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What Is Homeschooling and Is It Right for Me?

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Mother homeschooling her daughter
Let's be honest: Homeschooling isn't for everyone. Here is a look at what homeschooling is, and several ways to determine if it's best for your family.

“Should I homeschool my child?” can be a sensitive question. Sometimes it carries with it a wide range of assumptions. So, let’s be clear from the get-go: there is more than one way to get an excellent education. I have seen education from every side of the table. I was a former homeschool student and attended Stanford and Duke Universities before teaching in public high schools and military barracks. All that experience gives me the confidence to say that choosing to homeschool your child does not mean you love him any more than the parents who sends their child to traditional school. A host of factors go into deciding which learning path best fits our children and our families. But first, let’s answer the question, “What is homeschooling?”

What is Homeschooling?

For decades, meeting a homeschooler was like spotting an alien — folks had heard rumors about them, but were they for real? And, why would anyone want to turn their child into an alien anyway? I should know. My parents homeschooled me back in the ’80s when it was barely legal. We drew stares when we joined my mom at the grocery during school hours.

But, times have changed. In a culture that now celebrates innovation, customization, and flexibility over the previously celebrated uniformity, homeschooling has begun to take on a new shine. Of course, it helps that homeschoolers have been tested alongside their peers for the past few decades and found to be at grade level, if not significantly higher. 

Even colleges have begun to not only tolerate homeschooled applicants but seek them out. My colleague, Dean Sue Wasiolek of Duke University, and I published our research on what colleges think of homeschoolers.

Defining Homeschool

So, what is homeschooling? Simply put, it’s a flexible learning format where parents can weave learning preferences, curriculum, lifestyle, home responsibilities, career, and family needs into a holistic picture of what it means to learn together. Beyond that, it’s a lengthier process to pin down a more specific definition. Parents are innovating, customizing, and flexing learning to fit their lives, and each family does that differently. 

For instance, some families homeschool using a traditional schedule and calendar. Others teach year-round and modify the plan to accommodate careers; sometimes, both parent-teachers juggle jobs alongside schooling their kids. Some families have combined learning with adventure — taking school on the road and traveling cross‐country or around the globe to learn as they go. However, most homeschoolers will tell you that it’s simply a way to incorporate academics into life. This approach helps our children enjoy a customized education that develops character, a love for learning, and a sound worldview.

What About the Social Aspect?

It’s the question everyone asks when wondering if they should homeschool their child. Quite honestly, it’s the question I dreaded as a kid — the idea that someone assumed I was a social misfit before meeting me because I studied math at my kitchen table instead of in a classroom. But, now I see the question as an opportunity to help someone discover a way to learn that could be life-changing for either them or someone they love.

To answer, I first flip the question — what is it about traditional school that makes us think it is beneficial to mix the social with academics? Many teachers admit that sometimes socialization gets in the way of learning — whether it’s peer pressure, bullying, embarrassment, insecurity, altercations, or class distraction. It’s hard to get 30 students on task to accomplish a uniform goal in 45 minutes: I should know, I used to teach high school. Frequently, I found it was more effective to invite a student to stay after class for 5‐10 minutes of individualized instruction. Blending socializing with academics is not always a plus, so it’s a good starting point to test that assumption.

Addressing the Real Question

Then, I flip the question back to what the person is really asking: How do I balance my child’s holistic learning needs between math and playdates? It’s a lot easier than some might assume. As I alluded to earlier, I can often accomplish more with my student in less time when teaching him individually. As a result, we need a lot less time during the day to learn. 

Elementary takes anywhere from 1‐2.5 hours a day, Middle School is about 3‐4, and High school is about 4‐6. That leaves the rest of the day to join clubs, get involved with local sports teams, sign up for extracurriculars, and make mud pies with friends. 

When asking if you should homeschool your child, imagine how wonderful it would have been as a child to learn alongside a loving parent from breakfast through lunch, spend the afternoon playing with friends at various clubs, and spend the evening as a family with no homework (because you finished it all that morning)? It’s a pretty sweet deal. (This is a great link if you’re still saying, “But I don’t want my kid to be weird.”)

Am I Qualified?

Let’s be honest. Homeschooling isn’t for everyone. 

Just because we can teach doesn’t mean that we should. For example, even though I grew up swimming competitively, I still hire a swim coach to teach my kids freestyle. But, more importantly, hiring a swim coach doesn’t mean I love my kids any less. In the same way, whether or not we homeschool our kids is not proof of how much we know or how much we love them — so, no judgment. 

That disclaimer aside, almost anyone is capable of homeschooling — especially with the vast ocean of resources available to parent-teachers today.

Homeschooling is legal in all 50 states (though not worldwide), and HSLDA explains how to legally homeschool where you live. Beyond that, very few states have qualifications for parent-teachers beyond high school education. 

Questions to Consider

Consider these following questions when deciding if you should homeschool your child:

1. Do you have flexibility within your work or family schedule to take on additional hours of teaching? (Realizing, of course, that homeschooling requires far less time than traditional classrooms and does not necessarily need to be done M‐F from 8‐3).

2. Do you have a budget to purchase curriculum and supplies? At its most basic, homeschooling can cost $500 per year for each student to homeschool privately. However, homeschooling with support from the state is also an option, where states can reimburse school costs to families, sometimes up to $3000 per child.

3. Do you have a confident understanding of how to use the Internet to access either the resources you need or the people who can help you find those resources? There are oodles of online and in‐person supplemental programs — the trick is knowing who to ask and where to look. Homeschool Co‐ops can be a great help here, as can a local librarian.

4. Do you have support from family or friends who can encourage you in this new adventure? I’ve seen a lot of non‐traditional families make homeschooling work — including single moms and grandparents. Sometimes it only takes having one person in your corner to make it doable.

Questions aside, many parents have taught their children under far more dire situations with even fewer resources and still managed to give their child not only a solid education but excellent life preparedness. For example, look at Abraham Lincoln or, more recently, Dr. Ben Carson.

Things You Do Not Need to Homeschool

When you’re asking if you should homeschool your child, take notice what was not in that list above. You do not need:

  • A dedicated school room in your house
  • A full‐time nanny
  • One full‐time stay‐at‐home parent
  • Unlimited wealth and resources.
  • A teaching degree. (In fact, during COVID, many teachers will be quick to tell you they struggled when trying to apply classroom techniques to the kitchen table. It’s an entirely different skill set.) 

Is There More Than One Way to Homeschool?

Is there more than one way to homeschool if you decide you should homeschool your child? Yes! Beyond unlimited scenarios of how to customize and flex homeschooling to work best for your family, keep in mind four main categories for how you can teach from home. 

1. ZoomSchooling 

ZoomSchooling, as we knew it during COVID‐19, is an “emergency online public school at home.” It is regulated, evaluated, and funded by the state and is a temporary solution to an emergency crisis. Unlike homeschool, ZoomSchool parents do not have the authority to choose curriculum, time of study, or format — that authority belongs entirely to the school.

2. Public Online School

Public online school is also part of the traditional school district. Before anyone had ever heard of social distancing, students enrolled in public school were sometimes given the option of taking courses online through their school district as part of their approved course load. While the quality of this learning format is different from ZoomSchool, students are still entirely under the district’s authority.

3. Public Homeschooling 

Public homeschooling is a hybrid between public school and private homeschooling. The state reimburses parents to cover a specific list of approved curricula and extracurricular expenses in this model. Along with those funds come support and accountability — requiring parents to adhere to the traditional school schedule and meet with a district‐approved teacher to discuss proof of work regularly.

For parents wanting more structure, this can be a good compromise for having the ability to customize some of the content from home while still having support from the local district. Other parents have used it as a bridge to build confidence in themselves to transition from traditional school into private homeschooling. However, this hybrid does come with strings attached, as it should — it is a slightly more malleable form of public school at home, being partially funded by the state.

4. Private Homeschooling 

Private homeschooling is the most customizable and independent form of learning from home. It is the original definition of what folks mean when they say “homeschooling.” Parents who opt to homeschool privately enjoy the opportunity to tailor the pace, curriculum, schedule, and school focus. This method of homeschooling provides families with the greatest amount of autonomy — empowering them to customize their curriculum and school schedule to fit their needs best. However, all decisions and financial costs are the parent’s responsibility, which can be initially daunting for some. On the other hand, private homeschooling can be very freeing for others since it is not funded or managed by the state.

Ultimately, it’s refreshing (and, yes, sometimes unnerving) to know that as parents, we are in the driver’s seat. Should you decide to homeschool, you have the right to do so at any time. (Check with HSLDA for specifics about how to homeschool legally in your state). 

Free Resources

Congratulations for making it this far in the article. You win a prize! For a limited time, Homeschool Expert is giving away 1000 FREE copies of its video course full of practical tips and advice, Homeschool Like an Expert, to Focus on the Family readers using the code FAMILY2021. No strings attached.

In addition, Homeschool Expert is offering a FREE webinar, “Is Homeschooling Right for Me?” This webinar takes the topic even deeper, and answers questions live. Be sure to sign up for the newsletter at the bottom of the page for details.

These resources can help you decide if you should homeschool your child or if another option is better for your kids at this time.

For many families, homeschooling is the best option; for many other families, it is not. Every year, my husband and I reevaluate what is best for each of our children. We understand that what works for one may not work for another — or me, their full‐time teacher. It is honest and wise to recognize that our children will each have different needs as they grow. As I have said from the start, there is more than one way to get an excellent education.

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The Fruit of the Spirit Devotional is a free series of nine short videos to get you into God’s Word and inspire you to seek the Holy Spirit’s help in loving your spouse.

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