Home schooling has long been an option for parents who want their kids to have a more personalized education or who are unhappy with the rigidity of traditional public school, and it’s become increasingly popular over the years. From 1999 to 2012, the number of kids being home-schooled grew from 850,000 to 1.8 million, according to the U.S. Department of Education. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, approximately 3% of the school-age population was home-schooled in the 2011-2012 school year.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, those numbers may be set to grow even more rapidly. An increasing number of parents are weighing the pros and cons of home schooling for their kids and considering a permanent change to what learning looks like for them. Learning at home can bring a lot of freedom and flexibility, but there is a lot more to successfully home schooling than one might think.
To help parents get an accurate picture of what home schooling really entails, we talked to six parents who’ve been doing it for years. Whether you’re brand new to the idea of home schooling or it’s something you’ve considered for a long time, these are the pros and cons of home schooling every parent needs to know before they get started.
What are the pros of home schooling?
The parents we spoke to agreed the most significant benefit of home schooling is having the opportunity to customize their children’s education. “I can fit the curriculum to the kids, not the kids to the curriculum,” says Kimberley Bartel, a mom of an 11- and 14-year-old from Huntsville, Alabama.
Depending on which state you live in, your home-schooling curriculum may need to meet certain learning requirements or be subject to annual assessments and evaluations, but there is still a lot of room for flexibility in what your child’s day-to-day learning looks like. You can spend extra time on subjects your kids are struggling with. You can also supplement their education with real-life experiences and a variety of extracurriculars.
Some home-schooling parents devote time to helping kids learn multiple languages or how to play musical instruments. Others learn through travel and hands-on activities. “If we are studying aerospace engineering, we can meet with an engineer,” explains Samantha Jackson, who home-schools her 9- and 16-year-old kids in Athens, Texas. “My children are not limited to educational norms.”
Flexibility for non-traditional learners
Curriculum choice is particularly meaningful for parents of kids who are non-traditional learners. Whether kids have different learning abilities or simply struggle with standardized tests and the typical public school class structure, home schooling offers the chance to make space for their unique needs.
Tamra Moon, a mom of one from Huntsville, Alabama, tells Care.com she has home-schooled her middle schooler, Jesse, since Kindergarten because they have Attention-Deficit Disorder (ADD). Moon was home-schooled off and on as a child and wasn’t keen on the idea of home-schooling her own child. “I was a social, neurotypical kid who longed for the structured aspect of public education,” she explains.
But when Jesse was diagnosed with ADD, she felt strongly that her state’s public school system would not be the best fit for her child. “Having attended Alabama public schools myself, I saw firsthand how often the Alabama school systems failed children with specific learning needs,” she says. “We knew a classroom full of 22-plus children per teacher in a state that does not value education would not serve Jesse the way one-on-one education would.”
Unique opportunities to socialize
Home schooling naysayers often assume it’s impossible for kids to make friends if they’re learning at home, but home-schooling parents say this couldn’t be further from the truth. “To be honest, my child often has a much fuller social calendar than I ever did,” Moon tells Care.com.
Moon’s child participates in a home schooling co-op with 15 other kids. Home schooling co-ops are community-based groups where home-schooled kids come together to participate in learning activities and to socialize. Moon’s co-op has taken karate classes, art lessons and a group language class to learn Latin.
Even if you aren’t a part of a home schooling co-op, your child can still participate in sports and other clubs through local community groups like the YMCA. Many museums and other public spaces also host special events and classes for children who are home-schooled. And, as a bonus, home-schooled kids who attend these activities often get the chance to make friends with kids from a variety of age groups and locations. “Our trips to museums, libraries and multicultural experiences expose my kids to different perspectives they may not learn about in a neighborhood schoolroom,” says Patricia Urrutia-Hemker, a mom of two from Los Angeles.
Values-focused learning environments
Many parents choose home schooling because it lets them create an educational environment that aligns with their values. “I was not happy with what I was seeing in the public schools. Too much violence and bullying, too much focus on a one-size-fits-all approach to education,” says Urrutia-Hemker.
Moon’s child is non-binary, and home schooling offers an environment where they can safely and comfortable be themselves. “Home-schooling Jesse means protecting them from certain belief systems and ignorant behaviors prevalent in Alabama,” says Moon.
Cristine Pyle, a mom of two in Decatur, Alabama, says she chose home schooling because she deeply values education itself and wanted to break away from the idea that learning can only happen in a classroom. “My goal as a parent is to foster a lifelong love of learning within my kids,” she says. “Home schooling allows me to encourage them to never stop asking questions.”
What are the cons of home schooling?
Combating social misinformation
There are a lot of myths about home schooling. You may have heard stereotypes that home-schooled kids are all hyper-religious or they don’t get a “real” education. Assumptions and misinformation can be frustrating for home-schooling parents to combat.
Sandra Hook, who home-schools her 14-year-old in Elder, New York, tells Care.com her son is sometimes “grilled” by complete strangers about how he’ll make it in life without traditional schooling, or they’ll question whether he knows basic facts.
Urrutia-Hemker says, “I find myself sometimes placing unnecessary pressure on my kids to behave themselves in public because any misbehavior on their part usually gets attributed to being home-schooled. It’s annoying to need to constantly defend my parenting choices, often to perfect strangers.”
Home schooling is a full-time commitment, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but parents need to be prepared for the time and effort it requires. Much like school teachers, home-schooling parents have to plan an entire curriculum that breaks down lessons, includes supplementary activities and ensures kids get a well-rounded education.
This can be especially challenging if you live in a less populated area. Jackson, who lives in a rural area, says she sometimes drives for miles to get her children to social events and planned learning activities. It can also be more difficult if you have more than one child and have to divide your time.
Finally, parents need to stay informed of the home schooling laws in their states. “Each state has its own rules and regulations about home schooling, and those regulations change frequently,” Moon says. “As the parent, you need to make the effort to seek out the legality of home schooling in your state and know what is required of you to become a home-schooler, and you have to stay on top of that information, as it can change frequently.”
In addition to the workload of home schooling, parents need to be prepared for the potential financial burden. Every family looks different, but home schooling often requires that one parent does not work. “Working from home is becoming more and more accessible, but for many families, working at home and home schooling is nigh impossible, especially if you attempt to home-school more than one child,” says Moon.
She home-schools her child full time while her partner works outside the home. It works for them, but it is a sacrifice. “I always encourage parents who want to home-school to have in-depth and honest discussions about the financial drawbacks and repercussions of living on a single income,” she says.
It’s also important to remember that home schooling isn’t free. Home-schooling parents have to purchase many of their own supplies and learning materials. Additionally, you’ll be paying out of pocket for extracurriculars, supplemental learning activities, and there may even be a fee to join some home schooling co-ops. The Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) estimates that home-schooling parents may spend anywhere from $50 to over $500 per child each year, depending on their approach and the resources available in their state.
Is home schooling right for you?
Home schooling is not a one-size-fits-all solution, and it may not be the best choice for every child. If you’re considering this path, it’s important to know the laws and requirements for home-schoolers in your state, as well how your home and work life will sustainably support your commitment to your child’s education.
You can speak with other home-schooling parents in your area, or find a supportive home-schooling community online. Most importantly, you should carefully consider how your child prefers to learn and whether or not you feel mentally, emotionally and financially equipped to become your child’s full-time teacher.
“For our family, home schooling has absolutely created an environment where Jesse can be themselves, learn at their own pace and thrive,” says Moon. “However, other kids may not be like Jesse or have Jesse’s specific needs … I encourage any [parents] who are considering home schooling to think carefully about the work required to make home schooling work for them and their children.”