In the United States, nearly 2 million students are homeschooled, representing about 3.5% of the school-age population, and the number is growing. Each new school year leads to parents contemplating the idea of homeschooling their children. It is not an easy decision to make, and as with every important decision, the advantages and disadvantages must be considered.
Homeschooling is not easy, but it is not as difficult as some opponents of homeschooling would have you believe. The number one priority of homeschooling, or any type of education option, is to meet the student’s needs. Of course, those needs vary from student to student, but if you personally feel you need to homeschool your child and can do it successfully, it is your right to make that decision.
The basic educational needs of any student, whether homeschooled or otherwise, include effective, quality instruction, opportunities for social interaction, and access to additional resources for enhanced learning.
Effective, quality instruction requires a teacher or parent with the ability to present content at the learning level of the student. The content must be efficient and well-organized so that gaps do not occur that may hinder future learning. For example, it would be difficult and frustrating for a student to divide numbers if they have yet to learn how to multiply or subtract.
Opportunities for social interaction includes quality time for the student to socialize with peers, whether in a school setting or with local homeschooling organizations, sports teams, club or group affiliations, or during other extracurricular activities or events.
Finally, access to additional resources is vital for students who have the ability to learn on their own and is also necessary to help a student who may be struggling and needs specialized instruction. For example, a homeschooled student who would be a candidate for an IEP (Individual Educational Plan) due to a variety of issues may need weekly sessions with a reading specialist, speech and language therapist, or other one-on-one assistance with an expert. Resources for all students might also include libraries, Internet access, visits to museums, and much more.
Once these needs can be met, a parent who is contemplating homeschooling their child can then consider the advantages and disadvantages.
- Flexibility and freedom in planning the curriculum and schedule: Kids can spend more hours learning high-interest subjects and topics, and additional time can be devoted to a child’s academic weaknesses. For example, “science class” is not limited to 45 minutes per day, and if a child needs additional time to understand fractions, a math session can easily be extended. Learning is also not limited to books and the classroom. The city or town easily becomes part of the classroom. In addition, there are an abundance of learning resources found on the Internet such as those available from Learn Bright which include step-by-step instructions for teachers or parents.
- One-on-one learning: The teacher to student ratio is 1:1 and not 20:1 as with a traditional classroom. Even if more than one child is at home, the teacher-student ratio for homeschooling is a great advantage especially for adapting teaching methods to a child’s ideal learning style. Children in a typical classroom sometimes do not receive the attention they need; however, the homeschooled child, when necessary, receives undivided attention.
- Quality family time: Who doesn’t want to spend more time with their family? The everyday joys of life are spent together each day as well as the sharing of challenging times. Researchers have discovered that rebellious behavior diminishes when teenagers start homeschooling. The focus is on learning and not meeting the expectations of classroom peers. In addition, time usually spent transporting children to and from school or school functions can now be dedicated to quality family time or other extracurricular functions.
- Avoiding negative influences: Depending on the local school community, there may be negative influences that can be avoided by homeschooling a child. School gangs, violence, bullying, peer pressure, and other potential problems are avoided when a child is homeschooled. As a parent, you can also discuss sensitive issues with your child when they are ready to learn them.
- 24/7 with the kids: Homeschooling requires parents to be with their child nearly every day, all day. This may be viewed as an advantage by some parents, but it can definitely be a disadvantage, especially if children are not given the opportunity to spend time with other children outside the home. This is especially true for older students seeking to become more independent and who may need time away from parents.
- Requires a lot of time, energy, and resources: As a parent, especially if you do not have a background in teaching, the time for planning and lesson preparation can sometimes feel overwhelming and may lead to stress. Though the Internet provides an abundance of resources, it takes time to efficiently and effectively plan the instruction for a homeschooled child. In addition, you will need patience which many classroom teachers possess due to the wide variety of learning styles and personalities they face each day. Teaching can be physically and emotionally draining.
- Costs associated with homeschooling: Most homeschooling requires one parent to remain at home, which means a one-income family. The parent who chooses to homeschool will usually need to opt for part-time work or not work at all. In some families, this may be a detriment to their financial needs. In addition, expenses include books, computers, and other educational-related supplies as well as the cost of specialized instruction if necessary.
- Lost opportunities to participate in extra-curricular activities: Even if a parent is involved with a homeschooling organization that meets regularly, one of the biggest challenges for homeschooled children is social interaction. Typically, schools offer a wide range of activities for students to participate such as team sports, afterschool clubs, talent shows, dances, class picnics or parties, and much more. Many of these events are unforgettable and meaningful for children. In some districts, homeschooled students have the right to join team sports, but the interaction related to the team within the classroom is unavailable to the homeschooled team member.
There are many other advantages and disadvantages to homeschooling a child which must be considered before the decision is made. Of course, some advantages of homeschooling may be viewed as disadvantages by homeschooling opponents. For example, some may believe that children need to face negative influences because it teaches them to stand up for what is right or gives them the necessary skills to face the “real world”. On the other hand, most studies have shown that homeschooled children frequently score higher on standardized tests than students who attend traditional schools.
Regardless of the decision, whether to homeschool or not to homeschool, every child’s basic educational needs must be met — effective, quality instruction, opportunities for social interaction, and access to additional resources for enhanced learning. If they are not being met at the local school, parents and teachers must come together to ensure the success of every child.
If parents choose not to homeschool, they can still find ways to help their child learn the most effective way possible by becoming involved with the school, supplementing learning, and exposing them to opportunities outside of the classroom.