Full disclosure: I’m not a homeschooling mum. I’m not even a mum. So why on earth am I writing a post about homeschooling?? I’m glad you asked.
I lived in Asia for 11 years, and for most of that time I was a youth worker mentoring and supporting teenagers through international churches. I had the privilege of spending time with a lot of homeschool families – families from different passport countries, living in different host countries.
I spent the past three and a half years working on a book about TCKs, including hundreds of interviews and a survey of 750 TCKs. Nearly a third of the TCKs I surveyed had been homeschooled at some point; 80% of those who were homeschooled came from ministry families.* I talked with TCKs who loved their homeschool experience, TCKs who were distressed by their homeschool experience, and TCKs who experienced a bit of both.
I am going to share with you some of what I’ve learned. My hope is that this will encourage you as you do the difficult but rewarding work of homeschooling your kids.
I heard a lot of positive stories from homeschooled TCKs who adapted well to university and life in their passport country. Several spoke about the benefit of a flexible study schedule, which allowed pursuit of particular interests (including travel or service alongside their parents). Others enjoyed learning to study/learn in their own way. One TCK said, “Homeschooling has been one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of my life.”*
The main drawback many TCKs shared about homeschooling was a sense of isolation. 61% of homeschooled TCKs under 30 said they felt lonely as children living abroad, compared to 45% of all TCKs under 30. Those who spoke negatively about their homeschool experience invariably referenced at least one of two types of isolation – working alone, and playing alone. In each case TCKs felt discouraged – feeling relationally alone and academically unmotivated.
Working alone refers to homeschool students who did their work with little or no adult teaching support. They taught themselves from curriculum parents provided but did not supervise. One TCK said, “I don’t have a teacher. I watch DVDs with a class on them and try to figure things out. It’s really hard because I can’t ask questions so I often struggle.”
I also talked to TCKs who spent a large portion of their study time alone and yet were positive about the experience. The difference these TCKs expressed was that their parents were accessible to them. When these TCKs had a question, wanted to discuss an idea or approach, or needed extra motivation, there was someone nearby to go to.
My encouragement to you: your presence matters!
Even if you feel unqualified to teach the material your child is studying, simply being there makes a difference. Getting involved means you can help them find the answers, including any answers you don’t have. You become a team, attacking the work together, so your child does not fight alone.
Playing alone refers to social isolation. School is the place most children meet peers and make friends. A homeschooled child has fewer hours of peer interaction built into each day than a child attending school outside the home. This is particularly difficult for children who learn best through engaging with others (especially extroverts).
One TCK who struggled with homeschooling said, “I became overwhelmingly lonely and pushed myself less and less. I am the type of person that needs others around me to motivate and challenge me, otherwise I just do the bare minimum.”
When social engagement isn’t built in, it’s important for homeschool parents to think creatively about ways to help their children engage with others. Supporting a child socially will invariably cost both time and money. When your family already feels short on one (or both) of these resources, it is tempting to think social activities as nice but unnecessary. For a homeschooled child, however, external outlets really are essential.
My encouragement to you: your creative support matters!
In well populated places, there are often clubs a child can join, made up of locals or expatriates – art/music/dance classes, scout troops, sports teams, or youth groups. For families in more remote areas (or where language is a barrier) using both travel and technology to maintain friendships with TCKs in other places can make a big difference.
Some families I interviewed lived in remote locations but were committed to providing opportunities for their kids to socialize. This often meant travel – to a youth group in another place (an hour each way weekly, or several hours once a month), to an annual organizational conference, to a regional TCK event, or even adding a stop to the family’s travel plans so a child could spend time with an online friend in real life.
One TCK praised her parents’ support, saying, “My parents have been very gracious with making opportunities for me to visit friends – this includes driving long(ish) distances, being willing to host friends, and encouraging me to keep in contact. They make a point to ask about the lives of my friends who live far away.”
As I have mentored and interviewed TCKs, I have seen over and over that parents have the power to dramatically impact their child’s experience.
Homeschooling may be academically daunting at times, but a parent’s engaged and supportive presence makes a huge difference.
Homeschooling may be socially isolating at times, but parents can lead the way in providing access to and encouraging engagement with peers.
Caring for your child’s education and socialization is a big responsibility, and I’m sure it can feel overwhelming at times. But you aren’t alone! Reach out and find fellow parents who can sympathize and encourage you in your journey, including through communities like Velvet Ashes. Then, when you’ve been built up, you will be able to turn around and provide your kids with the support they need.
What about you?
Do you ever feel daunted by the responsibility of homeschooling?
What encourages you in your family’s homeschooling adventure?
If like me you are not a homeschooling parent, how might you encourage and support homeschooling families you know?
*All statistics and quotes are from Misunderstood: The Impact of Growing Up Overseas in the 21st Century by Tanya Crossman