My little girl turned five this September. Because her birthday is in the middle of the month, my wife and I often get asked when we plan to send her to kindergarten. We reply that we are homeschooling her and wait for the response.
To our surprise, many people have been either curious or supportive. Often, they mention someone else they know who is also homeschooling. This has come as a surprise to us. It has also been a good reminder that homeschooling is becoming more mainstream. In fact, providing curriculum and other services to homeschoolers has become over a billion-dollar industry.
There are many different reasons families give as to why they choose to homeschool. Some families homeschool for religious reasons. Others may be concerned about social challenges in schools. Some families may be concerned about what is being taught in public schools. A child’s learning challenges and the desire to provide an individualized education are also big reasons to homeschool.
Many families chose to homeschool because of the freedom and flexibility homeschooling provides. In homeschooling, learning can be individualized and paced to meet the needs of each child.
Benefits and Challenges of Homeschooling
Choosing to homeschool isn’t the same as, say, choosing what kind of bread or even what kind of car to purchase. (A decision we recently faced that I am very glad to have over with!) Choosing to homeschool is choosing a different lifestyle, and comes with benefits and challenges.
One of the biggest benefits of homeschooling is the kids are home all the time. This can give the family much more time to bond, develop relationships, learn, work, and play together.
One of the challenges of choosing to homeschool is that the kids are home all the time. Having the kids home all the time probably means that one parent will need to be home with the kids. This may mean that the family will have to make sacrifices. It also could mean less free time for parents, who would get some free time when the kids are at school.
Some of the other benefits of homeschooling, as mentioned, are that learning can go at the child’s own pace. Kids don’t learn things at the same pace. One child may be an avid reader. Another child may struggle at reading but be ahead of his grade level in math. A different child may struggle in both areas but excel in demolition.
Differences in learning styles and readiness for certain subjects can be a challenge at school. At home, learning can be personalized. Kids can also have much more free time to play, work, and explore.
In homeschooling, parents don’t have to worry about helping with homework that may not make much sense to them. This is because in homeschooling they get to decide what to teach. The challenge comes with deciding what to teach and how. Parents also don’t need to worry about confusing changes in grading systems.
What About Socializing?
Often, when parents show interest in homeschooling they are asked, “What about their social life?” (Strangely, this seems to be more common than, “But what about their education?”)
This is a common, and valid, concern, as school can provide a huge part of a child’s social life. However, with planning and initiative, parents can find many opportunities for children to socialize with other kids.
Because the kids will be home together, they are also going to find they will need to socialize more with each other. This may be hard at first, but many families report that one of the benefits of homeschooling is the closer relationship that can develop between siblings. Because they will not be in school all day, they will also be freer to interact with others in the community.
Another thing to consider is the kind of social environment that is present in schools. Bullying and other toxic behavior is becoming more common in many schools.
Are Parents “Qualified” to Teach Their Children?
Another unfortunate misconception about homeschooling is that parents aren’t “qualified” to teach their kids. Homeschooling can be a daunting task. There is a wide array of topics that can be covered, many of which may not be areas of strength or interest for parents.
The first and most important qualification that parents have is that they are their child’s parents, therefore the experts on their children and their needs. Parents are able to follow up with their kids and track their progress in ways that don’t involve testing and grades. As mentioned before, parents are also able to tailor their teaching to the child’s interests, learning styles, and readiness.
Parents should also be encouraged by the fact that they are already their child’s teachers. Children learn so much from their parents- for better or worse! The best thing a parent can to do help their child learn is to be constantly learning, exploring, and growing as well. Kids will learn much from this example!
Sometimes schools make it look like teaching is lecturing and assigning. Yes, there may be a time for an occasional lecture or assignment, but many successful homeschooling parents have reported that they find themselves guiding, more than directing, their child’s learning.
As for teaching the different subjects, there is an abundance of resources to help homeschoolers! The internet is, of course, a huge benefit to homeschooling parents. Aside from the convenience of a google search, the internet has also made a huge amount of resources, curricula, videos, articles, systems, and support groups available to homeschooling parents.
What About Careers and College?
Homeschoolers are often confronted with concerns about colleges and careers as well. This is, of course, something that must be considered. Parents want their children to succeed, and many hold back from homeschooling with the concern that their child will not be prepared for real life.
If your child chooses to go to college, there is good news. Many colleges actively recruit homeschooled students. Some also have recruiters who specialize in working with homeschooled children.
Many homeschooled kids find that they adapt well to college. This is because they are accustomed to directing their own educations and taking charge of their learning. They know how to think and they know how to learn.
If parents keep careful records of their child’s learning, they will be able to prepare transcripts that will be accepted by colleges. Sometimes a little creativity may be needed, as not everything a child learns will fit in a neat little course description, but it is still possible. Parents are also able to create diplomas that are just as valid as those issued by schools.
There are also a lot of great resources on creating transcripts, such as this article at responsiblehomeschooling.org, and diplomas, such as this FAQ page at HSLDA.org. There is also a lot of help available for entrance exams like the ACT and SAT tests.
As for careers, internships and apprenticeships may be available during what would have been school hours, and kids have a chance to experiment and discover their interests. If a child has truly gained a great education at home, there is no reason that they will not be able to find a great career that is meaningful to them.
If your family feels that homeschooling might be a good fit but is unsure, many seasoned homeschoolers recommend trying homeschooling for a year. This is a small commitment, and if it doesn’t work out the kids will be able to pick up where they left off in school with minimal trouble. Even if it seems that not much was “accomplished” your family will still have great memories, better relationships, and perhaps your children may even have a better attitude towards learning.
Another recommendation that comes up often is to avoid the temptation to make homeschool school at home. It’s unnecessary to follow the rigid schedules, timeline, and curriculum that is a part of the traditional school system. Many families that have tried this approach have found themselves burnt out, stressed, and frustrated.
Homeschooling means that you can set your own pace and schedule, let learning be fun again, and enjoy the process. This is possible even in states with stricter homeschooling regulations.
Along these same lines, remember that it is ok for kids to learn things at a different pace than their peers. Don’t worry about your kids being “behind.” Unless there is a serious learning difficulty (which you will be able to help your child with, once again, at his or her own pace) kids are able to pick up an amazing amount of knowledge and skills very quickly when they are ready.
More damage can be done by forcing kids to learn something too soon than by waiting for when they are ready. It’s ok if your child doesn’t read well until 8, or 9, or even 10. If you keep encouraging and providing the right learning environment and support, and they’ll be ok. Many parents have noticed that their children who learned a skill at a later age than their siblings or peers were able to pick up the skills readily when the time was right for them.
Where to learn more
I think I might have mentioned that there are many resources available for homeschoolers. That is probably because I am very excited about this fact. It’s such a great time for homeschooling because of this!
There are a lot of different curricula, approaches, and methods for homeschooling. That is another one of the benefits, and challenges, of homeschooling- you get to pick and create what works best for you at this time and change it as the needs of your children and family change.
A great place to start to research the laws and regulations regarding homeschooling in your state is the Home School Legal Defence Association. This is a great organization that provides a lot of legal support and advice for homeschooling families. A Thomas Jefferson Education is a great system to help your children get a leadership-oriented classical education. Another great resource is Simple Homeschool.
Also, check out the article Five Tips for Parents Starting Homeschool for some great tips on starting homeschool!
Good luck on your journey into homeschooling! Feel free to comment with questions about resources, ideas, etc. or your experiences with homeschooling.