My husband and I started our home schooling journey 11 years ago, when our first daughter was 4. We simply didn’t send her to preschool, and then didn’t sign her up for kindergarten the following year. She was learning and we were happy, so we just went on with life, exploring the world, reading books, making art, and playing with our friends and family.
People had questions, though. They still do, especially now that we have three kids and our oldest is a sophomore in high school. How long will you home-school? How are you going to teach hard subjects like chemistry? What about college? How are they going to learn to socialize and get along in the real world?
These questions often reflect some common myths or misconceptions about home schooling. The face of home schooling has changed a lot in the past couple of decades as more and more families choose this alternative educational path, but certain stereotypes still persist.
Here are, in my opinion, the five biggest myths about home schooling and my personal experiences with those stereotypes:
1. Home-schooled kids don’t get socialized.
Ah, yes. The “S” word. Do people really think that home-schoolers never interact with other people? Maybe if you home-school under a rock, but who does that? We are out and about chatting with friends, family, and the community almost every day. Everywhere we’ve lived, we’ve been able to find home schooling groups that offer all kinds of classes and clubs, so the kids have plenty of opportunity to make friends and interact with others. The kids also do extracurricular activities, such as sports, music groups, and scouts, so they mix and mingle with both home-schooled kids and schooled kids alike.
No, they aren’t around 20 to 30 of their peers all day long. They spend their days interacting with people of all ages, including their own. Granted, some home-schooled kids are shy or introverted or socially awkward, but so are some people who spent their entire childhood in public school. The one thing I’ve noticed is that home-schoolers may not always be up on kid pop culture. But if that’s what socialization really means, then I’m totally OK with my kids being a little weird.
2. If you’re a home-schooler, you must be a Fundamentalist Christian.
There’s a scene in Mean Girls where a home-schooled boy says to the camera in a thick, hillbilly accent, “And on the third day, God created the Remington bolt-action rifle so that man could fight the dinosaurs…and the homosexuals.” It makes me snort laugh every time. Truthfully, though, the home schooling communities we’ve been involved with have been quite religiously diverse. I’ve known home-schoolers who were Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, Hindus, Pagans, Bahá’ís, and atheists, and they’ve all gotten along just fine. There’s certainly no shortage of vocal Christian homeschoolers, but in recent decades, more and more parents have chosen to homeschool for non-religious reasons. In fact, only about two-thirds of home-schoolers identify themselves as Christian, compared to 83% of the American population. So the idea that home-schoolers are all religious nuts is an antiquated—though fun to parody—stereotype.
3. Parents aren’t qualified to teach their children.
Teachers go to college for years to learn to teach, right? How can parents teach their kids without that training? I understand these questions, truly. I have a teaching degree myself. But teaching two dozen kids in a classroom and teaching a few of your own at home are two different animals, like, night and day kind of different.
People seem to think I am qualified to home-school because I’m a trained teacher, but I can honestly say that my teaching degree has hindered my home schooling more than it’s helped. My preconceived notions of what school and learning should look like sometimes get in the way of what real learning actually does look like. My ideas about what education means, how people gain knowledge, and timelines for learning have all been totally revolutionized through my home schooling experience.
I think the reason home schooling works for parents of varying backgrounds and education levels is that we know our kids and are personally invested in their learning. I’m intimately aware of my kids’ learning styles, challenges, and preferences, and I can tailor their educations accordingly. I know when my kids need to be pushed and when they need a little time and space before tackling a subject. Can I teach chemistry? Hell no. But I can find someone who can. There are so many great tools out there; if a parent has any sense of resourcefulness at all, piecing together a quality, well-rounded education isn’t as difficult as it seems.
4. It’s hard for home-schooled kids to get into college.
We’re starting down the college road with my oldest, so this is a myth close to my heart. I admit, when we started our home schooling journey, I wasn’t sure how to picture the end of it. But now here we are, with my 15-year-old taking her fourth community college class. During her junior and senior years of high school, she’ll take a full course load of community college courses (for free!) through Washington State’s Running Start program. Unless something unforeseen occurs, she’ll graduate from high school with an associate’s degree already completed. Then she can transfer to a four-year college.
Many colleges not only accept home-schooled students, but embrace them. Even top schools such as Stanford appreciate the unique, independent learning experiences home-schoolers bring to the table. Every school handles home-schoolers differently, but the college question isn’t nearly the issue I thought it might be.
5. Home-schooled kids won’t know how to function in the real world.
I’m not sure what world people think home-schoolers live in, but I promise you, we’re in the real one. In fact, one could argue that home-schoolers have much more opportunity for “real world” experiences than their public-schooled friends do.
Do most adults sit in one room most of the day with 20 to 30 people within a year of our own age and an older person directing what they do? No, we work in various capacities with people of different ages. We manage our time, our homes, our money, our health, and our relationships. We try new things to discover what piques our interest and sparks our soul. We take classes or read books or join clubs or travel to learn more. We naturally encounter challenges that we have to figure out how to deal with, and we draw from the wisdom of elders and our own experience to do so.
That pretty much describes our kids’ lives. The real world is a dynamic, ever-changing thing, and it looks different for every person. Parents play a huge role in helping kids develop the character qualities necessary to navigate that world, and those qualities can be developed in a thousand different ways, through every kind of educational choice
Over the years, I have occasionally questioned our decision to home-school, but those doubts have more to do with my own time and energy than any of these myths. All in all, home schooling has given our family the freedom and flexibility to explore and learn about the world in creative, interesting ways. I’m so thankful we didn’t let any of the typical home schooling stereotypes steer us away from that path.