Why Choose Homeschooling?
Some people choose homeschooling simply because they are attracted to the lifestyle it allows, as well as the healthy family and socialization benefits. By participating in community life, homeschooled children feel comfortable with a wide variety of people. Without the social pressure from peers and age-segregated classrooms, kids feel more comfortable forming friendships. At our family baseball games, we see kids of all ages siblings, friends, and newcomers playing with each other and with adults in an unself-conscious way. Many people who come into contact with homeschooled kids remark on how easy it is to talk with them.
Homeschooled kids are less likely to be peer dependent, and family life is likely to be less stressful when it is free from the demands of educational institutions. We often hear parents and kids talk about how relieved they feel from being freed of traditional schooling and nightly homework. These family members were nearly strangers to each other, sharing hurried breakfasts, chaotic suppers, and struggles over homework. With independent learning, they have more time to talk and listen; more time to spend in libraries, museums, and concert halls; or to hike, ride bikes, read, or think. These changes are what happens when family life is driven by the needs of families, rather than the needs of institutions.
Some people come to home education as refugees from public and private schools with children who have been misdiagnosed as having all sorts of imaginary "learning problems." The parents are exhausted from struggling with educators who want the children to be fixed so that they will fit; the parents correctly sense that their children are fine and only need something different: more space, freedom to move, a safe environment, or respectful treatment from others. For these families, homeschooling gives them an opportunity to help a child build a life that works.
The Tide Has Turned
Ten years ago, not many families would consider home-based education a serious option for their children. Few people in the community had ever heard of such a strange thing as keeping kids home from school; the families who did so were considered radical or irresponsible.
Aside from coping with widespread ignorance and negativity about home education from friends, relatives, and neighbors, many families had to struggle with state and local education officials who refused to recognize that children could become educated outside of their schools. The parents formed support groups to reassure each other that they were not crazy, and to help each other deal with criticism, often from close friends and relatives.
It is still possible to encounter ignorance and negative feelings about homeschooling, especially among public-school educators, but the tide has turned. Personal and academic homeschooling success stories abound in the media. Colleges and universities across the country are welcoming homeschooled kids, and some are even recruiting them. Some local school departments once attempted to outlaw the practice, but now they are simply ignoring it; others recognize that it meets real needs and helps interested families get in touch with local support organizations.
Next to traditional schooling options, the home education movement is still small, but in recent years it has expanded from a primarily religious constituency to the general population. Our nonsectarian support group of 200 families in the Portland, Maine area receives calls all year long from parents who tell us, "I never thought I would be considering such a thing."
Flexibility and Control
As home education becomes more widely practiced, school communities are becoming far more accepting. While it's still possible to encounter hostility from professional educators over homeschooling, magazines like Home Education are sprinkled with anecdotes of cooperative superintendents and positive school policies toward homeschooling families. More and more, schools are glad to work out deals with homeschooling parents so that kids can take one or more courses, play in the band, engage in team sports, or even switch back and forth from one year to the next between schooling and independent learning. The hostility is softening and the lines are blurring.
Who's in Control?
Professional educators are not the only people who know what our children need to prepare themselves for modern life. Homeschooling teaches us that we are the experts. It makes all the difference in the world for family members to know that they are the ones in control of their educations and their lives, and that they have real choices.
It's easy to find out more about homeschooling. Many local support groups welcome newcomers and won't care at all if your children are in school. Some of their members are likely to have children in school, too. Homeschoolers come from every way of life, and they all have their unique experiences and stories to tell. You may not agree with everything you hear, but you will come away with more knowledge about your choices and lots of encouragement to explore them.