There’s a good chance that as a parent you’ve considered homeschooling your kids. How can you be sure that homeschooling is the right option for you?
It’s a debate that’s been raging for years, and both public and home education have their pros and cons. The truth is that homeschooling, perfect as it may be for some, won’t be suited to everybody.
It’s still a viable option, though, so I want to shed some light on it.
The Rise of Homeschooling
More children than you think are homeschooled. Reports show that 1.7 million children (3.3 percent of students) in the USA were homeschooled in 2016 (1).
Homeschooling might be accessible for some, but in other parts of the world, it’s illegal. This includes countries you’d never guess, like the Netherlands, Sweden, and Germany. They do make exceptions, however, it’s not common.
Despite this, it’s a growing trend globally (2). Parents are slowly, but surely, leaning towards homeschooling now more than ever before. One of the most significant reasons for this is that it offers an environment more suited to thriving education.
Homeschooled kids don’t have to deal with the onslaught of social problems that plague public schools. It’s safer than public school for example. Not only is bullying eradicated, but school shootings — something American parents have no choice but to fear — are no longer a threat.
Is homeschool effective though?
Homeschooling allows your child to learn at their own comfortable pace, without the pressures of public school. This holds up against public schools. Various studies have proven that homeschooled children are just as, if not more, likely to be accepted into universities (3).
They also achieve similar, if not better, results on standardized tests, including the SATs. This is not to discredit public schools or to imply that homeschooling is without a doubt the better option. In some cases, it won’t be, and both systems have their advantages and drawbacks (which I’ll cover shortly).
I only want you to know that homeschooling is worth your consideration. On that note, here’s an in-depth look at it.
After the pandemic year of 2020, people have a whole new respect for homeschool families. For most of us, homeschooling or distance learning was thrust upon us, and we learned firsthand how hard and rewarding homeschooling can be.
Editor's Note:Katelyn Holt RN, BSN, BC
There’s much to learn about homeschooling, so don’t feel bad if you’re confused as to what it is exactly. There’s a misconception that it’s unstructured and that kids are left to go at it alone and hope for the best. While there is an element of freedom to homeschooling, it’s so much more than that.
How Does Homeschooling Work?
Unlike public schools, homeschooling gives you control over what, where, when and how quickly your child learns. So long as you follow the homeschooling laws set by your state (and of course the syllabus), the rest is up to you. Your state will also determine whether or not you have to register your home as a private school (4).
There are a few common methods to homeschooling, and you should be at full liberty to pick the one that best suits you (5).
- School at home: This is the standard for homeschooling, and is what comes to mind first when homeschool is mentioned. Children who learn this way get a full curriculum and learn from the comfort of their own home. Lessons are scheduled according to what works for the parents or teacher.
- Online public school: Online public school isn’t homeschool in the true sense of the word. It means that children are enrolled at a state-run public school, and therefore learn according to the norms of one. The only difference is that they don’t physically attend lessons and rather take their classes online, from home.
- Unit studies: This method includes various subjects that center around one common topic, for example, a significant event or person from history, or one country. It’s also known as “interest-led” learning.
- Classical: This is by far the most analytical of all methods as it focuses on three areas only: grammar, logic, and rhetoric. It’s language based and places a lot of emphasis on literature and philosophy. It’s arguably the most prestigious method.
- Montessori: Montessori learning is meant for groups of learners, but you can use this style at home, too. Its focus is to teach children as individuals rather than as one of a herd. It uses hands-on, real-world experiences instead of purely theory.
- Charlotte Mason: This is a holistic approach to homeschooling that’s based on Christianity. Its defining traits are that lessons are short, and most classes are practical.
- Relaxed: As the name implies, this method is largely unstructured. The child will still follow a packaged curriculum, but won’t follow any schedule in doing so. It’s the most appealing form of homeschooling due to the sense of freedom.
- Unschooling: I think you’ll agree this is the most unconventional one. The idea behind it is that children teach themselves and parents are merely facilitators. Children learn their way, often without instruction or intervention from parents.
It’s worth noting that colleges and universities shouldn’t discriminate against accredited homeschooled children, regardless of the method. As I mentioned, homeschool could even increase your child’s chance of being accepted into a good school.
Is Homeschooling Legal in the US?
Homeschooling is legal in all 50 states, but as I said, individual state laws will govern your homeschool experience. This could impact your homeschooling plans, so it’s well worth it to put in the research for yourself.
Some states have more regulation than others do. For example, in Ohio, there is still involvement from public schools, and parents have to meet certain criteria before they can teach (6).
North Dakota is said to be the most restrictive state for homeschooling. Other states, including Alaska, New Jersey, and Texas, have no homeschool regulation at all (7).
In some states it’s legal to teach other kids, in some it’s not. Likewise, some states demand regular testing, reports, and even unplanned inspections. Your state could also determine how many subjects your child has to study.
What Qualifications Do I Need?
This is something that depends on your state. In Washington, you’ll need a college qualification or training for in-home education. In other states, like Virginia, you will need at least a high school diploma or GED.
Your state might be one that does not require any formal education or qualification to teach your kids. Again, you’ll have to research your state laws to determine if they allow your plans to take form (8).
I must say, though, that even if you won’t need a qualification in your state, some formal training can only do you good. As your child grows up, teaching them will grow more challenging, and you’ll have to be on par with their needs.
The more you know about teaching, the better your child’s education could be. It’s not to say that you should turn away if you’re unwilling to learn, but rather that you should consider doing so. It could improve the homeschooling experience for all concerned.
When Can I Start Homeschooling?
So long as you follow the laws of your state, how early you begin homeschooling is entirely up to you. Generally speaking, kids should attend elementary school from age 5, but if you want to start home education a little earlier, you’re welcome to (9).
When deciding how early you’ll begin homeschooling your child, you’ll have to keep a few things in mind.
Has your child reached all of the age-related developmental milestones? Would they be able to handle the structure of homeschooling? Are their behavior and personality suited to an early start?
You’ll also have to consider laws and regulations, the teaching method you’ll use and of course, you’re own aptitude for teaching.
If you’re considering homeschooling toddlers or preschoolers, you might not have to put that much thought into it. The best way to kickstart their homeschooling education is to introduce them to educational or developmental play. Puzzles, story time, art and music, and other educational toys will make a massive impression.
You can even begin homeschooling mid-year. You’ll have to consider a few factors like state regulation or how much time your child will need to adjust. Regardless, it’s worth noting that you don’t have to start right at the beginning of the year (10).
Can I Homeschool With a Full-Time Job?
A better question is should you homeschool with a full-time job. It’s something that only you can answer for yourself. Many parents homeschool this way, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it will work for you (11).
Before you commit and find yourself balancing work, homeschool, and life, ask yourself a few questions:
- Who will take care of your child while you’re away?
- How much time will be spent learning?
- Can your child learn on their own? Are they old enough to do so?
- Will you have enough energy left over from work to give your child the attention and support they’ll need from you?
- Is your spouse or partner available to teach if you’re not?
These are just a few considerations. You’ll have to weigh up all your options.
Homeschooling should be as comfortable and conducive to learning as possible. If your job is going to restrict that, you might want to consider other options. Online public school, for example, is a great alternative. The unschooling approach (given that your child is capable enough) could also come in handy here.
Can Someone Else Homeschool My Child?
This is a tricky one to answer. Some states allow certified educators to tutor or teach other children, but in other states, you have to be the child’s parent or guardian (12). Some states even have laws that your child can be taught by someone else, but you, as the parent, have to handle all the record-keeping and administration (13).
You’re probably sick of hearing this, but you’ll have to research what your state allows. If you can’t (or don’t want to) teach your child yourself, consider an online school. Your child will get an education from qualified teachers with the support of a school, digitally.
It does require the same commitments that standard public schools need, and you will need a sufficient internet connection. It’s a viable option though if all else fails.
Is Homeschooling Free?
Public school is the way for a lot of people based purely on the fact that it’s free. On the other hand, homeschooling will cost you, so you’ll have to budget for it.
You’ll have to pay for the curriculum, which could cost you anywhere between 200 and 1500 dollars per student. Your teaching method and required course material will affect this. Some parents buy reusable materials, often at a lower price; and some sell theirs once they’re done.
Standardized tests are another cost you have to plan for. These can cost anywhere between 25 and 75 dollars per student, but it varies by state. It will also cost you extra if you’re hiring a test administrator or evaluator (14).
There are other extras you should factor in. You could sign up with support groups or teacher associations, where membership could be as much as $50. Resource books, tools, and software for you could also be pricey.
Then there’s conventions, field trips, and extracurricular lessons. Let’s not forget about school supplies. You don’t want to go without the stationery your child will need.
Determine what’s necessary or compulsory and budget from there. Some of these costs aren’t vital, they’re just helpful (or fun) extras. It’s also possible to find free homeschooling resources and materials if you take the time to look around online.
The Benefits of Homeschooling
Homeschooling might seem complicated or difficult at first glance, but it’s certainly worth the effort. There are so many rewarding aspects to it that it’s no surprise it’s on the rise. Here are the advantages you can expect if you choose to pursue it.
1. A Tailored Education
Your child will get an education that’s designed especially for them. They won’t be compared to other children, and therefore won’t have to compete with them. Learning takes place at their own pace.
You can also teach your child your way. Say, for example, your family is religious and your beliefs aren’t accommodated at public schools. Homeschooling allows you to teach your child as you see fit, and to control what they’re exposed to.
Most homeschooling parents feel that the standard of education is much higher than that of public schools, with noticeable differences in their child’s academics.
One reason is that children can learn for the sake of knowledge rather than grades.
2. It’s More Enjoyable for Kids
Each child is different and it could be that yours prefers public school. Academically speaking, though, homeschooling is far more pleasant for kids.
Often it’s interest based, so your child will want to learn or strive to do better. There are none of the pressures of public school (like fitting in or learning as well as other kids). Your child will also be the star of the show, and this could give their confidence a big boost.
They also get to pursue what genuinely interests them, rather than having subjects or activities forced onto them.
3. It’s Safe
Your child will also be shielded from the unpleasantness of public schools. I’ve already made mention of bullying and violent dangers in public schools but there’s so much more you can avoid.
Your child won’t be at risk of harassment or unwanted attention, nor could they fall in with the wrong crowd. There’s less exposure to naughty or inappropriate behavior, as well as drugs and alcohol.
This has the potential to make your child more discerning in the company they keep. Peer pressure is unlikely to be as much of a factor. It’s a concern to all of us that our children will do stupid things to impress others, and homeschooling decreases the chances of that.
It could even improve their behavior as a whole.
It’s also healthier. Illness can spread quickly through public schools and your child won’t be vulnerable to whatever viruses, colds, and infections make their rounds there.
4. It’s Quality Time
Time spent at public school is time spent away from you. I’m not saying that you should coddle your child until they’re an adult, but you won’t complain about the extra time you get with them.
Homeschooling can deepen and strengthen your relationship with your child. You’ll get to bond more because it’s something you’ll do together. You might even get to know each other better than you thought you did.
5. It’s Flexible
Sometimes public school and circumstance just don’t mix. If your family travels often, or school schedules just don’t work for you, homeschooling is the answer. It can be done anytime, anywhere.
As an example, one of my good friends had a semi-pro tennis career when he was young. The sport (and his potential in it) demanded a lot from him, and he couldn’t balance both his career and school. One of them had to fall back.
Unwilling to give up the amazing opportunities he had before him, his parents began to homeschool him. This way, he managed to pursue his tennis career and education without slacking in either.
6. It’s Accommodating
Some children just aren’t meant for public school and homeschool serves as an alternative.
It’s an excellent solution for children with special needs, disabilities, disorders or even gifts. It’s just as accommodating to a young genius well beyond their years, as it is to a child who uses a wheelchair or one with learning disabilities.
Forcing special needs children into public schools can cause more harm than good. It’s especially important to consider homeschooling if this applies to you.
7. It Teaches Life Skills
Homeschooling could teach your child valuable lessons in life, like responsibility and time management. These are often lost in public schools or are negatively reinforced. Punishment doesn’t always work, and sometimes kids disobey the rules just to be rebels.
Homeschooled children will take pride in what they do because those pressures are removed. They’ll be more inspired to take initiative in what they do. They’ll also be more organized.
Homeschooling teaches children to work hard so that they can play hard, and to take their work seriously. It could even improve their communication.
These are not the only benefits to homeschooling. It could be something as simple as “no more school lunches”, or something as vital as removing an unhappy child from the system. What matters is that your child could reap healthy rewards from homeschool.
A lot of children want to be homeschooled too. If yours is one of them, making them happy could be a benefit that you can add to this list.
Potential Challenges of Homeschooling
As with anything else, homeschooling isn’t perfect and may not be suitable for you or your child. There are a few drawbacks that could make or break your decision to pursue it.
- Socialization: This is a double-edged sword. Your child won’t be exposed to bullying or peer pressure, but there’s a chance that they won’t have any friends at all. If your child still has opportunities to befriend kids their age, you have nothing to worry about. If you live in an isolated spot, and your child can’t interact with others, homeschooling might not be the best option.
- Bias: If you’re not a qualified educator, you might not be capable of giving your child the education they deserve. Some homeschool situations are completely one-sided, and children are left with a biased education by the fault of their parents. This isn’t always the case, but public schools are often broader in the sense they offer realistic knowledge of the world.
- Inexperience: Likewise, you may be ill-equipped to teach certain subjects and muck it up for your child. Maybe you make an excellent geography teacher but aren’t so great at teaching chemistry. Public schools have the advantage in that teachers specialize in some subjects that you can’t teach nearly as well.
- Motivation: Homeschool is a commitment for you and your child. You might find that there are days when you just don’t feel like it. You should only sign up for homeschooling if both you and your child will be able to separate home life from school. There will be many distractions, and it could become too easy to slack or procrastinate.
- Patience: Just as you might not have the aptitude to teach certain subjects, you might not have the personality and understanding that teachers have. If your child doesn’t meet your academic expectations, will you be able to handle it and take responsibility for it? If they misbehave or act out, can you control the situation? Teaching takes an immense amount of patience and understanding.
- It won’t teach some skills that classrooms can: Another advantage for public schools is that they can teach your children social lessons homeschool can’t provide. Again, it’s not always the case, but public schools can teach things like routine, teamwork or respecting authority and following rules.
- Your child could miss out: Public schools aren’t all bad, and you never know what you’re depriving your child of. They could be passing up the opportunity to meet teachers or friends that add value to their lives. Likewise, they could miss out on playing on school teams or experiencing leadership roles like class president or prom queen. Public school is an experience. Remember you’ll be taking the good away with the bad.
- It can be stressful: Homeschooling might not be easy for you as a parent. It’s another job you’ll take on, and it will require a lot of your focus and energy. Only pursue it if you have room for it. Otherwise, you might bite off more than you can chew.
- It’s not free: Homeschooling is wonderful, but it’s not worth getting yourself into debt. This may not be a factor for you, but the costs involved are considered a con for many people. Public school is better for your budget.
- It’s misunderstood: This shouldn’t affect your decision too much, but you could be met with skepticism from relatives, friends or peers. Prepare to face potential judgment and a lot of questions. The people around you might doubt your competence, too, which won’t feel very good.
- It could make your child unhappy: Not every child wants to be home-schooled. If your child is one of them, forcing them to be homeschooled could kill their desire to learn, and their education could suffer. It could also make it more difficult for you. Teaching an unwilling child can be quite a challenge.
Tips for Homeschooling Kids
Homeschooling will most likely be an experience that involves a lot of trial and error. There’s no universal formula for ensuring a successful venture in it. You can take each of these into consideration, or filter out what doesn’t work for you.
Regardless, these tips are meant to make everyone’s homeschooling adventure easier to manage and stay on top of.
Understand the Legalities
I’ve said it again and again, but that’s because it’s of utmost importance. In the USA we don’t have one set of rules for homeschooling, so you can’t copy other parents. You have to put in the effort of knowing your state laws.
Not only will this make your homeschool easier to organize, set up and manage, but it could prevent trouble in the future. You wouldn’t want to have a school up and running, only for the government to shut it down for something you overlooked.
Before you decide on homeschooling, plan your budget accordingly. Consider every single expense you could run into, and plan for emergencies or unforeseen circumstances too.
You have to be sure that funds will be available when you need them. Don’t forget to plan for inflation, and your child’s entire school career. It would be a shame to have to call it off due to lack of finances.
Also, don’t feel pressured to spend money you don’t have. Remember that homeschooling can be stressful as it is. You don’t want the burden of financial trouble on top of that.
Save where you can. You don’t have to buy the latest gadgets or fanciest stationery. Buy your books second-hand where possible, or even consider borrowing what you need.
I’ve said that teaching requires certain personality traits, like patience and understanding. You’ll want to make an effort to be the best teacher you can be. Some mental preparation never harmed anyone.
Be ready for the emotional, psychological and intellectual impact it will have on you. Learn the curriculum before you teach it. Research how to effectively teach, or practice your lessons beforehand.
Homeschooling probably won’t be what you expect it to be. Prepare yourself for the best and worst of it. Remember that it can also be draining, and you’ll have to make your mental health a priority.
Don’t be afraid though. Homeschooling is an extremely rewarding experience. Just keep it positive and don’t let the challenges knock you over.
In line with the above, look into homeschooling as much as you can. The internet is an endless resource that can help you along the way.
If you’re looking for more interactive resources, consider joining a club or support group. If there are no such associations nearby, consider platforms like Facebook, Reddit or even Discord. Using social media, you can gather stories and advice from people who are in the same boat as you.
There are also online courses you can take, books you can read or government resources available to you, both online and off.
Choose Your Curriculum Wisely
Consider the bigger picture before you commit to a curriculum. There’s much to think about to determine whether or not a curriculum will suit you, or be a success.
- How does your child learn? Are they hands-on or book smart? Do they prefer workbooks or projects? Will they need a lot of guidance, or are they an independent student?
- What tools will you need? Your teaching style matters too. If you’re not the sort of person to use flashcards, or drama or art; don’t choose a curriculum that relies heavily on them. You have to be able to teach efficiently. If you’re incapable of making it work, your child will suffer.
- What are your homeschooling priorities? Some curricula focus on character growth, others on prestigious academics. Does your child have special needs? Are you homeschooling because you travel a lot or don’t have enough time to commit to public school? If your lifestyle is too busy for public school, reconsider a full curriculum. If your child wants to get into university, don’t choose a course that’s too basic.
- What does your child want to learn about? There’s freedom to choose. Use it to your advantage. It will encourage your child’s interest in their education.
- Can you afford it? Some curriculum cost more because you’ll have to buy more books, tools or software. Don’t settle on a subpar curriculum just because it’s easier, but also don’t teach beyond your means.
Work Towards Something
Homeschool will be so much easier for you and your child if you both have a goal in mind. These can be long-term goals (like studying at university someday), or short term goals (like acing an exam).
Goalkeeping will help you both stay focused and motivated.
Stick to a Routine
Make this as simple or complicated as you like. If your child wants to invest the same hours as they would in a public school, let them. If you can create a timetable, do that.
If you’d rather be more vague, like saying that classes take place in the afternoon, that will also work. Having a rigid schedule isn’t as important as consistency.
Whichever routine works for you, make an effort to stick to it.
Don’t be afraid to explore different learning styles, methods or curricula until you find one that works and brings results.
Freedom is where most of the appeal lies, so dabble in it. This is especially important if you find that things aren’t running smoothly. Don’t give up, just try something new.
Include Extracurricular Activities
These can be formal lessons or just for fun. The goal is to provide an environment that your child can socialize in.
Extracurricular activities are a fun, safe and rewarding way to get your child out of the house. Consider enrolling them into a club, or team. Sports and the arts are favorites.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
Does your child need a tutor? Do you need a tutor? You don’t have to carry the weight of homeschooling by yourself.
Even in public school settings, where teachers are qualified, some children still need extra help. It’s not a testament to failure on your part if your child needs lessons away from you. Sometimes all they need is a boost.
Take Care of Yourself
Don’t push too hard. Take regular breaks, and don’t let your good habits (like sleep, exercise or healthy eating) take a back seat.
It’s just as important to pace yourself as it is to pace your child. If you’re unhealthy, exhausted or ill all the time, homeschool won’t be fun for either of you.
It’s easier said than done, but try not to take yourself too seriously. You don’t have to be a perfect teacher, and your child doesn’t have to be a perfect student.
It’s about education, yes, but it should be fulfilling. Both you and your child should be happy in it. Otherwise, you’ll lose your motivation to continue.
Additional Resources for Homeschooling
If you want to dig a little deeper into homeschooling, here are some useful resources that might help you on your journey.
- Homeschool Facts Interactive Map of State Laws
- Homeschool Legal Defence Association Planning Checklist
- The Unhurried Homeschooler: A Simple, Mercifully Short Book on Homeschooling
- A Survivor’s Guide to Homeschooling
- Homeschooling Methods: Seasoned Advice on Learning Styles
- 102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum
Don’t rush into homeschooling. If you have reservations or doubts, look into it some more.
The truth is that although homeschooling is excellent, it’s just not for everyone.
And there you have it; everything I can share with you about homeschooling. There’s so much more information available that with some effort, you can know everything there is to know. If you’re keen to start homeschooling, I hope I’ve helped you get started.