Organizing Your Homeschool


Homeschool Planner

Pennsylvania requires very little formal paperwork to begin homeschooling.

If you live in another state, please note that these requirements may not pertain to you.

PA residents can find everything needed on the PA Department of Education (PDE) website, but here are the basics to make it easier.

The Basics

1. An Affidavit.

The parent is the "Supervisor" of the Home Education Program. (Sample on PDE website). Link: https://www.education.pa.gov/Documents/Codes%20and%20Regulations/Basic%20Education%20Circulars/Purdons%20Statutes/Elementary%20Homeschool%20Sample%20Affidavit.pdf

2. Educational Objectives.

You can see the ones I’ve used in the tabs. Keep in mind PA changes them a bit in the Common Core SAS system and that can give you VERY detailed ideas and resources.
Here is the link: https://www.pdesas.org/Standard/View

3. Immunization Record (I use the one that’s incorporated into the Affidavit). 
Documents 1-3 need to be Notarized

2020-2021 school year we can use an online Notary but it is far more expensive than $5-7 it normally costs in person. It is around $25 through this service: https://www.notarize.com/

* Make a copy to keep for your records (I put these right into a Homeschool Planner binder).

* Mail the notarized original to your school district's superintendent. (Ours sends a confirmation letter back.) 

Other Requirements:

4. Attendance Record - 180 days of instruction, or 900 hours.

(This works out to be 5 hours a day).

5. Reading list.

Illustrated books, novels, reference books, comic books all count. 

6. Standardized Tests for Grades 3, 5, and 8.
7. Portfolio

I use a large binder and anything we do on paper, 3-hole punch and place inside.

At the end of the school year, we review everything we've done and just take a selection to our homeschool evaluator. You may take the whole portfolio if you want, but they only need a sample of the work. Sometimes I make photobooks of our year, and this website has examples too. It usually takes us an hour because we chat and share what works/ what needs to be problem solved. It's been great! 

8. Homeschool Evaluator Person

The homeschool evaluator is a person who must have a PA teaching certificate, all appropriate Clearances, and go through other qualifiers to become an evaluator. Our homeschool evaluator meets with us at the end of the school year, reviews the portfolio, and fills out a form that we met all homeschooling requirements. (Test scores are not required.) I make a copy of the homeschooler's evaluation form for my records, and then mail it to our school district. The district sends back a confirmation letter, and that's all it takes! 

8. Homeschool Evaluation Letter

The homeschool evaluator is responsible for giving parent homeschoolers a letter or formto send to their school district, confirming that "an appropriate education has taken place". That is the wording used in PA law.

FAQ

Q: Do I need to give my child quizzes or tests? 

A: No. You do not need to give your child tests, or grade them at all. In fact, parents are not allowed to give standardized tests.

Q: How do we approach state standardized testing?

A: In grades 3, 5, and 8, I inform our school district when it's time for a Standardized test, select the tests that are most appropriate, and set up a date and testing time. It is free to do it this way. Otherwise, you can use online resources or hire someone who can give standardized tests. Our state department of education website has a list of approved tests for you to select. (For special needs, we have adapted tests to choose from.)

Q: What counts as a school day?

A: Anything educational. If you are doing 3-5 hours of instruction on any given day (weekends included), field trips, or learning activities, it counts! I am a little strict with us about this and only include days I feel we have covered educational content. Nobody is there to check on you about this, it's really by honor system. There are people who "unschool" and use no curriculum at all. If you're at the park, you teach about safety, different kinds of trees and plants, and observe animals in their natural habitat, bodies of water, or whatever you find. At home, you can reflect on what you enjoyed. I have asked "What would you add to the playground we went to?" which becomes a civic design and visual arts project. That is an example of how being in nature can be woven into daily instruction!

Q: Do field trips count as a school day?

A: Yes. Museums, zoos, aviary, the symphony, and historic sites are all obvious choices. We went to Disney World, and all of that vacation time counted as school days. Our homeschool evaluator is a huge Disney fan, and when I called her to ask about this, she said, "Oh, it's a school day, not vacation!" Animal Kingdom and Epcot Center both have a strong learning spin, and she listed several resources for evidence of learning. Plus, you have the practical learning of organizing a trip, which is a great life skill to have. Throw in facts about the state you're visiting (Florida), or wherever you travel, and you've got geography and history covered in a way that is MEANINGFUL and RELEVANT to your family. 


Homeschool Vision Statements: YOLO

What do you want your homeschool to feel like?

One year, I answered "magical". I wanted it to feel like something out of a story, unlike any school experience I'd ever had. So I began with a Hogwarts Homeschool letter, a white owl puppet, and J.K. Rowling inspired content. We created number gnomes from Waldorf inspired math stories. Then, she selected a few of her own stories to dive into. It was an amazing year! 

If you're an outdoorsy type, then really focus on things that get you outside! Get a big canvas drop cloth for your painting rocks and pumpkins, sorting and picnic areas. Read outside. Go to Pittsburgh Botanical Gardens, orchards, alpaca farms, McConnell's Mills, historical walks around Pittsburgh. I struggle with nature, so we did all of these things to balance out our days.

Nobody wants it to be a chaotic mess, stressful, a boring day of lectures by mom. So don't do that! Build a day that will feel good to you too. Think about what a productive day feels like, a relaxed day, adventurous, fun, pleasant, joyful, memorable, meaningful...those are the kinds of days you want to envision creating. 

What skills did you WISH you learned at school? 

I was in school what feels like most of my life. My goal was to get my Masters degrees finished by the time I was 30, because I had taken a few years off to work and travel. I met my goal, and learned there was still so much I did not know how to do! Adulting is hard, and sometimes the skillsets are never taught. Great, I know Trigonometry enough to tutor people. You know what would have been more useful? How to care for plants and how to cook amazing meals. I wish I would have learned how to budget my money better. I wish I could have learned how cars worked, and how to do minor repairs by myself - it gets expensive, and embarrassing when you use a car every day but know very little about it! I realized that in all of the private schooling I had, I still did not learn the basics that are needed in everyday life! So, how was my daughter going to learn all of these things? That's why I started the list, What I wish I learned in school but didn't:


- How to care for plants so that they don't die.

- Menu planning, grocery lists, couponing, cooking amazing meals.

- Budgeting.

- Calculating sales percentages in my head.

- How cars work.

- How to fix a sink, a toilet, or other clog-able pipe or drain. 

- Interior design. 

- Landscaping. 

What I'm glad I learned at school:

- Every part of a computer, and how to build one.

- Typing

- Writing, editing, and illustrating stories.

- How to research, and check data sources.

- Art as therapy.

- Music theory and how to play instruments.

- Psychology

- Systems Theory

- Creative problem solving (college).

What I think my child needs to learn:

- Emotional regulation.

- Practical life skills.

- The origins of stories and the art of re-telling them. (Disney is not the origin).

- How to write, edit, and illustrate their own stories.

- How to cite sources and research properly.

- What to do without a screen and during a power outage.

- Photojournalism.

- Social media etiquette.

- How to stay in shape.



Behavioral Plans

Every good school plan includes rules, guidelines, and a behavioral plan for when rules are not followed. (See the Behavior Plan section for more details!)


Routines

Will you stick to a traditional school schedule, wake up early, get dressed, and start the day in a classroom-like setting? Will you begin your day with a meditation, prayer or verse? Will you begin your day with a morning walk around the neighborhood? Will you begin your school days in pajamas, over brunch? 

Take some time to visualize your homeschool plan. I started out thinking I had to replicate a school building in my home. Then I read about unschooling, gameschooling, working on floor spaces as well as tables (Montessori), setting up science or sensory stations. I thought about field trips that stuck out in my mind, and how I had wished we'd done more of that. My advice? Whatever you have in your head is going to change after the first month of homeschooling. It will change every season, as holidays take over. It will change based on grief, stress, life circumstances that pop up and take your focus. It will change if you travel a lot. It is ok to change the routine, because you are in charge of it! You do not have the massive red tape of school principals, school boards, and voting. You get to choose the routine, and mix it up when you need to or want to. 

I started to notice what time of day my little one was most active, in need of rest, and most open to interacting with me to learn. She is a very independent and self-paced learner. Always has been.

She likes structure to her morning, so she will sit down and do her spelling or reading right away on her iPad, eating fruit while I have coffee and make breakfast. I can see what she is doing, but she is focused on her own lessons, absorbing information and self-correcting. After breakfast, we move to another room, sit together and read. She learns best if I read the main parts (narrator), and she reads along and does the character's voices. It keeps her on the same page and engaged in the story. She will get out toys, puppets, or costume props to help bring the story to life. In the afternoon, we do a more active lesson. This means science, fitness, art, music, or something that allows us to stand and move around more. After lunch, we do some math, geography, or lesson that involves memorizing. Then, we end the day. Around 4:00pm is her "zombie zone" time. Her brain is just full, and her body needs to rest. If we do anything, it is meditative, but usually she watches TV. Content matters to me, so it is usually something educational or creative.

Display Areas

On the refrigerator I have a list of subjects, a behavioral chart, spelling words, a map, and math facts. I hang up work that she completes and is proud of either in her room or on another part of the fridge. On the wall is our family calendar. That's it. Nothing fancy. I have lesson plans and everything in a binder on a shelf. 

Learning Areas

Although she had a little desk when we began to homeschool, it was not the most practical place to do everything.  We move around the house. Think of it like changing classrooms. Except for the first week or so, just take notice of your day. Where do you start and end up? Where do you enjoy spending time the most, or need to be the most? I had her desk area set up where I couldn't see her from the kitchen, but I found out that I'm in the kitchen a lot. I make all of our meals, and snacks. It's also not carpeted, which makes science and art spills easy to clean up.

We start the day in the kitchen. We review the calendar, what's on the agenda for the day. She has her iPad lessons while I cook a hearty brunch. Then we move to the living room to read, or outside. I have a work area in the dining room. That's where everyone sits with their laptops or iPads to read and type (if I have emails and work to do, she just works beside me or can go play nearby). If we build LEGOs, it's usually in her room. We play games at the dining room or kitchen table.  Downstairs is the music room. Usually after dinner, we practice instruments. We really work (and play) all over the house. Remember, you have the greatest amount of flexibility in WHERE you learn, and the ability to change your environment as needed.

If you have a child like I do with ADHD, good luck getting them to stay in one area! (See the "Seating Chart" section and you'll know what I mean). We can see deer, squirrels, rabbits, and the outdoor cats from our big windows. This is great for nature observations. It is terrible for getting her to focus on something. When I need more focus from her, we go to the kitchen because the table faces a wall, not the windows. I am strategic about space when I set up my art workshops. At home, we fell into a pattern without thinking about it too much. I just allowed lessons to happen and unfold, and looked at being comfortable. 

Zoom and all kinds of video Teleconferencing is making us all more aware of our backgrounds. Messes will show. Lighting is important. Whatever is going on behind you will distract others. Having a wall behind you can eliminate unwelcome clutter or guests popping onto your screen. When it comes to video, your background matters just as much as the foreground (which is you). I put a Post-It note over my camera to avoid accidental on/off confusion. If I hit the video button by accident during a meeting, all they can see is a bright color. Take a look from where your child or children sit, or move around. How does the space look, and feel? 



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