unschooling: the law

unschoolinglargeIf you’re just joining us, we’re on Day 7 of 31 Days of Unschooling (as in, I’m blogging about unschooling for 31 days). You can catch up here: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6).

The burning question on many minds is this: what’s the law about unschooling where you live?

Follow-up questions include: Are you following the rules for your state? If not, how do you hide this? And if you’re doing secret bad, unlawful things, why in heaven’s name are you blogging about it on the INTERNET? Are your children truant??

Very good questions those.

The answers:

1. Our family lives in Ohio. The city of Columbus specifically. The school district of Westerville even more specifically.

2. Here are the rules for my state.

3. Yes, we’re following the rules, obeying the law, whatever you want to call it.

Here’s what you have to do to homeschool in Ohio:

1. Have a high school diploma. (check)

2. Notify the superintendent of your intent to homeschool. (check)

3. Promise to provide at least 900 hours of instruction in these subjects: language, reading, writing, spelling, geography, history, government, math science, health, physical education, fine arts (including music), and first aid, safety, and fire prevention. (check)

4. A brief outline of the curriculum you plan to use (a list of textbooks, correspondence courses, commercial curricula, or other basic teaching materials you plan to use). (check)

5. Get superintendent’s approval at the beginning of each new year. (check)

Annual assessment requirements:

1. Results from a standardized test that shows reasonable proficiency.


2. A written narrative from a certified teacher who has reviewed a portfolio of your child’s work and demonstrates progress in learning according to the child’s abilities.

We have chosen option #2 both years so far. The girls were assessed by two different certified teachers (who are currently teaching in our public school system and had taught 1 or more of our kids in years past).

These two teachers talked to our girls, asked them questions, and assessed their abilities. We provided “proof” of things we’d learned (lists of books read, written-in journals, short stories, languages learned, places we’d visited, things the girls learned). The written narratives were short and sweet and to the point.

Both of these teachers have taught for many years. Both are amazing at what they do. Both of them recognize the value of our children’s unconventional education and have faith that they’re doing just fine.

And there you go.

No breaking any rules. No hiding out or sliding in under the radar.

I don’t know what the rules are in your state. A simple Google search should tell you (please don’t ask me in the comments about your state–I will politely ignore you). You might not be as lucky as we are. That stinks.

Or maybe your state is even more lenient than ours. Who knows?

I can think of a few questions that might come up as a result of this post, but I’ll let you ask them. Fire away.

13 thoughts on “unschooling: the law

  1. Cathryn

    I don’t live in Ohio or unschool. We live in California where the laws are not that restrictive. No testing is required by law, though many home educators choose to test their children, here in my state.

    Our PSP (private school satellite program) is very open to parents unschooling. And our previous PSPs were also very relaxed and hands off. So we really had things great for all of our years of home education. Sadly not all PSPs are as relaxed as ours have been. Some are down right intrusive and onerous with mandatory meetings with school administrators and demands one use their mandated curriculum. I do not envy a parent enrolling in those programs, or their children. But if we wanted to, legally we could home school through a public school, here in CA (ew) or register as our own private school. Taking a daily roll is the only other thing required by law in CA.

    We once enrolled three of our oldest kids in a public school home education program and did not like it because we had to use the books the school chose for us to use and there were not any opportunities for the children to meet with other home educated kids in that realm. It was a sad and lonely road for us that year.

    We started home schooling our two youngest children grades 1 and 3, nine years ago, in the private, rather than public realm, with a more relaxed approach that leaned toward unschooling. We also tried many forms of teaching/learning (the classical approach for example.) But over the years we found a happy balance between a more traditional approach with eclectic tendencies and relaxed home schooling, especially in our children’s high school years where transcripts, foreign languages, and higher mathematics are necessary.

    I think it is important to find what works best for ones own family. Our children preferred a more rigid schedule when it came to their studies and they like reading and text books. Our favorite hobby as a family is to visit the library. Outside of that our teens have their own identities and interests and they are already seeking avenues to prepare for their future careers.

    I guess what I’m saying is that unschooling is not for everyone but I am happy it works for a lot of families. Not all unschooling families do things the same way. For example some unschoolers have said they are unschooling not just with regard to their children’s studies but also in their parenting style, including how they discipline or don’t discipline, and everything about their lifestyle, including how they sleep and eat, and where they live and work.

    Not every home schooling family does things the same way every year. For example, when I had cancer and four surgeries this past year, my teens did not have that many outside activities. So they focused on honing their skills, learning to work, helping me out more with household chores, and driver’s education. Other years my kids had belonged to AWANA, a homeschooling choir, or Boy Scouts and Keepers of the Faith clubs.

    My advise to anyone considering home education is, do not give up after one year even if you are still a bit skeptical because it may take the first few years to get the idea of “school” out of your vocabulary and your kid’s mindsets. After that is really when you start to get your groove.

    There are other ways for your kids to make friends than the school yard. A lot of cities have home schooling groups that meet for park days and other activities.

    We did all of those things for years. But I believe teenagers, or soon to be adults, need to learn how to work in the working world because that is how most adults live, they mostly work and keep their household orderly, they take care of their children and their pets. Adults may do volunteer work or become politically active. Other times they may read or have a hobby. But I think we do a disservice to our children by not teaching them to prepare for adulthood and the working world and just letting them play and have fun activities like some parents are.

    I’m not saying this to scold anyone or be judgmental toward any person specifically. I’m just voicing something I’ve noticed in the home schooling realm and among parents in general in various walks of life. I’ve noticed this among many kinds of home schoolers, especially traditional style home educators. Please don’t think I advocate against child labor laws because I don’t. I just think many parents are allowing their kids too much play time and too many extra curricular activities.

    I also noticed parents not teaching their children to follow through on a commitment. So they’ll sign their kids up for a group of activities or field trips, and their children end up not coming and hurting the other kids who did show up. One year our children joined a chorus group with about 20 or so children and by the end of the semester only a few others were still coming. How is it good for children to not learn how to fulfill their promises just because we want them to follow their dreams? My parents made us finish what we signed up for that school year at least. Children have to learn responsibility too. I am sure anyone can make sure a home educated or unschooling child follows through on their promises.

  2. John Mosley

    Public education is in trouble many in many parts of the country because of a functional breakdown in the structure of a family. What’s new? Much has been said through the years about the perils awaiting society as a result of the increasing demise of the nuclear family. Moreover, many school districts are so restricted in what they can do about disorderly students that students feel quite at liberty to act out in every inappropriate way imaginable.

    Many teachers, and unfortunately many new teachers, are leaving the profession in droves because they quickly find out that it impossible for them to conduct class when students talk back, cuss at them, each other, walk out of class at will, and exhibit zero inhibition towards violence against each other and the teacher. Administration’s hands are often tied, as they try to put the best spin on things. The truth is, the structure of public schooling is crumbling from the inside. In many places (especially the inner cities) the current model in unsustainable, and it is only a matter of time before it collapses under the weight of its own circumstances.

    Who am I? I am a 62 year old former teacher and school administrator with a Masters Degree in Curriculum and Instruction. I love teaching and still wish I could do so in the public school arena. I walked away recently, because conditions in the classroom became too toxic for me. Unfortunately, as I mentioned above, many newly minted teachers are opting to leave education and take their awesome education into other better paying far less stressful fields than dealing with the smart phone generation of students who were not taught manners, limits, and good behavior at home. Too many students don’t have that healthy “fear” about doing the wrong thing or what will happen when mom or dad finds out. In fact, many don’t give a ( ) if mom or dad finds out. Where does that leave us? That basic underpinning of authority that was leveraged between home and school has been in too many cases lost. Why did Rome fall? I posit their schools fell first!

    I applaud the unschooling movement. They way the author of the article explains how various subjects are taught within a blended context of each other allowing student learning to emerge in specific and personally meaningful ways is a well research approach that is generally ignored by school districts that are numbers driven. Unfortunately when attempting to school the masses of public school students, the most expedient way is to divide them up by age (grade) and expose them to a collective learning experience that covers topics in compartmentalized ways (subjects taught in isolation from each other), and testing them in time efficient ways.

    The described unschooling approach could be renamed the true-schooling approach, because, in my opinion, true-schooling has the student in the position of a curious explorer and the teacher in the position of guide/facilitator. The human brain is marvelously configured to learn and build connections between ideas. It just needs exposure to the right ingredients and encouragement to expand in knowledge, understanding and complexity.

    I’m in the planning stages of opening a learning center. I want to offer a similar approach to education that is described in the unschooling approach. Actually, that is the way I taught while in public and private school. Unfortunately the decline of the classroom discipline and backing of school administration has made it impossible for me to stay. Even though “Nothing gold can stay”, there is nothing that says that gold can’t go somewhere else.

    Now, take the following quiz. Think T for true or F for false. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist it.)

    1. T F Public education is failing primarily because students use smart phones.

    2. T F There has been a breakdown in discipline at home and at school.

    3. T F School topics should be taught separately and students should be allowed to find
    connections on their own.
    4. T F The author of this submission is an African American.

    5. T F Does it matter that he actually is?

    6. T F The way we view the world and the people in it has a direct impact on our attitude
    towards schooling and the amount of effort we as a society are willing to
    to put into it in terms of money, material, and manpower.

    7. T F No amount of money, material, or manpower can repair the declining public
    system as long as the underlying structure of home, rules, and respect for
    authority are sidelined.

    God bless you all……

    1. Cathryn

      I hope you start a learning center. The idea seems awesome, and holds merit, especially utilizing all of your previous experience.

  3. TS

    I also live in Ohio, and while we don’t have kids yet, we are planning on homeschooling eventually. The 900 hours-thing has me a little freaked out though. Especially for Kindergarteners?? Can you give more info on what exactly you count as “hours”? I have the feeling that my style will be something of unschooling/homeschooling combined, if that makes sense. I don’t want to feel tied down to “we have to have x amount of hours of formal learning.”

    1. Marj

      I don’t know how other moms/teachers counted hours spent, but many learning activities include numerous “subjects.” For example, we took a walk for an hour, (Phys Ed), and on the walk I would ask my daughter to what she’d seen (communication), If she saw something unusual, like insect bumps on the bottom of leaves, curled up plants that looked like snails, a pulled apart rotten log – she’d come back and research what those things were on the computer (science and research skills), Then she’d write down what she found out (penmanship and English grammar). Or in another example, we would read a book of poems and talk about whether they rhyme or why the author thought what they wrote was poetry when it didn’t rhyme. If I was pointing out adjectives, we’d go outside and play a game where I’d point and she’d give me one word that described what I pointed at. I’d write it down and when she came inside, she’d put her comments in some sort of written shape, like a Christmas tree. It became writing, art, English, poetry and penmanship activity. It made learning easy. As a result, many objectives were accomplished with only one slot of “class time.” For math, I chose the school district’s book for her grade level. Generally, in school, the teacher would demonstrate and explain a concept in front of the class, then ask the students to turn to a certain page to do examples. Instead, we read the math book and I assigned certain problems.. If my daughter could do the examples correctly, say a, e, and h in a problem set, she moved on. If she had trouble, I would ask her to explain how she figured out her problem, determining where the task had gone awry. I’d pinpoint and tweak her understanding a bit and if she “got it” as evidences by correct responses on other problems (mastery learning), she’d move on. Math became a combo of reading and calculations. Time spent on one activity, often resulted in time accrued in more than one subject. Each day, we/I figured out how much time she spent in each subject and kept track of it on a chart. My daughter wrote for every subject she was learning about though maybe not every day. My personal objective was to help my daughter express herself. I wanted her to be a good writer, and so helped her find chances to do this, I figured it was also helping her be coherent and logical. Writing a beginning, middle and end was good training, no matter what she wanted to become. I wish we had been able to travel more, but we took advantage of many local opportunities to learn something (most times I let her choose – I’d ask her to pick one thing she really enjoyed seeing or doing, then to write about it when we got home or the next day. We talked about human conditions at various times in history, and she’d learn about the Civilian Conservation Corps, how this was a solution for many families, visited places where the CCC made improvements, talked about how that work from long ago made differences today (social science). And did a project about what she’d learned (art, music/songs of those times, research/reading, writing photography/illustrating a story, art/drawing maps/led to how cameras work/ and pressing plant leaves, labelling them/footnoting bits of information about the plants she’d seen as she wrote/bibliographies of things she’d read that helped her write her report) Figuring out her school day was always following her lead about what interested her, and transforming it into a learning episode. Believe me, dissecting how time is spent in substantive activity was NEVER a problem! Going to see how maple syrup is made (science/trees/time of year when sap runs/how it is collected and reduced/evaporation) led to coming home and making pancakes (home ec/kitchen safety/sanitation/making a grocery list/meal planning/nutrition), and Art, where she would use maple leaves to create something – We used a paper soup bowl as a mold to glue pretty maple leaves to each other to make a leaf bowl – which turned into a leaf hunt to see how leaves from different trees were shaped, identifying trees by their bark and leaves, what was poisonous, etc. In our state, there were guidelines about what subjects were to be taught in the particular school grade. For example, it might be American history, Pennsylvania history, or World Cultures, etc depending on your child’s age.You just begin a conversation about a certain subject, then ask your student what he or she finds interesting, then go find ways to help them learn those answers. You’ll love this kind of schooling! All day long becomes a chance to teach your kids something! Lots of people like the commercially available curricula, or online charters. Me? I like the unstructured schooling! It became an activity in how to teach my child to be curious about the world she lives in..

  4. kaila

    I love this article.. we are unschoolers/eclectic and will be moving to ohio soon so I am trying to learn everything before we move. Thank you for writing this.

  5. Pingback: unschooler: in reply | Marla Taviano

  6. Tara

    Ann asked a lot of the same questions I have about curriculum and how you submit it if you don’t really have a specific one you’re following. I’m also curious about the level of intention or planning that goes into your daily schedule. I’m certain pretty much everything kids learn in school could be taught at home and organically without a formal curriculum, but it seems like the parent would have to be very purposeful about what their kids did each day. Without a curriculum guiding me I’m pretty sure I’d end up just letting my kids run amok every day. That’s a personality thing though so maybe you just naturally rock at this 🙂

    I also wanted to say I loved the one point the author of the article you shared made: every type of schooling has its negative aspects. I feel like people are just way more comfortable with the negatives of public schooling because it’s the norm.

  7. Sarah Farish

    This is the blog I’ve been waiting for. When I home schooled my kiddos, I felt as if I jumped through hoop after hoop. My kids even went to their district school to take standardized testing. So, I wondered…with no textbooks etc, how do you meet the 900 hours of instruction? I felt as if we’d never do enough. But, I get it now – especially after talking to you:) It’s very organic and authentic exploration and not limited to the hours of 7:30 am to 3:00 pm Monday through Friday. It’s a learning mindset that can take place anytime. The world – the home – a restaurant – all places and all moments of the day are “school” if one views them as opportunities to explore and learn.

    Now, I await the blog explaining why public school is structured as it is. Why teachers stand and talk of things that my child can google in two seconds. With all this info at our fingertips, what’s the role of the teacher?;)

  8. Ann

    From what I’ve heard about unschooling (and I’ll admit it’s not much) I envisioned no textbooks. I pictured it being something like the child being curious about something and then goes online or to the library to learn more about it. The child is still learning, but it’s hard to plan in advance what he or she is going to be curious about which is why I had questions about submitting your curriculum plan for the year. First, can you correct any flaws in this idea of unschooling that I have? 😉

    If you are relying on the student’s curiosity to determine what will be studied, how do you plan your curriculum? Can you give an example of what you would write on your brief outline you submit to the school district? (…asking in case I end doing the unschool route with my kids. I love the idea, but I’m so confused about how this unstructuredness works when you still have to submit a plan. How do you plan something unstructured?)

    If you are using a predetermined curriculum, how does that mesh with the student-led learning? What if they’re not interested in it (either as a part or a whole)? What if they are curious about other things halfway through the year? Do you have to continue with what was on the original plan you gave to the district? …or can you change things throughout the year?

    Lastly, regarding “Promise to provide at least 900 hours of instruction in these subjects: language, reading, writing, spelling, geography, history, government, math science, health, physical education, fine arts (including music), and first aid, safety, and fire prevention.” is the requirement a cumulative 900 hours or do you have to have a balance between subjects? If my child was really into history could we spend 800 hours on history and 100 hours on everything else (assuming my child could learn everything to pass whatever assessment was being done on those subjects)?

    Thank you so much for doing these posts! Looking forward to learning more about this 🙂

  9. Krysten

    From what I’ve researched Kentucky is even more relaxed. We have to notify the superintendent, keep track of attendance, and it is suggested to keep a portfolio for if/when you want to enroll your child in the public school.

  10. Bethany

    I love that Ohio offers option #2! Now I just need to find a good teacher to assess us. Did you know that children don’t have to go to Kindergarten? It is optional. I’m doing it anyway, but still.

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