Trying to determine the best path for educating your children can be confusing. Education is important, and we're all trying to keep from messing up our kids any more than necessary. Choosing to homeschool is not an irreversible decision any more than putting them in a certain school or using a specific curriculum (although there are special considerations for homeschooling high school), but it will affect your whole family, so it's worth putting some thought into.
Depending upon whom you talk to, and on what day you catch them, homeschooling is either the best decision ever or a way to guarantee that your children will live in your basement forever. As with most things in life, there is a middle ground. From my personal experience, and from requests to other homeschoolers, comes this list of the good, bad, and ugly of homeschooling.
You will be different
Whether that is good or bad is up to you. Sometimes, whether it's good or bad will depend upon the day. Despite the increasing numbers of homeschool families, there is still a stigma attached to homeschooling. "The parents are indoctrinating them." "Teachers go to college. How do parents think they can teach at home?" "How will they learn to talk to other people?" (This one is usually worded as "How will they learn to socialize?" which doesn't mean the same thing.) "What about sports, the prom, bullying, and all those other things that normal teens look forward to?" "How will they learn to stand in line?" (I wish I were kidding about this one.)
If your child is even slightly outside the mainstream box, whether it be because of a learning disability or a quirky habit or being "behind" in a particular subject, then it's "because you're homeschooling him." For some reason, the general public thinks this is okay in public school, but unacceptable when homeschooling. Because we all know that every child in public school is exactly the same, and they are all reading, writing, and mathing on the exact same level.
For some strange reason, people think it's okay to quiz homeschooled children (as if it's any of their business in the first place). Most of us freeze up when put on the spot, regardless of where we attended school. How many times a day do you think those same people walk up to public school kids and start quizzing them?
What You Need to Know to Start Homeschooling
You may even be different from other homeschoolers. In some areas, most homeschoolers may all be of one religion, and may or may not welcome those outside their faith. Or the majority might be school-at-homers and either don't accept unschoolers or the unschoolers are uncomfortable with the ongoing curriculum discussions. I didn't find a group that was a good fit until my third attempt. That was long before Facebook. Now you can search Facebook for like-minded homeschoolers (bonus points if they're local) or sites such as Yahoo and Big Tent.
You will be with your kids almost all the time
When you're not rushing in the mornings, separated all day, and rushing every evening, you have time to enjoy your children. They can get a hug whenever they need one. You can usually get a hug whenever you need one. Even if you use a full curriculum, you still have time to go to the park on nice days, visit museums or the zoo, go to plays or the symphony, or stay home and watch a favorite movie or play a game. You can sit with a child in your lap and read.
You get to be close-at-hand to see as they make new discoveries. This is more obvious with younger children as they learn to read and pick up basic math facts, but if your children still have their love of learning (which is why you're homeschooling, right?), then even older students will be excited occasionally.
You can answer their questions or help them find the answers. You have the time to answer their questions or help them find the answers.
Of course, all this togetherness also means that you either haul the kids to the doctor with you or find a sitter. Coffee or lunch dates with friends don't happen in restaurants. If you get together, it's at someone's house because there are kids. Kid-free errands are a rare animal. Your options are usually doing these things with the children or swapping childcare with a friend. Either way, there is no "just get up and go."
You make your own schedule
You get up when you decide. If you want everyone up at seven a.m. so you can have breakfast and start your schoolwork, you can do that. If you function better after brunch, then you can adjust your schedule accordingly. Do you or your kids operate better with a routine than an exact schedule? You can do that. Museums, theme parks, zoos, and even grocery stores are less crowded during school hours, so you can schedule vacations, field trips, and errands for times that are convenient for you without worrying about working around school days and times.
Academics are also on your own schedule. If your child needs more help in math, but speeds ahead in science, no one complains, and there is no frustration. You can do whatever they need at the time and no one is breathing over your shoulder. (Or theirs.)
You may be disconnected from the public schools
In some cases this is a positive: No (or fewer, depending on your state) standardized tests; no crazy rules that are probably necessary when dealing with hundreds of students but make no sense when viewed from an individual parent's position.
If you have a child with special needs, though, this can be a problem. Despite a federal program that requires (and funds) therapy for homeschooled children, some school districts won't allow homeschoolers to receive therapy in their school. I've heard of some that are happy to accept homeschoolers, but if your local school isn't, you may have to resort to finding a lawyer.
In some states, the law requires public schools to allow homeschoolers to play on sports teams and attend classes on an individual basis. This isn't the case for many places, though. Homeschool sports leagues are becoming more popular, and many cities have recreational teams, but if your student is planning on attempting to land a college scholarship based on a sport, enrolling in public school may be your only option. You'll want to contact the institutions in which your child is interested and ask about their policies.
You also may not have access to extracurricular activities such as choir or band.
You are in charge
You make all the decisions, but that also means that everything that goes wrong is "your fault." It's always hard for mom to have a sick day, but that goes double for homeschool moms because we can't even ship the kids off for a few hours to get a break. (Although a bonus here is that if you or your kid is sick, you can stay at home. Even at co-ops, you won't find rooms full of sneezing children because homeschoolers have more leeway when it comes to keeping sick children at home.)
This is a bit of an extension of "You will be different." If your child is "behind," it's "your fault." Although, if your child is ahead, "homeschooling is amazing, isn't it?" so "they" do occasionally throw you a bone.
You will likely have the fear that you are not doing enough and that your kids are not learning enough. This is a typical fear of homeschool parents, so don't let panic take over. Remember that no one can learn everything, and even public schools don't teach everything. It would be impossible. Foundational skills and knowing how to learn will go farther than the curriculum you're worried you should have used.
You may have less money
We all know public school can be ridiculously expensive for something that is supposed to be already funded. Supplies, fundraisers, and fees add up, and if you have multiple children, it becomes overwhelming very quickly. Homeschooling can potentially be done for free, but comes with the possible handicap of being a one-income family. However, I don't know many homeschool families that rely solely on one income.
Without some kind of help, it's not possible for both parents to work 9-5 outside the home and homeschool young children. You have other options, though. Working full-time on different shifts, working part-time, and working from home covers the basics, but this can look a thousand different ways depending on your family.
You will want to consider legal issues
Regardless of your state's homeschooling laws, you'll probably want to keep at least basic records. A "well-meaning" neighbor may decide to call children's services or the police because they see your children out during the day. A future custody battle may land in front of a judge who frowns on homeschooling. (I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice. Please consult a lawyer in your area if you have concerns about legal issues regarding homeschooling.)
You may be lonely
If you live in a rural area, it can be hard to find other homeschoolers close enough to interact with regularly. You or your children may decide that not having friends or moral support negates any positive effects of homeschooling.
You may find the most amazing friends
With homeschooling, kids are more likely to find others with whom they have things in common, regardless of age. Your children can spend more time interacting with a wider range of ages than time allows in public school. Even in a co-op, classes are usually divided by age (or grade) groups rather by individual ages or grades. Depending on their interests, children may even make friends with adults with whom they've attended a class or volunteered.
You may have noticed that most of the headings include both positive and negative considerations. Homeschooling is like life; every day is an adventure, and we're not going to find perfection. However, for those of us who continue to homeschool, the good outweighs the bad. Even if you ask on my worst day, I'll tell you that homeschooling -- for my family -- is the best decision ever.