If you're new to the idea of homeschooling, you may think it's just like traditional school, but without the classroom. In some ways, you'd be right - but there are many important differences. And those differences make homeschooling the best choice for many families.
Whether you're a new homeschooler or are just curious about how it works, here are seven facts about homeschooling that may surprise you.
1. Homeschoolers Don't Have to Do the Same Work as Kids in School
In some states, public school students have the option to do their work at home online. Because they're still enrolled in the public school system, those students follow the same curriculum as kids in school.
But in general, homeschoolers also have the option to create their own curriculum - or not use a curriculum at all. Often they choose lots of hands-on activities and learning resources other than textbooks.
So instead of trying to keep up with what students in their grade are doing, homeschooling students can study Ancient Greece while their peers study the Civil War. They can explore states of matter with dry ice or go in-depth on evolution while kids their age are memorizing the parts of a flower. The freedom to follow children's interests is one of the aspects of homeschooling many families like best.
2. Homeschooling Parents Stay up to Date on How Children Learn and Grow
To keep their teaching license current, classroom teachers may be required to attend "professional development" workshops. At these workshops, they study the latest information and strategies about how children learn.
But research on education topics like learning styles, brain development, and the links between physical activity and memory can be found in books, magazines and websites available to the public as well. That's why even homeschooling parents who don't have teaching degrees are familiar with the latest information on how to be a better teacher.
What's more, experienced homeschoolers - including those with a professional background in education or child development - are very willing to offer support to other homeschoolers, whether online or at parent meetings. So the knowledge base within the homeschool community is vast and easily accessible.
3. It's Not Unusual for Classroom Teachers to Homeschool Their Own Children
Nobody knows how schools really operate better than classroom teachers. So it's not surprising that many licensed, trained, experienced public school educators decide to homeschool their kids.
As they will tell you, homeschooling lets them use their skills and experience without a lot of red tape. At home, dedicated professional teachers can create the kind of learning environment every child should have.
4. We're Still Waiting for a Good Study of Homeschooling
You may have read articles that claim homeschoolers do better than average on standardized tests, come from wealthier families, and homeschool mainly because of religious beliefs.
None of the conventional wisdom about homeschooling is backed by rigorous scientific research, however. Most of the statistics you read were collected by groups with a vested interest in proving that either homeschooling is a cure-all for American education or the end of civilization as we know it.
The true answer is more complicated and yet to be reliably studied.
5. Lots of Homeschooling Parents Are Also Working Parents
Along with the idea that homeschooling families are wealthier than average is the notion that teaching your own children means one parent must be home full time and not working.
This is not true. Homeschoolers come up with many creative ways to balance work and homeschooling.
6. Homeschoolers Don't Need a High School Diploma to Get into College
Colleges have come to recognize that homeschool students are as well prepared as traditionally-schooled students for college life. That's why they often have a special application process for college-bound homeschoolers that takes into account their varied backgrounds.
Some homeschoolers also get around requirements for standardized tests like the SAT by taking enough community college classes while in high school to apply as transfer students.
7. Homeschoolers Can Get Many of the Same Educator Discounts as Classroom Teachers
Classroom teachers know that national chains and local stores that carry school supplies, art materials, books, and teaching aids often offer educator discounts. In many cases, homeschooling parents can get these discounts too. Stores that have offered discounts include Barnes & Noble and Staples.
Special educator discounts extend to field trips as well. Museums, summer camps, amusement parks and other educational and recreation venues have learned that offering special events and programs for homeschoolers can boost business during slow periods. For instance, Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts, the Colonial-era living museum, has run popular Home School Days for several years.
Some national companies also include homeschoolers in competitions and incentive programs aimed at school kids. For example, homeschoolers can earn rewards for reading from the Six Flags chain of amusement parks and Pizza Hut restaurants.
Policies change, so it's always a good idea to ask. You may also want to be prepared to show proof that you homeschool, such as a letter from the school district or your homeschool group membership card.