By Kathleen Berchelmann, MD
I’m going public today with a secret I’ve kept for a year—my husband and I are homeschooling our children. I never dreamed we would become homeschoolers. I wanted my kids integrated and socialized. I wanted their eyes opened to the realities of the world. I wanted the values we taught at home put to the test in the real world. But necessity drove me to consider homeschooling for my 2nd and 4th graders, and so I timidly attended a home school parent meeting last spring. Surprisingly it was full of doctors, lawyers, former public school teachers, and other professionals. These were not the stay-at-home-moms in long skirts that I expected. The face of homeschooling is changing. We are not all religious extremists or farmers, and our kids are not all overachieving academic nerds without social skills.
An estimated 2.04 million k12 children are home educated in the United States, a 75% increase since 1999. Although currently only 4% of all K12 students nationwide are educated at home, experts are predicting an exponential boom in homeschooling in the next 5-10 years. Most states even provide free online public schools, known as virtual schools or virtual homeschools for K12 students. An information site called College@Home provides some useful information.
For a year I was afraid to tell any of my work colleagues that we were homeschooling. People would stereotype me as a right-wing kook. My boss might assume that I couldn’t possibly be committed to an academic medical career. I wasn’t sure I could homeschool my kids well. I feared the whole year would be an academic failure and emotional nightmare. I was so unsure about this homeschooling experiment that I even kept a spare school uniform in case I had to send my kids back to school at the last moment.
This week our kids are finishing their standardized curriculum and we will spend the rest of the school year doing enrichment activities. Alas, I think we can call this success.
We’ve had our kids in both public and private schools, but homeschooling has turned out to be the best option for our family. Here are 18 reasons why we have joined America’s fastest growing educational trend:
1) We spend less time homeschooling each day than we used to spend driving. With four kids in four locations last year (including a newborn at home), school drop-off and pick-up took four hours, on a good day. We’d get home at about 4:30 and still have homework, music practice, sports, chores, dinner and bath to fit into the 4 hours before bed. Now we spend about four hours per day homeschooling, instead of four hours in the car.
2) We can’t afford private education. Even on a doctor’s salary, private education has become unaffordable, especially for larger families. Which choice would you make: save for college, save for retirement, or pay private school tuition? Few families can afford for all three, and most can only afford one. As educational debts loom larger for each successive generation, this financial crunch will only get worse.
3) Our kids are excelling academically as homeschoolers. Homeschooling allows us to enrich our children’s strengths and supplement their weaknesses. The kids’ education moves as fast or as slow as required for that particular subject area. They are not pigeon-holed and tracked as gifted, average, or special needs.
4) Homeschooling is not hard, and it’s fun! We bought a “box curriculum” from a major homeschool vendor, and all the books and the day-by-day curriculum checklist came in the mail. We have a lot of fun supplementing material through YouTube and online educational sites like Dreambox, Khan Academy, and others. Our kids do about half of their math online.
5) Use whatever public school services you like. Need speech therapy, the gifted program, or remedial academics? Homeschooled kids are still eligible for all these services. Some homeschoolers come into public school daily for “specials” like art, music, PE, or the school play. Your kids can even join high school sports teams once they are old enough. Our kids are still in sports and scouts sponsored by their old schools.
6) I like parenting more, by far. As a mom of school-aged kids, I felt like my role as parent had been diminished to mini-van driver, schedule-keeper, cook and disciplinarian. And there was no mercy from the schools– six minutes late for pickup and they’d be calling my husband at work, unpaid 5 cent library fine and they’d withhold my child’s report card. Every day I’d unpack a pile of crinkled notice papers from three backpacks and hope that I didn’t miss the next permission slip. I was not born, raised and educated to spend my days like this. Now, I love being a mom.
7) Our family spends our best hours of each day together. We were giving away our kids during their best hours, when they were rested and happy, and getting them back when they were tired, grumpy and hungry. I dreaded each evening, when the fighting and screaming never seemed to end, and my job was to push them through homework, extracurriculars, and music practice. Now, our kids have happy time together each day. At recess time, the kids are actually excited about playing with each other!
8) We yell at our kids less. Homeschooling forces us as parents to maintain a loving authority in the household. We stopped spanking our kids. You can’t get your kids to write essays or complete a large set of math problems if you don’t have their respect and obedience. Spanking and corporal punishment establish fear, not effective, loving obedience.
9) Our kids have time for creative play and unique interests. Once my kids entered school, they seemed to stop making up their own creative play together. They didn’t have time for creative play during their busy evenings. Now they build forts and crazy contraptions, play dance parties, and pursue their own unique interests. My eight-year-old has taken up computer programming and taught himself how to play the organ. My six-year-old is learning to cook.
10) We are able to work on the kids’ behavior and work ethic throughout the day. My son’s poor work effort at school was nearly impossible to address. The teachers didn’t have time to make my son repeat work they felt was average quality. We wouldn’t see the work until days after it was completed. Finally, we’ve been able to push him to his full potential.
11) Get rid of bad habits, fast. Dirty clothes dropped on the floor? They used to stay there all day. Now there is no recess until they are cleaned up. I never really had the time to implement most behavioral techniques when my kids were in school. I knew what I needed to do to get my kindergartner to dress herself, but it was easier to dress her myself then deal with the school complaining that she was improperly dressed or late. Now, if she takes too long to get dressed, she misses out on free play time.
12) Be the master of your own schedule. Homeschooling provides a great deal of family flexibility, which is a tremendous asset for our busy family. For example, we save a lot of money on plane tickets because we have the flexibility to fly almost any day of the week. Zoos, children’s museums, libraries, parks, etc., are far less busy on weekdays as they are on weekends. Scheduling anything is eons easier—doctor’s appointments, piano lessons, vacations, etc.
13) Younger children learn from older siblings. For larger families like ours, even toddlers are learning during school time. Our four year old sits at the same table during school time as our six and eight year old. He wants to do his worksheet, too. Some of that math and phonics work rubs off on him, and he’s learning how to read. When chore time comes, he asks, “What are my chores?” And our one-year-old recently tried to clean a toilet.
14) Save money. Committing to homeschooling requires at least one parent at home for most of each day. Although you may lose an income with this commitment, you save (a lot) of money since younger children don’t need daycare and older children don’t need private school. We also save a lot of money on gas now that we drive less. Many homeschooling parents still work part-time. We pull off homeschooling because I work nights and my husband works part-time from home as an independent IT developer. I know many families homeschooling on family incomes of 40-60K.
Homeschoolers save tax payers money, too. According to The National Home Education Research Institute, homeschoolers saved the taxpayers $16 billion in 2006.
15) Teach your kids practical life skills. Homeschooled kids learn parenting skills, cooking, budgeting, home maintenance, and time management every day. Time management skills are learned out of necessity. Our kids have to keep their own schedules and budget their own time. If they waste time, they have less time for play and their own special interests. We use old smart phones with alarms to help teach time management. Our kids help with younger siblings while under our direct supervision. What better way is there to learn parenting? I learned to write a fake grocery budget once as a home economics exercise. My kids write real grocery budgets and help me shop.
16) Better socialization, less unhealthy peer pressure and bullying. Our kids no longer beg for video games we don’t want them to have or clothes we don’t like, or junky snacks they saw at school. One of our children struggled socially in school, and his schoolmates were ruthlessly mean. Despite a school anti-bullying policy and our best efforts to work with the teacher, nothing changed. Last year he played alone on the playground everyday. Now he’s organizing playground games at our homeschool co-op, and he’s smiling again. No one has ever said an unkind word to him at our co-op, because every child is there with his or her own parent. Our kids have plenty of time with friends, but without the unhealthy peer pressure and bullying.
Research continues to show that homeschooled kids do well socially. Our kids have no shortage of time with friends—each week they attend homeschool co-op, scouts, sports, dance, choir, piano, religious education and have plenty of time to play with neighborhood friends. Add in the birthday parties and homeschool field trips, and we find ourselves having to decline activities so that we can get our homeschooling done!
17) Sleep! A research study by National Jewish Health released in March, 2013 showed that homeschooled students get more sleep than their peers who attend school. The result may be that homeschooled kids are better prepared to learn. Parents get more sleep, too! Now we don’t have to get up early to meet a bus schedule, prepare sack lunches, etc. Our mornings are great times together to snuggle with our children and talk about our plans for the day. No more “Hurry up and get your shoes on or you’ll be late for school!”
18) Teach kids your own values. According to the national center for education statistics, 36% of homeschooling families were primarily motivated by a desire to provide religious or moral instruction. Our family is not part of this 36%– we never objected to any values taught in either our public or private schools. Nevertheless, we’ve really enjoyed building our own traditions and living out our family values in a way that wasn’t possible before homeschooling. For example we make Halloween a little holiday without too much decadence, but we spend an entire week celebrating Easter. When our kids were in school, the Halloween parties went on for 2 weeks and they had a Halloween vacation from school. In contrast, they didn’t get any time off for Easter, and there were no Easter celebrations or even decorations at school.
Homeschooling isn’t right for every family or every child. I can’t even predict what the future holds for our family—will we continue homeschooling through high school? I don’t know. But for now, we’ve found a way for our family to be very happy growing and learning together.