It is a common gripe among homeschooling families that they frequently encounter other parents (or folks within their communities) who try to shame them for “pushing their children too hard.” These folks are generally responding to the differences in speech, demeanor, and general knowledge they see when homeschooled children interact with peers that have been educated in a more traditional environment.
There is often an assumption on the part of other adults that if a child communicates with the vocabulary of an adult and can draw upon cultural references that others will only receive in college (if they are lucky), then the child is likely being raised by some “tiger mom” figure (as popularized by Yale Law School professor and helicopter parent extraordinaire Amy Chua). “Oh, well, your kid is only several grades above my child in math because I allow my child to play more. I want my child to experience having an actual childhood.”
Of course, neither of these assumptions are accurate. There are many reasons why homeschooled children outperform their peers in public and many private schools academically that have nothing to do with their parents’ personalities or ambitions. And homeschooled children tend to have far more free time than their institutionally managed peers.
What is really responsible for these differences?
(1) You are seeing the difference individualized attention makes. Even the best teacher is going to struggle to guide 30+ students through content when each child occupies a different space intellectually. Add in disruptive students and distractions like technology, and things get even worse. Kids that grok concepts quickly find a lot of their time being wasted by stuff that is totally unrelated to their education. Kids that have none of that can move through work to new concepts with ease.
(2) Homeschooling families are often free to pick their own curriculum and education materials. This means their kids are often using higher quality curriculum than whatever governments (or their moneyed education consultants and lobbyists) pick for their peers. While kids in public schools get Common Core, many homeschool kids are getting an education on par with elite private schools (but with a 1:1 teacher-to-student ratio). Also, homeschooled children often are given the ability to study more content in subject areas they excel in and to seek opportunities with real world applications of subjects they love.
(3) Ceteris paribus, homeschooled children generally progress through content faster than their peers because their parents cut out waste and repetition. If you have ever purchased curriculum, you quickly learn that much of the content repeats what was learned the previous year. This is because school systems tend to devote the first month or two to re-teaching students that have forgotten much of what they learned over long, arbitrary breaks. There is also a lot of throw-away content that teachers can have at their disposal for when they are out of the classroom and a substitute is called in.
If a homeschooled kid is particularly good at a subject, they can move through multiple lessons in a day with little effort. That means they can complete in a semester or less what another student will complete in a full academic year. They are not being “pushed too hard,” but their natural speed is faster than what institutions require of their peers. The cumulative effect of this difference in teaching approaches can be enormous.
(4) Many parents who pull their children out of traditional schools to homeschool them (or never send them to a traditional school in the first place) are doing so because their kids have special needs. This includes children who possess extreme native intelligence and would otherwise be labeled as gifted and talented. It is something to behold when a gifted child is allowed to flourish rather than having their interests squashed with meaningless routines and spending much of their day waiting for other children to catch up. This can mean that a child that is of elementary school age chronologically is doing work at a high school (and sometimes even college) level. This has nothing to do with their parents’ ambitions and everything to do with their natural abilities. They aren’t being pushed too hard; they are actually getting the stimulus they need.