Breast or bottle? Cloth or disposable? Co-sleep or room-share? We get it – once that pregnancy test reads “positive,” parenting becomes a decision-making marathon. And it doesn’t end with the newborn days or even the toddler years. As parents, we sign on for the long haul, making calls left and right that impact who our children will ultimately grow up to be. One of the most important decisions among them? How we choose to educate our kids.
For the majority of Americans, the options for education are simple: choose between your local public school and a private one. But what about homeschooling? For a growing number of parents, a home-based education is a viable option. In 2016, the U.S. Board of Education estimated that, across the country, 1.6 million children were being educated in parent-led programs — and that number is steadily rising.
But whether you’re planning for your baby’s future or considering a big change for your grade-schooler, there’s plenty to ponder when it comes to home-based learning.
So what, exactly, is homeschooling?
Homeschooling is a bit of a misnomer. Sure, this type of education is rooted within the home — but for these students, plenty of learning also takes place outside in the real world. Carlan, mom to 8-year-old Zach, often incorporates everyday experiences into her homeschool lesson plans.
“I love the flexibility homeschooling offers,” she says. “Instead of committing my son to an entire day spent confined to one classroom, we make the world our classroom, too. This is sort of an extreme example, but during our Holocaust studies, we were able to plan a family vacation to Amsterdam — and make our visit to the Anne Frank house part of our lesson.”
With that, perhaps a better definition of this age-old practice is simply this: putting the onus on parents to deliver an effective, holistic, and tailored education for their young ones.
How does it work?
For the parent, homeschooling becomes a job in itself. Here, mom or dad is signing up to be a teacher, developing their educational philosophy, and customizing a learning plan to meet their children’s needs, skill levels, and interests. There’s no special certification needed, just an earnest wish to provide a well-rounded learning experience.
A better definition of this age-old practice is simply this: putting the onus on parents to deliver an effective, holistic, and tailored education for their young ones.
But if you think parents go into homeschooling blindly, think again. There are many time-tested methods with years of practice and evidence behind them. These methods differ in their focus, flexibility, and cost for materials.
- The Classical approach, for example, is the most popular. It has also been around the longest and, at its core, works to churn out great readers who have a love of the world’s most influential books.
- Into a gentle and more observational approach to learning? The Charlotte Mason method peppers short bursts of study time with nature walks, journaling, and child-directed observational studies.
No matter if your interest falls with one of these approaches — or the others available — there are resources ranging from lesson plans to online study groups to tutors and homeschool networks readily available to help parents take the leap.
Is homeschooling legal?
Is eschewing traditional school in favor of home-based learning even legal in the U.S.? Yes! All 50 states allow for schooling at home, though requirements and guidelines certainly vary depending on where you’re located. If you are considering this type of education, do your research with your state’s Homeschool Legal Defense Association. The pros there can guide you on navigating the red tape in your state.
While some areas of the country take a more hands-off approach to homeschooling, others call for parents to be more in-step with traditional schools. Depending on where you live, you may be required to register your home as a private school — or take your homeschooled children in for standardized testing alongside their traditionally educated peers. You may have recordkeeping, attendance, and school withdrawal rules to follow as well.
Bottom line? Your local HSLDA chapter will guide you on moving forward.
What are the benefits of homeschooling?
For the right parents and the right kids, homeschooling can offer a host of benefits. For one, mom and dad can customize their child’s education — and offer their little ones way more attention than they’d be granted in a public or private classroom. Kids can learn at their own pace, pursue their passions, and study concepts and lessons real-time in their communities.
Recent studies also suggest that homeschooled students may have a leg-up on their public school counterparts. According to the National Home Education Research Institute, children with home-based educations typically outscore public school students by 15 to 30 percentile points on standardized tests.
Are there any drawbacks?
While there are plenty of points of praise for parent-led programs, there are also drawbacks too. For one, when you’re learning inside of your home, you don’t have access to a school gymnasium, music room, science and photography labs, and more. Without as much oversight, there’s also, quite frankly, more freedom to mess up. But perhaps the biggest concern among people who consider homeschooling is the fear of social isolation.
To that, homeschooling mom of four Jessica, says, “I understand the concern that, by homeschooling, you’re effectively taking your child out of a situation where they’re forced to interact with other kids day in and day out. But if you do it right, you don’t school your child 100 percent of the time at the kitchen table. You go out into your neighborhood and interact with others every single day.”
There are also homeschool co-ops that bring like-minded families together to talk over curriculum and give kids the chance to forge friendships. With the right intention, homeschooling parents can assure their children a totally normal social existence, involving them in neighborhood programs and sports leagues — and giving them plenty of opportunities to make friends in their communities.