Frequently Asked Questions

What New Homeschoolers Want to Know

You do not have to have special training or credentials to homeschool in Oregon. The law is easy to follow, and there is no pre-set curriculum or course of study required. There are, however, a few legal requirements. For information about homeschooling laws outside Oregon, go to: http://homeschooling.gomilpitas.com/directory/Legalities.htm.

Q. What does it mean to homeschool?
A. Homeschooling means different things to different people. For some families, homeschooling means duplicating school at home, complete with textbooks, report cards and regularly scheduled field trips. For others, homeschooling is simply the way they live their lives--children and adults living and learning together with a seamlessness that would challenge an observer to determine which was "home" and which was "school." If you think of these styles of homeschooling as lying at either end of a continuum, you would find homeschoolers scattered along that continuum, demonstrating every possible variation of what homeschooling could mean.

Q. What are some of the benefits of homeschooling?
A. A wise man once said, "We can teach our children to have courage, faith and endurance; they can teach us to laugh, to sing, and to love." For many, the deepest and most abiding benefit of homeschooling is the claiming (or reclaiming) of their family. Homeschooling families spend incredible amounts of time together living, learning and playing. They have the opportunity to develop a depth of understanding and a commitment to the family that is difficult to attain when family members spend their days going in separate directions. Many families like the flexibility homeschooling provides both parents and children. Children can learn about things they are interested in at a time in their lives when they are ready to learn. No preconceived schedule forces them ahead or holds them back. Vacations and outings can be planned for times when the family is ready, and often when the crowds are smaller and the costs lower. Children can learn about the "real world" by being a part of it, and can receive a superior education attuned specifically to their own needs, learning styles, personalities, and interests.

Q. What do I have to do in order to homeschool my children?
A. Homeschooling is legal in Oregon, as well as in all other states. The Oregon Revised Statutes and Oregon Administrative Rules detail your legal requirements, but basically you are required to notify your education service district of your intent to homeschool your children, and have them tested at the end of grades 3, 5, 8, and 10.

Q. Can I homeschool my challenged or learning disabled child?
A. Yes [see OAR 581-021-0029]. The state may be required by federal law to provide support for you. Contact the Department of Education or your county's education service district for more information.

Q. Can we use public school resources, take classes, or play in school sports?
A. Schools are required to permit homeschoolers to participate in interscholastic activities such as sports or debate club, if the child meets certain requirements. For more information, see the Oregon Revised Statutes. Homeschool students must register to homeschool by the beginning of the school year in order to participate in Oregon Student Activities Association (OSAA) activities, unless their local District Committee waives the mid-year transfer rule. Homeschoolers who also take public school classes should review OSAA rules to avoid ineligibility problems. For more information, see http://www.osaa.org/parents-students. Schools are not required by law to permit homeschoolers access to any other part of their program. Some school districts permit students to participate in classes part-time, and rarely, allow use of books and facilities. Contact your local school to see what the possibilities are. For other extracurricular programs, contact the program for any requirements.

Q. I don't live in Oregon. How do I find out about homeschooling in my state?
A. Contacting your state or local homeschooling support group is the best place to start. Often local public libraries can assist in locating them. The support groups usually have copies of the state law, information about getting started, and lists of activities and resources; many offer a newsletter as well. They can provide opportunities for getting together with other families, activities for children and adults alike, advice and help with resource materials, and even cooperative classes for children. Some have a purely social focus, while others have an academic or religious focus as well. Every support group has a different "flavor." Make sure that, if you choose to join one, the one you choose is compatible with your own needs and beliefs. And remember that many families get along just fine without belonging to a support group at all.

Q. Can I work at a job and still homeschool?
A. Homeschooling families have often been portrayed as "Dad goes to work, Mom stays at home with the kids." The reality, for many families, is much different: single parents homeschool, working parents homeschool, dads at home homeschool, parents with ongoing illnesses homeschool. Some families homeschool some of their children but not others. Grandparents homeschool grandchildren. It may take a little creative juggling, but many of the perceived barriers can be gotten around with some thoughtful problem-solving.

Q. Is homeschooling expensive?
A. Homeschooling can be as expensive or as inexpensive as you make it. It depends on what kinds of materials and resources you choose to use, how many children you will be homeschooling, and whether or not you will be giving up paid employment in order to homeschool your children. Parents can easily spend a small fortune on all the wonderful learning materials and books available. On the other hand, a superior education can also be accomplished using free resources found through the public library, interlibrary loans, and learning opportunities found in your community, such as museums and trips to interesting places. If you have only one child and decide to use real life experiences, public library, garage sales, and thrift stores for your resources, you may be talking about a couple hundred dollars or less for an entire year. If you decide to purchase a curriculum for five children you could be looking at several thousand dollars per year.

Q. How do I know which materials and resources to use?
A. This is, perhaps, the most difficult question to answer--be prepared for your ideas to change over time, and be aware that you may make choices that won't work out. Before you think about what you need, think about what learning means to you. School curriculum and methodology have evolved to reflect an environment where 25 or 30 children learn at the behest of one adult. Curriculum developed by experts for this usage has been designed for ease of teaching, but not necessarily for sparking the interest of the individual child. As a homeschooling family, you can accept as many or as few of these materials as you like. Some families like the ease and security of having a prepackaged curriculum, while others choose to make their own decisions about what is important to learn and what is useful and helpful in their daily lives. Discuss this with your children. What do they want to do? How do they learn best? Look at sample copies of materials before you choose. As homeschoolers, you will be in charge of your learning--take advantage of all the adventure has to offer!

Q. Where can I get materials and resources?
A. Materials and resources come in all sizes and shapes, and many don't look "schoolish" at all. Many families find their most treasured learning resources at garage sales and thrift shops. Think of building and needlework materials, cooking tools, books, magazines, motors, gears, etc. . . Some families frequent the bookstores and educational supply stores in their communities. Most think the public library is the best possible resource. Send for the catalogs that look interesting to you. They are filled with resources which you may find helpful. If you are interested in finding out more about prepackaged curriculum or correspondence schools, write for their brochures and informative fliers. Homeschooling conferences and learning fairs are another place for looking at materials and getting ideas. Check with your local or state support groups for information about these.

Q. How will I know if my child is learning?
A. Children are always learning; they just can't help it! Just like when they were babies and toddlers, you can discover what they are learning by spending time with them and observing the growth in their understanding of the world. Observation as an assessment (titled "authentic assessment" and a big educational buzzword these days) acknowledges growth in understanding and skill level. Unlike standardized testing, it doesn't give a "snapshot" that attempts to quantify learning at one point in time. It is fluid and flexible and has no preconceived notions about what a child "should" be able to do. You can look at the whole person and concentrate on what your child knows, instead of what your child does not know.

Q. What if my child wants to learn something I can't teach?
A. Children have the most amazing ability to want to learn the one thing about which we know absolutely nothing! It's a universal attribute. Homeschooling families are blessed in having the "world as their classroom." There are classes (correspondence, video, support groups, community centers, colleges, etc.) taught by experts, but many children are very capable of teaching themselves, just as adults do when they have something new they want to learn. One of the most powerful learning experiences for a child is to have a parent learning right alongside him or her. Parents, thankfully, do not have to be the expert in every area. Learn with your child, or search your community for resources that will help your child learn. And when searching for "teachers," don't overlook friends, acquaintances, and business people in your community. Most people are delighted to have a young person around who is sincerely interested in what they do and know.

Q. How will I know if my child is keeping up with other children her age?
A. This question arises from the belief that children must learn certain subjects in a certain order, since public schools teach that way. You may find it helpful to view academics in the same light as learning to walk, talk, or potty train: when the child is ready, he/she will do it. However, if your child may be returning to school in the future and you are truly concerned about his/her progress, you may find a curriculum guide helpful. Also, the annual, state-required testing will show how your child's scores compare with those of other children nationally.

Q. What about socialization?
A. Home educated children, because they spend so much of their time out in the real world, generally learn to get along well with both adults and children, and to have friends of all ages. They choose to spend time with others because they enjoy their company or have a similar interest--just as adults do. In many areas, there are formal and informal support groups that offer opportunities to meet other children and provide time for socialization. Many homeschoolers find they have to cut back on their social schedule to have time at home alone!

Q. What about college?
A. Homeschooled students are welcomed in many institutions of higher learning throughout the country, ranging from local community colleges to Ivy League universities. Most of these institutions value ability and attitude over formal transcripts, diplomas or GEDs. Call the admissions department of the school that interests you and ask about their policy for admitting homeschooled students. Most libraries and bookstores carry a wide assortment of books, directories and guides that will help older homeschoolers get information and prepare for college. Many homeschoolers choose an apprenticeship as a faster and more satisfying entry into their adult lives. Herbert Kohl's book "The Question Is College" and Grace Llewellyn's "Teenage Liberation Guidebook" can be great helps to families working through these decisions. It should be noted that college is not necessarily the only or even the best route for every young person. Going to college without a clear idea of what you expect to gain can be a very expensive form of self-discovery. And remember, the decision to forgo college is never irrevocable. Most institutions highly value older students, since they are usually enthusiastic and focused on learning.

This FAQ was compiled by Christine Webb, Deborah Cunefare, and the Oregon Home Education Network and edited by Helen Hegener with contributions by Ann Lahrson-Fisher, author of "Homeschooling in Oregon" and several other titles. For information about this FAQ, please contact webmaster@ohen.org.