Homeschooling has long been an option for parents looking to educate their children outside the traditional bounds of public and private schools. The movement gained momentum in the 1970s, when educational theorist John Holt argued that formal schools placed too much emphasis on rote learning.
Since then the number of homeschooled children has grown to 2.5 million, about 3% to 4% of the population of school-aged children. And it looks as if those numbers will continue to grow by an estimated 2% to 8% each year.
COVID-19 has turned traditional schooling on its head and increased interest in homeschooling. Many formal institutions have decided to switch to online learning to avoid the risk of spreading the virus through in-person instruction. As a result, more parents are wondering whether homeschooling is a good option for them.
While homeschooling methods can offer benefits, there are some downsides to consider as well. Here’s a look at the pros and cons of homeschooling that might help parents decide whether it’s the right path for them.
The Pros of Homeschooling
Creating a Unique Curriculum
Parents who wish to homeschool their kids have a lot of flexibility when it comes to the direction of their child’s learning. Depending on their child’s needs and interests, parents might choose to spend more time teaching their kids musical instruments, developing foreign language skills, or going on educational field trips.
Homeschooling can be a personalized curriculum that works best for a particular child, rather than trying to make that child fit into the confines of a pre-existing curriculum.
That said, rules for what a homeschool curriculum must cover vary by state, and states may require annual assessments to make sure children are on track.
Tailoring the Child’s Education to Their Needs
The traditional school day and curriculum functions on a relatively strict schedule. Each subject tends to be given the same amount of time. And teachers must move at a certain pace in order to make sure they cover everything the curriculum requires.
This one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t necessarily work for all learners. For example, while a child may be a whiz at math, they may need extra time learning to read.
Parents of homeschoolers can adjust schedules to make sure that kids are spending enough time on the subjects in which they need the most help, while avoiding lingering too long on subjects that come easily.
Some kids may have challenges learning in a traditional classroom setting with 20 other kids and multiple distractions. Maybe a child works best with long blocks of uninterrupted study, or maybe they work best in shorter blocks of time with short bursts of physical activity outside in between tasks.
Parents may learn that some subjects are best taught at certain times of day. For instance, maybe a child is most focused in the morning, making it a good time to cover more challenging subjects, saving easier tasks for the afternoon.
Homeschooling may be a good option for parents who are dissatisfied with their local public schools but don’t want to pay for private school. On a moderate budget, homeschooling could cost $300 to $500 per child each year. That figure assumes that parents are taking some money saving measures, such as saving money on school supplies, buying used textbooks, renting or borrowing curricula, and leaning on the public library as a resource. But it also assumes they’ll be spending on a few extras like tutors as needed and extracurriculars like art classes.
On the other hand, the average private school tuition is more than $11,000 per year. Parents who can devote their time to teaching their kids at home have the opportunity to save a lot of money, especially if they are teaching multiple children at the same time.
The Cons of Homeschooling
While there are plenty of benefits, it’s also important to weigh some factors that could be considered disadvantages of homeschooling. Chief among these is the sheer amount of time and effort it takes to homeschool a child.
In many ways, homeschooling is a full-time job, requiring careful planning each day to make sure kids are covering the necessary ground.
Depending on where parents live, adding the extracurriculars that can make sure a child has a well-rounded education can be difficult. Living in a rural area may make it difficult to find extracurricular classes outside the home or make frequent visits to a museum or experience other cultural activities in person.
Traditional schools have a built-in social structure. Kids are gathered into one class and learn to interact with each other and work together. Some parents may fear their children won’t learn proper socialization if they are homeschooled.
While homeschoolers don’t necessarily have the same opportunities to socialize, there are still plenty of ways for parents to make sure their children are making friends and interacting with peers.
For example, parents may consider homeschooling co-ops, groups of families of homeschoolers that come together to go on field trips, work on life skills or do extracurriculars that traditional schools might offer, and homeschoolers might otherwise miss.
Not only will parents be paying out-of-pocket for costs associated with homeschooling, there are also opportunity costs—the loss of a potential gain when choosing one alternative over another—to consider.
A parent who stays home to teach a child is usually not spending that time at work earning a salary. For many parents, this is a worthy sacrifice to ensure their child gets the education they need. But parents should consider opportunity cost when deciding whether homeschooling is an affordable option.
Researching Homeschooling Options
There are a wide variety of homeschooling options and resources available to parents, from fully developed private, online homeschool curricula to web-based public schools that allow students to follow a public school curriculum at home.
Some school districts may even allow kids to go to school part-time while completing some of their schoolwork at home, a compromise that some parents might feel is the best of both worlds.
When selecting a curriculum, look for the best options that meet you and your children’s needs, making sure that it aligns with the legal guidelines for your state and will meet your state’s evaluation standards.
Preparing for the School Year
Whether you choose to homeschool or stick with a traditional school setting, students will still need school supplies. Homeschoolers’ lists may look different than those from your neighborhood school, but looking for back-to-school sales will typically save parents money on these supplies.
For parents who want to save ahead of time for school supplies, setting up a cash management account can be a good way to make sure the funds are there when they’re needed.
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