Would You Homeschool Your Child?

The following is a quotation from a recent NYT article

…”humans have a tremendous capacity for living inside their culture and accepting those arrangements as natural, and finding other arrangements weird, unnatural, even abhorrent.” 

Ahhh humans.

We are a judgey bunch, aren’t we?

I have to confess that I knew nothing about homeschooling till a few years ago. Before that, the movie “Mean Girls” was all I had to go by: Lindsay Lohan plays an awkward teenager, fumbling her way through the last years of high school after being homeschooled all her life. Don’t get me wrong, I love that film! But, the message to your subconscious is clear: homeschooled kids are weird. Not so weird that they are outsiders in society altogether, but not quite “complete” either.

Behold the subtle insinuation that homeschooled kids even LOOK different to “normal” schoolgoers

I didn’t come across homeschooling again after that for a few years, till I heard about the Harding family in the US. Six of their children began university degrees by the age of 12. There are 10 Harding children altogether, and by their early 20s, they already featured a doctor, an architect, a spacecraft designer and a master’s student. Those still studying hope to become a computer scientist, a musician/composer, a scholar of the Middle Ages and possibly a lawyer. Before you start telling me that accomplishing so much in your teens comes with its own set of problems, I’m not saying they got it right (or wrong); I’m saying, how can this not grab your attention and make you want to know more about homeschooling?

Looking back at the NYT quote at the start of this post, I really feel it captures our thoughts on all things parenting perfectly: if there’s something that we don’t understand or we’re not used to, we simply turn our noses up at it. I got into a well-meaning discussion on homeschooling last year (when I wasn’t yet a parent myself) and was quite taken aback by how strongly people were against it. It’s completely fine to be on one side or the other of any argument (this is a democracy people!), but to write something off that you have not experienced, researched or even tried to understand as “totally wrong” is a bit baffling to me.

In a recent HuffPost article, homeschooled Chris Sosa writes that his family “quickly discovered that others, oftentimes strangers, had strong opinions about this choice.” I can believe that. He also highlights that some parents choose to homeschool their children for intervals in response to the needs of their children at the time. That sounds sensible to me; isn’t recognising, understanding, and properly responding to your child’s needs crucial to their psychological well-being?

Saadia Chevel seems to agree. She writes: “The decision of whether you want to home educate your children or send them to a proper school relies entirely upon what your style of parenting is and the method of teaching your child is more comfortable with.”

A closer look at formal schooling:

Formal schooling in England currently starts at the age of 4. But OFSTED has even suggested some children should begin school at the age of 2! There must be good reasons why this age was chosen, right? Something to do with their brains at that age? Some theory of learning that points to “4” as the magic number to start educating? Well, according to New Scientist, this was introduced in 1870 “in order to get women back into work, rather than on the basis of any educational benefit to children.” Right.

Did you know that Finland’s pupils often score the highest average results in science and reading in the whole of the developed world? The WHOLE of the developed world?! Surely they must have the best teachers, or classrooms with the most advanced technology…? Well, according to the BBC, Finnish children spend the fewest number of hours in the classroom; primary and secondary schooling is combined, so the pupils don’t have to change schools; and they begin formal schooling at age 7. They spend an extra three years with their parents before they start school.

Not everyone in the UK agrees with OFSTED though; David Whitebread (a Cambridge professor) has expressed the view that the school starting age should be 6 or 7. According to him, early exposure damages rather than enhances reading skills.

So whether or not homeschooling is the way, one thing is for sure: more and more people are identifying the benefits of starting school later.

But homeschooled children probably have no friends…

By far the most common “problem” associated with homeschooling is socialisation; how are homeschooled kids supposed to meet anyone in the first place, let alone befriend? And how will they learn all those basic principles that are vital in the “real” world, like sharing, team-work, networking, etc.?

Blogger Juliette from California has a response to this: “um, this cool thing called opening my mouth and talking to the other kids on the block or playing sports and interacting with regular human beings.”

She has a point. But if I were to homeschool my daughter, I would need more guidance on this. I don’t think I could leave it to chance that perhaps she’ll talk to people while I’m grocery shopping or at the dentist, and there you go, she’s made lifelong friends!

A lot of homeschooling parents say they get together regularly with others in the same boat, plan excursions, etc., so the respective children benefit from regular peer interaction. Sounds good, in theory, but what would someone like me who doesn’t live near (or know) other fellow homeschoolers do?

Some of my happiest and most cherished childhood memories are with my best friends… at school. I would hate to rob my daughter of that… But, I also witnessed bullying and all sorts of other nonsense at school that I wouldn’t want her to unnecessarily experience too. So I’m still on the fence about this one.

“Helicopter” parenting 

Helicopter parenting refers to parents exerting a profound amount of control over their child’s life. The “cocoon” facilitated by homeschooling parents is not representative of the real world, according to critics. I thought I’d found a solid argument against homeschooling; I may have even heard an “a-ha!” in my head.

Helicopter parents

Original image form Bruce Sallan

But… here’s the thing: some light Googling tells me that helicopter parents exists even when the children aren’t homeschooled. The phenomena is definitely not limited to, or defined by homeschooling. Parents in the US have been known to call up their non-homeschooled children’s professors at university to discuss their grades–something the Guardian points out they cannot legally do! Last year, a mother wrote about being a proud helicopter parent in Time magazine, describing what that involves in her case. And guess what… the child in question goes to regular school.

In fact, according to Anthony VonBank, schools themselves are actually instigating helicopter parenting; for example, by assigning homework/projects that require assistance from parents. In effect, the students are then penalised or rewarded based on how much time, effort, or energy the parents are willing to give at home.

But where to find the time?!

My good friend Iram is a mother of two, and a teacher. I asked her if she had ever considered homeschooling, and she made an excellent point: “you have to have a certain personality to be able to stay at home with the kids, and you have to look at your own individual commitments too. Everybody has different personal lives and where one person may be able to juggle things, others can’t.”

She did in fact consider homeschooling at various stages, but a number of reasons eventually outweighed the decision, including having a big extended family and a small baby to give attention to.

She also highlighted that its important to consider the child in question’s personality too. Her lovely daughter, for example, is far more willing to listen to a teacher at school. “Although she knows I’m a teacher,” says Iram, “I’m her mummy first and I didn’t want to spend all day telling her to listen to me. I knew this would cause friction between us.”

Is flexi-schooling the answer?

Flexi-schooling involves withdrawing children from school for part of the week and homeschooling them. According to the Guardian, its sort of for parents who don’t want to commit to full-time home education, and, in any case, are supporters of comprehensive education. But, they want to encourage children’s interests “beyond a school curriculum that’s focused on literacy and numeracy.”

Sounds ideal, doesn’t it? Best of both worlds.

I asked flexi-schooling mum of three, Ayesha Iman, for her thoughts. Ayesha used to homeschool her children, until she had her third child. She now sends them to Manara Academy for part of the week, and homeschools them for the rest. According to Ayesha, its “the best decision she ever made.”

Where does this leave me?

Still confused.

I certainly see the pros of homeschooling. But there’s no doubt that it is a HUGE commitment. It would mean not being able to return to work, and would require a lot of patience.

But then I hear from people like Abeer, who describes her homeschooling journey as “priceless.” She sent her son to school, but decided to homeschool her daughter who was born after, and says she benefits from tailored, individualised learning. Who wouldn’t want that? She admits that she has moments where she wonders “can I really do this?” But she takes each stage as it comes and knows that her daughter would be fine integrating in regular school if need be.

And I suppose that’s the main thing I’ve taken from talking to all these mothers: that there doesn’t have to be one fixed decision that you are “stuck” with and can never turn away from! Perhaps its worth a try, and if it works, great! If not… never mind?

But would I be “brave” enough to give it that first try…?

Only time will tell I suppose!

I would love to hear your thoughts on homeschooling in the comments section below 🙂


13 thoughts on “Would You Homeschool Your Child?

  1. Maha Khan says:

    We need to forward this post to all school governors in UK. I know a family in Surrey who are home schooling their 4 children. All I know is children shock me and scare me with their intellect. They speak up to three languages and they always get high grades in their exams. They have friends as well. I think it depends on parents and what they have Iin mind. I really like this post and your comments on Ofsted. Well done

    • Habiba says:

      Thanks for the feedback Maha! I haven’t met any homeschooled children and would be so interested in seeing if I’d even be able to tell that they don’t go to “regular” school!

  2. siddiqassadiq says:

    I love this :leave it to chance that perhaps she’ll talk to people while I’m grocery shopping or at the dentist, and there you go, she’s made lifelong friends!
    I agreed with your friend Iram. Given my situation for example, even if I was a stay home mom , my living situation would allow no room for a healthy learning environment for my 7 year old.
    A well put post I will totally share this with a few friends who I’ve been discussing this with!

  3. Ameena says:

    I never considered home schooling my now 10-year-old, mainly because I have zero patience even helping her with her multiplication tables. The idea of trying to teach her EVERYTHING just seems impossible to me.

    I admire parents who can do it….

  4. Nida Latif says:

    I know I am not a parent and some might argue I am not entitled to an opinion but the truth is, this is something I’ve thought about ALOT and have formulated quite a few thoughts regarding it and will share 🙂

    There are definitely a lot of thoughts to consider about this but these are some of the major ones that’s have made me from my opinion. First and foremost, I must just say overall that I truly do not believe school is simply for book learning. In fact, I must argue the book part is the least influential. This is coming from someone who has spent the last 24 years in school and I wouldn’t change that for the world.

    Like you mentioned this is one of the biggest issues. A lot of people that come up with methods to work around this I think haven’t taken one thing into account: you are selecting the people for your child. The Likelihood is that the people you’re selecting share a similar socioeconomic status as you, come from a similar history, share a similar mindset. What I think that does for a child is it creates constrains in the kinds of people they are exposed to and learn to get along with. This world has so many different kinds of people and I think it’s beautiful. But we might never know that unless we are exposed to that. If one is preparing a child for their life, they must take into account that it is not a vacuum where people of one kind exist. School is a place to learn how to make friends yourself, not have them handed to you. Your child will have to do that when they grow up and for some, it is awkward as it is. Imagine how hard that would be if they never learned to do it, if they never learned who they liked and why. I think it allows the learning of this relationship building skill. This is amongst that vast number of other problem solving skills they develop. I also think it creates a certain sense of entitlement for the child….an ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ mentality but that is a different matter.

    But what about the bullies?

    If there is anything I know, I know that bullies do not disappear outside the confines of childhood. There are bullies in literally every part of your life. They just took on great jobs, dress way nicer and make more money but they are all there. If you do not equip your child the ability to deal with these people by allowing them have access to them, I think that is a big injustice. Don’t get me wrong, it comes with it’s own set of challenges where you need to teach your child in the process but what you’ll end up is with an really independent, self-confident person.

    But who better to teach than the parents in the comfort of their own home?

    I think one of the biggest problems a lot of kids have is not so much what to say or how to say it but rather the idea that you must behave a certain way in certain situations and must filter accordingly. I think when lines of school and home start get blurred at an early age, it is hard to learn this particular skill. School creates a first environment that is different from a home and they learn that there are other types of authority in the world that one must respect.
    Also, I’m a big believer in leave your work at work. The home is a place of relaxing. We are in a generation where we blur those lines at sometimes an unhealthy level and honestly, this is the generation of burnout. Do we want that?

    I think it’s important to note that schools are really incorporate the less traditional aspects of learning such as social play and other things such as fine and gross motor learning and I think that’s incredible for a well rounded education. After all,I assume what parents want is a well rounded child.

    Despite my super long tirade, I do not, under any circumstance condone using school as a baby sitting service where a parent has no input. I think that is crazy ridiculous. I do not agree with either extreme, not being involved at all or being the only person involved. People think that sending a kid to shool eliminates the parent’s role but I think school is a very deep partnership with the parent. I don’t mean the parent does the work. I mean that a child learns all these non-textbook taught things and a parent must guide them through while still allowing them to learn to solve problems, to figure out what’s right and wrong and to learn time and time again that no matter what happens out there, they are the most important thing in the world in their own home.

    That is my two cents, to put it lightly :p
    I know I am not a parent so really, who knows what will happen with me but this is my non parent, very thought out opinion.

  5. Wegotthethunk says:

    Funny that you wrote this Habiba, its been on my mind ever since we were expecting Maryam.

    Some really interesting ideas discussed here which shed light on some things I hadn’t come across yet so thanks for that.

    Here’s my take on it:

    Like your article somewhat concludes (though you’re still undecided) there are advantages and disadvantages so I don’t need to go there, you’re more in the know than me. To comment as a teacher, keeping in mind the arguments presented in your article I’d say that a balance of the two is essential. Very rarely will a child excel in ‘conventional’ education if home is not a pro education environment but on the contrary it also becomes difficult for the child if home is great and school is not. So where do we go?

    You need to find out what you want to do with the next ten years of your life and then consider home schooling, is it a realistic option? If you go with conventional education, as you already know, your responsibility is just as much there as it would be with home schooling. Don’t let teachers be responsible for your children. Teachers are too busy jumping through hoops and meeting deadlines to give individual care for your child and in most cases, they don’t actually care that much.

    Do some serious digging when it comes to your daughters school. OFSTED REPORTS MEAN NOTHING. Ofsted days are when teacher bring out the all singing all dancing lessons which have nothing in like with a regular school day. Ofsted are somewhat a mob which judges a school on a false show and think they’re doing the world a service. This isn’t me just being negative, I’ve only had good experience with them.

    Also ask yourself, what do you want your child to gain from education? Lets say the objective is to have her become a doctor by 18, there’s too many variables to say its all on home schooling or common schooling which is the deciding factor in her achieving this. What would stop you from keeping her in school, tutoring her and paying for her to have a go at GCSE exams at 12 or 13? Your child’s progress is totally on you no matter which direction you take. Who’s to say that she will take an academic approach to learning? In such a scenario you could become the enemy of your child by forcing her to learn in a manner unsuitable for her.

    I don’t want to ramble but isn’t the greater objective of education to create wholesome, tolerant and compassionate human beings? Schools doesn’t do this so be prepared.

    My advice is send her to a normal good school, maintain some kind of life and profession for yourself but devote your time to tuition and support. Become a governor at her school and have a take no prisoners attitude when it comes to her progress.

    There’s no one answer to this problem!!

    • Habiba says:

      It’s amazing how having a child suddenly makes you think about certain things in so much detail, isn’t it? Great advice, thanks for sharing/

  6. Br00ke says:

    So the wanna-be nice girl in Mean Girls is weird and the mean girls are normal? Strange standards we have come to accept.

  7. thriftygreenemma says:

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot too. The biggest thing that puts me off homeschooling is I wonder if it’s a bit arrogant of me as a parent to assume I can teach my child more than a trained teacher – about maths, science, history etc. – and I just can’t get around this! I feel like school really widened my horizons as a child and I wouldn’t have got that at home. I also wonder how part-time schooling fits in with class lesson plans etc.

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