As a strong proponent of homeschooling I suggest that all parents at least consider the practice, but homeschooling can have downsides as well – potentially big ones.
Because homeschooling can have downsides it is important for parents to keep their eyes open both when considering homeschooling and while continuing in it.
The most obvious downside of homeschooling is its financial impact. Supplies and activities cost money that would otherwise be covered by tax money. Most homeschooling schemes require a large commitment of time from one parent, potentially reducing income. These two considerations will work hand-in-hand to strain family income. Furthermore, a single-income household is exposed to having 100% of its income at risk of an unemployment event while a dual-income household has half the exposure.
Solution: Talk to other home-schoolers to determine average and unexpected costs. See if hand-me-down curricula are available. Verify it can be done by living on a single income before homeschooling while socking away money from the second job.
Homeschooling adds a new relationship between mother and child, as well as more pressures on each. Parenting will not become easier because of it.
The teacher relationship is different from the mother relationship and the two roles can come into conflict. So also for the child, who has to switch between student and son with the same person.
Solution: ensure that explicit boundaries between school life and home life are made at the beginning and respected by both mother and child. Lines will change as the family figures things out but they must be clear.
If the child already has a difficult relationship with his mother homeschooling may serve as a source of resentment, conflict, or just too much time together. Alternatively, an overly-dependent child will find it easier to not learn independence.
The mother’s relationship with her child can see similar stresses. The additional exposure and demands may push a successful relationship into damaging territory.
Solution: know not to force a square peg into a round hole, and have backup plans in case what you are doing just doesn’t work.
Only Fish in the Pond
The traditional home-school environment can be isolating in unexpected ways. A student without a classroom peer group to measure himself against may develop an incorrect – and inflated – view of his own abilities. While overconfidence can be an asset in some situations the inevitable crush that comes with the truth will be hard to take.
Solution: Ensure your child has exposure to people and challenges he cannot easily compete with. Recognize hard work and commitment over aptitude-based results.
A child who grow up in an overprotective environment will have a lot of catching up to do when he enters the real world. The shock of transition can lead to social withdrawal or inappropriate compromise. The naif will be the recipient of ridicule and abuse, especially if male.
Solution: Be sure to expose your child to the realities of the world. Mothers will tend to overprotect – it is their nature – so ensure your child has opportunity to learn the rougher customs of the world and how to navigate them. Peer-group slang and innuendo is an important survival skill.
The tiny environment of the home school can nurture the perfectionist, who will spend too much time at his skill level when he should be pushing the edges of his abilities. This looks good in grades and science fairs but is of little value in the adult world.
Solution: Live a non-perfectionist life in full view of your child. Make sure he understands that mistakes are the stepping stones to success.
Most children rebel. It is an important part of becoming an adult and etching out an identity. Handled well, relationships will weather the storm and become stronger (though different) on the other side. Parents who do not have the knowledge or maturity to handle rebellion will amplify it and the damage will be greater.
The causes and solutions to rebellion are difficult topics with no universal answers. Overbearing parents and too much family time can be issues in the home-school environment.
Solution: Do not exasperate your children – there is no correct way to control a child into a healthy adult. Children need a certain amount of space to make mistakes.
Another connection between homeschooling and rebellion is exit from and entry to junior high and high school. Children pulled from school with feel the loss of their peer groups and can feel like weirdos. Children put into government schools from a home-school environment do so without a network of relationships in the new environment to draw upon and are alien to the school’s many cultures.
Solution: Homeschooling should be a voluntary choice on the child’s part if possible. Try to avoid disrupting social connections during the teenage years, when non-family social connections are deeply important.
Both parents and children can become over-stressed as homeschooling progresses. Because education takes place with family members in the physical space of the home it will tend to “grow” until stress itself provides a boundary. Mothers especially will feel stress because they can always do just a little bit better if they sacrifice just a little more.
Solution: Physical and time boundaries are essential, as are a good relationship between husband and wife. Clearly defined goals will relieve a lot of stress. There is a reason why good enough is called “good enough.” The most important lessons in life are taught by living.
In an attempt to do just a little bit better mothers may be tempted to shift goals as children approach them. Not only does this create increased work it consumes time and exasperates children.
Solution: Children need consistent boundaries. This includes educational goals. If children complete their work early let them enjoy the reward of their labor (usually free time).
Homeschooling and other alternatives to government school are important for any parent to investigate, but they do come with certain drawbacks and challenges. By learning those challenges ahead of time you can better build an education that works well for your family and your children.
The single best piece of advice I can give is this: don’t go alone. Find others in similar situations for comradeship and mutual support.