Is homeschooling hard work?

It’s something of a cliché among homeschoolers that the first question people ask them is “But what about socialization?” That has not been my experience, however. I think most people understand that it’s not hard to interact with people outside of physical institutions in the digital era.

A lot of people ask me “How much time does homeschooling take? Is homeschooling hard work?” I take this to mean that a lot of parents are homeschool-curious these days and are trying to understand how it might fit into their professional and financial world logistically.

I never know how to respond. There are so many variables. I realize that is probably unsatisfying, but at least it’s honest.

First, the answer depends on the time of year and how much effort you invest in researching curriculum. Or beyond that, if you plan on building your own bespoke curriculum from scratch. This is serious business if you want your child to receive a quality education.

If you are trying to build your own curriculum – which can be essential for children who are gifted or have special needs – then that does take a lot of time. It’s a labor of love, however. I have very much enjoyed the days I have spent going through catalogs, reading lists along the lines of “What are the best books on [insert topic our daughter is interested in right now]?” I think this kind of activity brings families closer together. I found a biology book for our daughter to use next year that explains how electron microscopes work and it made me downright giddy because I know how much she loves microscopes. I have to hide curriculum materials from her so she doesn’t upend my system by reading ahead.

That’s a lot of time that is spent up-front, before the academic year begins, that normally would not be claiming much of your ordinary schedule. And a lot of that effort is driven by my personality. I am a born researcher. A less aggressive personality might be okay with purchasing a full curriculum from a major publisher and following it to the letter. And that’s not a bad way to live. In my experience, the more planning you do up-front, the easier your days go.

Then people usually follow up with “I mean during a school day. How much time does it take away from you on a school day?” Now that depends on the age of your child and how quickly they grasp new concepts in general. I have heard some homeschooling mothers say that they do not spend very much time on school in the younger grades. But, to me anyway, that’s when kids are the most demanding. Once a child can read fluently, they can take on a lot more independent work. You can hand them a history or a science book and they will read for hours. Then you can debate the content with them or do projects when everyone is free. This is one of the reasons homeschooled children are so well-prepared for college. They are accustomed to learning without being micromanaged. There’s no rule that you must follow any given schedule, either, so it blends well with parents who have the option of working from home. You keep at it and you will find your rhythm.

I’m also conscious that my answers to all of these questions are qualified with “but I only have one child.” I don’t know if homeschooling is more or less time-intensive with more children. I can see ways in which younger children would pick up material faster because of their siblings. But if you have a baby (or a toddler on the move!), I imagine all bets are off. I mean, some people have peaceful babies, but mine tried to scale the bookshelves so often that my parents jokingly sent us mountain-climbing magazines. I don’t even want to ponder the amount of trouble two can get into.

I tell people that before they start thinking about any of this, they should ask themselves what they believe an education should do for a child. I have met many parents who consider themselves homeschoolers who are essentially doing public K-12 online. This seems to be an increasingly popular way to deal with bullying, as a matter of fact. That’s very different than classical homeschoolers (like us) or Charlotte Mason homeschoolers. There are also parents who want to maximize the amount of college-level courses their kids can take during what would be their high school years. (Heck, there are many homeschoolers who have middle school kids taking college courses.) If you ask folks along this continuum how much time they spend on homeschooling, you are probably going to get wildly different answers.

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