by Isabel Shaw
Homeschooling is becoming more popular every day, with a growth rate of 7 to 15 percent per year. There are about two million children currently learning at home. Homeschooled kids do well on standardized tests, are welcome at colleges and universities, and as adults, have a reputation for being self-directed learners and reliable employees.
Almost ten years ago, when I was making the decision to homeschool, I wrote up a list of pros and cons. The pros won me over, but since then, I’ve discovered there were many more pros and cons that I couldn’t possibly have anticipated!
To help other parents who are considering homeschooling, here is a new list of pros and cons. This list is based on both my experience and the experiences of dozens of families who’ve shared with me the ups and downs of their day-to-day homeschooling.
Educational Freedom. Most homeschooled students have the choice to study and learn what they want, when they want, for as long as they want. This is not to say that all the basics (and more!) aren’t covered. But those basics may be covered at age six for one child, and at age ten for another, depending on ability, maturity, and interest levels. (Unfortunately, a few states do have unnecessarily restrictive legal requirements; in those states, educational freedom may be limited.)
Physical Freedom. After the initial shock of leaving the school system has passed, parents who homeschool say they experience a real sense of freedom. With their lives no longer revolving around school hours, homework, and the school calendar, these families plan off-season vacations, visit parks and museums during the week, and live their lives according to what works for them.
Emotional Freedom. Sadly, peer pressure, competition, boredom, and bullies — are all part of a typical school day. This can be a particular problem for girls. According to studies, self-esteem plummets in middle-school girls. However, similar studies of homeschooled girls have shown that self-esteem remains intact and that these girls continue to thrive. (Read A Sense of Self: Listening to Homeschooled Adolescent Girls by Susannah Sheffer.) Homeschooled kids can dress and act and think the way they want, without fear of ridicule or a need to “fit in.” They live in the real world, where lives aren’t dictated by adolescent trends and dangerous experimentation.
Religious Freedom. Many families feel their religious and spiritual beliefs are an important part of who they are. Homeschooling provides the opportunity for parents to incorporate their beliefs into their daily lives.
Closer Family Relationships. Just about every family stressed the important role that homeschooling played in helping them find time to foster loving ties between all family members. Teens seem to benefit enormously from this interaction, and rebellious, destructive behavior often begins to diminish soon after homeschooling begins.
Stability During Difficult Times. Whether there’s a new baby, an illness, a death in the family, or another obstacle or transition, homeschooling helps families cope during challenging periods. Dauri, who homeschools her three boys, described how homeschooling helped her family adjust to a move from Europe back to the US, followed by another move across the country: “It was a great comfort that we homeschooled throughout the moves. It was a stabilizing factor in our otherwise mixed-up lives.”
Well-Rested Kids. As more and more studies are illustrating, sleep is vital to the emotional and physical well-being of kids, especially teens and preteens. The effects of early morning classes can be devastating to many children, especially those who are not morning people. After realizing that lack of sleep and hours of busywork often left her boy in a zombie-like stupor, Haya has decided to try homeschooling: “My oldest (age 13), is up at 6:30 in order to catch the bus at 7:15 and start school at 7:30. He comes home at 3:00 and does homework — sometimes until midnight. He’s often exhausted. I’m hoping that when we homeschool next year, the dark circles under his eyes will disappear and his real personality will emerge again.”
No Busywork. Homeschooled children can accomplish in a few hours what takes a typical classroom a week or more to cover. In a recent interview, John Taylor Gatto, New York City Teacher of the Year and a 26-year teaching veteran, said that in many classrooms less than one hour out of each school day is spent on “on task” learning. No wonder these kids have so much homework. And that brings us to a major “pro” of homeschooling: No more homework!
Time Restraints. There’s no way around it: learning outside of a school environment can consume a lot of mom or dad’s time. Most folks visualize that time being spent at the kitchen table with textbooks and worksheets, but for most families, that’s not the case. My family has never gone that route, choosing hands-on experiences and interesting activities as learning tools, instead. However, planning, driving to, and participating in those activities (or waiting for them to be over) constitute the bulk of my day. And that can be very draining.
As a single homeschooling mom, Mickey wrote to say that single parents who homeschool their kids face even greater time restraints: “We have to be very creative in our timing because I work and homeschool. Luckily, I work close to home and have a lot of time off, but it’s still a challenge.”
Financial Restraints. For married parents, one partner often foregoes full-time employment out of the home in order to homeschool. This can be a big sacrifice for families who are struggling to balance their budget. Surprisingly, most homeschooling families believe that the brief loss of income is well worth the satisfaction of watching their kids grow and learn in freedom.
Being with Your Kids 24/7. There’s no denying it — if you choose to homeschool, you’re going to be with your kids most of the time. If you don’t enjoy being together, then homeschooling is not for you. While it can sometimes be difficult, most homeschool parents view their daily interactions with their kids — the ups as well as the downs — as opportunities for personal and familial growth.
Limited Team Sports. While community sports activities fill the void for younger kids, teens often find limited opportunities to join sports teams, especially competitive ones. Depending on where you live, homeschoolers may or may not be welcome to participate on teams with their public-schooled peers. Several parents did mention that a few families overcame this problem by creating their own teams.
Living Outside the Norm. Like any activity that challenges mainstream thinking, homeschooling may be seen as an oddity at best, or even as a threat to those who are unable to accept ordinary parents succeeding where trained professionals often fail. My family has developed a bit of a tough exterior over the years, but negative comments and criticisms still filter in occasionally. If you are unable to live “outside of the box,” then homeschooling is not for you.
One Last Pro
Although this list is by no means comprehensive, it does provide an accurate overview of the pros and cons of the homeschooling lifestyle. But I did save one of the best “pros” (from Bev) for last: “When you need a hug, there’s always one to be found!”
Learn New Words
Should homeschooling be made illegal?
Is it legal in your country?