The last few months have certainly brought their challenges, in particular for those parents who have had to adapt overnight to the role of teacher. However, despite the extra stresses, many families have found that with the forced closure of schools, their children might actually be better suited to learning at home. It is undoubtedly the case that some children have thrived in this new learning environment, as homeschool means they're freed from the academic and social pressures that the school environment might bring, allowing them to focus more intently on their learning.
Interest around homeschooling has steadily increased over the last five years. Whilst it may not have been viewed as a viable option due to the limited materials and resources available, it is increasingly considered an alternative for children that tend to struggle in a typical school environment. In the light of Covid-19, the past few months have forced families to trial it without choice – and consequently, will there be an increase in elective homeschooling in the new academic year?
What are the main reasons families might consider homeschooling?
As any parent will be able to tell you, all children are different, and subsequently, even siblings might thrive in different environments. Depending on a whole range of factors, what might suit one child may not fit another. Schools can often be too rigid, with learning practices not having changed for many years. For example, suppose a student struggles academically. In that case, homeschool will give them the freedom to work at their own pace – alleviating them of the academic pressure of not being able to keep up with their peers.
Or perhaps the child is experiencing social anxiety, whereby giving them the space to learn at home will allow them to be in the right headspace to thrive academically. If the child has other commitments out of school, such as competing at a high-level sport or music, homeschooling will allow them to develop a timetable that fits around that schedule while ensuring they don't miss out academically or fall behind their peers.
What are the benefits of homeschooling for a child?
Benefits outside of academics
One of the main reasons in which students might consider homeschooling is to allow them to develop their confidence; many students who become home learners have low confidence either academically or socially. Families may be apprehensive as to whether or not it will work. Still, in many instances, children build greater confidence in their abilities and are better able to interact with adults.
One-to-one schooling can also help lead them to develop a love of learning in which they were not previously getting at school, as they'll be able to move through content at his/her own speed and explore in-depth the subjects they love – which can prove a huge positive. If a child is struggling socially at a school, a change of environment might give them the confidence they need to put more energy into learning, and less time into feeling anxious around their peers.
As previously mentioned, parents who homeschool often see their child thrive academically. Working at a pace that is better suited to them gives children confidence in their abilities and allows them to attempt to solve problems where they may not have been able to before. They can also take control of their learning, by making choices earlier in the syllabus – this control can then radiate through later years. Due to the choices they have the power to make earlier on, homeschoolers often become increasingly independent; additionally, because of their status as independent thinkers, they have less of a tendency to follow the crowd.
What are the risks of homeschooling – and how can they be overcome?
Often parents worry about the transition into homeschooling as it limits children's interaction with their peers. It is vital for their continuing development that parents encourage positive social interactions with other children in their year group, as they would should they be in school. They can do this many ways, such as through joining a local sports team or drama group in the area.
Another worry when deciding whether or not to homeschool children is the fear of losing structure and a routine. It is important to dedicate specific periods in the day for learning and differentiate this with free time and breaks – just as children would have in school. Working with a tutor can take the pressure off parents, as well as clarify with children which times are for learning. Families should write a timetable at the start of the week, to include lessons and extra-curricular activities, just as a school timetable might consist of. However, this can be tailored to the child's interests; if the child loves horseback riding – which cannot be done at school – this might be factored into the day.
When it comes to academics, homeschooling doesn't mean that the parent becomes an expert on every subject; it is essential to utilise the vast amount of online resources available. A common homeschooling misconception is that parents are required to sit at the table all day with their kids; however, with the right materials in place, children can do a lot of independent work. Tutors can also be used to improve certain areas of weakness to take the pressure off parents teaching more difficult subjects, along with setting work as a teacher in school would, giving them greater accountability.
What should I do if I want to move my child to homeschool; however, they have exams this academic year?
Exam years can pose issues and become a cause for concern with parents. However, it is still possible and might be the best route for a struggling child. Families need to maintain excellent communication with the child's existing school so that they can work closely with them further down the line. For example, suppose the child has already completed a certain amount of coursework at the school, which they will need to submit to get their grades. In that case, students often go back to the school to take their exams. Having open discussions with the child's existing school on how best to approach the situation is vital to achieving the best outcome for the child.
Homeschooling is not without its challenges, and it is certainly not for the faint of heart. If parents are seriously considering it as an option, they will need to put thought in what will work best for the child, and there are many factors to consider. However, if home-learning is right for the child, the rewards will show, and the child will hopefully thrive in their new environment.