I have a wide range of experience when it comes my education. As an adolescent I attended a private, parochial school. Middle school was spent in public education. And then my mother homeschooled me through the high school years.
Since public education is the norm for most American families, the pros and cons of that system are already well known, so I won’t cover that here. My focus today is on homeschooling and I hope the information provided here will be helpful in your decision making process. At the very least, it will broaden your horizons and help you understand why many families have made the switch, and why this trend keeps gaining momentum.
THE ADVANTAGES OF HOMESCHOOLING
Parental Involvement: When you are your child’s teacher, you are intimately involved in their learning. That means you get to personally select their curriculum and work with them one-on-one each day. No need to “undo” what’s being taught at school. No need to meet with teachers when problems or issues arise in the classroom. No need to be informed by a third party which areas your child needs help with. It’s all within your control. Homeschooling parents consistently report that being involved so closely with their child’s schooling not only builds trust and love, but it helps catch potential problems early.
Safety: Keeping children safe in public schools is a very real concern, and the dangers increase every day. Many parents feel a sense of helplessness each day as they watch their child boards the school bus. Will the bus driver be responsible and attentive? Will the teacher look out for their best interest? Will their peers be kind and respectful? Or worse: what if there’s an incident of violence? We’ve all seen horrific reports of school shootings. But homeschooling parents do not worry about these things. Their children learn every day in a safe and familiar environment.
Quality of Education: Parents probably know better than anyone else that some of the most important lessons learned do not take place in the classroom. A successful plan for education must be liberal in the sense that it encompasses a broad spectrum of learning resources – everything from textbooks to table settings. Whether your child is doing math problems in a workbook, or helping you bake cookies, he is learning. While there are extra curricular and enrichment opportunities available in the public schools, the options are limited and they often require a sizable time commitment, as well as driving back and forth from home to school. Plus, the “ethics factor” is almost entirely absent in a public school setting. Children are taught skills, but without any moral grounding to give them perspective.
It is a well known fact that homeschooled children consistently out perform their public school counterparts in standardized tests. This means that the quality of education they receive at home is quite often superior to what’s being offered by licensed public school teachers with degrees. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t teach your child successfully without formal training. The facts are on your side.
Flexibility: Education is just one facet of our existence and so it shouldn’t hold a monopoly on our lives. For this reason, parents appreciate a learning system that is flexible. Things like unexpected illness, doctor appointments, a new baby or a family vacation won’t become a burden when you are homeschooling. Families incorporate life’s up and downs into homeschooling in all sorts of creative ways. Some do school 4 days a week leaving 1 day for appointments and errands. Others get ahead with school work to allow for days off or an upcoming vacation. Even something like an extended illness won’t derail homeschooling. Families can take a few weeks off and make up the work during the summer. Or you can do “light” schoolwork while you or your child is recuperating. Believe me, I’ve done our math and phonics lessons orally while lying on the couch with morning sickness!
Children need to see that being flexible is a good thing. We have to learn to “roll with the punches” and keep moving forward. Life happens and we can sometimes get too caught up in the rules. You don’t HAVE to be in school 5 days a week for 8 hours a day to learn or be a successful student. Nor do you HAVE to work 5 days a week for 40 hours to earn a living.
THE DRAWBACKS OF HOMESCHOOLING
First of all, don’t let anyone tell you there aren’t drawbacks to homeschooling. Even the biggest advocate has to be honest and admit there can be challenges. I’ve listed some of the most common concerns BUT I’ve also included ways to possibly remedy these problems so that aspiring homeschoolers will not be discouraged.
Pressure on Parents: Because you are the sole educator you bear the burden of your child’s education. If they get to 5th grade and can’t read, that’s all on you! Can’t blame the local school system.
Homeschooling entails serious responsibility and a parent must be willing to shoulder it. If you slack off or let things go, your children’s learning will suffer. Meeting the demands of homeschooling means that the parent must do whatever it takes to help their child succeed.
How to Relieve the Pressure: When the going gets tough, parents can look to outside resources for help in shouldering educational responsibility. A private tutor can pull your child ahead in subjects where he is lagging, or where you feel you can not assist. Or, if you choose to participate in a virtual homeschool program, it will automatically include remedial assistance from experienced educators. Plus, the standards that are built in to such systems will help provide the accountability you need to keep you on track.
Cost of Curriculum: When you homeschool, you typically have to purchase your own curriculum. The cost varies. Some parents piece together their own curriculum to save money. They might pick up used books at yard sales or online auctions, plus spend a few dollars more on basic school supplies. For them, the cost of schooling for a typical first grader might be $40 or less for the year. If a prepackaged curriculum is purchased, the average cost per year for a typical first grader might be from $100 to $150.
How to Cut Costs: You might compare homeschooling to the “free” option of a public school and think there’s no contest. But public schooling is not exactly free. Think about how much you spend each year on school clothes and school supplies, and perhaps on gas from commutes. It adds up. Now compare it to homeschooling. No gas. No new clothes needed just for school. No list of supplies you HAVE to buy. You buy the things you want and you can cut cost by buying used, reselling uneeded books or swapping with other homeschoolers. You’ll also find much of your curriculum is non-consumable, meaning it can be passed on from child to child. Things that you go through one time and throw away, like paperback workbooks, are among the cheapest things you’ll buy.
Plus, as principal and parent you can decide what you need and what you don’t. If I have a good grasp of the subject matter, I don’t buy the teacher’s manual. Or if I feel the textbook is thorough enough to cover the material, I may not buy the workbook and simply buy my child a 35 cent notebook to use for practice outside the lessons.
Another great way to save costs is to enroll in a virtual program. We are trying this for the first time in 2010 with our 1st and 2nd graders. The virtual school provides a complete curriculum and school supplies for just $40 per child. And they deliver it right to your door! Plus, assistance whenever we need it from their teachers is just an email or a phone call away.
All things considered, it’s very possible to homeschool your child for less than it would cost to send them to the public schools.
Less Socialization: Homeschoolers do not typically associate with a large group of their peers each day and so this limits the time they spend socializing with their age group.
Opportunities for Socialization: A lot of people think that socialization simply means being around your peers for an extended amount of time, and that is a necessary step in normal child development. Wrong. Socialization at its most basic simply means learning to get along with and to behave similarly to other people. Throwing a bunch of kids together in a classroom for 7 hours a day doesn’t guarantee good socialization anymore than throwing a bunch of ingredients in a pot ensures you’re going to get a good soup. It’s more complex than that.
Good social interaction starts when we are infants. We learn to interact with our parents and our siblings. Later on, this circle of people widens, but it widens slowly and too many “experts” are pushing children too soon. Think about it. If a child has not been well socialized within his own family unit, placing him into a public school setting is going to exacerbate the problem, not fix it. And unless there is successful intervention on his behalf, his presence in the classroom (and the presence of other children like himself) is going to be a detriment to the socialization of all the other children (as well as a hindrance to good learning).
Most of the foundations for good socialization are laid within the home, before children reach the age of 4 or 5. In other words, most are set for success or failure before they are even eligible to enroll in school!
Socialization is important, certainly, but it’s only one component of our education, and as I’ve said before it all starts with the family, not with the school. If the standard of good socialization for a child is 7 hours in a classroom with his peer group, then of course homeschooling is sub par. But that standard is arbitrary and ignorant.
Homeschoolers receive ample opportunities for socializing outside the circle of their family. They socialize at church, at play groups, at parties and get-togethers with friends. They socialize at the store while mother is running errands. They socialize through volunteer opportunities like visiting the sick and age. The opportunities are endless, and if I may so, they more closely mirror “real life” than what traditional school children experience anyway. Life is not a static, unchanging classroom full of people all the same age as you. Life is full of different places and different people of all ages and from all walks of life.
Working Parents: Some families cannot homeschool because both parents are working. As much as mother would like to teach her children, she feels that her extra income is necessary to support the family.
Ways to Make Homeschooling Work: It can be difficult these days to live on one income, but it can be done in many cases if parents are willing to make sacrifices and be creative. One of the most popular ways to do this, especially now that we have the Internet, is for the mother to earn a little income at home.
Or, if the mother absolutely must work or is single, but is still committed to homeschooling, it’s possible to let another homeschooling parent be the teacher. Approach a friend or neighbor or family member that is already homeschooling and ask how much they would charge to add your child to their homeschool.
Living on one income, of course, is the ideal. It pays to sit back and take a look at your finances and your priorities. Did you buy a house or a car with a monthly payment that is killing you financially? If so, then you need to admit you bought something you couldn’t afford, and decide how to remedy the situation. Can you refinance to get a low fixed rate? If that’s not possible and you’re just barely making the payments, it’s time NOT for more income but to sell your house. The same thing applies to cars. If you are making payments on your vehicle, then you bought something you obviously couldn’t afford (or you wouldn’t have had to go into debt to get it). Sell the car and buy something with cash that won’t eat you alive every month with payments.
The number one reason that most Americans are strapped for money is NOT the high cost of living. It’s debt. The debtor is a slave to the lender. When a family is in debt their paycheck goes straight to the creditor leaving them without any freedom to make deliberate financial decisions. Sadly, the only choice they feel they can make is “make more money.” That usually means sending mom to work and the children to daycare. It’s a vicious cycle because those two things eat into the family budget, as well as causing additional stress and disharmony in the home.
If you work hard to get out of debt, you free up more money each month in your budget. More money means more freedom. It means less pressure. It means maybe mama CAN stop working and homeschool the children.
More Questions about Homeschooling: I can’t cover everything in this blog, so feel free to leave your questions and comments here!