Wellness and Health Education
Homeschooling is about more than providing an education for your children. When you homeschool, you are also responsible for arranging regular medical and dental visits and health screenings, monitoring your children for physical or mental health problems and learning disabilities, and providing your children with health education.
Schools & Healthcare Access
Many public policy initiatives focused on children’s health and wellness use the nation’s public schools as a medium for reaching and serving children. As a result, the healthcare needs of children who are homeschooled are often overlooked.
As a home educator, you should be aware of the health services provided through public schools so that you can ensure that you replicate these services at home.
Children who attend public schools have access to:
- School nurses. According to the CDC, school nurses provide acute and emergency care, care coordination, and chronic disease management for conditions such as diabetes and epilepsy. In 2015-16, 52% of public schools had a full-time school nurse, and 82% had a full-time or part-time school nurse.
- Health screenings. Most states require public school students to receive regular screenings for conditions such as scoliosis, high blood pressure, tuberculosis, and other Health Barriers to Learning (HBLs), defined as “health conditions that when untreated or unmanaged can interfere with a child’s ability to learn and succeed in school.” State requirements for health screenings can be found here.
- Medical requirements. Many states require children to receive a yearly physical exam in order to attend school; many states also require proof of immunization or exemption. The American Academy of Pediatrics publishes a list of checks children should receive in each age group.
Public schools provide additional health-related services as well:
- Food security and nutrition. Children who attend school have regular access to meals through their school cafeteria. In recent years, increasing attention has been paid to ensuring that school cafeterias provide balanced, healthy meals.
- School counselors. Children who attend school have access to mental health counseling and services through school counselors.
- Disability identification and services. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires public schools to identify students with disabilities, including learning disabilities, and provide appropriate services for them.
- Physical fitness and health education. Schools provide regularly structured physical education and/or recess, as well as instruction on health-related topics such as nutrition, disease prevention, the effects of drugs, etc.
The quality of the healthcare and wellness services provided through public schools varies by state and by school district. However, the idea that public schools should play a central role in distributing these services holds constant across the country, and public health advocates are constantly looking for ways to improve the physical and mental health services children receive through public schools. Children who are homeschooled are often overlooked.
When you homeschool, you are removing your child from the health and wellness services currently provided through our nation’s public schools. As a result, you yourself will need to ensure that these services are provided to your child. The good news is that, with a little planning, you can ensure that your child’s health needs are met!
Recommendations for Home Educators
CRHE was founded by individuals who were homeschooled as children. This means that in addition to having access to current medical recommendations, such as those provided by the American Academy of Pediatrics, we also have personal experience being homeschooled children. We’ve seen homeschooling, wellness, and health education done well—and done badly. This makes us well positioned to help you get started on the right foot!
Annual Well-Child Visits
This one is perhaps the most obvious! The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children in grades K-12 have a well-child visit with a pediatrician or family doctor each year. The benefits of an annual well-child visit include prevention, tracking growth and development, the ability to raise concerns, and creating lasting relationships between families and medical providers.
All insurance providers are required to cover annual well-child visits with no copay. This means that you will not need to pay anything out of pocket. If you do not have insurance, you may qualify to have your child on your state’s Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP). (For more, see here.) If this is not an option, you may want to try asking whether there is a cash rate for well-child visits.
Regular Dental Visits
You should schedule dental visits for your child at least annually, and ideally twice a year. If cost is an issue, you can contact your child’s school district or your child’s doctor to ask for a list of free or low-cost dental clinics. In some cases, it may be possible to sign up for a free dental clinic at your child’s school (this usually occurs on a set date).
Other Health Screenings
Parents who homeschool should familiarize themselves with the preventative pediatric screenings recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. These screenings include developmental screenings and screenings for depression, as well as vision, hearing, and dental screenings. Some of these screenings may occur during a child’s annual well-child visit; others may occur at the office of a healthcare provider such as a dentist or eye doctor, or even at a public school.
Every state requires students who attend public school to have specified health screenings. You can find a state-by-state list of screenings mandated for public school students here; take a moment to check the requirements for your state. While these requirements often do not apply to families that homeschool, you should try to meet them anyway. Remember, they were created to promote children’s health.
Most states require the following screenings during certain grades:
- Vision screenings
- Hearing screenings
- Dental screenings
Because your child’s doctor may assume that your child is receiving some of these screenings in school, you should make sure they know that your child is homeschooled. Your doctor may be able to do some of these screenings in the office during your child’s well-child visit. Ask your child’s doctor if you need to schedule a separate screening with an eye doctor or other healthcare provider.
Immunizations & Record Keeping
Immunizations are an important public health tool. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) publishes a recommended immunization schedule that lists which vaccines children should receive at which age. For more on vaccines, see Five Important Reasons to Vaccinate Your Child and Common Questions about Immunizations.
Immunization requirements for homeschooled children vary by state. About half of all states require children that are homeschooled to be immunized, subject to the same requirements and exemptions that apply to other children. In some states, parents who homeschool are required to keep their children’s immunization records on file, similar to state record-keeping requirements for private schools.
We believe that home educators should hold themselves to the highest possible standard when it comes to safeguarding their children’s health, whether or not state mandates require this standard. Our recommendations are as follows:
- Follow the immunization schedule recommended by the Center for Disease Control. If you are considering delaying or modifying your child’s immunization schedule, we recommend that you consult with your child’s doctor before making this decision. (If you choose not to vaccinate, you should seek a record of exemption so that if you decide to enroll your child in school at some point, you will already have this on file.)
- Maintain your child’s immunization records and other health records in a set location in your home. Have your child’s doctor fill out the health examination form your state uses for well-child visits required for students who attend public school (e.g. here and here) and maintain this form with your medical records as well.
If you homeschool your child, you are the one responsible for ensuring that they are healthy and well. By taking your child to annual well-child visits and keeping records of your child’s medical visits and screenings, you demonstrate that you are a responsible parent. Keeping careful records may also help you answer questions should any arise.
Many parents are aware of the academic subjects covered in public schools, but less aware of other learning that takes place there, such as health education. According to the Academy of American Pediatrics, “a comprehensive health education program is an important part of the curriculum in most school districts.” As a homeschooling parent, you will need to provide this instruction to your child at home. For a discussion of the characteristics of an effective health education curriculum, see this page by the CDC.
Start by taking some time to familiarize yourself with what health education programs typically cover. Make a plan for covering these topics with your child. KidsHealth in the Classroom offers videos, handouts, and lesson plans on the human body, personal hygiene, alcohol, drugs, bullying, depression, eating disorders, and more. (These resources are divided by grade level, so you can see what health educators consider appropriate at each age level.) See here for additional resources.
Social and emotional learning. Public schools provide instruction on Social and Emotional Learning (SEL), which is defined as “the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” While you may be most familiar with the idea of teaching character traits, or mindfulness, SEL includes all of this and more, with a healthy helping of emotion management. While all parents teach SEL in some way, as a home educator, you should work to provide this instruction to your child more intentionally. For a crash course on SEL, watch this video by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). You can find free SEL resources at Committee For Children, Inside SEL, and Greater Good in Education.
Good nutrition. Make sure that your children receive regular meals following the US Department of Agriculture’s recommendations for good nutrition. If your family is experiencing food insecurity, your child may qualify for free meals from your local school district even while being homeschooled. You should also provide your child with education on nutrition. Start with Action for Healthy Kids and Food Ed Hub. You may also find good resources for nutrition education on YouTube.
Exercise and recreation. The US Department of Health and Human Services recommends that school-age children participate in at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity each day. You should make sure to build time for exercise and recreation into your homeschooling schedule. Many states allow homeschooled students to access public school athletics programs; if this is not an option, seek out opportunities for athletics through community leagues or through private schools or homeschool co-ops. Some families participate in a local swim team; you may also find it useful to get a family YMCA membership.
Sex education and substance abuse prevention. Being homeschooled does not make your child immune from experiencing teenage pregnancy, STDs, or drug use or addiction. You should begin sex education and substance abuse prevention by the beginning of middle school at the latest. Select curricular materials that provide scientifically accurate information about health and the human body. For example, the Our Whole Lives program produced by the Unitarian Universalist Association offers a secular comprehensive sex ed curriculum for children of all ages; the Positive Choices curriculum by Oak Hill provides sex education for disabled children; and the Safety First curriculum by the Drug Policy Alliance offers drug education based on harm reduction.
Sexual abuse prevention. In addition to sex education and substance abuse prevention, public schools also teach sexual abuse prevention beginning in kindergarten. Sexual abuse prevention provides instruction on good touch and bad touch and encourages children to tell a safe adult if someone makes them uncomfortable. Most sexual abuse occurs at the hands of a trusted family member or close family friend; being homeschooled does not make your child immune to being sexually abused. You can find sexual abuse prevention materials from the child abuse prevention nonprofit KidPower, or on book lists like this one.
First aid training. You may want to become trained or certified in basic first aid, such as choking prevention, CPR, and wound care. You may also want to keep a first aid station stocked with basic supplies at your home. Remember, you are your child’s school nurse — and your “school” needs a nursing station! As your child grows older, they may also benefit from taking a course in first aid or CPR.
Disability care and identification. As a home educator, your professional responsibilities include recognizing signs of disability. If you are homeschooling a child with a disability, it is your responsibility to ensure that they receive appropriate disability accommodation and services; access to peers and adults who share their disability; and the opportunity to enjoy a full and decent life in conditions that ensure their dignity, promote self-reliance, and facilitate their active participation in the community.
Mental health care. While you are homeschooling, you will need to fill the role of school counselor, serving as a mental health resource for your children. Mental Health America, a nonprofit devoted to supporting people with mental illnesses, offers this list of warning signs for parents to watch for, as well as this screening tool for mental illness in children. If you are concerned your child may be experiencing mental illness, you should seek help from a licensed mental health provider.