Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Decision Number 2: Is Home Schooling Right For You?

Those of us with a four-year-old in the house are reaching that critical time to enroll and where to enroll, delay enrollment for a year or decide to home school. Once you've decided it is time for school for you child the next decision is how to do that schooling.  I know for many, home school seems like it is absolutely out of the question because of funds or because or time or both. However, after researching the topic, I've even learned about homes where both parents work full time and still manage to make it work.  If you have questions about school environments in your area it may be worth considering.  More than 4 million kids are currently being home schooled in the US and I've seen growth rates listed as ranging from 8 - 20% for the homeschooling community.
The Cons:  These must be considered, but please make sure to read the Pros as well.  For us, they make the disadvantages well worth it.
Restraints on Parents.  Learning outside of a school environment can consume a lot of mom or dad's time. Most people probably picture that time being spent at the kitchen table with textbooks and worksheets, but from what I've been reading, that is not how it works for many families. Many families choose more hands-on learning styles that include field trips, experiments and educational activities - this has certainly been true in our house.  However, planning, driving to, and participating in those activities (or waiting for them to be over) often becomes the bulk of a homeschooling parent's day.  There are predesigned curricula that can be purchased that help to alleviate this time pressure but they are usually costly (K12 is a public-charter school and free option in many states  Such programs also do not entirely erase the time needed to help guide your child through his/her education and they do not make up for the fact that your child who would otherwise be spending 6.5 or more hours of the day out of your home at school is now in your home needing a certain amount of time and attention from you during the day that otherwise might be provided by teachers and peers.
One single homeschooling mom, Mickey, wrote to the website listed below to say that single parents who home school their kids face even greater time restraints: "We have to be very creative in our timing because I work and home school. Luckily, I work close to home and have a lot of time off, but it's still a challenge."  The amazing part though - it is possible!
Fewer experts in their field:  You may be the best expert on your individual child, but teachers can be a wonderful asset and very reassuring when it comes to questions about what is "normal" for a given age.  As a teacher I have reassured countless numbers of parents that forgetfulness is in fact a symptom of adolescence and perfectly normal for 12 and 13 year-old children to honestly experience.  Then, I give them (the kids) the tools that are needed in order to operate around their forgetfulness and both parents and myself insist upon their use.  As a parent, it was nice to know from a teacher who had years of experience with four - year- olds that it is pretty normal for a four year old to be obsessed with death when I became concerned that my daughter seemed over-focused on this topic.  However, there are many homeschooling support groups and blogs etc. that can provide this resource in a slightly different way.
A Note about this Graphic - I HATE the title.
Also, be aware that testing scores do not reflect
overall problem solving abilities or creativity.

There are many highly successful public school
graduates as well.  This graphic was the best choice
for making the point that income, career choice,
and expenditures don't have to have a lot of impact
on the success of your student in your home.

Teachers also have a lot more experience in methods and may be better equipped to offer up secondary activities when a student becomes "stuck" on a subject that are more in line with a given learning modality or style for the individual.  Again the many support groups for home schooling parents may be able to offer similar support.

Financial Restraints. Foregoing full-time employment out of the home in order to home school for at least one parent or guardian is common in families that use homeschooling. This can be a big sacrifice for families who are struggling to balance their budget (I know, I'm in one of them).  Also, depending on how you home school, materials, books and educational etceteras can add up fast. However, you can see on the chart to the right, that at least the amount of expenditures in the home school do not make a big difference in the success of the student in that home.  Most books about homeschooling (which will be available for free at your public library) will include a chapter or section on homeschooling on a budget.  There are also a lot of resources online to help with tips to minimize these expenses should you decide to go this route.  For those of you in one of the 30 some odd states covered by k12 (link in paragraph above) this really is a fabulous resource.
Being with Your Kids 24/7. There's no denying it — if you choose to home school, you're going to be with your kids most of the time. This can be a blessing and a curse.  If you don't enjoy being together, then homeschooling can help repair damaged relationships and create improvement in your relationship with eachother - or it can make things worse. While it can sometimes be difficult, most home school parents I've read about or with whom I have spoken, view their daily interactions with their kids — the ups as well as the downs — as opportunities for personal and familial growth. If you do not consider yourself as someone with a good sense of humor, moderate amount of patience and do not enjoy the process of learning new things and exploring topics with your child/children, homeschooling may not be the right option for you.
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, home schoolers 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. There are also families that home school up until the teen years and then switch for this reason alone.
Living Outside the Norm. Like any activity that is not mainstream, homeschooling will seem like a strange decision to many, or even as a threat to some. Your extended family members, friends and even acquaintances will likely have opinions they will feel the need to express - and not always in a loving and open way.  Many of the families I've read about struggle with this in the first few years.  Luckily, we have mostly avoided this issue, however there are a few key things to know that can help in these types of conversations.  These points are covered in the "pros" section.  Family members that are harsh at first, often come around by the third or fourth year as they see the home schooled child/children developing normally or developing as advanced over the years.  If you see this as a potential battle for you that  you are unprepared to persevere through, homeschooling may not be the best option for you.



Stunted Social Development? - Not Really:
The reason I can include this in the pros and not the cons is that this is actually a myth.  In most homeschooling cases, children are exposed to a much more diverse array of social situations.   For more information about this, check out this article.

The belief that children who are home schooled will come out of it socially backward or unaware is one of those things "dissenters" will commonly claim as a reason your child should be in school.  While children can be "sheltered" in the homeschooling environment in such a way as to prevent certain developments, this is a rarity, not the norm. 

As you'll see mentioned below, home schooled kids have more time for valuable extra-curricular interactions that involve their own peer group in a setting of common interests.  These settings are much more similar to the workplace setting because even in a workplace, the members of that community at the very least have a common skill set.  In a career environment, they are likely to share some interests as well.  When we choose a career, interests and skills are both considered.  It also sets kids up in a positive environment where the team or club is working toward common goals rather than competing with each-other for having needs met and with disparate values and goals.
Additionally, home schooling allows for more time for children to be socialized in how to interact with members of the community in a variety of roles and ages.  This actually results in generally more respectful and socialized teens and young adults than their mortar and brick schooled counterparts.  Home schoolers are known for having a good work-ethic, being more capable of self-direction, and more able to work with bosses and colleagues in a work environment at an earlier age (78% of home schooled teens hold jobs outside the home environment and are successful in their respective workplaces). Teens that are home schooled generally have more time to try entering the  work force and learning from the experience.
While I taught middle school, I personally encountered a few students that had been home schooled until they reached middle school and found themselves in my classroom.  All of these students were favored by their peers, their teachers, and mentors that ran clubs they were involved in.  These students were able to be academically successful while still being "cool".  Additionally, I found this article online that is a brief summary of what I have found said over and over again in every book I've read about it.  The article I'm citing here summarizes what was consistently stated in all the books I have read about homeschooling.  
Check out for access to a more elaborate and academic summary of studies on social development in the home-schooled child.  However, I suggest skipping the first couple of paragraphs as the authors do make some sweeping negative claims about mortar-and-brick schools they do NOT take the time to back up with research.  The remaining information below these first few paragraphs  includes references to psychological and statistical studies that support the idea that homeschooling either, causes no harm to social development in kids, or even, enhances social development.  It was the briefest academic summary I found.  The Washington times is already linked above, but here it is again.  This article provides a summary of developing information on the subject in a very accessible way that does not pound our mortar and brick school settings into the ground.
Educational and Developmental Choice. To some extent, home schooled students have the choice to study and learn what they want, when they want and as deeply as they want and when they are developmentally ready rather than when the system says they should be ready based on averages. Each state has a set of basic expectations of material covered.  For example, in most states  you won't be able to just decide to forgo Language Arts altogether (would you want to?).  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.   The ancillary subject matter becomes much more free though.  For example, if you have a budding musician you might teach fractions by discussing rhythm and its notation rather than pizza slices.
No More Time Restraints.  Parents who home school 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 when such places are less crowded, and live their lives according to what works for them rather than what works for the school.  It also results in more access to extra-curriculars.  Because it requires less time to learn skills and subject matter in the home school environment than it does in the mortar and brick environment, your child will have more time for scouting, 4-H, clubs, sports and arts activities such as singing, acting or learning how to play a musical instrument.

Emotional and Social 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.  Even the most well-adjusted girls with the most supportive parents and families can have severe struggles navigating the school's social environment (which contrary to belief is NOT like the real-world).  However, similar studies of home schooled girls have shown that self-esteem remains intact and that these girls continue to thrive. (Read A Sense of Self: Listening to Home schooled Adolescent Girls by Susannah Sheffer.) Home schooled kids can dress and act and think the way they want and is right for them rather than having to "fit in" to the dress code and values of their friends at school without fear of ridicule.  

They live in the real world, where lives aren't dictated by adolescent trends and dangerous experimentation.  Even grocery shopping offers up certain socialization opportunities as it provides children with a model of how to interact with others within the store layout as well as the cashier or any other workers that might help in finding a specific product.  Most home schooled kids have many more of these "real world" kinds of encounters than do their mortar-and-brick schooled counterparts. Home schooled children also usually have a lot more to say in who they spend their time with and wind up having peers that are friends  based on common skills or interests rather than just their age.  Traditionally schooled children have peers that are friends but they also have a lot of other kinds of peers that exert a less-positive kind of influence or result in less-positive relationships.
Religious Freedom. Many families feel their religious and spiritual beliefs are an important part of who they are.  Homeschooling as well as parochial mortar and brick settings provide the opportunity for parents to incorporate their beliefs into their children's daily lives.
Being with Your Kids 24/7: Closer Family Relationships. Just about every homeschooling family that has been interviewed for the plethora of books and articles I've read in the last few months stress the important role that homeschooling played in helping them find time to foster loving ties between all family members. There is a lessened competition for time between homework and family time, time for chores etc.  This happens because in some senses they all become one-in-the same.  Teens seem to benefit enormously from this interaction, and rebellious, destructive behavior often begins to diminish soon after homeschooling begins for those families that enter into a homeschooling situation in the later school years.  Although separate study time must be set aside for strictly being devoted to the learning process and practice for new information and skills, many school topics can even be discussed and taught while family members cook dinner or wash dishes. You can also more easily introduce efficient units of study that are cross-curricular.  For example, while studying ancient Greece, you can also study Homer (Literature), The rich and varied art of the age, and various principles and inventions in mathematics and geometry (Euclid, Archimede's Screw etc.)
Stability During Moves.  Homeschooling is a wonderful option for families on the move.  I've read descriptions of how stabilizing homeschooling can be (because the curriculum stays consistent) for these families.  Military families are particularly likely to benefit because of this.
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. Preteens actually need almost as much sleep as a kindergartner because of the amount of growing going on within their changing bodies.  The effects of early morning classes can be devastating to many children. Up too late and too early the next morning, these kids are not in a mental state appropriate to effective learning.  In a home school environment, it is still important to get all your work done and this can mean hours of work, but if something is happening in life that means sleeping in is the healthiest choice, adjustments to the schedule can be made and both sleep and academic needs can be met.  It is also important not to allow these fluctuations too often, for too long because changing sleep patterns can have a profound effect on grades, emotional well-being, mood and the social well-being of a preteen or teen with her/his peers. However, in the home school, the schedule is yours to set and it is only the needs of family members that must be considered, not the needs of the masses at hand. 
Little to No Busywork. Home schooled children can accomplish in a few hours what takes a typical classroom a few days 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.  Even in the most efficient classrooms, teachers are attempting to cover material in as many learning styles as possible under budget, legal, administrative and skill constraints.  Even when "on task" many of the items and activities that are done are not conducive to your child's learning style and his or her learning the material.  No wonder these kids have so much homework. And that brings us to a major "pro" of homeschooling: No more homework! (Well, maybe all of it becomes homework - but there will be time to do it because your kids aren't wasting time on whatever irrelevant thing kids in a mortar and brick environment are waiting on that day).
On a final note:  I have occasionally referred to schooling in a public or private school here as "traditional schooling".  Schools as we know them are really something that has only developed in this country during the last 100 years.  Prior to that, the majority of students attended one-roomed schoolhouses with a mixed range of ages and abilities or were schooled at home.  Many of our pioneers had to home school because of geographic isolation  (My father was one of these in his early years in Alaska while it was still a territory).  This country has actually been founded on the backs of many men and women that were home schooled.  Many of our founding fathers were schooled in the home.  The change toward emphasizing a more structured and standardized education that has occurred in this country has mostly been to the advancement of our society and I agree that public schools as well as private have a lot of advantages to offer up.  However, in reality they are neither more traditional than homeschooling nor exclusively and always better for everyone.
  • The First Year of Homeschooling Your Child: Your Complete Guide to Getting Off to the Right Start by Linda Dobson (May 24, 2001)
  • So - WHY Do You Home School? by Mimi Davis (Nov 2, 2005)
  • Homeschool Your Child for Free: More Than 1,200 Smart, Effective, and Practical Resources for Home Education on the Internet and Beyond by LauraMaery Gold and Joan M. Zielinski (Aug 3, 2000)
  • The Everything Guide to Homeschooling
  • Homeschooling: The Early Years: Your Complete Guide to Successfully Homeschooling the 3- to 8- Year-Old Child by Linda Dobson (Aug 11, 1999)
Also about Choosing Homeschooling: Choices, Choices

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