We always have an influx of children into the world of home education in September time, with children not wanting to go back to school after the summer holidays, but I suspect the numbers may be even greater this year, given the lockdown. So, I thought it would be useful to do a post on why home educate in the first place? What are the benefits for your child and family?
I started to brainstorm my opinions after four years of homeschooling our children and, within a very short space of time, filled two entire A4 sheets and still found myself remembering advantages to squeeze onto the ever-decreasing white space on the pages! There are a whole multitude of powerful benefits of this educational style, some will resonate with you more than others, and some you may never have even considered. Home education is not an easy option for the parents, but the positives are so bountiful, it will make all your additional endeavours most certainly worthwhile.
This is a long post (there are a lot of reasons!), but if you have less time and want to skim read it, I’ve bolded the important sections.
Homeschooling is much more established in the US and studies completed in this country show that from an academic perspective, on average, homeschooled children outperform their school-attending peers. For example, a 2010 paper published by Widener Law Review, known as Evidence for Homeschooling: Constitutional Analysis in Light of Social Science Research, confirmed the following:
“Homeschooled children achieve levels of academic achievement similar to or higher than their publicly schooled peers. These results cut across racial and socio-economic lines.
Numerous studies demonstrate that homeschooled students obtain exceptionally high scores on standardized academic achievement tests. For instance, one nationwide study analyzed data from 1,952 homeschooled students across the country and found that the students, on average, scored at the eightieth percentile or higher in every test category (i.e. reading, listening, language, math, science, social studies, study skills, etc.). The national mean for these standardized tests, by contrast, was the fiftieth percentile.”
Various other research shows similar data. Here are some of the reasons why academically, home education can be a better option for your child:
- Even if you have a large family, the amount of one-to-one time you can spend with each child is significantly more than the equivalent in a public school. Thus, you have more time to explain concepts; try alternative explanations when they don’t understand; listen to them as they talk through ideas to validate their own understanding; watch them put their knowledge into practice; see where they’re going wrong; and help them accordingly. And you will have time to answer the multitude of questions they’ll undoubtedly have on any topic, which often take you down avenues that you’d never even considered!
- Additionally, you can tailor your approach to the individual child’s preferred learning style. For example, my son is an auditory learner who prefers to listen to me read or explain concepts to him. He’s also a kinaesthetic learner who needs to move as he learns, preferably with something like a ball in his hand to fiddle with. Conversely, my daughter is a visual learner, who likes to follow along as I read books and take notes to embed her learning. They are both verbal learners who need to discuss ideas fully and ask diverse questions before they’re happy that they’ve fully grasped a concept. You may find that your child is a social learner preferring to work in small groups, which you can set up with other like-minded home educators, or they may be solitary learners, preferring to sit alone at their desk to puzzle out a problem. Whatever their individual style, you can more easily adapt your approach in the home environment.
- As your child’s teacher, you have more of a vested interest in ensuring that they have fully comprehended a topic/idea before you move on, and you have more opportunity to check this understanding.
- There is also the chance to work at the pace of the child. It’s completely normal for children to develop at different rates and there is certainly a disparity between the speed of boys’ and girls’ development. At home, you are not required to hit a set of standards by a certain age. Instead, if your child is struggling with a concept/subject for whatever reason, you have time to slow down, go back to basics and work at their pace until they fully master it. On the flip side, if your child quickly grasps an idea or develops a skill, you are free to move on to more complex work, rather than having to wait for everyone else to catch up.
- Furthermore, home education is the ideal environment if your child has any special educational needs, given the ability to work at their pace, try alternative approaches to suit their learning requirements and spend additional one-to-one time with them.
- At home, no time is wasted queuing up, registering children, waiting for others to catch up with you, in assemblies, sorting out conflicts etc. This means the academics can be completed much faster in the home environment leaving more time for play, exploring the world and time in nature, all hugely important parts of a child’s development.
- There are more opportunities to reinforce understanding through life experiences and travel. As you’re learning together, you know exactly what they’ve covered, making it easier to spot ways of consolidating their knowledge, be that through practising maths skills whilst baking or showing them medieval defence structures whilst visiting a local castle. Education becomes a full-time family affair, and gaining knowledge and wisdom just becomes another fun activity to do together. For me, the most impactful learning comes when you study a topic in depth and follow it up with a hands-on relevant field trip, either in the UK or further afield. For example, we spent three months learning about the intricacies of coral reefs at home, but then truly embedded their learning by taking them diving on a remote pristine coral reef in Indonesia. But it doesn’t have to be that exotic. They’ve learned just as much by studying WW2 or the Victorians and then following it up with a WW2/Victorian themed day at a local historical site.
- As there is no fear of failure or ridicule, home educated children tend to be less scared of admitting when they don’t understand, something which is vital to the learning process. For them, there is no embarrassment about not knowing the answer or having understood the teacher’s explanation in front of fellow classmates or a school society which places a high value on achievement. Failing and failing badly can help children develop resilience and perseverance, giving them a chance to show grit and determination and develop a growth mindset. But only if they see failing as a positive thing, as a way to improve. Too many children have not learned to tolerate failure, leaving them vulnerable to anxiety, stress and depression. At home, you can lead by example, showing that adults are fallible too; foster an environment in which failing is a good experience; step back and allow them to fail; set them open-ended problems; and show examples of successful people who embrace failure and all it has to offer.
- In the home environment, you are not limited by the national curriculum. Instead, you are free to follow the interests and passions of your children, whatever they are. Think about your own learning. When you are genuinely interested in finding out more about something, be that how to sew a skirt, identifying the plants in your garden, finding out more about food intolerances, the stars or how to brew beer, the likelihood of you being effective in your learning and that you will remember what you have learned is very high. The same is true for children. And yet, in schools, they insist on teaching them from a very narrow and often quite boring set of topics. Furthermore, even if they were allowed to, how could one teacher possibly co-ordinate supporting 30 differing passions and interests at one time?
In our homeschool, we’ve completed indepth country studies on Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand and Italy; a marine biology course, a year’s worth of genetics and cell biology; studies in rainforests, coasts, sewing, engineering and acting; along with physics concepts through the use of a Lego Motors & Mechanics set, all because these have been some of my children’s passions throughout the years. Additionally, practising and playing cricket is an activity we prioritise for Bean9 as he seems to have a talent for it and more importantly, it’s his dream to play cricket at a high level. Bean11’s life goals on the other hand are to be an author and actress. Time to work on her novel has therefore been prioritised, as have projects to support her writing technique. We also carve out as many opportunities as possible to support her acting career, making sure she has time to practise her lines, go to auditions and work on specific skills.
- The freedom to follow their own interests is not only a more effective way of learning, it also retains a love of learning that all children have from a very young age as they start to explore their world; eradicates boredom; sets them up for life-long independent learning as they’re not simply following the pack, but considering what areas they’re most keen to investigate further; and helps them reflect on what they’re good at and what might be an interesting long-term career for them.
- Further on this point, in schools when a child comes across a topic that is of interest to them, they are often hurried onto the next focus long before the child has fully sated his curiosity. Not so in homeschooling. You are free to explore a subject for as long as your child is interested.
- Given the additional time available and the freedom to choose what you teach, you can incorporate more creative time for your child – open-ended space for children to write, draw, compose, paint, model, act, make, sing, problem solve and invent, with no pre-defined outcome. The creative industries contributed £111.7 billion to the UK economy in 2018, not far off the financial sector, which added £132 billion. And yet this is not reflected in the heavy weighting in the curriculum towards the more academic school subjects, which sadly deprioritises the more creative ones.
- You can also encompass a greater focus on life skills from home, from managing their own physical and mental health, to cooking, to budgeting, to time management and communication (see this post and the related ones that follow).
- You also have a choice of how to teach your child, at both a macro and micro level. At the high level, you may choose to opt for an unschooling approach in which the child-chosen activities are the primary means for learning; you might prefer a more structured approach teaching subject by subject, or something in between these two extremes.
At a micro level, even within a subject, you can decide how best to teach the concepts. Maths is a great example here. The approach the UK primary schools take is to teach a small part of each topic, say fractions, practice it for a couple of days, and then move onto another area, say division, for the remainder of the week. The following week then starts with a completely different focus. Later, they’ll come back to fractions, teach a little bit more and then move on again. Personally, I don’t believe this is the best way to develop a solid maths foundation, and much prefer the mastery-based approach of a curriculum such as Math-U-See in which they focus on a topic such as fractions for an entire year, developing complete mastery of the subject before moving onto the next. As a homeschooler, I have that choice.
- The longer you homeschool, the more your house becomes set up as a supportive learning environment, with places for kids to snuggle down with books, a stacked games cupboard, writing equipment left out for them to use in their projects and a space for their art supplies. Thus, the learning continues all day, year-round.
As an outsider, socialisation is often viewed as a disadvantage of homeschooling (you will be asked the question, “yes, but how do you socialise them?” a lot – be prepared!), but I would argue that it’s actually one of its biggest benefits. Please note though that homeschooling through lockdown is a completely different experience to home education in normal times, during which children socialise regularly in meet ups, day trips, regular sports, art, science or music activities, after school clubs, external lessons or study groups.
- Many studies have shown that friends are vitally important to our mental and physical health. Social connection can improve memory and protect the brain from neurogenerative diseases. Having good friends makes us happier, lowering our propensity for depression, and the dopamine generated by social interaction can actually relieve physical pain. So, friends are vital. Making these friends from a randomly selected homogenous group of 30 similar-aged individuals who happen to live in a nearby postcode (and who invariably will be of a similar ethnic and social-economic background) is not. In home education, you have a much bigger net from which to fish and you can choose your friendship group from a wider range of children of varying ages. Having friends of varying ages, as home educators tend to do, is much more akin to friendships in the adult world (very few of my friends are born within twelve months of me, and I certainly wouldn’t think it odd to befriend someone much younger or older than me). In home education groups, you will regularly see the younger ones learning a huge amount by copying and working with the older children, whilst the older ones are developing patience and empathy skills through helping the younger children. There is also no gender division; it’s very normal for boys to play with girls and vice versa. They don’t see the difference, it’s just one group of children mucking in together, as it should be. The downside is that it’s not as easy for the parents. More effort is required to find the individuals and more time spent allowing these relationships to flourish. But it’s worth it.
- There is an opportunity to spend more quality time with their friends. The longer play sessions which typify a home education meet up allow imaginary games to develop more fully and for greater connections to be made, than in the brief slots allocated to break times in the school environment.
- Not confined to a school playground five days a week, homeschoolers have regular opportunities to go out into the real world and mix with people from all ages, backgrounds, religions and cultures. The travel opportunities afforded by the flexibility of the homeschool world offer rich rewards in terms of socialising with a whole spectrum of individuals with varying drivers and worldviews.
- A lack of peer pressure is a huge bonus. Home ed children are quirkier than the average child, purely because the pressure to conform to some artificially created playground norm for their age group does not exist amongst their playmates. They dance to their own rhythm. There’s no need for holding back or behaving in a way deemed to be “cool” or whatever the appropriate term is these days. They can just be themselves. All of them. There is no crowd following to be seen, which ultimately increases their confidence and helps them develop a strong sense of self-identity.
- You can limit or remove the potentially damaging effects of social media and gaming. So far, we’ve managed to avoid getting the children a phone and luckily haven’t even dipped a little toe into the computer gaming world. Instead, they play outside, with their toys, or just read a book to relax. Fortunately, there has been no need for, “Get off your X Box” conversations. It is much more difficult to avoid these things within the schooling system without also making them a target for bullying. To be honest, the benefits of a limited social media world only increase as they move into secondary education.
- In the homeschool world, adults are not perceived as authoritarian. As children learn in small groups rather than one teacher to a class of thirty, there is more time for questioning and discussion between the children and adults. Consequently, there is a more equal relationship between teacher and student. Thus, adults are respected as friends of a different age rather than authoritarian figures, and this translates to all adults they encounter.
- Homeschooling builds confidence in dealing with new social situations. Within the world of home ed, there are countless opportunities to socialise. Every day, there are numerous educational trips; workshops; regular arts, sports, science classes; informal group meet ups; educational co-ops; and play dates available. There is simply no issue in finding opportunities to socialise. With many of these options, the children will be meeting existing home ed friends. But for the educational trips, workshops and some of the classes, I will regularly book them on to sessions where they don’t know a soul. After years of experience, this doesn’t faze them in the slightest. In fact, they seem to relish the opportunity to meet new people and make new friends. This ability to walk into a room where you don’t know anyone and feel confident interacting and making connections is an extremely important life skill.
- There is a greater opportunity to develop a better understanding of special educational needs. There is a higher than average occurrence of special educational needs within the home ed world, including Autism, ADHD, Aspergers Syndrome and Sensory Processing Disorders. Consequently, home educated children tend to be more sensitive to and have a much better understanding and appreciation of the needs presented by these conditions.
According to NHS Digital, a survey conducted in 2017 found that one in eight 5-19-year olds had at least one mental disorder, and it appears to be an ever-increasing trend. In light of these statistics, it’s imperative we do everything we can to help children’s mental health. Here are some of the benefits of homeschooling in this regard:
- There is, in the main, much less bullying in the home education world, and even if arguments do occur, parents are not far off to help the children work through the issues and nip the problem in the bud before it escalates. Your child also has the choice not to go back into an environment if, for them, it feels toxic and they are unable to cope. This mirrors much more closely the adult world, where we do, usually, have the freedom to choose how we respond to each situation. Many people have said to me, “The playground bullying is good for them/it toughens them up/they need to learn.” No, this is completely NOT true. It is in fact the very reason we see so many mental health issues further on down the line. I’m not saying they should never confront difficult situations but doing so with the support of a loving adult nearby, and having an escape route, is the best way for young children to learn how to deal with these scenarios.
- Along the same vein, you have more opportunity to protect your child from the dangers of drugs, violence and other negative behaviour.
- For children who have sadly experienced anxiety in school for whatever reason, the home environment can provide a sense of safety allowing them time and space to heal.
- Homeschooled children tend to retain their innocence and childhood for much longer than their school-attending peers. They are not laughed at because they still want to play with their toys rather than on violent video games. Childhood is so short anyway and play so important a part of their learning process, why wouldn’t you want to retain it for as long as possible?
- The increased time spent together allows the parent to deeply understand their child’s unique personality and emotional requirements. You’re with them day in day out, so it’s inevitable that you are intimately tuned into their needs. This makes it easier for you to help them through difficult times, such as adolescence.
- For those highly sensitive children, homeschooling can be a blessing. A highly sensitive person, or HSP, is a term coined by psychologist Elaine Aron to define people with a personality trait known as sensory-processing sensitivity, who display increased emotional sensitivity, have a complex inner life and react more strongly to internal and external stimuli, such as noise, light, hunger and pain. At home you can reduce the sensory stimuli so as not to overload these children with an excessive level of arousal as they might experience in a noisy, bright and cluttered classroom.
- In addition, the home environment is much more suitable for introverted children, i.e. those who demonstrate a personality trait characterised by a focus on internal feelings rather than the outer world of other people. These children are easily overwhelmed by excessive interaction with a large number of other people, gaining their energy instead from time spent in small groups, with close friends and family, or alone, allowing them time for reflection.
- But homeschooling can also suit extroverts better too, as parents can opt to prioritise time spent learning in a hands-on way with larger groups of homeschoolers, where hours are spent chatting and discovering together. Even more importantly, conversation is not a one-way street, with a teacher imparting knowledge for the child to process. Given the lower adult-to-child rations, there is more opportunity for children to ask questions and “talk it through” to fully process the information they’ve been given. Both of my two are extroverted, and one in particular needs to discuss concepts in order to fully understand them, something that has been a little challenge to my own introverted nature!
- The very nature of home education means that there is less comparison between peers, creating an atmosphere which emphasises the joy of learning rather than it being about trying to be better/know more than someone else.
- There is no requirement for stressful testing in home education. You may well choose to incorporate end-of-year tests into the mix for older children, but it can be more easily pitched as being an opportunity for them to show how much they know, as well as to factor in aspects they haven’t understood/need more help with into next year’s plans, rather than being grade-focused. My two genuinely loved the mini exams we did at the end of this school year, but I appreciate many children find the continual testing and comparison nature of schools to be extremely stressful. The effectiveness of tests very much depends on the aims of delivering them in the first place – if the intention is to genuinely help the individual, then they can be very beneficial. If, however, it’s about assessing the school’s effectiveness, they’re less helpful, in my opinion.
Optimising your child’s physical health to set them up for a positive learning experience is essential, and this can be achieved more easily from the home.
- If your child has an infection, you can give them time to recuperate properly rather than feeling rushed to send them back so as not to affect a school’s attendance figures (a quite frankly ridiculous situation parents find themselves in). Giving their immune systems time to recover will make them much less likely to pick up secondary infections.
- Furthermore, if they have more serious underlying medical conditions, you can adapt their work levels or educational approach depending on how much they can cope with each day.
- You can provide snacks and drinks throughout the day as and when they need it. Sounds simple, but dehydration and hunger can have a hugely negative impact on a child’s learning capacity.
- If you have a painfully slow eater like one of mine, they can afford to take their time over mealtimes, and you could perhaps even read to them or play an audiobook during this period. For a while during our evening meals, we implemented “documentary dinners” which were a great way of taking the pressure off the eating process, whilst incorporating a fun learning element at the same time.
- Your child has the option to go outside and get some fresh air or run around the garden, bounce on the trampoline, do some skipping, pogo stick bouncing or whatever else floats their boat, if they need to get their wiggles out. This is just as helpful for children with ADHD as it is for naturally rambunctious boys and girls! In his book, Two Awesome Hours, Josh Davis outlines five simple strategies to create the conditions for incredibly productive hours of work. In this book, he writes that research has shown that “moderate exercise (defined as lasting between twenty-one and forty minutes) can help you focus, clarify your thinking, and improve your mood (while helping you to chill out, too) in the minutes and hours that follow.” You may also find that some days the need for movement is more key than others. And different children require different levels of exercise. My son, for example, has always needed to move almost constantly. Some days I can just see the glazed look in his eyes, the trigger for me to send him for a run around the garden, from which he always comes back refreshed and more able to concentrate.
- You can also prioritise sleep for your child, as learning just won’t happen as effectively when they’re tired. If they need to sleep in for whatever reason, let them; it will pay dividends in the long run.
As a parent, the flexibility of homeschooling is a huge benefit; the trick is to take full advantage of it. It’s hard to get out of the school life mentality initially and you may find yourself sticking to normal school terms and daily timings, but as you progress you’ll become more confident to set your own schedules, ones that work best for your family circumstances. Here are some of the benefits the increased flexibility presents:
- Lack of a school run, so no requirements to force your children out of bed in the morning and rush them through the breakfast/dressing routine. If they’re late risers, your children can take their time in the morning or, alternatively if they’re early birds, they can get up and on with it all and finish early.
- You can set your daily and weekly schedule to suit your needs. We tend to start early, at say 8am, and work until lunch, when we take a long break during which they get some outside time, and then come back around 2:30pm for a shorter afternoon session. But if they’ve been up late the night before for whatever reason, we just shift the schedule later, or remove elements from it. You could also plan some sessions for the weekend if you need help from a working parent, taking time off in the week instead.
- Establishing a yearly schedule that works best for you is another big benefit. Our full year involves periods of intense academic work punctuated by extra-long holidays to rest and explore the world around us. Others prefer a more relaxed, year-round approach, or alternatively, something in between the two. Choose whatever works for you.
- The opportunity to take trips outside of school holiday time both saves you a lot of money (I honestly think we could have three foreign holidays outside of school holiday time for the price of one in the school holidays) and means you often get places to yourselves, without the crowds. The same applies to visiting museums, wildlife parks or other day excursions.
- An ever-increasing number of homeschoolers travel full time and learn on the road or the seas, a phenomenon known as either worldschooling or boat schooling. Our family was lucky enough to spend three months worldschooling across Australia, New Zealand and Indonesia. All that real life learning they encountered throughout the travel turned out to be a richly rewarding educational experience.
- Homeschooling allows you the flexibility to cope with major life events. There are seasons where you are highly efficient in what you might consider more academic learning, and other seasons where life throws you a curveball, maybe through illness, moving to a new house, a new baby, or even dealing with grief, teaching your children a whole variety of life skills.
- You can also flex your approach based on the weather. On sunny days, you can ditch the plan and go to the beach; whereas on rainy cold days, you can snuggle up inside by a fire and read to your heart’s content.
- Homeschooling affords us the grace to manage difficult days in the best way for the individual. As adults, we sometimes have bad days when everything seems to go wrong. The same is true for children. And on those days, you can afford to either slack it off or mix it up and go outside for some nature study or visit a museum instead. Plan in the odd day off within the term into the schedule, to account for this.
- Not being tied to school timetables also gives you the flexibility to help out in your local community and support family and friends in need.
- Finally, home educating offers the time and space to pursue a child’s extreme passion or skill, such as for example, those wanting to work in the film industry or others with sports’ specialisms hoping to attain a high level within their chosen sport.
The benefits are not just isolated to the homeschooled child either; there are many advantages for the family as a whole.
- The increased time together as a family strengthens these important relationships and creates special, strong sibling bonds. It has been a real joy to spend all this time with my children; I feel very blessed to have been able to do so.
- Building a strong moral compass for your children, instilling important beliefs and embedding a strong faith or spiritual belief system is much easier to achieve as a homeschooling family.
- The increased closeness and time together make discussing controversial topics that much more natural.
- You may find yourself growing closer to your spouse as you become a close team working along your home education journey together. This has certainly been true for our family.
- There are more opportunities to share your hobbies and interests with your children, modelling the benefits to be had in finding and pursuing your own passions.
- As parents, we get to learn too! There is no better way to deeply understand a topic than by preparing to teach it to someone else. Throughout this experience, I’ve come to realise how much my own education was lacking, certainly in its breath. I’ve relished the chance to properly learn subjects I had a negative view about because of either bad teacher or an internal belief that I wasn’t very good at it.
- Finally, given the absence of peer pressure to have the newest toy, gadget or video game; or see the latest film and purchase related merchandise, there is an opportunity to live a simpler (and cheaper) life from home.
So, there you have it! Oodles of reasons why you might like to home educate your child. Hope to see you on the homeschooling journey!