Just What is Home Schooling Anyway??
By Ruth Martin, M. Ed.

In the early years of modern home schooling, families had to rely on their own resources to educate their children. Each family may have carried out their schooling in unique ways, but, pretty much, everybody was on their own. There were no co-ops, no classes, no sports programs, no choirs or art programs. Home schooling was
home-based. As the years passed and more people began bringing their children home, they banded together to help each other share the load of some of the more difficult courses or, sometimes, just because they wanted some sort of social group for their kids. As we in Georgia march into the third decade of legal home schooling, the face of home schooling has changed. In fact, sometimes home schooling doesn’t even look like home schooling. So, just what is home schooling, anyway??

As I see it, there are three main types of home schooling: traditional, assisted and hybrid
. My kids have participated in all three types at some point in our journey. I view myself as a traditionalist, who, every now and then, branches out to try something new. All through our home school career, our education has been home-based, parent-directed and Christ-centered. However, there have been times that I (reluctantly) shared the reins with someone else. There are pros and cons to each type of home schooling and I hope to give each approach a fair discussion.

The first type of home schooling is the
traditional home school. This approach is home-based and parent-directed. The children learn from their parents who teach them. Period. Usually this family is a one-income unit, with one parent giving up their income-earning powers. This is what we did in our family. I stayed home, gave up my career, and taught our children. It wasn’t always easy. In fact, it was extremely difficult at times, but God honored our commitment and always provided, usually exceeding abundantly. The pros of this type of home schooling are a closer family bond (our children have very close relationships, even though their ages are spread out), flexible scheduling (we could take all those off-season field trips), the opportunity to individualize for each child and take into account individual learning styles and differences (and we had them). My favorite perk to this type of education was that I was the boss (actually my husband was , but for all practical purposes, I was). Together we made our own school system and it worked for us. We weren’t bound to any curriculum or method; we could pick and choose as it worked for us. This also allowed us the ability to keep our costs efficient. Everything we bought for our school was ours. (When I taught in a local public system, everything I bought stayed in my classroom!) I loved interacting with my children, mentoring them, passing down our faith and values and pouring myself into them. My husband and I were free to teach what we wanted, when we wanted, with no rules or bounds or grade levels. Now, some people would call for me to be fair and give the down side of this traditional approach. My kids were with me 24/7/365 and, every four years, 366. I learned to be very adept at finding time that I could be alone to get my planning done for a few quiet moments. They were rare. My friends and I joked that sometime we would get together just to finish all those sentences we started and were never able to complete because of all those tiny people. Another possible stress to this approach to home schooling is the feeling that you, the teaching parents, HAVE to know EVERYTHING. I found that I didn’t. There were always sources and resources that would provide the information I needed (and this was before the internet!). We became extremely resourceful in finding what we needed and God always provided what was required just as it became needed. This, in my opinion, is true home schooling.

As more and more people began choosing home education, more and more resources became available. We found that when we banded together for some of the higher level courses, we could accomplish what was considered necessary for that high school transcript. This
assisted approach to home schooling was still home-based (most of our courses were still taught at home) and parent-directed (with maybe one or two classes taught by somebody else’s parent). These classes just added a little support in areas that parents might not be as strong. In our case, it was science and math. My kids are adept historians, love to write and eat up literature, but I needed some help in the math-science area, because I don’t think that way naturally (part of my learning style). Hats off to those of you who do!! Several families in my support group decided to form a small co-op to help each other out. This worked great for us. It gave my children someone else to be accountable to; provided them with a classroom atmosphere; gave them a social group (they didn’t all just love each other all the time and that was a good lesson, also!); and took some of the pressure off each family because we were sharing the load. The problem I see with this approach is that some of these “co-ops” have become too “school-ey.” Instead of maintaining the home school atmosphere, they become centered around tests, grades, group performance and busy work, just like traditional schools. We forget that we’re home schoolers. We don’t have to have grades, busy work is “twaddle,” in the words of Charlotte Mason, and tests don’t have to be written to “count.” Everybody needs a little help once in awhile, but be careful to maintain your original intent, which is HOME schooling your children.

The third type of “home” education (and I hesitate to use that term, because it’s really not!) is the newer “home school school,” or
hybrid schools. This approach is school-based, teacher-directed with most, if not all, classes being managed by someone other than the parents. These “schools” offer instruction one to four days each week with assignments being given to be completed at home. The upside of these hybrid schools is that if the parent or parents are still required to be working outside the home or working at home full-time, the students are still able to be educated without actually being in a school. For many families, this is the only way they’re able to “home” school. If these centers are accredited (the newest rave), students are able to complete their high school programs and receive the Hope Scholarship immediately upon entering college rather than waiting for the retroactive status to kick in as traditional, non-accredited home schoolers have to do. Assignments are given by a teacher or teachers. There’s very little involvement for the parent. For me, this is a con; I like the involvement with my kids. But, I put it in the pro side – to be fair. Parents have one to four days without their kids with them and their children are well-cared for, while being educated. The cons for this approach are subjective. One person’s pro is another person’s con. Many times, these classes are taught by former traditional school teachers who have never home schooled. They have a different mentality – usually one that we as home schoolers are trying to get away from! There is a heavy emphasis on tests and grades. Somebody else picks and controls the curriculum and course work. You, as the parents, have to play by their rules. You can’t go into their program and change their rules. Once you have opted to go into their system, it’s their game. The biggest con for me is class size. Because of the popularity of these hybrid schools and the growing number of home schoolers, many times class sizes far outdo the public schools with as many as 40 to 50 students in the classes, which loses all of that “home” school feel. One of the main reasons I continued to home school was that I could individualize for each of my students (my children). Because of these large classes, teachers aren’t able to individualize or account for learning differences. Also, many of these hybrids are costly, especially if they are accredited. Many of the people running these centers do not fully understand the home school law and may give erroneous, though well-meaning, information to home schoolers. In Georgia, no home school student HAS to be accredited; most colleges WILL accept your non-accredited diploma; almost all the colleges love home schoolers. There are a couple that only want accredited transcripts – mainly our large research universities, but students are able to attend the smaller colleges and universities, then transfer to these larger ones for graduation. Other pros/cons for these (you decide) centers: many offer extracurricular activities, such as sports, proms, yearbooks, etc. These operate like public schools and, in my opinion, if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, . . . The social difficulties that are faced by many students in these hybrid schools are the same as those faced in public and private schools – peer pressure, social conformity, negative influences. In all fairness, these hybrid schools do provide an educational alternative for those families who need another option for their students, but they are by no means required.

Basically, home schooling is changing. For me, that’s kind of sad. I fear we’re losing our vision and our commitment. I would challenge all those of you who are beginning your new school year to take a few moments and write down your goals for your kids. Write down academic goals, spiritual goals, emotional and behavioral goals, even developmental goals (ex. Learn to ride a bike or tie shoes.). Then examine your approach to home schooling and see if it lines up with your goals. If not, make some adjustments. If it does, have a great year!