Many people have friends, neighbors, or family members who homeschool. Perhaps your cousin homeschools her children, or maybe it is your neighbor who homeschools his children. You may be curious, supportive, or concerned. Whichever it is, our goal is to give you some basic information about homeschooling so that you can best support your friends, neighbors, or family members and be a positive resource for their children.
Homeschooling can be a positive educational option, and many homeschooled children thrive both academically and socially and have access to a wide range of friends and opportunities. Unfortunately, homeschooling can also be a negative experience. Some homeschooled children lack sufficient social interaction or do not have access to adequate educational resources, and a smaller number are physically or emotionally abused.
What does this mean in practical terms? It means you should not assume that your friend’s, neighbor’s, or family member’s children are being shortchanged by being homeschooled, but you should also be willing to be willing to step in and help if you see a problem.
Many families choose homeschooling for variety of excellent reasons. Some have concerns about the academic quality of the local schools. Some want to ensure that their children are educated in accordance with their religious or moral values. Some believe their children will learn better through child-directed learning outside of a classroom setting. Some have children who were bullied in school or have health problems or demanding practice schedules. Many families enjoy the flexibility homeschooling offers, and some children may find that homeschooling is a good fit for their natural learning styles or personalities.
“I’m highly introverted by nature. While I was growing up, home education gave me the space I needed to focus on my studies without being overwhelmed by social interaction. This left me with more social energy for things like church functions, homeschool group activities, and other extracurriculars.” ~ Amethyst Marie, age 31, homeschooled K-12th
Homeschooling can offer families an opportunity for individualized learning and educational innovation. Some homeschooling families replicate a school setting in the home while others focus on hands-on and child-led learning. Some homeschooled teens take courses at community colleges or dual enroll in their local public schools. Homeschool parents have a variety of resources to draw from as they create educational plans for their children, including curriculum, support groups, and a growing number of resources.
“My family moved around a lot, my father being in the military. Homeschooling gave my family a constant in our life, we didn’t have to worry about changing schools every few years and trying to adapt to a new system or curriculum. Personally it allowed me to learn at my own pace and get the one on one attention I needed. I enjoyed many extracurricular activities, sports, church activities, and debate. When I got to highschool I was able to take several community college courses, this allowed me to get used to a more formal educational setting.” ~ David Silver, age 26, homeschooled K-12th
There are a variety of social options open to homeschooled children. Many of them participate in various classes, extracurriculars, co-operatives, and sports leagues. In recent years the amount of extracurricular opportunities available to homeschooled students has grown, aided in part by the networking potential of the internet. Many homeschooling parents work hard to provide their children with social outlets.
While many homeschooled children do well academically and socially, others do not. Some homeschooled children are educationally neglected, or are simply not given the resources and opportunities they need to excel. Some homeschool parents rely heavily on worksheets and rote learning while others fail to carry through and ensure their children finish the courses of study they begin. Some homeschooled children are not involved in many activities outside of the family and are socially isolated and lonely.
“I was neglected educationally. My parents mostly only taught us to read. I left home at 17 with very little education. I didn’t get get my GED until I was 28 and I just barely graduated from college. It was a lot of work and I am about ten to fifteen years behind other people my age.”~ Emily, age 34, homeschooled 2nd-12th
Some parents use homeschooling as an opportunity to control their children in unhealthy ways. Some homeschool parents may employ excessively harsh corporal punishment or be drawn to cult-like homeschool leaders. Sometimes, too, abusive parents homeschool specifically to hide their abuse. Alternatively, there are families who homeschool because of their children’s truancy problems, but never actually intend to educate them. Not every parent is able to homeschool successfully or healthily.
Don’t stereotype homeschooling families or assume that the parents are homeschooling to hide something. At the same time, you should not idealize the decision to homeschool and stereotype homeschool parents as somehow incapable of abuse or neglect. If you have concerns about a homeschooling family you know, don’t look the other way. Pay attention, observe, and most importantly, be there for their children.
“Do not ignore your instinct that something is wrong. Stay involved with the family. Continue to observe.” ~ Anonymous, age 28, homeschooled K-12th
We do not know how many children are growing up in bad homeschooling situations. Part of the reason for this is the very individual nature of homeschooling. Homeschooled children in one family can thrive while those in another family endure abuse or neglect. What we do know is that while homeschooling can work out beautifully for many children or families, for other families it can be a recipe for disaster.
If a homeschooling family you know seems to be doing well and the kids seem to be thriving, be supportive of their decision to homeschool. Parents who homeschool often feel that those around them are overly critical and not accepting of their educational choices. Being supportive of successful homeschooling can both help make children’s experiences more positive and alleviate some of the parent’s anxiety or sense of alienation.
If you have concerns about a homeschooling family you know and suspect that there may be abuse or neglect taking place, the most important thing you can do is to be there for the children. If you are a neighbor or attend the same church, even something like a smile and a kind word can make it clear that you are safe person.
“My neighbors saved my life. Without them I don’t know if I would have been able to survive the emotional abuse.” ~ Angela, age 20, homeschooled K-12th
If you are a family member or close friend, you may be able to do more. Show interest in the children and in their feelings, their likes and dislikes. Ask them what they’re learning, or about their friends, or what they enjoy doing. Spend time with them and listen to them.
“If you have concerns look for ways to take kids out one on one for ice cream or a movie night—kids are a lot more likely to share one on one. And if they don’t share just keep loving on them.” ~ Anonymous, age 30, homeschooled K-12th
You may be concerned about children who appear to be lonely or seem to be doing substandard academic work but not feel that these concerns constitute actual abuse or neglect or warrant reporting. If this is the case, you can still work to invest in those children and let them know that you are there for them. Be an ally, a cheerleader, and someone they can trust.
“When I was an isolated, abused homeschool child, I felt a depth of darkness and despair that I still struggle to cope with. This was because my parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles looked the other way when I showed signs of distress. No one ever asked me how I felt about my situation. I was invisible and worthless.” ~ Lana, age 29, homeschooled 5th-12th
Regardless of whether you have concerns or not, you can be a good resource for homeschooling families you know by offering to provide tutoring or by sending educational opportunities you come upon their way. Many homeschooling parents appreciate knowing that their friends, family, or neighbors are supportive and interested in their children’s success.
Children who are homeschooled do not have the same regular contact with teachers that other students have. As a result, there are fewer people to notice and report if a homeschooled child is abused. This means that it is doubly important to be able to recognize signs of abuse or neglect you may see and to know when and how to report them.
“I wish my aunts had intervened more. I know it’s hard but sometimes reporting to CPS is the only thing to do.” ~ Angela, age 20, homeschooled K-12th
Suspicious bruising is a sign of abuse, but other signs that may be more easily missed are no less important. Children who are unnaturally quiet or seem withdrawn or afraid of their parents may be experiencing physical or emotional abuse, or both. If you have reason to believe that there is physical, sexual, or emotional abuse taking place, or physical, medical, educational, or emotional neglect, call child protective services. You can leave a tip anonymously if you are concerned about the family cutting off your contact with the children. Don’t underestimate what you may mean to a child.
“Be the difference for the children. Had just 1 adult cared enough to speak up it may have changed my life.” ~ Felicia, age 38, homeschooled 7th-12th
If you suspect that educational neglect may be taking place, please keep in mind that it is normal and okay for homeschooled children to cover different subjects at somewhat different rates. A child may be behind in math but ahead in science and reading. There are also homeschool families that focus on experiential learning and may not do as much in the way of textbooks. This is okay. The questions you should ask are “is there learning taking place?” and “does the child have access to educational resources?” If you are in the family’s home, take note of whether you see books, educational toys, and other learning supplies. If these things are absent, or if a child is significantly behind grade level in the majority of subject areas, that may be a sign that something is wrong.
“Please act! The damage that is done through lack of education and abuse is crippling.” ~ Helen, age 26, homeschooled K-12th
If you are considering whether to report a homeschooling family to child protective services, please look at our Child Abuse or Educational Neglect pages, where you will find definitions, warning signs, and information about how to report abuse or neglect. If you are wondering if your concerns are serious enough to report, or if you need information on how to report abuse or neglect in your state, you can also call the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453) for confidential advice and reporting information.
Don’t assume that just because a family is homeschooling there is a problem. Many families who homeschool do so for any of a variety of good reasons, and many children thrive in homeschool settings. If you know a homeschool family that meets this description, be supportive and keep an eye out for resources they may be interested in. However, if you see signs of problems in a homeschooling family you know, whether that be emotional, physical, or sexual abuse or physical or educational neglect, please don’t sit back and do nothing.
Be there for the children, make yourself a resource, and report the family to child protective services if warranted.