Friday, October 25, 2013



#1- Familiarize yourself with homeschool regulations for your state. The rules vary (by state) from very lenient/almost non-existent to very strict (in some states the only requirement is that a parent has to have graduation from high school. That's it - no testing, no rules. Other states require you to be a certified teacher or be supervised by a teacher, and to provide an elaborate portfolio of work samples ever year). Washington state is fairly lenient.

Put simply, here are the "rules" for WA state:

  1. Any child over 8 has to be registered as a homeschooler with the school-district (if they are already enrolled in public school, they have to be formally withdrawn, no matter what age).
  2. Each child must participating in standardized testing annually (see separate post on this topic)
  3. You must report your intent to homeschool the student to the school district EVERY YEAR within 2 weeks of school starting (or 2 weeks of withdrawing the student from school). There is a specific form you have to use (see separate post for this)
  4. You must keep records (including standardized test scores, immunization records, etc)
  5. You must cover a minimum of 11 topics (not necessarily all at once):  reading, writing, spelling, language, math, science, social studies, history, health, occupational education, and art & music appreciation (these do not have to be taught separately...if you're studying frogs that  could include reading, writing, spelling, science, math, art and occupational education all in one lesson). 
  6. At least one parent in the home must meet one of these criteria (and it doesn't have to be the main teaching parent):
    • Have earned at least 45 quarter units of college level credit.
    • Attend a "Parent Qualifying Course" (ie, something you can pay for, but its unnecessary)
    • Work with a certified teacher who meets with your student on the average of an hour a week.
    • Be deemed sufficiently qualified to provide home-based instruction by the superintendent of your local school district.
For complete information about homeschool law in WA, a good website is:

#2- File an intent to provide home instruction with the school district within 2 weeks of the start of each school year or immediately if student is currently enrolled. (see separate post on this topic)

#3- Get a folder/notebook/filebox to start your homeschool record-keeping. This is not the place to keep completed schoolwork or plans for lessons. This is the place where you will keep your important records related to homeschooling (see separate post on this topic)

#4- Go to the Washington State Dept of Education Website (or the comparable website for your state if you aren't in Washington). This website has a complete list of everything that Washington State students are expected to learn (listed by grade year). This is all broken down into subjects. I use this resource because #1- our state requires annual standardized testing, so I need to know what will be covered on the test. #2- if you ever need/want to put your student back into public school, you want to make sure they've covered the same material as the public school kids so they aren't behind. I consider the required topics/skills to be the base and then I add on what I want the student to learn/do.

How to find the info you need on the Dept of Education website: From the link above, look for the 'learning standards' section, then click on the different subjects. You may have to click on "learning standards" within each subject  section as well, look the applicable grade-level.

(See my other posts on how to plan/prepare your curriculum!)


It can be intimidating to try to figure out what (exactly) your student should be learning...but whats even more intimidating is trying to put that information into a teaching plan for the school year. 

Here are some tips that can help:

To make sure that I cover everything that my student would learn in their grade level at public school, I reference my state’s education requirements by grade (see #4 in a seperate post about this here). I use the state-provided "learning standards" as a curriculum-planning guideline. 

I copy every requirement that relates to my student over to a separate word document so I have everything together on a master list. Then I add on what I want her to learn on top of that when I'm planning the year. This is where your curriculum/subjects for the school year come from. It will look like a lot at first, but you may also be surprised at how little time you have to spend on each subject when you are able to spend one on one time with your student/child.

The state's requirement for Washington State History for Grade "X" might be something like "Learn about the contributions of Lewis and Clark to the development of the Pacific Northwest" and "Learn about the symbols of Washington State, including the state bird and the state flower" These are made up examples, of course, but it will be things like that. So your list of History requirements for your student in Grade "X" would be something like this:

  • Lewis & Clark contributions to Pacific Northwest
  • Washington State symbols (state bird, state flower, etc)

(If you are only interested in the basics, you're done making your list!)

However, if you are interested in expanding the experience of learning these basics, you could come up with ideas for what are called, "Unit Studies" (basically, you enhance the learning experience by using multiple medias and subjects to add to their, instead of just reading a book about Lewis & Clark, you could have them do a painting of Lewis & Clark (art), write a report about them (English/Writing), visit a historical site (Field Trip), calculate the distance of their journeys (Practical Math), etc. It's kind of fun!  

If you are interested in advancing your student (perhaps to the next grade level), you can look ahead to the next year's requirements and add some of those to your list for this year as well. Or you may want to include some completely different things (such as sewing, community service, model trains, etc) that are not necessarily part of the standard curriculum. You can add whatever you want your student to learn. But I do recommend making sure that you cover what is being covered in public school (because, again, these things will be on the annual standardized test!)

I also check out books like "What your 5th grader needs to know" (they have those for all grades, kindergarten +up)...there are several other similar book series they're each slightly different, so I usually get them all (they have them at the library or you can buy them). Then I make big list of everything that needs to be covered. Information in these books will be general (like “learn multiplication tables from 1 to 10” and won’t include specific requirements for your state, so MAKE SURE you find out what your state requires by grade- because those things WILL BE on the test!
The next step is the toughest - I try to map out what we're going to cover for the whole year, month by month. Later on (as I go), I break it down further by week (more on that in a second). Its time-consuming because I have to try to keep things evenly distributed across the year. For example, learning to convert mixed numbers to improper fractions is going to take a lot longer than learning what a number line is.

The main reason I wait to plan each week/day until later is that it takes a long time. The other reason is that if we get off-schedule for a few days (because we get the flu or something) it messes up the whole plan. Its a big problem because some things (like certain math skills) build on previous lessons, so if I get off schedule when things are rigidly pre-planned, I have to push back everything for the whole year. If I've planned the whole year by month, but only planned the weeks in an individual month for the upcoming month, its not that huge catastrophe if I need to rearrange things for just one month.



Unless you run on batteries and don't need any sleep, its going to be just about impossible to create a  full curriculum from scratch every year (I mean creating all your own worksheets and hand-making every visual aid...) Nobody has that kind of free time, so I don't even try! I just use as many resources as I can (especially the free ones) and modify them to work for us. Most of the resources I use are free. As my daughter has gotten older (especially this year, with high school!) I've had to transition to using some purchased materials (ie, French class & Algebra). Even then, its very easy to find used materials online (Ebay!).

A lot of homeschooling parents use a set of pre-packaged curriculum. There are many ready-made curriculum packages (or stand-alone textbooks and/or workbooks) that you can buy online, from catalogs, etc. I'm a big cheapskate though, so my first thought is "I can do it for cheaper!" It takes a little more work because I'm responsible for making sure I cover everything, instead of relying on a specific set of text/workbooks to automatically cover what the local schools are teaching. 

I do use some workbooks and also worksheets that I've printed off of the internet, but I've never needed to spend a lot of money on that sort of thing. Sometimes I find an unused (or barely used) workbooks at a garage sale or thrift store and I buy those if they look like they aren't too "dumbed down". The best ones are usually topic-specific, instead of all-in-one workbooks (which are usually mostly fluff). Its good to have worksheets for some subjects (like multiplication, handwriting, grammar) because the more practice, the better. I like to keep things like that on hand, too, in case I get stuck on the phone or something and Kendall needs something to do while she's waiting for me. I just don't want to rely on workbooks to do the teaching.

I have actually broken down and bought new workbooks a few times (online or at the Learning Palace), like last year, when Kendall was learning about the 50 states we bought a workbook with a page or two for each state that had trivia and little activities. It was a lot easier to buy that workbook than try to make up my own lesson for all 50 states! I guess I just "pick my battles".

As for textbooks, I've never purchased them (until recently when I had to because the subject matter was out of my 'wheelhouse'). I almost always find whatever I need online for free, or if I really need a book (or video) I find something appropriate at the library or online. 

Strangely, a LOT of info covered in grade school can be easily explained in only a few minutes. For example, when Kendall was in 4th grade, I explained to her what the difference is between rural, suburban, and urban areas. It isn't that complicated, but she was expected to know that concept for 4th grade (and it WAS on the CAT5 test that year!). Simply explaining the concept took me less than 5 minutes, including giving her examples, and asking her questions to make sure she understood. No textbook needed! :)

One of my "things" (quirks?) is that I have a prejudice against pre-packaged curriculum. I'm probably over-paranoid about it, but I don't like unnecessary busy- work and the curriculum sets I've seen are full of it! I remember being bored to death in school because the students who were behind got most of the instruction and the rest of us got a lot of pointless busy work. Silly, pointless things (like connect-the-dots coloring pages, which are great for younger kids, but not exactly appropriate schoolwork for 5th graders!). One of the reasons I wanted to homeschool was that I could cut out that sort of thing and stick to the topics that matter. That way I can supplement additional info if I want, or move ahead to new material as soon as the student is ready

Thursday, October 24, 2013


I think I've heard too many horror stories about potential homeschooling parents being berated by public  school administrators, because I feel like I'm paranoid every single year when I have to spend HOURS searching every link in the School District website trying to find their 'declaration of intent to provide home-based instruction' form. I've felt for years that they are deliberately putting it in ridiculous places just to make it difficult to find, and I am starting to think they are purposefully moving it from year to year to throw me off :) because whenever I do manage to find it, its never in the same place on the website twice. Go ahead and try to find it! The parent section? No! Records? No! Adminstration? No! :) Oh, I should have known, its only available if you search for it by name in the website's ARCHIVE! Silly me, why didn't I think to look there?!?!!?!?!?

Paranoid rant aside, this is a form that you will have to fill out and send in every single year (within 2 weeks of school starting in the fall). You have to send this specific form in - no hand-written notes or generic forms that you found online -it has to be this one (their words) and it has to be the original, not a photocopy (I learned this the hard way!)

This form protects the school district from liability (for not teaching the child) and protects you from legal action for truancy. PS- your child is not truant (ie, skipping school), he is receiving home-based instruction. And you will have the documentation to prove it right in your school records file (right?)

If you are in Longview School District, this is the form you need. Different school districts will have a different form. If you can't find it on the website, you can call the office and have them send one to you, but be prepared for attitude (I wish I were joking).

This is the link to the official form (for now, anyway!)

After you fill it out, MAKE A COPY and keep the copy in your school records, just in case. This will prove that you submitted it, if there is ever a question.


A common issue for new homeschooling parents (especially those with students who have been taken out of public school) is burning themselves out the first few weeks because they are trying to re-create the whole classroom experience at home. Just because a child may spend 6+ hours in public school classroom, does not mean that they aren't "keeping up" if they don't spend that much time  doing formal "school" at home... Does your child need to sit at the table with his face in a book for 6 hours every weekday? NO! You will need to spend much less time than you think with actual teaching/study time.

A major difference between public school and homeschool is that your child doesn't have to wait for the teacher to address the concerns/issues of all of the other children in the class. If she has mastered her multiplication tables, she can move on to something else (or call it a day!). A lot of public school is busy-work and/or waiting for other kids to catch up (or waiting to get help when you're stuck). And then there are recess breaks, lunch, assemblies, etc. So how do you know how much time to spend on "school"?

When we lived in Portland about 5 years ago, I knew a woman who had gone back to school to be a teacher. At the time she was working as an elementary-level student-teacher as part of her schooling. She told me that she had been instructed by the school district that if they could get 1 hour of actual teaching accomplished in the classroom PER DAY, they could consider that a successful day. I am not joking, she was told this by the school district.

In another example, a friend's son was in public school (also in Portland) and had to be taken out for an extended period because of a planned surgery. She was told by the adminstrators that her son could do his schoolwork at home under her supervision, which would mean that he could return to school later in the year without being behind his classmates. When she asked how many hours per day she should work with him on his studies, she was told that their policy is that 1 hour of parent-teaching time is equal to 4 hours of classroom-teaching time. So basically, she could accomplish in one hour what it would take 4 hours in the classroom.

These aren't folktales, these are actual examples that have happened (recently) to people I know in our area of the country.

I don't share these examples to demean the public school system. Its just a reality - one on one is much more effective and faster. And who knows your child's learning style better than you?

How much time you spend on school each day will depend on your child's learning style, your teaching/organization style, your family schedule, etc. The student's age will be a factor also - play is a major part of education for a preschooler, elementary school kids need a lot of hands-on, and high school kids will largely be able to work on their own for most subjects/projects.

You may choose to start 'school' at 6am and end at 10am, then spend the rest of the day working in your garden together (which also counts as 'school', by the way!). Or you may want to break your school day up into smaller chunks (english from 8-9, math from 10-11, etc). You may choose to take a whole day off just to have fun. You can do that, you're homeschooling!

Reassess your child's progress from time to time to see if you need to spend more time in certain areas to stay on track for the year (or maybe you'll discover that you're way ahead, and you can spend less time in formal school activities for the rest of the year).


This standardized testing stuff seems really complicated and difficult at first, but it can be really easy. There is no required testing in OR, so when I first moved to WA I was really freaking out. Especially about hiring a proctor and having Kendall be tested in a strange house with someone we don't even know staring at her while she takes an important test. No thank you! Another homeschool family told me how they do their testing - through a company called FLO. We've been doing testing through FLO ever since, and it is really simple. I will walk you through it!

The first thing you need to know is, the standardized tests (no matter how/where you do it) are not turned in - to anyone! I am not kidding. You do not turn your scores in to the State or the School District. You do not turn them in to anyone. I am serious! Nobody keeps them, not even the proctor (if you use one). They do not need them and they will not ask for them. The scores are primarily kept for your personal records. You are required to keep these records in case you ever need to prove that you’ve been doing the tests (and therefore providing education), but unless something like that actually comes up (like, say you had a custody dispute and had to prove in court that you were providing education) nobody ever wants to know about these scores except you. I am not joking about this - it seem outrageous, but really, you do not turn them in to anyone!

WHEN DO YOU TEST? In Washington state you are required to do annual testing. There isn't a set date it needs to be completed. We usually do ours in June when public school is out, just because it represents the end of the school year (even though our family continues to homeschool through summer).

HOW DO YOU GET THE TEST (AND WHERE DO YOU TAKE IT?) WA state requires testing to be done through an approved test administrator who assigns a proctor. And only certain types of tests ‘count’. There are proctors that you can hire, but I never liked the idea of paying a stranger to watch my kid take a test. FLO is who we go through. They are a homeschool organization that is based in WA – this is their website:

The way FLO has it set up is that they act as the test administrator and assign the parent as the proctor. You sign a form saying you’re administrating the test to your own homeschooled child and that you’re not going to cheat, etc. and then you’re a proctor. Its that simple. And its legit. YOU DO NOT NEED TO HIRE A PROCTOR - IT IS LEGAL TO GO THROUGH FLO AND PROCTOR THE TEST YOURSELF. I PROMISE!!!!

If you order your test through FLO, you pick the date you want test and they mail it to you then (or as close as they can). They send you a test book and answer sheet. Then you have 2 weeks to complete and return the test in the mail (or there is an additional fee). Its kind of nice to have 2 weeks to work on the test because you don’t have to do it all in one day.  They don’t send you the answers to the test, just the questions and a sheet for the student to mark their answers. After you mail the test back, you get the results in the mail in about 2 weeks. They do not keep the results, it is your responsbility to keep the test results in your own records.

So basically they’ve gotten around the need to hire an outside proctor by assigning the parent as a proctor. It sounds like its kind of a loophole in the system, and maybe it is, but its totally approved by the State. They’ve been administering tests like this for 20 years. You can read more about it at the website. Everyone I know who homeschools in WA does their testing through FLO. I have done it 5 times now, I think. It is the easiest and cheapest way to go. And its the easiest on your student, too.

WHAT TEST DO THEY TAKE?  CAT-5 (California Achievement Test, 5th Edition – Complete Battery) is the test we always use – its one of the approved tests that WA State accepts and its one of the few that FLO administers. Every homeschool student I know of uses this test. They have the CAT-5 test available in editions for all grades, K-12.

As far as cost goes, the CAT-5 is $37. I don’t know how much of a profit FLO is making off administrating the test, but I’m pretty sure its still cheaper than ordering a test through a proctor and then paying the proctor to, well, proctor. If I remember right, I think proctors charge about $50 for proctoring and I don’t think that includes the cost of the test itself. I’d rather just skip the middle-man and do the proctoring myself!