What to consider before you opt for homeschooling

Many parents are considering homeschooling. The internet makes this option more accessible: lessons can be given on Skype or through a dedicated online teaching platform.

South African law allows you to homeschool your children from Grade R to Matric, provided you register them for homeschooling by applying to the head of your provincial education department. You’ll need to follow an approved curriculum, provide proof of their end-of-year assessment every year, and demonstrate that they have achieved the required grade for their age at the end of grades 3, 6 and 9.

This might seem like a perfect solution, but there is a lot to consider before you take this step – homeschooling will change your life, and your child’s journey through education, in major ways. Make sure you weigh up all the pros and cons properly before you make your decision. Whether homeschooling is even a viable option at all will depend on your personal circumstances.

Advantages of sending your children to a school

There are some perks of sending your kids off to school that parents take for granted, until they start researching the realities of homeschooling. To list some of the most important ones:

  • Schools have staff. Different people perform different roles: teachers, disciplinarians, counsellors, sports coaches, healthcare professionals, maintenance crew, cleaners, etc. There is a whole team to take care of young people for 6 hours a day, and even longer when you add in extramural activities and school tours. That leaves their parents or caregivers free to earn a living, maintain a home, and do all the ‘adulting’ that allows children to focus on education, not family responsibilities.

  • Teachers are trained in 2 skills: their professional subject knowledge and the art of teaching itself. Getting young people excited about learning and showing them how to explore, question and educate themselves is not a natural skill for most of us. That’s why it’s taught in teachers’ training colleges that certify these skills with degrees and diplomas.

  • Schools have shared facilities that go beyond classroom learning – if you’ve paid your fees, your child could also have access to extramural activities, sports coaches, facilities and equipment, libraries, science labs, workshops for training in trade skills, and organised cultural activities, depending on the school’s resources. At a school, your children have a diverse pool of people in which to find friends and learn social skills, while being exposed to many different perspectives and ways of life.

Going to school can help get your kids into ‘learn mode’

  • In the same way that going to an office can trigger you into ‘work mode’, going to school can help get your kids into ‘learn mode’. It’s a separate space with its own focus and strict rules, free of the distractions of home – or parents who can be manipulated into breaking the rules. It channels the learners towards education by removing other options. This can be very hard to manage in the home because that’s also where your children do their living and playing.

Advantages of homeschooling

Those are compelling reasons to keep sending your child to school outside the home, but you can’t deny that homeschooling has some clear benefits too, such as the following:

  • Worldwide health threats will obviously remain a potent driver of homeschooling. You can form a family bubble and eliminate the danger of your child being infected at school or while travelling between school and home. 

  • Costs for online homeschooling might be lower because traditional school expenses can be considerable. Average fees for government schools in major centres range between R33,000 and R60,000 a year, although that generally gives learners access to all the school facilities and programmes, and any extramural activities available. Parents sending their child to a prestigious private school might pay more than R300,000 a year, plus various levies for services like IT and infrastructure, and further costs for boarding, extramural activities and trips. And don’t forget the cost of school uniforms and transport to and from school.
  • Buying educational software or registering your child for online educational support if you’re homeschooling may turn out less expensive, but it depends on what level of support you are buying. Is it a purely digital interaction with learners, or are there live tutors and subject specialists available too? Is it a flat monthly or course fee, or are you charged per subject? Will it cost you more to enrol more than one child? Will you need to hire a private tutor?

  • How much will you need to spend to set up your computers, a reliable, fast internet connection, and your home as a proper learning environment? What will it cost you to set up cultural, sporting and socialising opportunities for your child in your neighbourhood, to make up for what they miss at school? All these expenses are add-ons to consider when working out the total cost of homeschooling.

  • No homework and no travelling to school means that children who are homeschooled can arrive at lessons fresh and ready to learn every morning. They can study at a pace they are most comfortable with and organise their days in whatever way works best for them – education can take place at any time as long as the learner is stimulated. Each day can have clearly defined educational outcomes, tailored to each individual learner’s needs. As a parent, you can observe your child’s educational and emotional development closely and monitor the quality of education they’re getting.

  • Parents who homeschool can apply their own rules regarding dress, grooming and behaviour to their children, rather than what has been decided by a school governing body. Homeschooling is a natural fit for teens who are unable to ‘go with the flow’ when confronted with pointless, outdated hairstyle rules, for example, or for parents who want to raise more free-spirited explorers. It’s easier for parents to protect their kids from negative peer pressure and bullies. That said, cyber-bullying is a threat homeschooling parents need to be vigilant against, but that applies to all parents nowadays anyway.

The questions you need to ask

Before you decide whether you should homeschool or keep your child in a traditional school, ask yourself these questions:

1. Does your child want to be homeschooled?

This is the first and most important question to ask, no matter what the child’s age. They are, after all, the one whose life will be most affected by your decision. Explain all the pros and cons of each option and address any questions or fears they bring up. As a parent, you’ll make the decision you think is in your child’s long-term best interests – but opting for homeschooling if your child is dead set against the idea might set you up for failure.

2. Do you want to be a stay-at-home teacher?

When you’re homeschooling, the school staff is you: the parent or caregiver. The teaching, disciplining, counselling, coaching, healthcare, etc is all your job. Is at least one parent capable of teaching effectively while handling all those roles, and can they afford to give up a job to take on the role full-time? Or will you need to hire a professional tutor? Either option might strain your budget.

Do you have the space to set up a dedicated classroom, to make a distinction between ‘home’ and ‘school’ life for your child? Do you have more than one child to teach, and space for all of them? How do you teach biology or science without a laboratory for experiments?

What other costs will arise if you want your children to enjoy the same sporting, cultural and social interactions as they would at a normal school? Will it end up costing significantly more to homeschool them, even if online learning fees are lower?

3. How will homeschooling affect your family dynamic? 

Can you switch between ‘teacher/disciplinarian’ and ‘loving, indulgent parent’, and make a success of each role? If you were in a very different job before, will the stress of being a teacher all day affect your relationship with your kids or your partner? Will your children’s social life be affected, or their circle of friends get smaller?

Answering these questions honestly as a family will help you decide which option fits your circumstances better. Whether you choose homeschooling or traditional schooling in the end, what’s most important is to consider all the implications for your family first.

Investing in your children’s education

Whether you homeschool or not, to give your children the best education possible you need to be planning and preparing from the moment they’re born. The sooner you start investing in their future, and exploring ways to pay less for schooling, the more options you will have when the time comes to choose a schooling method.