by Diane Helfrich, August 2021
“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” William Butler Yeats
In a nutshell, this describes for me the difference between homeschooling and public education. We discover and feed gifts and passions in our children, lighting fires to carry them into adulthood and lifelong learning. We don’t just fill buckets—we light fires!
When our son was in elementary school, I started looking at schooling alternatives. Homeschooling was a choice, but initially, I didn’t consider it. I wasn’t confident of how to do it, and like many, I was petrified of ruining my children’s lives. Would they be successful students, college students, or adults? One day, I said something to the woman at the library checkout desk about considering homeschooling. She was a homeschooler, and she filled me with information that sounded inordinately exciting. A few weeks later, I read an article about how schools like Harvard and Stanford actively recruited homeschoolers. It was an answer to prayer, and my decision was easy. We opened our homeschool and left the public system for good.
I have since learned the many benefits of homeschooling. But, it’s not just what I think; it’s what the research shows. According to Chris Weller in a Business Insider article from January 21, 2018,
Research suggests homeschooled children tend to do better on standardized tests, stick around longer in college, and do better once they’re enrolled. A 2009 study showed that the proportion of homeschoolers who graduated from college was about 67%, while among public school students it was 59%.
The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA) published an article on May 4, 2020, by Mike Brake about homeschooling favorability and outcomes. The Heritage Foundation conducted an extensive literature review funded by the Homeschool Legal Defence Association (HSLDA). According to OCPA (OCPA article):
- Thirty-eight studies showed significant benefits to homeschooling.
- Of these articles, twelve looked specifically at homeschooled-student performance in colleges, finding performance above that of public-schooled students.
- In one significant study evaluating 21,000 students, homeschoolers consistently achieved the 70th-80th percentile on standardized achievement tests, well above the public school norm.
- None of the studies showed deficiencies in the homeschooled students.
A study in Catholic Education, March 2013, by Marc Snyder of Ave Maria University in Florida analyzed ACT and SAT scores and GPAs from public school students, Catholic school students, and homeschooled students. While there was no significant difference in GPAs, public schooled students scored the lowest on the ACT and SAT, and homeschooled students scored the highest by statistically significant differences (Catholic Education study). This is not the only study with these findings as Snyder lists multiple studies with similar findings. The ACT organization also published information showing that scores for homeschool students were 1.4 to 2.2 points higher on average than their public school counterparts (ACT study).
As Marc Snyder said in his discussion, “…homeschooled students are not only a valuable commodity to be pursued by the focus institution, but by other Catholic colleges as well.”
The most significant body of research on homeschooling has been conducted by Dr. Brian Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI), who has been researching homeschooling since 1984. His findings show some significant advantages for homeschooled students. From the website nheri.org:
- Across the board, homeschoolers average 15%-30% higher on standardized achievement tests than their public school counterparts. In Black families, homeschooled students score 23%-42% above Black students in the public system.
- Parental level of education is not statistically related to homeschooled student outcomes.
- Home-educated students consistently score above average on tests measuring emotional and psychological development; 87% of peer-reviewed studies confirmed that homeschoolers outperform public-schooled students in these measures.
What about homeschoolers as they become adults? Dr. Ray has several research observations there too. Homeschooled students are more likely to:
- Go to college.
- Outperform public-schooled students in college and on the job. 69% of peer-reviewed studies show more substantial achievement results in homeschooled students.
- Be more politically tolerant of others.
- Vote and become actively involved in the democratic process.
- Internalize the family values they grew up with and keep those same values in their families.
Why do all of these benefits stem from homeschooling? Back to Mike Brake and OCPA. He states that studies indicate that the value comes from the sustained parental involvement in the educational process of their children. It doesn’t matter what your level of education is. You don’t have to know a lot. What does matter is that you care and are involved daily with your children. You know them. You know their giftedness and passions. Feed what excites them and light some fires in our children who will become the next generation of movers and shakers in our world. Statistics bear that out!
The image shown was taken at an NCHE graduation ceremony.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could do an internship to prepare for life? Many career fields require an internship to gain the skills and experience needed in that field before engaging in it under their own auspices. Homeschooling offers just that: a one-on-one mentorship in the field of life!
As the parent and child journey through life together, the child can observe the practical application of what they’ve been studying, encounter situations where they see the need for new information, and gain an appreciation of the value of education.
We learn best with active engagement. Benjamin Franklin famously stated, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” The value of the real-life application of the concepts studied cannot be overstated. Study alone without a relevant utilization of the subject matter leaves the student with little motivation for retention. It is simply a matter of memorization of facts without purpose or practice.
The home classroom provides a window into the function of measurements and fractions when your child helps you bake cookies, divide a freshly baked pie, order curtains for a window, or purchase paint for a remodeling project. A clogged kitchen sink offers a science demonstration as well as practical life skills. Driving past an historical marker on the roadside can inspire a dive into history that goes deeper than simply reading pages in a textbook. Your backyard has an evident superiority over a blackboard covered with biology facts.
Working closely with your child as you teach them each day can reveal natural aptitudes that may otherwise go unnoticed. Homeschool parents can have insight into new talents they can reinforce through their child’s educational plan. On the other hand, the experiences your children encounter with you may be the spark that ignites a passion within them for a future career.
Removing the classroom walls and offering the world to your children as their enlarged laboratory frees their minds to probe thoroughly into details their textbooks provided Why? Because they apply discoveries for themselves! Frank Herbert, a science fiction writer, said, “One learns from books and example only that certain things can be done. Actual learning requires that you do those things.” Homeschooling gives your child the perfect opportunity to practice what they have learned from their books as they proceed from the page to the real world around them.
Many years ago, my sons’ history lessons progressed from reading about the Middle Ages to hours spent drawing up design plans, culminating in the construction of a life-size working model of a trebuchet. Those memories will last them (and me) a lifetime. Other excursions have begun with watching a cooking competition, experimenting with their own concoctions in the kitchen, then investigating the science behind their culinary successes—and failures!
Acquiring Life Skills
One of the most important tasks as a parent is to prepare our children for life on their own. Whether our child grows up to become a plumber, a doctor, or a stay-at-home parent, they need to know certain life skills. Those skills are best learned by first watching their parent use those skills, then trying them out under their parent’s oversight.
Real-life learning is one of the many benefits of homeschooling. Taking your child along with you to the bank, for example, gives him a front-row seat for one of the basics of “adulting.” Having them assist you in meal planning and grocery shopping provides invaluable tools for success later. Even daily chores that they are assigned as part of helping out around the house are an often-overlooked investment. Parents who can bring their child along with them to their job or involve them in their own business have even greater opportunities to offer their child first-hand real-world experience.
Of course, a traditionally-schooled student can find avenues for these skills. Still, the unique aspects of homeschooling, such as flexibility in daily living, the ability to customize courses to your child’s skills and interests, and the freedom to explore various educational paths, give it a marked edge over the alternatives. Homeschool is distinct in the advantages it gives the parent and child to spend the majority of each day together, living life side by side. This daily investment will yield a lifetime of rewards that are sure to include a noticeable profit in the range of real-world proficiency.
My own homeschool experience began 31 years ago when my mother withdrew me from high school. Although initially very resistant to the idea of joining my younger siblings to study at home, I quickly reversed my thinking as I realized that the approach to education allowed me to retain more, progress at my own rate, and find relevance to what I was doing. There is more motivation to attain knowledge or master a new skill when we have a purpose for it. Homeschool provides the ideal framework for discovering purpose as it occurs in the setting of real life.
by Debbie Mason, July 2021
When I decided to homeschool many years ago, I had one child who wasn’t even one year old. One of the benefits of homeschooling that drew me the most was that I could individualize her education. This was such an exciting idea. I could mold her education around her developmental stages and interests. I could keep her from being forced to read before she was ready to perform this skill. I could meet her where she was and guide her at her own pace. Of course, with just a baby, I knew that it would be a long time before I could really “do school.” Before then, I could create an environment that would encourage and stimulate her to grow and thrive at her natural pace. I came to realize that life is school in the real sense of the word. Young children are always learning.
There are two main aspects to individualizing their learning. One is readiness learning and the other is molding their education around their interests, strengths, weaknesses and future plans.
Early on, I became a believer in what we called delayed academics or readiness learning, which basically meant that most young children are not developmentally ready to do formal academics. If they are forced to perform academic skills before they are ready, it can cause harm to brain development and attitudes toward learning. However, when they are ready, they can soar. Homeschooling would allow them to go as fast as they could without being held back.
As an education major, I was chomping at the bit to “do school.” I just couldn’t wait to pull out the math and phonics books, but I forced myself to wait until she was ready. However, I do admit testing the waters often (which is a good thing to do). Was she ready yet? Eventually she was; they all were. I ended up having 4 kids. One of them read pretty late. He was 9 or 10 when he started to read. I admit that I was getting worried, but it did happen! And by the way, he is now a lawyer.
Molding Their Education
Another story of how homeschooling allowed me to individualize the education of my oldest daughter has to do with math. This daughter always loved math. When she was a preschooler, she would beg me for math workbooks. I would parcel the pages out like they were candy. Not only did she love math, she always showed a giftedness for it too. But something changed around the fifth grade; she began to hate math. I knew that I had a problem here. I had to do something to turn this around. So, I took a year off from her “doing math.” I didn’t completely stop; I had her do a bit of math review each week. Two things happened the next year that changed her attitude about math. The biggest one was that she started MathCounts, a middle school math competition. The other was that I changed her math curriculum. The one that she had been doing just wasn’t good for her; mainly, it was boring. Because of homeschooling, I had the freedom to change the math plan to work it around her. This daughter did go on to major in math in college, and she is now a homeschool mother and coaches MathCounts.
When my son, the late reader, was in the tenth grade, his interests were all over the place, and we really didn’t know what path he would take in college and for his future. He had an interest in architecture, so we thought we would pursue that interest by signing him up for a design class at the community college. Well, that didn’t work out too well. He struggled in that class more than we expected he would. From this experience, we started doubting that architecture was his path. At the beginning of the eleventh grade, he started debate, and he loved it. This was indicative of his path. He went on to do pre-law in college, and as I have already said, he is now a lawyer.
Each child has their own unique developmental path, giftedness, interests and callings in life. Their education should be as unique as they are. In homeschooling, you have the freedom to mold their education around them, not some predetermined plan that is supposed to be a one-size-fits-all. The homeschool laws in North Carolina allow for this freedom. I encourage you to take advantage of it.
by Matthew McDill, July 2021
When I was in graduate school, an amazing thought occurred to me. “This is such great content! I wonder if there is a way I could really learn or remember this.” I am sad to say that as a public school student, I had operated almost completely with the goal of passing tests, completing credits, and getting diplomas. I became very skilled in completing homework and memorizing information for tests. I earned good grades and went on to college utilizing the same approach. It pains me now to think of all the fascinating and useful things I could have been learning. Unfortunately, much of the curriculum and drive for institutional schools are designed for tests, credits, and diplomas. Often, the result of this is that students miss the joy of learning just for the sake of learning. They also do not have the freedom and pleasure to explore subjects of interest that are not on the test.
One of the most wonderful aspects of homeschooling is that parents have the opportunity to change the goals of education and build their strategies and structures around those goals. It seems so strange that this is even necessary to say, but homeschooling parents have the freedom to make one of the primary goals of education learning. I do not mean learning in the sense of memorizing content that will appear on a test. That type of memorization usually has no lasting effect. I mean the type of learning in which a student can integrate new ideas and information into the framework of their worldview and what they already know. They can make sense of it and understand why it is significant. This type of learning makes its way into our long-term memory and is therefore accessible in real life.
This change in our educational philosophy also allows us to focus on learning skills more than is possible in institutional schools. There are so many real-life skills that aren’t on the test. Such skills are learned in the real-life contexts of home, work, church, and community. Sure, public school kids can learn about cooking, finances, finding a job, working in a professional environment, engaging in government life, serving in their communities, starting a business, and much more. However, home education provides the opportunity to spend much more time and energy to go deeper in gaining such valuable experiences and skills.
One of the most important skills we can teach our children is the skill of learning itself. Most homeschool parents have already realized that it is impossible to teach our children all the knowledge they need for life before they graduate. So one of the most important ways we can prepare them for life is to teach them the skill and love of learning. If our children enjoy searching for and gaining new knowledge and skill, and if they know how to do it, then they will be well prepared for life. In another blog post, I discuss three critical skills we can teach our children to prepare them for life: research, critical thinking, and communication. When our students learn basic skills such as these, they will have the tools to learn anything else they will need to succeed in life.
Maybe you are considering homeschooling, or perhaps you have recently begun homeschooling, and you are wondering if you should continue. The opportunity to emphasize learning and the love of learning is a wonderful reason to homeschool! If you are already homeschooling, take a moment to ask yourself what your primary objectives are for your children’s education. It is easy for us to fall into the trap of creating a homeschool that maintains a goal of teaching the curriculum just to get it done. Refresh your commitment for this school year to take full advantage of the freedom and flexibility you have to focus on real learning and to instill in your children a love of learning.
by Diane Helfrich, July 2021
We now live in a time where the government defines what is taught in our schools and how. While it has always been that way to an extent, we’ve watched the degradation of the quality of education over time. Schools accommodate learners who don’t perform as well so that every child feels exceptional without helping them to master topics. We’ve watched Common Core be hailed as the key to success and then start to fall from grace. Teachers have little flexibility on how to teach topics since worksheets and activities are often predefined. Teachers also handle more kids per classroom with less help than they had even ten years ago. The title to a September 27, 2018 Business Insider article says it all, “The US Was Once a Leader for Healthcare and Education—Now It Ranks 27th in the World.” That was three years ago and before COVID.
More recently, public schools have become a place to present societal trends on topics such as gender, racism, alternate histories, necessary social changes required for a globalist society, etc. In some areas, sex education begins in lower elementary grades, where children are exposed to radical theories that are not widely accepted. We now blur the line between what is a parental right vs. government programming for many of these topics. In that same vein, the recent pandemic has brought about social changes with regard to safety, and parents have little opportunity to exercise their prerogative regarding masking, vaccination, and social distancing since the schools define how those elements will be handled. In one school system in Washington D.C., the school is even vaccinating children eleven years and up with no parental permission or notification; the child is allowed to decide (Washington Post, July 18, 2021). Is this the shape of things to come? Our public school systems are failing us, and many who homeschool now have left for a wide variety of reasons, but parental choices are the underlying reason in almost every case. Surely, we can do better than the public school system in providing good education and a healthy, safe environment!
So, let’s contrast the public school environment with homeschooling. You do not have choices in the public school; homeschooling offers the antithesis of public schooling with nearly unlimited choices. How you homeschool is entirely up to you. You determine the hours, the subjects, and the content of those subjects. You can choose topics that advance your child’s gifts. You determine what curricula to use, or to use no curricula at all—or anything in between. You decide about music and art, competitions, sports, visits to Grandma’s house or the beach, or studying at Barnes & Noble. You determine if faith is at the core of your worldview and supported by your schooling; you decide if you want secular education. Do you want your child vaccinated for COVID? In the public system, your child is required to mask if you don’t vaccinate them. As a homeschooler, you make that choice purely based on medical needs with no social consequence. You choose how much screen time is appropriate for your child. You decide if you need a break or if something isn’t working for your child, and you need to switch something up. When you feel your child has mastered a concept and is ready to move on, you make the decision. Similarly, you determine when your child is prepared to graduate and what the next step should be.
Finally, let’s spend a moment on the power of association—the information you consume and the people with whom you socialize. Many people still question socialization through the homeschooling process. Yet, my son was in school with a girl who stood on a table and screamed when she was upset, a boy who chased other kids on the playground with a brick to hit them, and a first-grade boy who was talking about sex at the lunch table. There were mean kids, bullying kids, sweet kids, sick kids, overbearing parents, and absent parents… the full gamut. We had no choice about that, and we couldn’t opt out of it. In homeschooling, you surround yourself with people of your choosing, people with similar values to yours.
Freedom of choice is the essence of homeschooling and what gives it so much power to produce happy, healthy kids with good values and strong work ethics. So go forth and make good choices to educate your children well. You will be glad you did!