Undivided Resources
Article
Homeschooling 101

Homeschooling 101


Published: Aug. 13, 2020Updated: May. 21, 2024

Featured image
Some parents of children with significant support needs choose to explore homeschooling as an alternative to enrollment in public school. Because each family has unique circumstances, it’s important to consider your individual situation and the needs of your child when looking at homeschool options, particularly when your child has an IEP and requires services. Some ways to homeschool your child will still hold the school district accountable for an IEP and others won’t, so make sure you understand what you’re getting into as you research homeschool curriculum and options. Here’s an overview to get you started.

Can you get an IEP if you homeschool?

There are four ways to legally homeschool your child in California:

  • Public charter homeschool program
  • Private school affidavit (PSA)
  • Private school satellite program (PSP)
  • Independent study program through a public school

Of these options, only public charter homeschool programs and independent study programs provide an IEP.

Under IDEA (the federal law that ensures students with disabilities are provided with a free, appropriate public education), all public schools are required to identify, locate, and evaluate children with disabilities regardless of whether they attend public school, which means that they are required to offer free evaluations to homeschooled students.

Students who go to charter schools (including public charter homeschool programs) are entitled to receive the same type of special education they would receive in public schools, including access to services written in their IEP.

Private homeschools are legally entitled to the IDEA funds earmarked for private school students, but this funding is minimal, and how the funds are spent is at the discretion of the school district.

Private school homeschool options don’t provide IEPs — so where do you get services?

We spoke with Christen McCann, an advocate for helping homeschooling families get services for their children. She’s also homeschooled her two sons, who both have autism. “If you’re enrolled in a private school (including private homeschool), IEPs are not provided because they aren’t covered under the same guidelines that public schools are,” Christen says. “It doesn’t mean you don’t get accommodations — the district is just not required to provide them.”

If you’ve established a private school in your home (through a public school affidavit), this means all teaching and services formally required by your child’s IEP are your responsibility or that of a teacher you hire, which is not attainable for a lot of families because the costs and/or the support needs are high. “This isn’t to say that it can’t be done,” Christen says. “You have the freedom to choose who works with your child. You can use Regional Center, insurance, local nonprofits, or other free services. It’s not about throwing services at a child; it’s about getting good services.”

Christen reminds us that an IEP is a living document that follows your child, so if you homeschool for a year and then go back to public school, the IEP will transfer. “Some districts will require you to close out your IEP when you leave. Do not close it out because you’re just transferring your child to another school,” she says.

Here’s an overview of the different homeschool options.

Public charter homeschool program

When homeschooling families register with a public charter school, their children are still a part of the public school system, but all responsibilities and services are transferred from the school district to the charter school. The state provides a certain amount of money for each student (usually $2,500 to $4,000 per year) that can be used toward curriculum, classes, tutors, and supplies. The parent is considered the main teacher, and each parent has a credentialed teacher assigned to them to collect attendance and work samples and to help with curriculum. The teacher meets with the family every 30 learning days to make sure that families are hitting their goals and that things are going well, as Undivided Navigator Gabriela Gangitano explains:

Charter schools sometimes have physical buildings that homeschooled students are allowed to utilize (for example, Christen's son would take some specialized classes on campus), or they can be completely virtual.

Curriculum at a charter school

Undivided parent Heather, a former special education teacher, has homeschooled her own children for years and teaches general education at a homeschool charter. She tells us that charters typically offer enormous flexibility in terms of curriculum. “We have families that use Waldorf, Montessori, Common Core, and Unschool, which involves teaching children based on their interests rather than a set curriculum,” Heather says. She explains that in her family, their learning is interest-based; they do a lot of nature journaling, which turns into research. (Check out our curriculum section below for more ideas on what homeschool curriculum can look like.)

Some charter schools strongly recommend that parents use a certain curriculum, but ultimately it’s up to the parent. Kathy Tempco, Lead Student Support Counselor at the charter iLEAD, says, “We have so many alternate ways of supporting learners. They really guide their learning. It's very independently driven. Every teacher has 25 kids, and those 25 kids have 25 different paths of learning, and they're tailored to the student.”

IEPs at a charter school

IEPs are conducted with the charter school staff and are bound to the same timelines and expectations as a public school. Heather says, “My son was assessed, and there was a huge gap with processing, so we got a 504 plan to give him more time for testing. The beauty of being at home is that you can make your own accommodations.”

Some charter schools have their own providers for IEP services, and other charters contract out to local providers. Sandra, an Undivided parent who homeschools her 8-year-old son, uses a public charter called Inspire. Her son has an IEP and receives services through the school, including speech and occupational therapy as well as adaptive PE. He also receives social skills and behavioral therapy from their local Regional Center. Sandra mainly teaches her son, along with his special education teacher, who delivers his lessons virtually. Their assigned homeschool teacher oversees his learning, attends IEP meetings, and collects work samples.

What if your child has a 1:1 aide written into their IEP? Gabriela explains that you, the parent, essentially become your child’s 1:1.

How to find a charter school

You can search for charter schools through the CDE’s Charter School Locator. Some charter schools recommended by Undivided families include iLEAD, Sky Mountain, and Blue Ridge, “which are some of the biggest charters, so they know what they’re doing,” Gabriela says.

Questions to ask during your research may include:

  • What type and/or flexibility of curriculum choices does the charter offer?
  • Is there any attendance time required by students, in person or virtually?
  • Are IEP services in person or virtual? What does SAI look like?
    • Gabriela notes that charter schools generally offer virtual therapies first unless the student shows they need in-person support.
  • How often are teachers available to meet? Will they be in person or virtual?
  • What is the amount of stipend funds, and how can the available stipend funds be used?
  • How is standardized testing handled? (At many charters, this is required multiple times per year. Some examples of test programs are Star, Maps, and iReady.)
  • What kind of record keeping is required for parents?

You can find more examples of questions to ask here from the California Homeschool Network. The Undivided app also offers a step-by-step guide to finding and enrolling in a charter.

Gabriela highly recommends calling the SpEd department of a charter you’re interested in to have a conversation with them about the IEP process and what services may look like. She also suggests setting up a meeting with the teacher of record, educational specialist, or educational facilitator who will be assigned to you. “Having an educational facilitator you feel you can communicate with and feel comfortable with is important. This is a lot of times what makes or breaks the experience,” Gabriela says. “I have also requested specifics such as ‘someone who has experience with IEPs’ or ‘someone who has high school experience.’ They may not be able to accommodate, but it is worth the ask!”

If you’re coming from a traditional public school environment and completely taking on your child’s education is a bit intimidating, you may want to consider a public charter homeschool program. In this clip, Gabriela explains why and discusses her own experience:

Private school affidavits (PSA) and private school satellite programs (PSP)

Neither PSAs nor PSPs will provide an IEP for your child, but some families may choose to explore these options if they prefer to fund therapeutic services through insurance or other means. Establishing a PSA officially withdraws your child from public school. Your child will be considered a privately schooled student for purposes of determining special education, and IEPs are a public school program. Some families choose to continue meeting with their district annually and triennially to complete assessments and review their child’s progress, but the district will not offer any services.

Margaret, an Undivided Navigator, tells us that she used a PSA for three years. “You’re responsible for teaching, following guidelines, and keeping records,” she says. Essentially, you run your own private school that enrolls your child.

The process for homeschooling your child via PSA involves filing a PSA with the CDE using the instructions found here. According to the CDE, "The statutory filing period is October 1 through 15; however, the filing system is open throughout the school year beginning August 1 and ending June 30 to accommodate new schools and home schools.” You can find a full step-by-step guide to the process of filing your PSA in the Undivided app.

Under a private school satellite program (PSP), you can be your child’s teacher while also registering them with an established private school, which may provide support with record-keeping and curriculum. Margaret tells us that West River Academy is a popular PSP; you can check out other available PSPs in your area here.

Independent study program

Independent study is an alternative education program tailored to a student’s needs and learning styles. Like home hospital, this can be available to both students with and without an IEP or 504 plan, and students are required to follow the state’s standards-based curriculum adopted by the school district. Additionally, students have to sign an agreement along with their teacher, parent, and other relevant adults.

With this option, your child remains enrolled in either a public or charter school but receives instruction from you. You will be considered a teacher’s aide, and you will have a credentialed teacher assigned to advise and monitor you and your child.

Independent study can take several forms: through an alternative school or program of choice, through a charter school, in a home-based format, through online courses, and more. Teachers must be an employee of the school district, charter school, or county office of education with a valid certification.

According to California Education Code, for a student “who has an IEP and wants to participate in independent study, a determination as to whether independent study is appropriate must be written into the IEP.” An independent study course is expected to maintain the same grade-level standards as classroom instruction, so the IEP team will need to discuss what accommodations/services are needed and how they will be provided.

For more information, visit the CDE’s Quick Guide to Independent Study and frequently asked questions.

Homeschool curriculum

Undivided Navigator Gabriela says, “I suggest not trying to replicate school at home. This usually does not go well for parents nor students. A lot of us came from an institutionalized schooling situation where we sat at a desk and did our work in a group setting, so it is really hard to fathom what out-of-the-box learning can really look like. Taking some time to ‘deschool’ and getting to know what type of learning you and your child want to experience can be very healing and a rewarding learning experience for everyone.”

Here are some examples Gabriela gave of what learning could look like in a homeschool setting:

  • Going to the zoo, learning about animals, the continents they are from, their environment, the climate, what they eat, endangered species
  • Volunteering to clean the beach, learning about recycling, learning about the tides, the weather, protecting wildlife
  • Doing a mentorship with someone in their field to see what they do
  • Volunteering in something of interest and/or raising money for a cause
  • Organizing a club around an interest such as DnD, learning how to lead a group, managing and organizing sessions, advertising sign-ups, creating characters, teaching others how to play, the math involved with playing the game
  • Cooking and baking, measuring items out for recipes, going to the store and purchasing items and using money as math, creating different quantities for recipes and using fractions, the science behind cooking and changing food

Homeschooling provides the opportunity for child-led education. For example, ask your child to think of five things they would like to learn to do or learn about for the next month or two. Then, you can go down the rabbit hole of information and find classes, lessons, experiences, books, and people to talk to about that topic. Gabriela says, “You can shorten or lengthen the experience based on what is of interest and move on once your child has learned enough of what they were interested in within that topic.”

Many parents embarking on homeschooling are concerned about curriculum, and there are many resources available online. It can seem overwhelming trying to pick a website or textbook or program to use. Gabriela says, “What may help to narrow down what curriculum to use is to notice what type of natural learner your child is and what they may struggle with. Are they very visual? Do they enjoy auditory and listening? Are they very hands on and need to do it to understand it? This can really help narrow down and focus on what may work best for your learner. There is an enormous amount of curriculum! It is perfectly okay to trial and error a few and try what may work and switch it up.”

You can find many resources for free and paid curriculum in online groups. Gabriela recommends connecting with parents in Facebook groups such as Homeschooling in Southern California, CA Homeschooling with an IEP, and of course Undivided's private Facebook group for parents. Undivided members also have access to a report detailing popular homeschool curricula in reading, science, and math.

Gabriela explains that YouTube and Facebook groups can be good curriculum resources:

Socialization for homeschooled kids

Socialization for homeschooled kids looks a lot like socialization for kids in public school. Christen says that some kids get together in small groups, typically when their parents are working from home, but others can’t because of health concerns and get together on Zoom instead.

Heather says many people have a misconception that homeschooling is just sitting around your table at home with your family. “We were driving around from place to place and seeing all sorts of people, from classes at enrichment centers to museums and libraries. We’re also part of a homeschool co-op that’s made up of 14 families with kids ranging from infants to 15 years old; we were meeting twice a week.”

“With traditional public school, our idea of socialization is 30 of the same kids for five days a week; that seems stranger to me than kids interacting with people of all ages,” she says. Heather adds that she doesn’t want to be dismissive of the socialization that happens in public school because she knows how important it can be, but she thinks there’s a skewed sense that it’s the right way. “Kids in homeschool are getting a strong foundation at home and interacting with people of all ages — it’s rich, nurturing, and constant.”

Gabriela recommends checking out the Facebook group Homeschooling in Southern California for its list of park days, which are linked in the Files section of the group’s page. “I highly recommend attending a few park days to find the ones that fit you best. This is a great way to meet other homeschoolers and to hear from other families as to what their homeschool journey looks like. It is also a great way to find out about local resources. This same group also has a list of learning centers and enrichment centers that offer classes for homeschoolers. These can vary from one-off classes, co-ops that involve parents, and drop-off sites for a few hours. There are all kinds of homeschool centers and classes available!”

Kathy says of iLEAD, “We have so many vendor classes and opportunities for learners to go in person. I have seen parents who really delve into all of the resources that we provide, and then they give their kid the best experience ever. They have classes going on all week, even athletics, social meetups, academic meetups, Lego club, robots, and everything, completely tailored to the kid.” If you’re homeschooling through a charter, definitely ask what resources they have available for your child to socialize with peers.

Transferring between public school and homeschool

If you are transitioning your child to a homeschooling option, treat it as a school transfer by requesting your child’s records and notifying the school of your decision to transfer.

If you homeschool your child for a time and decide to re-enroll in public school, the process will be much like transferring to a new school. The district will request your child’s previous IEP and hold an IEP meeting within 30 days.

Gabriela notes that if you plan to transfer back to brick-and-mortar school during high school, you should prioritize looking at charter programs rather than a PSA. High school courses have to meet state standards; a district school is unlikely to recognize PSA classes, whereas a charter makes it easier to transfer credits.

Can a homeschooled student get a high school diploma?

If you homeschool your child using a PSA, you get to decide the requirements for obtaining a diploma and can issue it when you feel your child is ready. However, as with any private school diploma, there is no guarantee that this diploma will be accepted by colleges, employers, the military, and other institutions. Your child can take the California Proficiency Program (CPP) exam to have their diploma recognized by the California Department of Education.

For PSA homeschool students interested in postsecondary education, you as the parent will be in charge of keeping all their school records, including transcripts. Gabriela says, “What it looks like and the coursework reflected is up to your experience and how you show this. When we applied to universities, I created the transcript, wrote the class descriptions, assigned units to the classes, and delineated where the class was being taken (tutor teaching it vs. dual enrollment at the community college). I wrote the counselor letter as well.”

Gabriela also highly recommends the Facebook group CA Homeschool College Seekers. “This is a group run by homeschool college counselors, some of which work for a charter, or work as private practice counselors focusing on homeschoolers. They have a file section with transcript examples, lots of questions for students applying to community college or universities, and overall help students in middle and high school with the high school process, current coursework ideas, understanding A-G and non A-G options, how to apply to colleges with PSA, and much more.”

If your child is homeschooled with a charter, whether the charter offers a college-bound diploma will vary widely depending on the specific charter, so be sure to ask when you enroll. For example, iLEAD offers different graduation options for high school (standard A-G diploma, non-A-G customized diploma, alternate pathway to a diploma for students who qualify, and certificate of completion). Laura Kazan, who is the college counselor for iLEAD, suggests that you contact several charters and ask about their programming to see the differences between them. You can review our article about different diploma options to help inform your research.

What about homeschool students who are not college-bound?

Note that few charters provide programs for students age 18–22. “Most charters do not have an adult transition program,” explains Lisa Carey, Undivided’s Education Advocate. “After twelfth grade, if there is no diploma earned or they earn an alternative diploma, they would need to transfer back to the public school system to take advantage of the adult transition program. If the child earns a regular diploma, the school system is no longer responsible for them, and more services will be available from the Regional Center.” See our Transition to Adulthood article for more information about services outside of the school district.

iLEAD is one of the charters focusing on expanding their programs for 18-22-year-olds. Kathy Tempco says, “We partner with the Department of Rehabilitation to get those learners their opportunities to access job coaching and other Workability options that they would have through the DOR once they're 16 years old. We help families connect with their representatives so that they can get the resources that they need. If a learner wants to stay here, they continue to work on at least four core classes and their IEP goals, including transition goals and any other SAI goals that they would need support with too.”

Pros and cons of homeschooling

Flexibility

The flexibility and ability to customize your child’s education is the biggest upside to homeschooling. Heather says that for her family, “Homeschooling is such a joy because we’re not necessarily worried about the expectations of the Common Core curriculum; we’re able to be so flexible, and we can do the learning that the kids are interested in, connect it to other things, and get outside.”

Sandra loves that she can work on academic goals in a way that is motivating and fun for her son, and she has a significant voice in the IEP process. She says homeschooling also allows them to work on behaviors during non-preferred activities, and she can teach life skills like cooking and shopping that also help with speech, social, and occupational therapy skills.

Services and socialization

The cons include potentially not getting the services your child needs and having to get creative when it comes to socialization. “There’s a lack of consistent interaction with peers of my son’s developmental age,” Sandra says. “I’m overwhelmed by planning for his learning and the daily demands of his schedule, especially when all of his services are virtual and I need to be at his side for each session,” she notes, adding that she also struggles with being equally available to her other son, who is 9 and attends traditional public school.

Gabriela also notes that many homeschool charters use virtual therapies and services for students with IEPs, so this is important to be aware of if your child has a hard time learning in virtual settings. Kathy says, “I think a common misconception is that if learners are at home, that it's just going to be easier somehow. But actually, parents need to understand that it is the weight of the responsibility falls on them. Of course, we provide the services, we're going to uphold the IEP, we're going to provide as much as we can, but at the end of the day, they're the teacher at home with their learner.”

Is homeschooling right for your family?

Here are some questions to consider in determining if homeschooling is right for your child and your family and what option may be best:

  • As a parent, are you prepared to become your child’s teacher?
    • Each of the homeschooling options requires considerable support from parents to keep students on task, but consider whether you want to do the majority of the teaching (PSA, PSP) or support a credentialed teacher (charter, independent study).
  • Do you want your child to still receive IEP services through school?
    • Private homeschool options do not provide IEPs.
  • How much control do you want over choosing your child’s curriculum?
    • Private homeschool options give you total responsibility over the curriculum you and your child cover. You may have some flexibility with a charter, and independent study will be the most academically rigorous to align with state standards.
  • Is opting out of state testing important to you and your child?
    • Charters, being public school programs, still carry out state testing hile private homeschool students are not required to participate in state testing. Charters also usually have required internal testing twice a year or more, with scores used to see if a child needs intervention.
  • Do you want to be responsible for all the record-keeping, or do you want assistance?
    • A charter program will hold you accountable for collecting work samples and attendance for your child, working in conjunction with a teacher. With a PSA, you are solely responsible for record-keeping.
  • Do you want to be responsible for keeping your child working at their grade level?
    • As above, PSAs and PSPs provide much more flexibility for you to determine what standards your child must meet.

Other resources for homeschooling

Christen says she recommends starting with community resources. “There are Parent Training and Information Centers all over the state that can provide resources and advocates, and homeschool associations often have attorneys who can provide advice or resources.” She adds, “I always suggest to families who can afford it to use their insurance — find the services that are the best you can afford. Public services are great and necessary, but they’re only for the hours your child is in school, not the other 18 hours of their life.”

Gabriela recommends learning centers for homeschool students. “LA has amazing learning centers and enrichment centers where the kids can take classes, so you could kind of create a hybrid opportunity for them. Some have classes maybe two or three times a week. As the kids get older, some of them are drop-off classes, and some of them are co-ops where the parent has to stay. You can take all kinds of subjects. Some of them even have a class that's attached to a community college class so that they can start taking community college classes, but they're still supported in the homeschool community.”

Undivided has a list of learning centers and other homeschool resources in the Los Angeles area, so if you’re an Undivided member, be sure to ask your Navigator if you’re interested in the list or if you’d like assistance researching programs in another area of California.

Contents


Overview

Can you get an IEP if you homeschool?

Public charter homeschool program

Private school affidavits (PSA) and private school satellite programs (PSP)

Independent study program

Homeschool curriculum

Socialization for homeschooled kids

Transferring between public school and homeschool

Can a homeschooled student get a high school diploma?

Pros and cons of homeschooling

Other resources for homeschooling

Join the Undivided Community to get more resources like this in your inbox

Tags:

Author

Undivided Editorial TeamStaff

Reviewed by: Brittany Olsen, Undivided Editor

Contributors

  • Christen McCann, Advocate
  • Gabriela Gangitano, Undivided Navigator
  • Kathy Tempco, Lead Student Support Counselor at iLEAD

Promise Image
Each piece of content has been rigorously researched, edited, and vetted to bring you the latest and most up-to-date information. Learn more about our content and research process here.
A Navigator is your Partner at each turn
Every Undivided Navigator has years of experience supporting families raising kids with disabilities or parenting their own. Partner with an Undivided Navigator for a free Kickstart to learn first hand what support feels like!
tick-icon
Expert-driven content, guidance, and solutions.
tick-icon
Member events and office hours with real answers, plus access to our private parents' group.
tick-icon
Priority to begin a free Kickstart of the Undivided Support System with a dedicated Navigator.
“It’s so helpful to have one place that you can go to get many answers.”–Leeza Woodbury, with Navigator Kelly since 2020
*Currently offering Navigator Kickstarts to residents of California