Thinking about Homeschooling? Here's What You Need to Know

Learn why so many families are choosing to homeschool and what you need to know to get started.
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Thinking About Homeschooling?
Here's What You Need to Know

Isabel Shaw

All parents want their children to be successful, and in today's world, a good education is the key to a successful life. For most kids, education means attending public or private school. But there are almost two million children in the U.S. who never set foot in a classroom, yet are receiving a first-rate education — through homeschooling.

Why are so many families choosing this radical approach to learning? The answer is simple: it works. Children learn better when they are individually taught by a caring individual in a safe, healthy environment. And as homeschooling success stories proliferate, the number of homeschooling families continues to rise.

What Is Homeschooling?

Parents often ask me, "What exactly is homeschooling?" For the average family, homeschooling means that a parent (usually the mom) assumes the role of educator. Some folks decide to homeschool when their children reach school age, while others turn to homeschooling when their kids experience problems or challenges in school. Some families homeschool because of illness, learning disabilities, or emotional issues. Parents may also homeschool because they feel their kids are underachieving or falling through the cracks in school. Homeschooling is a good option at any age, and can continue for as long as the child and parent benefit from the experience.

History of Homeschooling

America has a long tradition of home education. In fact, 17 U.S. Presidents were homeschooled. But one man, John Holt, is credited as having started today's homeschooling movement. As a teacher in the 1960s, he was discouraged by his limited teaching options. After research and observation, Holt wrote How Children Fail, which called for greater focus on child-led education. His educational philosophy slowly moved away from institutional learning towards home learning, and his sensitivity to children's needs resonated with many parents. Although he didn't realize it at the time, his books and lectures started a movement. Later, Holt's radical call to "unschool" was attractive to families who wished to incorporate religious study in their children's education. The number of homeschooling families rose dramatically and the movement swung politically from left to right. Today, statistics show that the religious trend has tapered off; the majority of families homeschool for reasons other than religion.

As homeschooling grew over the years, it went through many changes and developments. In fact, there is still an ongoing debate within the homeschool community as to how to define homeschooling. Traditionalists insist that homeschooling is a parent's right and privilege. They are fiercely independent and want to educate their children as they choose, with minimal government interference, input, or assistance. Cyber schools, government-regulated homeschools, part-time homeschooling — many feel that these are just home-based public schools and not really homeschools. But whatever the label, almost all children can benefit from a homeschool experience.


The Parent as Teacher

For most parents, the thought of teaching your kids all of their school subjects seems overwhelming. The truth is, thinking about homeschooling is often more difficult than actually doing it! I agonized for months when deciding whether I wanted to homeschool my five-year-old daughter. Would we get on each other's nerves, being together all day? Would she really learn? Was I up for this challenge? Once I started, I found that none of my doubts or fears materialized. The "school-at-home" model didn't work for us, and so we set up our own system, based on my daughter's learning style, interests, and ability.

With my second child I had to come up with an entirely different plan, because she is very active. We used more of a "learning on the run" method since she rarely sits still. We included lots of hands-on activities, and would take breaks when her very short attention span shut down. And that is the best part of home learning: your child can have a customized educational plan, set up to meet his or her individual needs or goals.


Helpful Hints

To homeschool successfully, there are some bases that need to be covered. While this list is by no means comprehensive, following these suggestions will make your life a bit easier:

Research: It is vital that you read a minimum of one book on homeschooling. While homeschooling is not especially difficult, it is still a major lifestyle decision. The Homeschooling Book of Answers, by Linda Dobson, and Homeschool for Success, by Rebecca Kochenderfer and Elizabeth Kanna, are two great places to start. When I began homeschooling, my biggest mistake was thinking that I knew what I was doing. I didn't. Reading a few good books would have prevented a lot of problems. Don't make the same mistake.

Supportive Partner or Friend: Have a homeschool safety net in place before you begin. When the going gets tough (and there will be some tough days), it is absolutely essential that you have someone to talk to who is both knowledgeable about homeschooling and supportive of your efforts. When I started, an experienced homeschooling mom gave me lots of advice and helped me through more than a few challenging days. Homeschooling is an enormous responsibility, but it shouldn't be overwhelming. If it starts to feel that way, take a break, go for a walk, talk to your support person, and change whatever method you are using.

Realistic Expectations: For most families, the first year at home is full of challenges. If your child is leaving school, this is a major lifestyle change. Give yourself and your child time to adjust. Don't jump right into a rigid or academically demanding schedule. One rule of thumb is to abstain from any school-type learning for one month for every year your child has been in school — including preschool. Have fun together as you discover your child's learning style. Time is on your side — if necessary, your homeschooler can easily catch up later with whatever he or she needs to know.

Support Groups: Networking is key in the homeschool community, especially for moms or dads with younger children. There are e-lists and e-groups for homeschools of just about any persuasion. Religious and/or secular groups meet regularly, and welcome new families. They plan activities, field trips, park days, and more. My family's problem is not finding something to do; rather, we often turn down activities because there are just too many.

Homeschool Conferences: Attending a homeschool seminar, conference, or workshop is a great way to meet homeschooling families. Many states host annual homeschooling conferences. Some run for a full weekend, others for the day. The amount of information disseminated may be overwhelming, but there is no better way to get your feet wet than by listening to professional, motivated speakers and interacting with experienced homeschoolers.

If you're still on the fence about whether homeschooling is the best choice for your family, it's helpful to remember that nothing is cast in stone. If you try homeschooling and it doesn't work for you and/or your child, you always have the option of letting your child return to school. After all, I only planned to homeschool for one year. Fifteen years later, we're still going strong, and I have no regrets. As my teenaged daughter likes to say, "Homeschooling rocks!"

Still not sure if you should homeschool or send your kids in person? Check out Trust Your Mom Gut to Make the Best Schooling Decision for Your Family.