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Required Subjects

What the PA Home Education Law says about Required Subjects:

Elementary school – Grades 1-6
"At the elementary school level, the following courses shall be taught: English, to include spelling, reading and writing; arithmetic; science; geography; history of the United States and Pennsylvania; civics; safety education, including regular and continuous instruction in the dangers and prevention of fires; health and physiology; physical education; music; and art."

Secondary school – Grades 7-12
"At the secondary school level, the following courses shall be taught: English, to include language, literature, speech and composition; science; geography; social studies, to include civics, world history, history of the United States and Pennsylvania; mathematics, to include general mathematics, algebra and geometry; art; music; physical education; health; and safety education, including regular and continuous instruction in the dangers and prevention of fires.  Such courses of study may include, at the discretion of the supervisor of the home education program, economics; biology; chemistry; foreign languages; trigonometry; or other age-appropriate courses as contained in Chapter 5 (Curriculum Requirements) of the State Board of Education."

Do I have to teach Fire Safety every year? 

YES. All home ed students are required to have "regular and continuous instruction in the dangers and prevention of fires". Most people interpret the law to mean that this needs to be taught every year, though extensive instruction is not necessary.  It’s a good idea to do certain “fire safety” things every year anyway, like change the batteries in your smoke alarms, and review fire procedures with your children.  See my fire safety page for more ideas. Since the portfolio must "demonstrate that appropriate education is occuring", and since covering the required subjects is part of the definition of an "appropriate education", your portfolio should in some way demonstrate that you have provided instruction in fire safety. (See suggestions below.)

Do I have to teach all of the rest of the subjects every year?

The PDE doesn’t think so.  (See the letter below.) 

Secondary (grades 7-12):

Evaluators (and the PDE) generally do not expect you to cover all the required subjects each year in grades 7-12, as schools typically take a “class/credit”-based approach in these years.  In public school, high school students typically take a class in World History one year, a class in US History another year, and may take no history at all in a given year if they’ve already earned all of the history credits they need for graduation.  That doesn’t mean you have to do “credits”, of course! But it does mean that your evaluator is less likely to expect you to cover all of the required secondary subjects in a given year.

Elementary (grades 1-6):

The elementary years are a bit different. Many people, including the PDE, feel that the law does not require that all required elementary-level subjects be taught each year.  However, before the October 2014 law change, some school district officials nonetheless expected the portfolio to demonstrate that you taught each of the required subjects each year.

One example is PA History. In public schools, PA history is usually covered only in fourth grade.  Before the October 2014 law change, some districts checked for PA History when the student was in 4th grade; some districts checked for PA History (and all the other subjects) every year. Yet according to the PDE, home educators can teach PA history in 4th grade, or in another elementary grade, or a little bit each year. Thus, according to the PDE, you should not have to teach every required subject during any given Elementary year, so long as you teach each subject at some point during grades 1-6.  

Do I have to have samples of every elementary-level subject in my portfolio?

Some folks generally touch on these subjects at some time during the year anyway, so they mention them.  Personally, I find it’s pretty hard to get through the year without doing anything in subjects like PA history.  My children might do a field trip to a local historical site, read a book about Ben Franklin, or take a nature center class about the Lenni Lenape.  It's generally pretty easy to put something in your portfolio for each of the required subjects, if you choose to do so.

However, especially if you take a very structured approach to homeschooling (and thus may not cover a particular subject in a given year), or if you’re concerned about validating the assumption that all subjects are required each year by complying with it, you may decide not to include all subjects in your portfolio. 

In the past, some districts apparently did look for something from each of the required subjects, to show that you had covered each of them. However, since the October 2014 law change, portfolios are no longer submitted to the district as part of the end of year paperwork, which should eliminate this concern.

Whether your evaluator will expect to see samples from each of the required subjects is something you may want to discuss. Talk to your evaluator ahead of time to be sure she is in agreement with your interpretation of the law, and your approach to the portfolio.

If you run into a problem, you may be able to address the situation with a call to the PDE.  See the PDE letter below and my district problems page.

How can I demonstrate in my portfolio that I’ve done a particular subject?

There are lots of ways to show that you’ve covered a particular subject.  Here are a few.

~ A sample of student work - this can include a worksheet, a writing sample about the subject (such as “How Bats See in the Dark” for science, or “Our Trip to the Liberty Bell” for history/civics), a picture or diagram drawn by the student, a poem or story, etc. Note that writing samples can do double-duty, because they show English, spelling, reading, and writing in addition to whatever subject they are about. The law requires that the portfolio includes some "samples of any writings, worksheets, workbooks or creative materials used or developed by the student". The key word here is "samples" - you don't need to go overboard.

~ A book in your log.  For example, you could list a book about bats for science, a book about grammar for English (like Ruth Heller’s excellent parts of speech series), a Magic Tree House book for history, and even a book about fire safety, if you can find one in your library. The law requires that the portfolio includes "a log, ... which designates by title the reading materials used".

~ A brief list or paragraph about work and/or activities in a particular subject. This is not required by law, but can be a quick and easy way to give an overview of the instruction/learning in a particular subject. (“PHYS ED:  Johnny likes to swim in the summer.  He is in a weekly bowling league.  This year he tried skiing, and really enjoyed our three ski trips.  He also enjoys riding his bike around the neighborhood and taking hikes with the family.  He tried ice-skating with his Cub Scout troop this year.”  “READING:  Sally read the Harry Potter series this year.  She dressed as Hermione for Halloween.  She saw the movie, and compared it to the book.  She has also read several other books that have a boarding school setting.”)  See my portfolio summaries page for lots of examples of this approach.

~ A photo of a project, like a Geography Fair display about Japan, a science fair project about bats, or a model of the heart. Photos are not required by law, but folks find that a photo is the best way to show hands-on type work, or to sum up a lot of work into one image.

~ A brochure or photo from a field trip – a map of the zoo, the program from a music concert, a flyer about a library program.  Some people like collecting these mementos.  We call them “portfolio fodder” in my family.  Again, they are not required by law, but they are an easy way to remember and to document what you’ve done.  If you're an "out and about' family, just put each activity’s papers in a sheet protector, put them in your binder, and by the end of the year you’re almost done with your portfolio!  However, if you aren’t big on having lots of this stuff around, or if you would prefer not to show the evaluator these momentos, that’s OK.  You can show the same thing by just keeping a list of outings and putting the list in the portfolio.  There’s no need to “prove” you did the activity by including the actual brochure about it.

Most people use a combination of these approaches, choosing the mix that best fits the particular subject, their style of homeschooling, and what they have done during the year. You must of course include a log, and some samples of work, as these are required by law. However, there is no need to provide a sample for each and every thing you’ve done all year!

Here is some correspondence between a homeschooler and the PDE about the required subjects:

From: Have a Nice Day
Sent: Thursday, June 01, 2000 4:53 PM
Subject: Need some confirmation


A while ago, I spoke with you on the phone regarding covering the subjects listed in the law. The law states that:

"At the elementary school level, the following courses shall be taught:
English, to include spelling, reading, and writing; arithmetic; science; geography; history of the United States and Pennsylvania; civics; safety education; including regular and continuous instruction in the dangers and prevention of fires; health and physiology; physical education; music; and art."

My understanding is that these subjects need to be covered during the period of grades 1-6...but they do not have to be covered every day of every year. In other words, if several weeks have gone by without math instruction, that its ok as long as it has been covered and sustained progress has been made in the period from grade 1-6.

It also means that if I want to use "block instruction" that that is acceptable according to the law. For example...perhaps this year I want to focus solely on English and History, but not math, and next year I want to focus solely on Math and Science...but not English. As long as all the listed subjects have been covered at some point in the grades from 1-6 and there is sustained progress in the overall program, I have complied with the law.

When I spoke with you, I am sure that you were in agreement with this. Is that right? I know it might be asking a lot, but with evaluations and portfolios coming due, I've had a lot of questions
about this, so can you get back to me asap.

Kristen Seitz

From: Pearce, Sarah
To: 'Have a Nice Day'
Date: Friday, June 09, 2000 8:14 AM
Subject: RE: Need some confirmation

Dear Ms. Seitz,

I am responding to your phone call and e-mail regarding subjects which are required by law to be taught in a home education program.

The law, 24 P.S. Sec. 13-1327.1(c)(1) as you have correctly quoted, does not require that every subject must be taught every year, but that all listed subjects must be taught during the elementary level of schooling. Therefore, your suggestion that you may, in your homeschool, concentrate on English and History one year and Math and Science the next, may be acceptable in the eyes of the law. This may be an unusual program, especially in the elementary years, but it is acceptable according to the law.

Please feel free to contact me if you have additional questions or concerns.

Sarah J. Pearce

School Services Unit
Office of Elementary/Secondary Education
Pennsylvania Department of Education
333 Market Street
Harrisburg, PA 17110
Phone: 717-783-9287 (voicemail available)
Fax: 717-783-6802
TTY: 717-783-8445