Consider that about 3% of students in the US were homeschooled prior to the pandemic, and according to data from 18 US states, this number increased by 63% in the 2020-21 school year and fell by only 17% in the 2021-22 school year. Different from the popular impression that homeschooling is mainly a practice of religious or upper-class families, a large portion of these newly converted homeschooling families are less affluent. Many parents were able to work from home full-time for the first time, and found that although challenging, it was feasible to both work and teach their kids at home. The tragic shooting in Uvalde, Texas on May 24 that left 19 students and two teachers fatally wounded, has also pushed more parents to consider the option of homeschooling for its safety benefits. As this school year is about to start, it is time to ask: should you send your children back to school next fall?
It is true that homeschooling may protect your children from COVID and the rare but tragic event of school shootings. However, for the newly converted homeschooling parents, most of who are single or dual-earning households, it is unlikely that they will be able to afford a well-rounded home-based education to ensure their children’s physical, intellectual, and social-emotional development in the same way that most public and private schools can –even if you are working-from-home.
For many families new to the process, homeschooling tends to largely rely on parents and kids staying at home and kids taking online courses that parents must supervise and help with. This kind of homeschooling plan can weaken children’s immune system and make them more vulnerable to infections in the long run. As a study in Nature explains, early exposure to different germs in childhood is actually beneficial to children’s immune system development. Traditional schooling involves exposing children to various other children from different communities by physically gathering them in the same space, and the daily commute between home and school, as well as the various extracurricular activities within schools, also means more interactions between children and different individuals. By contrast, homeschooling often leads children only to be exposed to a set group of individuals such as family members and neighbors.
Homeschooling, if not designed appropriately, may also increase mental and behavioral problems related to social interactions among children. Interacting with other children in their age groups, or developing peer relationships, is crucial for children’s social-emotional development. Even if parents are able to find or form a local homeschooling cooperative to exchange and share teaching skills with other homeschooling families, they typically need to put in time and resources to follow the day-to-day operation of the study pods and, often times, to design children’s curriculum themselves, which can be especially challenging to working parents.
In addition, parents might unintentionally limit their children’s social circles to peers who live in nearby neighborhoods and, therefore, share sociocultural backgrounds. Culturally diverse classrooms are crucial in fostering adolescents’ intercultural competence, which is in turn beneficial to their psychological well-being in multiethnic settings. Schools with greater racial diversity also contribute to better intellectual outcomes, as students in these schools demonstrate better cognitive skills in complex thinking.
To be fair, the increase in remote-work opportunities beginning with the pandemic does make it easier for working parents to balance work and homeschooling. However, homeschooling children requires active engagement in the process: simply being physically present at home does not make a homeschooling plan a preferable alternative to conventional schooling. It is perhaps not a surprise that parents who were home-schooling during the pandemic experienced significantly higher levels of psychological distress and work/social impairment. Moreover, the unequal, gendered employment dynamics means that mothers’ careers, but not fathers’, are often negatively affected by choices to homeschool children.
While concerns of school shootings or COVID are understandable, parents should be aware of the immense efforts that are demanded for them to assist a homeschooled child, and working from home can only help to some extent. While some homeschooling supporters celebrated the rise in homeschooling as parents “re-empowered to take back the reins of their children’s education from government bureaucrats and teachers unions,” for many other parents, determining whether to homeschool often entails a practical decision-making process involving complex cost-benefit analysis rather than making a simple political statement.
If you and/or your partner are working remotely and planning to homeschool your children this fall, make sure your home-schooling plans should involve much more than online courses. While it certainly helps enroll your children at a local home-schooling co-op, you can also consider harnessing the power of the internet and virtual collaboration technology to connect your children to virtual home-schooling groups with families of different backgrounds and across different regions.
All in all, whether you are a pro or an amateur when it comes to homeschooling, just take it easy and remember that this fall you and your children are about to embark on an indelible journey of learning together, working together, hanging out together, and perhaps driving each other a bit bananas. And remember, it’s never too late to enroll your children in school again.