Being an only child comes with its own set of blessings and unique challenges. Now that we are in the seventh year of our homeschool journey, I can say without hesitation that homeschooling an only child is an amazing experience.
Luckily, homeschooling is a fantastic way for only children to get a top-notch education without having to leave home. Even in small towns, there are plenty of resources available if you’re considering this as an option for your child.
If you're a new homeschooling parent – or feeling a little alone in homeschooling an only – read on for my best tips on homeschooling as an only child and examples from our homeschooling life together!
You can customize your curriculum completely!
Having an only child means you can customize everything from your curriculum to your the schedule for your homeschool day. You can sleep late or get up early. You can be on the go every day, or have more at-home time.
You can also deep dive into subjects that you're interested in. For instance, my 13 year old can binge watch baking shows and spend a couple afternoons every week experimenting in the kitchen. Pursing interests and passions doesn't have to be squeezed into evenings and weekends!
I love following “rabbit trails” as my daughter and I learn together. Usually they start with a question, like, “Mom, why is Pluto not a planet anymore?” When we find that answer, we discover more cool facts. Or maybe some cool deep space photography from NASA, or the blog of a scientist involved in deep space research. It goes on and on!
To me, rabbit trails and deep dives are some of my favorite things about homeschooling.
Another aspect of customizing learning for your only child is that academics usually take much less time than they would in a school setting. This leaves plenty of free time for exploring passions, family time together, and better rest and sleep.
Homeschooling is like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel. You get to decide your family's values and priorities, add in the academic learning in the style and pace that works for your kiddo, and just generally live life.
Homeschooling an only child provides a one-on-one learning environment.
There is nothing like being able to support my only child in all aspects of her education. From education to life skills to navigating difficult relationships to mental health.
Large family homeschooling still has an amazing teacher student ratio compared to public school – but there's nothing like the one on one time only children get while homeschooling.
Now that she's older, my daughter is growing into more independence in her learning – but I'm always nearby and ready to give undivided attention to answer questions, help her work through something frustrating, be tech support, and generally be a cheerleader.
I'm also the finder of opportunities, the person listening for little comments of interests or joy that I can follow up on.
For younger kids, of course, the one on one support is part of the daily rhythm of homeschooling and can help them thrive.
Discovering how you and your child work together as homeschoolers is part of your family's homeschooling journey. Generally, from years of talking to homeschool moms, I think of kids as falling into three broad camps. Within each camp there are different learning styles (kinesthetic, visual, oral) – so don't worry if it takes you a while to find what works for you.
Camp “Rule Followers”
Rule follower kids love to be told exactly what is expected of them and will plow through schoolwork and usually enjoy the feeling of accomplishment. I was, and am, this kind of learner. I don't mind being directly taught if I respect the person doing the teaching.
Traditional curricula works well for this kind of learner, especially if they are paper and pencil kids who love to write and draw. Checklists? Love 'em. Different color folders and pens for different subjects? Bring 'em on.
Those homeschool families you see on Pinterest and Instagram with cute school rooms and happy kids sitting at a table surrounded by workbooks? They have rule followers.
Journals and workbooks and glitter pens bouquets of freshly sharpened pencils… oh my. Be still my heart.
Ideas for rule followers:
- More traditional curriculum
- Poetry Tea Times and Morning Baskets
- Reading aloud together
- Homeschool co-ops
- More fixed daily schedules
Camp “Independent Learners”
Independent learners love to learn but want to do the learning themselves. Kids like this want access to materials at levels they can understand, but they want dig in and discover themselves and not “be taught.”
It took me quite a while to realize my daughter was this type of learner. All the curricula I bought when we were first homeschooling was geared to my own type of learning – not hers!
Curriculum and learning materials that allow for more independence, even for your younger child, suit these kinds of learners better. Online curriculum, piles of library books they can choose from, apps, documentaries… whatever lights them up!
Ideas for independent learners:
- Online classes (Outschool is very popular)
- Documentaries (Check out Curiosity Stream!)
- Weekly library trips… let them have time to browse and pick huge piles of books
- Workbooks or unit studies if they like that kind of learning
- Online curriculum if they are visual/auditory learners
- Search for age-appropriate learning apps for Kindle or iPad
- Be the “resource gatherer” for their interests. Provide supplies, YouTube videos to watch, field trips to historical sites, shopping expeditions, local businesses
Camp “Life Learners”
Some kids have a very natural resistance to being taught or having a pile of expectations placed on them, even from an early age. They may have trauma from school. They may have neurodiversities or experience demand avoidance.
Some kids also might have special needs like medical supports, therapies, or routines that fill up many hours daily.
If you have a 2e or gifted child, you may also find that they crave a high amount of independence and self-directed learning.
Life learning – also known as unschooling – could be a great fit here. Follow interests, watch documentaries, listen to amazing podcasts, read books, dive into YouTube.
I have a post highlighting my favorite unschooling mentors who have inspired me on this homeschooling journey. Check them out to learn more about life learning and interest-led learning!
Homeschooling an only child provides plenty of socialization opportunities.
There are lots of myths surrounding homeschooling, but socialization has to be the biggest of them all. Excuse me while heave a big sigh and roll my eyes.
OK. I feel better now.
The socialization issue is such a common misperception – and even for homeschooling families with plenty of kids. I can't count the number of times this has come up in conversation when people find out we homeschool. Homeschooling an only child does not mean they'll grow up without social skills.
I can't put this any more clearly: socialization is never a problem unless there are other, underlying issues with parenting that have nothing to do with homeschooling.
The real problem is that we have defined socialization as being in a public school room with 20 same-age peers for 6-8 hours per day, five days per week. As the popular saying goes in the homeschool community, forced association is not socialization.
Kids learn healthy social skills by interacting with a wide variety of people of all ages in all kinds of situations: play, cooperative work, daily living, interest groups, sports, faith communities, extra curricular activities, going to the grocery store, shopping, being a good neighbor.
Older kids can even get a part time job, have much greater flexibility with scheduling (a great perk for potential employers) and still have more than enough time to complete schoolwork. Jobs are so great for social skills, interacting with all kinds of people, independence and responsibility.
Here are the real-life ways my only child has had her social needs met in the past year:
- Weekly Irish dance class
- Weekly lessons with an art mentor
- Group gaming chats with friends
- Long distance travel
- Homeschool groups
- Play dates
- Field trips
- Attending local performances
- Working through disagreements with friends
- Family get togethers
- Church attendance
If you're considering homeschooling or reading this because you know someone that homeschools and are concerned for them, let me just implore you to stop worrying about socialization.
All it takes is a small social network of close friends, some real world community involvement, and daily life to help an only child develop excellent social skills.
Homeschooling an only child allows you to focus on strengths.
Homeschooling your only child allows you a different kind of focus in your child's education plan – one that is not available in traditional school or private school.
You can choose a strengths based approach.
In school, because kids are slotted into grades by age, any child that can't keep up in one subject or another is automatically “behind” and the focus then becomes extra help and supports necessary to get them “on track.” This puts a big focus on slower-developing skill sets and academics.
It's weird when you think about it. We all grow and develop differently, even as adults. But if you can't keep up in school, the focus becomes your weaknesses. This happened with my daughter, and she internalized those weaknesses and developed a narrative that she was a bad student and a bad kid.
Homeschooling allows you to focus on strengths and let the growth pull up the weaknesses. Yes, it really does happen that way. When kids' brains and bodies are developmentally ready, learning becomes a smooth path rather than a grueling uphill climb.
An example from our own experiences: physical writing has been my daughter's biggest challenge. When we pulled her out of first grade, I basically took writing off the table for a couple of years. We did online learning, read aloud, and did lots of fine motor activities (play doh, thinking putty, playground trips, puzzles, crafts).
We did – for short periods of time – some occupational therapy type exercises from Dianne Craft and Munira from OT4Kids. I worried and researched and laid awake at night thinking about what else we could do.
This year, suddenly, writing is easy. She no longer melts into a puddle at the sight of a worksheet. Her body and brain have grown and now it all clicks. The beauty of homeschooling is that we had the time and freedom to let her skills develop, rather than her being forced through remedial writing help (which would have been for years, I imagine) before her body could really do the work.
Homeschooling an only child allows you to forge a special relationship.
This homeschooling bond with your child is so special. You have so much quality time together every day! Being an only child family is a different dynamic but I love our peaceful home.
Often people say to me, “I could never do what you do. I am a better mom because I get a break from my kids when they go to school.” I respect everyone's educational choices and what every parent has to do for their own mental health – but I do believe school itself creates much of the parent-child struggles that exist today.
Learning to live 24/7 with my family (my husband also works from home) has been a character refining process for me and made me a better person. Is it always easy? No. Do I sometimes wish for a bit of alone time? Yes. Do we have days where homeschooling is hard and I question everything? YOU BET.
I fully believe that this push-and-pull, learning to live together, learning to support each other and work through the difficulties as our habits and needs bump up against each other is part of the life skills set that will equip my daughter in her future relationships.
Also, the closeness we have and how we relate to each other as people has set a foundation that is allowing us to navigate the tween/early teen years with much less drama than I see around me with families of middle-school age kids. I'm betting this will continue through high school.
As a homeschooling mom, I can honestly say that I love spending time with my daughter every day. She will tell you that she loves being homeschooled (and I've heard her saying so even when she doesn't know I can hear her).
I also remember the school grind: pulling tired kiddo out of bed, getting her to school, decompressing from school, trying to get homework, bath, dinner, and family time into the little time we had every evening. Meltdowns at bedtime. None of us were happy.
Ready to discover your family's unique homeschool style?
I'd love to share my 7 Secrets to Stress Free Homeschooling and guided journal with you. It's free! I want to help your family find the homeschooling path that truly works for you and your child.
Use the prompts to define your homeschool priorities, learning styles, and family rhythm. Stop Shiny Curriculum Syndrome, feel secure in your homeschool choices, and fall into bed every day knowing you're in alignment with your homeschool goals.