Sunday, December 6, 2015

Homeschooling an Only Child: Pros and Cons


The decision to homeschool is a very personal decision that affects the entire family. Families choose to homeschool for many different reasons, and most times it is a combination of reasons and/or circumstances.  As for me, well, it is an "it's complicated" reason as to why we homeschool.  The bottom line is that it is what is best for my child at this time. 

 Since his older brothers are not homeschooled (the oldest is away at college and the middle son attends public school) that means that my son is the only child that I homeschool.  I'll be honest in sharing that this was one reason why I was hesitant to homeschool in the first place.  Learning is such a social experience, and as a former teacher, I know how beneficial cooperative learning is.

And then there is the socialization issue that is brought up to most homeschool families whether or not they have an only child.  I considered this aspect as well. Would teaching my son at home at the "expense" of  not having peer interaction be beneficial?

If you are considering homeschooling an only child, please read on as I share our experiences.

Obviously there are numerous advantages to homeschooling an only child. These are just a few of the ones that I have chosen to highlight.

1. The home environment is conducive to my son's introverted tendencies and to his preference for a quiet atmosphere.  As a side note, my son was diagnosed with Selective Mutism at the age of three.  I have written extensively about this anxiety disorder here on my blog.  Many experts in the field do not encourage homeschooling a child with S.M. for the simple fact that it does not teach the child to deal with and cope with their fear of and inability to talk in school.  We tried school for four years  both in public and private schools. While my son had outstanding teachers, school was difficult for my child emotionally. At home, he can work at his own pace and really focus and concentrate on his learning without the anxiety and fear that affected him while in a more traditional school atmosphere. I am helping him over this little speed bump. And in the future, if he wants to return to public school, then he will.  I am blessed that I can do this for my son, for I remember so well when my oldest son was in elementary school and I could not financially afford to homeschool as a single mother.

2.  I can provide the 1-1 instruction that he needs, especially in his weak areas.  Spelling and writing are difficult for my son, and I noticed that the traditional weekly spelling list and Friday test were not effective {as is the case with most kids!}. He also had some gaps in other areas that his teachers were not able to observe because of his inability to talk at school and not because of poor teaching. I chose a spelling program that could provide him intervention at his level. We went to the basics- all the way back to the sounds of each letter- in third grade!  In turn, he is progressing with spelling and it is evident in his writing, which after all is the ultimate goal of learning to spell. And because he is able to talk at home, I provide him many opportunities to talk and discuss his learning throughout the day. Just the simple act of talking about his reading is something that he has never done at school.

3.  Because he is a more confident learner and can speak during the day, he is not exhausted at the end of the day.  When he was attending school, he would often come home mentally and emotionally exhausted from the anxiety that plagued him all day long.  He was not able to express many emotions, rarely if ever would use the bathroom, and did not speak out loud all day long. As a result, he would often have melt downs and crying spells as he was processing the days events and anticipated returning to school the next day.

As with your child, I have some pretty specific reasons as to why the home environment is best for my son. And those reasons trump any advantages to placing him in a traditional school and classroom setting- at this time.

As I mentioned in my opening, I knew that homeschooling an only child could possibly create some obstacles like not having peers to learn from.  As a teacher, I see the incredible value of learning alongside one's peers and in cooperative and collaborative settings. One example of this is with writing instruction.  I use a Writer' Workshop model for part of our ELA block.  One of the many advantages to using this model is the peer interaction and sharing that takes place among the writers. For instance, when as a class you are brainstorming a list of writing topics or effective and interesting ways to begin a piece of writing, listening to your peers share ideas and their writing is very motivating and instructional.  For, sometimes, maybe oftentimes, students can do a better job of explaining and modeling than I can!

Although I am a homeschool supporter, I am also an advocate of the public and private school systems. This sets me apart from many homeschooling families I know, for I take each child's unqiue set of circumstances into consideration. The example I cited in the previous paragraph brings up another thing to think about.  If you have a child that is very extroverted and who craves and needs daily peer socialization and interaction when learning, then perhaps being homeschooled as an only child would not be in their best interest.  My middle son attends public school because he thrives there.  Even bringing him home to school alongside his brother {who is younger by a mere 14 months!}would not be enough for him. My oldest son attended a boarding school for his last 2 years of high school.  This is what was best for him at that time and he had the financial opportunity to do so.

The bottom line with any disadvantage that I can cite is that it needs to be weighed against the advantages and disadvantages of sending your child to a public or private school.  What is best for your child(ren) at this time? What can you do at this time considering your unique circumstances?

I have been able to get creative to problem solve some of the concerns I had about my son receiving an individualized education. His older brother is home each day by 2 p.m. and we often work together to practice multiplication drills, conduct a science experiment, or complete a project.  I have been fortunate enough to find a co-op in our area that has social activities and even some seasonal classes that are taught by some of the moms.  Add in group music lessons, sports, and church on Wednesday nights, and he has a pretty full schedule of opportunities, both at home and with extra curriculars.

As we started the second marking period in early November, I was able to reflect on his learning.  We talked, I asked him reflective questions, and he selected some of his "best" pieces from all subject areas to place in a portfolio.  The end result?  I am confident that he is learning and thriving, not only in academics, but in his social skills and emotional/mental health.  He seems to also think that he is doing well.  I have pushed him just a bit past his comfort level to try new things (e.g., take group music lessons), and he did it and did it well even though he was reluctant at the beginning.

But the biggest accomplishment so far is that he enjoys reading. Last school year, I was pleased that he was reading on grade level, but my heart broke that he did not enjoy it, did not view himself as a reader, and did not choose to read on his own.  I worked very hard over the summer and at the beginning of this school year to motivate him.  What did I do?  Well, that's a post in and of itself for another time.  But now, he reads on his own!  Often, he is up until 10 or 11 p.m. reading!  Why?  Because he loves it now!

So, I leave you with hope and inspiration if you are at all considering homeschooling  and most certainly if you will be working with an only child!

What can you add to this discussion about homeschooling an only child?  Please leave a comment below!

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