There is a growing trend in national education and it starts at home. An estimated two million students, approximately 3-4% of the U.S. K-12 student population, are homeschooled, a 74% increase since 1999. Moral and religious instruction remains the primary reason parents opt to homeschool their children, but a growing number choose to do so for a myriad of other reasons. Motives for homeschooling range from dissatisfaction with public schools, to concerns about school environment and safety, to medical conditions or special needs support, to the desire to education children within pedagogical frameworks different that those offered in standard classroom instruction.
Despite their rapidly growing numbers, homeschooling families often still face skepticism. However, with figures that rival charter school enrollment, and as a viable alternative to expensive private schools, homeschooling rates will most likely continue to increase in the coming years. Whether you are a homeschooling parent, thinking about homeschooling, an educator, or simply interested in educational trends, here is a primer on homeschooling:
1. Homeschooling is Legal
Today, families may choose to homeschool in all fifty states. Typically, a parent must submit paperwork notifying the school of his or her intent to homeschool, however, each state and often each school district, sets its own regulations and these rules can vary greatly. For example, in some states like Oregon homeschooling students are still required to partake in standardized testing at certain grades. In Nebraska, homeschools are treated as private schools and must cover specific subjects. And in Alaska, families do not even need to notify the state or district of their intention to homeschool. The National Home Education Network maintains an At-a-Glance State Information page for anyone looking to learn more about homeschool regulations.
2. Homeschooled Students are Socialized
The stereotype that a typical homeschooled student lacks social skills and sits at a desk six hours a day, working either in isolation or just with a parent has been shattered over the past decade. With the increase in the number of homeschoolers has come an increase in the number of homeschool organizations providing support, activities, outings, and resources. Often homeschooled students study with siblings and other local homeschoolers, are members of youth sports leagues, and even participate in public school cocurricular activities in states like New Hampshire where such access is protected by law. Many museums, libraries, and organizations now offer programming geared specifically for homeschoolers during normal school hours. For more information about homeschool organizations, visit Home Education Magazines’ state-by-state list of support groups.
3. Homeschooling Can Be Affordable
How much does it cost to homeschool a student? This will depend on the family and choice of curriculum, but $500 to $600 annually per student is frequently cited. Yet, the largest cost of homeschooling is often the loss of income when a parent leaves the workforce. It may not come as a surprise that the increase in the rate of homeschooling has coincided with the widespread availability of the internet. Although the majority of homeschooled students come from two parent families with a stay-at-home parent, the internet has opened the doors to telecommuting, off-hour options, and freelance work allowing many more parents to homeschool while still contributing to household incomes.
4. Homeschool Curriculum Choices are Abundant
The purchase of curriculum packages or enrollment in an online program can be a large portion of the direct cost of homeschooling a child. Considering students will typically study several subject areas and require new materials and courses as they progress academically, this can add up over the years. However, with ingenuity and research many families manage to educate their children at home on modest budgets. With the growing popularity of homeschooling, free and low cost educational resources have flourished. For example, TestDesigner.com offers free printable worksheets for a wide range of grade levels and subjects. Several major online schools provide courses for homeschooling students and a number of elite universities, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, now offer massive open online courses, providing a free option for secondary students transitioning to college. Many homeschooling websites, like The Home School Mom, provide ample information to help parents make informed decisions as to the homeschooling method best for their children.
5. Homeschooling Isn’t Always a K-12 Commitment
It is not uncommon for families to homeschool for a period of time and then transition students into schools. Sometimes the homeschooling parent must return to work for financial reasons, the homeschool dynamic no longer works for the family, or the students themselves express the desire to enroll in school. The reverse can also be true. A student may transition from school to homeschooling when the current educational circumstances are not meeting the student’s needs. Some homeschool situations are temporary, for example, when a student is bullied, for family relocation, or when a medical condition arises. Ideally, a strong partnership between parents and school personal will help students transition successfully either way.