What Is Homeschooling? A Complete Introduction to Home Education

The concept of homeschooling is not a novel one – it has been around forever. In fact, homeschooling was the only available options for a child’s education before 1852. Recently, more and more parents have chosen to homeschool their children as the national dissatisfaction with the U.S. education system increases.

Over the past twenty years, homeschooling has been a topic of increasing curiosity and some controversy. The number of homeschooling families has grown each year. There are around two million homeschool families in the United States [updated 2 mil. source].

For modern families, homeschooling is easily the most flexible and diverse educational option available. The homeschooling population has continued to diversify. Today, the most popular style of homeschooling reflects the continued diversification and is fittingly called ‘eclectic.’

While many families have recently been encouraged to research homeschooling because they have lost faith in the public education system, homeschooling is not defined or characterized by this dissatisfaction.

Because this page is quite extensive, the navigation table to the left should help you skip over sections and get a feel for the structure of the page.

Learning to write

What is the definition of 'homeschool' and homeschooling?

Define homeschooling: Homeschooling means parent-led home-based education or just home education. Students are considered ‘homeschooled’ once their parents report that they are educated at home vs. public/private/boarding school for at least part of their education. Students are also considered ‘homeschooled’ if they are enrolled in public or private schools for no more than 25 hours a week.

Usually, one parent, most commonly the mother, does not pursue a professional career and stays at home to educate the child or children. The other parent is usually the ‘breadwinner’ who financially supports the family. The stay-at-home parent teaches their children an academic curriculum at home instead of following the traditional route of sending them to a public school or private school. There are single parents who have careers and families that homeschool. We take our hat off to you if you have been able to manage this.

No two homeschools are alike

Because homeschooling is an individualized non-public education, every homeschool experience is unique. Each homeschool is distinctive. Every method and style will be different, if just slightly. That's why there is a popular saying among homeschoolers that there are as many homeschooling styles and methods as there are homeschools. Likewise, there are almost as many reasons for choosing to homeschool. There is no “one right way.”

There is no “one right way.”

What types of students are not considered to be homeschooled?

This might sound like a weird section heading, but it is actually quite fascinating. Students who were temporarily educated at home due to some illness are not considered to be homeschoolers. Students that spend over 25 hours a week at a public or private learning institution are no longer considered to be homeschoolers.

What are umbrella schools and cover schools?

Umbrella schools are popular ways of avoiding direct reporting as a homeschooler. Most states require that homeschoolers report an annual evaluation to the government’s local school district. Some states require more frequent reporting. Using this technique, families can educate their children while also enrolling them in an umbrella school. In this loophole, the parent will legally enroll the student in a private school and therefore has no responsibilities to report anything to the state. These schools are also called ‘cover schools.’

Publically and governmentally supported homeschools


Ready for the definition of homeschooling to get a little bit blurrier? Some states, including California and Florida, have homeschool charter schools. There are also homeschool public schools. These combinations logically seem to be defeating the purpose and essence of homeschooling.

How do these schools operate?

The charter school gets funds from the state government and accepts responsibility for the homeschool students’ educations. They enroll students in their charter school and facilitate ‘distance education.’ If you live in Florida, you may be familiar with the Florida Virtual School. The FVS is an online school that provides ‘personalized learning.’ Even if you do not live in the state of Florida, you can gain access to over 100 courses through their website. Their website includes materials for the entire spectrum of public education.

Is homeschool legal in the U.S.?

Yes! Homeschooling is legal in every state. Homeschooling is also legal in many other countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, and South Africa. The entire continents of Europe and North America support homeschooling. In the America, each state is allowed to create their own laws and regulations for homeschooling. These laws vary greatly – some states have very strict requirements while other states are extremely lax.

Are there different types of homeschooling?

Yes, there are many different education models, methods, and philosophies of homeschooling. The models range from ‘unschooling’ to traditional style classroom learning to online learning. The majority of homeschooling families follow some type of traditional curriculum and supplement learning with a variety of other activities, interests, trips, and methods.

The ‘unschooling’ method is the most unorthodox. In its most basic sense, in an ‘unschooling’ household a child will express interest in something (or a general subject), and the parent will then facilitate learning about this interest. This can mean buying materials about this subject or simply spending time researching the subject together.

Most homeschool families take advantage of a child’s interests and help them learn about what they are most fascinated with. However, this is usually supplemental education and not used as a core educational style. At the bare minimum, most families follow a general curriculum that includes math, English/writing, sciences, history, and some arts.

Click here if you're interested in reading more about unschooling.

Why do families choose to homeschool?

There is a wide range of reasons why parents choose to homeschool their children. Some parents homeschool because they are unsatisfied with the public education system. Others choose to teach at home for convenience. For families with strong religious beliefs, homeschooling can offer a platform to ensure that their children are not exposed to certain subjects or topics or teaching methods that are standard in public schools.

Still, other parents might homeschool their children for health reasons, learning reasons, or accessibility. Many homeschool parents want their children to get a more well-rounded education that the public school system allows. Lots of homeschoolers are very talented writers or athletes who can use the flexibility of homeschooling to their advantage.

Are homeschool parents well educated?

Very few states enforce any level of minimum parental education for a family to homeschool their child/children. Surveys have that polled homeschool parents found that 11% of homeschool parents never finished their high school education. Another 20% of homeschooling parents had completed high school or had received some type of a GED.

The largest segment, at 30%, had completed vocational training, technical training, or some portion of a college degree. 25% of teachers, the second largest segment, had Bachelor’s degrees. Interestingly, the last segment (14% of parents) had completed graduate or professional school which is a larger number than the segment who had not achieved a high school diploma.

What types of families homeschool their children?

Homeschoolers are often stereotyped – it’s an undeniable fact. The traditional stereotypes are rarely true. Nevertheless, as with all stereotypes, there are certainly select groups that fit the conventional mold. Most homeschool parents simply want to take charge of the most influential aspect of their child’s development – their education.

Homeschoolers come from all over the country, from all walks of life, from all income levels, and represent a wide range of religious and non-religious beliefs.


Do students homeschool all the way through high school age?

What age do students stop homeschooling? Parents can choose to homeschool their children for as long as they want. Many homeschooling families keep their children in home education until they graduate from homeschool-high-school. But this is not required.

Other parents teach their children until certain conditions are met. Some parents stop once they believe they are no longer qualified to teach. And still, others wait until they believe their children have matured enough to handle the social pressure, influences, and other adverse effects of public education and the ‘outside’ world. Furthermore, other families leave the decision up to their children.

Sometimes extremely independent students and self-learners ask their parents to pull them from public schools so they can create a more independent schedule.

When a student is homeschooled all the way through high school graduation, it is important that his or her parent(s) kept records of all their schooling. The type of record varies from state to state. This is especially important if the student wishes to attend college.

Statistically, 23% of homeschoolers are in K-2nd grade, 23% are in 3rd-5th grades, 24% are in 6th-8th grade, and the final 29% are in 9th-12th grade. The number of homeschooling families in younger grades is clearly larger. This is most likely due to most "new homeschooling families" starting in early grades.

Homeschooling until the high school grades is an attractive option.

Where does homeschooling take place?

Although ‘home’ is in the name, homeschooling is not limited to just the household. At the root, homeschooling starts from within the home, but lots of learning and engagement takes place outside of the home. Students frequently learn in the community, using free resources like public parks and museums for exploring science, history, and nature.

Many homeschoolers consistently utilize field trips as significant learning experiences. Homeschoolers are often very "volunteer oriented" and look for services in which they can give back to the community -- not to mention that many families participate in group co-ops. Homeschoolers take all sorts of ‘lessons’ – including music, athletics, martial arts, dance, art, and much more.

If you're ever in need of a homeschool student, find your local 4-H association -- it is bound to be full of homeschoolers. Of course, some families are isolated in the home, but this is not the norm. More often than not, a homeschool education gives students a broad range of rich and diverse educational experiences that involve many activities external to their place of residence.

In fact, a typical ‘pro-homeschool’ argument is that homeschoolers get more exposure to a diverse age range than public school students since they are not limited to interacting with other students of the same grade.

Do graduating homeschool students have a graduation ceremony?

Yes! There are numerous homeschool graduations where a ceremony identical to public school graduations is held – with caps, gowns, diplomas, after parties, etc. It is not necessary to attend one, but many families enjoy celebrating the achievement for the same reasons as public school families.

Concerns about homeschooling and potential disadvantages

Homeschooling comes with its fair share of concerns for new homeschool-curious parents.

Homeschool stereotypes

Many stereotypes accompany homeschooling. Probably the most common stereotype is that homeschoolers are weird and unsocialized. If this issue is concerning to you, you'll be interested in reading the most comprehensive article on the issue of homeschooling and socialization.

Homeschool parents are sometimes said to be overly protective, sheltering, too involved, and sometimes even close-minded. Some people think that the majority of homeschoolers are conservatives and their sole motivation is to control the curriculum and materials their children use. Other areas of the country may associate homeschooling with hippies.

Yes, many stereotypes exist. For the average homeschool family, no, they are not usually true.

What does an average homeschooler look like?

Homeschoolers are comprised of students between the age range of 5-17. Within this range, 51% were found to be female and 49% male. Homeschoolers are 68% white, 15% Hispanic, 8% African-American, and 4% Asian/Pacific Islander. 35% of families live in suburban areas, 31% in the countryside, 28% in cities, and the final 7% reporting that they lived in a town. 20% of these families are bracketed as "low income," which means their annual income falls below the poverty line.


Is homeschooling expensive? How much does homeschooling cost?

This question is a definite concern for most families and homeschool families have cited this as the biggest disadvantage of homeschooling. Nevertheless, it does not usually prevent families from homeschooling. The answer to this question of actual cost varies a lot. The cost is contingent on the choices that the parents make. Here is a safe rule of thumb – homeschooling is more expensive than public education and less expensive that private schooling options.

Parents under the poverty threshold or who have a very tight budget can practically homeschool for free. There are free resources everywhere including libraries, public broadcasts, podcasts, museums, and a plethora of internet resources. Families with more money to spend can purchase premium learning tools and courses that they find useful and more educational.

Homeschooling costs change with age – (older students are usually more expensive)

Homeschool parents usually discover that homeschooling is more expensive once their child reaches the teenage years. At this age, many homeschool students begin dual enrolling in local colleges. They also (usually) need textbooks or educational materials that are more advanced and thus more expensive.

The amount of money spent per student for a homeschool-high-school education is minuscule compared to the cost per student in public institutions. Of course, in almost all states the homeschool family must pay out-of-pocket for all educational expenses while public school students attend for "free."

Do colleges accept homeschool graduates?

There are almost 1,000 universities and colleges that accept students with homeschool diplomas. Most students will find that colleges are more interested in standardized test scores, the actual high school transcript, and extracurricular activities than where the diploma is coming from. This does not mean that universities don’t discriminate against homeschool graduates. Homeschool students do have difficulties when applying to certain schools. Nevertheless, big name schools like Yale, Stanford, Brown, Dartmouth, Harvard, and much more.

If you want a comprehensive list containing many more disadvantages to homeschooling, check out our homeschooling pros and cons page.

Online education, technology, and homeschooling

Online education has undoubtedly impacted the growth of homeschooling. Online education has allowed parents to save time and given them easier access to the curriculum. The recent boom (last 20 years) in technology has also given homeschool parents infinitely more opportunities for alternative and supplemental learning.

Online home school programs and services allow parents to enjoy some of the flexibilities of homeschooling without taking the entirely hands-on approach that homeschool parents took 20+ years ago. There are also many tutors and private instructors that some homeschoolers with financial means use. The majority of homeschoolers combine all types of learning technology/internet learning with physical curriculum and hands-on learning.

Dual enrollment: the relationship between homeschooling and public schools and colleges

Some states allow parents to dual enroll their children in nearby schools and in their registered homeschool. It is also possible in many states for homeschool students to dual enroll in a local community college or university. Online courses at community colleges can be very appealing and popular option for high school aged homeschool families. In this way, homeschoolers can gain college credit (assuming they pass) for their required ‘high school’ classes.

Academic performance statistics of homeschoolers

The National Home Education Research Institute posted that homeschooled children perform an average of 10-30% higher than public school students on standardized tests. This study pooled a random number of home educated students. No discrimination was made meaning that the sample included the entire spectrum of homeschoolers. This means the study included students that taught by uneducated and highly educated parents, parents in both low and high-income brackets, and other influencing factors.

Home educated students also performed above average rankings on required tests for college acceptance such as the SAT and ACT (according to the National Home Education Research Institute). Because of this above average performance, lots of colleges provide resources specially designed for homeschoolers.

Homeschool growth statistics

Since 1999, the number of homeschoolers has continued to increase. At present, the homeschooling community has grown by 75%. Even after experiencing such growth, homeschoolers collectively comprise 3-5% of school children nationwide. The number of primary school students whose parents made the decision to pull them from public education systems has grown 7x faster than the number of children being registered in K-12 each year.

According to the United States government, in 2012 there were 1.77 million homeschooled students in America. This is an 18% increase since the previous study conducted back in 2007. At present, the number of homeschooled students is over 2 million.

For more information about government recorded statistics, visit http://nces.ed.gov/nhes/.

Can I trust government statistical data on home education?

While the government offers useful statistics about homeschoolers, some of these stats should be taken with a grain of salt. Sometimes the complicated nature of setting up a ‘legal’ homeschool causes parents to become distrustful about reporting their homeschool to the government. So, when the government asks for survey details about home education, it is likely that some families would opt to not participate.

Even if a family is 100% sure they are in full compliance with government regulations and laws, surveys are often found to be intrusive. Homeschool families are often unwilling to submit any information to the government that they are not required by law to do so. Their avoidance of government participation is understandable. Their tax money continues to fund the public systems which conduct education research. Government surveys do not benefit homeschoolers in any way.

Last modified: April 28, 2017