How to Unschool in the State of Florida
What is Unschooling?
Congratulations! You're a Floridian who is considering unschooling their child. Whether you're moving your child from a traditional school setting, or you're starting your little one off with unschooling, there are some things you need to know in order to have a successful home education experience.
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) estimated that in 2007 there were approximately 1.5 million homeschooled students in the U.S., and that number has been steadily on the rise. Unschoolers are a subset of homeschoolers - although no tracking exists specifically for unschoolers, it is estimated that anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of homeschoolers use the unschooling approach to education.
So what exactly IS unschooling? Basically, unschooling means that a child is getting an education by pursuing his or her interests in life. You may see this type of learning referred to by a variety of names: child-led, child-directed, interest-led, delight-directed, natural and organic to name a few.
Its basic premise is that children are innate learners, and that when allowed to pursue their interests and passions, learning will naturally take place. Parents act as facilitators to provide their children with resources and opportunities to support this type of learning.
Sandra Dodd is probably today's best known unschooling advocate. See what she has to say about the path to unschooling:
How To Get Started
Unschooling is legal in all fifty states, and each state has its own set of home education requirements. As an unschooler in Florida, there are two specific things you must do to meet the state's legal requirements to start any home education program:
- Submit a written notice of intent
- Maintain a portfolio for your child
First, submit a written notice of intent to your school district superintendent that you intend to homeschool your child(ren). It is not necessary to specify that you will be unschooling. Include each child's name, birth date, address and your signature. Send it return receipt requested or hand deliver it to make sure it is received. File this letter of intent within 30 days of establishing your home education program, especially if you are removing your child from public or private schools - this will avoid any issues with truancy.
Once you begin unschooling, Florida statutes require that you maintain a portfolio for your child. It should consist of two parts, a log of educational activities and a sample of materials.
The law's definition of the activity log allows the parent a great deal of freedom to choose his or her record keeping style. The statues define the log as "A log of educational activities that is made contemporaneously with the instruction and that designates by title any reading materials used." A very basic log could just have the date and a brief notation of the activity. Some people even jot their log on a calendar. Others provide more detailed notes about the activities, sometimes broken down by subject, while others maintain their log in the form of a journal discussing their activities. It's really a matter of personal preference and what fits into your lifestyle. Reading materials can simply be listed by date and title. Not each and every shred of material your child reads has to be listed.
The second part of your child's portfolio is described as follows in Florida statutes: "Samples of any writings, worksheets, workbooks, or creative materials used or developed by the student." For an unschooler, the sample of materials can be rich and varied. Written materials, artwork, projects, photos, videos, screenshots and computer files are just a few of the things you can use. Try to show a sampling of the how your unschooler learned by pursuing his or her interests. Arrange your samples in chronological order to show your child's learning progression. Again, you do not have to show everything that your child has done, just a representative sample.
Who will look at your portfolio? Besides yourself, it will be looked at by a certified teacher if you choose that option for your annual evaluation (discussed below). Also, the school district can request to see the portfolio by giving you 15 days written notice, although this doesn't seem to happen often.
Annual Evaluation Requirements for Florida Unschoolers
Florida requires that you provide your school district with an annual educational evaluation which will demonstrate that your child is making educational progress according to his or her ability. A copy of this evaluation is due in the school district's office each year on or before the anniversary date of when you filed your written intent to homeschool. You have several options for your annual evaluation. Choose the one which best fits your child's needs and your family's budget:
- Evaluation by a Florida-certified teacher. A Florida-certified teacher can evaluate your child by reviewing their portfolio and talking with your child. Make sure that you "shop" for an evaluator beforehand and find someone who understands unschooling and is supportive of the concept. You may even want to choose someone at the beginning of the "school year" so that you know what things they will be looking for in a portfolio. Your evaluator does not have to live in your county. Also, it doesn't matter whether the teacher is certified at the elementary or secondary level - either certification can evaluate a child of any age.
- Nationally normed student achievement test. Your child can take any nationally normed student achievement test (also referred to as a standard achievement test) administered by a certified teacher. There are a number of different tests to choose from. This test can be given in a group setting or privately. You can decide what might work best for your child and your budget. Testing in a group setting can usually be done within a public school, private school, or homeschool group. If you want your child privately tested, you will need to make arrangements with a certified teacher. A copy of the results of this type of evaluation will need to be submitted to your school district. (Keep in mind that if your testing is done at a public school, they may forward the results directly to the superintendent's office without you receiving them first.)
- State student assessment test. Your child can take the state student assessment test - this is currently the FCAT (Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test). It will be given at a location and under testing conditions decided by your school district. The results will be sent directly to the district superintendent's office, who then forwards them to the parents. Remember that public school curriculum revolve around the FCAT, so if this is the evaluation route you choose, you may want to obtain practice tests to familiarize your child with the terminology and structure of the test.
- Psychological evaluation. Your child can be evaluated by a psychologist who holds a valid, active license pursuant to the provisions of Florida Statute 490.003(7) or (8). This could be a private psychologist or a school psychologist. While more expensive than other options, this may be appropriate for children with special needs, or children who learn in a significantly different manner from their peers.
- Parent/superintendent agreement. Your child can be evaluated with any other valid measurement tool that you and your district's school superintendent have agreed upon. Be sure to obtain this agreement well in advance of when your evaluation is due and obtain it in writing. Some examples of other measurement tools would be ACT or SAT scores or grades from classes taken at public, private or online schools.
Other Things Florida Unschoolers Should Know
There are a few other things that you should know if you're unschooling in Florida:
- No attendance register. You are not required to keep an attendance register. Florida statutes specifically exclude homeschoolers from meeting the requirements of a school day.
- Interscholastic extracurricular activities. Unschoolers are eligible to participate in interscholastic extracurricular student activities at their local public schools and also by some private schools. Check into your local schools and see what they offer - sports, academic clubs, art, drama, etc. If there are special programs for gifted students, some schools may allow homeschoolers to participate.
- Florida Bright Futures Scholarship Program. Unschoolers are eligible for the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship Program which provides scholarships for postsecondary education. An unschooler will need to meet the eligibility requirements set out for homeschoolers, which includes certain SAT/ACT scores, registration in 11th and 12th grade in your school district and a certain amount of community service hours.
- Dual-enrollment program. Unschoolers are eligible to participate in a dual-enrollment program. Those who pass the qualification test can take college courses for free while still in high school.
- College Admission. Unschoolers are eligible for admission to the Florida College System and the State University System of Florida.
- Exceptional student testing and evaluation services. Unschoolers may receive testing and evaluation services at diagnostic and resource centers, which can provide medical, physiological, psychological, and educational testing and other services for exceptional students.
Resources for Florida Unschoolers
Here are some resources which will be invaluable for Florida unschoolers:
- The Florida Parent Educators Association - This group exists specifically to serve homeschooling families in the state of Florida. Visit their site for a lot of free information. You can join as well for only $30 and have access to their valuable "Guide to Home Schooling in Florida".
- Florida Statutes 1002.41 - Home Education Programs - This section of the Florida Statutes governs how the home education program works in Florida. It's a good idea to familiarize yourself with this - it's not too long and there's not too much legalese.
Remember to check for local unschooling groups in your area. They are a great source of ideas for educational resources, co-ops, field trips, evaluator recommendations, and support for the unschooling philosophy.