best cities for homeschoolers

What’s in the Fall Issue of HSL?

What’s in the Fall Issue of HSL?

Our update list of best cities for homeschoolers, how to make sure your science curriculum is secular, a few reasons to love Thurgood Marshall, and more great stuff you can find in the fall issue of home/school/life.

Best of HSL: Best Cities for Homeschool Families: #2: Chicago

Best of HSL: Best Cities for Homeschool Families: #2: Chicago

[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—number two on the list is the homeschool friendly city of Chicago.]

“Chicago is the pulse of America,” Sarah Bernhardt famously said, and you can feel the rhythm of the city pumping in your blood as soon as you set foot on the sidewalk. 

Chicago feels like a city you’ve imagined, with dramatic architecture mixed in with old-fashioned buildings, crowds of people who smile when they pass you on the street, and the kind of energy that you only get in a center of culture and enterprise.

And for homeschoolers, the magic of this Midwest city is delightfully accessible. The Museum of Science and Industry lets homeschoolers explore its galleries for free every weekday. Homeschool parents can get free admission at the Art Institute of Chicago every time they visit. If you call the Chicago Zoological Society, you can set up a free visit to see the animals. On the University of Chicago campus, you can pick up cheap tickets for cutting-edge art exhibitions, film screenings, and theatrical productions. And you can score day-of tickets to plays and musicals on Chicago’s theater row for as little as $5 per person.

In every season, you’ll find street festivals and block parties going on around the city—the Printers Row Literary Festival is a must for book-lovers, and the golumpkis at the Taste of Polonia festival may just make your kids appreciate cabbage. You can browse for hours in the stacks at the enormous, three-story used bookstore Myopic Books in Wicker Park, or find the next great indie comic or chapbook at hipster hangout Quimby’s. Pick up a slice of Chicago-style pizza and take a Frank Lloyd Wright walking tour. In late spring and early fall, you can have the sprawling beach of Lake Michigan almost completely to yourselves, and there’s plenty of room to play outside in Chicago Athenaeum’s International Sculpture Park (no admission charge) and the Adams Playground Park. The point is, you can have a ton of fun in Chicago without making a dent in your budget.

In fact, Chicago may be the most budget-friendly big city in the United States. In neighborhoods like Edgewater, the median selling price for condominiums is just $150,000—and you’re right by the Red Line for easy access to public transportation. Expect to pay a little more for groceries here than the national average, but less than you’d pay in a city like New York or Los Angeles. Costs for gas and utilities here are right around the national average. Chicago’s a sprawling city, but you can get by with a single car if you get comfortable with the public transportation system and live within walking distance of a transit stop.



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: The Chicago Homeschool Co-op meets on Wednesdays and is a great place to find out about other Chicagoland homeschool resources from other group members.

Books: Quimby’s is the coolest bookstore in town—and the place to find small-press zines, chapbooks, and comics.

Resources: Admission is free on weekdays for homeschool families at the Museum of Science and Industry, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Chicago Zoological Society; explore the galaxy at the Adler Planetarium; play outside at the Garfield Park Conservancy; build sandcastles at Foster Avenue Beach; get inspired at the Printers Row Literary Festival

Number of Museums: 74, including the Field Museum of Natural History, the Mitchell Museum of the American indian, and the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio

Number of Libraries: 80, with a calendar of regular activities including arts and crafts workshops, gaming sessions, and author events

Median home price: $270,900 

Population: 2.71 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.

Best of HSL: Best Cities for Homeschool Families: #1 Austin, TX

Best of HSL: Best Cities for Homeschool Families: #1 Austin, TX

[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. 


In Brief

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.

The Best Cities for Homeschooling Families

The best cities for homeschool families 2014

What kind of cities do homeschoolers love? It’s a little presumptuous to pretend that we speak for every homeschooler everywhere with this list. Your off-the-list city may be the perfect place for your family to homeschool—and we’re certainly not going to argue with that! But we do think some cities are just more homeschool-friendly than others, and whether you’re looking for a spot for your next urban vacation or seriously considering a big move, knowing what cities offer some of the best resources for homeschoolers can be a benefit. So we sat down with a mountain of spreadsheets and data on everything from the cost of groceries and number of homeschool co-ops to the average library wait time and number of local chess clubs to find cities that make homeschool life a pleasure. We started out with the assumption that homeschoolers want to live where it’s easy to homeschool, so we weeded out states where the laws require homeschoolers to jump through hoops. You won’t find any cities where students have to submit portfolios or get curriculum approval on our list. (It’s not that these laws are bad, but if you don’t have to deal with a bunch of busywork, why would you?)

Next, we looked at the number of homeschool groups, classes, and activities in those states, zeroing in on the cities that offered lots of opportunities to homeschoolers. We got in touch with homeschool groups in each of the cities that made our top 50 list and asked real homeschooling families “Hey, what’s great and not-so-great about your city for homeschoolers?”

We also considered the extracurricular options each city offered. We know how important robust library systems are for homeschoolers, so we considered the American library Association rankings for each city. (We also checked the number of copies and hold times for three books that often show up on homeschool reading lists—The Well-Trained Mind, Amazons and Swallows, and D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths—and gave bonus points to cities where libraries had regular free community programs.) Independent bookstores, performing arts venues, independent movie theaters, and other cultural attractions also factored into our rankings. We also weighed green spaces—public parks, protected forests, trail networks, bike trails, waterways, and other spaces that encourage outdoor activity.

Practically, we know that homeschoolers are often stretching one income, so we looked for cities where the cost of living was affordable or where a high cost in one area was offset by other factors, like low unemployment, cheap public transportation, or lots of free resources. We looked for cities where families could comfortably manage with one car. And, of course, because community matters, we looked for cities with a high percentage of residents younger than 18.

Some of the cities seemed obvious—with its chilled-out homeschool laws and easygoing vibe, how could Austin, Texas, not end up on our list?) Others surprised us. (Springfield, Missouri? Really?) Some cities we really didn’t want to cross off the list. (Dear Portland, please stop requiring homeschoolers to take standardized tests because you are practically perfect in every other way. Sincerely, the Editors.) But what struck us the most as we put together this very opinionated and obsessively researched list is how lucky we are to live in a world where so many great homeschool cities exist.

So what cities made our top ten list?

  1. Austin, Texas
  2. Chicago, Ill.
  3. Oakland, Calif.
  4. Anchorage, Alaska
  5. Decatur, Ga.
  6. Ann Arbor, Mich.
  7. Des Moines, Iowa
  8. Boise, Idaho
  9. Springfield, Mo.
  10. Edmond, Okla.

For the full article (and the details on what makes each of these cities so great for homeschooling families), pick up a copy of the fall 2014 issue of home/school/life magazine. And feel free to share your opinions in the comments: What's your favorite city to be a homeschooler?