[We're gearing up for our updated list of Best Cities for Homeschool Families this fall, so we thought it would be fun to publish the three best of 2014 on the blog, starting with the homeschool friendly city of Austin, Texas.]
As any homeschooler who’s blown up a Coke bottle in her backyard can tell you, sometimes, you’ve just gotta embrace the weird. Which may just be why Austin and homeschooling are a match made in heaven. This city—which takes it graffiti promise to “Keep Austin Weird” so literally that it’s got a Museum of the Weird, complete with Bigfoot mummies, downtown on 6th Street—can handle whatever even the most out-of-the-box life learners hit it with.
Though nearly two million Texans call the state’s capital city home, Austin still feels more like a small town that’s had a growth spurt than a shiny metropolis. On any given day, you might spot a ragged crowd of kayakers paddling across Lady Bird Lake in the Barton Creek Greenbelt, a seven-mile stretch of public green space along the waterfront. Or you might run into a group of young artists balancing sketchpads on their knees in the Umlauf Sculpture Garden, which lets kids twelve and younger in free every day. Line up for a Harry Potter marathon at the Alamo Drafthouse, and there’s a good chance your kids can drum up a friendly conversation with a fellow Dumbledore fanatic wearing her house colors. Even the line for Franklin Barbecue—which would be frankly ridiculous if that first bite didn’t make you forget how long you waited—can be a kid-friendly lesson in supply and demand. Alternative education opportunities abound in Austin, from the fairly traditional (homeschool day at the Bullock Texas State History Museum or classes at the Austin Science and Nature Center) to quirky niche activities like engineering Maker groups and survivalist training weekends. And kids can choose their next favorite bands just by walking down the street, especially during the city’s annual South by Southwest music festival and conference extravaganza.
On top of all that, living in Austin’s cheap—at least comparatively. Houses in up-and-coming East Austin had a median price of just $219,000 this spring, and even ritzy hoods like Lakeway have plenty of homes selling in the mid-$300s. Food, utilities, and transportation costs in Austin all fall below the national average—a big plus for homeschool families stretching one income. Thanks to dedicated bike lanes on more than half of the city’s streets and continued bike path development—the city aims to have 900 miles of bike lanes by 2020—Austin is a reasonable place to live without a car.
Homeschool requirements: None. If you’re withdrawing your child from school, the state recommends notifying the school, but you don’t have to file any paperwork, meet any attendance requirements, or participate in any standardized testing.
Community: Austin Area Homeschoolers is a friendly resource with discussion groups, field trips, new homeschooler resources, and a weekly co-op.
Books: Book People has an awesome children’s book collection—and they’re so passionate about good reads for kids that they’ve teamed up with local authors to put together a Modern First Library of new kids’ lit classics.
Resources: Check out homeschool programs at the Bullock Texas State History Museum and the Austin Nature and Science Center; get creative (with real tools) at the Austin Tinkering School; learn outdoor survival skills at Earth Native Wilderness Survival School; check out David Foster Wallace’s manuscripts and letters at the Henry Ransom Center at the University of Texas-Austin; play outside on the Barton Creek Greenbelt
Number of Museums: 25, including the Mexic-Arte Museum and the George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center
Number of Libraries: 35, with regular book clubs, poetry nights, gaming sessions, and performances
Median home price: $318,854
Population: 1.8 million
This was originally published in the fall 2014 issue of HSL. Information was correct at time of publication but may have changed since then.