With homeschooling more popular than ever, parents have dozens of approaches to consider, from the highly structured “curriculum-in-a-box” to the free-form “unschooling” to the highly customized “flex-schooling.” To find the benefits of homeschooling -- and potential limitations, we conducted extensive interviews with a diverse group of over 100 families. Here’s what we learned about the advantages and disadvantages of homeschooling.
Wide-spread remote schooling during the pandemic brought on so many challenges, but among them, one benefit of this lifestyle change surfaced: families of school-age kids were freed from the geographical limits of their school district. Now with in-person school back in session, many families still crave this increased mobility that allows them to spend time with relatives, set off on an extended study abroad, or take a field trip coast to coast.
A flexible schedule isn‘t just about choosing where you learn but when. Whether your kid is an early riser or works best in the afternoon after a leisurely morning, you can choose the school hours that play to their strengths. With fewer high schoolers than ever getting enough sleep to support their developmental changes, ditching the alarm clock is a homeschool benefit that should top any parents’ list.
Over the course of the six-hour school day, so much instructional time in public school gets frittered away on transitions, as students shuffle between classes, wait for classmates to get on the same page, and deal with random interruptions.
Homeschooled students simply don’t have to deal with those inefficiencies. With targeted learning, they can cover the expected, grade level core curriculum in a fraction of the regular school day. (Most families we interviewed estimated it took less than ninety minutes per day to complete a homeschool curriculum.) That leaves plenty of time for kids to take a deep dive into their passions, hobbies and curiosities.
A full-time school day can feel like an endurance sport, with a daily race to get out of the house in the morning and sprint to extracurriculars after classes. Homework, dinner and checking in with friends saps any remaining bandwidth, elbowing out free time for meaningful family connections. Instead, when you homeschool, it’s easy to integrate family time, whether it’s a low-key daily ritual like a snack break or a collaborative project.
Friends are the number one influence on children, after their parents. But in a traditional school environment, there’s no telling whether that peer pressure will be a positive or a negative. For parents who want to be more intentional about fostering the friendships they think will be really positive for their child’s self-esteem and overall development, homeschooling offers the perfect opportunity.
A traditional public or private school setting forces kids to adapt to artificial constructs like “grade levels” and to fit their learning in between regularly scheduled bells that risk interrupting an “ah-ha!” moment. Homeschooling allows for customization of every element: If your child loves math, they’re free to tear through multiple grade levels in one year; or they can go at their own pace, without the frantic feeling of being left behind. You’ll also be able to play to their strengths, by using teaching methods that take into consideration their learning style, especially if they have special needs or learning differences, like ADHD.
Homeschooled children also get to take advantage of personalized interdisciplinary projects: if your kids are excited about outer space, fashion or a foreign country, make it the center of your curriculum. When they work on a core skill like reading, writing or math, they’ll be more invested if it’s rooted in their passion.
Along with these pros of homeschooling (and countless others), the families we interviewed opened up about the challenges that can make for a less satisfying experience. Here’s what they shared – along with some insights about how to overcome these potential obstacles.
For homeschooling to be truly flexible, families need to be able to integrate it into a diverse educational journey that may also include traditional school. So how do you capture a child’s achievements and skills for an admissions officer or placement coordinator, without an accredited transcript?
Even if you don’t think traditional school is in the cards, you’ll want to keep records of what your child is doing, ideally helping them to create a portfolio that showcases their development. Then, when it comes time, you can engage the services of a counselor specialized in translating homeschoolers’ achievements into recognizable courses. (While we don’t endorse any specific service, a Google search for “homeschool college counseling” will get you started.)
Integrating this process into its curriculum, Prisma collaborates with families to create a transcript reflective of each child’s learning. Learners maintain a cumulative portfolio of writing, projects and feedback that they can include as part of an admissions’ package, telling a richer story than a GPA ever could.
Upending the stereotype of the homeschool loner, studies show that homeschooled kids can be perfectly well socialized and, in some respects, even better socialized because they're comfortable interacting with kids of all ages and adults.
However, in the shift to a home environment, students lose easy access to their peers. That means parents have to be proactive about finding – and maintaining – opportunities for social interaction. There are countless ways to assemble a lively, diverse cohort: homeschool co-ops, local park meetups, and extracurricular activities. But all these options take time and effort, especially for younger kids who need adult supervision.
Anyone choosing to homeschool will have to do the legwork to ensure their child has opportunities for in-person socialization, a crucial part of child development. That said, Prisma provides an online cohort with significant opportunities for socializing built into the daily schedule, as kids engage in team challenges, collaborate on projects, run clubs, and support one another in an online forum.
In a classroom, students don’t just receive knowledge from their teacher; education experts have long endorsed the concept of peer learning, where students reciprocally teach one another through collaboration, debate and feedback. Homeschoolers also have limited occasions to share their work. It’s a bit anticlimactic to demonstrate the fruits of your labor to an audience of two.
Although most areas of the country offer homeschool hangouts like park or museum days, peer learning opportunities can be harder to find. But families can take the initiative to start their own homeschool learning group, such as a book club, writing workshop, or a full-scale co-op. Online, you’ll find no shortage of opportunities for interaction: Platforms such as outschool.com bring kids together with courses as diverse as caring for axolotls, managing big emotions and investing for beginners.
If you’re looking for a more cohesive community than a one-off course can offer, Prisma is structured around live, virtual workshops that encourage kids to invest in one another’s learning. Regular Expo days allow students to celebrate their achievements with the broader Prisma community of kids, parents and coaches.
One of the most common worries of prospective homeschool parents is how they can be an authority in all the fields they need to cover. Few parents have the time to become overnight experts on osmosis, World War II, and the five paragraph essay. That problem only ratchets up as kids progress to advanced material. Most people feel okay about covering elementary math; fewer will raise their hands to tackle calculus.
But it’s not just fear of equations that might trip up a parent; it’s knowing how to teach your child. Toggling between teacher and parent can be a tough needle to thread, especially when they bump up against an uncomfortable challenge. Sometimes, you need an independent, third-party professional to navigate obstacles and help a child realize their potential.
To fill in the gaps of a parent’s knowledge – and to provide outside, adult mentorship – there are plenty of online and in-person options. Sites like wyzant.com offer a wealth of tutors for every possible age group, while local community college or university extension programs allow advanced highschoolers to enroll in single courses.
There’s no soft-shoeing this one: Homeschooling takes a lot of time for parents who have to be all hands on deck with their child‘s education. It can take hours to come up with the curriculum, give feedback on their child’s work, organize – and supervise – their day. It can help to outsource the content to subject experts, but there’s still the task of curating and scheduling. Without a strong support network, healthy boundaries and a well defined plan, the stresses of homeschooling can lead to caregiver burnout.
A local homeschool co-op can be a great option for parents looking to lighten their load; so, too, can an out-of-the-box curriculum, where you get a fully structured program that covers all the core lessons (but limits your ability to create a fully customized, experiential curriculum).
By providing an educational framework, dynamic community and an expert coach, Prisma helps parents give their child a flexible home-based learning experience with a minimal time commitment (less than one hour a day, according to most families).
The pros and cons of homeschooling will be unique to every family, but these themes that constantly surfaced in our conversations should help you start to make an informed decision about this significant lifestyle change. If the scales are starting to tip in favor of this unique educational experience and you want to learn more, check out our guide on How to Get Started with Homeschooling, for a three-step approach that moves from big picture planning to nitty gritty details.