Though homeschooling often seems like an all-or-nothing endeavor, a small group of “part-time” or “partial” homeschoolers is proving it doesn’t have to be. Parents engaged in partial homeschooling may opt to teach just one subject at home, or teach most core subjects at home but send their child to school for “special” subjects like art or music. The sky is the limit—just as long as the local school is open and flexible.
For Victoria van der Laan, partial homeschooling means that her eight-year-old daughter Tigerlily attends a local “nontraditional” charter school three days a week and stays home for one-on-one learning the other two days. Van der Laan, who lives in Albany, New York, began the arrangement in September 2011. Her daughter had been enrolled full-time in school. But van der Laan began to worry that she was lagging in reading and math skills, so worked with the school to develop a schedule that would allow them to concentrate on those subjects. So far the experience has been positive: “Taking a bit of time from the 30 hours a week she spends at school to do some home learning has really worked for us. I don’t feel like the whole burden of her education is on my shoulders, and I can focus on the areas where she needs extra help or the topics we’re both really excited about,” explains van der Laan.
Laura Brodie of Lexington, Virginia, describes herself as a “short-term” homeschooler. She chose to homeschool her daughter, Julia, full time for fifth grade. The following year, Julia returned to the local public school. When Julia reached ninth grade, Brodie, an English professor at Washington and Lee University, decided to homeschool again—but this time, only for English class. So Julia enrolled in the local high school full time, but instead of signing up for freshman English, she added an extra elective. English class takes place at home, where Brodie takes care of assigning books and grading papers.
“Parents need to know that homeschool[ing] versus [the] private and public school option is not an either/or choice,” says Brodie, the author of Love in a Time of Homeschooling. But while she enjoys part-time homeschooling, she acknowledges that it’s not an option for all parents; arranging a part-time schedule depends a lot on the flexibility of the local principal and school system.
T.J. Schmidt of the Home School Legal Defense Association agrees that when it comes to partial homeschooling, the state a family lives in is key: states like Washington and Virginia, which receive funding for part-time students, are generally more amenable to working out a part-time homeschool schedule than those that don’t. “Most public school officials [in those states] love it when you have a student who’s taking three or four classes,” says Schmidt.
Educational consultant Deborah Ruf, Ph.D., wishes that more states were open to part-time homeschooling. Ruf, who advises the parents of profoundly gifted children with her consulting firm Educational Options, says that partial homeschooling allows parents to “become the manager of the child’s education.” Though she works primarily with gifted students, Ruf emphasizes that partial homeschooling can also help children who are struggling in school—especially those who need extra attention in a subject that a teacher is unable to provide.
Ruf recommends that parents who are interested in partial homeschooling work out a schedule in which the child spends part of the morning working at home with the parent, then attends school for the late morning and afternoon—that way the child gets the continuity of a five-day-a-week school schedule. But van der Laan says that the three-day-a-week school schedule she has for Tigerlily has worked out well so far: “We check in with her teacher each week to make sure she’s not missing out on anything special happening at school and adjust our schedule accordingly.”
Van der Laan initially planned to do part-time homeschooling until Tigerlily’s reading and math skills improved, but she’s enjoying it so much that she’s likely to continue indefinitely. “Partial homeschooling is really the best of both worlds,” she explains. “It’s your chance to foster a love of learning in your child without the weight of his or her entire education on your shoulders.”