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Natural Awakenings Westchester / Putnam / Dutchess New York

Homeschooling for Newbies: Tips for Hudson Valley parents considering teaching their own children this fall

Jul 25, 2020 11:17AM ● By Nicole Cunningham

Nicole Cunningham’s kids on a homeschool nature walk

by Nicole Cunningham

If you’re considering homeschooling this year but are nervous about the prospect—you’re worried that it will be too hard, or that you’ll constantly fight with your child—I’m here to tell you that I understand. I’m also here to reassure you.

I live in the Arlington School District, in Poughkeepsie, and I currently homeschool four boys. When I pulled my oldest one out of school in the first grade, I had the same worries. That was eight years ago, and I can honestly say that homeschooling has been the best decision of my life. It was nothing like I thought it would be, and over the years I’ve learned to stop doing “school at home” and to just homeschool.

Let me explain. When I began, I thought homeschool meant mirroring school at home. I envisioned sitting at the table with my son from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., spending 45 minutes on each subject. I dreaded the thought.

Fortunately I met quite a few homeschooling families who quickly showed me the ropes, and the longer I homeschooled, the more comfortable I became letting go of that rigid schedule and enjoying the process. Once you realize how much freedom you have, homeschooling is fun. Because your child can finish his or her schoolwork much faster at home, you’ll have the flexibility to enjoy many other activities.


Getting started

The first thing you need to do is send a letter of intent to your school superintendent. They should send you an acknowledgement within 10 days, but many districts don’t, so don’t worry if you have not received one.

You’ll have four weeks to submit your IHIP (plan of instruction) to the district. This is the fun part. You get to choose what your child will learn and how. Yes, you have to cover all the required subjects, but there are so many curriculum options—secular, religious, workbooks, living books, hands-on activities, educational computer programs and games, audiobooks, life experience, lap books—that the options are endless. You aren’t bound to any one curriculum; you get to choose what works for your teaching style and your child’s learning style.

Your school district won’t provide you with a curriculum, nor will it help with the cost. Your curriculum can be free or it can cost up to a few thousand dollars, depending on what you choose.

Every quarter you will have to submit a quarterly report to let the school district know how your child is doing. At the end of the year, you must also submit an annual assessment. Beginning in fifth grade, your child will have to take a standardized test every other year for the assessment. In high school, the test is required every year. There are a few tests to choose from, and they can be administered in your home.

I know that sounds like a lot of paperwork, but once you have the format down, it’s a breeze.


Getting involved

Once you decide to homeschool, you’ll want to plug into the homeschool community, where your child can make friends and you can meet other parents. When we first decided to take our oldest son out of public school, my husband was most concerned about the socialization aspect. He worried that homeschoolers don’t have enough opportunities to interact with other kids. I assure you that is far from the truth.

While it does take effort on your part, there are plenty of opportunities to socialize. We are involved in co-ops, sports, field trips and many weekly activities with other homeschool families. Some groups are smaller, with maybe 10 kids; others, like our music co-op, had more than 120 kids. One of the best aspects of homeschool socialization is that the kids learn to interact with people of all ages—children younger and older than they are, as well as adults.

So if you’re nervous about homeschooling, let me tell you that it’s amazing—and you can totally do it. While it’s not for everyone, there are so many pros (better socialization, more family time, individualized education, more life experience, community support) and so few cons (you still have to pay school taxes, you have to put together/pay for the curriculum), why not give it a try. Check out the resources on this page, and feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions.


Resources for Hudson Valley Homeschoolers:

NewYork State homeschool regulations

Keep this link handy. It lists everything you’re required to provide to your school district.

HomeSchool Legal Defense Association:

It’s well worth the $10 a month to join this organization, which will serve as your legal counsel if you run into problems with your school district. It also has great sample forms and offers some discounts.

NYSLEAH (Loving Education at Home):

This Christian-based organization, which has two chapters in Dutchess County, offers co-ops, field trips and peer review. It’s also a great resource for parents homeschooling children with special needs or challenges.


Curriculum reviews:

Cathy Duffy reviews tons of homeschool material and will tell you the good, the bad and the ugly.

Curriculum deals:

Local Facebook groups: 

Homeschool in the Hudson Valley





Connect with Nicole Cunningham at [email protected]

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