My wife and I homeschool our three children. We started when they were very young, so we never really faced the dilemma experienced by many parents in the public-school system who feel like they should homeschool but wonder whether they can make it work for their family.
But we have worked with many families over the years who have struggled with this dilemma. Our experience is that parents who try homeschooling find that it not only works for their family, it works much better than they had imagined it would.
If so many parents are aware that homeschooling their children is an option, if they see it working well for other families like theirs, and if they even feel that they should give it a shot, why do so many parents hesitate to try homeschooling?
I think it’s all about risk.
I’ve spent much of my professional life helping companies figure out why more customers aren’t buying their products. Many times the product isn’t the problem. I’ve learned that even a superior product with a “no-brainer” value proposition — one that literally prints money for a customer — will struggle if the company’s business model forces the customer to take on too much risk.
Homeschooling is no different. Research has consistently shown that homeschooled children score significantly higher than those who attend public schools on a battery of standardized tests regardless of factors such as gender, household income, education level of the parents, and homeschool regulation at the state level. But the risks associated with a decision to homeschool can outweigh even these well-documented rewards and lead parents to perpetuate the public-school status quo.
Parents perceive all sorts of risks in the decision to homeschool their kids:
- What will my friends, neighbors, extended family, or even my spouse think of this decision?
- How will I manage teaching so many subjects to kids of different ages?
- Where will I find a good curriculum?
- What about math? I don’t think I’m good at math. How will I teach them math?
- What if my kids turn out to be socially awkward like that one other family?
- What if I can’t stand to be around my kids for that many hours every day?
- What if I fail? What if I ruin my kids because I’m not good enough as a parent or teacher?
Parents who choose to homeschool will have to manage all of these risks in the long run. The key is to find a way to get started without having to manage all of these risks immediately, before any of the rewards are evident.
And thanks to a particularly nasty winter storm, this week affords parents across much of the country a unique opportunity to try homeschooling risk-free. Think about it:
Schools are closed.
Parents are home from work.
Power may be out. If not, pretend like it is for a couple of hours. At least turn off the TV and the video games.
Sit down with your kids and explain that you’d like to do a bit of work together before turning them loose to play outside in the snow. Have them review their most recent math or writing assignment with you. Or watch a Khan Academy video together. Or memorize a poem, write a letter, or read a short story. Go to the library. Or read a relevant Wikipedia article on a topic they are studying in science or history.
What you do together doesn’t really matter at this point. Do something together that leaves you both feeling good about the experience and a little bit smarter than when you started.
You don’t even have to tell your kids, or your spouse, or your friends, or anyone else what you’re doing. At least not yet. A few of these baby steps will work wonders for your self-confidence and your ability to answer the questions that will inevitably follow.
Take advantage of this risk-free opportunity to convince yourself that you are more than capable of teaching your own kids. You have nothing to lose!