Homeschooling Kids Who Learn and Think Differently: What You Need to Know

By The Understood Team
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At a Glance

  • Homeschooling is legal in every state.

  • Each state has its own homeschooling requirements.

  • Homeschooling can be a good option for some kids who learn and think differently, but there are pros and cons.

You’ve probably heard of kids who are homeschooled. But have you wondered how homeschooling works and if it’s right for your child?

Experts estimate that as many as 2.3 million kids ages 5 to 17 are homeschooled in the United States. They receive some or all of their education outside of private or public school.

The reasons parents choose to homeschool vary. Some do so for religious reasons. Others want a certain education for their child. And many choose homeschooling because their kids struggle in traditional school settings.

If you’re thinking about homeschooling your child, here’s what you need to know.

State Laws on Homeschooling

Homeschooling is regulated by state law and is allowed in all 50 states (as well as all U.S. territories). However, each state has its own legal rules and requirements. You must follow the homeschooling laws for the state where you live.

Some states have strict laws and require a lot of paperwork to homeschool. Others are very lax. You can check with your state department of education and local school district for the specific rules where you live. Here are some of the requirements you might see:

  • Notice: Most, but not all, states require you to notify the state or your local school district if you’re going to homeschool.

  • Parent qualifications: Some states require you to have a certain level of education, like a high school diploma, if you want to homeschool your child.

  • Record keeping: Some states require you to keep records, like grades and attendance, and submit them.

  • Instruction and core subjects: Many states require you to have homeschool classes for a minimum number of days or hours per year, or to teach your child core subjects, like reading and math.

  • Tests: Several states require homeschooled kids to take standardized tests or other assessments every few years.

A good source for state-by-state legal information on homeschooling is the Homeschooling Legal Defense Association. The Coalition for Responsible Home Education has information on state laws. It may also be helpful to connect with local homeschoolers to find out how they meet state regulations. (There are many homeschool groups on Facebook.)

Homeschooling and School Services

If you decide to homeschool your child, you may wonder if your child can get special education services from your local school. The answer depends on the state and school district where you live.

Under federal law, all states (and local school districts) are required to find and evaluate homeschooled kids who may need special education. However, they can choose whether to require kids to attend public school to receive those services.

A few states offer traditional IEPs to homeschooled kids. An IEP entitles your child to services, just like in a public school.

Other states treat homeschooled kids the same as kids in private school. In these states, local school districts will typically offer a service plan, which is like an IEP but provides less. Under a service plan, your child might attend public school twice a week for special instruction in reading or math. But services like occupational therapy might not be available.

Finally, some state laws don’t require school districts to provide special education to homeschooled kids at all. In these states, if parents want services they have to enroll kids in public school. Some states let individual school districts decide whether to provide services to homeschoolers.

To learn more about special education laws in your area, contact your state’s Parent Training and Information Center.

In addition to school services, public schools have extracurricular clubs and sports, and your child may want to participate. Many states allow homeschooled kids to take part. If your child is interested, reach out to your local school district.

Pros and Cons of Homeschooling

Once you’ve researched the law on homeschooling in your state, it’s time to think through the decision. Homeschooling can be a good option for some kids who learn and think differently. But it’s important to be aware of the pros and cons.

Here are some of the key factors to weigh.

Cutting Through the Red Tape

Pro: Sometimes, getting a school to provide services or accommodations takes a lot of effort. You must follow a formal process. By contrast, at home you don’t need school approval for assistive technology or accommodations like frequent breaks. Homeschooling lets you focus on your child, not on wrangling with the school.

Con: When homeschooling, you may not have access to free school services. And some accommodations like assistive technology cost money. There may also be paperwork. In states with strict homeschooling laws, you may have to keep and file records. Some states even require you to submit an instructional plan before the school year.

For help, you can reach out to local homeschoolers to find out how they manage paperwork requirements. You can also connect with other parents in our online community.

Taking on Responsibility for Your Child’s Learning

Pro: With homeschooling, you have the freedom and flexibility to try different methods to help your child learn. For example, if you want to use a specific , you can. You don’t have to ask the school, which may not offer the program anyway.

Con: Homeschooling is a big responsibility that takes full commitment. From the start, you’ll need to make a lot of decisions about your child’s education. If you aren’t fond of teaching or don’t have a lot of patience, it may not be the right choice for you.

If you’re concerned about the challenge, ask others for help. Hiring someone to teach or tutor your child at home may be an option. Many parents use online programs. You can also seek support from homeschool organizations and families in your area.

Tailoring Learning to Your Child’s Interests

Pro: With homeschooling, you can choose what subjects to teach your child. You can spend time nurturing strengths and interests. If your child loves dinosaurs, you may spend all day at the museum.

Con: Schools have many more resources than parents have at home. Your child may not have access to clubs, field trips, and special classes, missing out on different perspectives from teachers and other students.

You may have to find ways to expose your child to new potential interests. That could mean paying for things like acting class or museum passes. Or it could mean advocating with the local school district to let your child participate in clubs or sports. Local homeschool groups may also offer activities, sports, and field trips.

Having a Flexible Schedule or Setting

Pro: Homeschooling lets you set a flexible schedule and setting for your child’s learning. For instance, if your child isn’t a morning person, you might have class in the afternoon. You can hold class at the dining room table, a park, a church, or even a friend’s home with other homeschooled kids—whatever works best for your child.

Con: Some kids thrive on structure. Your child may have trouble settling in and staying focused if there’s a change in schedule or too much flexibility.

If needed, you can introduce more structure into a homeschool environment. For example, you may teach certain subjects at the same time each day.

Making Friends and Socializing

Pro: Your homeschooled child may have less day-to-day interaction with other kids. That can be a good thing if there was bullying at school, your child struggles with behavior, or your child easily gives in to peer pressure.

Con: Being social and making friends are crucial to a child’s emotional development. Less contact with kids means fewer chances to practice social skills.

If you decide to homeschool, you may need to take extra steps to make sure your child spends time with other kids. One way is to connect with other parents who are homeschooling. There are also homeschooling communities across the country where your child can socialize. Learn more about how to help your homeschooled child build social skills.

Want to learn more about other school alternatives for your child? Read about options for choosing a school. Explore public resources available to homeschoolers. And hear from a young adult with dyslexia who was homeschooled as a child.

Key Takeaways

  • It’s important to research your state’s laws if you’re thinking about homeschooling.

  • Special education services and extracurricular activities may be available to homeschooled children.

  • Homeschooling gives you a lot of flexibility with your child’s education, but also a lot of responsibility.

About the Author

About the Author

The Understood Team 

is made up of passionate writers, editors, and community moderators. Many of them learn and think differently, or have kids who do.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Analisa L. Smith, EdD 

serves on the national board of directors of LDA. She is an education consultant and a distance education professor.

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