Are there any inherent problems with homeschooling or issues that can’t be resolved? Because homeschooling is a tool we use to educate our children, I don’t believe there are any problems that can’t be fixed. However, there are some issues that seem to pop up in homeschools sometimes as a consequence of children being at home all the time. This is especially true when a child is isolated.
Although homeschooling generally produces socialized individuals who go on to become productive members of our society, home education sometimes provides an environment in which parents can easily frustrate and create problems for their children.
It pains me to recount these issues because I had the most amazing homeschooling upbringing by loving Christian parents! But, in the interest of remaining balanced, it’s useful to chronicle the common problems with home education here.
As we do this, we must realize that homeschooling is not a universal remedy to the problems in school. Rather home education allows parents to get away from school problems. By doing so, they often fix much of what is wrong with school education today.
However, if parents are themselves are a problem, homeschools can be petri dishes where parent’s ideas or abusive behaviors flourish. This will then flow on to create homeschooling issues.
If these ‘problematic parents’ were to send their children to school, the effect of their behavior would be diluted, yet still present (in addition, children would have to deal with the problems schools present, which are many!).
Therefore, the homeschooling problems listed below are not perhaps inherent issues with home education, but things to look out for, knowing how sinful we (parents) are.
Knowing about these issues means it’s easier to avoid them. Some of them include:
- Loneliness (which is tied to a lack of socialization)
- School withdrawals
- Lack of motivation
- Parent stress from lack of rest or breaks
- Homeschooling becoming school at home
- Parentified daughters
Just like a drug can have a long list of adverse effects, not every drawback will happen in every homeschooling family. (My own family experienced none of these, although I occasionally observed these issues in other home educating families).
Importantly, homeschooling is an individual family experience. What one family sees as a disadvantage, other families may not. One family’s issues might not be the other family’s issues.
For those who seek after the Lord, most issues raised can be avoided with diligent prayer, mentoring and consultation with other home education parents.
Child Loneliness: #1 Problem with Homeschooling
Sometimes homeschoolers become lonely and isolated if they are not given enough social interaction during their educational years. While some parents are plain lazy, in my experience, more fear the influence of the secular world. Isolation also happens as a byproduct of rural living where finding appropriate and long-term social relationships is difficult. Some of these situations are not avoidable, while others are avoidable. Let’s expand on these three issues related to child loneliness:
- Lazy parents fail to care for their children in a loving manner and neglect to help them find friends. Sadly, this callousness is often a result of their own harsh or neglectful upbringing. This failure to socialize their children creates resentment and tension between parents and children. You can find many tirades on the internet that are written by embittered homeschooling alumni aimed at their upbringing and their parents.
- Fearful parents fail to socialize their children due to an unhealthy dread about the influences of those they might not agree with. For many parents like this, their fears manifest themselves when they fail to let their children come in contact with any non-Christians (even under a parent’s watchful eye). Other homeschooling parents in this category are ‘stricter’ and inhibit their children from socializing with Christian children who are ‘not up to par’. This might be because the latter children go to school, have different beliefs, or are not very well-behaved.
- Rural parents have a reduced capacity to access socialization opportunities. Often this lack of access is not from want of trying. Some parents simply live in the middle of nowhere and don’t have a lot of people around them. In this case, it’s can be a good idea for parents to go out of their way to find new and unique ways of socializing.
Most homeschooling parents I’ve met realize child loneliness and lack of socialization are key arguments against home education. Therefore, most make outstanding efforts to get their children involved in the church, community or other local events.
Christian homeschooling parents, Susan and William admitted their homeschooled children got a little bored along the way. However, these parents revealed their children got plenty of opportunities to make friends with other families in church, homeschooling groups, and during extra-curricular activities. In the long run, their children certainly didn’t get lonely. They said:
“We made a point of networking with homeschoolers so we could meet [the socializing] need for other kids in the homeschooling group. So we were always organizing things like plays, soccer games or outings to museums. Our son got involved in Scouts and I went with him. And our daughter got involved in Brownies. We also went camping and canoeing on weekends a lot.”
Most homeschooling parents don’t let their children get lonely. But, when they do, this can warp, damage and embitter their children towards their upbringing.
School withdrawal is a short-term phenomenon among children who have recently left school and begun homeschooling. It manifests itself in higher degrees of loneliness than is felt by homeschoolers who have been home educating for a significant period of time. As schoolchildren leave their social circles and make new friends in home education circles, withdrawals from school may be present and initially manifest themselves in more loneliness than usual.
School withdrawals appear to be evident in children taken out of school for short periods of time (that is, a year or two). This higher degree of loneliness in homeschoolers, who spend time in and out of school repeatedly, may be likened to a couple that goes through many breakups. Every time the couple breaks up they experience heartbreak. Similarly, homeschoolers who have had the opportunity to make friends at school will experience heartbreak every time they disengage from their closest school friends.
It’s important for us to understand that pulling children out of school makes them pine over much-valued friendships they’ve left behind. Even if these new homeschoolers are integrated into homeschooling groups, expecting these children to make social friendships that replace their older (and longer) friendships in school in a short period can be expecting too much.
Christine, who went to school for most of her life, and who was homeschooled for only a year while her family travelled around the country, didn’t like the time she spent being home educated. She talked about her painful withdrawals, saying, “Because we moved around a lot I didn’t have long term homeschool friends or a stable peer group. There were times I wished I was around for friends’ birthdays. I wanted friends my own age to play with.”
Having long-term friendships is important for children. As a parent, it’s wise to give your children the opportunity to make relationships with other children in the social groups they see most often, like a church or weekly tutoring group. Homeschooled children who maintain friendships with other homeschoolers have an opportunity to gain lifelong friends. Camille, a homeschool graduate, spoke fondly about her homeschooling experience, saying, “We always had plenty of opportunities to socialize during extracurricular activities such as swimming classes, musical ensembles, youth group and so on.” Bonny, another homeschool graduate, said, “There were plenty of opportunities to socialize with other homeschoolers and at church.”
A parent can also minimize these withdrawals in their children by deschooling them. Find out a little more about deschooling by watching the video below.
Lack of Motivation
Perhaps the most common problem with homeschooling is lack of motivation to do their work. Sometimes homeschoolers find it difficult to motivate themselves at home, especially if they have too much busywork in their curriculum or the curriculum doesn’t suit them for other reasons.
Because harder subjects like maths, need to be learned, motivation is an essential part of home education (issues with failing to get children motivated at home are also a major cause of stress for homeschooling parents).
Homeschooling critics sometimes argue schoolteachers provide a motivating influence over homework, which students can lack at home.
This is a valid concern, but only in homeschools that have lazy parents who can’t be bothered pushing their children (these same parents wouldn’t be likely to help their children with their schoolwork if they went to school either!).
It seems parents have a better chance of motivating their students as they’re able to praise or discipline their children while constantly keeping an eye on them. In contrast, schoolchildren must wait until the teacher has time to respond to them.
It’s interesting to consider Jesse’s case. He is a homeschool graduate who struggled with motivation at times. But, he remembered his homeschool years with a grin and said finding motivation wasn’t such a big issue as “we always had Mum breathing down our neck.”
Motivation, or lack thereof, is often dependent on a student’s character. Not all students need to be prompted to learn. Many find motivation from the promise of a free afternoon. Others love studying because they’re bookworms and enjoy learning new facts.
Thankfully, lack of homeschool motivation can be countered by choosing the right curriculum. The right curriculum for your family and your child is often dependent on the homeschooling method that suits your family best. This being said, if you can find a curriculum that encourages interest-based learning (an education program that your child loves and is interested in), you’ll be on the right track. I believe Charlotte Mason curricula do this beautifully.
Parents Have No Rests or Breaks
With children constantly around the house, parents sometimes suffer stress and tiredness. Sometimes their day hasn’t been effectively structured to make room for a break. Others aren’t able to take a break because of young children or demanding schedules.
Kerry, a mother who enjoyed her time homeschooling, said, “I did not have a personal break to do the things I wanted to do, without cutting them off.”
If parents have no contacts, such as family or friends, to help with babysitting, over-tiredness can result. A loving family or understanding husband can be the key to preventing exhaustion in this situation.
One homeschooling mother, said, “The best gift my husband has given me this week has been taking the kids on an excursion for a few hours. It gave me the opportunity to relax and have a bit of time to myself.”
Homeschooling Becoming School at Home
Another stress-creating problem with many homeschools is when it’s set up as a school at home. The best homeschools are not mini replicas of school. This distinction is important because burnout and depression are likely to follow parents who are trying to strictly set up a school in their home.
Rather the best ‘homeschools’ are made when parents make education a fun way of life where children do much of their learning because of everyday experiences. This means children are less restrained than they are in school and free to explore the environment around them.
Home is unlike school because school is where rows of chairs are set up and children spend their day mostly writing on paper, listening to the teacher or doing needless busywork. They fill eight hours like this.
This shouldn’t happen at home.
Instead, children are able to study in positions that suit them best. Whether it’s on a chair at the kitchen table or the carpet in the living room – home is where children can be truly accommodated. At home, flexibility is possible and should be encouraged.
Homeschooling should be more about raising competent, caring and happy children. Education is important, but, as much as anything, education is a vector to accomplish the former goals.
Famous author Jane Austen was a keen observer of human nature. In one book she chronicled a painful account of home education which was a replica of school at home:
You think me foolish to call instruction a torment, but if you had been as much used as myself to hear poor little children first learning their letters and then learning to spell, if you had ever seen how stupid they can be for a whole morning together and how tired my poor mother is at the end of it, as I am in the habit of seeing almost every day of my life at home, you would allow that to torment and to instruct might sometimes be used as synonymous words. [Northanger Abby]
Homeschooling should not be synonymous with torture! If done right, parents and children can avoid burnout. If done wrong, both parties will suffer.
If you want to learn a fun way of educating your children, learn about the Charlotte Mason method of home education here.
Maybe the saddest problem with homeschooling is parentified daughters. These are daughters who are put into parent roles at young ages by lazy or stressed parents who have many children. (This is also a common phenomenon in African countries.)
When parents get tired, they sometimes recruit daughters to fill the mother’s role. The eldest daughter in the family becomes a second mother and often loses her childhood as she’s expected to fulfil an adult’s role in her childhood.
In this situation, a mother will inappropriately rely and depend on her daughters to give her physical and emotional support. The emotional support required is often more exhausting for parentified daughters than physical support.
This role-reversal is incredibly damaging to the daughter and can have many adverse effects on her self-esteem, confidence, and self-worth. In addition, it confuses these daughters when they later become mothers themselves and may perpetuate the parentified daughter cycle in succeeding generations.
Sadly, the parentified daughter’s own developmental needs become secondary to the fulfillment of the mother’s needs. These developmental delays as a result of parentification, are not easily fixed later in life. Bethany explained this situation saying:
A daughter is being exploited when her mother gives her adult roles, such as surrogate spouse, best friend or therapist. When a daughter is asked to be an emotional prop for her mother, she is unable to rely on her mother enough to get her own developmental needs met…expressing your own needs may mean rejection or abuse from the mother.
As mentioned, parentified daughters are more common in large homeschooling families. A son or daughter like this is called a ‘parentified child’, but more often daughters are recruited to this position more than sons.
While helping younger children in the family can be a blessing for older children, placing a daily burden on daughters where they’re expected to shoulder a mother’s burden, is too much for these girls.
Biblically, it’s not right when parents do this. 2 Cor 12:14 says, “Now I am ready to visit you for the third time, and I will not be a burden to you, because what I want is not your possessions but you. After all, children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children.” [Source]
The following account is from a book, Quivering Daughters, in which the author, Hillary McFarland, lived in a patriarchal household. Hillary was one of the oldest daughters in the family and often took on her mother’s roles, in the wake of her own mother. The account illustrates how frustrating this situation can be for a young girl:
I tried not to be embarrassed when Dad and I took the youngest to the store to give Mom a break and people gushed over ―our baby. I tried not to feel tired when baby after baby was placed into my arms, or ashamed when they tried to nurse or lift my shirt or grope me because I felt like Mom to them— even as young as eleven or twelve, thanks to fullness inherited from my grandmother. I tried not to be embarrassed because I loved them. I wanted to help. I wanted to lay down my life daily for God, to take up my cross—and could not understand the growing heartache and depression.[Source]
In the end, parentified children are robbed of their childhood and experience emotional hardship. Sometimes their only choices are to submit or rebel. Often the second comes only after many years of submission and developmental delay – after the parentified child has spent their childhood being noticed for what they do, rather than who they are before God.
Avoiding the Pitfalls and Problems with Homeschooling
While homeschools generally produce well-rounded homeschooling graduates, there are some potential problems that are common in many homeschools. Being aware of these issues can save your homeschool from burnout and unnecessary stress.
My personal belief is that many of these problems can be avoided when parents lovingly seek God and his guidance, as well as the guidance of other home educating parents who can provide good mentoring and advice when life gets tricky.
It all comes down to the parents’ views. If a parent’s views are good, the home school will be good. But if parents’ views are dangerous and warped, the home school may easily become dangerous and warped. Because the views of homeschooling parents are magnified onto their children, if the parent’s views are distorted then the children will often adopt similar views. Will commented on this trend, saying bluntly, ‘If the worldview is screwy homeschooling can be weird.’