How Many Kids Are Homeschooled? It's More Common Than You Think

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For most of us, a typical school morning consists of our shaking the kids awake, getting them dressed and fed, and making sure all their papers and folders are in their backpacks. Then we send them off to school on the bus or drop them off in the car, knowing we won't see them again for the next six hours or more. But for the surprisingly large number of homeschooled children, the morning rush is nonexistent, there are no permission slips to sign, and education is as close as the dining-room table.

Homeschooling is no longer a "fringe" or unusual option in this country. As of 2012, the most recent year for which statistics are available, an estimated 1.8 million children were homeschooled, or 3.4 percent of the total student population, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). It's a fast-growing trend, too; as recently as 1999, only 1.7 percent of American children were educated at home. A recent report by the nonprofit organization EdChoice revealed that another 7 percent of parents surveyed said they would choose homeschooling if they could.

Centuries ago, home-based learning was standard, with parents or tutors responsible for children's education. Public schools began gaining favor in the mid 1840s, according to How Stuff Works, and have since been considered the norm. The homeschooling movement began in the '70s as a liberal-based alternative to rote learning, reported the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, but a decade later, it became championed by the evangelical movement as an antidote to secular education.

Today, homeschooling families come from a wide variety of faiths, and homeschooling parents from a variety of backgrounds; 20 percent have advanced degrees, and 25 percent hold down jobs in addition to teaching from home, according to the NCES.

How much do you know about homeschooling? Read on for some findings that may surprise you.

Homeschooling Is Legal Nationwide

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According to the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, all 50 states permit parents to homeschool their children. However, homeschooling laws differ from state to state, and requirements vary widely. Some states require that certain subjects be taught, while others have no subject requirements at all. Fewer than half of all states require parents to submit assessments of their children's learning.

Religion Is Only Part Of The Picture

Perhaps thanks to 19 Kids and Counting and similar shows, there's a widespread perception that parents who homeschool are overly religious types who want to shelter their kids from the secular world. In fact, according to surveys conducted by the NCES, only 36 percent of homeschooling parents said that providing religious or moral instruction was the main reason for their choice. Another 21 percent said they were concerned about the environment of a traditional school, and 17 percent said they weren't satisfied with the instruction at other schools.

Parents may also choose to homeschool to avoid long commutes to school, to provide a nontraditional education for their children, or to ensure that a child with special needs or mental issues receives an appropriate education.

Parents Have Lots Of Help

Parents who choose to homeschool don't have to have an education degree (in fact, many states require only a high-school diploma). Nor do they have to wing it when it comes to designing a curriculum. As Parents reported, there's a wealth of resources for homeschooling parents, including websites that allow parents to decide what kind of educational philosophy to follow. (Do you want your child to learn based on their individual interests, or do you prefer a more formal structured curriculum, such as the Charlotte Mason model?)

Homeschooled Children Aren't Lonely

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In a traditional school, children get the opportunity to socialize with a variety of peers every day. Because homeschooled children don't have that interaction, some critics argue that this sets them up for loneliness and isolation. Homeschool parents are quick to set the record straight. For instance, a pediatrician mom wrote on the ChildrensMD website explaining that far from being social outcasts, her kids belong to a homeschooling co-op playgroup, as well as being busy with music lessons, Scouts, sports, dance, and church activities. "Add in the birthday parties and homeschool field trips," she wrote, "and we find ourselves having to decline activities so that we can get our homeschooling done!"

Homeschooled Kids Do Well In College

Far from being unprepared for higher learning, children who learn at home can actually excel at college. One study from the College of St. Thomas found that as compared to public, private, and Catholic high-school graduates, homeschooled students had higher GPAs and were more likely to graduate from college. The unconventional school structure and emphasis on personal skill-building may put homeschoolers at an advantage, homeschool parents suggest.

Homeschooling May Be Changing

In years to come, the homeschooling and traditional school worlds may be joining forces. Education reporter Mike McShane wrote in Forbes that a new model of "hybrid homeschooling" is gaining ground, in which children study at home part of the week and attend an outside school on other days. This system, he explained, allows parents more flexibility with their own schedules and more access to resources while still acting as their children's primary teachers.