I have seen lists of benefits of homeschooling, entire pages of bullet points, but for me there are four main areas that pretty much encompass everything for our family. These are 1) the ability to tailor the education to fit the student, 2) freedom and flexibility, 3) social and emotional health, 4) physical and mental health.
Tailoring the Education to the Student
Every person has different skills, strengths, and interests, and a “one size fits all” approach to schooling really ends up fitting nobody. Instead, homeschooling lets us approach learning with flexibility and individuality. Our oldest loves math, and taking math classes is what he wanted to do, so he is on his third year of taking math classes taught by another homeschooling parent. Our middle son has no interest in math classes, and likes to learn at his own pace by watching videos and working through problems. He would rather be reading during the time his brother does math homework. Our youngest wants to build things, especially if they have electronics in them.
Individual education also means efficiency. Lots of people wonder if they’re doing enough, because homeschooling isn’t taking six to eight hours, it’s taking one or two at the most. Why? There aren’t thirty students to get settled into seats, to start with. Then there’s using the right materials at the right level for each child, learning at their own best pace rather than trying to keep up with or wait for the rest of the class, following their own interests, taking breaks when their brains need it, and learning when they’re most alert. All that speeds things up.
Lastly, learning things in context is a great benefit. Many subjects in school are taught independent of each other, with little connection to the real world or to the next class. Being able to relate what you’re learning to something else you know or to a trip you’re planning to take deepens the learning and makes it more meaningful.
Freedom and Flexibility
This is a big benefit of homeschooling for our family. We don’t spend equal amounts of time on each subject in order, and we don’t have to learn a subject the same year everyone in school learns it. We cover some subjects lightly and come back to them later, while jumping in and delving deeper on things that really interest us.
Flexibility isn’t just about how kids learn, though. It’s also about the speed of learning and the level of the subject. Even though our oldest is ahead of his grade-level peers in math, reading fluently came to him slowly. In school, he would have been “behind.” At home, he was able to become fluent at his own pace, which wasn’t building slowly on what came before. At age 11 he was suddenly ready, put down the graphic novels, picked up Harry Potter, and plowed through the whole series. Trying to force reading on a student who isn’t ready is counterproductive.
Flexibility also helps out the parents. Some people are able to work with their kids before and after work, some can bring them to the office, some people have the grandparents doing the main learning work with their kids. There are many ways to make homeschooling work.
And there is freedom of time and movement. Since the amount of time needed to finish schoolwork is so much less, there is plenty of time to devote to hobbies, passions, field trips, and friends. There’s the freedom to take vacations when everyone else is in school, not to mention the freedom for both adults and kids to get a drink of water and use the bathroom whenever you need to. How about the freedom to ask questions at any time about a variety of subjects, and get help finding the answers?
Social and Emotional Health
No, homeschoolers are not hermits, and positive socialization can be a big benefit of homeschooling. If you’re not sitting quietly in school all day next to your peers, you can instead be hanging out with them actually interacting. There is also a higher adult to kid ratio than on a playground, and so there are more adults to model good relationships and to redirect behavior into positive play. Homeschoolers also tend to spend more time with a wider age range than school kids do, and are more comfortable with both younger and older people.
Another major benefit of homeschooling is the general lack of peer pressure and bullying in peer groups, as long as you don’t settle for joining a group that ends up being rigid and inflexible. Homeschoolers are often more confident in themselves and feel more free to think, act, and wear things that wouldn’t be “cool” in school, and thus are less likely to feel the need to pressure others to be like them out of insecurity. And at least in the groups that we belong to, people who are dealing with social and emotional delays are included rather than excluded. We’re already nonconformists and we know it.
One of the favorite benefits I’ve seen from homeschooling is the closeness it brings to siblings. There are a number of reasons for this, and there are always times that people don’t get along, but in general our kids, and those of our friends, have close relationships and avoid a lot of the sibling rivalry that I saw growing up in my school friends.
Physical and Mental Health
Being cooped up all day at a desk is bad for your health. As homeschoolers you have the ability to exercise more often, go outside for a lesson, or even just stand up and do a few jumping jacks whenever the need strikes. Our family doesn’t do a lot of desk work, we use yoga balls when sitting at the computer, and we frequently go outside for exercise, science experiments, or just to read. Well, being in Minnesota it’s a lot more frequent when the temperatures aren’t in the negative numbers.
Stress is also bad for your health. There is generally a lot less stress associated with homeschooling than with school. Being able to change things that are causing stress, like a curriculum or class or social group, is much faster and easier at home with a few people than it is in a school. Having some control over one’s environment helps keep stress and anxiety low.
Homeschooling does not guarantee any of these benefits, it only offers the opportunity. But what an opportunity! You have the chance to thoughtfully help your kids through the challenging waters of education while providing the opportunity to each of them for all of these benefits. You can be an involved and mindful parent, a caring teacher, and work with your kids to help them grow into the kind of people you’d like them to be. I’m very grateful to have the chance to do this with our kids.