Getting Started with Homeschooling in Pennsylvania.
On This Page:
STEP 1: Understand the Law
In Pennsylvania, there are a number of ways to educate your child outside of traditional bricks-and-mortar schools. Each has pros and cons, and some only fit certain situations. You will need to decide which option is the right choice for you and your child.
Most families homeschool under the PA Home Education Law. To use this option, you must start by filing an Affidavit with a list of Educational Objectives (don’t worry, this is easier than it sounds!) There are also certain Medical Requirements to be met. During the year, you must provide instruction for the Required Days/Hours in the Required Subjects, including Fire Safety. (Don’t worry – this needn’t be anywhere near as formal as it sounds.) You must keep a Log of Reading Materials (basically, a list of books you use), and a Portfolio which includes samples of your child’s work. In third, fifth, and eighth grades you must do Standardized Testing. (There are many testing options to choose from.) At the end of the year, you must have an Evaluation. (See my List of Evaluators or ask locally to find one.)
There are a number of alternatives to the Home Education Law. Some parents who hold a PA teaching certificate, or who hire someone who does, homeschool under the Private Tutor Law. There are two publicly funded learn-at-home options -- one of the new Public Cyber Charter Schools (which are basically public correspondence schools), and Homebound Instruction, where the student is tutored for a few hours a week by a school district employee. (Homebound instruction is generally only offered by a school district to children who cannot attend school due to illness, discipline issues, or other reasons – this is also public schooling). There are several other options that are rarely used (generally because of legal issues) but which may fit a particular family’s circumstances. These include an Umbrella School, a Church School, a Religious Exemption claim under the Religious Freedom Protection Act, or Underground Homeschooling (which is illegal).
If your child is age 8 or under, or 17 or older, you will want to read more about the compulsory attendance age in PA. You might not have to do any of the above!
Unfortunately, local school district personnel are not always familiar with the details of the laws regarding homeschooling. The Homeschooling Liaison at the PA Department of Education (PDE) can be very helpful when school districts overstep their bounds or when homeschoolers have questions about the law. I also offer some Tips on Handling School District Problems and some Homeschooling Statistics.
It can be extremely helpful to contact Local Homeschool Groups and Co-ops. They can help you find resources, events, and classes (and make friends!) in your area.
There are as many different approaches to homeschooling as there are homeschooling families. Take some time to figure out what approach might work for you and your child. There are many homeschooling books on the market, and most libraries carry a selection of them. If one style doesn’t sound like it’s a good fit, keep looking!
As far as materials, it's not necessary to spend a lot of money. In fact, your most valuable resource is your library card. Nonetheless, most homeschoolers do buy some "school" stuff -- everything from a book or two to complete curriculum packages. If you're starting out, though, don't spend a whole lot of money at first – many people change curriculum in their first year. Home educators can borrow textbooks from their local school district. My curriculum page lists a few suppliers, some websites where you can buy used materials, and homeschooling conferences/conventions across the state, where you can browse materials offered by vendors and attend workshops on various homeschooling subjects. My Useful Forms page provides forms to help you plan and/or document your child’s education.
For homeschoolers in High School, there are various options for earning a diploma. Take a look at these so you can plan the path that’s best for your child.
Recently, a new law passed requiring local school districts to allow homeschooled students access to public school extracurricular activities, such as sports and clubs. Some districts also allow homeschoolers to take a class or two without attending full time. These options may or may not be the right choice for you. To learn more, see my page on Homeschoolers in the Public Schools - Sports, Clubs, & Classes - Why & How
STEP 4: Help another homeschooler
Homeschooling works because of the collective efforts of homeschoolers. Once you feel comfortable with homeschooling, there are lots of ways you can do your part. Set up a class or field trip, organize a co-op, or mentor a new homeschooler. Ask someone who's involved what you can do to help them, or do your own thing. And when you benefit from someone else's labor, always remember to thank them - that's probably the only payment they'll get for their work.