By Heather Levin | Contributor
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many schools shut down for the remainder of the 2020 school year to stop the spread of the virus. The abrupt closures left parents and teachers scrambling to find ways to keep kids engaged with distance learning.
In the months that followed, many families discovered that home schooling worked out well for them. Some children performed better learning at home because they could perform tasks on their own time, free from the distraction of other classmates, while others thrived with one-on-one instruction from a parent or caregiver.
If you’re considering home-schooling your children next year, you likely have some doubts and plenty of questions: “Will my kids ever see their friends? Do I have the patience to teach them for a full year? What are the home-schooling requirements in my state? Will I go crazy if I don’t get a break?”
I had many of the same questions when I started it with my children two years ago. Now, with my oldest starting first grade this year, we’ve gotten into a rhythm and routine, so it feels like second nature. My husband and I both work at home, so we take turns. And while not easy, it’s definitely worth the hard work.
What Is Home Schooling?
Home schooling is when a child is educated outside the “traditional” school system, typically at home by a parent or other adult, like a private tutor.
Home schooling is the fastest-growing form of education in the United States, with more and more parents choosing to home-school their children instead of sending them to public school. According to the National Home Education Research Institute, there were 2.5 million students home-schooled in the U.S. in the spring of 2020, and this number continues to go up 2% to 8% each year.
Internationally, home schooling is even more prevalent. The BBC reports that home schooling in the United Kingdom is up 40% over the past three years alone. In Western Australia, it’s up 50% compared to five years ago, according to The Educator Australia.
Many families are considering making it a permanent arrangement due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the possibility of a second wave of infections this fall. According to a poll by the American Federation for Children, 40% of parents are thinking about home-schooling permanently once lockdowns end and schools reopen.
Home Schooling vs. Distance Learning
It’s important to point out that home schooling is not the same as the distance learning many schools hastily created when schools shut down in the spring of 2020 due to COVID-19.
As The Atlantic illustrates, many parents grew frustrated with their school district’s distance learning because it required that parents follow the same curriculum kids used at school. That meant coaching them through video chats with teachers; printing, filling out, and scanning worksheets to send back; and sitting in front of a computer screen for hours on end.
Home schooling is not distance learning, although you can use a distance learning platform as part of your home-school curriculum. Many parents do.
With home schooling, you, the parent, decide what and how to teach your children. And home education doesn’t always look like a regular school education.
Home schooling means going on a hike to find and identify wildflowers counts as science. Baking banana bread counts as math and home economics and teaches self-discipline skills. A game of Uno or alphabet bingo can teach very young children their numbers and letters. Using intelligent games like Little Red Riding Hood or Atlantis Escape teaches logic and problem-solving skills. And all of this is on your schedule.
Why Consider Home Schooling?
Parents choose to educate their children at home for a variety of reasons, including:
Health & Safety Issues
Many parents are concerned with how public schools will handle health and social distancing guidelines once they reopen. And every state is issuing different guidelines for reopening. Some of these guidelines include:
- Requiring that all students wear masks
- Daily temperature checks
- Canceled recess and gym
- Reduced class sizes with impromptu classrooms set up in the cafeteria or auditorium
- Students eating lunch at their desk
- Attending school at staggered times to reduce classroom size
- Not sharing books or supplies
Understandably, some parents are concerned about how these measures will affect their child’s learning and how effective they will be at preventing illness.
An added worry is that schools might close again if there’s a second wave of COVID-19, leading to even more disruption and uncertainty.
Dissatisfaction With Public Schools
Some parents opt to home school because they’re unhappy with their local public school due to inadequate funding, low test scores, school safety, or dissatisfaction with the Common Core curriculum. Concerns over bullying or negative peer pressure can also play a role in a parent’s decision to home-school.
According to the National Center for Education Statistic’s 2016 National Household Education Survey (NHES), 34% of parents cited “concern with the environment of public schools” as their primary reason for home-schooling, while 17% said they were “dissatisfied with the academic instruction.” For some parents, the decline of programs like physical education and the arts is why they choose to educate at home.
A Desire for Religious or Moral Instruction
Some parents choose to home-school because they want their children to learn in a particular moral or religious environment. Home schooling allows parents to structure their curriculum around their moral or religious beliefs. In the NHES survey, 21% of parents listed a desire to provide moral or religious instruction as their primary reason for home-schooling.
Special Needs Requirements
Children with special needs often require more personalized attention than a public school teacher can provide. Some children have a condition that makes it difficult if not impossible to learn in a traditional classroom setting, such as a physical handicap, learning disability, or behavioral disorder like attention deficit (hyperactivity) disorder.
Home schooling allows parents to set up a learning environment tailored to their children’s unique needs. That can help ensure the child gets the attention and care they need to reach their full potential.
Building a Stronger Relationship
Many parents choose to home-school because they want to spend more time with their children. Childhood passes in the blink of an eye, especially once elementary school starts and kids are away from home for much of the day.
The NHES study found that the average school day for public school students in the U.S. is 6.6 hours. During this time, children are sedentary and isolated from their parents.
Home schooling takes drastically less time than the average school day. Generally, elementary-age home-schoolers spend two to three hours on schoolwork per day, while middle and high school home-schoolers spend three to four hours on schoolwork. During this time, parents can give each of their children focused attention, making the “school day” more productive. Once it’s over, parents have the rest of the day for other activities with their children.
Common Home-Schooling Considerations
Parents who are considering home schooling often worry they’ll be limiting their child’s development with home learning. Others fear they’ll be stuck at home all day and never get to see their friends.
The reality is home schooling is flexible and open-ended. It leaves plenty of time for friendships, extracurricular activities, and more advanced learning opportunities.
What About Academic Performance?
Some question whether home schooling can provide a quality education compared to public or private schools. However, more and more studies find that home-schooled students perform as well as if not better than publicly educated students.
Research conducted in 2020 by Brian Ray, president of the National Home Education Institute and expert in the field of home education, found that home-schooled students generally score 15 to 30 percentile points above public school students on standardized tests.
However, these studies often don’t correct for background factors that play a crucial role in a student’s learning success. For example, students from wealthier families often enjoy greater curriculum and enrichment opportunities. Also, many home-schooling studies use volunteers, and parents of children who test well are more likely to volunteer their test scores for the study. This lack of random sampling can skew the results.
The Coalition for Responsible Home Education has an excellent analysis of the most current academic studies on home schooling. One of the most balanced is a 2011 study published in the Canadian Journal of Behavioral Science, which found that home-schoolers with highly organized lesson plans achieved higher standardized scores than public school students. Unsurprisingly, home-schoolers with less structured lesson plans had the lowest scores of all groups studied.
Can I Be a Teacher?
It’s essential to keep in mind that a home-school education is only as good as the teacher. Home schooling has a learning curve, and there’s a definite art to being both a teacher and a parent. Most home-school teachers are parents without a formal teaching background who must learn how to choose, organize, and teach a curriculum. It doesn’t sound easy, and it isn’t.
That said, most parents end up making excellent teachers, in large part because they understand they’re now responsible for their child’s education. Also, most curriculums come with teacher handbooks that help guide parents through each topic and include detailed instructions on teaching every concept.
It’s critical to realize that as a parent, you’ve already been teaching your child since birth. You helped teach them many essential skills, such as walking, eating with a spoon and fork, and getting dressed. Teaching them how to read or multiply and divide really isn’t that different.
What About Socialization?
Another concern about home schooling is that it can limit a child’s access to socialization opportunities. The interactions and friendships made in a classroom setting can provide a wealth of opportunities, like teaching kids how to get along with others who are dramatically different from them. They make friends, play games, and encounter ideas and viewpoints they might not be exposed to otherwise.
The limited research conducted on the socialization of home-schoolers suggests that, for the most part, home-schooled children have just as many (if not more) opportunities for socialization as public school kids. A 2013 study published in the Peabody Journal of Education found that home-schooled children have “higher quality friendships and better relationships with their parents and other adults. They are happy, optimistic, and satisfied with their lives. Their moral reasoning is at least as advanced as that of other children, and they may be more likely to act unselfishly.”
Is Home Schooling Expensive?
The cost of home schooling can vary widely. It all depends on how much each parent wants to spend on curriculum, supplies, and field trips. You can home-school on a tight budget, spending just a couple hundred dollars per child per year, or you can opt to spend $1,000 or more per child per year.
If you search online for the average costs of home schooling, you can find blogs with widely differing numbers. The Pioneer Woman’s Heather Sanders reports that she spent over $1,000 one year for her three home-schooled kids. Cornerstone Confessions’s Kathy L. Gossen spent only $74 on her daughter’s kindergarten curriculum and around $155 on her first-grade curriculum.
The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) estimates an average cost of $300 to $600 per child per year, which includes curriculum, games, software, and books.
I spend around $1,200 per year to home-school both of my children. We use a curriculum from Timberdoodle, which includes many high-quality interactive games and excellent reading and math programs. Although this curriculum is expensive, for us, it’s worth it.
Many parents say their first year of home schooling was their most expensive. Transitioning to educating your children at home can feel overwhelming. It’s easy to overspend by purchasing a curriculum that ultimately doesn’t work for your kids, buying too many supplies (or the wrong supplies), and going on more field trips than you can afford.
What Does My State Require?
Every state has different requirements when it comes to home schooling. Some states have very little regulation of home-schoolers, while others have a great deal of regulation. For example, to home-school in my state of Tennessee, I’m legally required to:
- Formally withdraw my children from school with an “intent to home-school” notice
- Keep detailed attendance records
- Have at least a high school diploma and submit a copy of it to the local school board
- Submit proof of immunization for all my children and keep their shots up to date
- Have my children take a standardized test administered by a school official in specific grades
To find out what your state requires to home school, visit the HSLDA website on state requirements. Two lawyers who home-schooled their children developed the HSLDA, and the site is an excellent and thorough resource on the legalities of home schooling.
Advantages of Home Schooling
There are many benefits to teaching your children at home, from time-saving benefits to programs tailored to your child’s needs.
- More Time
With home schooling, you get to spend much more time with your kids. A lot of that time will be quality one-on-one time.
Your children might thrive when they have more time at their disposal. They might feel calmer and less stressed when they’re not required to start school early in the morning or stay late to meet academic or extracurricular commitments.
All this extra time opens up plenty of opportunities to ask questions and learn.
As an example, early one morning, my youngest son and I went outside to let the hens out of the coop. As we walked through the dewy grass, he asked, “Why is the grass wet if it didn’t rain last night?” In response, I launched into an explanation of how dew forms, which he listened to with considerable interest. This conversation would have never happened if we’d been rushing to eat breakfast, get dressed, and get to school.
These conversations happen all the time when you home-school. Your children have the time and freedom to wonder about the world, and you have the time and freedom to answer their questions. Even though these talks don’t take place in a classroom, it’s still learning.
- More Efficient
Home schooling is more efficient than traditional school. One-on-one education means you waste very little time. The “school day” might only take an hour or two because your child doesn’t have to wait for others to finish their assignment or for the teacher to grade papers before moving on.
A more efficient schedule gives your children plenty of free time to do things they wouldn’t ordinarily have time for in regular school. They have time to take long walks, work on creative projects, or just be bored.
- Complete Customization
Home schooling allows you to teach around your child’s specific learning style, which helps them readily learn and retain more information.
For example, if your child is a hands-on or “kinesthetic” learner, you can use puzzles and logic games to teach concepts. Visual learners might thrive using a distance-learning platform or playing online games. If your child is an auditory learner, you can teach vocally or put certain concepts into song to aid learning.
Another critical element to home education is that it allows you to teach life skills that, while ordinarily not part of school education, are essential nonetheless. For example, you can teach your children personal finance skills. You can teach them how to cook, sew, develop carpentry skills, code, and volunteer in their community. The skills you can share and teach are endless. These experiences prepare them to live and thrive in the real world and are an essential part of a well-rounded education.
Home schooling allows you to teach lessons and concepts to your child when they’re ready for them instead of when an entire class is ready. Gifted children or those who need extra help with some skills or concepts can learn at their own pace.
You can customize when you have school. Some families schedule schoolwork for after dinner, leaving the entire day open for open-ended play, field trips, or errands. Others do school first thing in the morning or at staggered times throughout the day to accommodate a parent’s work hours. If your kids have a lot of energy, you can exercise or rough house for an hour before starting school so they’re calmer and more receptive. It’s entirely up to you.
Last, you can customize where you have school. You can take trips to a local battlefield to learn more about the Revolutionary War. You can visit a national or state park to learn more about botany or wildlife or visit the planetarium to learn astronomy. The entire world becomes your classroom when you home-school.
- Free From Social Pressures
Attending regular school can cause significant anxiety in some children. Many children are exposed to bullying, drugs, stereotypes, and peer pressure in school.
Home schooling means your children are free from social pressures, bad influencers, and bullying. This freedom can alleviate stress and anxiety and make them more receptive to learning.
- Older Kids Can Teach Younger Kids
If you have multiple children, then everyone can get involved in the teaching and learning process. Older kids can teach younger children directly with one-on-one lessons. That helps teach older kids patience and empathy, and it can help engage younger kids in subjects they’re not interested in. Younger children can also learn simply by sitting in on the lessons of older kids.
Disadvantages of Home Schooling
Home schooling is not perfect, and it’s certainly not the right fit for some families. Like anything, there are some downsides to home-schooling your kids, from social to economic.
- No Breaks for Parents
When you home-school, you’re with your children all day every day. All this time is a gift many parents will never get to experience. However, the endless demands of home schooling and parenting can lead to burnout if you’re not careful. There’s little time to yourself, and if you’re also juggling working from home with kids, this can cause even more stress and anxiety.
If you have multiple children, all of them at different levels and with different learning styles, you’re going to have to juggle teaching them throughout the day. The pressure of teaching multiple kids can also lead to stress and burnout.
- Challenging Subjects
Most parents are perfectly capable teachers. However, some parents don’t feel comfortable teaching some subjects, such as advanced chemistry or calculus. Trying to teach a topic you don’t know about can lead to stress and anxiety, especially if you feel like you’re not capable of giving older kids the level of education they need.
Parents who feel unqualified to teach advanced subjects can turn to online distance-learning platforms like Time4Learning, tutors, or home-schooling co-ops for support. Even when you home-school, you’re not alone.
- Potential Loss of Income
For some families, the decision to home school can mean a reduction or total loss of income for the parent who chooses to stay home with the children. Even parents who work at home might find it harder to work their regular hours or meet work commitments when juggling their children’s education.
- Challenges With Social Interaction
Attending a public or private school means your child spends all day in the company of other children. This social interaction provides many benefits, such as learning to work with and get along with people who are different.
With home schooling, parents have to seek out social opportunities for their kids. In most areas, these opportunities are plentiful. They can join sports teams, meet up with other kids through home-school co-ops, take music lessons, or go on field trips with other home-schooling families.
However, in some rural areas, it can be challenging for kids to make friends or join teams when they’re not part of a public school system.
I can’t tell you how many times strangers have questioned me about the decision to home-school our boys. Most of the time, I’m able to deal with people’s rudeness or passive-aggressiveness with some diplomacy. However, it still tests my patience when strangers feel it’s OK to come up to us and start questioning why the boys aren’t in class. Pre-pandemic, this most often happened when we finished school early and headed to the grocery store or nature trail.
As a home-schooling parent, there’s a good chance you’ll face the same stigmatization at least once. With the rise of home schooling due to the pandemic, I hope that people begin to accept home schooling as mainstream and keep their thoughts to themselves. However, if you decide home schooling is right for your family, be prepared to face the occasional stare or rude comment when your kids are out having a blast when they would otherwise be behind a desk.
As I write this, I can hear my husband on the back porch using the Mobi Kids game to teach today’s math lesson to our two boys. It’s a juggling act, with one child still learning his numbers and the other adding and subtracting. Once they finish math, he’ll drag out the miniLuk set and work with them on visual perception and memory. Then, they’ll likely take a snack break, then go out to the barn to tinker with the engine they’re currently trying to take apart.
Both our boys are kinesthetic learners, and we’ve discovered that if we can let them use their hands, they learn and retain information far more than reading it in a book. In a classroom setting, it’s unlikely they would be able to do any of these activities. They’d be at their desks doing worksheets or listening to the teacher’s lesson. And there’s a chance they’d be uninterested or disengaged because of that.
Home schooling looks different for every family, and that’s part of its appeal. You know your children best, which allows you to adjust what, when, and how you teach so they perform at their best.
Is home schooling hard? Yes. It’s a lot of hard work, especially if you try to do it well. But it’s also incredibly rewarding. It’s going to give you much more time with your children and help slow down their inevitable march toward adulthood. Time is the one thing you can’t get back with your children, and most parents feel that the stress and hard work of home schooling are more than worth the extra time they get to spend with their kids.
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