Hold On to Your Kids: Research Against Homeschooling

Recently, I’ve put on my parenting sleuth hat to find cold hard evidence and research against homeschooling.

The trouble is I’ve come up rather empty. And the more I do homeschooling (and even unschooling) research, the more I am ready to jump the public school ship and become a homeschooling parent myself. AHHHH!

My husband, who hasn’t read the homeschooling material, is of course (and understandably so!) not convinced. So I figure I might as well find the ugly in homeschooling—find the research against  homeschooling and then find ways to overcome these…or not.

While I don’t believe there is a right school for any one child, and admire parents, like one of my girlfriends, who readily admits, “homeschooling my girls would send me into the parenting deep end,” I now see homeschooling as a healthy choice for some families.

My research hasn’t begun because of a child falling behind, although some homeschoolers’ journey begins here. Our challenge is a preschooler (3.5) who has set the goal of counting to his lucky number “2010″, has begun to read street signs better than me, seems to have a photographic memory (wish he got this from me!) and shares my husband’s gene pool in which my hubby skipped a grade and thus, being born in December ended up two years behind his peers (and still bored). Although, I have a short list of possible schools, still not inspired by any of them.

So here’s what I’ve found (and BTW if you have any research against homeschooling, or further homeschooling info please do share).

The Homeschooling Pros:

1. Ability to maintain a strong connection and attachment with your children.

Most parents experience a natural loss when their children enter full time grade school. Suddenly, school and school friends take on an ever increasing important role in our children’s lives. Many school aged children spend more time with their teachers and especially with their peers than they do with their parents.

But  socialization is important, right? Well, there is new research, especially in the attachment parenting arena, that suggests children who have a closer proximity and spend greater time with their parents tend to behave better, get better grades, listen to their parents more, often forgo drugs and excessive abuse of alcohol and even, abstain from sex longer.

One of the most important attachment parenting books, and what I consider a must-read, is Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers by Dr. Gordon Neufeld and Dr. Gabor Mate who make a compelling case for ensuring that our children are not raised by their peers (and thus, pop culture). Although, Gordon is not a homeschooling parent, he provides hard core attachment parenting research that suggests the more we as parents can positively influence our children, by being in greater direct contact with them; the better choices they tend to make and the more, they ultimately listen to us—their parents.

Here’s a quote on attachment parenting from Gordon’s videoed workshop, What Makes a Child Easy to Parent:

It is the child’s relationship to the parent that is the pivotal factor [in parenting]…It’s not the parent’s love of the child, it’s the child’s love of the parent.

If we do not have our children’s hearts, we do not have a context to parent them and teach them.

It’s the relationship of the child to the adult…It is that attachment that is important. It is more than love. It includes that, but it is the pursuit of contact and closeness, of nearness, of the child with the parent in every possible way.

Gordon Neufeld from What Makes a Child Easy to Parent

2. Nurturing our children’s passions, strengths and talents.

The current school curriculum is a one size fits all plan, no matter what jurisdiction you live in.

I remember all too well, getting an “A” in my seventh grade science class only to receive a “C” the following year. What was the difference? In grade seven, I had a passionate teacher who got me excited about earth science and about making solar cells and more! But by grade 8, I was eeking out a “C” with a teacher and subject (biology and cutting up frogs) that either made me feel sick to my stomach or put me to sleep. Obviously, my intelligence was the same. What failed me, was my interest level.

The great thing about homeschooling is that you, the parent, is responsible for crafting lessons and can choose experiences around your children’s interests so you can maintain their natural curiosity, sense of discover and love of learning.

3. Honoring your child’s natural timing.

We’ve all heard that timing is everything.

Well, when it comes to learning, if you push too soon (from anything from potty training to algebra!), you can miss your child’s natural learning window. When this happens, learning can quickly become an uphill battle. Then learning seems to become the parents responsibility, rather than empowering the child to take responsibility for their own learning.

Homeschooling, provides parents with the opportunity to honor their children’s timing. This means that if they are a bit slow at reading, you don’t need to sweat it or fear that they will fall behind. Alternatively, if they are reading at five, you can march right on ahead, instead of having your child become bored to tears as they wait for the “slower readers” to catch up.

4. Real world experience.

John Dewey, one of the most influential educational thinkers said of school that it is “the one place in the world where it is most difficult to get experience.”

European schools seem somewhat ahead of North America in this aspect, as their learning is based on experience, not just book learning. For instance, many American children will learn about leaves through worksheets only, rather than from actual leaves found in nature on trees.

Even the ever popular life cycle of a seed experiment, in which children use quick germinating seeds like beans, is a somewhat disjointed and artificial experiment as the beans are grown under humming fluorescent lights and often never make it beyond the styrofoam cup to actually produce real beans, in real dirt outside.

5. Academic success.

Perhaps, the most suprising is that in every study I could find, homeschooled children on average go to post secondary school more and do better than public and private schooled children. Researcher Patrick Basham from the Frazer Institute found:

… [A] comprehensive study of American home schooling was led by leading statistician and measurement expert, Dr. Lawrence Rudner of the University of Maryland. The study measured 20,760 home schooled students in all 50 states…

Rudner concluded that, “Those parents choosing to make a commitment to home schooling are able to provide a very successful academic environment.”

For example, “In every subject and at every grade level of the [tests], home schooled students scored significantly higher than their public and private school counterparts.” Home schoolers’ average score fell between the 82nd and the 92nd percentile in reading and reached the 85th percentile in math. Overall, test scores for home schoolers fell between the 75th and 85th percentiles. Public school students scored at the 50th percentile, while private school students’ scores ranged from the 65th to the 75th percentile.

- Patrick Basham of the Frazer Institute: Homeschooling From the Extreme to the Mainstream

The Homeschooling Cons:

1. Limited “socialization” and the fear of having your child become a social misfit.

For many, “socialization” is the biggest problem homeschoolers face. Yet, it seems the research doesn’t support this understandable fear.

As cited in “Home Schooling: From the Extreme to the Mainstream,” the average homeschooled child participates in 5.2 extracurricular activities which includes little leagues, scouts, music lessons, church and other faith groups, dance classes, acting, science groups, naturalist clubs and more.

Rachel Gathercole in her book, “The Well-Adjusted Child: The Social Benefits of Homeschooling” makes a solid case throughout her book that homeschooled children are better socialized with a wider range of ages as they, in general, spend greater time with their siblings and with a variety of diverse ages within their community as they are not hampered by an intensive school schedule nor strictly confined to hang out only with a particular grade level of peers.

2. The increased chance of regularly experiencing mommy burnout.

In the majority of cases, homeschooling is overseen by the mothers. And as parenting is a 24/7 project at any time, making the decision to homeschool means forgoing free babysitting for much of your child’s waking hours. It also means being with them a whole lot more!

This is the homeschooling con for me that is the most important one to overcome. Figuring out a strategy to prevent mommy burnout would seems as important (if not more) than figuring out your children’s homeschooling curriculum. As any parent could agree that spending SO much time, doing SO much for your kids can lead a parent to seriously consider running away from home for good or at least establishing a few new twitches you never previously had!

Regularly, scheduling in time for the homeschooling parent to have a bit of breathier space would seem most advisable indeed. Yet, when I think back to how much time was spent shuttling the boys two and fro from school years ago (they are now in university), all the time spent helping and getting them to do their homework, the worries and dramas of friendship cliches and finally, the stress of getting them out the door in time each morning; I am beginning to wonder if it may just alleviate much of these mommy stresses.

3. Money. Money. And the lack thereof.

Many families are a two income family.

Thus, homeschooling either means flexible work schedules, making the decision to live on only one income or inherit from a wealthy family member!

This concern is nothing to sneeze at as having food in the home and a roof over one’s head is of vital importance. Perhaps, the question for us parents to sometimes ask ourselves is how nice our roof really needs to be, how luxurious our cars need to be, and ask whether the amount of time we are working is really allowing us to enjoy the fruits of our labours and our children at home.

4. Being judged.

Homeschooling (although less so now than ever before!) often carries the immediate assumption that you are either a fundamental bible thumper, a family who wears matching jean dresses and overalls, a “Becky Homecky” mother–or all three!

Perhaps, one of the biggest hurdles our children will face in life ,is getting over worrying about what others think (especially peers) and choosing to do what is right for them, despite others judgments. I am reminded (gulp!) that we parents need to set an example to our children by letting go of the “disease to please” and remember that what others think of us, isn’t nearly so important as what we think of ourselves.

____________________

So there it is my research against homeschooling. Phew! Quite a homeschooling pros and cons list. Quite pathetic really, as I didn’t find that much reserach against homeschooling, but there are some significant cons of homeschooling that I need to take a serious look at before making a final decision.

Regardless of what school route we decide to go as a family, I am left this research process with the feeling of the enormous responsiblity and opportunity we, as parents, have to continually be involved with our children no matter what formal or informal schooling journey they are on. Family connection is indeed one of the main keys to positive parenting and a positive schooling experience. In “The Well Adjusted Child” Rachel brings together this most important link between parent involvement and children’s school success saying:

Beth Levine’s Reader’s Digest article “Help Your Child Excel in School: Tips from Top Teachers” states that to foster a love of learning, parents “have to show kids that learning doesn’t stop with a grade or a diploma—it’s a way of life.”

Levine quotes acclaimed teacher Gina Rau as saying, “I believe the most important thing is to spend time with your kids.” It mentions, moreover, that research has shown that kids whose families eat together have higher literacy rates.

- Rachel Gathercole page 221 of The Well Adjusted-Child

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