At its most basic level, homeschooling is education that takes place in the family, not in a public or private school. The child’s curriculum is chosen by the parent and the education is carried out by the family, usually a parent, but sometimes by another relative. Homeschooling is legal throughout the United States, but each state has different laws regulating the practice. Many other countries also allow homeschooling and the practice is rapidly growing. Homeschooling, while an excellent choice for many families, is not for every family and those considering it should study the realities of the choice before deciding what to do.
Each homeschooling family designs a unique schooling system that suits its needs and interests. For this reason, there is no single description of a homeschooling lifestyle, other than that it is very family-centered. Because the children are with their families all day, rather than spending the majority of each day in daycare and school, life generally revolves around the children and their education.
Following are a few of the more common variations on homeschooling:
Online or public school-based homeschooling: Some people don’t consider this to be homeschooling since the family doesn’t do the teaching or overseeing of the education. It is entirely planned, taught, and graded by an outside organization. However, it’s a popular option, particularly for beginners or parents who are both employed.
Structured Schooling: Structured schooling resembles the public school classroom. There are, of course, varying degrees of structure. In some homes, children work at a desk and follow a set schedule-math at 9, science at ten, and so on. Each day they do a set amount of work. Other homes vary that a bit, with the work being self-paced, or the children allowed to work wherever they are comfortable.
Unschooling or Child-Led Learning: In its purest form, this would resemble the British experimental schools of the past, where children learn what they want to learn whenever they want to learn it. Most parents aren’t quite that unstructured, perhaps structuring reading instruction until the child is proficient, and largely structuring a self-paced math class. Other learning would be done whenever the child chose to do it. If a child has been filled with a love of learning and has a wide range of materials and experiences available, he will learn a great deal this way.
Eclectic Learning: This is the most popular way of educating homeschooled children. Parents mix-and-match to meet their family’s needs. Some subjects are structured and others are not. A parent might teach science every day, but choose from subjects that excite her children or that interest her. She will utilize some prepared materials and create others on her own. Learning is often a diverse mixture of desk work, hands-on learning, reading, and volunteer work. Portions of the day are taught formally and other subjects are taught as part of everyday life–for instance, cooking is taught while making dinner, not as a home-ec class.
Unit Studies: This popular method ties all subjects together by a common theme, perhaps science or history. A parent who loves history might organize her history according to a timeline, starting with Creation and moving forward. All or most other subjects are taught through that subject. For instance, a mother who is teaching the Revolutionary War in the United States will begin by looking at all the connections found in that subject. Instead of using a reading textbook, she will select quality fiction and non-fiction about the war. She will find out what scientific discoveries came about during that time, and help the children learn about them and then help them find out what we know about the subject today. Art will involve making a diorama of the war, and writing skills will include reports and stories written about the war. Even math story problems will be war-related. The child will study the Revolutionary War all day for a month or so, but learn all other subjects in a unified way.
Homeschooling benefits children in several ways. One of the most important benefits is that it allows children to be more influenced by parents than by peers. Although homeschooled children have many friends, through church, organized activities, and their own neighborhoods, they spend more time with their families than they do their peers, making them less peer-dependent, and less easily influenced by peers. Because they spend more time with siblings, and are more dependent on them for entertainment when homeschooling is done and public school is still in, they tend to develop closer relationships to their siblings, which continue throughout life. Because they spend more meaningful, focused time with their parents than with their teachers, the values, opinions, and examples of their parents count heavily. They see more of how their parents live their daily lives, giving the parents a greater responsibility to set a proper example.
Homeschooling also benefits children academically. In most homes, children are taught at their own pace and using the most effective learning style for each child. Many learning disabled children have noticed they really no longer noticed their disabilities after they began to homeschool and could accommodate their special needs easily. A child who loves to read can gather most of his knowledge from books. A child who needs to physically do something in order to learn can do so. While in an ordinary classroom, a child who can’t sit still is a disruption, in a homeschool, his mother can assign him to stand at one end of the hallway and run to the other end, write his answer on a chalkboard, and race back. Gradually, over time, she can help him learn to sit quietly for longer periods of time, but he won’t lose learning time in the process.
Children in a classroom are often either bored or confused, because it’s very difficult to meet the pacing needs of each child, and so the pace is geared to the typical child. At home, where there are only a few children, the parent can exactly match a child’s learning speed. He may not cover every math problem in the book by the end of the year, but he can master every problem he completes, and at the end of his education, has a greater mastery of the topic than did children who didn’t understand many of the concepts taught. A child who is less mature can start reading later without being labeled a failure and a child with advanced skills can read at a younger age without the challenge of either being bored in school or having to skip grades and spend the day with children the wrong age.
Many people contemplating homeschooling wonder about socialization. Of course, socialization is not supposed to be the primary purpose of a public school, but the socialization provided is an unusually artificial one that will never again be present in a person’s life. Seldom do adults find themselves spending the majority of their day with people exactly their own age and who live in an environment similar to their own. They learn to interact only with peers and one adult, but often lack the ability to socialize with others outside their peer group, which is limiting in later life. In contrast, children who are homeschooled generally have friends of all ages, from babies to adults, and are comfortable in mixed groups. Not for homeschoolers are the taunts that come from playing with “babies” should they find themselves in the company of children much younger. Nor are they uneasy around the elderly or even their parents’ friends. Because so much of their socialization happens in the real world, rather than the artificial school environment, they are exposed to a wide range of people.
Homeschooling, while beneficial for many families, is not for everyone. It requires a parent to be with the child during schooling, at least in the younger years. This is sometimes accomplished by having parents work from home or in alternating shifts, or by having a grandparent homeschool, but it can be a challenge for many families. It also requires a parent to enjoy the company of their children for very long periods of time. A parent who finds herself counting the days until public school begins again will most likely not enjoy having her children home all year long. For some parents, the break from the children is critical to their emotional well-being.
Homeschooling is one of many options which can work for a child. The important thing is to meet the child’s needs with the educational method that suits him and the rest of the family, whether it is homeschooling or traditional schooling.
Parents should generally enjoy sitting down and playing with their children and enjoy teaching them. In addition, unless an online program is used, the parents should also enjoy studying and learning. In most families, the parents and children learn together, which is one way parents teach what they don’t know. This means the parent must be able to “homeschool” herself. She will also teach her children how to teach themselves, because the time invariably comes when the child passes up the parent.
Parents who are considering homeschooling may want to test it out in the preschool years or for a few weeks in the summer, in order to see how it feels. They should seek out honest homeschooling parents to advise them and search for help on the Internet or in quality homeschooling books. If they are careful to make sure their child stays up with the schools for math and reading, the child can easily return to school if the family decides it is not right for them. It should be noted that the first year is always challenging, as the parents learn how they like to teach and how the children like to learn, and as they carry out the considerable adaptations necessary to homeschool for the first time. After the first year, families tend to settle into a routine.
Following are the most important things to remember as you explore homeschooling:
1. Select a homeschooling method that suits your family, not one that is fashionable at the moment.
2. Decide if you have the temperament to homeschool. If it’s an emergency-such as when a child is really struggling in school-you’ll find you can do it even if you thought you could not. In fact, many parents who think they can’t homeschool find they can.
3. Consider a unit study that allows the entire family to learn the same thing, but at each person’s own level. This helps to build unity and reduce preparation time.
4. Plan to make homeschooling a way to strengthen the family.
5. Plan ways to help the children make friends and meet a wide variety of people.
6. Plan activities that take the child out of the home-church, clubs, sports, field trips-that allow him to experience the world first-hand.
7. Be flexible. Test a variety of teaching methods and be willing to meet your child’s pace and learning styles.
8. Continue your own education to improve your teaching and to set the example.
9. Consider a test run for a short period of time.
10. Homeschooling doesn’t have to be forever. It can last a few years, or happen off and on through a child’s life. Sometimes parents who begin decide to continue on forever, and others use it as a temporary measure. Either way is fine.