Dreams of homeschooling, for some, produce quaint visions of children working diligently around the family kitchen table, helping each other and learning in kind. If you are more like me, thoughts of homeschooling send shooting pains through your stomach and then the sweating begins. This is a sure sign that a full panic attack is underway (and I use to be a teacher!).
The long and short of homeschooling is that it can be a wonderful experience for the entire family, but it certainly is not for everyone and I would go so far as to say that it is not the best option for most. Effectively homeschooling your children requires much more from you than meets the eye. While it can be done excellently, it requires a very unique skill set from the parent undertaking the responsibility that I believe many people, even if they are above-average parents, do not possess. This of course does not mean that no one can homeschool well, it only means that like playing the violin or creating beautiful paintings a specific skill set and talent is required to execute it properly, as well as lots of trial and error.
Homeschooling is the biggest and most significant project that you will ever undertake and your child’s education stands in the balance and will suffer or thrive based upon your success or failure. If this is something that you feel your children would benefit from and you are up for the challenge, here are some considerations before opening Pandora’s box of homeschooling.
1) Family Bonding:
Homeschool families enjoy extra time to bond and may develop deep and meaningful relationships. Younger siblings can learn from older siblings. Older siblings have an opportunity to learn responsibility through caring for and teaching younger siblings. The homeschooling parent is able to participate in every aspect of the child’s life and learning and is able to understand her child in an educational context as well as a personal one.
There is an argument that this type of deep bonding is not necessary or even beneficial past the youngest years. We now live in a mobile and highly specialized society where people often move for work and participate in large social networks. Some say that highly exclusive family relationships can detract from the child’s ability to learn and develop through a diverse array of friendships and experiences and limits the child socially. Children who attend classroom school can still enjoy deep and meaningful relationships with their siblings and parents.
2) Individualized Education & Curriculum:
Homeschool families are able to provide a highly specialized educational experience because of the extremely low student-to-teacher ratio. The homeschooling parent is able to offer different lesson plans and expectations for each child because he is able to thoroughly know his child’s needs and has time to tailor the learning to each child’s individual strengths and weaknesses.
The critic might say that this can be a net negative for the child. When children grow, they need to be able to self-asses their own educational needs and be proactive to ask for accommodations and augmentation as needed. An overly-responsive parent might deprive the child of being able to learn independence and suffocate their child’s self-initiative or, worse, underestimate the child’s ability to rise to the occasion.
3) Free Play, Exploration and Applications
Homeschool families enjoy more flexible (not less stressful or busy) schedules. If a child becomes enthralled with a particular topic of learning, they are able to explore this topic and give children time to satisfy their thirst for knowledge. There also can be more room in the schedule for free play and exploration to help solidify and practice their new learning. Homeschool families also have more freedom to explore applications of the curricula and take field trips to see how it applies in the real world.
It is hard to criticize this benefit of homeschooling and I assert that this is the strongest, most scientifically backed reason for choosing to homeschool children, especially young children.
4) Family Values, Sheltering & Diversity
Homeschool families enjoy the freedom to teach according to their passions and cover topics in a way that is consistent with their philosophical beliefs. Their children may benefit from highly reinforced social expectations and lack of exposure to bad behavior, words and manners that may upset their family’s values. Also, parents with religious beliefs have the opportunity to teach curriculum with a religious perspective.
Critics say that this is the worst reason to choose homeschooling. It is important early in life to expose children to different people and ways of thinking. When questions and issues arise, instead of this upsetting and threatening family values, it is an opportunity to deepen family values through conversation and explaining why your philosophy and family traditions are important. When children learn early in life about diversity in terms of behavior, values, culture, physical characteristics, religion and philosophy they will be less intimated by diversity and less enthralled by the idea of shocking parents in their adolescent years.
5) Diversification of Instruction
Homeschool families love being able to choose and focus on subjects that matter to their family. Children interested in music, art, languages, science, etc… have more opportunities than in classroom school settings to learn about and practice special subjects. Parents can hire out lessons for curricular areas that they are unfamiliar with and find homeschooling groups to share the burden of instruction with for certain subjects.
Critics say that it is important for students to learn how to participate in a classroom with many teachers who possess different personalities and teaching styles. A fundamental source of learning in classroom environments is also your child’s peers and limited exposure to other children can also limit student learning. Children need to prepare for the real world where they will work with people of all varieties and have to take instruction and/or work with superiors and colleagues who they do not care for and have a difficult time communicating with. Everyone possesses a specific personality and teaching style and children are at a detriment educationally when they learn from the same parent, subject after subject, year after year. Moreover, not all children like learning from their parents and clash in personality, even though they love them dearly. This can deepen familial conflict and jeopardize a child’s development and education when there is a clash.
6) Education is Science & Curricula
Homeschool families invest a great deal of time and money into selecting the best curriculum that they can afford. Curricula is developed by educators and specialists in the field and comes complete with instructional materials, activities and enrichment ideas. The right curriculum can equip a parent to homeschool, even if they are not professionally a teacher.
Critics say that most people become parents, but most people are not gifted teachers. Just because you know about and can apply a particular topic does not mean that you know how to teach it. There is a science to teaching and it is a highly skilled trade. For instance, adults know that 1 +1 = 2, but how do you explain that to a child? You have to dig into the theory of numbers and explain why numbers exist, how quantities are assigned symbols, explain how to combine quantities and teach one-to-one correspondence. When your child can’t perform this operation, how do you know which element is causing the problem. Elementary thought is not as simple as it seems and using a great curriculum doesn’t necessarily make it easier for parents when questions and problems arise.
Homeschooling is not for everyone, but also has the potential for great success. I know of homeschool families that have hit education out of the park, but also know of others who saw substandard results in their children’s career and adult years because of the intense and complicated commitment requirement from the homeschooling parent and the lack of opportunity to develop the child’s resilience by being thrust outside the home each day.
Use the point system explained in Intelligent Nest’s Is Private School Worth the Price? to assign homeschool a value. Chew on the considerations above, interview friends who homeschool that will give you honest answers and consider you and your children’s personality, skills, family finances, needs and abilities. What do you personally want to gain from homeschooling? What, specifically, does your child need that they can’t get at public or private school? Do you want to shelter and control what your child is exposed to? Can you afford in terms of time, money and sanity to spend all day, every day with your children? Does teaching sound fun and exciting?
Compare your assigned homeschooling value to the one that you gave your public or private school option. Unless there is a point differential of at least 3 points (and it is not realistic to assign your homeschool 10 points), I wouldn’t consider homeschooling unless you personally desire the experience, are 100% up for the 24/7 nature of the job and are skilled in teaching. Rest assured, most children can thrive in public and private schools and do not need a homeschooling experience to do well in life. And again, for a some, homeschooling can be a very meaningful and beneficial family experience.
As for us, the public school bus comes tomorrow morning at 8:42 am. I plan to pack my kindergartner a healthy lunch, give him a kiss and bid him farewell as he boards the bus and ventures off on his own in the big, wide world.
***As this is a “Battle of the Opinions” piece, I am excited to hear from you! Please feel free to leave your comments (negative or positive), as long as they are pointed at discussing the issues. I would hope for and expect lots of disagreement on this issue with my personal opinion and love a good discussion. Emotional and inflammatory rants and personal attacks will be discarded without being read or posted as this is not characteristic of rational debate. I look foreword to a productive discussion! ***