This is the time of year when I begin to hear from many people who are interested in trying homeschooling "over the summer". For lots of parents who have not made a final decision about whether to homeschool during the next year, this seems like a practical approach.
If homeschooling doesn't seem to work, their children can enroll in school for the next school year, without any lost academic time. If homeschooling does seem to work, then the family can commit to homeschooling fully and begin the next academic year with home education.
Many veteran homeschoolers will tell you, though, that a summer trial of homeschooling may not be a great indicator of how homeschooling will work for your family.
Let's look at the pros and cons of trying on homeschooling this summer.
Pros of Trying Homeschooling over the Summer
If you're a prospective homeschooler, these are the things you're probably thinking. A summer trial of homeschooling:
- Will help us see how the kids will react with me as their teacher.
- Will help us see how I react with the kids as my students.
- Will help me see how I can handle other responsibilities while homeschooling -- such as any paid employment, housework, care of aging parents, or other obligations.
- Will help me see if I can handle the 24/7 of being with my children, since I'm used to their being away at school or child care.
- Will help us see if we can adjust our lifestyle to live on less money, if I expect to cut my paid work hours in order to homeschool.
- Will help me determine the right homeschool curriculum and homeschooling approach.
- Will help our extended family become accustomed to the idea of homeschooling.
- Will help us begin to network with homeschoolers, so we'll get a jump start on finding friends for this fall.
To some extent, these pros of doing a summer trial of homeschooling might be of value, and spending more time with your children is valuable at any time. But the story is more complicated.
Cons of Trying Homeschooling over the Summer
The results of one summer of homeschooling may not be an indicator of whether homeschooling will "work" on an ongoing basis.
- Kids and parents may be on "good behavior" because of the short-term commitment. Homeschooling may still feel new when you're only in your second month, so children, moms, and dads may respond more positively to the novelty of homeschooling than they will in the deep dark winter. In other words, as they say on the investment commercials, past performance is no guarantee of future success.
- On the other hand, homeschooling may not go well during that summer because there are so many issues to be worked out between parents and children. Many long-time homeschoolers will tell you that not only did these issues not get worked out in the first several months, but it took the entire first year -- or even longer -- to work them out. Parents who decide not to homeschool based on a summer trial might be making the right decision, or they might be missing out on the opportunity to work things out over a longer time period in a way that could create a satisfying and effective homeschooling experience.
- Most parents change their approach to homeschooling over time to achieve a better fit for their family. Short-term homeschooling does not take advantage of this flexibility. If you keep homeschooling, you will have the opportunity to explore different homeschooling styles, such as Classical homeschooling, eclectic homeschooling, Charlotte Mason, Montessori, unit studies, unschooling, or Waldorf-influenced homeschooling. Your two-month summer of homeschooling might not have used the right approach for your family, but you will have given up before finding the right fit!
- The same goes for specific curricula. If you are using a particular curriculum for your children, it may take longer than a summer to determine that the curriculum does not fit your child's learning style or your ability to homeschool several children of different ages or some other aspect of your family. It takes trial and error to find materials that work, and for some parents it takes development of some courage to abandon curriculum that they feel invested in and were so sure of.
- Many children who have been to school need a period of "deschooling" before homeschooling in order to best benefit from learning at home. If your children just finished a year or many years in school and then jump into a summer of structured homeschooling with you, they will not have time to adjust. Almost always, kids need time to reacquaint themselves with their own interests and become excited about learning again.
- Parents need time to deschool also. Helping children learn at home is a different process from teaching school, and it's different from the process that you took part in when you were a school student. You don't get all the real advantages of homeschooling within the first few months because it takes a while for the world of possibilities to sink in once you are "outside the box" of school.
- Parents frequently have a longer-than-summer challenge in adjusting to their role. Some parents picture themselves in the role of a teacher who stands in front of children telling them what to do, only to find that they are more effective when they act as guides or co-learners with their kids. This can present an identity crisis and a struggle around or about authority, as parents and kids figure out what homeschooling means to their relationship. Homeschoolers come to a whole spectrum of different conclusions about this -- and you won't know where you would or will ultimately stand at the end of one summer. In fact, some parents have both internal conflict and conflict with children about this through a year of homeschooling -- or even longer -- because after all, as you homeschool longer, your children are also getting older and becoming more independent.
- Networking with homeschoolers over the summer may be hard to do. Even though homeschoolers don't all follow the same schedule over the school year, many homeschool groups, co-ops, and resource centers are on break or have a lighter schedule during the summer. Yes, in a populated area you can meet some people, but there won't be the number of activities that there will be during the fall. It can take a year or more to find or create the groups and friends that fit well, and in less populated areas, it can take that long to figure out what community resources will serve your family's social and enrichment needs in place of the "big box of school." If these resources aren't available where you live, then adjustment to a truly home-based life in a rural area may need to go through a cycle of seasons for you to get a true picture of what homeschooling is like in that circumstance.
- Figuring out financial challenges and how you'll juggle work and other responsibilities with homeschooling seem to be the ones that can be better accomplished during short-term homeschooling. However, we all know that financial challenges multiply over time, and the stress of balancing many responsibilities also increases as time goes by. Homeschooling for a summer can give you a thumbnail view of its effects on your finances and other responsibilities, but you have to think carefully about the longer term to get an accurate picture.
I'm not saying that homeschooling over a summer won't help you make a good decision about becoming a homeschooling family. I'm just saying that for some homeschoolers, a single summer can give them a false sense of the good things or the challenges that come with homeschooling. I hate to see someone pronounce their homeschooling fully formed after a single summer, and I hate to see someone give up before they've had time to make adjustments and work on the challenges.
If you're considering a trial of homeschooling this summer, talk to long-term homeschoolers and read their books, blogs, and articles. Most important of all, explore the concept of deschooling thoroughly, and enter your summer of homeschooling with an understanding that homeschooling develops over time and with a huge amount of variation from family to family -- because ultimately, homeschooling is not just a summer job.