What to Know About Homeschooling Your Child

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There are so many reasons why families become interested in homeschooling their children, and these days the choice has become much more mainstream and accepted. You may be interested in homeschooling starting from preschool or kindergarten, or it may be something you are considering for your older child. You may want to try homeschooling for a year or so, or long-term.

Or you may be researching homeschooling because of the pandemic. With the uncertainty surrounding the 2020-21 school year, more and more parents are turning to homeschooling as a way to ensure their kids' educations progress at an acceptable rate.

While there are a lot of factors to weigh as you consider the option of homeschooling, the good news is that now, more than ever, there are many resources out there to help you. Let’s take a look at why families choose to homeschool, what the homeschooling environment really looks like, and what your options are in terms of style and instruction.

History and Background

It wasn’t until the early 1900s that the majority of students attended formal school. Before that, most children were schooled at home by their parents. So in many ways, homeschooling is a time-honored tradition.

In the 1970s, the homeschooling movement began to pick up steam. This growth has progressed exponentially, especially in the past 20 years.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), by 1999, there were 850,000 students homeschooled nationwide. By 2016, that number sky-rocketed to nearly 1.7 million, which means that in just 17 years, the percentage of homeschool kids more than doubled—from 1.7% to a recent rate of 3.3%.

Homeschool Statistics

As the NCES defines it, a child is considered homeschooled if three criteria are met:

  • Their parents reported them homeschooled rather than schooled at a public or private school.
  • They were not enrolled in public or private school more than 25 hours a week.
  • Their homeschooling was not due to temporary illness.

As of 2016, 3.3% of children ages 5 to 17 met that criteria. Here are some other interesting statistics about the homeschooled population in America, according to data from the NCES.

  • The majority of homeschooled kids are either white (3.8%) or Hispanic (3.5%).
  • Black and Asian students make up 1.9% and 1.4% of the homeschooled population, respectively.
  • More upper-grade students are homeschooled than younger students; 3.8% of homeschoolers are in grades 9-12, as opposed to 2.4% who are first and third graders.
  • Families in rural areas (4.4%) are more likely to homeschool than in cities (3%) or suburban areas (2.9%).
  • Families that live in the South (3.9%) and Western U.S. (3.7%) were more likely to homeschool than families in the Northeast (1.8%).
  • Families are more likely to homeschool if one (7.2%) or neither (4%) of their parents work; families where both parents work (1.7%) are less likely to homeschool.
  • Parents who are poor (3.9%) or near poor (4.7%) are more likely to homeschool than parents who are not poor (2.6%).
  • Interestingly, there are no measurable statistical differences for homeschooled kids based on their parents’ education levels.

Why Parents Choose Homeschooling

In the past, some may have viewed homeschool as a choice made by families because of religious convictions. But that is changing. According to the latest NCES report, the reasons parents give for choosing homeschool are much more diverse.

Reasons for Homeschooling

  • 34% of parents who choose homeschooling did so because of “concerns about school environment,” including issues like school safety, drug use, and peer pressure.
  • 17% of parents cited unhappiness with instruction at their child’s school.
  • 16% choose homeschooling because they wanted to provide religious education to their kids.

What Homeschooling Looks Like

If you were to compare the day-to-day lives of any two homeschool families, you might find vastly different approaches, set-ups, and homeschooling philosophies. That’s because there are so many ways to approach homeschooling.

This flexibility is what appeals to so many families. Homeschooling can be a very structured thing, or it can be so loosely structured you might wonder if it’s “school” at all.

If you're considering homeschooling because of COVID-19, or you just want to gather ideas and tips for your child's virtual learning environment, there are a lot of options for creating a functional learning environment at home.

Learning at Home

Families who choose to engage in traditional homeschooling often create specific learning environments in their home. Here is an overview of what the traditional homeschool environment may look like.

  • Some families set up their classrooms in very traditional manners, with desks, white boards, and strict schedules.
  • They adopt structured curriculums, have set assignments, and test their children. They may even keep an attendance book.
  • Families may adopt curriculums based on traditional methods or they may opt for less traditional teaching methods.
  • Popular homeschool curriculums include Waldorf homeschooling, Montessori homeschooling, eclectic homeschooling, homeschooling based on unit studies, and Charlotte Mason homeschooling.

Learning Outside the Home

Many modern homeschool families will combine at-home education with other experiences. Here are some other common characteristics of homeschoolers that are educated outside of the home.

  • Many children attend classes outside the home, sometimes with other homeschooled kids.
  • Homeschooled families often form “homeschool co-ops” where they put together small group classes for their children, sometimes with outside instructors. Classes may be taught by parents in the co-ops are well.
  • Online education has become popular among homeschooling families; many parents choose this option to fill in the curriculum gaps in terms of what they are able to provide for their children.
  • As homeschooled children get older, they may take college courses or enroll part-time at a community college.

Unschooling

Unschooling is an educational philosophy popularized by teacher and author John Holt. Some homeschool families shun formal education completely and adopt the principles of “unschooling.”

Unschooling families believe that kids are naturally inquisitive and that just by engaging with their environment—digging outside in the dirt, visiting their public library, baking, and doing chores—they will be able to self-direct their learning and receive all the education they need.

Although parents are not completely hands-off or unstructured when they unschool, they do allow their children to guide the curriculum based on their interests. They also allow their child's level of engagement to determine the pace of the instruction.

What About Socialization?

The question of socialization is one faced by many homeschooling families. Opponents of homeschooling argue that formal education is the best way to socialize a child.

They also worry that homeschooled children miss out on opportunities for learning social cues as well as how to behave in organized social situations. They argue that homeschooled kids may end up interacting with fewer diverse populations than traditionally schooled kids.

All homeschoolers are different, but many parents make an extra effort to engage their children with other kids.

In fact, many parents will place their children in group instructional settings so they can socialize with others. And, while their children may not spend hours on end in a classroom with peers of the same age group, they often interact with a larger spectrum of school-aged children, which also has benefits. Homeschool families also argue that their children form more meaningful relationships with other adults as well.

Legalities of Homeschooling

If you are considering homeschooling your child, you are probably wondering about the regulations and guidelines for doing so. Even though homeschooling is legal in all 50 states, every state has different requirements for homeschoolers.

For this reason, it’s best to familiarize yourself with your state's guidelines before committing to homeschooling. After all, some states are more homeschooling friendly than others.

For instance, some states require you to perform some kind of academic assessment on your homeschooled child. And other states require you to teach specific subjects or for a certain number of hours a day.

Meanwhile, some states have strict attendance requirements, and may require parents or other homeschool instructors to have specific education backgrounds, such as high school diplomas. And, if your child currently attends a public or private school, your state may require you to notify your local school district that you are going to homeschool.

Additionally, some states will allow your child to continue to participate in extracurricular activities while homeschooling. Some will even allow your child to attend public school part-time.

To find out what your state will allow and what it won't allow, make sure you check out the state summaries offered by the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA).

Pros and Cons of Homeschooling

The decision to homeschool your child will be based on many factors. For instance, you should consider your personal education beliefs, your child’s experiences at school, your child’s personality, and your availability to provide appropriate instruction for your child.

But if you are concerned about how homeschooling compares to traditional school environments, you can rest assure that there is not much of a difference between homeschooled and traditionally schooled kids—even in terms of college acceptance. In fact, some colleges even seek out homeschooled children for attendance.

Research also shows that homeschooled children were more likely to graduate from college than their non-homeschooled counterparts. Still, there are some pitfalls to homeschooling that need to be considered as well. Here's a brief overview of the pros and cons of homeschooling.

Pros
  • Fare as well academically as traditional students

  • Perform as well or better on standardized tests

  • Receive an individualized education

  • Work at their own pace

  • Bond and connect with parents

  • Learn autonomy and independence

  • Remove risks of bullying and peer pressure

  • Able to meet student's individual needs

Cons
  • Requires high levels of parental involvement and commitment

  • Demands the ability to be organized and creative

  • Stretches parents to teach subjects they may not be comfortable with

  • Requires parents to be engaged with their kids for long periods

  • Consumes large amounts of the parents' time and energy

  • Subjects parents to regular criticisms

Pros of Homeschooling

  • Most studies find that homeschoolers fare as well academically as more traditionally educated students.
  • Homeschoolers also perform well on standardized tests when they take them, and studies have even found homeschoolers outperforming their non-homeschooled peers.
  • Your child will get an individualized education and will be able to work at their own pace.
  • If your child has a learning disability, special needs, or medical needs, they may be able to get the specific attention they need and not feel ostracized for their difference.
  • You will get many opportunities to bond and connect with your child.
  • Homeschooling may work best for your lifestyle if you work odd hours, move around a lot, live on the road, or live a less than traditional lifestyle.
  • Homeschooling may be a good choice for you if you have doubts about traditional school curriculum, standardized tests, or are concerned about social pressures and bullying.

Cons of Homeschooling

  • Homeschooling requires high levels of involvement from parents, which may not be possible if a parent needs to maintain a career or bring in income outside of their home.
  • Homeschooling requires planning, organization, and ingenuity, which may not be a parent’s strong suit.
  • Some parents feel they need more breaks from their children and don’t feel equipped to manage their children with the intensity usually required of homeschoolers.
  • If you don’t have a tight-knit homeschooling community in your area, it might be difficult to find opportunities for socialization with other homeschoolers.
  • You might find it challenging to deal with critique and judgment from others regarding your choice to homeschool.

Other Things to Consider

Remember that homeschooling has to work for your life as well because it requires a very high level of parent involvement and availability. Don’t beat yourself up if traditional homeschooling isn’t possible for your life right now. There are a number of online homeschool opportunities available as well as alternative schooling options and half-day options.

Even if you feel pressured to homeschool due to the pandemic this school year, you need to be sure this educational approach is right for your family. If it doesn't feel right, or if you don't think your stress level can handle yet another responsibility, don't do it. Homeschooling may be more feasible down the road when life is less stressful.

The best advice for any parent interested in homeschooling is to talk with other parents in your area who are already doing it. You may be able to find these parents in online groups or by word of mouth.

Ask them to describe a typical day as a homeschooling parent. Find out what resources are available in your area and meet these parents if possible and get to know them. You know your child best, and it’s likely that if you are invested in making homeschooling work, your child will thrive and grow.

Gifted and Special Needs Children

Homeschooling can be a real asset if you have a gifted or special needs child. Not only will your child receive individual attention and an individualized education plan (IEP) based on their needs, but they also can set the pace.

So, if they need less time to delve into a subject, they can accelerate through it. Or, they can go deeper into topics of interest to them. Meanwhile, when they need more time, or if they need their lessons delivered in a specific way, you can accommodate that too.

Homeschooling also means you don’t have to deal with all the red tape of getting your child special services. But, it also means you might not have access to many of the specialists who are available in a public or private school setting. Consequently, this can be a real disadvantage if you don’t have the financial means to hire outside specialists to manage your child’s needs.

Overall, you need to consider all aspects of your child's needs and abilities before committing to homeschooling. With all the information in front of you, the best approach for your child's education will likely be clear.

Just know that homeschooling is not a lifelong commitment. Some families choose to homeschool for a season depending on what is happening in their lives and then explore other options as their circumstances change.

A Word From Verywell

The decision whether or not to homeschool your child may feel like a weighty one. You may feel like you are getting different messages from everyone around you about whether this is the best choice for your family. As a result, it can be hard to filter out the helpful advice from the more disparaging remarks.

It’s best to go with your gut on this one. Take what is helpful, and leave the rest behind. You should know, too, that whether to homeschool or not isn’t necessary a one-time decision.

Many families choose homeschooling for their kids when they are young, for example, and then enroll them in school once middle school or high school comes around. Kids are more resilient and flexible than you might think. So, making a year-by-year homeschooling decision may work just fine for you.

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Article Sources
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