Before I became a stay-at-home, homeschool mama, I taught ninth grade English. My five years teaching in the inner city gave me quite the education.
One of the things I continually observed was the brokenness of our conventional school system. Even though I worked at a good school with great people, there were still notable flaws, flaws significant enough to make me evaluate whether or not I could send my own kids to school in good conscience.
I’ve reflected long and hard on my experience as an educator, and know that I want something different for my kids. That is why I am completely committed to home schooling.
Of course, homeschooling has its own weaknesses, but it is a worth noting its many strengths, especially in light of the problems in the American educational system. Homeschooling is a quality educational alternative, and those who choose it have legitimate reasons why.
Here are eleven advantages homeschool has over conventional school. Ready to take notes?
Better Physical Environment
Uncomfortable chairs. Fluorescent lights. Tile floors that magnify each sound. Chintzy posters. Bright screens. The average American classroom is an over-stimulating environment. At the very least, it’s unnatural.
I taught in a windowless classroom that was often 5 degrees too-warm, due to the heat given off by the 26 computers patrolling the perimeter of the room. Hanging artwork and twinkle lights did some, but not much, to make the room more inviting.
Kids can learn fractions while sitting in a plastic chair with worn manipulatives in in a climate-controlled, sterile room. But kids can also learn fractions in the kitchen with measuring cups while soft instrumental music plays in the background and natural light filters through the windows.
Environment matters. Children are more likely to learn in a space that is comfortable, beautiful, and safe. Homeschool children benefit from learning at home.
More Opportunity to Be in Nature
One gorgeous, fall morning, I took my son to the park. The sky was warm and bright, the clouds were sailing across the sky. Shocked that we were the only ones at this popular spot, I wondered “Where is everyone?” Then, it occurred to me: school was back in session.
Our children are suffering from nature deficiency, and conventional school contributes to the problem On one level, kids aren’t given enough opportunity to get out and learn about and explore nature. Kids may be able to identify types of trees on flash cards, but they’re not given the chance to see them in person, to touch their rough bark, to hold a leaf between their fingers.
Kids also are robbed of the physical and emotional benefits of time spent in the outdoors. Spending the majority of one’s day in a climate-controlled classroom takes its toll; it certainly took its toll on me. When I was a teacher, I spent mornings getting ready by a SADD light and took vitamin D supplements to keep myself functioning, especially in the long winter months. It is no surprise to me that so many of our kids are tired, unmotivated, and have difficulty focusing – we deprive them of the sun, fresh air, and the calming effects of nature.
Conventional schools can’t do much about this. But homeschooling opens the door, literally and figuratively, for kids to reconnect with nature. A homeschooled child can read her assignments beneath a red oak, stretched out under a blanket. She can stop at a chapter break, not at the signal of a bell, and look up at the canopy above her as she reflects. She can pull out her nature journal and sketch the way the light filters through the leaves. The homeschooled child can learn in, and from, a natural and life-giving environment.
Healthier Relationship with Technology
Our children are on screens way too much. We know that screen time negatively affects children’s health, yet, much to my dismay, children are encouraged, even mandated, to be on screens throughout the school day.
When I taught, we were required to integrate technology into every lesson. These days, some schools are even giving kids a tablet or laptop to use throughout the school day.
This is hugely problematic, in my opinion. Firstly, there is no real way to manage children’s use of technology in the classroom. Secondly, children are continually exposed to Wi-Fi frequencies and blue-light that affects their attention and well being. And, perhaps most frustrating of all, this is done without need; technology is not necessary for learning. Students can, and must, learn from books, hands-on experiences, and authentic interactions with human beings.
The homeschooled child uses technology as a tool, but not as the sine quo non of education. Parents can monitor that technology is not misused, and can set limits on its use. The homeschooled child is better off physically, emotionally, relationally, and mentally when technology stays within healthy boundaries.
More Student Freedom
“No food or drink in the classroom. Stay in your seat. Sorry, you can’t go to the bathroom; someone else has the pass. You’re out of dress code. You can’t speak without approval.”
A school needs to instill standards to keep the whole machine functioning. However, a lot of those standards restricted students. Daily, I had to hold children to standards that didn’t benefit them.
At home, a child is free to take care of his own needs and express himself without fear of being reprimanded. He can take a potty break whenever he needs. He can drink a cup of tea while he tackles his history text, then get up and move around when he struggles to focus. He can wonder aloud without getting the evil eye. A homeschooled child’s needs are not sacrificed for the sake of the “greater good.”
Significant Individualized Attention
One of the most important mantras I held onto as a teacher was: “Know your students.” Unfortunately, in the conventional school system, it is nearly impossible to really know and serve each student individually.
The first two years I taught, I had about 120 students divided among five classes for an average of 24 kids per class (and that’s by no means a large class). Class periods were 44 minutes long. If I spent only 20 minutes on direct instruction and classroom management, I could give each student one minute of individual attention each day. And that almost never happened.
My job was to know, care for, and educate each child individually, and while I tried my darndest, I could not give each child the attention he or she deserved. It’s just the nature of the system. Is it any wonder kids slip through the cracks?
Homeschooled children are able to benefit from the gift of time with their teacher. As a parent, you already knows your child intimately and are able to give her the time and attention she needs to truly learn. You can tailor her education to her unique skills, interests, and abilities.
Believe it or not, teachers don’t get a whole lot of say in what or how they teach. Most schools want teachers to stick with a (biased) curriculum that is formulated specifically toward a set of common core standards all children are expected to meet.
But each student is different. Each student has their own skills, interests, values, needs, and learning styles. Each student cannot have those skills, interests, values, needs, or learning styles engaged by a universal standardized curriculum.
Most of the time, teachers aren’t given the opportunity to adapt the material for their students. I was an uncommon exception. The charter school I worked at trusted teachers to teach, and I had the opportunity to design my own curriculum. This meant that I could choose content that appealed to the interests of the students (like using hip-hop music to teach literary elements). I saw firsthand the way this enriched learning.
Homeschooling parents always have that opportunity. They are able to use curriculum to serve their student, not the other way around. Parents can pick and choose from various high-quality curriculums, or they can create their own. Moreover, the homeschooled child has the unique privilege of having her education individualized, a privilege I wish every kid had.
More Efficient Use of Time
One precious commodity that is consistently wasted in schools is time.
Where I taught, the school day began at 7:45 and ended at 2:30. About an hour and a half of that time were intentionally non-instructional, designated for homeroom, transitioning to classes, and lunch. There was just over five hours of instructional time, but that time included setting class expectations, reviewing previous material, managing student behavior, and assessing student learning. I’m not sure how much time I spent with my students engaging in actual learning, but it wasn’t as much as I would have liked.
Then, there’s the issue of pacing. I’d have some students plow through material quickly, and others who always lagged behind. I often died my best to create modified material for the extreme students, but I know that I could not teach the material at a perfect pace for each student.
The homeschool school day may be shorter than the conventional school day, but it does not mean less learning is happening; in fact, I’d argue more is. A parent can organize and pace lessons in a way that makes sense for the child, which will optimize time and learning. Homeschooling is way more efficient, and it gives kids the gift of more time.
No Standardized Testing
The particular class I taught my last two years of teaching was exclusively meant to help students prepare for the state-wide English Exam. I literally had to teach to the test. Not every class is purposed in this way, but every school is required to administer standardized tests, and the results of those tests directly impact the schools. Teachers feel the pressure of having their students preform well, and our curriculums are designed around these particular outcomes.
There are many problems with standardized testing. Firstly, it takes away opportunities for authentic learning; preparing for and administering these tests takes copious amounts of time. Secondly, the tests doesn’t assess authentic learning; most teachers agree, the tests are crap (not to mention biased), yet the outcomes of the tests have legitimate implications. Thirdly, it suggests to students that school is about performance, not learning (more on that next).
The homeschooled child is free from the manacles of standardized testing. His education is not dictated by the powers that be. He can learn about what is important for him to know when he is ready to learn about it, and he is not pressured to perform, nor penalized for imperfection.
Healthier Relationship with Learning
In conventional school, it’s all about the grade.
The class I taught was not a traditional content course, and was graded as pass/fail, determined by the individual’s effort and progress. It was astonishing to me to see the effect this had on the students. High performing kids were frustrated by the class; they wanted an “A”, not a “P.” Low performing kids only put forth effort when they knew they were in danger of an “F” (and that was only some students – dozens ended up failing). I had students cheat, yes cheat, in a class where they didn’t have to get the answers right to pass.
This is symptomatic of a huge problem: school is about performing, not learning and growing. All students suffer under this mindset. High-achievers see the “A” as the carrot on the stick, not learning itself, and will do nearly anything to reach it. Students who struggle are so demotivated or ashamed by their inability to achieve that they don’t try. Whereas letter grades once represented mastery of content and pushed students toward that mastery, grades now reflect how well a child “did school”; all the while, most kids are actually quite apathetic to learning.
The homeschooled child is more likely to be accurately assessed on what she knows because she’s not being compared to peers, but to herself. She is much more likely to see education as learning and progress, not just performance. She is more likely to enjoy learning and less likely to be intimidated by it. For her, education is the process, not the labeled outcome
Safer Social Interactions
We all know school is supposed to be about learning, but in reality, it’s largely about navigating a complicated social environment. Our children spend the majority of their day away from their parents, under the authority of strangers, and being influenced by peers. That peer influence, I’ve found (and experienced, if I’m honest), ends up being a hugely impressionable aspect of school, for better or for worse.
I’m all about my kids building quality relationships. I’m in total favor of having my kids learn and grow with others. I do not believe, though, that this happens best in a conventional school setting. As a high school teacher, I saw that peer influence was more often negative than positive. And I certainly saw a disconnect between parents and their kids.
The reality is this: conventional school takes kids out from under the care of the persons who love them most and sends them to an unknown territory where they are vulnerable. Some kids do fine. Some do not.
The homeschooled child is not put at risk. For them, school is about learning and is not influenced by figuring out where they fit in. There are ample opportunities to build relationships with others, but those opportunities are more likely to be beneficial because they are overseen by a caring parent.
More Meaningful Goals of Education
While there are a slew of problems with the nature of our conventional educational system, perhaps the overarching one is that there is no clear goal for K-12 education. Or maybe it’s that everyone has a different goal. Is the goal to see children learn? Succeed? Survive? Change the world? Keep out of trouble? Fall in line?
I care about my children’s education a great deal. I want them to be truth-seeking, critically thinking, well-read, well-rounded, capable, creative, articulate, appreciative lifelong lovers of learning. I want them to use their knowledge and skills to influence their lives and the world for good. I want them to honor God with their education.
The conventional school system does not share these goals.
The homeschooled child is reaching for more than a mere diploma. The goal of education ought to be so much more than that. Our children deserve more than that.
Homeschooling isn’t for everyone. It requires a lot of work, time, thought, and sacrifice. But for me, it is all worthwhile. I am so grateful to be able to offer my children a quality education at home. I truly believe
Interested in reading more? Check out my homeschooling resource page and the following blog posts: