Catherine Eden: The one home truth about homeschooling that every parent needs to know

It’s a myth that home schooled children are less socially well-adjusted than their schoolroom peers, say the experts. 

By Catherine Eden

The Covid-19 pandemic has put renewed scrutiny on home schooling, a long-established option for parents who want to integrate learning with daily activities, while teaching social and life skills to their children.

Home schooling offers flexibility and variety, but many parents are concerned that their children might be at a disadvantage if denied the opportunities to socialise with classmates.

If they don’t go to a conventional school, how will they learn to work in a team, to compete, to fail, to cope with differences? What about establishing friendships and networks?

The upheaval around the pandemic has got us thinking. What do we want for our children? Are they prepared for exams or for life?

Could we learn from Finland’s outstanding school system, which focuses on producing happy, well-socialised students who are also independent, critical thinkers?

Carri Kuhn, from Stellenbosch, home schooled her two sons for most of their education.

“Our main motivation was that we wanted to foster critical thinking in our boys and give them an opportunity to pursue learning in a way that worked for them,” she says. “By building lessons around their special interests, learning became something they were motivated to do.”

Carrie arranged regular, informal home-school play groups, and the boys also socialised at church, through sport and with local school-going children.

“I didn’t want them to only interact with home-schooled kids, so they had plenty of social engagement.”

Contrary to parents’ fears that their children will miss out, the social skills they learn by being actively involved in all aspects of home and community are varied and enriching, according to educational psychologist, Svea van der Hoorn.

“There is no evidence to suggest that home-schooled children are less socially competent,” she says. “Home schooling increases the social connectivity in families and can be woven into the everyday fabric of life.”

She adds that parents who want to raise socially capable children must take a good look at how they can turn day-to-day events into learning experiences.

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This puts the spotlight back on the family lifestyle, which is often out of balance in our fast-paced society. The pandemic has forced us to do things differently.

Children have had more time with their parents; they may have increased appreciation of what it takes to run a home and manage a job; they have had to share chores and responsibilities to help the family unit through a tough time.

Many of the lessons they’ve learned at home will be more valuable long-term than anything they can learn at school.

In addition to the domestic give-and-take, home-schooled children learn social skills by playing with neighbourhood kids, doing the shopping, helping out with community events, participating in sport and group activities, observing entrepreneurial efforts and interacting with family and friends.

“When you spend so much time with your children, weaving their education into daily life, values are instilled and there is room for really interesting conversations to take place,” says Carri.

Home schooling doesn’t work for everyone. But where it is possible and desirable for a family, there are advantages for children, especially those who are different in some way.

They are spared bullying and teasing, and can work to their own rhythm and concentrate on their strengths.

“Children who struggle in a conventional school may thrive at home, where there is protection, pacing and focused learning,” says Van der Hoorn.

All children do better in education with the support of a parent, she adds. And although those with access to many resources can provide a range of experiences, this is not to say that less advantaged homes can’t do a good job.

The home school is built around numeracy, literacy, mathematical concepts and training to become a decent human being, says Van der Hoorn. “It’s not about following a rigid curriculum.”

Finding the right environment for your child is key, whether that means traditional classroom or a home school.

Either way, build in opportunities for your children to connect with others. Life, after all, is the best teacher.

  • This article first appeared on the Change Exchange, an online platform by BrightRock, provider of the first-ever life insurance that changes as your life changes. The opinions expressed in this piece are the writer’s own and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BrightRock.
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