My brothers and I were homeschooled in the 1990s. At the time, we thought it was normal to wake up at 9 a.m., watch Matlock, and then power through piles of schoolwork as fast as possible so we could play with baseball cards while we waited for the bus to drop off our friends. But in reality, our experience was fairly fringe. We knew other homeschoolers, so we weren’t unique, but my mom really had to work to keep us connected through co-ops, band practices, and field trips. The other families we met all tended to be conservative Christians and my guess is that religion played a role in our collective experience.
In 1999, the year I graduated, a Gallup poll shows there were 850,000 homeschoolers in the United States. Today, there are about three times that and the number is growing at a steady rate. As parents continue to see great value in it, we can expect homeschooling to become even larger as a percentage of the overall population in the coming years. But here’s what’s surprising about homeschooling today: it isn’t simply about religious education anymore. Families of all types are now homeschooling and there’s no single income level, political affiliation, or philosophy that binds them together. Homeschooling covers a typical cross-section of people who all have their own reasons for their choice. In other words, it’s no longer a “fringe” movement.
I remember being frequently quizzed by adults about my social skills and the rigor of my education. People we met would often misunderstand the nature of my education and were suspicious of it. They worried I was incapable of basic human interaction or was being set up to fail in college. I graduated from Yale and today I’m married with six children, so I guess I’m doing all right, but lots of homeschoolers have gone on to impressive academic success. Because of this, a lot of the stigma has disappeared and polls show that homeschooling is being looked at more and more as a healthy choice.
Of course, not everyone has the time available or desire to homeschool, and I wouldn’t say it’s objectively better than other forms of education. But for some people, like my family, it’s by far the best choice. I can tell you why we like it and why it’s a good fit for us …
More family time
School children have a tight schedule in the morning to be sure they’ve had breakfast and are waiting for the bus on time. Then, with a full day of school, after-care, sports practice, and homework, it’s easy to see how they’re stressed out and over-scheduled. Many kids are busy at school for more hours of the day than their parents spend at work. If we aren’t careful, school can be a factor in pulling our families apart. It also keeps our older children from having time to work jobs and gain real-life experience. Homeschooling can definitely be chaotic and over-scheduled, too, but without the commute, homework, and waiting for other kids to finish before moving on to the next subject, homeschooling is remarkably efficient. Even with piano lessons, sports, and summer camps, it gives kids more of their childhood to simply be kids.
Adapted to the individual child
Children aren’t all the same. Because of class size, schools struggle with that, but homeschooling is more adaptable. My kids can wake up when they want, eat lunch whenever they’re hungry, and take recess whenever they need to clear their heads. Kids don’t all learn at the same rate or in the same way. I have a few kids who would probably be the advanced learners in their respective grades and one that, let’s say, is bit more eccentric in the types of knowledge he chooses to acquire. He’ll be fine, but I suspect if he was in school he’d be in a remedial class and start hating books forever. Kids can be behind on some subjects and ahead on others and with an attentive teacher it all evens out in the end. Because they’re all so different, some kids flourish in a homeschool environment but would struggle in a larger classroom.
Broad cultural experiences
In homeschool, I was in piano lessons, a band, science classes at the community college, a theater group, and played sports. My own children take singing lessons, play ukuleles that they write original songs for, have jobs at the local farmers market, and take care of backyard chickens. On a regular basis, they interact with a diverse range of adults and children. Because of this, they’re actually socialized on a broader scale than typical children. I can always tell a homeschooled child because they often stay and participate in conversations with adults. Other kids will catch up and be just fine socially, but I do think homeschooled kids have a headstart.
Teachers in schools are under tremendous pressure to produce high test scores from their students, so they need to spend time on test prep. Homeschooling is far less constricted by testing and focuses on learning. Yes, homeschoolers still need to pass required state tests and be ready for academic success in college, but that doesn’t seem to be a problem for most kids. During my childhood, I was able to read far more widely in literature than other kids. My brother taught himself computer programming in his free time. We all ended up good students with a love for learning.
Homeschooling can sometimes be intimidating — after all, the buck stops with you, the parents, and on the hard days you can wonder if you’re doing a good enough job. But just like with any school choice, there are good days and bad days. It has most certainly been a blessing in my life and that of my own family, so if you’ve ever considered it, don’t be afraid to take the next steps — you may be surprised to find it a great fit.