Home Schooling Q+A
How do we know if God is calling us to homeschool our children?
The education of the moral conscience... cannot be renounced.
- St. John Paul II,
Congratulations on taking the first step to discerning what is best for your family… and we don’t mean considering homeschooling. That first step should always be seeking God’s will. He made you, he made your spouse, and he made your child(ren). As your Creator, he knows what is best for you; so why would you not ask him for guidance?
Sadly, many Catholics are not familiar with the virtue of discernment. It is the ability to see what is beyond the obvious, looking for the deeper meaning, and specifically seeking what the Lord wants. The key ingredient to discernment is to be able to be silent with the Lord so that you can hear His voice. This also means you need to put yourself in a state of grace by going to the sacrament of Reconciliation (or Confession) – to “dust off” your soul so that it is clean and can better receive the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
Let’s say you’ve gone to Confession recently (within the past month), so now what? The best way that many faithful Catholics have found to connect and build a relationship with the Lord is by going to Eucharistic Adoration, where Jesus, truly present in the Host, is exposed (in something called a monstrance) for us to see Him and for Him to see us. To sit quietly and pray, talk to Him, and most importantly, be still and listen for nudgings, intuitions, or even His actual voice to speak to you. Check your local parish website for times for Adoration, sometimes called Holy Hours.
It can also be helpful to ask people who have already been homeschooling what they like (and don’t like) about it. See if their experience can help you to discern what the best path might be. If you don’t know any homeschooling families, feel free to email us at and we can connect you with someone.
Most importantly, realize that life is about learning lessons (pun intended). So, if you try homeschooling and, after a year or two, decide it isn’t for you, that’s okay, too. At least you gave it a shot!
We're ready to homeschool - what do we do now?
Welcome to homeschooling! It is a great challenge to undertake, but God will supply you with the grace and strength that you need if you stay connected to Him. One of the many benefits is that you will really get to know your child(ren)… and if you have multiple children, they will get to know each other. And that is truly a blessing (sometimes in disguise, though!).
Paperwork to File
In Maryland, you need to notify your county’s school board 15 days prior to beginning your home instruction program. Each county has their own form, but it is based on the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) form. (The Maryland Homeschool Association has a fairly well-updated list of local county contacts here.) The form is only two pages, and asks for basic demographic information, as well as answers to two questions:
Do you want your child(ren) to participate in standardized testing?
Are you going to review your portfolio twice a year with the local county Board of Education, or are you using a church or nonpublic entity to supervise your homeschooling? (If a church or nonpublic entity, then you would include its name and address.)
That’s it for the paperwork. Pretty simple, right? We can thank the homeschoolers who have gone before us for working to keep the process in Maryland fairly non-invasive.
Prepare for Portfolio Reviews
The requirements for what you need to teach your children are spelled out in the Maryland law COMAR 13A.10.10.01. These require that each child who lives in Maryland and is 5 years old or older and under 18 shall receive regular, thorough instruction during the school year in the studies usually taught in the public school to children of the same age. The subjects are English, math, science, social studies, art, music, health, and physical education. Keep in mind that you do not always need to teach every subject every day. For example, art, music, health, and PE are often only offered once per week in schools, especially in the elementary grades.
You will need to show samples of your child(ren)’s work at your reviews to demonstrate regular and thorough instruction. Plan ahead and do your best to stay organized as you go through the year. It will make preparation for reviews much easier.
Tip from a "Veteran:
Reviewers do like to see pictures! This is especially helpful for documenting PE, art, and fieldtrips! Either printed or on your device. But remember, with the county reviews, you are generally only allotted 20 minutes per student, so keep it brief.
I've heard about "umbrella groups." What are they, and do I need one?
When you file your paperwork indicating that you will be home educating your child(ren), one of the questions that you’re asked is if you will be reviewing with your county’s Board of Education or if you have a supervising entity. Those supervising entities have the nickname of umbrella groups. The use of one is not required and is based on personal preference.
Some umbrella groups are strict with their reviews and only certified people are allowed to function as reviewers. They may charge a larger fee in exchange for services, such as providing transcripts, diplomas, or other benefits. [A side note about homeschool diplomas: they aren’t officially recognized by MSDE, but you’d be surprised how little that piece of paper really means… then again maybe you wouldn’t be surprised!] Other umbrella programs let members review each other’s portfolios and may charge less money to belong to the group.
Reviews with the county do not cost anything. You usually meet at a local library meeting room, and it is at a time that you select from a list of dates and times that they offer. There are generally two reviews per year: one in the late fall and then again in the spring.
See this linked webpage for the complete list of MSDE - Nonpublic Entities Authorized to Monitor Home Instruction.
What's the difference between
co-ops and tutorials?
An advantage to co-ops is the development of a sense of community and support that parents get from working together to homeschool their children.
Many parents appreciate the classroom environment of tutorials to help their children to be ready (or stay ready) to enter a traditional school down the road.
Many people new to homeschooling are surprised to learn that even though you are homeschooling, that doesn’t mean that all your schooling actually takes place at home. Why? Because as humans, we are social beings, and it also makes sense to pool resources and work together sometimes. There are two main types of communities that arise in homeschooling circles: co-ops and tutorials.
As the name implies (short for co-operative), families agree to work together to provide some aspect of their children’s education. Some co-ops are organized in a flexible manner that is simply for enrichment activities and fun. They may have relaxed attendance rules and offer classes like art, introduction to the guitar, the history of baseball, or whatever a parent may want to offer that other parents feel their children would enjoy. They may be free or only charge low administrative fees. Other co-ops are more structured and offer “core” curriculum classes (science, history, English, even math sometimes, plus some electives) and are helpful in providing a lesson plan and homework for the parent to follow at home. They have mandatory attendance requirements and may charge more than the relaxed co-ops. You are usually required to volunteer to teach a class or two, or help during the school day(s) in some way, but in exchange, you are not having to do the planning for all of your child(ren)’s classes.
In a tutorial environment, there is still a community of families, however, there are paid tutors that provide the teaching (no more than once or twice a week), and homework is determined by the tutor for the parent to follow-through with at home. Children are dropped-off, more like what you traditionally think of for school. The cost for tutorials is usually significantly higher than co-ops, due to the need to pay a tutor for their time.
Many families have participated in co-ops and tutorials throughout their homeschooling journey, sometimes switching back and forth between them as their needs change. Whether a co-op or tutorial is right for you is a decision that you need to make. A list of Catholic co-ops and tutorials in Maryland (and a bunch of other resources) can be found at the Maryland Catholic Homeschoolers website.
Classical, Traditional, Charlotte Mason, Unschooling... which way is best?
There are many styles of homeschooling… more than you probably ever thought. How do you know which is best for you? The first step would be to know what you prefer and do NOT prefer.
Are you a type-A personality who wants a tight schedule? (Notice we said wants; as soon as you have other people to work with, you know that you will have to be flexible… at least a bit.)
Are you more the artsy type who wants to get creative and make a mess? (Realize that other people you live with might want the mess cleaned up before next week, though.)
Are you somewhere in the middle?
Rebecca, a homeschooling mom of 5, created a quiz (32 questions, but they’re easy, we promise) to help guide you towards a homeschooling style that fits your personality. Of course, your children have their own personalities that probably differ from yours, but it’s most important that you are comfortable with the homeschooling style. After all, you are the parent and the educator, so this is one time when YOU have to come first. Rebecca also provides links to brief descriptions of six styles in her page.
There are more than these six, but they are the most common ones. Once you take the quiz, we’d love to know how you scored! Send us a message at .
If I homeschool my children through high school, will it affect their ability to go to college?
Parents often feel fairly comfortable in their ability to homeschool their children through elementary and even middle school but worry about continuing to homeschool through high school. Sometimes they will enroll their children in public or private high schools so their children can complete in team sports at a higher level. Other times it is because they do not feel that they have the knowledge or resources to properly educate their children, especially in math or the sciences. Sometimes it is just part of their homeschooling plan to let the children begin to learn in a “traditional school” environment as a preparation for college.
If you decide to homeschool through high school, will your child be adequately prepared for college? Researchers have been studying this, and there is increasing evidence to support the claims that homeschooled students’ performance meets or exceeds that of non-homeschooled students in college. For example, the National Home Education Research Institute has some interesting statistics, in particular about college success of homeschoolers.
The home-educated typically score 15 to 30 percentile points above public-school students on standardized academic achievement tests.
Homeschool students score above average on achievement tests regardless of their parents’ level of formal education or their family’s household income.
Whether homeschool parents were ever certified teachers is not related to their children’s academic achievement.
Degree of state control and regulation of homeschooling is not related to academic achievement.
Home-educated students typically score above average on the SAT and ACT tests that colleges consider for admissions.
Homeschool students are increasingly being actively recruited by colleges.
For high-school age students, many parents who may not have participated in a co-op or tutorial previously for their child(ren)’s education often do at this stage since they do assist in covering subject areas where a parent may not be as strong. In addition, there are many online course options, even for Catholic homeschoolers, so successfully home educating a high school student is definitely possible!
Homeschool students score above average on achievement tests regardless of their parents' level of formal education or their family's household income.