Video: A guide to private schools
Video: How to find a middle school
By Christina Tynan-Wood
Homeschooled kids do better in college.
Homeschool families are all religious.
Homeschooled kids are more creative.
Homeschooled kids lack social skills.
When it comes to homeschooling, there are no lack of strong opinions — as well as misconceptions and prejudices. The truth is that homeschooling has changed dramatically over the past few years. Long considered a radical alternative to traditional schools, homeschooling is rapidly becoming more accepted into the mainstream.
Though homeschools involving strong religion and obsessive spelling bees get a lot of attention, there are plenty of students — about 2.04 million total in the U.S. — being home educated for a variety of reasons. Fewer than half of families offer religion as the most important reason. (There appears to be no statistics on how many do it for the spelling bees.) Many do it because they want to offer their children the best possible education and are dissatisfied with their school options.
Much of homeschooling's growing popularity is thanks to online programs like K12 or e-tutor that offer both tools and curriculum. Parents can elect to be hands-on teachers (or hire tutors for specific subjects), sitting down and teaching math and science, working from a printed curriculum. Others might elect to combine homeschooling with some traditional schooling so the student still takes a few courses at a nearby school. Some parents organize groups of homeschool kids to create their own small schools, even turning them into their own charter schools.
Some homeschool parents are less hands-on, believing that — once video games and television are removed — a kid’s natural curiosity will take over and lead her to seek answers thereby getting an excellent, organic education.
Plenty of parents might think about homeschooling, but be intimidated by how to go about it: What would I teach? How do I create a curriculum? How do I make sure my child still has friends to play with?
Parents who have successfully homeschooled say that the resources and support system exist in most any town or city to make homeschooling possible for most any family. It's a matter of knowing what steps to take.
First find out what your state’s rules are. You might have to register your school and detail the curriculum you have chosen. You might also have to provide proof that you have enough education to take this on. You may need to issue end-of-grade tests as well. The rules on this vary from state to state, though homeschooling is legal in all 50 states.
Next, turn to your child. What are her interests? What style of learner is she? Take your time buying an expensive curriculum until you’re sure it suits what she wants to learn and the way you want to teach. You might want to work from a printed-page curriculum and do all the teaching yourself. Or you might opt to be a teacher/coach while your student takes her classes online.
If your child is in middle or high school, you might opt to sign up for a virtual school. Next, find a local support group so you and your child can connect with other homeschoolers in your area. (Find more information about homeschooling, including ideas on finding a support group.) If you work, have small children, and are wondering if you can make homeschooling happen, the answer may be “no” unless you are willing to hire a babysitter or nanny. But if you have a responsible high schooler, you might find a virtual school — complete with teachers — might make it work even if you do have to go to work.
Whether this is the right way to educate your child or not depends on a lot of factors and can change from one year to the next.
If your school is failing your child and you have no other viable options (such as a quality private school), homeschooling might be the best solution. But if your child craves a group to belong to and resides near a friendly public school full of friendly faces, he might do better there. If your school has a bullying problem or your child can’t fit into the social environment, though, socializing there will probably do more harm than good. If you don’t have the time and can’t afford to take the time, then creating a successful home school might put more strain on your family and its finances than they can take. But if you are home and able and want to spend more time with your children, this might be the thing that frees you from some of the strains and difficulties that traditional schooling can present, like homework battles and predetermined vacation days.
If you decide to leave your child's existing school and begin homeschooling, do so gently and politely. Tell your child’s school you want to try this and don’t point the finger of blame at the school. If you are reacting to a bad school situation, you may decide in a year that your child wants to go back to that school. Or you might want to ask if your child can attend one class there, be in the school play, or play on a sports team. Don’t burn any bridges. And remember, you aren’t stuck doing this forever any more than you are stuck going to the school your child is districted to attend. You can always change your mind and send the kids back to that school.