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Is homeschooling right for your family?

By Shannon Cowan Posted Aug 25, 2016

Gold panning

When Growing Without Schooling was first published in 1977, the revolutionary magazine represented a small fraction of children homeschooled in the United States and around the world. Since that time, the population of children who learn at home has grown, with rapid increases taking place in the last few decades. From 850,000 in 1999 to more than 2 million in 2010 in the U.S. alone, homeschooling is now a worldwide phenomenon.

Today there are more options than ever for homeschooling, from blended programs in local school districts to classical or ‘unschooling’ models. Having these choices is a wonderful thing, but how do you know if homeschooling (or certain aspects of homeschooling) is right for you? Here are a few things to consider as you weigh the options regarding learning at home.

Is homeschooling legal?

Depending on where you live, homeschooling may or may not be a legal option for your child’s education. In North America, laws vary, but all 50 states as well as Canada’s provinces and territories now permit some form of homeschooling. In Europe, countries like Germany, Greece, and the Netherlands have outlawed the practice, though communities of homeschoolers are on the rise elsewhere in the continent. For more information on the laws affecting homeschooling, visit the website of the Homeschool Legal Defense Association.

Is there a “right” way to homeschool?

Like ice cream, homeschooling comes in many flavors. Some families learning at home sit down at desks and use the same textbooks as their school-going peers. Others seek out learning opportunities in the community or farther afield, preferring the local library for student-led research. Still others use a blend of models, changing them throughout the year to meet the needs of their children. One thing most homeschool educators agree on is that variety and flexibility is key. Identify what works for your family and evolve to suit your children’s ever-changing needs and abilities.

Are there homeschooling group support networks in your community?

Knowing local homeschool groups exist to share resources, consult about curriculum, and plan social events goes a long way to a positive homeschooling experience. A nearby homeschool group or local co-op can expand opportunities for your child and your family’s learning. Given homeschooling’s popularity, most communities now have one or more organizations focused on providing opportunities for home learners. Facebook, the Internet, and your local school district are all resources when seeking out these organizations. There is also a fairly comprehensive list of state and international homeschooling groups listed at Homeschool World.

Can you meet your child’s needs?

While the focus of many ‘school vs. homeschool’ discussions is on academic needs, let’s be realistic. On any given day, teachers in most schools are called on to fill the role of parent, mentor, educator, mediator, nurse and disciplinarian for 25 plus children. Odds are that if you are a parent, you are already filling most of these roles for your child and are able to give them more of your attention than someone juggling so many learners. Yes, you will want to look carefully at your child’s academic needs and decide if you should involve outside instructors for particular subjects, but you do not need a teaching certificate to oversee your child’s education. Studies have shown that children schooled by parents with a high school diploma rank the same as children schooled by parents with college degrees (in the 89th or 90th percentile, according to the Home School Legal Defense Association). Most parents would argue that high-level degrees of any sort aren’t a prerequisite for teaching your own children.

Homeschooling

What are the social implications of homeschooling?

Nearly every homeschooling parent will get asked about “socialization” at some point in their teaching career. The questions underlying any talk of socialization are usually born from concern. Will your child know how to communicate if kept out of school? Will he or she be able to interact with others, empathize, and speak in public? In other words, will he or she be normal? The implication here is that homeschooled children might be less exposed to the world or children of a similar age, and that they might miss out on opportunities to learn via the social dynamics of the schoolyard.

In reality, homeschooled children tend to have highly developed social skills because they are learning socialization from their parents and a wide variety of real-world situations. Vancouver psychologist Dr. Gordon Neufeld famously noted that children schooled in a classroom experience higher incidences of negative socializations like bullying, peer pressure, and emotional withdrawal because of their excessive exposure to large groups of children the same age and fewer adults monitoring their behavior (also known as peer orientation). In contrast, homeschooled children spend their days learning and playing within family and community and guided by mentors and teachers.

Yes, the onus is on the family to provide a wide variety of social experiences—but this usually comes with everyday life. In addition to extra curricular lessons like music or sports, the average homeschooling family may participate in learning groups, cooperatives, play groups, church communities, and more. In the words of Marian Buchanan of the Ontario Federation of Teaching Parents, “From the point of view of both social and psychological development, there have been a number of studies that confirm what homeschooling families witness firsthand, which is that homeschooled children tend to have more developed, positive social skills than their schooled counterparts.”

Do you have the time?

In this fast-paced world, fitting in yet another commitment can seem daunting. And let’s be clear about one thing: homeschooling your child is not just any commitment. But the payoff for many is great. Statistics point to strong outcomes for homeschoolers. The question, then, is not ‘do you have the time?’ but ‘can you make the time?’

Homeschooling can mean loss of family income while one parent stays at home (or two juggle part-time work), but some families find a way to keep incomes steady by involving children in a family business or working from home during flexible hours. Like other aspects of homeschooling, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for this question but many options to choose from.

Do you have a place to homeschool?

If your child needs absolute silence to learn and becomes anxious when loud noises disrupt his or her concentration, homeschooling on board your sailboat might be a challenge. The type of homeschooling that works for your family will influence how much and what kind of space you need. And although anyone determined to homeschool will find a way to make it work, this question is worth considering. Common homeschool supplies range from books and maps to math manipulatives and science kits: each requiring space and easy access. Digital and online resources can help trim the amount of shelf space needed, but many prefer the hands-on experience of real, tactile materials.

What about a transition plan?

We began homeschooling because the idea of an all-day kindergarten, the only option offered in our district, seemed like the wrong choice for our children. Our idea was to ease them into the school system sometime around middle school. When budget cuts and amalgamations saw our middle schools evaporate, we realized they might as well stay at home until their interests exceeded our capacity to teach (or facilitate learning) their chosen subjects. They were thriving, after all. As our eldest daughter approached high school and professed her desire to be a pediatrician, we began integrating her into the academic system through a blended school district program. This combined the best of homeschooling with a weekly classroom session, a science club, and group field trips. Knowing the options for my daughter’s eventual transition was helpful so we could execute them over time.

A final word

Whatever your situation, there is likely a homeschooling model to suit your child’s needs. The key is carefully considering your family’s suitability and goals and using the resources at your fingertips.

Shannon Cowan
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Shannon Cowan is an author, editor, and teacher who lives on six acres of land with her husband, daughters, and backyard chicken flock.
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