To homeschool or not to homeschool?
When schools across the nation shut down in the wake of the pandemic, some parentings struggled to balance work and educating their kids, finding that their kids simply couldn’t learn from a screen at home. School was the best choice for them.
On the other hand, others discovered their children took to homeschooling like ducks to water, especially those who struggled with bullying or social anxiety. This has led more and more parents to ask themselves whether or not they want to take the homeschool journey.
How do you tell whether you and your child will thrive if you start homeschooling? Is it a better choice than a public or private school? Do homeschooled children thrive later in life when their parents educate them? Is my public school student really ready to make the transition? Is it too hard to try homeschooling high school students?
I’ve personally been experimenting with different forms of education for my whip-smart, quirky little guy since he began kindergarten. Homeschooling was also an option I kept in my back pocket.
He’s had some issues with social skills and emotional regulation, and we needed to find an educational model that honored his unique needs with a compassionate approach.
After lots of trial and error, from public to charter to private and even virtual schools, we’ve finally found our sweet spot.
Read on to get a breakdown of the home education landscape and how to make the call about whether it’s time to start educating your school age children at home during this coming school year.
What is homeschooling?
First off, what exactly is homeschooling? It’s essentially the choice to educate your child at home rather than in traditional brick-and-mortar public or private schools.
Homeschooling in the true sense of the word means your child isn’t enrolled in another accredited educational institution as their primary means of learning. By this standard, online or virtual school isn’t considered homeschooling, even though it takes place at home.
Many families started homeschooling with the advent of the homeschool movement in the 1970’s when researchers like John Holt and Raymond Moore began pushing for educational reform. As of 2016, about 3.3 percent of children in the US were homeschooled, and homeschooling is legal in all 50 states, though homeschool laws differ state-to-state.
According to Household Pulse Surveys conducted by the United States Census Bureau, homeschooling rates peaked at 9.4 percent at the peak of the pandemic but dropped less than one percent at the start of the 2021-2022 academic year.
Many families who started homeschooling in response to the pandemic are clearly happy with their choice.
From public or private schools to the home: A help with social anxiety
While you may worry that homeschooling a child with social anxiety might just make their fear of people worse, there are plenty of positives to homeschooling a child who finds it difficult to navigate the social landscape of public school.
Most public classrooms have anywhere from 25 to 35 children in them. This is a difficult environment for an introverted child to navigate. When you consider crowded and unstructured lunchrooms and playgrounds, the issue can be even worse.
Kids with social anxiety may find homeschooling helps ease the pressure of attending school in large classrooms. They may also enjoy the personalized attention they get from parents, caregivers, or supplementary instructors.
Children with social anxiety may also find smaller, tighter-knit groups of children easier to bond and connect with. The important thing is to ensure that your child is finding alternative opportunities for socialization, like sports teams, clubs, gaming groups, or homeschool community get-togethers. Otherwise, they may withdraw and make their social anxiety worse.
Rather than “enabling” their social anxiety, many parents find children who experience social anxiety flourish both academically and socially while homeschooling because they’re less overwhelmed by the stimulus of crowded learning spaces, school politics, and popularity contests.
Have a kiddo with social anxiety issues? They may benefit from these positive affirmations for kids.
The pros and cons of homeschooling
There are plenty of reasons to choose homeschooling over traditional options.
For one, homeschooling gives both you and your child the freedom to implement personalized learning into your lives.
This means you can design curriculum and activities that teach to your child’s learning style rather than the cookie-cutter, teach-to-the-test curriculum available in public schools.
Does your kiddo love collecting bugs and know the names of all the different types? That’s the first place to start for your earth sciences curriculum! Do you have an aspiring prima ballerina or swimming star on your hands? Cross PE off your to-do list.
Possibly the greatest benefit of homeschooling is that your child’s education can play to their strengths, passions, and interests, inspiring a lifelong love of intrinsically-motivated learning.
What parent doesn’t want that for their kid?
On the other hand, such specific curriculum and focus can leave some parents feeling imbalanced in their approach. You may worry if your kiddo is getting challenged enough, or whether they’ll be able to integrate back into public education if the need arises.
These are all questions that can deter parents from choosing homeschooling for their children’s education, and they have to be weighed carefully with your goals, expectations, and individual family needs.
While some may worry that the homeschooling lifestyle may leave their kids wanting when it comes to having a social life, there are plenty of options to supplement homeschool curriculum with lots of face-time.
Even a bona fide social butterfly can thrive in homeschool programs if they have the right structure and connections.These days, there are tons of resources for homeschool families to band together and create vibrant social environments for their kids. From Facebook groups to meetups, your child’s homeschool education doesn’t have to leave you feeling like you’re stuck on a desert island.
Extracurricular sports, clubs, and interest groups can bolster homeschool life. In some cases, homeschooling families feel more a part of a meaningful community than they did before. This is in part due to smaller groups with shared values and interests coming together with a common goal of educating their children in a unique way.
This type of socialization can often be more meaningful and fulfilling for both parents and homeschooled kids, especially if children struggle making friends in a crowded school environment.
One benefit of a brick and mortar school is that many clubs, sports teams, and after-school programs are already built-in. While there are plenty of enriching social options available to homeschoolers, you’ll have to do your research to find them.
Depending on where you live, public school funding can be a major issue.
As of 2016-2017, 82 percent of public school funding came from local property taxes. This means that mixed or low-income neighborhoods are at a serious disadvantage when it comes to basic supplies, teacher salaries (read: job turnover), and access to technology.
If you have the resources, homeschooling can provide a solution to this issue. There may also be stipends, deductions, or tax credits available depending on the homeschool laws in the state where you live. These can range from the hundreds of dollars to a few thousand.
Homeschooling can quickly become expensive. Although most basic school supplies can be found at discount and dollar stores, there are a few other things to consider.
Regardless of your child’s age, you’ll likely need internet access to research and plan your curriculum. If your curriculum is technology-based, you’ll need some kind of device for them to complete some of their assignments.
I personally found a printer to be indispensable when educating my kiddo in the home. All in all, buying new books, workbooks, and constantly churning out printables can add up quickly.
Of course, there are some creative workarounds like trades with other homeschool families, buying used, opting for hand-me-downs from older siblings or cousins, or going minimalist and using tools and educational supplies you find in your home, environment, and wider community. It can be done!
Time is another major factor in whether you decide to homeschool.
Many families love the increased amount of quality time they get to spend being present with each other. This creates space for connection, intimacy, and sharing interests. By contrast, spending just a few afternoon and evening hours with your kiddo after a long school day can feel like you’re missing out.
Your time may be scarce. If you’re a working parent who’s also trying to educate your child (or children) at home, it can be a little overwhelming.
Especially when homeschooling younger kids, playing the role of teacher, guardian, and parent all at once takes a lot of time and energy. It’s important to assess whether this option is truly realistic and sustainable for you.
Spending so much time with your kid may also lead you to get a little too engaged in their lives. No one wants to be a helicopter parent.
One of the primary reasons parents choose to homeschool their kids is the benefit of bringing values-directed learning to your child’s education. If you practice a certain religion or subscribe to a specific philosophy, it likely won’t be addressed in a public school atmosphere.
Public school is required to be broadly applicable to a diverse and varied student body. In many cases, this means that important questions about life, purpose, belief, and even right and wrong are simply too hot to touch.
Most public school curriculum is also sadly lacking in social-emotional learning, which helps children learn to navigate their internal world and develop empathy for others.
Homeschooling allows parents to address the deeper questions of life and the nuance of human experience without the limitations of public school.
The downside of this is that homeschooling can create an educational echo-chamber.
Critical thinking, perspective-taking, and self-inquiry are important elements of true education, and it will take extra effort to broaden your child’s horizons so they can engage with ideas outside of the immediate family, community, and geographic area.
Want to get inspired to bring your values to your homeschooling? Check out these education quotes.
Picking a homeschool curriculum
Ready to begin homeschooling? One of the most important steps is picking a homeschool curriculum that works for you and your family.
At first blush, it may seem like there are just about as many homeschool programs out there as there are kids being homeschooled. To make the process more digestible, consider factors like:
- how much time you have
- whether you want a pre-made curriculum or a loose model to work from
- whether you want to use technology and online programs
- whether accreditation is important to you
- whether you have the bandwidth to cultivate community or you need to find an option that simplifies socialization
Once you get these questions ironed out, you’ll be ready to begin homeschooling in a way that best suits your needs.
Do-it-yourself curriculum models range from one-off printouts to fully-structured, successive modules. These options usually involve a workbook or digital folder of materials that you can pick and choose from, implementing what makes sense for you and your family.
Some are designed to be followed day by day, week by week, unit by unit, or cherry-picked as needed.
A few solid options in this realm include:
Some Christian options include:
More and more online curriculums are popping up to serve the needs of a growing and diverse population of homeschoolers.
These homeschool programs often offer self-paced courses based on the equivalent public school requirements. They can be used to supplement DIY curriculum or as stand-alone curriculum.
If you have an independent learner, these can be good options for parents who don’t have as much time to devote to the homeschooling process.
Some options include:
Christain options include:
Online public and private models
Hybrid or online public school models aren’t technically homeschool. They’re usually offered through a local school district or a nationally-accredited institution.
As such, they typically cover the public school curriculum, involve official enrollment, and require star-testing. They also offer academic instruction via interactive content, videos, or even virtual classrooms with live teachers.
Public options include:
There are also many state-specific public online schools.
Alternatively, there are also multiple online private schools that eliminate the need for star testing and residency requirements, and in some cases, attendance-taking, for a small to moderate fee.
Some private school options include:
Private Christian options include:
I briefly had my son enrolled in Connections Academy online public school and found the curriculum quite rigorous and time-consuming.
As a full-time work-from-home mom, I couldn’t devote enough time to really helping my son dig in and engage with the curriculum in a way that felt he was getting a quality education.
I think this model would work great for two parent households, stay-at-home parents, part-time working parents, or slightly older, more independent learners.
Unschooling is a form of homeschooling that rejects curriculum in favor of a school-of-life approach. This is true child-led learning in the sense that a kid’s interests and passions are at the forefront of their education. Unschooling often doesn’t look like learning in the traditional sense.
Rather, it allows children to explore their curiosity and engage with their environment in a way that results in learning from actual experience rather than concepts and drilling. Because of this, unschooling is difficult to define and is highly individualized to each family and student.
Homeschool vs. private school vs. online school
Oh my! The main differences to understand between homeschooling, private school, or online school are the following:
- time commitment
The costs of homeschooling can vary significantly depending on the style of education, curriculum, and technology you choose. Bear in mind that internet access, printing resources, workbooks, textbooks, and extracurricular activities can add up fast.
On the other hand, public libraries, resource shares, homeschool communities and co-ops, as well as creative curriculum implementation can help reduce costs considerably.
Private brick-and-mortar schools are typically much more expensive than both homeschooling and online schooling.
While public online schools are free, private online schools typically range from the low to high thousands for an entire year of enrollment.
When it comes to personalizing how your children learn while homeschooling, the world is your oyster. Homeschooled kids get the greatest flexibility when it comes to tailoring their education to their specific needs, interests, and talents.
Private schools generally don’t allow for much personalization, unless your child attends a very small private school that emphasizes individualized curriculum. The latter is ultimately the route I chose to go with my kiddo, which required some research into local options in our home of Washington State.
From my research and experimentation with online schools, the curriculum itself is generally pretty generic. The personalization aspect comes in when you consider you get to build your own schedule and pursue extracurriculars outside of the general academic requirements.
For instance, while enrolled in online school, my child also attended several hours of therapy per week as well as singing and piano lessons, all of which counted toward his academic requirements. If we hiked or jumped on the trampoline, we counted that as PE. This flexibility was great, but it didn’t change the nature of his assignments and learning goals.
At the same time, the online school was very proactive about implementing a 504 or IEP plan. For that reason, if you have children with special considerations, online school may still be a good option.
Educating your children at home is likely going to take a major time requirement, whether you do it online or via homeschool. Most online schools require your child to keep up with curriculum and complete specific assignments, giving little wiggle room for creative implementation of concepts.
Homeschool may offer more flexibility, but it still means the burden of creative implementation is on you. While assignments themselves may take less time, you’ll still need to present with your kiddos in other ways for much of the day.
Private school, on the other hand, usually follows the typical drop-off and pick-up model that gives parents more time away from their kiddo.
Finally, there’s accreditation to consider. While public, private, and charter schools are all accredited, homeschooling is not. Luckily, no state requires that homeschool curriculum to be accredited. In fact, they can’t technically be accredited anyway.
However, there are distance learning or online programs that are accredited. This will likely only be useful if your child needs to transfer to public school at some point. Most school districts are prepared to matriculate homeschool students into their appropriate grade level.
If you’re concerned about higher education, i.e. when your kid goes off to college, know that most colleges and universities accept homeschool education. It’s always a good idea to check with the individual institution.
Homeschooling is a journey that’s highly individual to each family and learner.
While it may take a bigger time commitment than traditional schooling options, the payoff can be enormous, especially if you want to emphasize values and student-driven learning.
Homeschooling can also relieve the pressure of social anxiety, behavioral challenges, or simply variations in the way kids learn. If you want to educate your kids from home, rest assured that there are tons of resources and communities out there to make your experience a positive one.