entrance requirements.

Meanwhile, in the US, there are those who say, homeschooling is the way to go if you want to get into an Ivy League school.

Do Canadian homeschoolers receive financial support from the government?

Sometimes. In Canada, funding is available directly to parents in Alberta and in some school districts of Saskatchewan. And a modest amount is given in indirect support in British Columbia. Check with your province (list at the end of this post) to find out what – if anything – is available to you.

As an aside, it’s interesting to note that homeschoolers saved Canadian taxpayers an estimated $257 million during the 2011/2012 school year.

What does it cost to homeschool?

On average, families spend between $200 and $500 a year on homeschool supplies like books and tools, as well as field trips and workshops. But, you can literally homeschool for free by making use of resources in the community (hello public library!) and online. Lesson plans, worksheets, games and more are available for all ages and with the offerings of Khan Academy and Coursera, older kids can take online courses from universities around the world – including Yale, Stanford and the University of Toronto – for free. No kidding.

Will I be able to teach my own kid?

Yes. You will, if it is your desire to do so. Your kids learned to talk, eat, and walk while in your care. You know them best. You can teach them how to learn. Some people have said to me, “I could never homeschool because my kid never listens to me.” I’ll let you in on a little secret. Mine has her moments too. But, I’ve found, the more time I spend with my daughter, the more cooperative she is. At the end of the day, young children want to feel safe and loved and it’s when they feel the opposite that we start to see disruptive behaviour.

Do I need a teaching degree?

Amanda H. remembers thinking she would need to have multiple degrees in order to teach her child. But the thing to remember here is this: a teacher’s job is not (or, should not be) to simply fill a child’s head with facts, but rather to instill a desire to learn. You do not need to be a walking encyclopedia. You need to be a positive role model and a guide. In a study conducted by Concordia and Mount Allison universities, researchers discovered not only did homeschooled kids outperform their public school counterparts, but the benefits associated with homeschooling could not be explained by differences in yearly family income or maternal education.

Do I need a classroom in my home?

When we began homeschooling, I carved away some space in an upstairs “bonus room”. In it I placed a desk, bookshelves and an abacus. It was lovely, but we always ended up sitting at the kitchen table. We eventually scrapped the “homeschool room” and made use of other spaces - including those OUTSIDE the home.  While it’s true that your kids do need a place to work, you certainly don’t need to renovate and add a classroom to your house.

How much time will it take?

Not as much as you might think. Some families try to replicate school at home with a set number of hours dedicated to teaching. Others focus all learning activities in the morning hours.

When Kelly R. was considering pulling her kids out of school to teach them at home, she read an article that said that one hour of intensive one on one teaching time was equivalent to one week at school. She was concerned about the statement, so she asked a teacher at her daughter's school. He responded by saying, "Think about it this way. I have 25 kids in my classroom. If I spend even ten minutes each day with your child, I wouldn't even have one hour with them by the end of the week.”

Is testing required?

Some homeschoolers choose to regularly test their kids. Others don't. It's a personal choice. Whether or not the province/state requires testing depends on where you live. Check with your local school district, province or state.

Do I need a plan?

Yes and no. It is helpful to have a general idea of your goals, but… I’m not the most organized person in the world and in spite of that, I’ve been able to establish a routine when it comes to teaching my daughter.

Monica L.V remembers, “The thoughts I had at the beginning really set the foundation for the way we ended up homeschooling. It was sort of like a vision or a mission statement for our lives that began with that first thought of 'what if we homeschool?’ As the years have gone on, that vision has stayed the same, even though our initial methods have changed and grown as we have changed and grown.”

The key with homeschooling is flexibility. And therein lies the beauty.

Kelly R. is believes strongly that if something isn’t working, you try something else. She also notes that when her kids decide they want to learn about something, she finds way to make it happen. “When my son wanted to learn how to program in Java," she says, “we found a course through Youth Digital and when the kids were interested in music lessons, riding lessons, science classes or pottery, I approached those in my community offering classes.”

What curriculum (if any) should I use?

Gloria P.* recalls, “[Choosing a curriculum] was agonizing. Years later, I realize that there is no one best curriculum for anyone’s child. What works for one may not work for others.”

If you search online for homeschool curriculum, you will be overwhelmed by the results.

A good place to start is this quiz, which will answer the question, “What Kind of Homeschooler Are You?” From there you can determine your homeschooling philosophy and discover the kinds of resources available to you.

I use an all-in-one (Oak Meadow) and supplement with Canadian math texts including Jump Math as well as a variety of language arts books and online learning resources (Reading Eggs, Math Seeds, Others piece together their own materials and there are companies who will do this for you, but it doesn't come cheap.

Most provinces publish curriculum documents online, so if you want your kids to keep pace with those in the system, you have the opportunity to do so.

What about the "S" word?

Without fail, the first thing people say to me when they find out my daughter is homeschooled is, “What about socialization?”

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, socialization is the process whereby an individual learns to adjust to a group (or society) and behave in a manner approved by the group (or society). Kids in a school form a group within society. But homeschoolers aren’t limited only to a school. They are part of society at large. But somehow, people have this image of solemn kids sitting alone at kitchen tables, day-in, day-out with no social interaction other than parents or siblings.

The truth is, homeschoolers play sports, join clubs and have friends. Some schools even permit part-time attendance or allow kids to take part in extracurricular activities. This is typically the discretion of the school board/district and/or the school administrator.

It’s a HUGE misconception that homeschooling happens only at home. This is why some folks actually refer to it as world schooling. Education can happen anywhere, and anytime.

We are part of a local homeschooling group, which provides activities that bring the kids together on a pretty regular basis. My daughter takes part in after-school activities (like basketball, science clubs and gymnastics) and story time at our local library. In the summer, she attends day camps. She also volunteers at our local SPCA, makes regular visits to museums, aquariums and grocery stores. She has a chance to interact with those within and outside of her peer group.

Can I homeschool and work full (or part) time?

It’s not easy, but can be done. A good friend of mine homeschools her daughter in addition to working full time as a registered nurse. Several other parents in our homeschooling group (including me), work part-time.  For inspiration, see this article, which talks about (among other things) how the author – a medical doctor – and her husband both hold down jobs and homeschool their kids at the same time.

What do I tell my friends and family?

Tell them you are assuming full responsibility for your child’s education. Then, send them a link to my "8 Reasons I'm Not Homeschooling My Kid" post.

Will I screw up my kid for life?

Possibly. There are no guarantees. But whether or not you screw up your kids will probably have very little to do with whether you homeschool them or not.

How can I find other homeschoolers in my area?

When I first began homeschooling, I walked up to families in grocery stores who had children with them during school hours. More often then not I was told, “No, my kid threw up this morning so she stayed home from school.” Or, “We had a dental appointment.” And sometimes, “It’s a school holiday, weirdo.”

If you are looking for local homeschool groups, search for them online or ask around. When I first thought about teaching my daughter, I had no idea there were more than forty families in my area who were already doing the same thing. But eventually, we all found each other.

Is it easy?

Nope. But, it’s also not as hard as you might think.

It took Jessica B. two years to finally take the plunge and begin homeschooling her daughter. "There was just so much information out there,” she says, “I didn't know where to start. Register, DL, PLO, it was like homeschoolers had their own language and I didn't know any of it. I kept questioning myself, and putting it off.

There was too much information, too much to know, but I knew we would figure it out together, and that's what we've done ever since. My only piece of advice would be, don't over think it, just do it. You will learn as you go.”

Homeschooling is NOT for everyone. It is a serious commitment and let's face it, there are times when spending all day every day with our child(ren) is enough to send even the most patient of us into a murderous rage - as in, “THE SCHOOL BUS IS THAT WAY!” (To be fair, there’s probably no way I could pull it off without the help and support of my mother.) But, it can also be a positive experience for both parent and child and the moment it ceases to be so, should be the moment the system receives another student.  

Canadian Homeschooling Requirements and Regulations

US Homeschooling Requirements and Regulations

More Useful Resources:

The Canadian Homeschooler is focused on sharing Canadian materials, curriculum, products, websites, etc. that are relevant and useful to families across the country in their home education journeys. The free How to Homeschool in Canada e-book will be of particular interest to those thinking about homeschooling. For American readers, has a comprehensive list of resources. I also recommend reading The Year of Learning Dangerously by Quinn Cummings. And, an American documentary called Class Dismissed is a real eye opener. Here's a teaser...

Special thanks to Libby Guise.
*Name has been changed.
Chalkboard Photo: Pixabay