Taking the homeschooling challenge
Consider the pros and cons of homeschooling your child before you make the commitment
Homeschooling has many positives and negatives that need to be considered by a parent before they decide to homeschool.
Chief among them is that homeschooling can become an all-consuming endeavor.
“The most challenging part of homeschooling is finding time for anything else,” said Jennifer Steinhauser of Concord, who homeschools her three children, Joe, 18, Matthew, 15, and Lily, 13. “Homeschooling is really a lifestyle, and it often feels all-encompassing.”
The work is not relegated to student and parent-teacher; the whole family needs to pitch in, as they are able, she said, with things like laundry, cooking, and cleaning up. Homeschooling takes up so much time that the parent responsible for teaching can have a hard time finding a moment for themselves.
“To me, that has been the most difficult part,” she said. “It’s something that definitely gets easier as the kids get older, but it can be a real challenge when the kids are younger.”
That is another thing to consider before deciding whether to homeschool, said Amy Gall, who serves on the state’s Home Education Advisory Council and as the coordinator for the New Hampshire Home Schooling Coalition
“Homeschooling your school-age children with toddlers underfoot is a major challenge,” she said. “Schedule your schoolwork when the baby is napping, engage the little one in lessons with crayons or manipulatives, or even hire an older homeschooler from down the street as a mother’s helper for a couple of hours per day. You are not bound by the regular school schedule – doing your schoolwork at night after baby has gone to bed is OK, too.”
While teaching multiple ages can be a challenge, Gall said, it doesn’t have to be.
“Don’t get hung up on the idea that we must study x during first grade and y during fourth grade, when really everyone can study z at the same time regardless of their grade level,” Gall said. “Choose a topic and have
everyone study it together, with reading and writing assignments geared toward their varying ability levels – this way you can all participate in the science experiment or trip to the living history museum in a meaningful way.”
There’s also a pressure at the beginning when everyone is enthusiastic about this new lifestyle to do everything, to go to every extracurricular activity and jam as much learning as possible into the day.
“Homeschooling can be very efficient time wise, but it also lets you add more and more and more. . .it’s 24/7 so it can feel like there is no break,” said Faye Grearson of Lebanon, who homeschools her two sons.
Grearson also points out that there can be additional pressure to succeed because of skeptical friends and family that question the decision to homeschool.
“Your confidence can be under continuous assault when you homeschool,” Grearson said. “Spouses, friends, every relative who has ever taught, all the people who haven’t taught, the guy at the copy store, the parents of your kid’s friends – they will all question you at some point. ‘Aren’t you afraid. . .’ will start many comments, and they really aren’t asking a question, they are suggesting that you should be afraid.”
Grearson said she has learned to remind them is that when she was a classroom teacher she worried about many of the same things: Was she covering enough material? Were they learning anything? How will she get through it all, and was she leaving out anything crucial?
“It is so easy for people to feed those little seeds of doubt we all have,” she said. “The best relief is time with other homeschoolers, especially those with slightly older children. That gave me the most confidence when I was starting out, along with the new families who were, like me, figuring it out as they went.”
Gall said it’s OK to see it as a marathon rather than a sprint.
“It is easy, in the anxiety of beginning a new homeschool program, to overdo it,” Gall said. “Driving yourself and your child too hard will only lead to burnout.” Instead of lesson planning for weeks or months in advance, choose a curriculum at the proper level for your child’s ability and do one lesson per day. If your child gets stuck on a lesson, find some supplementary materials to use until they ‘get it’ before moving on.
“The goal is not to rush through a book to say you’ve completed it on some arbitrary timetable; the goal is to master the concepts.”
Another challenge can be the costs associated with homeschooling, including the loss of income if both parents were working and now one is staying home to teach.
“(One challenge is the) lost income if a parent decides to stay home, and the stress that creates,” Grearson said. “You are always aware that you could be taking real vacations instead of creating learning opportunities.”
As for materials and curriculum, it can cost anywhere from nothing to several thousand dollars for complete curriculum packages. A free curriculum based around a child’s interests could easily be created out of materials found at the library and trips to the museum. There are also plenty of free classes and any child in New Hampshire is allowed to take free classes through local public schools.
“I did not stress about this,” Grearson said. “I knew the library had way more material than we could ever get through, and the Internet made it easy if I wanted to purchase any books. I did look at a few curriculum packages along the way and used some Waldorf materials that I liked, but the boys and I figured out what we wanted to study and then I’d find materials when they were young.”
For parents who want a little more structure and less preparation on their end, the packages can get pricey. Steinhauser said textbooks have been a big expense, costing approximately $600 for a school year.
“The e-start classes are a great value for high school students, costing about $100 per class and students earn dual high school and college credit for these classes,” Steinhauser said. “Classes at NHTI have been good, but also have cost about $800 per class. You definitely end up paying out-of-pocket for your child’s education, but it is still less of an expense than private school education would be.”
Then there are the extras. Steinhauser said the biggest expense for her family has been outside lessons that have included piano, swimming, art, martial arts and horseback riding lessons among others over the years. While these sorts of lessons might be optional to a public or privately schooled student, to a homeschool student, these are critical educational and social opportunities.
Many homeschool parents have found creative ways to keep the educational value high while lowering the costs of a homeschool education (See sidebar).
“We have signed up for a few co-ops this year. I think that is our biggest expense, but I feel it’s worth the cost,” said Charissa Gudek of Chester, who homeschools her two children, Stephen, 11, and Grace, 10, at a cost of about $800 to $900 per year including field trips.
“They are taking a Spanish class this year; that is something I wouldn’t be teaching on my own. I would say roughly $800 to $900 a year. In order to save money we’ll do book swaps or I can find used books on eBay, etc. I also make money back on eBay or Craigslist selling some old curriculums or books. … (and) there are a bunch of free online resources. We use Khan Academy for math and that is free.”
Homeschooling parents also have to consider maintaining their own focus and motivation throughout the process. There are days when a parent might be tired, bored or just unmotivated. The parents that spoke to Parenting New Hampshire say one of the best ways to combat this is to change up the routine or simply have everyone take a day off or short vacation. After all, everyone needs a break from time to time, they say.
“There aren’t any guarantees, home or school, and there is no one right choice,” Grearson said. “It takes more confidence to choose the less traveled path, and if a parent isn’t committed it can be hard to continue in the face of any obstacle – finances, family doubts, divorce.
“There are amazing young people graduating out of our public schools, there are great kids homeschooling. Whichever path you choose, being willing to reassess, to listen to your heart and your child, and to trust your instincts – for most families, those qualities are going to be enough for things to turn out well.”
Melanie Plenda is a full-time freelance journalist and mother living in Keene.