My family is starting to plan for our third year of homeschooling in Vermont.
With the recent Covid-19 pandemic, it looks like many Vermont families will be joining the ranks of homeschoolers this fall. I have heard from a few families that they don’t know where to start, in terms of preparing for homeschooling and making sure to approach the endeavor in a legal and organized fashion. Don’t worry, friends. I am here to help. And while this information and the dates I’ve highlighted are Vermont-specific, I think there are helpful nuggets for any homeschooling family.
1. Start at the VT Department of Education Home Study website
There is so much information on the website. You can find all the forms you need to submit to enroll your child (or children) into a homeschooling program, as well as examples of the minimum course of study and end of the year requirements. These two standards are a great guide to know the goals of your course of study. Not to mention, you can complete the entire home study enrollment process online!
Important Dates to Remember from the Home Study website:
March 01 – You may start enrolling children for the upcoming school year. This marks the date rolling enrollment begins.
May 01 – No current year enrollments will be accepted after this date. This means that as of May 1st in the current year, your child needs to finish the year where they are already enrolled. If your child is completing 1st grade in a public school as of May 1st, they must finish the year where they are and you can enroll them in homeschool for their 2nd-grade year.
July 01 – You are considered no longer enrolled in Home Study if your fully completed new enrollment forms are not received by this date.
*Rolling enrollment is accepted as long as the student is enrolled elsewhere (public school/ private school) until you have received an official Home Study enrollment completion letter. This means that unless you have a medical emergency or mental health concern, you should not just pull your child out of school without completing the home study enrollment first. You can decide to take your child out of school and homeschool at any point BEFORE May 1st, you just have to first complete the proper paperwork.
2. When you are working on your Home Study enrollment application, it is essential to think about your child’s learning style, your teaching style, and your curriculum needs.
Since you’re opting out of public school, you can let go of everything that goes with it. You don’t have to follow a schedule that looks anything like a school day. You get to do what works for you and your family. You are able to focus in-depth on topics that your child is most engaged in. Don’t forget that field trips and local happenings can supplement your academic plan. You can teach fractions with measuring cups and recipes too. When you’re homeschooling, the most pressing limitation is your own imagination.
A quick Google search for homeschool curriculums will result in hundreds of options from free to very expensive. In my family, we try to focus on core skills that need to be covered and then pick curriculum and resources where we need help. My husband loves talking about history, geography, and politics so it is easy for him to teach those subjects. I love teaching reading, writing, and spelling so we don’t need to purchase a curriculum for those topics. We need support in math and science and often spend our homeschooling funds on those topics. There are online learning options, workbooks, project kits, and more. Homeschooling is so flexible!
When you’re planning your schedule, I’ve found it best to keep in mind when you’re able to be present for your children and when they are at their best. It is also important to keep in mind their learning style. Some children will want to do all their work right away every morning and have more time for activities they choose and other children will need their work to be more spaced out over the course of the day.
3. Write your Minimum Course of Study (MCOS) in your Home Study enrollment application.
The MCOS lays out your plans for what content you will cover over the course of the school year. When I started homeschooling, another mom who was an experienced homeschooler told me to just write the minimum number of topics you hope to cover! This is because whatever you include in the MCOS, you’ll need to show your child’s growth on. You can always do MORE than what you put on the MCOS and then report on all the amazing enrichment and extra areas you covered! But if you do less than you proposed, there might be concerns with your end of the year assessment and you’ll be scrambling to explain why you didn’t cover those items.
You have options for how to report your child’s progress, and some require more preparation than others. You can have a teacher assessment be performed by a certified teacher. The teacher will review your MCOS, your child’s work samples, and meet with your child to determine yearly progress. They will then provide you with a letter to submit.
Another option for the end of the year reporting is a portfolio. When I first heard of this option, it seemed overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. At the start of the year, set up a place to collect and store examples of your child’s work. In my house, we have a binder that we throw work into all year long. We also keep a homeschool folder in our Google photos drive and on Facebook. This makes it easy to drop photos and work samples into our portfolio all year long.
5. Research local homeschool options for supplemental activities.
For families homeschooling in Vermont, there are tons of Facebook groups for homeschooling families that can offer suggestions and may even want to team up on some activities. With a little research, you can find activities for field trips and other amazing enrichment activities. Several museums and organizations in the area have homeschool days or times where you can participate in academic programming to enrich and supplement your child’s home education. You can also find alternative homeschool options like nature or farm programing. I have personally used the Farm School program at New Village Farm, but I know there are others like Crows Path or through the Middlebury Area Land trust. I’m sure there are more I haven’t even heard of yet!
Just like anything, there are pros and cons to homeschooling, and often those depend on an individual’s family values and beliefs.
Deciding to homeschool was a sacrifice for my family and the first year was difficult. It took us time to find other homeschooling families that we connected with and programs that were a good fit for my son, his learning style, and our budget. There have been times I wished my son had access to some of the public school activities and programs.
I highly suggest reading The Brave Learner by Julie Bogart. It totally changed my outlook on homeschooling. For us, the pros have outweighed the cons. We have been able to individualize learning for our children and we have more flexibility in our schedule. We take learning at their pace and learn in many different ways. Overall, our family has been healthier and happier since we decided to homeschool.