Homeschooling in Illinois: Guidance for Getting Started
Find out how easy it is to homeschool in Illinois, what curriculum requirements there are, and what legal regulations you need to follow—all in this handy guide to Illinois homeschooling information. Plus, this article will help you weigh the financial considerations for homeschooling in Illinois and find the best field trips in The Prairie State. Grab some popcorn, the official state snack food of Illinois, and read step-by-step directions for getting started as an Illinois homeschooler.
DISCLAIMER: This article is not written as legal advice. Check with your local school board and official Illinois state laws before making decisions about educating your children.
Is it easy to homeschool in Illinois?
Let’s hear from an actual Illinoisan. Lily R., a Sonlighter in Carbondale, IL who says it’s easy:
We live in Southern Illinois and homeschooling here has been wonderful. The laws are very relaxed and give you freedom to homeschool as you please.”
The data bear out her experience. Illinois is a low-regulation state as per the Home School Legal Defense Association. Further, there is just one option for homeschooling in Illinois. In some states there are multiple avenues, labels, and procedures. But in Illinois there is just one type of homeschooler from a legal standpoint, making the process straightforward.
Is homeschooling popular in Illinois?
A look at the stats for homeschooling in Illinois can help us answer this question.
As per the National Center for Education Statistics, 3.3% of American children were being homeschooled in 2016. In the spring of 2020, only 2.1% of Illinois households were homeschooling. While this percentage more than doubled over the course of the pandemic, it’s clear that homeschooling remains a small slice of the educational pie in Illinois. However, the number of homeschoolers continues to grow as families recognize the tremendous flexibility and effectiveness of learning at home.
Requirements for Homeschooling in Illinois
The U.S. Department of Education outlines the minimal Illinois homeschooling statutes. The only specific requirement for homeschooling in Illinois is that certain subject areas be taught in the English language:
- language arts
- biological and physical science
- social science (social studies)
- fine arts
- physical development and health
There is a Home Schooling Registration form to submit to the Illinois State Board of Education, but it’s voluntary and not required. If your child is already enrolled in a public school, it’s best to officially withdraw them (in writing) and state your intentions to homeschool so there is no confusion about truancy.
Thus, the rules for homeschooling in Illinois are fairly loose, and most families would consider Illinois to be quite homeschool-friendly.
How many days are required for homeschool in Illinois?
Illinois homeschooling hour requirements don’t exist! Illinois homeschoolers are not required to have school for a particular number of days each school year or have instruction for a certain number of hours each day. There is no record keeping required for a school calendar or days of school. Homeschooling can happen any day of the week and any time of day.
Do you have to be certified to homeschool in Illinois?
No, a parent does not have to be certified or even have a college degree to homeschool. The law states that a parent must be “competent” and provide an education that is, at a minimum, equivalent to what the public school offers.
Do parents need qualifications to homeschool?
There are no qualifications needed—none in the areas of education, certifications, training, licenses, approvals, or credentials. As long as you cover the required subjects and provide an education that is at least as robust as what a school provides, you’re set!
Who is eligible for homeschooling in Illinois?
Any family who can provide a competent education in English that covers the required topics is eligible to homeschool.
You do not need to report to anyone for homeschooling in Illinois, but if you are switching from public school to homeschooling, be sure to follow the correct and official process for withdrawing. If this step is skipped, your child may be considered truant.
You may, if you desire, report to the Illinois State Board of Education, using the voluntary reporting form. Please note that there is no required letter of intent or affidavit for homeschooling in Illinois
Is unschooling legal in Illinois?
Since the methods and curriculum are not prescribed in Illinois homeschooling laws, parents are free to choose their own styles and materials. Unschooling is a viable approach as long as the education covers the required subjects and is equivalent (or superior to) that of public schools.
It’s quite doable to teach the required topics through an unschooling approach, and unschooling is legal in Illinois.
Can I homeschool someone else's child in Illinois?
The law states that a homeschool teacher can be a parent/guardian or private tutor. So, yes, if you are hired as a private tutor, you could homeschool someone else's child in Illinois. The parent, of course, retains ultimate responsibility for the education.
What are homeschool requirements in Illinois?
The key Illinois homeschooling requirement is the list of subjects to teach: language arts, math, science, social studies, fine arts, P.E. and health.
While records and proof are not required, it’s a sensible choice to use a well-planned curriculum, keep records of your instructional days (including field trips, co-ops, and other extracurriculars), and maintain a few work samples.
Concerned citizens can report families who they suspect are engaging in educational neglect. A school superintendent could also question your choices. In the small chance that such a situation arises, your records will vindicate you and make it clear that you are providing the legally required education that is equivalent (or better than) that of the public schools.
Become familiar with Illinois Standards and Courses and align your homeschool accordingly. As long as your at-home education meets or exceeds the education outlined in those standards, you are fulfilling Illinois homeschool requirements.
A practical tool to stay organized with your Illinois homeschool requirements is the Sonlight homeschool planner. Pop it into any 3-ring binder, and you’ll have prompts for the most common homeschool records as well as a pretty place to keep them.
What do I need to homeschool my child in Illinois?
Your primary concern to fulfill Illinois homeschool law is a curriculum to teach the required subjects.
Besides that, you’ll want to make sure you have the time and energy to devote to this adventure as well as an area in your home that is conducive to learning.
Do you have to have a curriculum when homeschooling in Illinois?
While you could wing it and homeschool without a planned curriculum, this option is not recommended.
- If there were ever a question about your being a competent teacher, about your children being truant, or about educational neglect, using a robust curriculum will make it obvious that you are doing an excellent job.
- You will love the ease of having an open-and-go curriculum that takes hours of work off your shoulders each week. Why reinvent the wheel? Unless you truly love lesson planning (and are experienced at instructional design), let the pros handle that for you so you can do the fun part—learning alongside your kids!
- When you DIY your homeschool, you may question the quality of your materials and wonder if your child is truly getting an education that is equivalent to or better than that in public schools. By using a trusted and established homeschool program, you have assurance.
As you evaluate homeschooling programs in Illinois, you may wonder if online homeschooling is a good fit. While digital resources can be valuable supplements, there’s no substitute for real books, hands-on learning, and parent-child discussions.
Do homeschoolers have to take standardized tests in Illinois?
No, according to Illinois education laws for homeschooling, testing is not required for homeschooled students.
Getting Starting & Timing
There are so many benefits of homeschooling in Illinois! Illinoisans cite flexibility as their number one perk. When you homeschool, you are in charge! You get to choose
- the order of what you study each day
- the pace for working through concepts
- the curriculum and methods you use
- the days you have school and how long your school day is
- what field trips to take
- what enrichment activities to enjoy
- when to take breaks and holidays
This control means you can take cues from your children and provide them a custom education that perfectly suits them.
Another huge perk is academic excellence. While you’re legally obligated to provide an education that is on par with IL state schools, most families go far beyond that standard! Imagine all the extras that school children don’t have time for. You can add those back in because your school day is so much more efficient!
If your child needs to slow down or do more practice to ensure mastery, you can! On the other hand, if your child finds the material too easy, you can zoom ahead or pick up the pace. Maybe your child is advanced in certain subjects but a bit behind in others. This asynchrony can be a headache in the public school classroom, but it’s zero problem in a homeschool environment!
So how does homeschooling work in Illinois? Keep reading for the nitty gritty how tos.
How do I start homeschooling in Illinois?
For general tips, make use of Sonlight’s Getting Started guide here. Since Illinois is such a low-regulation state, getting started is pretty simple!
- If your child is currently enrolled in a public school, be sure to officially withdraw them according to your school’s guidelines.
- Then decide if you want to submit the Home Schooling Registration form to the Illinois State Board of Education. This step is optional and is the only homeschooling form in Illinois.
- If your child has never been enrolled in Illinois schools, no reporting, paperwork, or documentation whatsoever is required. You can simply start homeschooling!
- Choose a curriculum that suits your child and that covers the subjects and topics required by IL law.
- Since the law requires you to provide an education that is at least as good as that in public schools, check state standards and compare them to the scope and sequence of the curriculum choices you are considering. Unsure if a program is adequate? Just ask the Advisors of that program.
- Mentally identify the learning areas in your home where you can read books together on the couch and do bookwork at the table or a desk. You don’t need a dedicated homeschool room for this!
- Organize your books, hands-on kits, Instructor’s Guides, and other resources for daily and long-term use.
At what age is school mandatory in Illinois?
Children must attend school (or be homeschooled) from ages 6 to 17 in Illinois.
Can you skip kindergarten in Illinois?
Yes, since compulsory school doesn’t start until age 6 in Illinois, you can skip kindergarten altogether and start formal schooling with first grade.
But why skip this precious year? You can enjoy preschool, pre-K, and kindergarten at home with a gentle, age-appropriate program that gives your child needed academic foundations all while nurturing their zest for learning and natural curiosity.
For ages younger than 6, consider these delightful and fully planned programs:
How long can you homeschool a child?
You can homeschool legally in Illinois for a child’s entire K-12 experience. But deciding to homeschool isn’t an all-or-nothing choice. You can opt to homeschool for one year and return to public school later.
In fact, many new homeschoolers take a one-year-at-a-time approach, committing to the journey for only a single school year. Each year they evaluate their experience and make a fresh commitment (or not) for another school year.
Must-see Illinois Field Trips for Homeschoolers
Illinois is the Land of Lincoln, boasting the locale of Lincoln’s home in Springfield, Illinois. This National Park Service (NPS) treasure is a must-see historical destination for any homeschooler! If you want to time it to coincide with your American History studies, great! But any time is good.
Three key national historical trails run through Illinois:
Other great field trip destinations include
- Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory
- The Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum
- The Belvedere Mansion
- Bronzeville Children’s Museum
- Cahokia Mounds
- Carl Sandburg Historic Site
- Chicago Museum of Science and Industry
- Chicago Children’s Museum
- Chicago History Museum
- Mitchell Museum of the American Indian
- DuPage Children’s Museum
- Museum of the Grand Prairie
- Jane Addams Hull-House Museum
- Prairie Aviation Museum
- SciTech Hands On Museum
- Naper Settlement
- Little White Schoolhouse Museum
- Illinois Railroad Museum
- Graue Mill and Museum
- Wheels ‘O Time Museum
- Ulysses S. Grant Home
- Burpee Museum of Natural History
- Wonder Works Children’s Museum
Illinois Field Trips for Lovers of Natural Science
Lily R., a Sonlighter in Carbondale, IL is a huge fan of the natural bounty in Illinois:
The real treasure here for homeschooling is nature: tons of trails, water access, and wildlife. We have enjoyed reading about an animal or habitat and then being able to observe it. We love experiencing the four seasons here. The weather is really nice and allows a lot of time for outside schooling which happens on our porches or a picnic blanket. It’s been pretty dreamy for all of the read-alouds. My children are outside every chance they get.”
Find all the Illinois state parks on the official website here and look for park programs and tours here. Then consider these nature-themed field trip venues:
Financial Considerations for Homeschooling in Illinois
The cost of living in Illinois is lower than the national average, placing it at 19th lowest in the nation. That’s good news for a family wanting to homeschool because, yes, homeschooling does come with financial costs.
How much does it cost to homeschool in Illinois?
As outlined in our guide How Much Does Homeschooling Cost, American homeschool families spend around $500 to $2500 each year to homeschool one child. These figures hold for homeschooling in Illinois, too.
Does Illinois pay for homeschooling?
Aside from the Education Expense Credit (outlined below), there is no financial assistance for homeschooling in Illinois. When you opt to homeschool, you take on the entire responsibility for all educational choices and the purchase of all materials. There is no state funding for homeschooling in Illinois, no grats and no school voucher program.
How can I homeschool in Illinois for free?
There is no state-sanctioned, free homeschooling option in Illinois such as a free online public school. A parent bears the full financial burden of homeschooling.
But there are no regulations against homeschooling for free either. So it’s possible as long as you’re covering the required subjects. However, there are two big cautions about homeschooling for free:
- You run the risk of having a disjointed curriculum with missing concepts since you’re piecing together a variety of freebies.
- You can wear yourself out with lesson planning and hunting for (and organizing) freebies.
Because of these pitfalls, most parents find that purchasing a well-planned curriculum that you can use with siblings, one that builds a home library, and one that offers a money-back guarantee is a smart investment.
Of course, you can homeschool frugally and use free resources from the library, the internet, or hand-me-downs to supplement your base program.
Can I get money from the state for homeschooling?
While Illinois does not send families money for homeschooling, there is an Education Expense Credit that may apply in some situations.
Is homeschooling a tax write-off?
Lucky Illinoisans! Illinois is one of the few states with tax credits for homeschool families! Unfortunately, the Illinois Education Expense Credit doesn’t allow for the bulk of what a homeschool family would spend on—curriculum, field trips, and extracurricular activities.
Qualified expenses are covered after the first $250 with an upper limit of $750 for tuition, book rental, and lab fees. But this allowance does not cover books or materials that would be added to your home library or resource shelf for long-term use. It also doesn’t cover any extras like tutoring or enrichment that goes above and beyond the required curriculum. Read more from the State of Illinois here that explains how homeschooling is and is not tax-deductible in Illinois.
Do I have to pay school taxes if I homeschool?
Yes, you still have to pay taxes even if you homeschool. Even if your children don’t make use of Illinois public schools, you are still obligated to pay local, state, and federal taxes to support those schools for other families in your area.
Partnering with Schools in Illinois
Part-time homeschooling in Illinois may be an option for you. According to Illinois regulations, homeschooled students may attend public school part-time if the local school agrees. Contact your schools to inquire.
Homeschooling laws in Illinois for school activities leave the possibility open, but do not require local schools to offer activities to homeschooled students. Again, check with your local schools or homeschool group to find out what’s available in your particular part of Illinois.
Lily R., Sonlighter in Carbondale, IL says, “...
Team sports or classes where you may need more students (art, theater, band) are available here through a lot of the private schools. They even offer regular classes per subject you may struggle with. I’m not sure about the public schools but I did hear a rumor that the extra curriculars were available to homeschoolers but it was on a district-by-district basis.”
Christian Homeschooling in Illinois
A prime benefit of homeschooling is the opportunity to integrate your Christ-centered beliefs into your day-to-day learning. Using a Christian curriculum like Sonlight makes it natural since it’s designed with references to God throughout the Instructor’s Guides and includes Bible memorization activities and missionary biographies. Shop Sonlight History / Bible / Literature programs here.
Network with other Christian homeschooling Illinoisans through ICHE—Illinois Christian Home Educators. This organization provides online support and events to help you homeschool successfully.
Finding Homeschool Community in Illinois
While there are great state-wide homeschooling organizations in Illinois like Home Oriented Unique Schooling Experience (H.O.U.S.E.) and ICHE—Illinois Christian Home Educators, a local group makes one-on-one, in person accountability possible. Your best bet for finding homeschooling groups in Illinois is to google for your county, suburb, or metropolitan area. These kinds of groups are always popping up, and if you can’t find a good fit, then create your own group. For example, Sonlight has support for launching an in-person homeschooling group in Illinois.
Of course, there’s no need to choose one or the other! Get all the support you can with homeschooling co-ops in Illinois, local groups, and state-wide organizations. Co-ops will provide socialization opportunities for your children while local groups may have a mix of parental support and activity options like group field trips.
For online support, you’re invited to join Sonlight Connections which includes
- the Sonlight app
- the Sonlight email list
- a lively and well-moderated Facebook group
Homeschooling High School in Illinois
When it comes to homeschooling high school in Illinois. You have nearly total freedom. You’ll be choosing courses and curriculum, assigning grades and awarding credits (if desired), granting a diploma, and creating the transcript—all on your own.
To help you accomplish these tasks, use Sonlight's College and Career Planning Kit.
Dual Enrollment as a Homeschooler in Illinois
Dual enrollment, also called dual credit, is when a high schooler, usually an 11th or 12th grader, enrolls in a college course and earns both high school credit and college credit simultaneously. Check with the community college in your part of Illinois about their dual enrollment policies. Homeschoolers are eligible!
Calculating High School Credits in Homeschooling in Illinois
While you’re free to customize a one-of-a-kind education for your teen that speaks to their interests and strengths, do keep in mind the Illinois state requirements for graduation. Although you’re not held to them, they provide a wise starting point when you devise your 4-year high school plan:
- Language Arts: 4 Years, 2 of which are writing-intensive
- Mathematics: 3 Years
- Computer Literacy: 1 year
- Lab Science: 2 Years
- Social Science: 2 Years, must include 1 year of U.S. History, U.S. government, and civics
- World/Foreign Language: 2 years
- Elective: 1 Year (art and music, or career and technical education)
If your teen wants to attend college, take a look at the admissions requirements for a few possible schools and model your high school to meet them. University requirements are typically more stringent than Illinois graduation minimums.
In general, there are two ways to think about credits:
- completion of a course of study
- studying for a particular unit of time, i.e. a semester (half credit) or year (1 credit)
Illinois Driver License for Homeschoolers
Teens seeking a driver license in the state of Illinois must complete a state-approved driver education course. This course is provided to teens in the public schools, and homeschoolers are eligible to participate in those same courses. To participate, be sure to notify your local school district by April 1 regarding the next school year. And show evidence that your child has received a passing grade in 8 or more courses during the previous school year.
Homeschooling High School Diploma in Illinois
When it comes to the pretty certificate of high school graduation, you can make the diploma yourself or purchase one online from a vendor that specializes in this very document!
What Are the Requirements for Health in Illinois for Homeschooling?
There are no specific requirements for coursework for high schoolers. And health is not listed as a required course for public school high schoolers. So health would be an optional course to include in your 4-year high school plan.