How Long Should I Homeschool?

When considering whether to homeschool your children, you may also be pondering how long to homeschool or if homeschooling can be used as a remedial alternative for a child who is lagging behind in public school. I have found that there are as many opinions on the length of time to homeschool as there are reasons to homeschool and methods to use.

Some families choose to start their children out with homeschooling, desiring to give their children a firm foundation from home and then sending them off to public school once the elementary years are completed. Others will keep their children at home until time for high school, reasoning that the junior high/middle school years are difficult enough by themselves without the trials of the public school atmosphere. Many homeschooling families educate their children all the way through to high school graduation and then send their offspring to college, while a few families utilize distance learning programs to complete college from home as well.

I have noticed a tendency in some families to “yo-yo schooling” — send the kiddies to school for a while, then teach them at home for a year or two, send them back to school, bring them home again, etc. Overall, children (and the teaching parents) need more continuity in the educational process than can be gained from bouncing back and forth. Since homeschooling usually uses different curricula from what the public schools use, there will be some uncertainty in the amount of progress made each time the student changes facilities. A few particularly obstinate school administrators have refused to accept part or all of the work students have done at home, creating even more inconsistencies. While homeschooling can be an effective way for the struggling student to get back up to grade level, it is my opinion that it is not a good plan to send that same student back to the institution that caused the problem in the first place. [See my previous article on Homeschooling Failures I Have Known… and What Can Be Learned from Them for some true-life examples of families who suffered from the yo-yo syndrome.]

I have groped for the proper words to address parents who told me they intended to send their little ones to public school first and then homeschool them for junior high, “when they really need it.” Pardon my bluntness, but it may be too late by then. My daughter began showing signs of the you’re-only-my-parent-what-could-you-possibly-know attitude as early as second grade, and it was fully functioning by the end of her third grade year. Her progress in every subject was showing a drastic decline throughout fourth grade, at the end of which we removed her from the public school system. Since then, I have observed children who despised their parents’ influence from even younger ages. Yes, your sweet little darlings are the image of innocence and devotion at three or four years old, but it will not take long for their values to be compromised under the strong influence of public school peer pressure and bullying (which is not limited to just students: teachers are just as effective at bullying and manipulation as the students are). Classroom pressures only increase as time goes by, and children who are in elementary classes now are exposed to things that were not even mentioned in my high school classes. Do you really believe those influences will be beneficial to your children?

Job transfers or terminations can happen to anyone, bringing major upheaval to the family routine, sometimes including relocations to unfamiliar territory. Homeschooling families are also not immune to tragedy and death: I have mourned with those who have lost children and even spouses. Yet homeschooling can continue. Creative scheduling has enabled many working parents to supervise their students’ education while still providing the necessary family income. Students who have learned to teach themselves can carry on a great deal of their home education independently even if major setbacks arise to hinder your efforts. My daughter found the routine of doing math lessons to be a valuable coping strategy for the stress of having two grandparents near death at the same time.

While the idea of homeschooling for the next 13+ years can be overwhelming at first thought, I recommend focusing on only one or two years at a time. Reassure yourself that you can complete this task and plan for doing just that, but choose not to look too closely at all that the future holds, lest you scare yourself away from attempting it. Once we as a family had recognized the benefits of homeschooling over public school, we knew there could be no turning back for us, but to consider how much work lay ahead of us was a very daunting prospect indeed. However, my children were currently in elementary school, not high school, and I realized that I had several years to figure out how I would handle the harder subjects once we arrived at that level. I was able to learn many things right along with my students, and our progress came one year at a time: we did not tackle chemistry or calculus until we had the foundations properly laid for them.

My children extended homeschooling into the college realm by attending a few classes during their high school years and then living at home while completing an Associate of Arts degree from our local community college. I proofread college papers at their request and offered suggestions for changes before the final editions were handed in. Occasionally, I was called upon as a sounding board as they attempted to explain their college lessons to me in an effort to better understand the concepts — proving the old saying that the best way to learn something yourself is to teach it to someone else.

How long should you homeschool? No one can predict exactly what your future will hold or what obstacles to homeschooling may cross your path, but I personally recommend doing everything possible to homeschool your children through high school graduation. The benefits of individualized learning at home and the consistency of steady progress will provide the momentum needed to carry you and your students through the years that you dedicate to education at home.

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