Whether your children are attending school in person, online, at home, or a combination of all three, Boston Moms has got you covered!
This resource is here to help Boston-area and Massachusetts parents learn more about virtual education, homeschooling options, and associated resources. We will continually update this resource as new information becomes available.
Boston Moms is happy to present you with this comprehensive list of resources made to assist families as they navigate a much different school year than we’ve ever seen before. Boston Moms is proud to support ALL parents in WHATEVER choice they make for their children’s education this year.
A reminder: The choice you make for YOUR family is the RIGHT choice. We support you and we are cheering you on!
How to use this guide:
Each image leads to a parent-friendly “school at home” resource. Click on an image to find more info, or take your time scrolling through to find the information that best suits your family.
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This guide is sponsored in part by Rafi Nova!
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Most simply defined, homeschooling is the education of children at home, typically by parents or guardians. The seven main approaches to homeschooling children are: classical, Charlotte Mason, Montessori, unschooling, school-at-home, unit studies, and eclectic education methods.
Maybe you’re using COVID as an excuse to pursue your homeschooling dreams, or maybe you just can’t handle one more Zoom meeting for your kindergartener. But either way, it’s important to be aware of the laws that regulate homeschooling in Massachusetts. You can read the full resource here.
The short of the Mass homeschooling law is that families have the right to school their child at home but must submit an Education Plan, and often a letter of intent to the superintendent or school committee for approval first. It is the parent’s responsibility to demonstrate that the homeschool proposal meets the requirements in thoroughness and efficiency as the public schools in the same town.
If something goes wrong and your request to homeschool is denied, you have the right to a meeting, with witnesses, to discuss and defend your proposed plan. You also have the right to revise your proposal and remedy its inadequacies if it’s rejected for any reason. You can find more information here.
So, what should you include when formally requesting to homeschool your child for the 2020–2021 school year? According to the case laws, these are the things the superintendent and school committee should know/have access to:
- A statement of competency of the parents teaching the children and a listing of academic credentials or other qualifications. (Note, the parents are not required to have college or advanced academic degrees.)
- A copy of the textbooks, workbooks, and other instructional aids the children will use for learning, plus a copy of the lesson plans or teaching manuals used by the parents. This should only be used to compare the curriculum provided to that of the public schools; it should be returned to you.
- Proof that spelling, reading, writing, the English language and grammar, geography, math, drawing, music, history, civics, health education, and physical education will all be covered. The school committee may also require other subjects be covered in accordance with the Massachusetts State Curriculum Frameworks.
- A plan of evaluation.
There is no one correct way to begin homeschooling! Each family will progress in a manner that is right for them. Some steps to take include:
- Formally withdraw your child from school. It will be helpful to acquire their records at this time.
- Review the laws for homeschooling to ensure you feel comfortable following them.
- Choose a goal. What do you and your child hope to accomplish through homeschooling?
- Choose a method and a curriculum. Make sure to involve the whole family in this process so that the best options for all are chosen.
- Map out your schedule.
- Designate a space for schooling and acquire the supplies you will need for your homeschooling journey!
There are many things to consider when you begin your homeschooling journey. A few questions to consider are:
- What is your child’s learning style?
- What is your teaching style?
- What method and curriculum will you follow?
- Are you planning to completely self-teach or are you looking to join a homeschool co-op or charter?
- Where in your home will you conduct educational activities? Will there be a designated space?
- What will your homeschool schedule look like?
- What extracurricular activities will your child partake in?
The good news is that there are a TON of online schooling options out there for students of all grade levels. Perhaps you are even following an online learning option from your own school district!
If you are choosing to go with a fully online school option, it is a good idea to compare it with your child’s current school on the Massachusetts Department of Education profile website.
So how do you go about choosing?
The state of Massachusetts currently has two public online schools. The fact that they are public schools means they are free to students and families and do not require tuition. These schools are required to follow the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks and have profiles on the Massachusetts Department of Education (DOE) to be held accountable with all the other public schools. Additionally, teachers are required to hold a Massachusetts teaching license in order to teach. Both are fully accredited.
TEC Connections Academy Commonwealth Virtual School boasts a challenging curriculum and more one-on-one attention than traditional public schools. Their flexible schedule allows students to learn at home with the support of a learning coach to help keep them on track. Setting goals and communicating regularly help personalize a student’s learning program and establish curriculum modifications to meet their specific needs. TEC Connections Academy also offers elective courses that support career and technical education.
Greenfield Commonwealth Virtual School is self-described as a leader in online personal learning and allows families to choose which kind of learning module (traditional classroom style or flexible learning). The traditional classroom-style learning features live classes and a schedule that mimics the traditional school day. The asynchronous school program is designed for students who need a more flexible schedule and excel without a traditional school structure. There is also a dual-enrollment program with Greenfield Community College for high school students who wish to participate in both high school and college courses.
Massachusetts prides itself on being a leader in education that provides rigorous standards for all learners. These standards have been created to offer a school environment that cultivates academic curiosity and confidence for every grade level. Basically, to support these standards, every student should engage with grade-appropriate text and meaningful real-world problems every day, and in scientific conversations using data every week.
The Department of Education website lists family guides, which provide learning standards for students. These standards help families to understand what students are expected to know and be able to do by the end of each grade. These short, accessible resources are wonderful for every family, whether you homeschool or not! The resources, divided by grade level, can be found here.
Which leads us to… what the heck are “Curriculum Frameworks” anyway, and what purpose do they serve?
When you look at the Curriculum Frameworks, you should read the beginning information before you find your child’s grade level. At the beginning of each Curriculum Frameworks, you will find information about the subject in general that is relevant across grades pre-K through 12. These are “bigger picture” goals (often called “guiding principles”) and are helpful to keep in mind.
The “smaller picture” goals are divided up by grade level. The “Curriculum Frameworks” is the name for the big documents listed above. Each subject has one Curriculum Frameworks. The Curriculum Frameworks are made up of individual “standards” or “learning outcomes” that are found within the document, divided by grade level, and then again by sub-topic. Basically, you can look at each standard/learning outcome as one goal, using the phrase “by the end of this year, my child will know _____.”
Massachusetts also has more comprehensive state standards for each subject, which outline what should be learned at each grade level. The Massachusetts frameworks have been recently re-written to include the Common Core standards.
You can find them broken up by subject:
- A helpful suggestion when working through the standards is to print the beginning forward and then your child’s grade-level standards within the Curriculum Frameworks. The standards are much easier to look at and digest if you’re looking at them in print!
- If you are already following a homeschool curriculum and not creating your own, there may already be references within the teacher planning materials.
- As you go along planning your lessons, highlight the learning standards as you go. It may also be helpful to use them to categorize your student work documentation, which you may be required to present to the superintendent at the end of the year just as a public school teacher would.
- Do your best not to get discouraged! It takes a lot of time to digest and feel comfortable with the format and content of these frameworks!
It’s important to find the right resources, as you will need a number of supplies during your homeschooling journey. While there are many different homeschool shops, these are some of our favorites!
General Homeschool Supplies
The best part about homeschooling is that it can happen just about anywhere! However, a certain amount of planning is required to be successful.
The first thing you should do is identify your “style” of homeschool. Maybe you prefer a traditional feel, with individual desks and a whiteboard. Or maybe you prefer to have a little bit more of a “freestyle” approach. Either way, it may be helpful to think about the following things when you organize your homeschool “classroom.”
- Where do you plan and organize YOUR “stuff”? You will need a place to put workbooks, textbooks, games, and toys that are primarily for homeschool. Where do you plan to prep your materials and keep them organized? Where will you keep and organize their portfolios?
- Where will your students organize THEIR “stuff”? All the supplies you would send with them to school should be easily obtainable and in an organized space. A cart, set of drawers, table, or desk are all good options.
- Where do you expect your “main classroom” to be? In an ideal world, this space should be clear of clutter, easy to clean up and organize, and child friendly. It should be an inviting and comfortable place to sit, work, and explore. Try to have space for a chalkboard or whiteboard, artwork, and incentive charts, if possible. Don’t forget, it should be comfortable for you too!
- Keeping an open mind, where would other learning occur? Is there a particular space outside that could be rearranged and utilized for a learning space? Is there another room that contains tools for sensory breaks?
- Easy cleanup is a must — add a trash or recycling container, cleaning spray, sanitizer, and roll of paper (or cloth) towels to your space for quick cleanup or change of activity.
- Adding plants or a small pet to take care of and learn about in your homeschool routine is fun if you don’t find it to be stressful.
- Most importantly, let your kids have some input!
Because the virtual learning territory is so new for us all, there aren’t many specific resources targeted toward students learning at home with the aid of school districts — yet! When those resources become more readily available, we’ll be sure to add them here.
The following groups and co-ops are traditionally geared toward fully homeschooling families, but many are welcoming hybrid learners at this time.
A common space for independent, family-based homeschoolers to network, share resources, plan face-to-face events, classes, and get-togethers.
A support group for parents homeschooling their children with special needs.
A support group for Muslim homeschoolers in Massachusetts.
A Christian ministry encouraging home educators across Massachusetts.
An advocacy and education organization endorsing home learning as an alternative to public or private schooling. Serving all of Massachusetts.
A homeschooling support group for families in the Amesbury area.
Serving many communities in southeastern Massachusetts and northern Rhode Island.
Serving Berkley, Dighton, Taunton, and surrounding areas.
A homeschooling group supporting families in Pittsfield, Lee, Lenox, Lanesborough, Stockbridge, Great Barrington, Housatonic, Adams, North Adams, Williamstown, and Dalton.
A secular homeschooling group in the Berkshires of Massachusetts.
A group supporting families in the Billerica area.
A homeschool group serving families living in the coastal towns of Southeast Massachusetts.
A homeschooling group open to all homeschoolers in Essex County, Massachusetts and beyond.
An informal networking group for home educators in the areas of Columbia, Rensselaer, and Albany counties in New York and in Berkshire County in Massachusetts.
A group supporting homeschooling families in the Hamden County area.
A homeschooling group supporting families in the Haverhill area.
A support group located in the Boston Metro area.
Providing support for homeschooling families in the greater Milford area.
An inclusive group for homeschoolers throughout the Metrowest area of Boston.
A support group and play date group for home educating moms.
A group for people homeschooling or considering homeschooling in Newton
A homeschool group for families who are currently or considering homeschooling on the North Shore of Massachusetts.
A group of unschoolers who are seeking real-life connections with others in the Northeastern MA/Southeastern NH area.
A Christian nonprofit organization that offers support to homeschooling families in the Duxbury area as well as the South Shore.
A place to share info on in-person hangouts, events, classes, and opportunities for homeschooled teens in RI, MA, and CT.
A homeschooling group supporting families in Salem and surrounding areas.
A group for homeschooling families in Sharon and the surrounding communities.
A group of South Shore families who share similar values regarding education and parenting.
A support group connecting homeschooling families in the counties of Norfolk, Middlesex, and Worcester.
A welcoming community of homeschooling families who live in the Pioneer Valley in Western Massachusetts. Supporting learners of all ages.
A group for Worcester, MA area home educators who meet for support, activities and discussion. This group is open to anyone interested in homeschooling in the area.
We all have our strengths and our weaknesses! This applies to every aspect of life, including homeschooling. So, what is a parent supposed to do when they are lost in the world of algebra but still need to educate their kid? There’s a co-op for that!
In a homeschooling co-op, families can reach out to other homeschooling families for help educating their kids in certain subjects, and vice-versa. So, if you are great in history but not so great in algebra, you can swap your time and help educate small groups of homeschooling kids! These types of co-ops and classes are also wonderful ways to make social connections between homeschooling children.
There are many homeschool co-ops throughout the state. Below, you can find a list of some helpful ones!
Writing and Literacy
Extracurricular activities provide students with social, emotional, and physical benefits. In Massachusetts, local districts are able to decide whether homeschooling students are eligible to participate in extracurricular activities and athletic programs run by the district.
If your child is interested in participating in activities run through a public school program, families are asked to submit a proposal based on the particular activities their child is interested in to the district for consideration.
If your student is interested in athletics, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association guidelines can be found here. The Massachusetts high school athletic association has passed by-laws that allow homeschoolers to play on public school sports teams.
Transitioning from classroom learning to home learning can be difficult, no matter what the situation!
Many students will be starting this school year by attending a hybrid school model, where they attend school in person a few days a week and perform school activities at home on other days. Some will continue remote learning, and still others will begin fully homeschooling for the first time. Boston Moms has compiled some helpful hints for remaining focused on education in your new schooling environment, wherever it may be!
- For younger kids, pick one place where they can consistently do virtual classroom calls (like Zoom). Routine can really help!
- Free the space from major distractions. For example, having another child in the same room watching television would detract from the learner’s experience.
- Have all the materials you need “ready to go” in one classroom space. Think about your child’s desk at school — they have crayons, pencils, erasers, glue, etc. Not having to search for these things every time your kiddo needs them is a huge time saver.
- Invest in headphones. Ideally, for younger kiddos, headphones should have a “maximum” setting for volume control.
- Add plants and a rug. They may seem like silly details, but they really help absorb some noise and create a comfortable environment.
- For older kids, consider setting a boundary that they need to “check in” their phones before they sit down to attend a virtual classroom session. Teachers in some schools have strict phone policies because they’re so distracting. Even though I know they can “just use the device they’re on” to communicate with their friends, at least they’re only looking at one screen!
- A “wiggle seat,” fidget toys, or sensory items that can help wiggly fingers, bodies, and the nervous system in general.
- Plan for needs only — not what looks nice on Pinterest! Quiet learning spaces should be just that — quiet.
- Declutter, declutter, declutter!
If you think about a student’s desk or locker at school, it usually has all the necessary items for learning (or it should, anyway). Maybe your child has a desk at home you can organize, but you can also use a portable supply container or cart that can easily be transported to the learning space. Over-the-door shoe organizers are also very helpful in organizing school supplies — each item can have its own pocket!
Obviously, this depends on grade level, but here are some common items you should consider having in your learning space!
- Stapler or paper clips
- Colored pencils
- Scratch/scrap paper or index cards
- Water bottle
- Required books, notebooks, binders, and technology
At this point, we’ve probably all experienced it. Your eyes glaze over, you’re not paying attention to a single thing going on in the meeting you’re “attending,” and you just can’t stand to stare at a screen for one more second. Unfortunately, our kids feel like this too. Although the “virtual” part of virtual learning is necessary, it may feel like a totally new beast to tackle.
If you notice your child is struggling to “tune in” to Zoom sessions, they may be suffering from “Zoom burnout” or “Zoom fatigue.” The good news is that it can be reconciled, even though it will take some experimentation. Try some of these easy tricks to start!
- Establish “screen breaks.” Everyone needs a break from staring at a screen at some point — work these breaks into your day as best you can!
- Hide “self-view” in whatever app you’re using.
- Avoid multi-tasking — especially if you’re constantly using your phone and computer at the same time.
- Prioritize calls, meetings, and classes to establish what is absolutely 100% necessary and what can be skipped.
- Schedule breaks to step away from your desk. Leave the room, and try to go outside if possible!
- Talk to the teacher about opting in to an audio-only format.
- Use different color pens to take notes with (and actually take written notes!) if you have back-to-back virtual classes so they don’t all blend together.
- Set up your learning space near a window or some other kind of natural light.
Maybe you just made it through the 2019–2020 school year and are fearful of how your family is going to handle another year of virtual schooling. Or maybe you’re anticipating how much longer you can handle parenting while also working. We understand that things are super tough right now.
Parenting burnout may look like:
- You feel so exhausted that you can’t get out of bed in the morning or can’t stay awake all day.
- You feel detached, numb, or distant from your kids.
- You enjoy parenting less than usual.
If you’re feeling burned out, you may find the following strategies to be helpful:
- Divide tasks into “things that are essential,” “things that are ideal,” and “things that are non-essential” to make parenting feel more manageable.
- Encourage independence, and mandate chores.
- Write down one good thing that happened today and one good thing you did as a parent in a journal.
- Go outside!
- Make sleep a priority.
- Call a friend — maintaining social connections are incredibly important while socially distancing.
- Remember you can say “no.” You can say “no, thank you,” or “I would love to, but it doesn’t fit into my schedule right now,” and even “I wish I could make it work, but right now is challenging timing.”
- Reach out. Find a therapist, friend, family member, member of your religious community, or doctor to support you.
Most importantly, if you feel hopeless remember that the Suicide Hotline is open 24/7 and always accepts calls. You can reach them in both English and Spanish at 1-800-273-8255.
Regardless of what your policy was pre-pandemic about screen time, chances are it’s changed since COVID. Let’s face it, now that school is online, it’s a necessary tool for learning.
Tech frustration is arguably the worst part of online learning, so we have compiled a list of helpful technology options that hopefully can make everyone feel a little less stressed.
Many school districts have technology available for students to borrow. Before purchasing new equipment, check with your district to see what their requirements are and if they have devices students are able to use. If no technology is available, “phoning in” to a Zoom or Google classroom meeting is always an option and can be discussed with your child’s teacher.
Most often the best bang for your buck! They start at $149 and function (with WiFi) as a mini-laptop.
Another good option for learning. Although they are generally more expensive than Chromebooks, iPads can be used in a variety of ways to enhance distance learning and are very multi-functional.
There are a variety of other options that are more than adequate, including the Amazon Kindle, Microsoft Surface products, and Samsung Galaxy tablets. Make sure you do your research and confirm your tablet, laptop, computer, or phone will be compatible with the virtual classroom technology your school has committed to using this year.
Comcast has a program for low-income households called Internet Essentials that can be as low as $10 per month, with two months free due to the coronavirus emergency.
T-Mobile has a variety of offers for students that also start at about $10 per month.
For homeschool, getting kids to focus is all about design. The more organized and well thought out a lesson (or day in general!) is, the better the chances are that you’ll have a positive result. First of all, remember that homeschool learning does not follow the same timeframe/schedule as classroom learning. You should aim to homeschool between two to four hours each day. The most important thing to remember is that learning can happen in the kitchen, outdoors, in the car, and just about any other place you can dream up.
In virtual or hybrid school, sometimes helping your kiddos focus is about what happens in the “in-between” times that they aren’t on Zoom. First off, a visual schedule for the day and week may help immensely (using words or pictures). You may want to add on to that and utilize a visual timer. Try to utilize tricks that elementary teachers use in the classroom but can’t do virtually, such as prize boxes and sticker charts.
The rule of thumb is that while planning an activity for your [neurotypical] child while homeschooling, you can roughly figure out how long he or she can focus by multiplying their age by 2-5 mins. So, if my kiddo is 5 years old, I can expect her to focus for a minimum of 10 minutes and a maximum of 25 minutes. Activities that are longer could very well be a recipe for disaster. Keep it short and positive.
For virtual or hybrid schooling, this can be harder because Zoom sessions are often set at a specific time. However, chances are that you will still have some control over the timing of various aspects of their day and can use the recommendations listed above. Additionally, if you feel as though your child has hit their time limit with an assignment or Zoom session, make sure you’re in contact with the teacher who is there to support you as best they can.
Observe when your child naturally learns the best. Some kids are more active in the morning, while some tend to be better learners after lunch or in the evening. If your child isn’t engaging in the lessons you’ve prepared consistently, consider changing the timing of your homeschool day!
Brain breaks are one of the most important parts of learning. Children’s brains need time to digest and decompress, just like ours do as adults. Chances are, if we tried to sit still through six hours of virtual learning with only a 25-minute break for lunch every day, we wouldn’t be successful either.
Brain breaks should contain two things: food or drink, and movement.
The first is easy! If your body is hungry or thirsty, it’s distracted from learning. This isn’t to say that kids should have a snack every 25 minutes, but having a few sips of water can really go a long way.
Movement breaks can help your child’s learning be more efficient by sending oxygen to their brains. This has the added benefit of easily redirecting negative behavior patterns.
Brain breaks don’t have to be long, but they should be used liberally.
Ideally, they should happen before your child gets that “glazed over and no longer paying attention” look in their eyes and should last several minutes at minimum. In an ideal world, movement breaks would happen outside.
These are a few YouTube channels that are guaranteed to get your kiddo up and moving!
If you’re looking for a way to quickly incorporate movement breaks without technology, we LOVE these “brain break” movement cards on Teachers Pay Teachers:
Fall Winter Spring Summer Movement Cards for Preschool and Brain Break
Brain Break – Active Movement Cards and Printables
60 Brain Breaks Cards plus Cards for the Socially Distance Learning Classroom
Brain Breaks Movement Cards Ocean Under the Sea Theme
- Use music while doing quiet work. Utilize headphones or noise-canceling headphones if necessary.
- Set up a tri-fold poster board for an extra quiet space.
- Use a fidget toy or a fidget seat/wiggle seat.
- Make sure your workspace is free of visual distractions.
- Use a visual timer.
- Make a visual schedule.
- Make sure their sleep schedule is giving them enough rest time.
- Increase the amount of physical activity or exercise.
- Limit “connected” (phone, TV, internet, etc.) time during homeschool “hours.”
Whether you’re homeschooling or doing virtual/hybrid learning, it will only work if you take care of yourself first. You can’t pour from an empty cup, so make sure you prioritize the “little” ways you can stay sane!
- Be open — find a “tribe” (big or small!) of other homeschooling/virtual learning parents you can share experiences with. Even if these are virtual interactions, they are important just the same!
- Take advantage of days when you’re feeling “good” and “positive,” and give yourself grace on days that are hard.
- Try to end activities or lessons on a positive note, and make sure you take breaks in between activities to reset and regroup.
- Let go of traditional timelines and remember this is a tough time for everyone. Do the best you can, with what you have. If you’re working with teachers, be upfront with them about how things are going with your family.
- Identify what your family’s needs and limits are, and respect them. If you can’t provide instruction or participate in Zoom calls on Wednesdays, that’s OK. Remember homeschooling and virtual can be flexible, but always communicate with your children’s teachers to make sure you’re on the same page.
- Go outside! For homeschool, learning can happen anywhere, and it’s important to find (safe) places you can homeschool outside of your actual home. For virtual learning, try to make time for a five-minute break in between periods of screen time to just sit in the fresh air.
- Structure can be helpful for everyone. Try to use a visual schedule with words or pictures.
- Finally, remember that we are experiencing a worldwide pandemic. Adjust your expectations accordingly, and remember that all students are experiencing some form of non-traditional learning this year!
Social-emotional learning is feeling SUPER hard right now, especially as we’re isolated from peers for longer periods of time. The good news is that there are social-emotional curriculums available for homeschool and families that are learning virtually! When you look for a social-emotional curriculum, it’s really important to make sure it’s age appropriate and we’re not expecting too much from our little people.
Here are some to check out and see if they’re right for your family!
Big Life Journal is awesome in almost every single way. They have several book/journals, PDF files, and a podcast! It’s a great curriculum that builds resiliency, confidence, and a growth mindset.
The Emotional ABCs program is a great tool to help kiddos who are struggling with impulse control and emotional regulation. They have wonderful activities that help kids learn to self-regulate and identify and validate different kinds of emotions.
Much like its predecessor, Daniel Tiger is based on a social-emotional learning curriculum in general. This app for parents allows you to easily utilize the songs and examples from the show in a user-friendly format.
This guide is brought to you in part by Code Wiz Arlington!
Code Wiz Arlington offers year-round, highly personalized tech classes with rolling enrollments. They’re perfect for the beginner, with options for the more advanced kids! Code Wiz offers flexible timing and class options!
Elementary-aged kids have a myriad of online opportunities! Check out this list to find helpful resources for a wide array of subjects!
Hooked on Phonics
Museum of Science
National Geographic Kids
BrainPop (also available for older children here)
Cool Math Games
Night Zoo Keeper
From languages to math to computer science, there are a ton of great online learning resources for the middle school-aged crowd!