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Homeschooling: An Overview

As the politicians and teachers’ unions debate how to “fix” America’s public schools, one fact seems undisputable: homeschooling is on the rise. According to the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI), more than 2 million students—about 3.8 percent of the K-12 population—were being homeschooled in America in 2010. This figure represents a jump from 2007, when the Department of Education estimated that 2.9 percent of school-age children were being educated at home.

NHERI President Brian D. Ray, Ph.D., isn’t surprised that home-based education is trending up. “The public perception of public schools does not seem to be improving. I think we are going to see [homeschooling] continue to grow for the next half decade,” he says. But Ray adds that dissatisfaction with public schools is just one of the “fundamental issues” driving the homeschool movement. Some parents opt to homeschool because they want to spend more time together as a family or because they want to customize their children’s learning experience.

That was the case for Laura Clark, a Baltimore mother who currently homeschools her two elementary school-aged sons (a third son was homeschooled until he reached high school). Clark’s oldest son started out in a traditional kindergarten, but she decided to try homeschooling when he entered first grade. Homeschooling allowed her son to move forward in math at his natural pace—which tended to be speedier than the pace he would have found in a traditional classroom. But Clark says that the pacing of education was only part of her decision to homeschool. She also liked the “flexibility of it; having more family time, the flexibility of choosing the direction of education.” And, Clark adds, an extra bonus of being a homeschooler is vacationing without crowds. Until her oldest son went to high school, “we always took spring break in the off season,” she says.

Helen Hegener, the editor and publisher of Home Education Magazine and the mother of five grown children (all of whom were homeschooled), says that homeschooling just “makes sense.” “It’s a good way to raise kids, and schools are doing things that parents are not happy with,” she says. But even so, Hegener acknowledges that homeschooling is often misunderstood by the general population—particularly by those who fear that homeschooled children miss out on socialization or that parents won’t be able to teach their kids.

Hegener says that socialization, though “such a common concern” for those outside the homeschool community, is largely a nonissue for most homeschoolers, many of whom refer to it in jest as the “S-word.” For homeschoolers, church meetings, athletic teams, book clubs, volunteer activities—even trips to the grocery store—can provide children with natural opportunities to interact with other kids and adults. “The world is a pretty social place. … It’s hard to be antisocial these days,” says Hegener.

As for the concern that parents aren’t equipped to teach their children, Ray says that this too tends to be overblown. “Many adults believe they are incapable of anything other than something they were specially trained to do,” he says. “[But] you don’t have to get a bachelor’s degree in homeschooling to get involved.”

Clark agrees. A physician’s assistant by training, she says that while she never felt intimidated teaching her sons elementary-level math and science, history and English were a different story. “I was completely unqualified to teach history on my own, but I just learned it along with my kids. … And I loved it,” she says. And, Clark points out, parents can always engage an online tutor for subjects that are particularly troubling—that’s what she did when she felt that her older sons needed more help with their writing than she could provide. Clark and her sons also belong to a homeschool co-op, a collection of local parents and students who meet once a week to trade expertise.

Hegener adds that it’s natural for a family’s homeschool experience to change over time. “People come with all different preconceived ideas about what homeschooling should be,” she says. “But there are levels of understanding that only come after a while.” This is something that two million homeschooled students are likely learning every day.

  • Pingback: Homeschooling Intro . Education . PBS Parents | PBS

  • Monica

    We decided to homeschool our two kids when we looked around and discovered that we lived in a failed school district and the State had come in to take control.

    I don’t know if we’ll homeschool all the way until college, but for now, it has worked very well for us. And as a Latina, I appreciate the flexibility our schedule gives us to incorporate studies of world cultures as well as our own.

    I’m encouraged when I see articles like this being shared. Thank you, PBS, for sharing our story with others and letting parents who are dissatisfied with their children’s education know that there are alternatives.

  • happyhome

    Thank you PBS for your attention to homeschooling. I was taught, happily enough, in public schools, and I was a public school teacher for 10 years. I believe in “good” public education, but since I did not see any here, in our area, after 3 years of different schools, I pulled my kids out to start homeschooling. We are very happy with the decision.

    • happyhome

      ETA: I left teaching, because of the ridiculousness of testing pressure, teaching to the test, and not looking at children’s needs, anymore. What do they need teachers for, when they just want little robots? With my children now school age, I saw that the testing issues have worsened. I had high hopes the debacle would have been over by now, but I am so saddened to see that it isn’t. Learning test taking skills and having little time to be a kid was not the kind of education we were looking for.

      • Villalobos Margie

        I agree. I am currently having issues with my son talking. They always tell me how sweet and polite he is, but that it keeps talking, i asked where, and they say in line going to cafeteria or other places besided the classroom. The preasure is getting to much, and I hate to keep punishing him for things that kids normally do. He is not miss behaving. So many hours in school, they have to talk sometimes. Like you said, what do they want Robots? I am considering homeschooling.

        • Rachel

          It’s funny because people constantly combat homeschooling with the “socialization” theory, yet kids get in trouble for socializing in school!

  • Anonymous

    The public school district my son attends is frustrating. Every one of his teachers have complained about the district they work for during our parent/teacher conference. This years teacher has gone as far as to say we should look to move just so my son can excel. I am seriously looking into homeschooling but am afraid I may not have the right skills to further him along. He has focusing issues due to ADD and is being tested (by private doctor) for dyslexia. Yet scored 128 for his I.Q. testing in 2nd grade. I don’t know if homeschooling is the answer, or if I would be helping or hurting the situation.

    • liz

      we also felt like you. our 6 yr old son has SEVERE ADHD/ODD…we were worried we wouldn’t be able to homeschool him.Like your on our son has a similiar IQ. After a painful year of K we brought him home. I cry most days that we are so blessed to have this opportunity. In our state we do not have to keep records so that is nice. I know homeschool families who still utilize the public school for say music,art,recess etc…we even did half day because we asked. we were told we were able to use the PS within reason. That it was our right. We live in a great district,but I could not see my children(i have 3 under 6) being away from the family unit that much. It didn’t make sense.

      There are many blogs/web sites etc about homeschooling children with sp needs. Good Luck!

  • Denise

    I homeschooled all 4 of my children through highschool even though I had dropped out after the 9th grade. When they got to Highschool I put them in the local college and had the college classes count towards HS credit. Now 3 of them have scholarships. 1 now has a BA,  the other 3 will have their AA this year (some due to time off for mission work). I am very proud of them. They are all well adjusted, caring hard working youg adults. I enjoyed my time with them and wish I could do it again. It was stressful some days but mostly I felt blessed to be so involved in their lives. My sacrifice of my time was worth it.

    • Kathy

      Hi Denise could you contact me please at I
      have 4 kids also and I’m thinking strongly on homeschooling two which are younger, and would love more info on how o to get my 14yr in college to obtain his H/S credits please. Thank you very much.

  • Rebecca Reynolds

    My older sister, Elizabeth, attended Berry College from 2003-2007. I attended Arbor Station Elementary School from 1993-1997. My cousin John has an older brother, Matthew. I wanted to do school at home instead of Arbor Station. I was born in 1987. My older sister was born in 1985. My older sister got a 3.9 average in high school and graduated in 2003. My older sister, Elizabeth works at MedShare in Atlanta. Stephanie Frame attends Georgia State University. I am a twenty-five-year-old woman. My older sister is a twenty-seven-year-old woman.

  • ashley87

    my oldest son is 8yrs old he was having issues at public school with the teachers saying he was to hyper and always wanting to talk to the other kids.. his teacher even told me she wanted me to take him to the doctor because she thought something was wrong with him… i know teachers are overwhelmed with large class sizes but that doesnt mean that the awnser for every kid is to be medicated{unless a doctor says otherwise}.. so i decided instead of him coming home everyday in tears we would give homeschool a try.. he really seems to like it and in some areas is ahead now. we dont know if we will stay with it or not but for now it is really working for us!!

    • Jess B

      My son’s teachers said the same thing and my son is only 5 1/2 years old. They said that they are having a hard time getting him to focus and the maximum time they can get him to focus is about 5 minutes. One of his teachers mentioned trying out medication for a month to see if it “helps” him, but I said No way (I’m more into the homeopathic versions of medications). I’m tired of my son coming home from school, looking sad and saying that he doesn’t want to go to school anymore. Soon enough I will start homeschooling him. So all in all, I understand where you’re coming from.

  • Jess B

    I decided to start homeschooling my kids (next year) for many reasons. Public schools are failing, most kids these days have no moral fiber in them, and much more. That is why I’m going to be taking over their education.

    My son’s Teachers all have said that he has attention problems and that they are having a hard time getting him focused for more then 5 minutes, but once they can get him to focus he is really bright/smart. His occupational therapist mentioned that we should try to put him on a medication to calm/slow him down. For one I don’t believe in that type of medication… I can easily get my son to focus for more then 5 minutes, so I believe homeschooling is the best overall option for him. My son is in Kindergarten by the way, moving onto first grade next year.

    My daughter will be preschool age next year… so I will be getting an early start with her.

    I can’t wait to start homeschooling and I am glad PBS has so many options for education and such (like worksheets, shows, etc. ). Thank you.

    • Research mom

      Hi Jess, I am a school psychologist with two very bright children. I would strongly support your decision to NOT put your son on medication. Bright/ Gifted boys are bored in a kindergardenen classroom. He is bored not ADHD. I have seen the sad end result of a compliant parent who puts their gifted son on meds and it completely convinces the kid that something is wrong with him because he has to take meds. After that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. Usually the doctors switch up lots of meds, make a concoction and later says the kid is bipolar. So sad. I’ve seen it more than once. I would advise you to research gifted children. The Davidson Group is a good resource. Best wishes!

  • kim

    I went to public school and hated it. I just don’t understand how we as parents don’t allow strangers to be around our kids. And b/c schools have said the teachers are ok. We meet them for a few min and just drop them off. And some of them haven’t had back ground checks in who knows how long. Who knows what kind of mood they are in everyday? they are the main care provider for your child. I feel like I should know this person as well as I know my husband. I mean they are around them more than my husband or I was durning kindergarten. And some of them had attitudes that just were acceptable. And I just don’t want that for my kids. Also why should my child have to learn x because the state of ok says everyone in grade 1 has too. It is just unheard of to think everyone is going to learn at the same time. Of course the schools can’t accomadate every ones need to learn on their schedule. But I can as their mother and teacher. I feel that when I decided to have kids it was my duty to do everything I could to ensure they have the best of everything that includes education. I stayed home with them when they were babies. And I stay home now to homeschool, we may do without a couple things (not much really) but that is way better than material things. I think a education that is fit for them and a mother at home who is happy, is way better than any material item. I am so fortunate that my hubby makes enough to ensure we are able to afford for me to be here. I am so glad with our decision to homeschool and haven’t looked back. But for me school wasn’t a “break” and I wasn’t one of those parents who was glad when school started. I didn’t celebrate when the kids went back to school. I actually like having my kids around.

  • tjbtulsa

    Pulled the kids out of private school to homeschool with a tutor. We homeschool all year… are on year 3 now. I love the field trips just as much as the kids do! Joining up with the local non-denominational support group has helped to open up opportunities as well. The children are retaining their learning, as any questions or problems that come up can be answered immediately. Only wish we had started earlier.

  • Cristal

    I’m a young 26 year old mother of two, a 5 1/2 year old and a 4 1/2 year old. My son started school and is headed to 1st grade, my daughter starts pre k this year. I seriously am considering homeschooling because I am so scared of everything I see in the news, every other week teachers, principals, bus drivers, helpers and coaches are being accused of abuse. There has been incidents where days after it happens my son tells me a boy hit him in school. Im not ok with it especially that i have to hear about it days later from my son and the teacher knew just didnt bother to mention it!! I’m literally terrified of this so much that I can’t sleep at night anymore. The problem is I don’t feel like I can give them the best education. I don’t even know where to start. My son also is hyper active and his teachers have said they can’t get him to concentrate in class. I need advice! I only have a high school diploma will that be enough to home school my children? Any advice is appreciated.

    • Cindy

      I live in an area where the schools are not good at all. We started with a virtual public school because I had no idea where to start or how to start. I would check to see if there is one in your area. Also you should join your states homeschooling website/yahoo group.

  • Plantastic

    One fun home project is to grow a pet TickleMe Plant from seeds and watch how it moves like an animal when you Tickle It. It is a fun way to excited kids of all ages about plants and nature. See it in action here and grow your own indoors.

  • thenend

    you live in the wrong area lady

  • Tina Jensen Ma of brood

    I homeschool I’m a younGer parent of flourish kids. I’m trying for a teachers liscense maybe degree. Slightly more than dyslexia . Hii everyone ..

  • Tina Jensen Ma of brood

    Plus it’s fun to learn how lil I kno

  • Charlotte Quevedo

    Well, I have always wanted homeschooling. My school situation growing is probably one of the saddest ever heard and my mom…she originally homeschooled too. My dad did not let her continue because unaware of stuff like asperger’s he thought I was socially deprived. He put us both in schopl and it baffles me to this day that he questions my schooling decision, because what with all of our schooling my brother is and has remained in serious trouble. How is public school the solution to all of life’s problems? The problem I have is this….socialization is a bit of an issue for me. My son is non-verbal autistic, my daughter is completely neurotypical, she is 3. At first I had him in a self contained autism classroom but he was aggressive toward staff and students and started refusing to go to school. So I withdrew him. That leaves me with a dilemma. We live in a small town, no one wants to drive here. I have organized several in home play dates and once ppl saw how far it was they did not return. So socialization is an issue here. But it depends. Peer socialization is an issue, but peer socialization never happens ik the real world outside of public school. As far as socializing with random ages, random races, random ppl, that happens all the time. My husband does watch my son once or twice a month so she can go to play groups, but we cannot go every week. My son is not ready to be around other children until we can overcome his issues with aggression and self injury. I would like some insight on this besides shipping my dd off to school.

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