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What You Need to Know about Homeschooling

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Updated on Sep 4, 2013

You've been teaching your child since birth. Think of all the books you've devoured, the crafts you've made and the hours you’ve spent on potty training. Maybe you're considering whether homeschooling is the best option for you and your family.

"What educational environment is best for your children?" asks Dr. Brian Ray, president of the National Home Education Research Institute. "The real question for parents is, why do you send them anywhere?" Institute figures show that in 2010, more than 2 million American kids from kindergarten through 12th grade were homeschooled. Ray says many of these children's parents were drawn to homeschooling because of its potential for an education customized for each child, and it's a model that embraces moving on to a new lesson only after a child has mastered the last one.

Others have a philosophical belief that parents should be responsible for their kids' learning. Some want to pass on religious beliefs and values. Rebecca Kochenderfer, co-founder of Homeschool.com and author of two books about homeschooling, says that until recently, most homeschooling parents made that decision for religious reasons. Now, more choose home education in pursuit of academic excellence, thanks to news reports trumpeting homeschoolers' top performance in national competitions such as the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Is homeschooling right for you?

The choice of whether or not to homeschool will naturally be focused on your child, but you also have to consider how well homeschooling would fit you. Kochenderfer stresses that successful homeschooling parents base their decision on a desire for home-based education, not distaste for traditional schools or teachers. A trained teacher with a master's degree in education, she was drawn to homeschooling after reading about its individualized approach.

"The auditory learner can listen to textbooks. The visual learner can do workbooks," says Kochenderfer, mother of three. "The whole education revolved around a child's interests, and I went, 'Yes! That’s what I want!' "

It might sound obvious, but if you're going to excel at homeschooling, it's essential for you to like the idea of being around your kids for several hours each day. Otherwise it won't be a pleasant experience. "Like so many things in life, if you don't want to do it, you won't do it – or won't do it well," says Diane Whyms, whose website, Homeschool Rewards, shares insights she's gained from teaching her four kids at home.

Similarly, homeschooling families must also be willing to lose out on the income from having each parent work full-time. Kochenderfer says one parent needs to be home at least part-time for homeschooling to work. But educating your kids at home also allows for a flexible schedule that can include you working from home, sharing homeschooling duties with your partner or working around caring for a new baby or aging relative.

Ray adds that homeschooling parents have to be humble, flexible, and willing to work hard and learn from others. As an example, he says a parent might spend months deliberating over which curriculum is best for her child and, shortly after starting to use it, learn that it doesn't help the child learn. The parent has to be willing to study different teaching methods to find one that works.

Homeschooling parents often share their insights with each other because they know they don't have all the answers. "That humility always keeps parents on the edge," Ray says. If it doesn't sound like you're a good fit for homeschooling, Kochenderfer assures that options abound beyond traditional public schools. You and your child might decide that a religious school, online school or private school is the best fit. You might also consider a Montessori school, charter school or boarding school.

Don't you need degree in education to homeschool?

Teachers in public schools must be certified, but you don't need teaching certification to educate your children at home. In fact, a report from the National Home Education Research Institute shows that homeschooled kids' academic performance has nothing to do with whether their parents were certified to teach. Kochenderfer says homeschooling parents sometimes take their children to classes with other homeschoolers when it's time for subjects in which parents lack expertise. You might also decide to bring in a tutor for a specific subject.

Whyms points out that you don't have to be an expert on what your kids are learning. The best approach, she's found, is to learn alongside your children. She didn't excel in school and doesn’t have a college degree. When the time came to teach her kids math, a subject she struggled with, she consistently drilled them with flash cards so she and her children would both develop math skills. "Because I was not good at it, I wanted them to be good at it," Whyms says. And her method appears to have worked – her oldest daughter is now a financial advisor.

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