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Homeschooling vs. Traditional School

There is an old adage in homeschooling that says not to make any life-altering educational decisions in February. This time of year is the homeschooler’s valley of tears. A little more than halfway through the school year, stuck in the house most of the time, feeling painfully inadequate to the task at hand, it is easy to look at the local school and say “Yes, that would be better.”

Overall, I have been very happy with our homeschool journey these past five years. In addition, because my children were in school at one point, I don’t suffer as much from the “what if” syndrome as much as some others who have not walked that road. I know that path was not better for us. None of this is to say that I don’t have my moments of panic, especially now that my children are in middle school.

One of the main concerns I’ve always had in homeschooling my children is that they have friends. I don’t feel they need to spend six hours a day with people their own age, but they do need friends. We all do. When I started homeschooling, I didn’t want to go it alone.

One of the reasons I ended up sending my children to school in the first place was that my efforts to connect with the local homeschooling group were unsuccessful. God has His timing perfect, though, and two years later when He sent me a very direct message that I should be homeschooling, those doors opened wide and I met a fabulous group of women and children with whom to share our homeschool life. My children have been blessed with great friends and so have I.

But, now that my children are getting older, their friendships seem destined for change. One of their best friends will most likely be attending middle school in the fall. Another might be, but if not now, will definitely be going to high school in two years. The future of a third remains uncertain. I realize that this is the age where friendships do normally change. However, when one is in traditional school, going to a new school for middle or high school means finding a whole new pool of potential friends. In this case, the friends are leaving with none to take their place. This is what worries me.

Recently, a bright shiny packet from a local charter middle/high school came in the mail. I had to admit as I looked it over that it was appealing. Maybe this would be a better way – a necessary way. I had my children look over the information and suggested that maybe we should go to an open house. They thought that would be great. I put it on the calendar and then I lived with and prayed about that decision for a few days. I literally felt ill. While I have always entertained the possibility of sending the boys to high school if they wanted to go, the thought of sending them now – to middle school – made me very uneasy. I am convinced that homeschooling is a better way for us and for my children’s needs – not only educationally, but socially as well.

A couple days later, the boys were having a school vs. homeschool conversation with another of their friends, a young lady who goes to traditional school. She was extolling the virtues of public school. My younger son came in and asked me, “Mom, what do you think is better – regular school or homeschooling?” I suggested we make a list.

Because I wanted them to own this decision, I asked them to come up with what they felt were the advantages of each educational choice. For homeschooling, they said that the ability to chew gum was important (this acts as a stress reliever for them – it has truly been such a help), they like being able to choose what to eat for lunch, fewer hours of school, breaks between subjects, the ability to go places in the middle of the school day, some choice over what to study, fewer tests, not having to leave the house early in the morning, fewer after-school assignments, and no bullies. For school, they thought that they would have more friends, no little brothers or sisters around (homeschooling with a toddler can be a challenge!) and more chance to join clubs or groups. In the final analysis, they decided that homeschooling won beyond a shadow of a doubt.

I felt very much at peace with that decision and so did they. We will no doubt revisit it in a few years. My older son, who has Aspergers, has little desire to go to traditional school, but my younger son has said he’d like to do one year of high school “just to see what it is like.” But, for now, our homeschooling journey continues and I’m going to trust that God will somehow provide the friends that they need.


Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur has a Master of Arts degree in Applied Theology from Elms College. A former Senior Editor at Catholic Lane, she is also the author of The Catholic Baby Name Book and Letters to Mary from a Young Mother. She has two biological sons and one adopted daughter. Visit her blog at http://spiritualwomanthoughts.blogspot.com.


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  • http://twitter.com/fountainshall1 Marie Dean

    I homeschooled both in England and in the States. I originally started when my son was three and I had a Montessori school in my home for home schoolers. We shared resources and this was mine.

    My son was home schooled all the way through high school, except for about two years, a year and a half in highschool and half a year in elementary when circumstances dictated that.

    He is now in the seminary and many of his peers were homeschooled as well.

    So, for a total of 14 years, I home schooled. Congratulations and keep up the hard work.

  • Claire

    Thanks for sharing your ongoing experience, Patrice. I’m still in the discernment process. My son is finishing preK and will start 1/2 day kindergarten at the public school in the fall. The moment of truth will be when he’s old enough for full-day school. I hope by then to have a clear idea of which direction to go in.

  • GuitarGramma

    My four now-adult children attended, at one time or another, homeschool, public school, charter school, Catholic diocesan school, and private schools teaching the Catholic faith — in two different countries. At every step of the way, I did what I thought was best for each individual child. Only one of my children regrets one of those choices; oddly enough she asked to homeschool through middle school and is today sorry that she did so. But all four met the goal of my heart, which was that they grow up to be good Catholics. That, with God’s constant support and guidance, was exactly what happened.
    All this is to say, trust your mother’s heart and take these decisions to prayer; you will do the right thing.

  • Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur

    Thank you to all of you for your comments and encouragement!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1112107851 Ebeth Weidner

    Patricia, this is a great post, we homeschooled our 2 daughters for 8 years after sending them to Catholic elementary school wasn’t our fit. The last 2 years of our home educating began the struggle of friendships, social interaction, and loneliness. As Catholics in the deep south, the ‘welcome mat” was not extended to our family and the girls were ok, until these last two years. Other Catholic families came in and out of homeschooling, so there were good years and then there were quiet years. The county provided athletics and choir opportunities, but all in all, we were an island.

    That said, our girls (now attending a Catholic high school) tell me now that they don’t regret their years of homeschooling and seeing the kids around them and how they learn and act, convinces them that they are different, but in a very good way. Their years of unpacking their lessons the old-fashioned way has taught them how to really learn, not just memorize information. When their teachers tell them about an upcoming quiz or test on a chapter, 10 hands go up with questions, “What part of the chapter will be on the test?!!” They want to memorize, our daughters just thing, “go over the chapter.”

    Homeschooling is the best way to teach our children, especially during their formative years. Kudos to you!

  • Ed B.

    Do anything that you can to keep them out of *any* middle school. Seriously. If they’re already happy enough where they are/not terribly unhappy, middle school is a bad choice. Send them to awesome summer programs to help them stretch their wings and learn/practice good social interaction stuff on new people.
    Try to pick summer programs that only accept smart kids. They will probably be better. Dunno about your child with asbergers though, I have no experience with that.