We went to a two-year-old birthday party over the weekend and I didn't know most of the guests, so the obvious questions arose from various party-goers:
Q: "How old is M?"
Q: "Where does she go to school?"
A: "We homeschool."
Q: "Oh, so how does that work legally? What are the requirements?"
A: "Regulations vary by state, but in Massachusetts and many other states, a homeschooler reports to the public school district within that town in the calendar year in which the child turns 6 to be in compliance with compulsory attendance laws. Districts can request lots of information, but by law in Massachusetts a homeschooler is only required to demonstrate through a letter of intent and brief education plan that the homeschool education is comparable in hours and breadth to that of the public school district. Districts cannot dictate specifically what is covered, how it is covered, or how learning is assessed, although they can ask for some form of assessment. Most homeschoolers in Massachusetts opt for a brief, end-of-year, self-reported learning summary as the primary form of assessment. And in most school districts, unless there are red flags to indicate possible neglect or woeful inadequacy of content, homeschoolers are left alone. After all, most public schools have much bigger issues with which to contend."
Q: "So do you worry about socialization?"
A: "We belong to very active local homeschool groups and have weekly playgroups with our homeschool friends and neighborhood friends. And, on the flip side, I am glad that my kids will not be exposed to the negative socialization that often occurs in schools."
Q: "So how does it work? What do you do for curriculum?"
A: "Most city homeschoolers will tell you that the stereotypical homeschool image of kids sitting around a kitchen table for six hours a day being taught by their mom doesn't apply to us-- and, frankly, probably doesn't apply to most homeschoolers. We use the city as our primary learning tool, taking advantage of all its offerings, including classes, museums, libraries, cultural events, and fascinating neighbors-- in addition to the numerous activities offered through our local homeschool groups. Inside our home, we spend a lot of time reading, baking, playing, talking, listening to music, crafting, and doing projects. As the kids get older, there may be more structure to our learning, with daily time for math work, for example, but we intend to maintain our eclectic approach to learning. And when the kids hit high school age, they will take advantage of online and community college classes to help them learn higher-level content like calculus and physics."
I was surprised that the legality/regulation question came before the socialization question, but I thought it was interesting that these two questions were both asked during separate conversations at the party. And, like most questioners I encounter, there was pure curiosity in the tone of the questions, no judgment or skepticism. While I have had a few instances of the latter, most people I meet are sincerely interested in learning about why we homeschool and how it works. My standard line is that homeschooling provides us with the time, freedom and flexibility to tailor our learning to our children's interests while ensuring that our children are meeting or exceeding Massachusetts curriculum guidelines by grade level.