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Homeschooling: Is It the Best Option for You and Your Child?

10 benefits and 10 pitfalls of this increasingly popular educational choice.

Graham Knott/Flickr
Source: Graham Knott/Flickr

More and more parents are choosing to educate their child at home, or to join with other parents who don’t want to send their children to the local schools. Not all homeschoolers are registered, so the exact numbers aren’t known, but most estimates put it at about 3 percent of the population in North America—and growing.

What Is Homeschooling?

Homeschooling takes many forms, from supporting your child in their learning for a few weeks or months during an illness or transition, to schooling them for the duration of their elementary and secondary years. Some parents take responsibility for teaching their child for part of a day, with the child attending school for some subjects or extracurricular activities, like sports or math or music. Some parents augment their teaching with online learning; others work collaboratively with other parents and community groups to create educational, social, and extracurricular activities for their kids. Others still homeschool their child through kindergarten, then enroll them in a local public school.

There are many homeschooling styles, models, and approaches. These include Montessori, Classical, Charlotte Mason, Unschooling, and Eclectic, among others, each of which has strengths and advocates, as well as drawbacks and detractors.

Why Do Parents Homeschool Their Kids?

There are as many reasons to choose to homeschool your child as there are parents who homeschool. These reasons include concerns about the local school’s quality of education or environment; a desire to provide a certain kind of religious or moral teaching; a child’s inability or unwillingness to fit into the local school environment; a school’s inability or unwillingness to provide an education that meets a child’s psychological or learning needs; a family’s living in a remote location; a temporary situation like travel, illness, or family transition; and a parent’s wish to manage their child’s education. Also, many young athletes and actors are homeschooled, allowing their parents to fit their child’s schooling around their professional activities.

What Are the Benefits of Homeschooling?

  1. Efficiency: None of your child’s time is wasted in busywork, waiting for the other kids to catch up, or working on material they’re not yet ready for. Their learning time and your teaching time can be spent actively learning and teaching.
  2. Flexibility: You can take advantage of learning opportunities as they become available, and you can choose the teaching approach that works best for you and your child. You can also make changes as you see fit, or as you learn about new, alternative methods.
  3. Scheduling: You can create a schedule that works for you, as well as for your child’s personality, energy, and diurnal rhythm, or for their schedule of practicing and performing. You can incorporate physical exercise and creativity breaks as needed.
  4. Safety, warmth, and nurturing: You can provide your child with a supportive learning environment at home, where there is no bullying, racism, violence, or other psychological abuse.
  5. Expanded curriculum: You can make time for creativity, play, outdoor time, nature exploration, community involvement, the arts, science experiments, or project learning. You can follow your child’s interests and enthusiasms as they develop, creating learning activities based on those interests.
  6. Accommodating special circumstances: Homeschooling can be ideal if you travel a lot, or if your child is seriously engaged in a sport or artistic activity like acting or music, where their training or competition or performance schedule would disrupt regular schooling.
  7. Accommodating special needs: Many parents of gifted learners are choosing to homeschool their kids in order to ensure a better match between the child’s learning needs and the curriculum being offered. Similarly, parents of children with other special needs can create a better match for their child’s needs than many schools are willing or able to do.
  8. Continual learning for you: By taking on a teaching role, you will also be expanding your own knowledge and understanding.
  9. Finding like-minded others: Increasing numbers of parents are homeschooling their kids, forming networks and support groups that can enrich your life as they help you provide the schooling you want for your child.
  10. Academic achievement: Most research findings show that structured homeschooling leads to higher achievement test scores than regular schooling.

What Are the Potential Pitfalls of Homeschooling?

  1. Embedding your biases and misconceptions: Most of us are blind to our own biases and misconceptions. If you are your child’s only teacher, you will be inadvertently reinforcing your biases and teaching your child to believe your misconceptions.
  2. Conflicting responsibilities: Teachers and parents have different roles in children’s lives. If you are trying to fill both these roles, you may find yourself filling neither one as well as you could otherwise do.
  3. Restricting your child’s experience: It’s almost impossible for homeschoolers to replicate what’s on offer at the local school by way of diversity of opinion, attitudes, culture, and more.
  4. Constraining your child’s learning: It is hard for homeschooling parents to provide the diversity of learning experiences and teachers that children get at school.
  5. Burning out emotionally: Spending all day and all evening, seven days a week, month in, month out, with one person or small group can be exhausting and stressful, for both you and your child. If you are homeschooling, you might find it increasingly hard to be patient and reasonable when your child is restless or challenging.
  6. Purchasing school supplies: You will need to continually find resources, books, and learning materials that would otherwise be supplied by your local school.
  7. Staying up to date with knowledge: Doing a good job of homeschooling your child means staying on top of every field of knowledge. It means continually updating your own knowledge and understanding so that you can teach your child, or make sure the teachers or tutors you find are doing a good job.
  8. Motivating your child’s curiosity: Keeping your child’s curiosity bubbling isn’t always easy. Like their parents, some kids find it easier than others to stay intellectually engaged and enthusiastic.
  9. Arranging social activities: School is about social and emotional learning, as much as it is about academics. A homeschooling parent is responsible not only for their child’s education, but also for creating opportunities for their child to meet and interact with other kids.
  10. Staying connected with the homeschooling networks: There are many reasons to stay actively involved with others who are homeschooling their kids, including staying on top of changes in relevant laws and policies, as well as knowing what’s available by way of learning opportunities for your child. You might enjoy this, but it is one more responsibility on a to-do list that may sometimes feel overwhelming.

How Do You Get Started?

  1. Find out the local laws and policies. As with everything else in education, every jurisdiction is different. In Ontario, where I live, “A person is excused from attendance at school if the person is receiving satisfactory instruction at home or elsewhere.” The parents have to send a letter of intent to the local board of education, but they do not have to seek permission, prove the fitness of their curriculum, or qualify as teachers. Ontario’s educational policy states that "The board should accept the written notification of the parents each year as evidence that the parents are providing satisfactory instruction at home." In other jurisdictions, parents have to provide frequent, onerous, and complex proof of their own competence as teachers, the curriculum they are providing, and test scores. In still other jurisdictions, including Germany, Turkey, Costa Rica, and Cuba, homeschooling is against the law, and every child is expected to attend a state-authorized school.
  2. Join a network or support group. No parent can know everything about every important learning topic and also be a great educator, so ideally, homeschooling is done in collaboration with other parents and teachers. There are support groups in most communities, and homeschooling advocates generally recommend connecting with a network of other parents before getting started and maintaining those connections throughout the process.

Homeschooling is not the best option for every family, but there are many benefits to this approach, and it can work very well in some situations.

For More Information

Research Facts on Homeschooling,” by Brian Ray

"Should You Home-School Your Child?" by Marty Nemko

More from Dona Matthews Ph.D.
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