Every so often, this map (courtesy of the Home School Legal Defense Association) makes the rounds among homeschool bloggers.
It talks about the degree of regulation that each state puts on its homeschoolers, and our state, Pennsylvania, is always rated among the most heavily regulated.
If you live in Pennsylvania, it’s probably not a surprise. Even homeschoolers elsewhere have heard the horror stories that home learning here is restrictive, hard to do, highly regulated and so on.
Yet our family has homeschooled successfully in Pennsylvania for two generations (during my teen years, and now during Ashar’s) with little issue.
That’s why I’ve made the time over the past few weeks to compile what I hope will be the ultimate guide to homeschooling and unschooling in Pennsylvania – because it’s VERY doable when you know the law.
Here’s who this guide is for:
- Parents who want to homeschool in Pennsylvania but have heard it’s super-complicated.
- People who want to understand the different options for education in Pennsylvania, like cyberschooling, charter schools and more – and how they compare with homeschooling.
- Those already homeschooling in Pennsylvania who aren’t sure what the law really requires.
- Parents of homeschooled middle- and high-schoolers who are concerned about diplomas and transcripts.
- Unschooling or relaxed homeschooling families who aren’t sure how to produce the right documentation without a traditional curriculum.
- Pennsylvania families (homeschoolers AND otherwise!) who are looking for fun field trips around the state.
That’s a big list, right? Mostly, I encourage you to read through and see how we’re making homeschooling work in our home state – even if not all these areas apply to you.
I love living in Pennsylvania – and I hope I can shine a light on some of the resources that have helped us homeschool without a problem, and while having a great time!
As a full-disclosure disclaimer, I’ve got to be very clear: I’m not a lawyer, and my interpretations of the law aren’t to be taken as “legal advice” of any sort!
Pennsylvania homeschool laws: An overview
Note: This guide is up-to-date with the October 2014 changes to the Pennsylvania homeschool law to the best of my understanding. As I said above, I’m no lawyer, but this info is current as I understand it.
If I can impress nothing else on you, please know this: The best thing you can do in Pennsylvania is read the homeschool law yourself. Read it over and over. Read it some more. Next month, read it again. Do it again the month after that. It is a bunch of legalese, but it is understandable, and your absolute best safeguard in any situation is to truly know what is and isn’t required. I can’t tell you how much this has helped me personally!
You can read the law on the Pennsylvania Department of Education website here. You can also check out more info via the Home School Legal Defense Association site.
I also heartily recommend – and you’ll hear plenty about this throughout this guide – the amazing Ask Pauline website, which truly is an ultimate guide of ultimate guides to Pennsylvania homeschooling.
Specifically, Pauline’s Guide to Pennsylvania Law is a great walkthrough of what you need to know. I encourage you to read through this guide, then come back, click that link, and read through it and all the links contained in it; if you do that, you will know more about the PA law than most school district administrators!
We’ll come back to the specific documentation requirements for homeschoolers in Pennsylvania in a little bit, but the bottom line is this: If you have a high-school diploma or the equivalent, and if no adult living in your home and/or having custody of your child has a felony conviction, you are legally qualified to homeschool in Pennsylvania.
Cyberschooling, private tutoring and cover-schooling in Pennsylvania
Before we start talking about what homeschooling requires, let’s talk about some things that aren’t homeschooling, at least in a legal sense, in Pennsylvania.
One of the biggest things “mistaken for homeschooling,” as it were, is the cyber charter school program. You might be familiar with programs such as Commonwealth Charter Academy, PA Cyber, Agora, PA Distance Learning, PA Leadership Charter School, PA Virtual Charter School, 21st Century Cyber Charter School and more. We have friends in many of these programs, and while the material and approach vary slightly between them, they all have much in common.
Under Pennsylvania law, cyber charter schools are the legal equivalent of public schools. That means that your children, if enrolled in a cyber charter, are subject to all state public-school testing (such as the PSSA tests and Keystone exams), and will have their curriculum chosen for them based on the state’s prescribed standards.
Maybe that’s OK; in our family’s case, we are not in agreement with some of Pennsylvania’s procedures, including the pending move to Common Core, and we did not want to use a program of learning-at-home that applied the public-school standards and selections.
The tradeoff is, if that works for you (for instance, if everything about public school was fine for your child, but they need the ability to work from home instead of at school), there is no paperwork or documentation requirement on the parents of cyberschoolers. Again, it’s just like sending your child to public school.
Private tutoring is another piece of the Pennsylvania education-at-home system that is often misunderstood. It is homeschooling (and, in fact, falls under “Act 169,” or the Pennsylvania Homeschool Law of 1988) but it is more specific: It is homeschooling done by someone with a Pennsylvania teaching certificate, who only teaches members of one family, and who receives payment or other consideration for their service.
This is a great option because it has the potential to require significantly less paperwork and regulatory oversight for the homeschooling family, but it is often misunderstood (even by various “experts” across the state!) I highly recommend the Ask Pauline page on private tutoring for details on this option if you or someone you know is a certified teacher in Pennsylvania.
Our only personal experience with this option comes from friends of Ashar’s are homeschooled by their grandmother under the private tutor code in our district, and it has worked out quite well for them! As with other options, this is a case where being informed will make all the difference.
An option that is prevalent in many other states but not, really, in Pennsylvania is that of a cover school or umbrella school. In this system, your child is enrolled as a student in a “private school” recognized by the state, but that school’s students are all studying independently at home under the guidance of their parents. Then, rather than reporting to the local public school district as traditional homeschoolers would, these families “report” to the cover school.
Cover schools are not addressed in Pennsylvania’s homeschooling law. This is important to note, because some of them exist – but how your district treats them is up for debate! I highly recommend reading up on these via Ask Pauline’s cover school page, and I’ll echo her key advice: Most people who use what in other states would be considered a “cover” school still do and should file PA homeschooling paperwork and documentation as if they were homeschooling without it.
So we keep talking about these other things that aren’t what you’re probably here to hear about: Standard homeschooling in Pennsylvania. So how does that work? That’s what we’ll talk about next!
Required documentation in Pennsylvania: Overview
The are, essentially, either 5 or 6 paperwork items that you are required to have as a Pennsylvania homeschooler. Two (or three, depending on your situation) come at the beginning of the year (or the beginning of the homeschool program if you’re withdrawing your student mid-year) and three come at the end of the year.
The October 2014 changes to the law make drastic changes to which of these items need to be submitted to your school district superintendent at the end of the year, but not to the start-of-year documentation.
At the start of the year, you must provide to your district:
- A notarized affidavit.
- A list of objectives for each child in the homeschool program.
- If your child has been identified by the school district as a child with a disability and has an IEP in place, your objectives for that student must have a pre-approval by a qualified party, and that preapproval becomes the third item required just in those cases.
Get sample copies of some of our family’s documentation
· More than a dozen samples of portfolio sections over five years, done from a radical unschooling style
· Sample secondary objectives (editable)
· Sample official homeschool transcript (editable)
· Sample letter revoking consent for IEP (editable)
At the end of the year, you must meet with an evaluator (more on this later) and share with them a portfolio including:
- A log, by date, showing materials read (commonly called the book log).
- Proof of attendance showing the appropriate number of days and hours completed.
- Samples of work from a variety of areas.
- Only if your child is considered to be in 3rd, 5th or 8th grade, the results of an accepted standardized test.
After meeting with your evaluator, you will receive a certification letter from that person confirming that your student has made continuing progress.
That, and only that, must be submitted to your school district’s superintendent by June 30 of each year.
Let’s go into each of these items in detail.
The notarized affidavit for Pennsylvania homeschoolers
Believe it or not, this is the simple part. You just need to swear in writing, and have it notarized, that you meet certain stipulations:
- That instruction will be given in English
- That the person supervising the home-education program is the student’s parent or legal guardian
- That said parent or legal guardian has a high school diploma or equivalent
- That the student has received any immunizations required by law (or that the student has a religious or medical exemption to the same)
- That the student has received any other health and medical services required by law
- That no adult living in the home or any person having legal custody of the student has been convicted of particular crimes within the past 5 years
- And that the home-education program will comply with the state’s provisions
In all these cases, your statement in the affidavit is enough. You should never need to submit a copy of your high school diploma, a vaccination record, a criminal clearance or any other “supporting documentation.”
There are districts that will ask for these things. Normally, a polite, “Actually, the statement in the affidavit is considered fully sufficient under the law” will end the issue; I have to use this each year when I don’t provide a copy of my daughter’s medical records.
You can find many sample affidavits online. There are many details and sample forms available on Ask Pauline here, and I offer a sample of the one our family uses as a gift to our email subscribers. If you’re a subscriber, check the link in the bottom of any email I send, and if not, feel free to use one of the links in this post to join!
Objectives and special-education preapproval
Wow, I hear a lot of people stress out about the objectives that they’re required to file with their school district at the beginning of the year.
“Do I have to list out all the curriculum I plan to use?”
“What if I don’t plan to use standard curriculum?”
“What if we don’t do all the things we say we’re going to do?”
The answers to these are NOPE, DOESN’T MATTER and ALSO DOESN’T MATTER!!
Ask Pauline offers a huge list of sample objectives here. These have been submitted by real Pennsylvania homeschoolers, using a variety of styles, across a variety of ages and grade levels.
Here’s a hint: These can be broad! For example, here are the science objectives I submitted this year.
- Student will increase his scientific knowledge through experimentation, observation, museum visits, classes and reading.
- Student will continue to pursue focused advanced scientific study in areas of interest, including zoology and chemistry.
That’s it. It’s also likely what I’ll submit next year, and the year after that… which is the great thing. The phrase “appropriate for his age, interest and ability level” appears multiple times in our objectives – because it means that we’ll do the same type of thing, with changes as Ashar becomes more skilled.
Don’t stress too much about these. Resist the urge to over-specify. The law clearly states that “The required outline of proposed education objectives shall not be utilized by the superintendent in determining if the home education program is out of compliance.”
There is one particular case in which you have one extra step to do here. If your child has been officially identified by your district as a child with a disability – which, essentially, means if you were a former public-schooler with an IEP in place, as we were – your objectives need to be pre-approved by a person meeting particular criteria before they’re submitted to the district.
To pre-approve objectives for a student with a disability under this law, you must be:
- A teacher with a valid certificate from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to teach special education, or…
- A licensed clinical or certified school psychologist
This person does not need to be a current special-education teacher, nor does this person have to be your evaluator. We used Ashar’s psychologist to pre-approve when we first decided to remove him from public school, then his evaluator, and now a local psychologist who is also a homeschool mom.
There is generally not a “form” for preapprovals, but the professional should sign the objectives as well as print their full name and any relevant ID number or certification information.
This isn’t a huge deal, usually, once you find someone to do it regularly. The alternative is to terminate your child’s IEP, a process we’re actually sorting out now, but that comes with both pros and cons. (You can read more about that option at Ask Pauline and the Pennsylvania Department of Education.)
The book log requirement for Pennsylvania homeschoolers
One part of the portfolio required each year for Pennsylvania homeschoolers is what many of us call the “book log.”
Specifically, the state law requires the portfolio to include “a log, made contemporaneously with the instruction, which designates by title the reading materials used.”
There’s a lot of debate and interpretation wiggle room in that statement, and I can’t begin to do it justice, but (as is the case for so much of this Pennsylvania homeschooling stuff), Pauline of Ask Pauline has an amazing resource on logs here.
I can tell you that we log our books read with the date, generally as we go, using this book log form. (Yep, that’s from Ask Pauline too; in fact, there are a bunch of varieties of log forms available here!)
In sixth and seventh grades, we literally only included books. Moving forward, I might begin including relevant movies, video games, TV shows and more, to help as we create a high-school transcript for Sarah. I’m not sure yet; I am definitely not a fan of providing more than the law requires!
Standardized testing requirements for Pennsylvania homeschoolers
The last thing I mentioned in end-of-year requirements states that you must include in your portfolio, “in grades three, five and eight results of nationally normed standardized achievement tests in reading/language arts and mathematics or the results of Statewide tests administered in these grade levels” if you’re homeschooling but NOT operating under the private tutor law.
Don’t get too freaked out about this. It does not mean that your child needs to take the PSSA or the Keystone Exams (the public-school assessments given in our state). It does not mean that if your child scores “poorly” that they will “fail” or anything of the sort. In fact, at worst, your evaluator may ask supplemental information.
When you turn in your evaluator’s approval, it would be rare, but if your district were to feel that you were not making adequate progress in your family’s education, officials there could ask for supplemental information, or request a hearing, but that is incredibly uncommon.
The most I’ve heard done regularly is that some parents will include a brief note if their child scores below their overall skill level with some explanation. That is certainly not required and may, in fact, draw more attention to the scores than is merited!
The evaluator is tasked with looking for “progress.” That means that test scores, while part of what you’ll submit a few times, are not by themselves a make-or-break.
You also have your choice of several tests. According to the State Department of Education’s circular (read more here), you can choose:
- California Achievement Test
- Comprehensive Testing Program (CTPIV)
- Iowa Test of Basic Skills
- Metropolitan Achievement Test
- Peabody Achievement Individual Test – Revised Version
- Stanford Achievement Test
- Terra Nova
- Woodcock Johnson Revised Tests of Achievement III
- Wechsler Individual Achievement Test III (WIAT-III)
- … or the PSSAs
There are differences between each that make research important. In our family, we only had one year of required testing (eighth grade) as homeschoolers, since we pulled Ashar out of public school midway through sixth grade. Ashar completed the CAT, or the California Achievement Test, which we chose because it can be administered in the home either online or on paper as long as it’s proctored by an adult who is not the supervisor of the home-education program.
We had actually considered, briefly, having Ashar take the PSSA, which I hate, but which he knows “how to take” because of his public-school indoctrination. In the end, we left the choice up to him, and I admit I’m glad he chose the CAT!
Some tests will require a specific type of person to administer. As always, the Ask Pauline website is a great resource here, with pros and cons of various tests listed on the testing page, as well as a ton of other great information, including details on testing levels (for instance, if I wanted, I would NOT have to give Ashar the eighth-grade CAT!) and how to actually get tests to administer.
Above all, I encourage you not to stress about this. One of the biggest downfalls of Ashar’s public-school career was the district’s need to teach to the PSSA. I am so glad that we have the freedom in homeschooling not to do that; why would I worry about something that will take us less than 3 hours?
Pennsylvania homeschooling portfolio requirements
So you’ve got your book log. You’ve got your standardized test results if your student was in third, fifth or eighth grade. Soon, you’ll head to your evaluator meeting (and we’ll talk more about that soon).
Meanwhile, there’s one final portfolio requirement. It says you should include “samples of any writings, worksheets, workbooks or creative materials used or developed by the student.”
If I can impress nothing else on you, let me say this: Don’t go crazy on samples. Seriously. You do not need to include the end-of-chapter test from every textbook you use. You don’t even need to include any “graded” material, and we’ll talk more about that when we talk specifically about unschooling in Pennsylvania.
Your evaluator may have a specific number of samples they prefer. We’ll talk more about that in a minute, but please know that you have a lot of leeway in what a “sample” might be. In our family, we don’t do worksheets or textbooks. Many of our samples are photos from trips, blog posts, etc.
Some evaluators will only want to see your log, an attendance statement, test scores (if applicable) and one or two samples. Others expect to see a large number of work samples as part of the documentation they receive. Once again, Ask Pauline offers an amazing portfolio walkthrough.
One final note about portfolios: Somewhere in what you submit to your evaluator, you need to verify that you’ve met the state’s attendance requirements – either 180 days of education or an appropriate number of hours (900 for elementary students, 990 for secondary students).
Some people use a log to track this – for instance, I use this ultra-simple calendar; I bet you can’t guess where it’s from, can you?
Meanwhile, other people believe that a statement in your portfolio (usually in a cover letter) attesting that you’ve met your required number of days or hours can and does suffice. A lot of this is also evaluator-dependent; in our case, it’s no extra work to keep my super-simple calendar, and it helps me have an idea of where we “are” in terms of our documentation for the year.
Working with your evaluator and your school district in Pennsylvania
Finding an evaluator who’s a good fit for your family is the single biggest job you have as a Pennsylvania homeschooling parent.
In fact, we “evaluator-shopped” last year and chose a new evaluator because our previous one, while very nice, was not someone Ashar was comfortable with.
In our family’s case, a lot of our portfolio documentation comes in the form of photos and travel brochures, and during the evaluation, the evaluator will often want to hear from the student about what they learned, especially at the secondary level. Well, when Ashar is not comfortable, he… Just. Doesn’t. Talk. (Uhoh.) WAY too stressful.
Our new evaluator works in a style much more comfortable to Ashar (most of the questions are done in writing, with the interview part very informal). She also asks for a much smaller number of samples that’s way more in keeping with how I read the law. (Our previous evaluator wanted 10 samples in every “subject,” much more than the state law requires.)
For more on choosing an evaluator who’s a good fit, of course I recommend the Ask Pauline guide.
A few notes about finding an evaluator, just based on my experience:
- Find an evaluator that is comfortable evaluating for your style and your family’s needs.
- If you need to have objectives pre-approved for special education, while that CAN be done by some evaluators, it does not have to be done at the same time.
- Understand the criteria for evaluating; many families have an educator friend who qualifies and who could provide the evaluation if willing. The law extends beyond current working teachers to any teachers with valid credentialing – retirees, for instance, qualify.
- While people who are not teachers can evaluate under the “other qualifications” provision, the school district does reserve final say in accepting those evaluations, and you need to get them OK’d ahead of time. There was an evaluator WELL-known in my area (a longtime homeschool mom and consummate professional) and I believe every school district in my county accepted her – except mine. So double-check first!
- A clinical or school psychologist is another option for evaluations, one not often explored. If your child meets with one regularly, consider whether that might work!
Graduation requirements for Pennsylvania homeschoolers
Let me be super-clear about one thing up front: You do not need to use a “diploma program” to graduate your child from a homeschool program in Pennsylvania. While such programs exist, the law is clear – and, I believe, helpful – in that it lists out some basic requirements, and if your child meets them, they are a high-school graduate. It’s that simple.
And, with the October 2014 changes to the law, the diploma you issue as a parent, signed by your child’s 12th-grade evaluator, holds exactly the same weight as any other diploma issued in Pennsylvania. Here is the approved diploma from the Pennsylvania Department of Education website, printable, complete with instructions.
So what is required?
There are two parts to the law. First, at the secondary level (between seventh and 12th grades), you need to reflect the following courses for your student:
- English, to include language, literature, speech and composition
- Social studies, to include civics, world history, history of the United States and Pennsylvania
- Mathematics, to include general mathematics, algebra and geometry
- Physical education
- Safety education, including regular and continuous instruction in the dangers and prevention of fires.
The law also says “Such courses of study may” (emphasis mine) “include, at the discretion of the supervisor of the home education program, economics, biology, chemistry, foreign languages, trigonometry or other age-appropriate courses…”
Notice what the law does not say.
- It does NOT say that you need to include any of these courses every year.
- It does NOT say that you need to have a year-long course on geometry, algebra, civics or speech.
- It does NOT say that you need to represent foreign-language study.
These are some of the biggest misconceptions I hear about homeschooling high school, and I am again here to reassure you that it is doable. In this case, a “homeschooling high school expert,” Donna Botterbusch, who was for many years before moving out of Pennsylvania an evaluator in my area, says it best. She said in a workshop I attended last year that the law gives us a lot of freedom in this area.
And this isn’t something you have to lay out in a nice neat document (though I’ll talk about how you might choose to do that later). Essentially, this is a standard that your evaluator will be looking at to help measure whether your child has made consistent progress, and it’s a framework that allows you to know that what you’re doing stands up to any challenge!
Now, specifically to graduate, here’s what the law says:
The following minimum courses in grades nine through twelve are established as a requirement for graduation in a home education program:
- Four years of English
- Three years of mathematics
- Three years of science
- Three years of social studies
- Two years of arts and humanities
Let me say it again: If you meet these requirements, your student is a high-school graduate.
There are certainly “requirements” above and beyond this for admission to certain colleges. However, if college is in your child’s future, I encourage you to simply start a dialogue early (freshman or sophomore year) with a few schools of interest. Many have arrangements that go beyond their printed or online admissions policy.
In some cases, for instance, there may be a foreign-language “prerequisite” that can, with arrangement through the admissions department, actually be taken as a summer college course.
Knowing what goal you’re shooting for will help you know how you best want to work with your child to meet it!
For details, you can read much more about homeschooling high school in Pennsylvania on Ask Pauline.
Finally, one last thought: Keeping a good transcript, while not legally required in any way, is an excellent plan. I have already started keeping Ashar’s, and I’m following the guidelines of 120 hours of study as a full credit in any subject, 90 hours as three-quarters of a credit, 60 hours as a half-credit and 30 hours as a quarter-credit. This came from the Homeschooling High School workshop I attended locally with Donna Botterbusch, but you can read a variation of it from HSLDA here.
(And, if you’re within driving distance of York County in central PA, keep an eye on this page for info on upcoming Homeschooling High School workshops offered by the York Homeschool Assocaition. WELL worth a trip.)
Important ages and dates for Pennsylvania homeschoolers
- Age 8: The beginning of compulsory school age in Pennsylvania (mostly/kinda). If your child has never attended another school and doesn’t live in the Philadelphia School District, you do not need to file any kind of home-education paperwork until the school year in which they either are 8 or will turn 8 within the first 2 weeks of the school year. There are a bunch of complicating factors here, including past attendance in a public-school first grade and a bunch of other weirdness; all I can do here is refer you to Ask Pauline for details!
- Third grade: The first year in which standardized testing results must be included in your end-of-year documentation.
- Fifth grade: The second year in which standardized testing results must be included in your end-of-year documentation.
- Eighth grade: The third and final year in which standardized testing results must be included in your end-of-year documentation.
- Age 17: The end of compulsory education requirements (mostly/kinda). There’s weirdness here, too, including reasons why you might want to continue to file paperwork even after your child turns 17, if they haven’t yet graduated. Again, Ask Pauline can help!
- June 30 of each year: The last day you may complete your “educational year,” both in terms of meeting the days/hours requirement and the date by which you must submit your evaluator’s letter to your school district.
- July 1 of each year: Assuming you’ve filed your affidavit and objectives by this time, the first date which you may begin counting days/hours for the new school year.
- Aug. 1 of each year: The date by which, if you’ve homeschooled in previous years, you must file an affidavit and objectives with your school district. (There is no date requirement if you’re unenrolling your child from another school mid-year; you can file your affidavit and start at any time in that case.)
Unschooling in Pennsylvania
Let me be as clear here as I can be: Unschooling is legal. Unschooling is legal in Pennsylvania. You just have to know how to fit what it is that you do into the state laws, which I can tell you is very doable with a little practice.
And there is one key tip to start with:
Get sample copies of some of our family’s documentation
· More than a dozen samples of portfolio sections over five years, done from a radical unschooling style
· Sample secondary objectives (editable)
· Sample official homeschool transcript (editable)
· Sample letter revoking consent for IEP (editable)
Keep good records.
An unschooling family of my acquaintance recently faced some pretty close scrutiny from their district because their portfolio was missing some information. I’m not suggesting you overcomply and send in a picture from every day of the year or anything like that – far from it. (And with the new reporting requirements, your district no longer sees your portfolio anyway!)
But if you want to be able to convince your evaluator that your learning-from-life lifestyle is working, YOU need to be prepared to hold up your end by showing them some of what you do, not just telling them, “Hey, we learned about x, y and z this year.”
The law requires us to show samples of work. It might not look like workbook pages or quizzes – our portfolio, for instance, is VERY heavy on photos from trips with a couple sentences about them – but be prepared to keep records that show you’ve done this awesome stuff!
Think broadly. This is my biggest unschooling takeaway. I resist the urge to fit our life into curriculumy-sounding boxes – except when it suits my need for appropriate documentation.
As I’ve worked on Ashar’s transcript, it’s been easier than I thought to fit the things we do into “classes” and “credits” – not for our use, but for Ashar’s future use pursuing work and higher education.
We won’t do “English 9” on a transcript. But we’ll definitely have a credit course reflecting “Literary analysis and film adaptation study.” Sounds neat, right? It’s something we do ALL THE TIME. We read books, and we watch movies based on them, and we talk about the differences. We don’t do it because it’s part of a “course,” but done over four or five years, it certainly adds up to one!
Be willing to think broadly. Match up things that seem unrelated at the time later on when you see a theme. (And guess what? That’s much more easily done when you’re keeping good records… see how that works?)
Know the law. Realize that graded material is not required or even discussed in the law. (Some evaluators may ask for it, but you have the right to choose a different evaluator if so!)
Realize that you don’t need to provide a “course” in speech or civics or any other topic that is listed in the law to be covered.
Realize that providing “samples of work” does not require you to frantically print out worksheets during the third week of June and sit your child down to do two dozen so you have them for the portfolio.
Realize that learning from life is OK. Take a deep breath. You can do this.
Most of all, don’t freak out. If you’re really interested in this topic, reach out to me. I actually do unschool “consulting” of a sense to help people make it work in Pennsylvania, and I’m always glad to chat about how we do it!
Awesome Pennsylvania homeschool field trips
I’m pretty astounded at all the cool places we’ve been able to go (and plan to go in the future) in Pennsylvania. This list could go on for miles. I’m including just a relative few of the places you might travel in-state and see cool stuff, but I’d be thrilled to hear your suggestions in the comments as well!
- Bedford: Old Bedford Village (My husband tells me he places Bedford more “central” than “western,” but I told him it’s my list and I wanted to put it here. So there.)
- Erie: Presque Isle State Park, ExpERIEnce Children’s Museum
- Hopwood: Laurel Caverns
- Johnstown: Johnstown Flood Museum, Johnstown Children’s Museum
- Ohiopyle: Fallingwater, Ohiopyle State Park (great place for whitewater rafting)
- Pittsburgh: Carnegie Museums (art, science, natural history and Andy Warhol), Duquesne Incline, National Aviary, Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium, Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh
- Punxsutawney: Campers, it’s Groundhog Day…
- Shanksville: Flight 93 National Memorial
- Centralia: Our favorite town-that-isn’t
- Coudersport: Cherry Springs State Park (home of the “darkest sky” in Pennsylvania)
- Gettysburg: Gettysburg National Military Park (Civil War battlefield), Land of Little Horses, Strawberry Hill Nature Preserve in nearby Fairfield
- Harrisburg: Lake Tobias (actually in Halifax, a little to the north), Pennsylvania State Capitol, State Museum of Pennsylvania
- Hershey: Hersheypark (including the ChocolateWorld tour and ZooAmerica – and note that the park offers discounts for homeschoolers and special educational programs in May!), Indian Echo Caverns in nearby Hummelstown
- Huntingdon: Lincoln Caverns
- Kutztown: Crystal Cave
- Lancaster: Hands-On House, Lancaster Science Factory (which even offers special homeschooler classes), Turkey Hill Experience, Strasburg Railroad, Choo-Choo Barn, Amish tours, Sight and Sound Theatre, James Buchanan’s Wheatland
- Lititz: Wolf Sanctuary of Pennsylvania, Wilbur Chocolates (see our family’s notes from our Lititz trip to these two attractions here)
- Shartlesville: Roadside America
- State College: The home of Penn State (Ashar’s dad’s and pappy’s alma mater!) with many things to see and do on campus, Millbrook Marsh Nature Center, Pennsylvania Military Museum in Boalsburg
- Warren: Kinzua Dam
- Wellsboro: Pennsylvania’s Grand Canyon (also known as Pine Creek Gorge)
- Williamsport: Peter J. McGovern Little League Museum
- York: Ah, my hometown! Factory tours aplenty, Gifford Pinchot State Park, Indian Steps Museum in nearby Airville
- Benton: Ricketts Glen State Park
- Bloomsburg: The Children’s Museum
- Jim Thorpe: TONS to do in this area; check our our complete guide here
- Philadelphia: Franklin Institute, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia Zoo, Chemical Heritage Foundation Museum, and of course the many sites of Independence National Historic Park (here’s our detailed guide to those, including Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell)
- Reading: Reading Public Museum
- Valley Forge: Longwood Gardens, Valley Forge National Historic Park
- White Haven: Hickory Run State Park (home of Boulder Field)
You can find an even more extensive list of Pennsylvania field trips here; the ones I’ve listed are just some highlights from our experiences.
This post is also part of the iHomeschool Network’s Best Homeschool Field Trips linkup. Click the image at right to read more!
Even more great resources
First of all, if YOU have books, websites, field trip ideas or other resources on homeschooling in Pennsylvania, please leave me a comment below! I’ll keep updating this guide with as many great resources as possible.
Some assorted other notes:
- Did you know that, IF you want to use it, your school district must provide you with a copy of all texts and instructional materials your child would use in public school? Most homeschooling parents I know don’t want to use the public school’s curriculum, but if you want it in full or part, it’s a great FREE way to get materials you might not otherwise be able to.
- School districts are generally required to allow Pennsylvania homeschoolers to participate in extracurricular activities like sports as well. You can read more about extracurriculars and homeschoolers on the Pa. Dept. of Education website here.
- In Dillsburg, here in central Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Curriculum Exchange is a large store offering new and used curriculum for homeschoolers.
- There are more local homeschool support groups than I could list here and try to cover the whole state. I highly encourage you to search online for your county’s name and “homeschooling,” and also, check out Facebook. I LOVE my York County homeschoolers Facebook groups!
- One of my favorite fellow Pennsylvania homeschool bloggers is Judy of Contented at Home. After Ask Pauline, Judy is my top recommendation from today’s post! Specifically, if you want to learn about Pennsylvania, I highly recommend her Ultimate Guide to Famous Pennsylvanians and Ultimate Guide to Famous Pennsylvanians. These are AMAZING learning guides.
This post is part of the iHomeschool Network’s Ultimate Guides series.
Click the image at right to see great tips from some of my fellow bloggers on everything from homeschooling gifted learners to field trips for homeschoolers to establishing a reading culture in your home!
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171 thoughts on “The ultimate guide to Pennsylvania homeschooling and unschooling”
This is the BEST resource I’ve ever seen for homeschoolers in this highly regulated state! I will be recommending this to my fellow Pennsylvania homeschoolers, both newbies and veterans.
Judy, thank you so much! I can’t tell you how much I appreciate all your support and that you’re willing to share! 🙂
So wait, I cant homeschool my child because I have a felony charge in my past??? 2/21/21
Michael, that’s tricky and let me preface my answer by saying I’m not a lawyer so this is in no way legal advice! However, the PA homeschool law says that the official, documented supervisor of the home education program cannot have a felony conviction. However, nowhere does it say that the official, documented supervisor has to do all the teaching. So, for some families, I am aware that they list a spouse or another family member who lives with them who meets the criteria as the person “on record” as the supervisor, while the person with the felony conviction is available to do most of the teaching. A good homeschooling attorney could help you with more specifics, but anecdotally I’d say you may want to read the law carefully and see if there is a way to comply with the documentary requirements regarding the supervisor while still being an active participant in your child’s education!
Thank you so much! This is exactly what I needed. Shifting from unit studies to unschooling has been amazing, but stressful because we’ve always sent in huge portfolios containing samples, and this year, well…they’re a little sparse. I was planning on using photos, like you said, and my logs are very detailed to a fault. As for standardized tests, I, too, will be using CAT online this year. We used it last year for two of my daughters, and I like that it can be administered at home with no proctor. I am definitely bookmarking this. BTW, Jim Thorpe is beautiful. The mountains are stunning. I always love driving through there.
Oh, I’m so glad! I was hoping you’d stop back and take a look!! Our portfolio is going to be a bit different this year too, and it’s funny, but writing this post has helped me be less nervous, too, because I’m reassuring myself of what the law expects!
I know this information was posted a long time ago but if you are still available, I could desperately use some help:(
Rachael, I no longer do consulting, but if you email me your questions to email@example.com, I can either see if they’re something I can answer when I can or direct you to someone who can!
I am very new to this idea. I have wanted to homeschool but my Childrens school lied and told me it would be impossible because my kids have an IEP, they have now taken me to court to try and force me to keep my kids in traditional education. What are my options? I need some help as soon as possible. I feel they are trying to take my children, over them not going to school the “traditional way”. I have never agreed with their way and I have always been bullied into keeping them their, it has to stop now! Please community members help me figure out what I need to do. I truly am so lost, I need help saving my kids future
wowee, this is impressive. I don’t live in PA, but I’m going to share EVERYWHERE so that any homeschoolers that do can benefit from your knowledge and experience. You should be incredibly proud of what a great resource you’ve created!
Kerry, wow, thanks!! That means a ton! I hope this can also be a resource or at least an encouragement to people who live in other highly-regulated states, or who aren’t sure how to get familiar with their state’s laws, or whatever. I appreciate you!
This sounds like a wonderfully complete look at PA law. Impressive. I’m just mostly curious why an unschooler would reference the HSLDA, an ideological organization more antithetical to unschooling than any state agency.
Frank, I’m not a member of HSLDA, but I have no problem with them. I guess my take is, much like any organization you can voluntarily choose to join, you have to decide whether the benefits (in my case, I personally know people whom HSLDA has helped in court, INCLUDING many unschoolers) outweigh any concerns you have. I haven’t joined mostly because I live in a fairly amiable district and have had no problems, but I don’t feel strongly either way and their free resources are good. I always recommend you vet any organization you choose to join, and decide whether it’s a fit. (For what it’s worth, I don’t find most state agencies operate against unschooling, either; in fact, there are members of the PDE unschooling their children. It’s more at the local level that I see problems, and I see them more from lack of knowledge than intentional hostility.)
Thank you!! This is great!
Thanks, Tamara! I’m so glad to help!
My son is only four, so we are a few years away from worrying about paperwork, but this post is exactly what I was looking for! Great info- thanks so much!
Emily, so glad it helped!
Same for me! My daughter turned 4 today and I felt like I needed to look up homeschooling info ASAP. This site gave me some needed direction and put me at ease.
Catherine, I’m so glad you stopped by! I’m so glad to help. I hope you’ll stay in touch!
This is good stuff. I do have a question, if you are part of a co-op, how many hours/days are legal for someone, other than you, allotted to teach your child?
Debbie, there’s nothing in the law about who must provide the instruction. You must be the supervisor of the home education program – and that means it’s up to you to be in compliance – but you can have someone else teach your child 100% of the time if you like! The private tutor law deals with what happens when one person who is a certified teacher gives all of the education, but as a “traditional” homeschooler not using private tutoring, you can use co-ops, things like online classes, and for high-schoolers dual enrollment with higher learning institutions, all with no problem. When I was homeschooled, my parents “team-taught” me with a friend of mine, also homeschooled, and her parents then had us on alternating days.
This helps me so much. I may personally email you if you’re still willing to chat in a year or two. My daughter is only going on three but I am very interested in homeschool/unschool but NOBODY agrees with this decision. 🙁
Brooke, ABSOLUTELY let’s stay in touch. It’s hard when you don’t feel like you have any support system in place, and I’m always glad to talk. Thanks for saying hi!
HI Joan! I just had to say I love your blog! I am a Pennsylvanian mom of 3 small children and i am about to start homeschooling my oldest for kindergarten this fall. I am so excited to have found your site and I’m sure I will be using your amazing list of educational field trip places in Pennsylvania!
Julianna, thanks for the kind words – I hope you have a ton of fun on those trips! 🙂
Joan, It is with gratitude and relief that I have found you! (Although I will say that the download link on the page to look at samples did not work for me) I have a 7 year old who I have been homeschooling/unschooling and getting my mind wrapped around all the paperwork and pa laws is making me nervous! I can’t find any other homeschooling like minded moms in my district, but your site has brought me such peace of mind that it can be “legally” done and I do not need to compromise what I feel is right for my child. Any advice you can give me for preparing to submit my affidavit next year and keeping my books for that first portfolio would be greatly appreciated. I would love to see another example of another “first grader”. (I fear I am over-thinking this)
Sincere thanks for providing this valuable information for other PA moms like me.
Stacy, wow, thanks for the kind words! Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll figure out what happened with the download page and see how else I can help!
Joan, i absolutely love this post!! As a fellow PA homeschooler it’s taken me a lot of courage to let go and embrace life learning in our home. I might not always have a product to put in the portfolio, but it has been so worth it. Love Judy’s blog too!! So many helpful resources for the PA peeps!!
Kirsten, thanks! We PA families gotta stick together. I love knowing that even in a state with laws like ours, it’s totally “doable” to homeschool in a way that is authentic to your family, you know?!
So glad to have found your site. I’ve heard many horror stories about home schooling in Pennsylvania, so I felt the need to start researching early. I look forward to checking out your site & the resources you shared.
Meghan, I’m so glad you found us! It can be done – and I hear horror stories too, but I love reassuring people that it isn’t impossible at all! Good luck on your homeschooling journey.
Thank you so much for this site. I just decided to switch my kids from cyber school to homeschool. I was so nervous, but this information makes me feel much better. My only concern now is finding a great evaluator. Im not sure what to ask them to know if they are a good fit.
Wendy, nice to hear from you! The biggest things we’ve talked to evaluators about are what types of documentation they prefer to see. We had one tell us they wanted 10 samples of work PER SUBJECT, divided by subject; that wasn’t a good fit for us and we moved on! The other big winner for us was an evaluator who would do an evaluation either in distance format (Skype/email) or at our home. Sarah does not do well in new places sometimes, especially if she’s nervous, so we didn’t want to add that to the list of worries!
I am a sophomore in high school and want to be homeschooled. I am trying to convince my parents into letting me do it, but they don’t think it is a good idea. I am tired of sitting in school and learning about all kinds of stuff that doesn’t interest me and things that have no real world application. I really want an education system that is more tailored to my interests. Not to mention getting to sleep in. I was curious if you had any ideas to help me convince my parents to let me be homeschooled.
Alex, sorry it took me so long to get back to you! This is a really tough conversation to have. I think my biggest advice would be to find out what your parents’ biggest concerns or objections are, and specifically make a list of the resources and ideas you have that would overcome them. Maybe they’re concerned about you getting into college; maybe it’s a matter of the time they have available to help; maybe they’re worried about whether you’ll see friends, etc. All of those are things you can and should talk about together.
Do I promise it’ll work, no – but I’ve successfully helped spearhead some conversations about homeschooling and cyberschooling as options among several friends when their kids approached me about it. If you guys are all talking together about it, that’s your best chance – and it’s good no matter what, because if you do end up staying in the school you’re at, at least maybe you’ll all be on the same page about what its value is (and isn’t).
I hope you’ll keep me posted on your journey, and if your parents need anyone to talk to, feel free to send them my way – email@example.com!
It was lovely meeting you this evening. You were enthusiastic and engaging! You made sense. I was definitely inspired.
LaTonya, that makes my day!! It was so nice to meet you too!!!
I have my 8th grade son in cyber school currently. He has some learning issues and has an IEP. I am considering homeschooling, but am concerned about the 8th grade testing. I was opting him out of PSSAs this year. Would it be better to let him finish the year in cyber school, so I don’t have to worry about the required testing for this year?
Also are there any online resources that can be used for him as he has reading/writing issues and online things work much better for him than textbooks & worksheets.
Susan, thanks for reaching out! I could see you going either way with the required testing. One note is that if your IEP describes “testing alternatives,” they apply not just to the PSSA but to any other test he might take, like the CAT (the one we used), meaning your son could take it untimed, with help having the questions read to him, etc., all depending on what the IEP specifies. (We, for instance, did the CAT untimed, because that was specified in Sarah’s public school IEP, which we did not terminate until after testing.)
There are TONS of great online resources out there, too, all depending on the style you’re interested in. Khan Academy offers a huge wealth of free video learning and that’s really my only specific “recommendation”; there are also full online-based curricula, everything from Monarch by Switched On Schoolhouse, which is a Christian online curriculum, to Time4Learning, to specific “course”-based sites like Uzinggo, which we reviewed before and liked but which is not a complete all-subjects curriculum… essentially, the great part is that you’d be able to find a variety of resources across, probably, all different “grade levels” for your son; the hard part is it’s some work to put that together!
Hi Joan!i am currently using agora for our “homeschooling”and it has been a nightmare!My son and I are both miserable and dread each weekday!He is in fourth grade and this is our first time trying “homeschooling”.I have been trying to find a diff school or something!im at my wits end!He hates it and so do I!I am sooo grateful to you for all of this info!I wasn’t aware that you can unschool!Ive so often wished that we could do our own way of learning and now I know it’s possible!Thank you sooo much!This is what I needed at the right time!I was about to send him back to public school,which I didn’t want to do but felt like I had no other option.We live in the Pittsburgh area if you might know of any good evaluators here!I am def going to get on the ball with taking the necessary steps to bring joy back into learning!
I’m late saying so but I just wanted to tell you I’m sending good thoughts to you and your son and your journey together! Keep me posted on how it’s going!
As a longtime PA unschooling parent, I really enjoyed this article and will add it to what I recommend newbies to read, alongside old standby, askpauline.com.
However, I am wondering if you could do another post on turning our portfolios into the love language of college. Lee Binz has a book that’s been very helpful to me so far called Setting the Record Straight that is as relaxed as it is professional. But the hard part is turning all of our wonderful unschool experiences into academic speak..
This is why I locked right on to “Literary Analysis and Film Adaptation Analysis”. Oh! THAT’S what I should call the entire series of Harry Potter novels/movies we found so engaging! Ironically, English is the subject I’m having the hardest time with because it was my elder son’s strongest subject – such that, I don’t remember him learning so much as already knowing, having somehow absorbed reading, grammar, etc like a sponge along the way. After reviewing our portfolios, I had to sit him down and ask him how he remembered learning. He rattled off some things he recalled but his final answer was amazing – he said “I learned contextually”. Ok, somebody let this kid into college right now based on that statement right there, right? So there’s that plus you’re wonderful example.
So what do you think about adding a blog post of noteworthy class title examples or a guide on how to translate unschool ports into the love language of colleges?????
Elaine, that sounds like a great idea! Right now I’m working on adding that to a presentation I’m doing Feb. 10 as part of the iHomeschool Studio – if you happen to be able to check it out I’d love to have you join us (details at http://goo.gl/PgzlTc). Anyway, I will certainly see about doing a post on how we create “classes” and add them to our transcript after that session!
Thank you so much for saying hello. I’m sending such good thoughts your way!
First I want to thank you for all of this helpful information!! We are new to Pennsylvania and want to home school. I have lots of questions on where to start , could you help counsel me through this??
Samantha, thanks for your kind words! While I don’t have space in my official “consulting” schedule right now, I’m certainly glad to field any questions I can by email, it just might take a week or so for me to respond. Feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
This was amazing info! I have wondered for many years what was involved in home schooling. This has helped me tremendously! I have a 7th grader now and he has asked to home school since 1st grade. I am a single parent and must work full time to make our ends meet. Is it possible to homeschool and work full time? I myself am in a quandary of life change with following life goals and dreams and where Ive always been “stuck”..i.e single full time worker. So it seems as though life would be totally unbalanced if its not possible to work as much as possible to get by while home schooling. However it is more important to give my child the life he would prefer outside of a public school. Any advise is appreciated! Thanks!
Azure, I’m so glad you stopped by! I ABSOLUTELY can tell you it’s possible – I work full-time outside the home and homeschool. AND I just enrolled in a program to go back to school too. Might be crazy but am so so so happy. If you haven’t already, I hope you’ll check out this post I wrote when I worked full-time from home: https://unschoolrules.com/2012/08/the-ultimate-guide-to-homeschooling-as-a-working-mom – some of it applies, some doesn’t, but a LOT gets at the issues you’re talking about!!!
Thank you so much!! Omg that’s crazy that you just enrolled! Congratulations! I am also currently a ft student as well pursuing a psych degree! Best wishes in your pursuit! Thank you I look forward to following up with what you sent and will have time to decide how it falls into place by the deadline for next year. Blessings!
Ha, that’s too awesome!!! I am pursuing a master’s in homeland security with a public health concentration. How amazing!
Joan, thank you so much for all of this and thank god it’s one of the first places I found! I want to start unschooling my daughter who just completed fourth grade. I’m nervous about getting the affidavit together. I’ll come back after I’ve gone through all these amazing resources you’ve provided. Thanks again!
Sarah, I’m so glad you found us too! Keep me posted on how it’s going, and if you run into any questions!
i am new to unschooling but not to homeschooling. We use to live in the city but now we live on a homestead in the country and i am trying to put together my portfolio and am looking for ideas of how to take my undocumented learning activities we did this year..ie, maple syrup, husbandry, documentaries, etc. and put them in a way in our portfolio that will satisfy the law to show progress in learning. i can surely use pic and have them write on them what they remembered but does that ideally show progress in learning for example in math. Also trying to fit subjects like math or more specifically addition or subtraction in each unit study say on maple syrup is a challenge to me. i know they are getting it and have scored very well on their proficiency tests just struggling to show progress in core subjects and do i have to show more specifically that they learned chemistry science in making maple syrup and the explanation of the chemistry they learned ie, boiling points and such, or is just having them write a sentence about what they remember on a pic & call it science enough to satisfy the law. I have also talked to maryalice newborn, founder of PHEA.net a freedom evaluators network that i use for my free evaluations. So my understanding from what she has said to me is that the daily 180day list is not required in the portfolio but that it is one way show the evaluator that progress is happening. She said, “Please dont go the day before you eval and ck off a sheet with 180days on it with several different color pens and think that you have to do that for me”. “Unless your child is in a comma they are learning 365days a year and you have fulfilled the law”. Which most of us do, lets be honest…lol…i would greatly appreciate any resources that you may use to show progress and any advise on specifics that help evaluators see progress is being made in core subjects. thanks
Monica, nice to “meet” you! You do not need to include a list of specific days by most accounts; a statement saying that 180 days of instruction were completed is fine. Every understanding I have, though, is that you do have to explicitly state it somehow. (In my case, I need a “date” the 180 days are completed for other reasons, so it’s easier just to check something off or keep a tally so I can see when that is!)
Regarding showing progress, my advice is not to focus so much on the specific “subject area.” The evaluator’s job is to attest to “evidence of sustained progress.” When they see work in a portfolio that is new from what the student knew last year, that is evidence of sustained progress. One evaluator explained it to me that the question she asks herself is “Does this child know and understand more now than he or she did at this time last year?” And of COURSE the answer to that is going to be yes if you’re living in a living, learning lifestyle. So your job is not to prove that by showing three samples of math worksheets, it’s to “prove” it by showing the lifestyle. Does that make sense?
Hi I have been going back and fourth on what is best and. More simple for my 3 kids who all have IEPS there ages are 8,9 and 11 all learning at lower grade levels we did pulic school and then all most 2 years of cyber school and now we want to do something less stressful on them but as I am new to this I am freaking out as I know I have to decide and get things done before the start of the school year and I have no idea were to began and if I can’t get everything done and I’m place they will have to continue another year in cyber school which is not working for us but we are making due so if you can help with any advice I would be so very greatful and the information you provided was very helpful thank you for that but as this is still something we never done before I am freaking out on how to even start so any help would be great thank you in advance
Nicole, deep breaths – you can do this! Honestly, the best thing you can do is to file your homeschooling paperwork and just get started. You don’t need anything fancy to start, nor a particular plan; you just need to file an affidavit and some BROAD objectives, which would have to be signed off by someone qualified since there are IEPs in place. But those objectives don’t mean you have to plan the whole year out; you just talk in broad terms about each child improving “appropriate for his/her age and ability” in a topic like arithmetic. Once you have your paperwork in place, my advice is to take some time and just spend it together. Find out what your kids are most interested in. See where they want to go, what they want to see. Read to and with them. Go places. Talk to people. Talk about life. Don’t worry about “school” – even if you don’t intend to go an unschooling route later, you need a break and this will help you frame out what might work for them moving forward. Is one kid a “doer” and another a reader and another a watcher? Do they like being outside? These are the kinds of things that can help you figure out what might work.
One thing I’ll encourage you on is to forget about grade levels AT ALL as much as possible. It’s OK to work on second-grade work with a student who would be in fifth grade in public school, and in homeschooling, that’s not “behind” at all. Our daughter, Sarah, works at probably an early-middle-school level in some subjects and a college level in others, and the great thing is that in homeschooling that’s ALL fine! 🙂
I would love to chat with you briefly as I start to home school my 6year old in Adams county. As a veteran teacher I feel comfortable unschooling (and excited!) With a mix of unit themes and living books philosophy. But everyone else has a curriculum or cyber. Also wondering about Littlestown’s history with homeschooling, if you or anyone else knows. Thank you! Hancockjulia@ymail.com
Julia, nice to meet you! Feel free to drop me a note any time at email@example.com! 🙂
Thank you for this info! So helpful! While I “homeschooled” each of my 3 children for KG–I wanted to be the one to teach them to read–I am now jumping in with both feet for my 7th grade son. TO say I was overwhelmed was an understatement, but with lots of great info like this article (and talking with other homeschooling families), I am beginning to turn the corner….
Kim, I am so glad you’re jumping in! (And I hope your son is, too!) I hope you’ll check in as your year progresses and let me know how it’s going. You can do it!
I have a very unique situation that I’m thinking you will know the answer to! Our 17 year old daughter got accepted after her junior year to a college in VA. Our local PA high school said that she could complete her graduation requirements ( English and Math) at the college and would essentially graduate her after fall semester. She enrolled in classes and is slated to start college in the fall. Today I got a call from the high school principal that the superintendent doesn’t want to do this and cited the student handbook (there’s nothing in there to support his claim). We plan on fighting this, but I have a feeling we will lose. The superintendent is already not our biggest fan as we opt our kids out of standardized testing (Gasp!) SO, the college can keep her past fall semester without some kind of a diploma. She already meets PA graduation requirements, just not our local high school requirements. My question is (I know..already?) can I withdraw her from high school and then present her with a diploma from us? I know this is crazy, but we are desperate! She received a $52,000 scholarship and is so excited and proud that she could burst! Any help or advice you could give would be greatly appreciated!!
I didn’t read all the comments but one thing I wanted to ask/mention is the PSSA tests for 5th ??
Last year my son in 5th did not take any test. The school district called us and assumed we didn’t want to take the tests because they know we are crazy homeschoolers. Anyway… they told us to just write a letter. We just wrote a letter that said we were religiously and philosophically opposed to test taking and that our children will not be taking any required tests. They excepted this. But this site and ask Pauline both do not mention this as an.option. I just wanted to put this out there that it could be an option…or if we really do have to take the tests and the districts were wrong then maybe someone could tell me ??
Thoughts anyone ?
Thanks for bringing up this question! In good news, it sounds like you have a very homeschool-friendly school district!
Let me first say I’m not a lawyer and I can’t give you “official” advice. But I can say that as I read the law and as I have had it explained to me by the PDE and some homeschooling legal experts, standardized test scores are required in the portfolio you submit to your evaluator for a student in third, fifth or eighth grade. Now, since portfolios no longer go to the district (nor test scores), if you have an evaluator that doesn’t ask for them and signs a certificate of progress, it’s possible the district would not know, but that is not in keeping with what is asked in the law of evaluators.
I also know people who have chosen to try to get around this requirement by using different “grade-level” systems (i.e. starting mandatory reporting with an eight-year-old in “4th grade”, then having said student do two years of fourth grade and then progress to sixth…)
And speaking to exemptions in particular, PA law does not allow for a “philosophical objection,” only a religious one, for public-school students. (This is why some religious private schools are able to not give standardized tests.) This is specifically related to public-schoolers and the PSSAs, however.
Again, I can’t give legal advice, but I can say none of this is in keeping with the law as I read it. That said, homeschoolers under Act 169 are absolutely NOT required to take PSSAs. There is a whole list of available standardized tests, and in our case, my daughter took the CAT, family-friend-proctored, at home, in eighth grade, with no issues, in about half a day. Given the flexibility to choose the test, to choose the test level administered, to proctor it at home, and to stay in compliance with the law as I understand it, that was well worth it to me!
(Also, please know that test scores do not “pass” or “fail” your child for the year. Your evaluator is required to see them, and you are required to show “overall progress” through the year via your portfolio. But if you can do that and the test scores are less than what you’d hoped for, that alone is not the basis for whether your student meets the credentials put in front of evaluators for progress.)
I am glad your district is agreeable, but I definitely want to go on record as saying that I do not read this as an option that would be defensible under law if a district or evaluator chose to question it!
Hi Joan, great site! Hi everyone else!
We’re in York too. A bit surprised we didn’t meet, though we became recluse.
My two are graduated now.
I popped on trying to find something info wise I had and lost.
Something about as additional proof of ed, you can send a form to the superintendent and he, she, sends it back, signed, with a happy face sticker.
I can’t find it anywhere now. Not the sort of dream I’d have. Haha
Any ideas anyone?
Pati, hi! With the new diploma situation that happened last October, that’s no longer a needed option; before, you could do that and have your district superintendent “attest” a parent-issued diploma, but now the PDE is the attesting authority if you follow their guidelines!
Love your artwork, Joan!
And thanks for the field trip ideas.
We were just having wander lust.
I am so happy to know there are unschoolers not too far from me! I’m in Gettysburg and when I first was introduced to the idea of unschooling, I thought no one in the area would do this. Pleasant surprise! I can’t wait to read more of your blog! This post is awesome!
Danielle, nice to meet you! There aren’t a ton of us, but … a few and more every year! 🙂 I’m so glad you’re here and I hope you’ll stay in touch!
We just began home schooling our kids this year. We bought them desks and chair like the public school, a white board and we even have a teacher’s desk, so to speak. We were a bit concerned that we may miss teaching something here and there in some subjects so we are using a purchased curriculum.
We also stumbled across a home school group here in central Pennsylvania that meets up at various places for planned activities of all sorts. That group is at this link: https://www.homeschool-life.com/346/custom/13370 We just started with them so I do not know how many families are joined up but the bowling this week had about 20 or so kids.
My only concern is making this whole thing work. Any short-coming we have is at the expense of the kids. I mean, we both can teach the kids easily and all but sometimes I feel as if we just left civilization to live on a deserted island. The kids are learning far better with the one-on-one and all but that concern lingers.
Joe, I’m glad you found us! Deep breaths. You and your kids will do great, I’m sure of it. The great thing is that you DON’T have to be the be-all, end-all of your kids’ education (and in fact I don’t recommend it!) There are such great resources in the world that any areas in which your kids are working that aren’t your strength, you can find exactly the right thing (and you can learn at the same time!)
Also, don’t forget that you can do what works for YOU. For most families, that doesn’t end up looking like a “school” at home (though some do choose that road). The great thing about homeschooling is you can do what works and lose what doesn’t, as long as you’re willing to adapt as you go!
Best of luck!
Where in Pa are you located? I’m in new oxford, right near Gettysburg, my kids are three and four, and I have a four year old nephew, I’m thinking about homeschooling them starting fourth grade and this post was incredibly helpful. My sister, brother and I were homeschooled for one year and I loved it, however my mom decided not to continue. I look forward to teaching my kids more about life than how to sit in a classroom for hours a day.
Tobi, nice to meet you! We live in York, so not far from you at all!
I’m on the verge of pulling my 5th grader with aspergers out of traditional school. I’ve been overwhelmed thinking about where I need to start this process. Today, I took a deep breath, sat down at the table with my partner (who’s a teacher), and we started researching requirements. I’m SO THANKFUL to have found your web site!!! It’s incredibly well done and has answered all of the questions we had, and then some. Thank you, thank you, thank you, for taking the time to share all of your knowledge and experience with those of us just getting started! You’ve saved us countless hours of sorting through web sites and legalese.
Lisa, I am so glad you and your family found us! I am sending the best thoughts your way as your family begins this journey. Please keep in touch – and if I can help with anything, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you so much for your kind words. I’m glad to help!
Hi! Thanks for all of the info. I have looked and looked, but I can’t find an answer for my situation.. basically I have twin boys in Kindergarten, and I would like to withdraw them ASAP. As in, tomorrow. My only problem is the laws seem to be unclear here in what exactly I need to do to withdraw them legally. They are only in Kindergarten.. do I need to file the affadavit? I so, where do I even find it? I cannot imagine getting into legal trouble over this, but I would like to homeschool them immediately. Can I just e-mail the school that I am withdrawing them? Not sure where to start. Thanks.
Kate, you can read more about this at Ask Pauline at http://www.askpauline.com/hs/homeschoolage.html. Essentially, yes, even if your child is under 8, if they have attended Kindergarten, you must file an affadavit. The day you file the notarized affadavit and objectives, the child is considered withdrawn and you can begin counting days toward homeschooling. Also, you CAN count the days they attended public Kindergarten toward your 180 for the year!
Thanks for the speedy response! I am getting the affidavit notarized tomorrow, do I just mail it to the district? I am hoping I won’t be penalized for the days they have already missed (2, 3 tomorrow.) Thanks for the info!
I would personally just deliver it – then you can start counting your school days the day you do so! You’ll still have no trouble meeting your 180 days for the year – you can count all their Kindergarten days, and you have until June 30 to finish that 180 out. (Lots of homeschool families finish in March or April – to give you an idea how quick they add up!)
This is a fantastic find! We may be moving to PA and we are from a state with little to no regulations, so its a big change, but its great to have something so well explained. I was worried anout finding evaluators, and the notarizing, and the portfolio, however, I feel much better if we need to make the move. Just hoping the Hanover area is homeschool “friendly”! Thank you so much!
Kat, I am so glad you found us and so glad to help set your mind at ease! Hanover is a nice area – only about 20 to 30 minutes from me, too, so if you get here and need anything, feel free to let me know!
I am so impressed!
This is one full of information site! Im so glad i stumbled across this while trying to piece together how im going to do this over the next few months.
Its always been my desire to unschool our children, but the thought of having to keep so much documentation and writing our objectives has been the reason for not doing it.
After reading this i was easily able to jot down some notes and quickly outline our objectives without going into agonizing detail about each subject.
If you have any advice for a first time homeschooling momma of 4 (6 and under), send it my way. Im open to any and all help i can get.
Headed to facebook now to look for our local homeschooling groups!!
Brooke, thank you so much for your kind words! I’m so glad you found us. The best advice I can give you is to read the law – a lot! For instance, until your children turn 8, you DO NOT need to report them in any way to your district, so no objectives or affidavit needed! That’s a huge help for a lot of people with younger kids. The other big advice I have is just to watch. See what interests your kids and what they learn and explore on their own. See how they react when they’re interested in something. No matter the homeschooling style, having that close connection will help you better tailor the experiences you provide to the needs of your kids!
I hope you’ll keep in touch as your family’s journey progresses. I’d love to hear how it’s going!!
I would like to say thank you for this invaluable resource. Everything is so easy to follow and understand. I wanted to “unschool” our son next school year and I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by the process. After reading through this portion, I feel confident that I can tackle not just his fourth grade but each year until he graduates!
Maria, wow, thanks so much for your kind words! I am so glad we could help. I hope you’ll keep us posted on how things go for you and your son!
Joan, is there any way that you can contact me personally to speak? I am unschooling my son this year, and I am at my wits end! 😀 Thank you!!!
Maria, you can email me any time at email@example.com. I can’t always reply quickly because of the volume of emails I receive, but I’m glad to help if I can!
Hello, I was deciding whether I should pull my daughter out of eighth grade and “unschool” her, but my concern is that if she would decide to go back to public school in say 10th grade would she go back to 10th grade or would she have to start where she left off in public in 8th? Thanks so much! Sincerely, Lisa
Lisa, that’s a complicated question! High school works a little bit differently, and it’s very similar to changing from one public high school to another. There is a base “grade level” assigned, usually based on age/most recent grade completed, but the district has the leeway to decide what credits do or do not transfer to be applied to their requirements.
I would also add that while you can begin – or end – homeschooling at any point, and many people routinely switch between homeschooling and public/private school, unschooling is a bit different. It’s a lifestyle, and that makes it hard to make the philosophies work just for a year or two with an eye toward a potential return to another system.
My advice if you’re homeschooling in general, with the idea of returning to public school later, is to keep track of the credits your daughter earns, and to consider matching them up as closely as possible with their equivalents in your local district. If you and your daughter decide to begin an unschooling journey, though, it’s pretty difficult to unschool successfully if what you’re doing is thinking about credits and very traditional schoolish things like that!
I hope that’s not discouraging; I just want to be sure you understand the system and the thought process. I certainly hope that if you do choose to homeschool for a short time, you consider ways in which you could fit some unschooling philosophies, such as learning beyond traditional textbooks and assignments, in that journey!
Okak, thank you so much! This was all great information. I will discuss it over with her but she has just been online schooling since 5th grade then went back this year to public school and absolutely hated it, we were always interested in homeschooling/unschooling but unfortunately never fully understood so this really did help!! Again thanks so much Lisa!
Hello, I was wondering if I decide to homeschool my 17 year old son next year , Do I need to notify my school district or can I just go in and sign him out then just begin my homeschool program? Do I need someone to certify that he has completed the necessary credits in order to graduate? Can I begin homeschool in the middle of his senior year if I find out that he will not graduate from our district due to failing a keystone exam? Thank You in advance for any advice you can give.
Hi Roberta, thanks for asking! Because of your son’s age, these are tricky questions. I would highly recommend you call the Pennsylvania Department of Education and potentially an attorney familiar with homeschooling issues (some people use HSLDA, there are certainly others). Ask Pauline has some details on why this is so weird at http://www.askpauline.com/hs/homeschoolage.html. My recommendation personally, not as a lawyer, would be for you to file your affidavit and objectives. You cannot issue your son a “diploma” from homeschooling unless he is under homeschool law, so if that’s your goal, I would file despite him having attained the age of 17. (It also depends when his birthday is, too.) You would then need to have an evaluator review his work as detailed in the law. If, between his credits earned in public high school and the credits earned via work done at home, he meets the state requirements that I list above (including an evaluator signoff on his portfolio), you could issue him a homeschool diploma. You might also have the option to unenroll him, NOT register as a homeschooler (again depending on his birthday) and have him take the GED. This is a really sticky area. I would definitely recommend you talk with PDE about your options as well as to a homeschooling attorney.
I am so very glad I found this site! I skimmed through it for the moment but definitely taking more notes tomorrow morning. I’ve got a 5 year old that I am anxious to un school but have NO IDEA on what to do or how to get started. I am so excited but scared at the same time. Thank you so much for the information! I know I’ve got a lot to look at in a short time to get her started for the first grade! Also- those trip location tips are awesome!!
Jasmine, I’m so glad you found us and that we could help!!! Please definitely let me know if you have any questions!
Hi! This is a great article and eye opener. After years of cyber-schooling and one child going to public high school, I am considering unschooling my youngest son.
I just would like to add one location to the list of field trips. The Children’s Musuem in Bloomsburg is not only a great field trip destination but offers a “homeschool hangout” by-weekly during the school year. Check their website for updated information!
Thank you for all the great resources, too!
Chiara, great addition – I’ve added it to our list! Thank you so much.
Hi Joan! The info you provided here has been an immense help as I navigate through homeschool requirements for the first time. I did have one question about the pre-approval of objectives, though. My son has an IEP. I have already gotten his objectives preapproved for this coming school year, so now I’m wondering, do I have to have his objectives preapproved every year? I have spoken with two other homeschooling moms whose children have had IEPs, and from what they have told me, they only preapproved their initial homeschooling year. Any help is appreciated!
Brooke, hi! There are different schools of thought on that. In public school, your IEP expires after a year unless you renew it, however, most districts have a provision to “auto-continue” under the current terms until such a meeting is scheduled, which effectively makes them much longer-lasting (the goal of this is to not allow for termination of services if, say, an IEP meeting is a month late being scheduled, or something.) For us, we had them preapproved for the first two years, then we made the decision to write to the state to terminate Sarah’s IEP. (I actually have a form letter for that on our subscriber downloads page – if you aren’t an email subscriber but want that, feel free to shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!) The important thing to note then is that if you ever do want services from your public school district, you could have to fully go through the testing process again, which of course can be a pretty big deal. In our case, we did it once we were positive that Sarah had no desire to return to public or vo-tech school!
Hi joan,Thanks for the time you put into this! I have homeschooled for many years and am one of those moms who has made this harder than it needs to be. I am desperate to make things easier on myself and my children. My question is: Do you think it is necessary to keep a detailed log besides the book log and attendance chart? I have always kept track of every educational activity we do to have a record e.g. piano practice, art activities, educational games (things that wouldn’t show up in a book list). I want to make this school year more enjoyable and work towards more of an unschooling atmosphere, but I get bogged down by the logistics.
Laura, nice to meet you! I definitely do not think you need any kind of detailed log… and certainly you do not need to submit anything like that with your portfolio in Pennsylvania. Now, what I do (and you can see the results of it in my monthly roundup posts like https://unschoolrules.com/2016/08/unschooling-july-2016/) is keep a broad list, one small notebook page per month, that talks about the highlights as far as trips or big topics we hit on, plus any interesting movies or things like that. Those posts are WAY more detailed than the notes I take; those are just kind of reminders to myself. I think I’ll take a photo of the notebook page itself next month so people can get a feel for it.
The underlying philosophy is that we are learning ALL the time – and no way could I keep a log of that even if I wanted to. What these lists help me do are narrow down topics that I can put together in our end-of-year transcript by seeing what comes up repeatedly. And I don’t update the list daily or, sometimes, even weekly. Just a couple times a month as I think about it, I jot a few things down that I remember, because if I don’t remember it or Sarah doesn’t two weeks later, it probably wasn’t much of a highlight!
I hope that helps. Feel free to email me any time if you have questions! (email@example.com) Here’s to a great year ahead!
As I’m planning out our 4-yr plan for high school, I am unclear as to what type of classes would count toward the “2 years of arts and humanities” requirement. Can you shed some light? Thanks!
Paige, thanks for asking! Arts & Humanities covers a huge variety of subjects – anything from art, music, dance, theater, practical arts (homemaking, auto repair, woodworking), foreign language, culture, philosophy, psychology, child development, computer science, vocational training, debate/rhetoric, logic… some of these things also fall into other areas, obviously, but absolutely each of these are part of the concept of Arts & Humanities. Sarah has an unbelievable number of credits in this area already, including philosophy, musical theater, foreign language…
Awesome information. I was homeschooled. Here in California and they didn’t count my curriculum so I ended up having to get my GED but I also got it almost a year and a half early before I would have graduated. I am very interested in un-schooling my daughter she is still only 4 so I have some time but. I’m lost still as to how to do it. She’s very smart but stubborn and full of energy. Any more information you could provide would be awesome. I’m looking into the links you posted now. And we are a Christian household.
Allison, thanks for saying hi! I hope you’ll check out the rest of this site. I do primarily talk about unschooling as it relates to older kids/teens, since that’s the age of my daughter, but there are just a ton of great resources out there for how that looks with younger kids too; I hope you’ll let me know if you have specific questions!
I can’t seem to find anywhere and hope you can help me or direct me to the right source. How long does a District of Residence have until they hand over curriculum materials. I have been asking for materials (which are provided online) since late July (was already approved for homeschooling at the time with the DoR), and they still haven’t given me the login information to get to those materials. They keep pushing it off and giving one excuse after another. Thanks in advance.
Margie, thanks for checking! The law does not provide a time frame and in the past, the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s FAQs page (no longer active) said the following: “The law does not require that the requested materials be provided within a particular period of time. However, PDE encourages school districts to work cooperatively with their homeschooling families in this regard in order to assist these families in providing a good educational experience to their children, and to provide the texts and materials within a week of the request if possible.” If you are having problems, I would recommend emailing PDE at RAfirstname.lastname@example.org and asking them for their input. Good luck!
Thanks Joan, I appreciate your response. I have e-mailed PDE and am awaiting a response. Hopefully, in a more timely manner than the DoR. 🙂
I have homeschooled my 9th grader since kindergarten. This year we filed our affadavit, as usual, and homeschooled in September. In October we enrolled her in cyber school. We don’t like it and want to go back to homeschooling. Do I need to file another affadavit? Thanks for your help!
Tracey, by my understanding, yes, you would need to file a new affidavit since you re-enrolled your daughter in what is considered a public school, however briefly! You should be able to submit the same one you did before, and you can count your September days, your days in the cyber school, and any days from the time you file the new affidavit onward, until you reach your 180!
Our situation is urgent as my 2nd grader has missed so much school due to growing pains and fevers, and my illness (sleep disorder domino effect to depression anxiety and fibromyalgia) that we risk her being held back if we try to keep up with these outdated school schedules. And she is also being bullied and alienated by almost every girl in her class this year with no help whatsoever from teachers and no reporting back to me from the guidance counselor about my concerns. We don’t even know why!!
I never wanted my kids to go to public school, I turn in exemption forms for medical reporting and vaccines, I am so anti-“establishment”,… but I’m a single parent, and their 1 night/week dad is completely against homeschooling and fights me on everything else I teach/believe, so I just went with the status quo to keep the peace. But this is not peaceful. I do not send my children to school to be DAMAGED! -not to mention, my symptoms are 100x worse with the early morning school schedule and the stress and guilt of missing the bus every other day. But I had so many questions to just get started!! -ones that I had a hard time finding answers to, until JUST NOW!!! Thank you so much! I feel so utterly supported all at once! Not only did you answer almost all of my questions, you have pushed me over the hesitation fence. WE ARE IN!! Done, done, and done. You are a wonderful and amazing change agent! <3<3<3
I do have an extended question to one you've already answered and hope to get a chance to talk to you sometime in the near future. But for now, I'm going to sit lazily in this relief bubble… it's like a margarita in my hand on a white sandy beach right now even though my fingers are frozen as I type.
Amanda, I’m so glad you’re feeling better about things now! I am so happy that there might be another path ahead for you and your daughter. Feel free to email me at email@example.com any time. I’m not always the quickest to respond because of a large volume of messages, but I’ll certainly get back to you as soon as I can!
Thanks so much for this information. My friend and I both have 5 year olds who will be in kindergarten next year and we plan on unschooling. You gave me great peace of mind about being able to handle recording, testing, and evaluations. Not to mention all the info on PA and field trips! Will be telling my friend and coming back to your site often.
Laurie, it’s nice to hear from you! I wish you and your friend and your kids the best on your journey!
My daughter is 6 and she has been in public school for kindergarten and 1st grade and I was a little confused on what needs to be done for me to home school her in second grade…she will turn 7 in June after the end of the school year. Would I need to file all the paperwork and report to the school district or is that for only when she turns 8 going into the 3rd grade? And if I don’t need to report to the school district or file any paperwork or portfolio how would I home school her in second grade?
Jennifer, you can read more about this at Ask Pauline at http://www.askpauline.com/hs/homeschoolage.html. Essentially, yes, even if your child is under 8, if they have attended kindergarten or any public school, you must file an affadavit. That’s a complicated area and I’m by no means a lawyer, so you may want to contact one for more detailed advice; that’s just how I understand the law!
ok thank you so much
Hello! Do you happen to know if a parent issued diploma is as accepted as a diploma printed out on the PDOA website? Is a diploma at all really necessary anyway? I heard its the transcript that’s important.
The diploma printed from the PDE website is a parent-issued diploma. They recommend using that template, but I assume as long as the evaluator has signed it and it contains the required information, you could use another format as well. You likely should issue a diploma as well as having a transcript; most jobs will require “proof of graduation,” which a transcript actually does not show (it only shows credits earned, and it is not signed by the evaluator). Colleges will likely want to see both.
I have a question. If I move to PA with my children, how the heck is anybody going to know if we homeschool or not? I mean, it’s simple if somebody asks in the middle of the day (at the store or otherwise) “Why are your children not in school” to say “oh they are in private school and it’s teachers service day – they had off”. PERIOD. IF somebody persists “oh what private school”, it’s easy to ask back “that’s none of your business, why are you wanting to know where my child goes to school, are you some kind of sicko?”
Back them off, it’s none of their business. Or simply say “oh we are here from Texas on a visit”. Or if persisted “I don’t owe you an answer”.
See the thing is you don’t have to talk to ANYBODY or answer your door. It makes more sense to me to own a small .2 acre tract in West Texas ($500) and then push that as your home state. Even get a DL in Texas (or Indiana).
This is just crazy what they do in PA. I live in TX now, and reading this although it is VERY good (and thank you) it still sounds insane. Basically here, we don’t say SQUAT to anybody. Homeschool is considered private school here. If the superintendent of a school showed up at the door with the cops we could say “we are homeschooling, now get off our property or I’ll ask that officer to arrest you for trespassing” (and they would).
There’s got to be better ways to skirt the issues in PA.
Jimmy, if we wanted to “skirt,” I suppose we could, but that’s definitely not something we would do or would advocate doing. Among other things, I want my daughter to be able to earn a high school diploma, so it is in my best interest to follow the law so that she can earn one. But even more importantly, people doing things like this are one of the reasons homeschool regulations ARE so stringent in Pennsylvania and many other states – to protect against children whose parents claim to educate them at home but may or may not be doing so. Being a law-abiding homeschooler (not over-complying, mind you, but abiding by the terms of the law) helps get changes passed like the October 2014 homeschool law update, in which we no longer need to turn in portfolios to our school district of residence. I’d rather be part of the solution!
Can I ask: is it possible to homeschool in “one academic subject,” for example, in English, if I am appalled by the English curriculum and feel I could do a better job at home? (I’m a certified English teacher with 23 years experience) Thanks for any info.
Mike, that’s a great question! While other states vary, in Pennsylvania, the law is very specific that you are either a homeschooler or not, so you cannot just homeschool for one subject. That said, there are plenty of parents who practice “afterschooling,” in which their kids or teens attend public or private school but do enrichment at home in one or more subjects. (My parents did this with me for a while before switching to homeschooling, in fact.) The trickier part to that is what you might do at a secondary level as it relates to a transcript, but most admissions offices will be glad to talk with you about that, or you could consider something like an AP or CLEP exam for the material you’re covering to ensure that your student gets “full credit,” as it were. Just a few things to consider!
Thanks for reply. I don’t know if my son would tolerate doing his graded English in school and then getting “afterschooled” by his dad! The only way he’d have time in the day would be to free up the time that he would have been in class. So I guess it won’t work for us in PA. But thanks again for sharing. – Mike –
Hello – As a long-time evaluator, I just looked up ‘unschooling’ to find out how to fit it in to the homeschooling laws. Your site is very helpful. Thanks for all the information!
Tom, that’s great! I wish more evaluators were so proactive!
Can my mother homeschool my daughter?
Hi Krista! In Pennsylvania law, unless you are using the private tutoring option, a parent or guardian must be the homeschool program supervisor – the person who files the paperwork and is responsible if there are any issues. But there is nothing in the law that specifies who must TEACH the child, so a common thing families do is have a parent file as the supervisor and a grandparent, friend or someone else lead the actual learning program. I was actually homeschooled with a friend, and our parents “co-taught” us so that each of the four parents was only responsible for about a quarter of our education, for example!
Im Thinking of unschooling my son who is going into 4th grade for many reasons such as, he has been bullied since kindergarten and nothing was ever really done, he has adhd and with that the school has basically just pushed him to the side. All they seem to focus on in schools now a days is the pssa testing and common core math. Who uses this stuff? The kids arent taught the basics and important things anymore. My child doesnt learn and grasp things as quickly as other students so he gets left behind. He does have an iep but being that he is going into 4th grade he cant use it whenever he needs like before because they feel they need to wean them off more and more every year. What do i need to do start unschooling? Please help
Hi Nicole! First of all, big hugs to you and your son. That sounds like a rough situation! In Pennsylvania, all homeschooling follows the same law, so the information on this page about submitting an affidavit and objectives (which you will need to have preapproved, due to your son’s IEP) is what you will need to do to withdraw your son from school and begin homeschooling. As far as moving toward an unschooling style, I highly recommend you and your son take some time to just relax and spend some time together. Then, I always recommend that you do some reading about deschooling and about the principles that go into unschooling. A great resource about “how” to get started is at http://sandradodd.com/beginning. It shows some of the many things you and your son might do together during a time of transition. “Five Steps to Unschooling” at http://sandradodd.com/joyce/steps is another good read. But, essentially, first make sure you are compliant with the law about homeschooling in general, and then turn your energy to the learning lifestyle you are trying to create!
Thank you! What does the law state regarding my PA child going to a DE homeschool? Is that allowed?
Hi Loida! Thanks for asking. In the US, homeschool law is determined by the state of residence, not where the education takes place. (This is why so many “roadschoolers” who travel full-time will set up residence in particular states that don’t require a lot of documentation – because no matter what state they travel to, their reporting is subject to the laws of their home state.) So unless your child has a residence in Delaware, even if they are receiving education there, they are Pennsylvania homeschoolers. I hope that helps!
Oh my gosh! Thank you for sharing your wisdom on homeschooling!! Our little guy is currently in preschool but we are preparing now for homeschooling beginning with kindergarten. We live in Allegheny County, so this site will be of great benefit to us. I promise to read everything written before I bombard you with questions (not really, mostly concerned with finding an evaluator). Anyway, thank you again!!
I’m glad you found us! Definitely let me know if you have any questions – I have an evaluator I love who I’m glad to recommend, for instance.
I would be happy for your recommendation! Thank you again for a great site. My granddaughter and I were here over the weekend and have been making plans based on your experience.
Hi and thank you for such awesome information! I just wanted to confirm that, as of 2018, that portfolios no longer have to be turned into the district? Thanks!
Amarie, that’s correct. As of the end of the 2016-2017 school year, we only turn in the evaluator letter. No portfolio; that’s for your evaluator only!
If you wouldn’t mind I would appreciate your evaluator or other evaluator suggestions for unschoolers. We are in Wyoming county PA but will travel if it is permitted (I think you can use any evaluator right?). Thanks for all your information.
Stephanie, if you email me at firstname.lastname@example.org I can suggest my evaluator to you.
We are going to be unschooling for the. 2018/2019 school year and future. My only concern is we will be traveling with our kids and homeschooling them, one son will be going into kindergarten & the other who is formerly in public school now which will be going into 2nd grade. We won’t have an address so I’m not quite sure how to go about registering my kids for homeschooling. I’m not positive if we would have to go by PA rules/laws because we currently live here?
All the help, tips & tricks are greatly appreciated!
Good question! You will need to go with whatever permanent address you have on file. (Essentially, wherever you have mail going to.) That’s where you need to follow the laws of, and submit paperwork (as applicable) for. Many people use a parent or other relative’s address for this, so if you had a family member in, say, Delaware, you would have your mail forwarded to that address; you would be considered to have that as your “home base residence,” and that would be the determiner of what homeschool laws apply. I always advise people in unusual circumstances to talk to an attorney if you have specific legal questions, as that may be more helpful and official of an answer.
Thank you so much for the detailed information and field trip list! We’re just starting officially homeschooling with kindergarten for this coming year. I’m excited to know I can file my affidavit by July 1st to include our summer trips as part of curriculum!!! Has much changed since this post was written? Thank you for all your information.
Megan, thanks for writing! If you are only starting kindergarten, you do not need to file homeschooling paperwork – I just want to make sure that’s clear. You do not file until your child turns 8. But to your question about changes, this post was updated with the most recent changes in the law and will continue to be so, so please save it!
I’m so glad I found your website! I live in Bentleyville PA, my daughter just turned 8 and begged me to start homeschooling her. She does not grasp easily the core learning, I teach her differently at home and then back at school we have problems. The school and I always butt heads. I had to pay for 3 clearances to help at a class party, then found out 2?days before the party that I had to pay to join the PTO! It was the end of the year! I’m so over Bentworth, and so is my daughter. Last year they took away the Art program, one of two things she looked forward to (music is the 2nd). She gets bullied by the SAME girl every year, so what do they do? Assign lunch seats & place this girl next to her! The teacher last year was more worried about her best friend, a teacher across the hall, and planning her wedding, than she was the students & would never ‘talk’ to my daughter when she had a concern or question, just dismissed her & would tell her ‘go take your seat’. I wish I would have started home schooling her 2 years ago, she had been asking me, but I didn’t. But now, I am ready to try this! Thank you for all of your incredibly valuable info!! I bookmarked your page & I’m sure I will be referencing it often!
P.s. My daughter is terrified of taking the PSSA…. I think she heard ‘horror’ stories from 4th graders on the bus (another thing I won’t miss!)
Crystal, I’m so glad you found us! I am hoping homeschooling will be great for you and your daughter. And tell her no PSSAs required! That will be a nice bonus 🙂
I have a question about Dual Enrollment, do you know where i can find information on it?? I’d like to do the core subjects at home but have him do music, band and gym (or whatever we can get as far as those extra types of classes ) with the public school. Thank You in advance!
Niko, thanks for reaching out! In PA, dual enrollment is a specific thing, and it’s how you get both high school and college credits at the same time. What it sounds like you’re talking about is classes from your school district. The law says that homeschoolers have equal access to participate in things such as, but not limited to, athletics, clubs, musical activities, drama productions, etc. (see https://phea.net/pahomeeducationlaw/equal-access-for-home-educators/ for details). A few things: “Classes” are not generally included, which would include art, gym, etc., in many cases. My best suggestion is always to talk to your district. Asking them on friendly terms for your child to participate in selected activities may get you where you need to be without invoking the law, but if they argue, you can certainly pursue the legal side of things further. I’m not a lawyer and I feel this section of the law leaves a lot of gray areas, so if you did end up going that route you should definitely consult with an attorney versed in homeschool law in PA!
I have a son in 7th grade. He did attend public school and we both have always hated this way of learning. I now have him in cyber school and again we both dislike it. Ot is very complicated and stressful. I would love to know how to get started in unschooling. What steps do I take and what do I tell his current cyber school? Any info would be very appreciated
Erin, hi! Unschooling is just a style of homeschooling in Pennsylvania. To get started here (either unschooling or in another homeschooling style) you’ll follow the instructions in this post – you’ll be notifying the school district you live in that you intend to homeschool. Then for cyber you’ll just withdraw him; to them it’s like he’s going back to public school and to the public school you file the homeschooling paperwork. If you’re interested specifically in the unschooling style of homeschooling, you may want to check out my look at how we unschooled seventh grade (https://unschoolrules.com/unschooling-7th-grade/) which will give you an idea of what our days looked like. Best of luck to you and your son!
Hi Joan, this is my family’s first year homeschooling & your site has been extremely informative and very helpful.. thank you for the great information! As a portion of your post states that as the affidavits(notarized) along with objectives are submitted, regarding immunization records or exemption forms- if asked, we shouldn’t have to produce the actual documents. The sworn affidavit is enough. Did I misunderstand or Has that changed since the original post? Ive been told by district to provide the actual documents.
Hi Denee! Nice to hear from you. There is some debate on this point, though the Department of Education has previously supported families who make the statement in the affidavit. (And I’m not a lawyer, so please don’t construe this as legal advice.) Generally if you tell your school district politely “My statement in the affidavit serves as verification under Article XIV,” they will back down. There are formal letter templates you can use to contest the request to the district superintendent; in most cases, the people who ask you for these are just office staff who are not familiar with the law, but if your superintendent is who’s asking, I would consider contacting a homeschool attorney and/or first filing an official letter. One template I found online:
I received a call from [person’s name] in your office inquiring about my child’s medical records. [Person’s name] was of the opinion that we need to provide the district a copy of our child’s medical records.
However, if you look at Act 169, it states that “A notarized affidavit of the parent or guardian or other person having legal custody of the child or children, filed prior to the commencement of the home education program and annually thereafter on August 1 with the superintendent of the school district of residence and which sets forth: the name or the supervisor of the home education program …; evidence that the child has been immunized in accordance with the provisions of section 1303 (a) and has received the health and medical services required for students or the child’s age or grade level in Article XIV; and that the home education program shall comply with the provisions of this section and that the notarized affidavit shall be satisfactory evidence thereof.” The notarized affidavit itself, in which the parent attests that these services have been provided, is the only evidence needed. Please note that this affidavit also provides evidence of all other required health services.
If you look at the affidavit I submitted on [date] for [children’s names], you will note that it states: [Your attestation statement about medical care copied from your affidavit.] This is the evidence of immunizations that you need.
I hope that this will resolve the matter to your satisfaction.
[Homeschool parent’s name]
Hello! I’ve tried looking for the answer everywhere but I can’t seem to understand, so I’m sorry if you said it. We have decide to unschool my oldest. We had registered her for kindergarten in March. We now want to withdrawal her. How do we go about doing that? Now since she was already registered, do we need to start right away with complying with the law, even though she’s only 5. I really just decided on this and I’ve only been researching for a week or so but I figured I’d see if you knew first. Thank you so much for your time.
Hi Danielle, that’s a more complicated one. Most people will say yes, you need to comply and file homeschooling paperwork if you are unenrolling a kindergartener. The Ask Pauline site has some info at http://www.askpauline.com/hs/homeschoolage.html you may find helpful; it has links to where you can read the law and contact the Department of Education with questions. You will not “hurt anything” by doing it – the only question would be if you really don’t want to for some reason.
Could you tell me where you found out that public schools have to give me access to texts and instructional materials? I don’t mean to doubt you as you have provided so much good information, but I have not been able to find anything to back that up elsewhere for PA. I am contemplating becoming a “crisis homeschooler” during covid, so it would be really helpful to know what they are teaching to help my son stay on track, even if I teach it in a different way, since right now the goal is to return to public eventually. Thanks for any help you might be able to provide, assuming you are still reading these comments!
Hi Amanda! That’s in the Pennsylvania homeschool law itself – section 24 PS 13-1327.1 (f). “The school district of residence shall, at the request of the supervisor, lend to the home education program copies of the school district’s planned courses, textbooks and other curriculum materials appropriate to the student’s age and grade level.” I would strongly encourage you to read the law, not just guides like this – there is a LOT there and it’s really good to be familiar with it!
I just found this website and I am so encouraged about homeschooling my grandson. This information is very helpful. I see that most of the comments were made in 2014. By now many of these parent’s children are well into their homeschooling experience or are even graduated. So I hope this website is still active. Thank you for all the work it took to put this together.
Cheryl, my son has graduated but we still keep the site as updated as we can! Glad you found us!
I was wondering if there is a possibility of switching to Homeschooling during the school year?
Tina, yes, absolutely. That is how my family started. You just need to do all these things and turn them in to the appropriate person in your district in PA.
Hi. I am undecided about whether to start my child in Kindergarten at age 5 (this coming school year) or age 6 (next school year). I want to get on the lottery waitlist for a Montessori magnet school, but to do so, I have to officially register him for Kindergarten with the school district first. I’ve asked a couple of people at the district and I keep getting different answers – If I register my child and then change my mind in Aug/Sept, can I NOT send him and instead wait until the next year? (Like, if I decide for any reason – not making the lottery, covid, emotional maturity, decide to homeschool, etc). Thanks.
Carrie, I’m not a lawyer by any means, so my first advice is definitely to talk to one to be sure! My understanding had always been that once you enroll a child in a school, they are “in” and then need to continue compulsory education, but again that’s not a certainty, just based on cases I have heard about.
Thank you for this very helpful and detailed information! I have a question that I couldn’t find the answer to on this page and hope you may be able to assist (maybe I just missed it). I homeschooled my daughter this last year and it was great, but I am considering cyber school for a bit more structure. We are moving within PA at the end of the school year, so would I still need to request a transfer letter from the current superintendent the way I would, if we were to continue homeschooling? Or would I just submit the evaluation paperwork, move and enroll in cyber school, since we won’t technically dis-enroll her? Thank you!
Janine, I’m not a lawyer, so take this with a big “I’m not sure!” But my understanding is that you would still need to request a transfer letter. If you were going to enroll in public school in the new district, you would need to, I believe, so it seems like to do cyber through them (since that’s considered public as well) would be the same!
Sooo, this is probably the most taboo topic of today but I’m going to ask the question anyway… we LOVE our kids Catholic school right now. However, if they require the Covid vax in the future (which sounds likely), I’m pulling them out immediately. I never knew there was a law requiring homeschoolers to be vaxed also. In that case, could PA require the homeschoolers to get the Covid vax too? Thanks!
Hi Becca! That’s a good question. Unfortunately, I’m not a doctor or a lawyer, so I’m, like, the least qualified to answer it on either count! I can say that normally you are required to state in your homeschool affidavit that your child has received all of their required medical care, which includes vaccinations. But, a homeschool lawyer would be able to tell you more about your rights and responsibilities in that situation!
I’m highly considering unschooling my 16 yr old this fall. Is there anyone here in the Lewisburg central pa area that is unschooling their children whom I could reach out to for guidance?
Summer, I don’t know anyone in Lewisburg specifically, but I always recommend the Unschoolers in Pennsylvania Facebook group – https://www.facebook.com/groups/922899647829068. There are others as well – search for Pennsylvania Unschooling on Facebook and go to groups and you’ll get a bunch – but that’s the most active!
Hi! Lots of great information on here. I have kind of a unique question and I’m not finding answers anywhere else so I figured I’d try here. My daughters have been virtual all year and have attended a daytime program at their gym (they are very deep into competitive gymnastics). Next year the gym invited them to attend this program again, bu that would require the school to grant them an early release at 1:00 3 or 4 times/week. We have been working with the district trying to make this work and they are not being very helpful and can’t answer any of our questions other than they would be out of compliance with the compulsory education hours. Many other schools around here have gymnasts and they are very accommodating. I know that one allows the girls to attend til 1:00 and then their parents sign the homeschool papers and homeschool them for the subject that is missed each day. I am a PA certified teacher and could easily homeschool them for that subject, but my question is… is there anything anywhere that says that students can be homeschooled part-time and attend school part-time? I would homeschool them altogether, but they really want to attend in person and see their friends and be able to train the rigorous hours that is required for them at gymnastics. Any info or guidance where to look for something like this? Thanks so much. I appreciate any info you can give me! 🙂
Danielle, that’s a great question! I don’t know of anything like that personally. The thing I am familiar with would be a partial-day cyber program, which some districts offer. The deal with that is they go to school for part of the day in person, then do part of their work via the district’s cyber school (if they offer one). That’s not the same as homeschooling, but it allows them to both stay in school for part of the day and also do some of their work more flexibly. I don’t know what specific districts to tell you to look at, but that would be a start at least!
Hello My name is Lakisha and I live in Phila pa . I have a daughter that is 9 years old with learning disablities. I would like to keep her home and unschooling. I would love to know more about what to do.
Lakisha, you’re in the right place! This post is probably the best starting guide I have, and if you have specific questions after reading through it, definitely feel free to email me at email@example.com and I can see if I can point you in the right direction!
Hi Joan, I just finished reading your entire starting guide. It was insightful and motivating! I will be unschooling my 16 year old son this coming school year. He has a passion for culinary arts, so I plan to provide him with as many real world experiences as possible. We are both homeschooling/unschooling newbies, and would appreciate any advice you might have for us. I just recently retired from the public school system after teaching 9-12 art for 24 years. Unfortunately, there have been too many changes in public school, especially since COVID, to meet my son’s needs and interests. I’m looking forward to helping him find his way in the real world. Thank you for providing your expertise in this area! -Steph