How to Help an Educationally Neglected Homeschooled Child

We receive many emails from people worried about educationally neglected homeschooled children. These individuals—who are often friends or family members—want to know what they should do about their concerns, and how they can help. We generally point them to information on recognizing educational neglect and advise them on how to report educational neglect in homeschool settings, which varies from state to state. Sometimes, though, those who email us also want practical ideas on how to encourage (or prod) a child’s parents to provide them with a better education.

If you have a friend or family member who is homeschooling but not adequately educating their children, we have some ideas you can put into practice (in addition to reporting suspected educational neglect to the authorities) to improve the education these children are receiving.

  1. Show interest. Take an interest in the children’s education. Ask your friend or family member what sorts of things they’re doing for school, tell them you’d like to learn more about their homeschooling, and listen as they talk about it. Encourage them and, after listening, ask questions or make suggestions about other subjects or areas they could cover.
  1. Offer tutoring. Offer to tutor the children in subjects you know well or are interested in, either in person or over Skype. Encourage the children and foster their interests and abilities. Tell your friend or family member that you care about their children’s education and that you’re interested in pitching in to help out with the homeschooling if you can.
  1. Give educational gifts. Give the children educational presents for their birthdays and other holidays, including things like science kits, history books geared toward children, or Usborne children’s math or science dictionaries. From time to time, pass on various educational and learning materials to your friend or family member.
  1. Find local enrichment activities. Learn what the children like doing and look into local resources in these areas, including things like robotics clubs, improv groups, nature centers, historical societies, book clubs, and other enrichment activities. Send information about clubs, classes, or events on to your friend or family member, and offer to take the children to these activities if you live nearby.
  1. Find local tutoring resources. Find out if the area where your friend or family member lives has a literacy coalition; these organizations typically offer free reading tutoring to both children and adults. The children’s librarian at their local library might be able to point you to additional tutoring opportunities in the community as well, including after-school programs (often held in community centers or churches) that the children might be able to attend. Pass this information on to your friend or family member.
  1. Suggest involvement in the public schools. In some states, homeschooled children are permitted to participate in curricular or extracurricular activities at the local public school. Call your the local school district to find out their policies and offerings, and, depending on what they say, let your friend or family member know they could have their children take band or art (or even math or science) for free at their local public schools.
  1. Mention possible special needs. If you’re concerned that a child may have learning disabilities or other special needs, mention this to your friend or family member and ask if they’re interested in having the child tested. Let them know that they can have their child tested for learning disabilities for free at their local public school at no cost and with no obligation.
  1. Promote extracurriculars. It is important for homeschooled children to be involved in a wide variety of activities and extracurriculars. Find out what the children are involved in and suggest to your friend or family member that their children might enjoy being involved in 4-H, Girl Scouts, or other programs in their area. Offer to take the children to these programs if you live nearby.
  1. Speak the language. Make sure you position yourself as wanting to help your friend or family member rather than as being critical of them. Affirm the positive things you see them doing. Point out that literacy tutoring or after school programs would take some of the burden off of them and give them a break to run an errand or start supper. Make sure they know that you want to support them and their children’s success.
  1. Let the children know you care. Show interest in the children. Take them out for ice cream, read books to them, be the “cool” relative or family friend they love and are inspired by. Let them know that they matter, and that you value them. Don’t try to drive a wedge between them and your friend or family member, and don’t make them feel bad about being behind academically. Encourage them and their interests and let them know you believe in them. You can read more about how to do this here.

High school is an especially critical time for homeschooled students. If a homeschooled child finishes high school with little in the way of records and only spotty coverage of core subjects, college can be out of reach and even jobs that don’t require a college education can be difficult to obtain. If the child you are concerned about is in or approaching high school, ask your friend or family member if they have looked at their state’s high school requirements and encourage them to find tutors or classes for core subjects. Offer to look up the requirements yourself, or to research what affordable classes are available. Learn more about homeschooling through high school, and remember that homeschooled high school students in many states can take individual classes at their local public high school or local community college. 

Make sure your friend or family member knows that enrolling their children in school—whether for high school or before—is not a sign of failure. Point out that putting the children in school is an option in casual and non-judgemental ways, perhaps noting that putting an older child in public school for high school would give them more time to focus on a younger child, or to return to a career they loved. Remain positive and focused on the needs of both the children and the parent.

Be aware that in some cases homeschooling parents (especially mothers) may make homeschooling part of their identity and perceive of any criticism or concern as a personal attack. In addition, many homeschooling parents are accustomed to facing criticism or even ridicule for their choice, which can make them defensive. This is unfortunate, as it can make being introspective about the quality of the education they are providing more difficult. This is something that should inform how you approach your friend or family member in this process.

Don’t put reporting suspected educational neglect off the table. In most states, the only time the state intervenes to ensure that homeschooled children are educated is after a concerned individual makes a report. While reporting a family for educational neglect may be difficult, especially if the person is a close friend or relative, making a report can bring needed change. We know of cases where the simple act of being reported has led neglectful homeschooling parents to improve the quality of education they provide their children. Learn how to make a report here.

Simply having a supportive adult in their life can make a world of difference for an educationally neglected homeschooled child. Your actions—and your support—may change a child’s life.

For more on educational neglect, see:

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