Griffin Kubik spent two years at Chicago Waldorf preschool before his parents pulled the plug on his formal education.
The 6-year-old now spends his days with his parents and his 2-year-old sister, Adair, traveling in their newly purchased van.
“For our family, the experience of learning while traveling outweighs the benefits of going to school,” said Griffin’s mom, Tiana Kubik, co-owner of TK Photography, which is based in Chicago. The family’s trips include visiting Toronto, Montreal, Banff and Jasper, Canada.
Griffin is one of about 3.5 million home-schooled children in the nation. The number of kids who are home-schooled has surpassed children at charter schools and has been growing by 3 to 8 percent each year since 2012, according to the National Center for Education Statistics and analyses from Brian Ray, homeschooling researcher at the National Home Education Research Institute.
That growing popularity can be attributed to a number of factors, ranging from parents’ ideology to more practical issues including globally-focused families who don’t want to tie their children to a set way of learning, school-based issues, and a desire for religion-based education, said Stephen Spriggs, managing director of William Clarence Education, a London-based education consultancy that works with families around the world.
“It’s becoming more acceptable and mainstream, so parents who previously wanted to but couldn’t are now open to seeing what options there are,” Spriggs said.
Home schooling also can be altered to fit a family’s lifestyle. There are parents who teach kids at home loosely; and others who do a full home schooling program delivered by tutors and teachers in the home, Spriggs said.
“School isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach,” he said.
The Kubiks practice unschooling, a form of home education that allows the child’s interests and curiosities to create the path for learning. They live out of their van, and work on reading and writing while they travel, but they also try to go with the flow, depending on their location and their children’s interests. “Then, we help them dive into those topics,” Tiana Kubik said. “We also sign the kids up for activities if we are in any one area for more than a couple of weeks.”
Even some traditional teachers are home-schooling their children. Genola Johnson and her husband taught public school overseas, and Johnson said that she appreciates the safety and unique learning opportunities available in the home-school community.
“No matter if the school is urban or rural, safety is a serious issue with public schools,” Johnson said. “And parents don’t want to get a call or see on the news or social media that their child’s school is under attack.”
She also said class sizes, which are reaching more than 30, is a concern and that each child has unique needs.
“This is really impossible to manage,” she said, adding that it’s part of the reason parents are choosing to home-school their children.
But home schooling isn’t problem-free.
As public school teachers, Johnson said she and her husband are very familiar with scheduling and routine. But this was a major problem for their fifth and ninth graders. Setting up a schedule and sticking to it is very different when it comes to dealing with your own children, she said.
She suggests creating a set schedule for home-school. For example: breakfast from 7:30 to 8 a.m.; schoolwork from 8 a.m. to noon; then break for lunch; 60 minutes to be in nature and for physical activity; then complete remaining school assignments from 2:30 to 4 p.m.
“Assignments can easily get out of control, your child loses interest and is bored and nonperforming, which can be due to no social interaction,” Johnson said. “You have to find ways for them to socialize with their peer groups regardless of them having siblings at home.”
In addition, home schooling may not work for every child, just like school may not be the perfect fit for everyone, said Lisa Lightner, a Philadelphia-based special education advocate.
Often, when a child is struggling in school and the parent is tired of battling the school district, home schooling is considered, Lightner said. “But what parents often don’t understand is that in most states, if you home-school, you are giving up a lot of possibilities as far as therapies and special ed,” Lightner said.
Before home-schooling a child with special needs, she suggested checking the regulations in your state to see if cyber schooling and other options are available so your child can still receive the assistance he or she needs.
Home schooling can also become very expensive. In the early years, parents may consider teaching their own children, but as they advance — or as the child needs classes or other opportunities for socializing — the fees can quickly add up.
“It can be expensive if you engage professional tutors to deliver a set program of study, so thoroughly researching all possible costs involved prior to taking the steps into home-schooling can make the situation easier to manage, and can alleviate any financial stress that could arise in the future,” Spriggs said.
Many of those who have mastered home schooling, however, said that they were grateful for the option.
Michelle Fishburne, national director of public relations and partnerships at the Brian Hamilton Foundation, home-schooled her oldest daughter Alexis Lewis from first through ninth grade, and again for junior year.
Alexis thrived and became an inventor because she was home-schooled, Fishburne said.
“She could pursue the subjects and skills that interested her as deeply as she wanted without having to truncate them because the lesson was over,” Fishburne said. “Her interests are incredibly varied, so home schooling was a great fit in terms of letting her deeply explore those interests as early and as often as she wanted.”
To help her with her education, Fishburne used Discovery Education’s online streaming services, which enabled Alexis to learn at her own level, despite age.
While there are plenty of online schooling options, it’s also essential that local schools are on board with home schooling, said Randy Speck, a school superintendent in Michigan who has been with private schools for 10 years, and has spent the last seven years in public schools.
All states have different laws and regulations regarding home schooling, and Michigan’s policies give local school districts the ability to offer education and resources to home-schooling families via virtual classes, community resource classes, bricks and mortar, etc.
“At my last school district, we built a program that grew to over 1,000 students, and while the growth was great, the important part was that it allowed families, who were choosing a certain form of education, the option,” Speck said. “Families have various reasons (for home schooling) and states have various rules, but school districts would do well to engage home-school families and their students because of the creativity and innovation that is inherently embedded into their education.”