Homeschooling Vs. Traditional Schooling: Applauding Both and Clearing up the Misconceptions

Ah! It’s August!

Homeschoolers and Traditional Schoolers are gearing up for the start of a new year. While some students and parents are looking forward to the first day of school, others are dreading it.

Which camp do you belong to?

Whereas some parents are getting ready to send their children off to a traditional school setting, others are preparing to take on the task of teaching their kids at home.

Which route have you chosen to take? If your child isn’t yet school-age, which route are you leaning towards?

I find myself in a particularly unique position in my view of these two main educational methods. Growing up, I attended a public school, then went to a private Christian University. I’ve taught in public, private, grant, charter, and university model schools. After my first daughter, Chloe, was born, I worked as a homeschool tutor, and then chose to homeschool Chloe for her preschool and kindergarten years. At the end of her kindergarten year, John and I decided to enroll her in a private Christian school. Involvement in these educational settings has given me a great amount of respect for each while simultaneously alerting me to some of the misconceptions.

So what are the true differences? What motivates parents to choose one style over the other?

Defining My Terms

Homeschooling: any method in which the child spends her school day at home being taught by a parent, any other family member, or is engaged in self-directed, self-paced learning.

Traditional schooling: any method in which the child spends the entirety of his school day away from home, in a classroom with his peers and at least one teacher. This includes public, private, grant, and charter schools.

University model school: a model in which the child spends part of the day, or a few days of the week, in a traditional setting, while the rest of the time is spent in a homeschool setting. Family schools also follow this pattern of dividing a child’s education between the home and classroom.

Setting

The biggest difference between homeschooling and traditional schooling is where the majority of the education takes place.

Homeschooling: takes place predominantly in the home. It generally includes field trips and may include specialty classes at other locations.

Traditional Schooling: takes place predominantly in the classroom with specialty classes in other rooms. There are usually field trips throughout the year.

“Train a Child Up”

Christian parents across the board cite Proverbs 22:6 as a motivating factor for their educational choice. “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it” (NASB).

While homeschooling parents take this verse to mean that their child should be taught at home so they can be trained up, traditional schooling parents take it to mean that when their child is home, they should be intentional about training them up. For some parents, training a child up may include enrolling them in a trusted Christian school. For others, it may mean enrolling them in a public school where they can be salt and light as they learn to live out their faith in the world. Isn’t it great that every group of these parents desires to raise their children according to the ways of God?   

Structure

Misconception: Traditionally schooled children are forced to sit in their seats all day.

Probably the biggest misconception I’ve heard from the homeschooling community regarding traditional schooling is the idea that students in those settings sit in their desks all day and either read, do worksheets, or listen to a teacher talk. This idea is reinforced by prominent speakers at homeschool conventions.

The truth: it depends on the teacher, whether that teacher is the homeschooling parent or a licensed professional in a traditional environment.

In my five years of teacher education classes, I never had a professor espouse the idea of having students sit in their seats for an entire class period. Instead, they introduced us to multiple methods of engaging students in fun and meaningful ways. On the homeschooling side, I’ve listened to presenters suggest similar methods for active, hands-on learning. While there are times when students need to be in their seats reading, listening or practicing skills on a worksheet, good teachers know how to limit and space these times out.

On the flip side, I’ve heard of traditional teachers, more so at the high school level, who teach in a more “sit down and listen” style. I’ve also seen homeschool curriculum that centers around having the child sit down and go through a workbook on their own, at their own pace (these are typically called “paces”).

The Difference: While in a traditional setting, students may sit at their desks in a room with twenty other students, homeschoolers may sit at a table alone or with their siblings and work independently on one thing while their parent works with someone else on another.

Socialization

Misconception: Homeschooled children don’t socialize as well.

I received a taste of this misconception when I went to enroll my five-year-old in a private Christian school at the end of her Kindergarten year. While I was concerned with her being ahead of her class in terms of reading ability, the school was concerned with how well she would socialize.

“We’d like to observe her for a day to see how well she does with the other kids before we enroll her,” they said.

I worked hard to keep myself composed and prevent either indignation or amusement from revealing itself through my expression. I honestly wasn’t sure which I should feel. Since I knew how friendly and outgoing my daughter was, I settled for amusement and brushed off the implied slight. No, I did not keep my daughter sequestered in our home with absolutely no opportunity to interact with anyone else.

The Truth: It depends on the child. While introverts across the board will probably be more shy and awkward, extroverts will not. I also know from experience that homeschool families work hard to find and establish a supportive community, both for themselves and their children. These relationships often provide plenty of opportunities to socialize.

The Difference: While traditionally schooled children socialize more during the school day with peers who are within a year or so of their age, homeschooled children may socialize with children and adults across all ages.

Academics

Both homeschooling and traditional schooling can afford a challenging academic environment in which the child can learn and thrive. The main differences here are in regard to choice, pacing, and one-on-one attention.

Homeschooling: With homeschooling, you get to choose the curriculum. You can base it on your child’s interests, learning styles, your teaching preferences, etc. Since there are no set deadlines, you can go through material as quickly or leisurely as you’d like. If your child is struggling, you slow down; if they already know the material, you can skip ahead. There is a great amount of flexibility. In addition, there is also more opportunity to engage in one-on-one interactions. Even a large family is smaller than your standard classroom of 20 to 30 kids, and while that individual time may still be hard to come by, there are more opportunities for it.

Traditional Schooling: The school chooses the curriculum and the teacher sets the pace according to how most of the students are progressing. While teachers generally do an excellent job of providing reinforcement for the slower progressing students and more challenging options for the faster ones, it is impossible for these instructors to match the pace to every student’s exact needs. This is where parental involvement at home comes in, since parents can provide necessary reinforcement outside of class. While teachers typically have a pretty good feel for where each student is academically, it is difficult to give each child significant one-on-one time. Instead, these moments come minutes at a time throughout the class period.

The Best and Only One

Misconception: You, the parent, are the best teacher for your child.

I’ve heard this often at homeschool gatherings and have questioned it every time. Really? What makes me the best teacher for my child? No one else can love her the way I do? Well, that isn’t true. Love for children isn’t limited to parents. As a teacher, I loved deeply and fought fervently for each of my students. I treasured it when, during parent-teacher conferences, I was able to share my affection and observations of the student and see the parent’s eyes light up as they realized we shared a love and understanding of their child. So what makes me, the parent, the best teacher for my kid? Am I the best person to teach her how to draw when my skills are limited to stick figures?  

If we choose to homeschool, it shouldn’t be because we believe we are the best teacher for our children, but because we believe it is the path God has called us to. And if He has called us to it, He will equip us for it. We don’t have to worry or wonder about being the best, because we are operating out of the One who is and knows best. Besides, shouldn’t we be more concerned with doing our best rather than being the best?

Misconception: It’s the teacher’s job to teach, train, and discipline the child.

On the other extreme is the idea that the sole responsibility of teaching and training a child lies with the professional teacher. However, it is nearly impossible to teach and promote certain practices and behaviors if they aren’t reinforced at home. Similarly, teachers are able to recognize well-trained children when they see them and know whom to give the credit to.

The Truth: We need a community of people to teach and train up our children. While parents have been given first and primary authority over their children, they haven’t necessarily been given sole authority. Neither parents nor teachers were meant to bear the entirety of this responsibility alone. Our God is a relational God. He yearns for us to live out our lives in a community of people who can come alongside us to help us teach and train our children in His Ways.

Extracurricular Opportunities

Both homeschoolers and traditional schoolers have access to extracurricular opportunities. For homeschooling, this may come in the form of general community classes/activities, special homeschool clubs and organizations, or various other non-core subjects and activities taught at home. It usually requires more intentional effort on the part of the parent. In traditional schooling, these opportunities tend to take place at the school, and there is far less parental involvement required during the school day (though parents are usually welcome to be more involved).

Finances

For many people, finances limit their options. So what is the financial burden for each of these?

Homeschooling: Homeschool curriculum isn’t cheap. While there are more affordable options (such as used and borrowed curriculum), homeschool families should expect to spend money each year on books and other supplies. This option also necessitates one parent staying home instead of being out earning money. Some families can’t afford the loss of this second income.

Traditional Schooling: While private schools are more expensive, public and charter schools aren’t. To make the private school option more accessible, many of them offer need-based scholarships, tuition reduction, and free or reduced lunches.

Outcome

Though the wording may differ, I think it’s fair to say that as Christians, we want to raise young men and women who choose to follow God. From an academic standpoint, we want our children to graduate with a solid educational foundation which includes an ability to learn and a strong work ethic that will enable them to pursue their dreams.

The good news: I’ve met young people who fit this description from both the homeschooling and traditional schooling communities.

The good news: It’s not about which method of education we select, but about which relationships we choose. When we decide to pursue a relationship with God and our family, we receive His help and guidance.

The scary but good news: We can’t control the outcome. As much as we would love a formula that says, if you do a, b, and c as a parent, then your child will become d, it doesn’t work that way. Our children have a choice. Even if we do everything “right,” they may choose to follow a different path. Fortunately, that doesn’t mean God ceases to work with them. On the flip side, even if we do everything “wrong,” God is still able to lead our children in a way that is good.   

Kudos to All

It isn’t easy to stay at home and be both teacher and parent. Neither is it a simple thing to hand over the control and management of your child to a person you hardly know. Both methods require great faith. Both are really hard. So, kudos to all the parents out there who are gearing up for the start of a new year. Thank you for loving your children.

2 comments

  1. Fantastic breakdown (and to be clear, I never homeschooled so I can’t speak to that). Thanks for such an even-handed perspective.

    Like

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