As the new school year approaches, many families are choosing to homeschool for the first time. Some are concerned about the potential for their children to be exposed to COVID-19, while others are concerned about children being required to wear a face mask for six to seven hours per day.

New homeschooling families have a lot of questions as they get started. “What resources are available?” “Do I have to cover a certain curriculum?” “Does my child have to get tested when they go back to school after the pandemic is over?” “Do I need to file papers with the state?”

As one mother planning to homeschool for the first time put it, “I don’t even know what I want to know.” Kristina Murphy said she doesn’t feel good about sending her young children to school with a mask all day, so she’s planning to educate them at home this year. She’s looking for the best resources for planning their school year and has found that the abundance of resources can be a little overwhelming. 

“It’s like you need a spreadsheet of all of the different ones, and which are better for elementary school kids and which are better for different age groups” and a variety of other considerations, she said.

Education advocate Avalie Muhlestein is a veteran homeschooler and former public school teacher with a master’s degree in education. She said planning for a homeschool year is a lot like planning a monthly menu. “You’re simply looking at the needs and desires of your family and designing an education menu for yourself, then buying the resources that you need to be able to educationally nourish your kids.”

She said a homeschooling family should start by clarifying objectives. What do you want to get out of the educational process? Include older children in this process so they can choose subjects that really interest them. “They may surprise you,” Muhlestein said. Next, set goals that lead to your chosen objectives, then find the resources that support those goals. 

“There are a million different ways to homeschool,” Muhlestein said, “because there are a million different kids and a million different parents.”

While some people spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on curriculum, others do it practically for free by utilizing home libraries, public libraries and other public resources. Some choose to take a couple of classes at a local public school and do the rest at home, and others choose programs that are entirely online.

Muhlestein said Utah is “one of the best states to homeschool in.” Families must submit an affidavit with their local school district by the start of the school year and after that, everything is up to the parents. There are no requirements for curricular subjects or testing, including when they return to the public school system.

“Having a support system in place is really important for the parents,” said Muhlestein. She encouraged new homeschooling families to utilize resources such as Facebook groups and in-person groups to find mental support and share ideas.

There are many different home education philosophies, and parents should research them to find one that feels right for them. Thomas Jefferson Education, classical education, Charlotte Mason, “school at home,” unit studies, wildschooling, and unschooling are among the popular approaches. 

Some families choose one curriculum that can be taught to a span of different ages, while others choose multiple curricula for each age level. Many families use a blend of approaches to meet the needs of their children.

Below are some of the resources available to parents who are making the change for the coming school year:

Wasatch Home Educators Network is a homeschool parent support organization that sponsors a yearly Scripps Spelling Bee, with winners eligible for the regional bee; a Geography Bee, with winners eligible for the state bee; a homeschool science fair; and the national mythology exam. 

Local homeschool Facebook groups are full of experienced homeschoolers who are eager to answer questions. Local groups include Utah Valley Homeschoolers, Homeschool Support Group (UT) and Utah Homeschoolers Network. Some groups organize field trips and other learning experiences. Parents can find local businesses who offer classes or open their facilities for homeschool groups during the day.

In homeschool co-ops, parents typically teach classes in their areas of expertise in a small class setting. Co-ops provide broader academic options for homeschool students as well as opportunities to socialize. Local co-ops include Rise Up Academy, George Mueller Academy, Thomas Nelson Leadership Academy, South Valley Leadership Academy, and Inspired Minds Academy (includes a focus on technology).

Curriculum options produced in the area include The Good and the Beautiful (produced in Lehi) and the American Heritage Family School. Both of these include religious themes.

Other curriculum options recommended by many experienced homeschoolers include Libraries of Hope, Cathy Duffy Curriculum, The Well-Trained Mind, the writing curriculum from Institutes for Excellence in Writing, and Brave Writer, which offers online classes.

Math curricula are usually sold apart from larger curriculum programs. Ask friends what they use, or ask in an online forum.

Public online options – which are tuition-free and in some cases provide funds to homeschooling families – include MyTechHigh, K12, Utah Connections Academy and Mountain Heights Academy. These provide tailored support as you design your child’s curriculum and also provide transcripts.

Several charter schools offer online options.

Students in junior high or high school can do hybrid learning, where they take one or two classes at the local public school and do the rest at home. Some schools allow homeschool students to participate on a school sports team. Parents need to contact their local district to work out the details.

High school students can take classes for college credit from Snow College through MyTechHigh, or straight from Snow College via Snow Online.

Brigham Young University offers dozens of high school classes through BYU Independent Study. Public high schools generally award credit for classes completed through BYU. This is helpful for those planning to return to school after COVID-19 has passed.

Murphy said while she never planned to homeschool, she’s open to the possibilities this detour presents. She’s looking forward to “learning through doing” with her children.

Muhlestein said, “Don’t feel like you have to do everything.” She used the menu analogy, saying that if a family finds that “those three meals sat in the fridge for four days and no one ate them,” it allows for adjustments that work better the next time. Families can take the same approach to homeschooling as they make it work in their homes. 

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