Homeschooling in the 50 States…and Beyond! Washington and Massachusetts
In today’s installment of Homeschooling in the 50 states…and Beyond!, I am pleased to bring you the homeschool mom’s AND the (now grown) student’s perspective on homeschooling both in Washington state and Massachusetts! It is a rare opportunity to be able to talk with both student and teacher and I hope you will enjoy learning from their experiences.
Please note that these experiences, while they may discuss state requirements, are not legal advice, legislative summaries, or compliance recommendations. I encourage you to do your own research on your state’s current homeschool laws and seek help from official sources if necessary. The Home School Legal Defense Agency is a great place to start though you may find a more state-specific organization that you prefer to work with.
First, allow me to introduce Pam, who has homeschooled her four children in Washington state and in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Currently she is still involved in the homeschooling scene by tutoring other people’s children. She enjoys traveling, sewing, cooking, baking, and training her dog.
“We began our journey in Washington state, where we homeschooled from 1994-2004. We schooled all year round and participated in homeschool co-ops for 8 of the 10 years. I didn’t adhere to a tight schedule, but rather aimed to cover the material for mastery. I saw no sense in moving on if my children hadn’t mastered certain concepts in math, and in foreign languages when they were introduced. When my children were younger, it was more about exposing them to ideas in history and science and reading good books for English. I tried to stay away from worksheets, but they are just so easy! I tried planning out my whole year in August, but felt overwhelmed and a failure when I couldn’t, or didn’t, complete the work for that day/week/month/year. Scheduling my day in terms of a routine worked better for us. Also, I tried concentrating on two or three subjects a day, covering all subjects during the week at least twice rather than covering all subjects every day we schooled. That worked for some of my kiddos, but not all.
WA only required a letter of intent and a yearly assessment, either by a certified teacher or by standardized test. So I didn’t keep records, besides the tests, which I didn’t have to give the school district. As my children were not in high school while we were in WA, I wasn’t concerned about keeping track of courses for graduation. If we had stayed, I might have gotten more diligent about keeping track as they progressed to high school. Since the school district didn’t have to approve my curriculum, I was able to use religious based/infused choices without fear of being told I couldn’t. We also had no requirements on how many hours we had to complete, which was a boon. At the time we left, I had not looked into what would have been required for high school graduation for a homeschooled student. That might have changed some of my choices, depending on how restrictive the requirements had been.
I’m glad I had the opportunity to tailor my children’s educations. Not being held to a certain curriculum was freeing. My oldest was able to explore html programming, drawing, and movie production as it suited her. My other children were given the freedom to play. It was also freeing when I realized I was the master of the curriculum, not the other way around.
That being said, I wish I had drilled math facts into my younger children. I think that put them at a disadvantage when they hit more complicated mathematics. I also would have stuck with the idea of timeline for longer than I did. And I would have arranged for piano/keyboard lessons for the younger two as well as the introduction my older two children had.
We moved to Massachusetts in 2004 and homeschooled there for 10 years (7 of which we again participated in homeschool co-ops.) Upon our arrival, I filed my letter of intent. The school district sent me a packet that indicated that I should let them know how many hours we would be spending on each subject. Despite the fact that that is NOT required, I gave it to them the first year, but not subsequent years. I didn’t adhere to a schedule any more in MA than in WA. As my children were getting older, I did attempt to make them more responsible for their own schooling scheduling decisions. I tried giving them a list of what they were supposed to do for the week and I would check periodically to make sure it was getting done. As they proved they could do that, I grew lax in my checking – and they grew lax in their completion of their work. We also tried six weeks on, two weeks off for a bit. It didn’t work any better than the haphazard routine in place before it. My planning now involved making sure I had texts for high school classes, as we had a “ninth grader” in our school! Math continued to be a tailored subject, as not all of my offspring did well with the program I used with my oldest. After the first year in MA, I submitted the standardized test results as that was easiest for me. As the years went on, I included less in the packet for the school district. It included the forms they wanted, as well as copies of the table of contents for all the texts I planned on using. Even though the Home School Legal Defense Agency rates WA as more restrictive than MA, I felt MA was more intrusive.
Because the school district required that I turn in some form of evaluation annually, I continued with the standardized tests we did in WA. I also felt I couldn’t just read historical fiction and stories about scientists to my younger children for history and science. When the kids hit high school, I made sure they had a math program that worked for them, a history curriculum or video series that appealed to the time period they were interested in, a grammar program, tons of books to read, a foreign language program, and the appropriate Apologia science course for their grade. Normally the annual testing indicated we were on track. On the occasional off-chance that someone scored poorly in something I considered important for a well-rounded education, we would use that as a jumping off point for more in-depth and focused study during the summer. Normally the summer was used for fun courses, like baking, art, sports, and the like, as well as finishing up whatever I deemed necessary. My record keeping still consisted of hanging on to standardized test results and an occasional piece of work.
I really enjoyed our years in the homeschool co-op, longer than my kids did. As they got older, more of our friends decided to send their children to public school for high school. I wish we had lived closer to the rest of the families in the co-op who had kids my children’s ages, as they might have seen their friends more often. I also found out I enjoyed sharing my passion for whatever I was teaching/introducing to the students in the co-op.
My advice? Homeschool for your own reasons, for your family, and for your peace of mind. Just because I didn’t thrive with a stricter schedule doesn’t mean you won’t. Home education is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. And those expensive programs that people are raving about? I like to think of those as long-term rentals. When I’m done, be it in two months or two decades, someone else will likely want to buy it. And if it comes with a consumable workbook, buy an extra one to sell with the teacher’s guide when you’re finished.
Also, be sure to get involved in a support group of some kind, whether it be a co-op you teach in or you pay someone to teach, or a parent’s group where you learn from other homeschoolers and they learn from you. Being part of a like-minded community in both states really made the experience of homeschooling enjoyable. On those days when I wanted to run away from home, knowing there was another mom out there who probably felt the same way was a comfort.”
Next, I am pleased to introduce Jenn and her perspective of what it was like to be homeschooled in both Washington and Massachusetts. Jenn is the owner and project manager at Unit 25 Creative + Consulting. She and her team provide branding, content, marketing, and support services for entrepreneurs. Jenn has always been that person who sees the path others can take to turn their passions and skills into a living that they enjoy, even when she was a kid! Her goal is to empower her clients and other business owners to do more of what they love in business AND life by providing the support and solutions needed to grow and succeed in their goals. She enjoys Irish step dance, her two crazy Australian Shepherds, dreaming about visiting Ireland and Australia, and acting.
“I spent most of my homeschool ‘career’ in Washington State. We had an amazing homeschooling community around us, and our co-op left a lifelong impression on me. We lived in what was technically a large city, but because of Washington’s layout and culture in that area, it felt like a small town with big city opportunities. I was able to do more activities than any of my public and private-schooled friends because of my flexible schedule: everything from archery, competitive artistic roller skating, and Irish step dance to breeding gerbils, assistant-teaching swim lessons, and volunteering at a local pet store (all as a pre-teen). As an active homeschooler, I had friends outside of my own age group, which has given me a leg up in the working world, too!
When we moved to Massachusetts during my high school freshman year, everything changed. The culture shock set in – 3000 miles is a big difference! – and as a high school freshman, I could see the differences in the homeschooling culture as well. My mom had to fight with some of the local schools about curriculum, and while there were government standards, I distinctly remember the local middle school insisting on an hour-by-hour accounting of exactly what my brother would be doing for school (even though the state did not require this). Anyone who homeschools know this is NOT how many homeschooling families work! From what I remember, the local schools also made it so difficult for us to try out for sports teams that we gave up. In Washington, I had been invited to join the high school swim and dive teams, but that wasn’t even an option once we moved. The limitations and sometimes even dislike for homeschoolers in Massachusetts were made blatantly and unapologetically clear, sadly.
It took us years to find a homeschool co-op, and the co-op families were too scattered and far away to see regularly outside of co-op. Looking back, I know that my culture shock and lack of community had a severe impact on how I perceived the homeschooling experience in Massachusetts, especially since my sister, who was six when we moved, adjusted much better. Overall, though, I remember Washington being much more homeschooling-friendly and better organized.
My life would have been entirely different without homeschooling! I am not a naturally outgoing person in many situations, but with homeschooling in common, it was (and often still is!) much easier to connect with my homeschooled peers. Because I was socialized in Washington and interacted with many different age groups, my college classmates always seemed surprised to find I had been homeschooled. (I’m sure we all know the homeschooler stereotype they were thinking of.) This socialization benefited me when I applied for and worked various jobs and prepared me for college much better than I feel a public or private school would have. I learn at a different pace than public schools tend to use, and am a kinesthetic learner so I prefer hands-on lessons. Homeschooling gave me the opportunity to learn at my pace and in my own learning style, and I was able to start college a year early, earning my GED before my high school diploma (yes, I have both!). The flexibility of homeschooling also allowed my entrepreneurship to take root and bloom at an early age and gave me the chance to build the skills that I now use to run my own business. I honestly can’t think of any regrets that I have with homeschooling, though I know it is not the right option for everyone. My husband was homeschooled as well, and we both loved it!”
Have any of you homeschooled (or been homeschooled) in Washington or Massachusetts like Pam or Jenn? Let me know in the comments! I would love to hear about your experiences!!