For those that can’t afford or don’t have access to private or charter schools, homeschooling is becoming a popular choice — but getting started can be tricky. If you’re considering homeschooling your child or children, what do you need to know before you get started?

It’s Not Just School at Home

Many parents think that they need to be certified teachers in order to homeschool their children, but that isn’t the case. Homeschooling isn’t just school at home, and you don’t need a degree to teach. You don’t even technically need a curriculum, depending on how you teach.

Homeschooling your children doesn’t set them apart from other children. In fact, you’re in good company — 17 United States presidents were homeschooled as children before they took office. The creation of homeschooling, though, is credited with the invention of the homeschool movement — John Holt. This teacher was discouraged by public school teaching methods, so in the 1960s, he developed an education philosophy that focused on child-led learning at home.

You’ve Got Some Options

If you ask 100 homeschooling parents what homeschooling is, you’ll get 100 different answers — and that’s the great thing about it. You’re not limited to a single curriculum or a single way of teaching. If something doesn’t work for one of your children, toss it out and try something new.

Homeschooling generally gets broken down into three categories — homeschooling, relaxed homeschooling and unschooling.

Homeschooling can be very similar to public school — you’re using many of the same lessons, keeping your children to a school schedule and requiring them to take tests, write papers and all the things that you’d expect from a public school education.

Relaxed homeschooling can be similar to traditional homeschooling, but you take a more relaxed approach to teaching. Schedules are either more laid back or non-existent. You might not even do school five days out of the week, depending on what you want to do that week. Children still learn the same skills, but in a calmer environment and at their own pace.

Unschooling is one type of homeschooling that people either love or hate. This strategy is John Holt’s education philosophy — child-led learning. The controls are handed over to the children to decide what they want to learn and when they want to learn it. It might sound like a recipe for disaster, but studies have shown that unschooled students do just fine in college and have a tendency to be very successful simply because they were given the chance to decide what they wanted to learn.

The Laws Will Vary

The laws concerning schooling vary dramatically from state to state. When you’re enrolling your child in school, you usually have three options — public school, private school (which includes charter schools) and homeschooling. In some states, it’s very easy to homeschool, while in others there are plenty of hoops that you need to jump through to ensure you’re in compliance.

If you’re considering homeschooling your children, take some time to talk to your local school board’s homeschool office — every school board has one. Find out what your requirements will be as a homeschooling parent. Will you need to keep a portfolio of your child’s work? Will they be required to take the state’s standardized tests as public-school students are? Are evaluations by a licensed teacher an option instead of testing since, if our own school experiences tell us anything, it’s that some people just don’t test well?

Make sure you pay attention to these laws — you can choose to homeschool, but if you don’t comply with the laws of the state where you’re living, you could set yourself up for some problems.

It’s Not for Everyone

Homeschooling isn’t as easy as dropping a textbook in front of your child and telling them to work on it. It isn’t easy, and it’s definitely not for everyone. It can be very time-consuming and takes a lot of hard work to make sure that your children are learning all the skills they need to succeed as an adult. Your child might have to enroll in public school to participate in sports, and there’s always the socialization concern that homeschooling naysayers love to cite when talking to homeschool parents.

Before you make the leap and decide to homeschool, think about whether you can offer your children the best education possible at home, or if you won’t have the time to put enough effort into it to help your children succeed.

When it comes down to it, how you homeschool — or whether you homeschool at all — is up to you. Spend some time talking to other homeschool parents and to your local school board, and gather plenty of information before you make that decision. Homeschooling is a great option, but it isn’t one that should be taken lightly.