Getting Started Homeschooling in Wisconsin

What Is Legally Required?

Wisconsin has one of the most reasonable homeschooling laws in the country, so it is not difficult to homeschool here. However, it is important to understand what the law does and does not require and how to comply. Some of this information may surprise you. Please take a few minutes to read the information below.

Please note that homeschoolers have worked long and hard through WPA to gain and maintain Wisconsin’s homeschooling law, and we are still working to keep it. Read the story behind the law in Kitchen Tables and Marble Halls and join WPA. Your support is needed.

The first official step is filing Form PI-1206 with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction on which you agree to comply with Wisconsin’s homeschooling law. Instructions on how to file the form are below. However, first let’s consider what you’d be agreeing to do.

Homeschoolers in Wisconsin must meet two major requirements. The first is to provide 875 hours of instruction each academic year. You do not need to spend 875 hours at the kitchen table, reading textbooks and completing worksheets, although you can do that if you choose. Children in conventional schools learn through field trips, audio-visual materials, and in other ways. Among the activities homeschoolers can count as instruction:

  • Reading books, listening to others reading aloud, listening to books on tape
  • Following a purchased curriculum and completing the worksheets provided
  • Using computers (with parental supervision as necessary)
  • Participating in community activities, including field trips and volunteer service
  • Exploring careers through job shadowing, work study, volunteer work, and part-time employment that is similar to work-study programs in conventional schools
  • Learning practical skills such as cooking, driving, home maintenance, engine repair
  • Playing educational games
  • Playing individual sports and on community sports teams

You can follow a schedule similar to a conventional school’s, that is, 5 hours a day for 175 days, taking off weekends, winter and spring breaks, and summer vacation. Or you can follow a different schedule you choose for your family. Because homeschooling offers so many opportunities for learning and because you can choose learning activities that are well suited to your children’s interests and abilities, homeschooling families find that it is not difficult to meet this requirement for 875 hours of instruction.

The second requirement is to provide an educational plan for learning basic subjects in which children build on what they have already learned. (In the statutes, this is called a “sequentially progressive curriculum of fundamental instruction in reading, language arts, mathematics, social studies, science and health.”) You can add as many other subjects as you want to: art, music, religion, woodworking, home economics, etc. Since there are no specific requirements for how many hours are spent on each subject, you can decide what to emphasize.

Ways of meeting this requirement for a curriculum fall into three basic categories, although many families combine parts from two or all three of these approaches.

  1. You can purchase a curriculum that outlines in detail what your children should study, when, and how. It can be very similar to the curriculums used in conventional schools, or it can be based on a different approach to education, such as religious beliefs or educational methods such as those of Charlotte Mason, Montessori, Waldorf, a Thomas Jefferson Education, etc.
  2. You can develop your own curriculum. It can be based on academic subjects like reading, mathematics, art, and religion. Or you can start with general topics like frogs or Peru.
  3. You can plan that your children will learn from life experience and from pursuing interests and projects at home and in your community, sometimes supplementing this with learning resources or maybe a class.

The WPA handbook, Homeschooling in Wisconsin: At Home With Learning, provides detailed information and resources for each of these choices.

Having so many choices is both good news and bad. The good news is that you have an excellent opportunity to find or develop a curriculum that will work well for each of your children, allowing them to learn more material that is more appropriate for them and their goals than the one-size-fits-all curriculums offered by conventional schools. The bad news is that all these choices can be confusing and seem overwhelming.

If you’re like most homeschooling families, you’ll have times when you feel you’ve finally figured out how to homeschool and times when you feel unsure and overwhelmed. Just hang in there. Experienced homeschooling families find that their approach changes as they homeschool and their children grow and that the good times definitely outweigh the problems. In addition, this process of deciding what to study and learning how to learn will be an invaluable experience for you and your children. Knowing how to learn is one of the most important skills anyone can have.

Fortunately, you can begin homeschooling without having decided what specific curriculum you will use. You can also change approaches. Families who begin homeschooling on short notice because their children have had difficulty in a conventional school, find it works well to take a break from academics for several weeks, a month, or more when they begin homeschooling. They do constructive activities together, such as baking, reading aloud, watching carefully selected videos and DVDs, visiting museums, perhaps going on a family vacation. The learning that happens during this break can be counted toward the required 875 hours of instruction each year.

Some Things Not Required of Wisconsin Homeschoolers

Homeschooling laws vary greatly from state to state. Wisconsin has one of the most reasonable homeschooling laws. Because parents are required to file form PI-1206 with the DPI and attest that they are complying with the law, the law holds parents accountable. However, the law acknowledges parents’ right to choose for their children an education consistent with their own principles and beliefs. The law does not require that parents raise their children according to government standards.

  • Homeschoolers in Wisconsin are NOT required to follow a curriculum chosen by the state; we are free to choose our own curriculum.
  • Our children are NOT required to take the state-mandated tests that students in public schools must take. Instead, we can evaluate our children’s learning in ways we choose. We can observe them learning, listen to their questions and ideas, and keep records of things they do. If we want to, we can have them take standardized tests that we have carefully chosen because they are consistent with our principles and beliefs, but we are not required to have them take any tests.
  • We are NOT required to have school officials review and approve our curriculums or reports we have written on our children’s progress. This is as it should be. Homeschools are very different from conventional schools, and we are raising our children according to our own principles and beliefs, not those of the state. So it would not be appropriate for the state officials to review our curriculums or records.
  • Homeschooling parents do NOT have to be certified teachers or have any specific educational degrees. Homeschools are private schools, and teachers in conventional private schools are not required to be certified.

Do I Have What It Takes to Homeschool My Children?

If you’re like many beginning homeschoolers, you’re wondering what homeschooling will be like and whether you really can manage it. Thousands of successful homeschooling parents could offer you encouragement and reassurance. Here are a few of the things they might tell you.

You don’t have to teach your children everything they will need or want to learn. Learning resources abound, including free materials from your local public library, the Internet, and the world itself. Some homeschoolers work with mentors. Actually, we homeschooling parents enjoy learning with our children, reawakening the curiosity we had as children and discovering new interests. Life is rich and fascinating when you’re homeschooling.

Homeschoolers don’t have to do what conventional schools do, although you can purchase a curriculum similar to those used by conventional schools and follow it if you want to. Whatever approach you choose, homeschooling is much easier than teaching in a conventional classroom. You only have a few students and you know them well; no problem trying to learn everyone’s name the first day of school! You can let them learn at their own pace, in ways that work best for them. You’re not limited to the contents of one room; you have the whole world to explore. You can see that they are learning all the time, not just during “school hours.” You don’t have to worry about the principal, the school board, or whether taxpayers will approve the next bond issue.

Parents find that family life is more relaxed and enjoyable and kids are much easier to get along with when they are not under the pressures of conventional school.

Homeschooling is work. But so is any approach to parenting. Homeschooling parents would rather plan their own days (and lives) and spend time with their children than contend with problems of conventional schools.

Concerned about the responsibilities and risks of homeschooling? What about the risks of sending children to a conventional school? However they choose to educate their children, parents worry. It’s part of our job.

Expect to have ups and downs. Nothing’s perfect. Make a list of people who support homeschooling whom you can call when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Try not to talk with critics until you’re back on track again.

Homeschooling gives children wonderful opportunities to develop social skills. They interact with their peers and people of all different ages through their immediate and extended families, youth organizations, religious organizations, community groups, neighbors, and others.

Finding time for yourself can be a challenge when you’re a homeschooling parent. But many parents enjoy spending time with their children so much that they count it as time for themselves as well as time with their kids when they are learning something exciting, reading aloud, doing a project, playing games, running errands, doing chores, getting exercise, and so on. Some families limit the number of activities each person can participate in, so schedules are more relaxed and manageable for everyone. Others have regular times when each person, including parents, works independently on a project. Some homeschooling parents work from home and find the kids learn a lot in the process and make important contributions.

Colleges and employers are increasingly seeking homeschoolers because of their reputation as highly motivated self-starters who can be relied on. Homeschooling gives children opportunities to explore various types of work, gain experience, and live the kind of life that translates into a very impressive college application.

For more perspectives, insights, and encouragement, see Wisdom from Experienced Homeschoolers.

Did you know that spelling “homeschool” as one word announces that homeschooling is more than just doing what conventional schools do in a different location? See “Homeschool v. Home School: What’s In a Name?