Contributors: Sarah Lyons, Christina Belbas, Dan O’Brien
Homeschooling moms are supposed to stay home all day with the kids, right? So why would a homeschooler need to leave a child home alone?
There could be dozens of scenarios to leave your child at home, ranging from a doctor appointment not wanting to cart all the kids to needing to run to the store for toilet paper! Maybe you forgot one essential supply for the afternoon’s teaching project or you need to renew your driver’s license.
Because homeschooling parents are always at home with the kids, it is sometimes very difficult to get adult business done during business hours. Sometimes, you need to leave the kids home alone. But, is it legal? Is it advisable?
Life is unpredictable, sometimes necessitating a choice between bringing the kids on important errands or trusting them to stay home alone. Giving kids the responsibility to stay home alone can be a positive and confidence-building experience—a rite of passage.
Every parent will reach the point where they are faced with the decision whether their child is ready to stay home alone. How do you know they are ready? Children must have the skills and maturity to handle being on their own safely.
9 Signs Your Child Is Ready to Stay Home Alone
There is no magical age that determines when a child is ready to be home alone. However, consider whether your child is showing these nine signs:
- Desires to stay home alone and is not fearful being alone in the house
- Exhibits good decision-making
- Shows awareness of others and their surroundings
- Proves to be responsible and trustworthy
- Knows home address, phone number and how to get in touch with parents
- Can make a snack
- Knows how to use a phone, call a neighbor for help and dial 911
- Follows simple rules and instructions
- Knows basic first aid
Prepare Your Kids to Successfully Stay Home Alone
Leaving kids home alone for the first time is a big step. Even if kids are not planning to babysit, consider enrolling them in a babysitting class because the skills taught there can be very useful when they start to stay home alone. If you believe your child is ready, consider these steps:
- Go over the rules. Are friends allowed to come over? Is the child allowed to leave the house? Are there cable TV channels the child is not permitted to watch? Go over these and any other family rules and make it clear that your child understands.
- Discuss possible situations and scenarios. If someone comes to the door what is the child to do? If the phone rings is the child to answer? How will they respond if someone asks to speak to the parent? “She is busy right now. Can I take a message?” is a good response.
- Kitchen safety. Make sure your child knows how to use kitchen appliances and tools and discuss what they are allowed to make in the kitchen. Only cold snacks? Can they use the microwave?
- Emergency preparedness. Does your child know what to do in case of smoke or a fire? What should they do if there is a severe storm? Do they know basic first aid? Post emergency phone numbers and contact information so your child has access in case of an emergency. Also, discuss who to contact if parents are unreachable (a neighbor, family member, or friend).
- Create a list of “Dos” and “Don’ts.” Don’t play with matches or lighters. Don’t let anyone in the house. Don’t leave the house, except in an emergency situation. Do call and check in when you get home from school. Do work on homework and chores. Each family is different and will have their own list of what is expected.
- Role play. Act out different scenarios that may arise. Pretend that the child needs to reach you. What will they do? How would they call 911? What would they do in case of a fire? Pretend the phone rings and show them how to answer. By walking through different situations, kids will be better prepared if the unexpected happens.
- Start slow. Begin by leaving the child for a short 15-30 minutes at a time and slowly increase. Talk about any questions or problems that may have arose. Ask your child how he or she feels when home alone. If the child is fearful, they may not be ready to be on their own.
What Texas Law Says About Kids Staying Home Alone and in Vehicles
It is also important to understand the legal guidelines for leaving children home alone. While Texas law does not set a minimum age for a child to be left alone, a significant lack of adult presence can qualify as “neglectful supervision” and can land a well-intentioned parent in trouble.
Teach your children to identify and avoid hazards and ensure that they can easily reach you if an emergency arises. Ensure they have a backup plan to contact help if you cannot return home in time.
Finally, sometimes you may be tempted to leave your kids in the car while you go off on a quick errand. As simple as this sounds, Texas law sets very strict guidelines for leaving children in the car:
“A person commits an offense if he intentionally or knowingly leaves a child in a motor vehicle for longer than five minutes, knowing that the child is: (1) younger than seven years of age; and (2) not attended by an individual in the vehicle who is 14 years of age or older.”
Plus, Texas’ typical high temperatures can multiply the risk of heat stroke in a locked car. Toddlers who cannot roll down car windows are especially at risk. Many news stories recount the tragic deaths of children who spent only minutes in a hot car. Because of these tragedies, some people view any child alone in a car as an emergency and will call the police at the slightest hint of danger. If you absolutely cannot take your children with you, make sure you comply with Texas law and even then set a strict time limit for yourself.
Warning: Disturbing Video
What Would Happen if Something Goes Wrong While Your Children Are Unattended?
Terrible accidents can happen even when Mom or Dad are home and paying attention, but if an accident should happen while you have left your children unattended, you can expect a visit from Child Protective Services. In fact, if your nosy neighbor hears your children at home and notes your car is gone, you may also get a visit from Child Protective Services.
An investigation will include interviews with you, the children, neighbors and other involved parties. If CPS finds your children were in danger—even if no one got hurt—they may take action ranging from removing the children from the home to continuing to monitor your family for a period of time.
Bias against homeschoolers among many CPS caseworkers is real. So, for any reason, should a CPS caseworker visit your home, you need to be ready.
- Do not let the CPS workers into your home. The only legal ways into your home are:
- In emergency situations (immediate and obvious danger to life or limb)
- With your permission
- With a search warrant
- Stay calm. Be polite and friendly. Smile. Get the caseworkers’ business cards.
- Excuse yourself briefly and get a phone or other device to video your conversation. This recording could be used as proof should the investigation escalate. When you begin recording, state your name, the date and ask each person to give their name and title as well.
- Do not allow CPS workers to interview your children.
- Tell CPS workers you are willing to cooperate if they will tell you what the charges are. If there are allegations of physical abuse or neglect, tell the caseworkers you will take your child(ren) to your physician who will then write a report to CPS.
- Stand your ground. Do not be afraid of silence.
- After the caseworkers leave:
- Write down everything that occurred
- Call THSC at (806) 744-4441.
One way to potentially prevent home accidents and create a preemptive defense should CPS become involved is to put your children who are 11 years of age and older through the Red Cross Babysitter Certification. It is also a great homeschool health and home economics unit study opportunity!
Can Kids Be Left Home Alone to Homeschool?
Technically, the answer is yes. If you deem your student is safe at home alone and you have a bona fide homeschooling method or program that the child uses, then kids can homeschool while parents are in another room working or at an office working. Bona fide programs include Internet-based or video-based curriculum that does not require much parental oversight.
Practically, however, it takes an exceptional child to self-school. Left alone, most students will not get the education that they would under supervision. That’s just common sense.
If you desire to homeschool, but work full-time, a better solution would be to find a relative with whom the student can stay during the day and work independently. Then, when you get home in the evening, take a couple of hours for instruction. Or, use the weekends to supplement instruction time. “9:00 to 5:00” working parents can homeschool legally, with creative scheduling.
Ultimately, only parents can make the call about whether to risk leaving children at home alone. While it may not be a parent’s first choice, the maturity gained from spending time home alone will build your children’s confidence and help them learn to care for themselves.
7 Homeschool Safety Practices (for even when Mom and Dad are home)
Homeschoolers are experts at transforming areas or rooms of their homes into learning centers. A typical homeschool has all the tools for learning that any public or private school might have. From whiteboards to motherboards, homeschoolers utilize household living areas not only for science projects and seatwork, but also for family meals and recreation.
However, doubling for school areas increases the importance of basic safety practices. Using your home for homeschooling does not create requirements to adhere to any safety regulations or laws, but it does make good sense to take extra precautions in areas where occupancy and usage will be increased. These safeguards are easy and inexpensive but could make the difference between life and death for your child.
Several of the following safety tips can be turned into educational experiences for your children. Make sure you include your children in the process, as this experience increases awareness and trains their eyes for hazard recognition.
- Perform annual fire drills. This may seem unnecessary, but it is better to answer questions during a drill—not in an emergency.
Be sure to address escape routes, meeting places, emergency phone numbers, and fire extinguisher locations. Smoke detectors should be in every homeschool and it may be necessary to have more than one detector since schooling may be going on away from cooking and heating areas.
It is a good idea to mark on your calendar to check these each month at the same time you change your heater and air conditioner filters. Dirty filters can cause fires, mechanical problems, allergies, and dust as well as reduce efficiency.
Make a special study of fire safety during Fire Prevention Week, the second week of October, with videos, printables, lesson plans and more at SparkySchoolHouse.org.
- Conduct a home inspection. Most local fire departments will provide a home inspection at no cost. These inspections can offer fresh sets of eyes to uncover potential hazards.
You may contact the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA) for free brochures and teaching material. They provide outstanding material designed especially for children. A field trip to the fire station is always fun for children as well.
- Check the electrical condition of your home. The circuit breaker or fuse box should be clear of obstacles for three feet in front of the breakers. If small children are in the home, all electrical plugs should have childproof covers.
- All circuit breakers should be labeled, noting where the circuit breaker feeds power.
- Light fixtures should have covers over bare bulbs.
- Remove electrical cords from walkways.
- Electrical circuits should not be overloaded; when more than two appliances are plugged into the same receptacle, use multi-receptacle surge protectors.
- Avoid three-prong ground adapters.
- Never cut a ground prong off of a plug.
- Conduct an annual natural disaster drill. In some areas, tornado, hurricane and earthquake drills and training should be an annual event. The American Red Cross offers excellent brochures on both tornado and hurricane safety tips at no cost. This is a good example of safety training being the catalyst for a new unit of study.
- Document the medical history of everyone in the household. Some communities’ Emergency Medical Services (EMS) offer “Vials of Life,” a fancy name for pill bottles containing medical information for every family member.
The bottle should be kept in the refrigerator. This may sound unusual, but in an emergency, instant access to information concerning prescription medication being taken, allergies and other medical problems can save valuable minutes for emergency personnel. Your local EMS station can also schedule a tour for your students.
- Learn about the 911 emergency call system. Knowledge of 911 procedures for even the youngest of children has saved countless lives.
- Ensure that you have agreed-upon meeting places in case of an emergency.
- The entire family should know which neighbor’s house will be used for the designated meeting place.
- Make sure the children know that the fire, police and EMS workers are friendly helpers.
To get a hands-on experience, most 911 dispatchers will schedule field trips with proper appointments and preparation.
- Instruct children on how and when to answer the phone. Giving away sensitive information to strangers can be dangerous. “My mommy and daddy are gone right now” is not information you want revealed to anyone who calls.
Make sure your children are prepared to answer the phone, especially if you do not have caller ID to screen calls before answering. Or, give them guidelines on when they can answer, such as when you’re outside or in another room, and when they should not: such as when you’re not home or in the shower or napping.
While these safety tips might seem simple, they are extremely important and become even more important in an emergency. Have your homeschool children recognize and eliminate hazards to be prepared for emergency situations before they happen, especially so you know they are ready to stay home alone.
– Did you find this article encouraging? If so, share it with friends and sign up for THSC email notifications for more encouraging articles.