Signs of fall in the Western Hemisphere: the leaves begin to change color, the night air becomes cool and crisp…parents stock up on paper, pencils, crayons, backpacks, calculators and other necessities. Children between ages 5 and 17 lament the end of summer break, but excitedly buzz about the beginning of school, a chance to see friends again and experience a new class schedule.
On the first day, school buses make their rounds, picking up students from neighborhood corners. But rather than heading to the nearest school building, some pupils have already started classes—at home!
Around the world, some parents are choosing to educate their children through home schooling. This has been gaining popularity in America, according to the National Home Education Research Institute: “There were an estimated 1.9 to 2.5 million children (in grades K to 12) home educated during 2008-2009 in the United States. It appears the homeschool population is continuing to grow (at an estimated 5% to 12% per [year] over the past few years).” Canada has shown a similar pattern, and it is also on the rise in the United Kingdom, Japan, Australia and other countries.
Several factors may lead a family to choose home schooling. These can include poorly run local schools and objections to a public school’s curriculum. In some cases, the threat of violence prompts parents to pull their sons and daughters out of a particular school system.
As the number of children in God’s Church reaching school age grows, the question must be raised: Is home schooling a good option for Christians?
This is not a simple, “cut-and-dried” issue. The answer could be “yes” or “no”—depending on the circumstances.
The growing popularity of home schooling is a result of a number of benefits. For Church members, one of its most appealing is that exposure to the attitudes, language and behavior of average children—deteriorating at an alarming rate—is greatly reduced. The defiant, obnoxious, sullen mindsets of modern youth can “rub off” on our kids. This sometimes requires us to “deprogram” them on a daily basis. While all children have human nature, less time with “bad apples” can make a difference. It can also help them to not grow up too fast!
Schedule flexibility is another advantage. Being able to plan classes according to the family’s needs, rather than a fixed “8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Monday through Friday” routine, can be helpful. Since unexpected events can arise in local congregations (opportunities to serve brethren by helping them move, cooking for them, providing transportation, etc.), a flexible school schedule can simplify the flow of a day’s events.
Another plus is being able to avoid the trappings of man’s holidays, which dominate the schedule and activities of many schools. In addition, with home schooling, it is rare to run into scheduling conflicts when time off is needed for Holy Days or a family trip.
Educating children at home also gives parents the opportunity to keep a diligent student challenged and push him to delve deeper into more advanced subjects when needed. Conversely, a parent can provide a struggling student with more one-on-one time, and help the child find ways to better grasp the material. Home-school parents can also adjust a curriculum to match a particular child’s potential, maximizing strengths and addressing weaknesses.
In addition, home schooling affords greater control over what your child is learning. The increasingly common mandatory teaching of so-called alternative lifestyles is easier to avoid in a home-school situation. Converted parents can incorporate God’s truth into lessons—teaching children the basics of prophecy during a history class, for example.
It also provides abundant opportunity for self-directed learning. Children are encouraged to be lifelong learners and can become skilled at independent research.
Finally, home schooling can help build strong family relationships due to the sheer amount of time and number of experiences shared by children and parents.
As with almost every decision in life, there is another side to the story. Teaching children at home is not a panacea, or a cure-all for education difficulties, and comes with its share of challenges.
Home schooling, when done in a diligent and conscientious manner, requires a considerable investment of time. It is a major sacrifice, typically on the part of the mother. Grocery shopping, meal preparation, housework and yard work, managing finances, caring for young children, serving in the Church, and being a full-time teacher is a challenging job description.
Becoming a teacher, even for just one child, can be a trying, patience-testing experience. If a child struggles with a subject—and most do have trouble with at least one—the potential for chronic frustration for both of you is great. Know what you are getting into—and prepare to build character!
Structure and a disciplined approach to keeping up with classes is a must. If you are not a driven, organized, fairly energetic person, you will likely struggle to keep pace with the curriculum. Many parents have started down the home-school path only to find themselves exhausted. This led one author to write the book Home School Burnout.
Then there are the implications for students. Getting an education at home is very different from attending a public or private school with a larger number of peers.
If children are overly sheltered from “the real world” throughout their formative years, they may be shocked later in life when forced to interact with others outside their small circle! Home-schooled children can become painfully withdrawn and sorely lack social skills.
This is not the kind of example we want our young people to set!
Social interaction must be available—if not at school, then with children in the Church or those in the neighborhood, perhaps even at the local library. A worst-case scenario would be a family who is isolated and not near a local congregation deciding to home-school a child. In this instance, the child would have virtually no human contact apart from his family. This would not be an easy environment for him to broaden his horizons.
Home-schooled children can easily become too narrowly focused. Remember, passing pencil-and-paper tests is not all there is to success in life! Giving your children opportunities to have other experiences—taking a hike, going fishing, visiting a museum, and so on—is crucial in helping them become well-rounded adults. (Home-schooled students can visit museums, parks and other settings as part of a school day, much like a typical field trip.) In addition, children need to understand, at a level appropriate for their age, what “real life” is all about—evils, suffering, struggles, pressure, unfairness and more.
Husbands must understand that their wives will face unique challenges managing a household and being a teacher. The house may not always be spotless when he comes home, and Mom may be tired at the end of the day.
While teaching will take a large part of a mother’s day, she must remember that her husband comes first in the family—the children cannot become the center of all activity.
Consider whether home schooling will put an intolerable strain on your marriage. Even though Mom usually does most of the teaching, both parents must be committed for home schooling to be successful.
Evaluate Your Situation
Where your children attend school will affect them for the rest of their lives. Deciding whether to home-school is not something to be taken lightly.
It is simply a fact of life that some families are better equipped than others to home-school. Parents, ask yourselves the following questions, and strive to answer with absolute honesty:
- Did you do well in school?
- Are you strong enough in basic English, science and math to be able to teach these subjects?
- Do you have a good deal of patience and a reasonably high tolerance for frustration?
- Is your schedule flexible enough?
- Can you already manage your life—and your time—effectively?
- Can you afford to take on what amounts to a full-time job—without being paid?
- Do you live in a school district that is known to perform poorly?
- Does your school district aggressively push agendas that are blatantly contrary to God’s Law?
If the answer to many of the above questions is “no,” then home schooling may not be the best option for you. If many of the answers are “yes,” there are still a number of things to consider.
Home-school curriculums, designed by education professionals, can save parents a lot of work and quite often are more complete and balanced than a homemade program. (Some years ago in God’s Church, one family attempted to home-school their children using only one textbook—the Bible. In this misguided “curriculum,” counting animals on the ark was a math lesson!)
It is usually preferable for home schooling parents to use an existing curriculum when possible, rather than attempting to build one from scratch. These may involve a fee, or in some cases may be paid for by government programs. (One example is “K12,” an online curriculum used by a number of state school systems and private schools. A positive aspect of this program is that evolution is not typically taught in schools using the K12 curriculum.)
Keep in mind that home schooling is much easier to administer in some areas than in others. For example, in the United States, each state has different levels of regulation on home schooling.
Lisa Rivero’s book The Homeschooling Option describes some of these requirements: “Some states require no qualifications other than being a child’s parent or legal guardian…[others] require homeschool parents to have a specific level of formal education or to work with certified teachers to fulfill the law. In the state of Washington, for example, parents can qualify to homeschool their children in one of four ways: have forty-five units of college-level credit; attend a qualifying course for parents; have a certified teacher meet with the homeschooled child for one hour per week; or be deemed ‘sufficiently qualified to provide home-based instruction’ by the local school district’s superintendent. In North Dakota, if parents possess a high school diploma or a GED but not a teaching certificate or a baccalaureate degree, they must either prove that they meet or exceed minimum qualifying scores on the national teacher exam, or be monitored by a certified teacher for the first two years.”
If you are considering taking this route with your children, educate yourself about local laws as soon as possible. Make sure you fulfill legal requirements, since we must obey the laws of the land, so long as they do not conflict with God’s Law (I Pet. 2:13).
Note that a decision to home-school in early grades does not mean that it has to continue through the last year of high school (secondary school). A number of families have home-schooled for a time, then enrolled their children in public school starting in perhaps grades four, five or six, and found the combination to be effective.
Also, you should counsel with your local minister as to whether he believes you are in a position to effectively home-school. While he cannot make the decision for you, he can provide valuable counsel that will help you choose wisely.
Finally, and most important, ask God to guide you in this decision and reveal what His will is for you and your children. If you diligently seek Him and act on what He shows you, rest assured that He can make either path—home schooling or traditional schooling—work together for good (Rom. 8:28).