Will Homeschooling Ruin My Child?

Look, I get it. this question, “Will homeschooling ruin my child?” is something that homeschooling parents – and any parent even considering homeschooling – has asked themselves. It's a strange and scary thing to step outside the fold of a traditional school or private school education.

Plus, it seems the past few years have had homeschooling cons front and center in the news. Provocative headlines made to drive clicks focus on negatives: does homeschooling hurt children? Does homeschooling cause depression?

Short answer: No. Homeschooling will not ruin your child.*

*If you are a caring, involved parent who does their very best to provide a well-rounded, rich home life and education, lets your child play with other kids, goes places, treats your child with respect and love, answers questions, and follows your state homeschool laws.

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Why You Might Think Homeschooling Ruins Children

Homeschooling horror stories are, many times, told by children of parents who were using homeschooling as a cover for poor parenting, super-strict religious upbringings (where kids were actively prevented from socializing outside their small community or even just their family), or other extreme cases of neglect or abuse.

Of course, some grown homeschoolers simply didn't like being homeschooled (some of them are quite vocal on the internet) for a wide variety of reasons. I can't guarantee my child – or yours – will be forever happy with the choice to homeschool.

But – there are two important points I want to make about this homeschooling thing and about educational choices.

Adolescence and young adulthood are challenging.

First: no matter what choices you make for your child's education, growing up is hard. Middle school is hard. High school is hard. Puberty is hard. Discovering who you are as a person is hard. School work and learning self discipline is hard.

There are unhappy, grown homeschoolers. There are also – and no one talks about this – many people who are very unhappy, grown public schoolers who dealt with bullying, mean kids, trauma and abuse in school situations. There are kids with special needs who do not get their IEPs and 504 plans followed in public education.

Every educational choice has pitfalls and challenges. Not every school environment is healthy for every student, and not every home environment is conducive to successful homeschooling.

It's possible for any human in any educational setting to have challenges growing up and look back with anger and regret.

So how can we minimize the chances of that happening?

Prioritize mental health and relationships.

This is why it's so important to listen to your kids. Many adults who are upset about their own experiences as homeschoolers weren't given choices or autonomy – or were pulled from the public school system against their wishes (especially as teens). Sometimes, parents do have to make tough choices for kids' health and safety.

But sometimes, there's room for discussion. I ask my daughter every fall if she's happy being homeschooled. Does she want to try going back to school? Join a co-op?

Two sets of Pokemon manga books on a wooden table.
Recent homeschool reading of choice.

This seems normal to me, but I know allowing this level of autonomy to kids isn't the norm. But just think about it for a bit.

We have a critical issue in the United States right now with teen mental health. Kids and teens are suffering from a lack of autonomy. When I grew up in the 70s, we were free-range kids: we played all over the neighborhood until dinnertime. We walked to and from school and rode bikes to the corner store to play video games and buy candy. We played on crazy playground equipment. We explored and lived and made decisions and mistakes without adults watching over us 24/7.

Now, just a couple generations later, that kind of freedom is a controversial – it's hard for me to believe, but I very much feel it in my own parenting decisions. I believe it's one of the key factors behind why our kids are in crisis. They need independence and building competency long, long before they graduate high school.

Prioritize mental health. Rest. Healthy relationships. Rest. Play and fun. Rest. Be intentional about helping your kids pour into time with friends, hobbies they enjoy. Ask them to tell you about what they're into and what they're excited about. Do those things WITH them.

Give them some independence, let them make choices. They don't have to do every extra curricular or take honors math. (I have a friend who was unschooled as a high schooler and focused on horse riding. She enrolled community college later, took a couple remedial math courses, did a couple years, transferred to a 4-year university and went on to get an engineering degree with honors.)

You can truly customize every aspect of the learning process.

You don't have to replicate school at home. You really don't.

Veteran homeschool parents – I'm in year 7 as of this writing – have all learned that they key word in homeschooling is “home.” There's no way to replicate the same structure and dynamics kids have at school – and why would you want to?

Instead, try out different things and figure out through trial and error what the best homeschool curriculum is for your child(ren). Tailor your school hours to when your kids (and you) have good energy – it might not be first thing in the morning!

Let kids lean into their own interests! My teen daughter loves baking and art – and I create a lot of learning opportunities around those interests! We found an art mentor who comes once per week, and we've done different baking courses and even have an online course about food photography lined up.

A cake with white frosting on a table with a Christmas tree in the background!
Baking is learning! Didn't this cake come out great?

Choosing to be interest-led in your family's education is one of the best ways to grow a love of learning on a daily basis in your homeschool. Doing this in the younger years also provides an amazing foundation for what your kids can do with their high school education!

My husband often says that he'd be years, maybe decades, ahead in his career had he been allowed to really pursue his love of programming during his high school years.

Homeschooling IS Real Life.

Nothing in life beyond school looks like school. Think about it for a minute.

Nowhere else in real life do we gather for hours daily solely with a group of exact same-age peers! All the things we spend our time doing as adults: jobs, volunteering, hobby groups, religious gatherings, service organizations… they are all multi-age.

No matter what kind of job you have, you'll be surrounded by people of multiple ages with different backgrounds. While you might have job reviews every six months or every year, you won't get pop quizzes every week. You have autonomy.

You'll have a choice about what job you take, what kind of hours you'll work, and the option to change jobs if you feel like something isn't a good fit. You have choices.

A black lab on a leash walking down a road with snow.
Real life: pet care.

I'd argue that homeschooling is really the best option to prepare kids for real life – again, when done well. And I believe any motivated parent can do well, learn the skills needed to provide a rich educational and social life for their kids, follow state homeschool laws, and model being a lifelong learner.

OK. Let's talk about socialization.

If I had a dime for every time I hear the word socialization…

Seriously though. We've been homeschooling for 7 years, and I still have people who know us very well bring up social skills – despite the fact that my teenage daughter is living proof that socialization doesn't have to be a thing. At all.

Socialization is one of the most lasting myths and stereotypes about homeschooled children. It seems like everyone has a story about “that weird homeschooled kid.”

But here's the thing: what are we judging weirdness by? Is it because that homeschooled kid didn't care about what's cool with clothes? Maybe they were allowed to focus on a special interest and did so with gusto?

What are we judging weirdness by?
Weird is just a way of saying
“not like school kids.”

Weird is just a way of saying “not like school kids.” That's kind of the point of homeschooling. If you look at school as the norm, then of course people outside that system won't be the same. If, instead, you look at school as one path of many (albeit the path the majority takes), then it's just kids who are on a different path.

Homeschooling has come a LONG way since the 1970s and 1980s – homeschoolers are much more diverse in every way, and our kids get plenty of socialization through things like:

  • Sports teams
  • Local classes (dance, music, martial arts…)
  • Homeschool Co-ops
  • Field Trips
  • Scouting
  • Family gatherings and playdates
  • Online gaming
  • Trips to the grocery store, post office, and errands
A group of kids playing at a playground.
Gettin' in lots of socialization – aka playing at the playground.

You get the picture? Socialization does not equal spending hours per day with a class full of same-age peers. A small group of close friends, maybe a homeschool group or co-op, trips to the library and local parks, religious communities, and regular life all add up to a well-socialized kid.

Socialization happens by living and interacting with a wide variety of people in wide variety of situations. It's really that simple.

What about Testing?

Different states have different testing requirements. In our state (Washington), we have a yearly testing requirement OR a portfolio review with a qualified teacher. Here, homeschool students can take the same standardized testing that students in public schools take. So, if those metrics are important to a parent, testing can be done.

Do most homeschoolers do less testing than average school kids? You bet we do. And I love that fact.

Testing is just one way of assessing knowledge; it's the way that works best for large numbers of students in a school setting.

There are lots of different ways for homeschool students to be evaluated. A homeschool family can meet with a certified teacher. Prepare a portfolio of learning at the end of the academic year. Choose an assessment (like the NWEA MAP Growth Test) that can be done on the couch with an iPad, rather than a standardized test.

So many kids have testing anxiety and don't perform well on standardized tests. Additionally, even a cursory online search will bring up a lot of real concern over racial bias in standardized testing – another area where diving into the origins of testing will surprise you.

A laptop with colorful stickers on a brown couch with a black stuffed dragon and a purple blanket.
Homeschool testing can be done at home! Be cozy!

I grew up in an era with significantly less standardized testing – my GenX peers and I are doing pretty well in the world.

It's pretty easy to see in a child's work and conversation if they have learned and retained a concept. As homeschoolers, we have time for those conversations and I can record my daughter's learning in a variety of ways.

Yes, there are “experts” who are anti-homeschooling.

Education theory is a relatively new concept. Even our public school system in the United States is – from the larger historical perspective – a relatively new invention… or experiment, depending on your viewpoint. Most people don't even know the history of our school system or the philosophies of the men who started it.

I highly recommend The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto if you'd like to have a worldview-changing experience about the foundations of our public school system. Follow it up with Weapons of Mass Instruction. Don't say I didn't warn you – these two books will open your eyes in ways you don't expect. 😉

Many education specialists and people in the field of education have negative views of homeschooling and are convinced that public schools are the way every child should be educated.

While I understand that the intention is to prevent abuse and provide every child with a good educaton, what often happens is that these educators conveniently overlook the long list of issues facing public schools today and the impact they have on children.

Issues like:

  • Bullying
  • Overcrowding in classrooms
  • Increasing amounts of students with disabilities and neurodivergent kids with varying support needs
  • Safety in schools
  • The massive rise in testing and constant evaluation
  • Educational requirements that are not developmentally appropriate according to the science of childhood education

School simply does not work for every child.

Note: my daughter has given me permission to tell her story.

As an example, my daughter, who we would later find had multiple diagnoses (autism, ADHD, anxiety, SPD) was able in early elementary to mask in the classroom. Her teachers told me that she was a good student, had friends, was happy, and they expressed surprise when I told them that she would absolutely fall apart every. single. day. after school.

They were shocked that we would be up in the middle of the night for hours, with my child begging me not to make her go back. Crying. Pleading.

In fact, by the middle of first grade, when we pulled her to homeschool, her mental health was suffering. At age 7! Through therapy, lots of sleep and rest, and designing a curriculum to meet her needs – and plenty of time to do her schoolwork – we turned that around.

My daughter's story is not unique. Homeschooling is one possible option for families whose kids are not thriving in public school. It has been the best possible choice for our family, and for many families I know with neurodivergent kids.

The truth: homeschooling is hard work.

Look, I'm not going to beat around the bush here. Homeschooling takes work. Even the relaxed, eclectic homeschool style that we have chosen as a family is work for me as the primary homeschool parent.

Paper snowflakes and paper trimmings on a wooden table with scissors.
Strewing invitations for activities is one way to engage kids of all ages!

It's on my shoulders to provide opportunities, research curricula, make time for social opportunities, balance my budget to afford paying for lessons and field trips. It's on my shoulders to do the emotional work I need to do in order to provide a stable home environment and good mental health habits and model life-long learning.

There's no way around this! It's work. It's becoming educationally self-employed instead of sending your kids off to a public school that you've “hired” to manage their education.

But – oh, the freedom that comes along with the work!

The mornings we can sleep in. The nights we can play hooky and stay up late for just one more chapter. The trips to the dentist that become field trips complete with visiting the most awesome local bakery (mmmm, donuts) and hiking a trail in a park.

Mama, you're not going to ruin your child. Stay connected, focus on the relationship, pour into those interests, and listen to your kids.

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