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 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 homeschool for a year or so, or long-term.

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 homeschooling 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 in a time-honored tradition.

By the mid-1900s, homeschooling had become almost non-existent in America. But that changed starting in the 1970s, when homeschooling saw a resurgence. 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 1,690,000, which means that in just 17 years, the percentage of homeschool kids more than doubled—from 1.7% to its current 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 NCES reports, as of 2016, 3.3% of children aged 5 to 17 met that criteria. Here are some other interesting statistics about the homeschooled population in America, according to NCES statistics.

  • 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 9th-12th graders homeschool, as opposed to 2.4% of 1st-3rd 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 Do Parents Homeschool?

In the past, you may have thought of homeschool as a choice made by families because of religious convictions. But that is changing. The reasons parents give for choosing homeschool may surprise you.

According to the latest NCES polling:

  • The majority of parents (34%) 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.

Learning at Home

  • Some families set up their classrooms in very traditional manners, with desks, chalkboards, and strict schedules.
  • They adopt structured curriculums, have set assignments assignments, and test their children.
  • Families may adopt curriculums based on traditional or less traditional teaching methods.
  • Popular homeschool curriculums include Waldorf homeschooling, Montessori homeschooling, eclectic homeschooling, homeschooling based on unitstudies, and Charlotte Mason homeschooling.

Learning Outside the Home

Many homeschool families these days will combine at-home education with other experiences:

  • 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 opt for this 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 attend college courses or enroll in part-time 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 just by engaging with their environment—digging outside in the dirt, visiting their public library, baking and doing chores, etc.—they will be able to receive all the education they need.

Parents are generally not completely hands-off or unstructured when they unschool, but they allow their children to set the curriculum based on their interests and set the pace in terms of acquisition of information.

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, and that homeschooled children miss out on opportunities for learning social cues and learning 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 and will often have their kids attend classes in more formal instructional settings.

Many homeschoolers say that 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 has benefits too. They argue that their children form more meaningful and mature relationships with other adults as well.

Legalities of Homeschooling

If you are considering homeschooling your child, you are probably wondering whether your are legally allowed to do so.

Homeschooling is legal in all 50 states, but it’s best to contact your state specifically to find out what requirements you need to meet for homeschooling. There is a lot of variation when it comes to state homeschool requirements.

Some states require you to perform some kind of academic assessment on your homeschooled child. Other states require you to teach your child specific subjects at home. Certain states have attendance requirements, and may require parents or other homeschool instructors to have specific education backgrounds, such as high school diplomas.

If your child currently attends school, your state may require you to notify your state or school district that you are going to homeschool. Some states will allow your child to continue to participate in extracurricular activities while homeschooling. Some will allow your child to attend public school part-time.

Homeschooling vs. Traditional Schooling

Most studies find that homeschoolers fare as well academically as more traditionally educated students.

Homeschoolers perform well on standardized tests when they take them, and studies have even found homeschoolers outperforming their non-homeschooled peers.

There is generally not a difference between homeschooled and traditionally schooled kids in terms of college acceptance; some colleges even seek out homeschooled children for attendance.

Some studies show that a higher percentage of homeschooled children graduate college and pursue graduate study.

Pros and Cons of Homeschooling

The decision to homeschool your child will be based on many factors, including your personal beliefs, your child’s experience at school, your child’s personality, and your availability to provide instruction for your child.

Pros of Homeschooling

  • 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 involvements from parents, which may not be possible if a parent needs to maintain a career or bring in income outside 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.
  • You might find it challenging to deal with critique and judgment from others regarding your choice to homeschool.

Homeschooling Gifted and Special Needs Children

Homeschooling can be a real asset if you have a gifted or special needs child. Your child will be able to receive individual attention and an individualized education plan based on their needs. Your child can set the pace. If they need less time to delve into a subject, they can accelerate through it. If they need more time, or they needed their lessons delivered in a specific way, you can accommodate that.

Homeschooling 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 available in a public or private school setting. This may be a disadvantage if you don’t have the financial means to hire outside specialists to manage your child’s needs.

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 you or your child. It can be hard to filter out helpful advice from more disparaging advice. 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 think, so making a year-by-year homeschooling decision may work just fine for you.

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 too much if homeschooling isn’t possible for your life right now. It may be more feasible down the road, and there are many wonderful alternative or half-day school options to consider for now. There are really so many options these days.

The best advice for any parent interested in homeschooling is to talk with other parents in your area who are doing it. You may be able to find these parents in online groups or by word of mouth. Ask these parents to describe a typical day as a homeschooling parent. Find out what resources are available in your area. Meet these parents if possible and get to know these families.

You know your child best and it’s likely that if you are invested in making homeschooling work, your child will thrive and grow.

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Article Sources

Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • Homeschooling: Requirements, Research, and Who Does It. Education Week. Updated June 2018.

  • Ray B. A systematic review of the empirical research on selected aspects of homeschooling as a school choice. Journal of School Choice. 2017; 11(1):1-18. doi: 10.1080/15582159.2017.1395638.

  • School Choice in the United States: 2019. National Center for Education Statistics website. Updated 2019.