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Thomas Edison attended compulsory school for only three months, after which he was taught at home by his mother and a tutor.

Main article: Psychological considerations in homeschooling

Home education, also called homeschooling or home school, is an educational alternative in which children are educated at home by their parents, in contrast to the compulsory attendance which takes place in an institution with a campus such as a public school or private school. Home education methods are similar to those widely used before the popularization of compulsory attendance requirements in the 19th century. Before this time, the majority of education worldwide was provided at home by family and community members, with only the privileged attending privately-run schools or employing tutors, the only available alternatives at the time.

In modern times, although there were American families living overseas who were already homeschooling their children, the first parents known to homeschool within the United States were Tom and Mary Bergman of Utah, 1971. Unknown to each other at the time, the second known family was Charles and Virginia Birt Baker of Texas, 1972. Homeschooling was sometimes erroneously called unschooling, but the latter was a curriculum-free philosophy coined in 1977 by American educator John Holt in his alternative education magazine Growing Without Schooling. The terms homeschooling and home education also include instruction in the home by parents choosing to be under the supervision of correspondence schools, which are referred to as "umbrella schools" [example: Christian Liberty Academy].

In the United States, homeschooling is the focus of a substantial movement among parents who wish to provide their children with a custom or more complete education, which they feel is unattainable in most private schools or the government's public schools. While many families in the U.S. are educating their children at home, the vast majority still utilize the institutional setting for their children. Despite its popularity some people have concerns about the recent renaissance of this traditional method of educating children.


The general historic foundations of home education originate with the informal education systems that existed in many parts of the world before the rise of publicly-run schools in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The usual situation in rural areas before 1860 was that most children were taught farm chores and rudimentary arithmetic and spelling. Reading and writing skills were not highly valued. Occasionally some families would pool and hire a traveling tutor, usually a young Yankee like Stephen Douglas. In exchange for room and board he would provide a few months schooling for the children in the group. In this fashion Abraham Lincoln acquired about 18 months of schooling.

A few famous figures such as Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Edison, and Woodrow Wilson might be considered to have been home-educated as they were self-educated or had mentors or tutors growing up, but received little formal education. Home schoolers often go on to college --Roosevelt went to Harvard and Wilson to Princeton. Today all colleges and universities accept home school applicants and one, Patrick Henry College in Virginia, appeals especially to home schooled youth with strongly conservative political and religious beliefs.

Self education was heavily promoted in the early 20th century, and the University of Chicago for a while operated a distance education program. Students who paid tuition would receive a package of reading materials and a syllabus by mail, and have to return their lessons on a regular basis to be graded by staff at the university. The magazines of the 1880-1950 period are filled with ads for these programs, of which "LaSalle University" was the most omnipresent.

In the United States, the "curriculum in a box", or All-in-one curriculum, form of home education dates back to 1906, when the Calvert Day School of Baltimore, Maryland made such materials available through a downtown Baltimore bookstore and a National Geographic advertisement. Within five years, nearly 300 children were making use of materials from Calvert's Home Instruction Department. In less than a century the materials had become the basis for lessons for more than 350,000 children annually in more than 90 countries.


Australia & New Zealand

About 26,500 children in Australia & New Zealand are involved in home schooling.[1]


As of 2001, it was estimated that 80,000 children are educated at home in Canada[2]; however, that number continues to increase.

United Kingdom

An estimated 50,000 children are considered "home-educated" in the United Kingdom.[3]

United States

In the United States, homeschooling is the focus of a substantial movement among parents who wish to provide their children with a custom or more complete education, which they feel is unattainable in most private schools or the state governments' public school systems. In many instances one motivation is to provide religious education along with education on traditional subjects; religious education would not be available in a public school setting, and the available private schools may be too expensive for the family to afford, or may be of a different faith than that of the family. Home schooling is also considered an alternative by groups whose job necesitates frequent moves, such as military families. While a growing number of families in the U.S. are educating their children at home, the vast majority of families still utilize the institutional setting for their children.

In 2003 about 1.1 million children (up 29% from 850,000 in 1999) were home-educated on the United States[4]. A desire to provide religious or moral instruction, and a desire to provide a better learning environment are among the most common reasons for homeschooling. Other reasons include: more flexibility in adapting educational practices for children with learning disabilities or illnesses; allowing the introduction of more non-traditional studies, such as Latin and agriculture, focusing more on a child's unique gifts, such as art or mathematics; and providing more hands-on methods of learning such as unschooling.

As educational choices become abundant through a vast array of educational products and services available, computers, and the internet, the idea of homeschooling in the U.S. is expanding in popularity and acceptance. Some state governments, like those in Alaska, California, Pennsylvania, Utah, and Kansas, sponsor home-education "virtual" charter schools and/or reimburse parents who purchase curricula approved by the state. [5][6]

Characteristics of families

Families that homeschool in the USA are quite different demographically. 99% are white (non-Hispanic) or Asian (compared to 71% nationwide). 97% of parents are currently married. (compared to 72%) 62% have 3 or more children (compared to 20%). Nearly all the mothers are stay-at-home housewives. 58% are Fundamentalist in religion (compared to about 10%) 64% of fathers have college or postgraduate degrees (compared to 24%) Average income was $52,000 in 1997, (compared to $36,000)

Thus the profile is a group of well educated, high income white parents with numerous children and a strong commitment to fundamentalist religion. (Rudner 1999) (Peer Review) The commitment to fundamentalism is not always along formal doctrinal lines, it is almost always along lines of traditional or family-based moral and character issues.


Individual motivations to home-educate, home education methods, and academic and social results of home education are varied, and are the source of vibrant debate. Proponents of this educational alternative invoke parental responsibility and the classical liberal arguments for personal freedom from government intrusion. Some proponents advocate that home education should be the dominant educational policy.

Most home education advocates are wary of the established educational institutions for various reasons. Some feel that they can more effectively tailor a curriculum to suit an individual student's academic strengths and weaknesses, especially children who are gifted or have learning disabilities. Others are religious conservatives who see non-religious education as contrary to their moral or religious systems. Still others feel that the negative social pressures of schools, such as bullying, drugs, school violence, and other school-related problems, are detrimental to a child's development. Many parents simply like the idea of teaching their own children rather than letting someone else do so.

Number and percentage of homeschooled students, by reason for homeschooling: 1999, National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)

In the United States, reasons for homeschooling vary; religious concerns are an important, though not overwhelming, factor. According to a 2003 U.S. Census survey, the parents of 33% of homeschooled children cited religion as a factor in their choice, 30% felt the regular school had a poor learning environment, 14% objected to what the school teaches, 11% felt their children weren't being challenged at school, and 9% cited morality [7]. In 2003, the reasons most frequently reported by parents for homeschooling were: concerns about the school environment (85%); a desire to provide religious or moral instruction (72%); and dissatisfaction with academic instruction (68%)[8].

Options which make home education attractive to some families also include:

  • Allowing a longer exploratory play-oriented childhood, encouraging the development of rich imagination and pre-academic skills which can foster later academic success
  • Allowing each student to work at his or her own pace, enjoy family vacations, and integrate outside activities or current events into subjects they are studying
  • Incorporating religion, ethics, and character topics not included in most school curricula
  • Including non-traditional curricula and unusual subjects such as Latin and Greek
  • Giving extra weight to subjects of particular family interest such as art, music, or business
  • Adapting educational practices for children with learning disabilities or illnesses
  • Providing a legal option for families who wish to abstain from mandatory immunizations.
  • Providing consistency in education for families that travel or move frequently.


The Internet has made information more accessible than ever.

There is a wide variety of home education methods and materials. Many home education families base their work on a particular educational philosophy such as:

Others use a broad combination of ideas or allow the child to develop their own motivation, through what is known as unschooling.

Because home education laws vary widely according to individual government statutes, official curriculum requirements vary. [9]

Unit studies

Unit studies teach most subjects in the context of a central theme. For example, a unit study of Native Americans could combine age-appropriate lessons in: social studies, like how different tribes live now, and lived prior to colonization; art, such as making Native American clothing; history (of Native Americans in the U.S.); reading from a special reading list; and the science of plants used by Native Americans. The following unit-study subject could change to some other broad topic of study.

Supporters say unit studies make excellent use of student time by combining several fields into one study time, and permit students to follow personal interests. Unit studies also permit children of different ages to study together. For example, in a Native American unit, a 10th-grade student might make a deer-skin coat for an art project, while a 1st-grade student might make construction-paper tipis.

Home educators often purchase unit-study guides that suggest materials, projects and shopping lists, and supplement them with specialized curricula for mathematics, and sometimes reading and writing.

Special materials

Special materials focus on skill-building. Individual subject materials usually consist of workbooks, sometimes with textbooks, and an instructional guide. Many specialized subjects are only available in this form. Special materials are frequently used for math and primary reading.

Critics say that some parents over-focus on skills while excluding social studies, science, art, history and other fields that help children learn their place in the world.

All-in-one curricula

"All-in-one" curricula, sometimes called "school in a box", are comprehensive packages covering many subjects, usually an entire year's worth. They contain all needed books and materials, including pencils and writing paper. Most such curricula were developed for isolated families who lack access to public schools, libraries and shops, or are overseas.

These materials typically recreate the school environment in the home, and are typically based on the same subject-area expectations as publicly-run schools, allowing an easy transition into school if desired. They are among the most expensive options for the home-educated, but are easy to use and require minimal preparation. The instructional guides are usually extensive, with step-by-step instructions. These programs may include standardized tests, and remote examinations to yield an accredited privately-run school diploma.

Student-paced learning

Similar to All-in-one curricula are learner paced curriculum packages. Often times called paces, these workbooks allow the student to progress at an individualized speed. They allow the student to master concepts before moving on to the next subject, instead of being held back by the speed of the teacher and other students or rushing forward for the same reasons. Prices vary widely depending upon the publisher.

Community resources

Home educators take advantage of educational programs at museums, community centers, athletic clubs, after-school programs, churches, science preserves, parks, and other community resources. Secondary school level students often take classes at community colleges, which typically have open admission policies.

Eclectic curricula

The majority of today's home-educated use an eclectic mix of materials. For instance, they might use a pre-designed program for language, arts or mathematics, and fill in history with reading and field trips, art with classes at a community center, science through a homeschool science club, physical education with membership in local sports teams, and so on.


Unschooling is an area in which students are not directly instructed but encouraged to learn through exploring their interests. Also known as interest-led or child-led learning, unschooling attempts to provide opportunities with games and real life problems where a child will learn without coercion. An unschooled child may choose to use texts or classroom instruction, but it is never considered central to education.

Advocates for unschooling claim that children learn best by learning from doing. A child may learn reading and math skills from playing card games, better spelling and other writing skills because he's inspired to write a science fiction story for publication, or local history by following a zoning or historical-status dispute.

Social development

A common concern voiced about home-educated children is they lack the social interaction with peers that a school environment provides. Many home-education families address these concerns by joining numerous organizations, including home-education cooperatives, independent study programs and specialized enrichment groups for physical education, art, music, and debate. Most are also active in community groups. Home-educated children generally socialize with other children the same way that school children do: outside of school, via personal visits and through sports teams, clubs, and religious groups.

Most home education proponents have argued that their alternative actually enhances the student's social development. They argue that the school years are the only time in a person's life that he or she will be artificially segregated into chronologically-determined groups. These advocates assert that home-educated children have a more normal interaction with persons across the age spectrum. This, in turn, results in more influence on the child from adults, and less from other children, leading to more mature young citizens.

Social concerns

Opponents of home education offer criticisms concerning socialization, pointing out that not all home-education families participate sufficiently in community activities. Some of the concerns offered include:

  • Interaction with different social groups is essential to learning to live in society; a common criticism is that home-schoolers' "interaction" is solely with other home-schooled children from like-minded families.
  • Schools are a unique environment that provide students with necessary social networking skills that help them succeed in the workplace and in the politics of business. Real life includes school as well.
  • Home-educated children tend to live in an insulated world where they aren't exposed to a variety of ideas, which can impede personal growth and independence later in life.
  • If children are insulated from unpleasant social situations, then they will be left unprepared when they are inevitably left to make their own way in the world. Children should be allowed to live and learn from their mistakes rather than sheltered from reality.

Some people oppose home education because they fear that children will be exposed to an extremely narrow set of view-points and will lack the broad range of experiences gained through interaction in a larger group setting.


Home education may have a financial impact on families. In addition to purchasing school supplies and curriculum materials, parents often cut back or refrain from employment outside the home in order to supervise the child's education. This may have long-term career consequences in addition to the more immediate concerns of reduced family income. However, many such parents say that one unique benefit is the additional time they get to spend with their children. Further, in most jurisdictions the family still must pay property taxes to the local district (even if school vouchers are offered they are rarely available to homeschooling families).

Conversely, families may see a financial benefit. Families may save unspent money on the costs of tuition outside the home, such as: school fees; levies; uniforms; compulsory books and extra curricular activities, such as school sports teams or clubs.

Of course home education can be expensive if a full curriculum is purchased and many costly activities are attended. It can also be very inexpensive by using free resources, taking advantage of free facilities, such as public libraries, art galleries, parks, and gardens, and resources available on the Internet. Considering private school tuition rates could be in a range anywhere from $2,000 to $15,000 or more per year, the range of home schooling costs, $100 to $800 per year is clearly more economical.

Public opinion

Opposition to home education comes from varied sources, including organizations of teachers and school districts. One example is the National Education Association, a teachers' union, which is the largest labor union in the United States. They are on record as opposing homeschooling outright; though, in recent years they have not been as outspoken in this opposition. Opponents state concerns falling into several broad categories, including: academic quality and completeness; reduced government money for the publicly-run schools; socialization of children with peers of different ethnic and religious backgrounds; and fear of religious or social extremism. Gallup polls of American voters have shown a significant change in attitude in the last twenty years, from 73% opposed to home education in 1985 to 54% opposed in 2001 [10].

Opponents view home-educating parents as sheltering their children and denying them opportunities that are their children's right, reducing the amount of government funds publicly-run schools would receive if more children were attending the publicly-run school, and providing an unfair advantage to home-educated children over students whose parents lack the time or money for home education.

Two recent studies by the Home School Legal Defense Association, a home education advocacy group in the United States, dispute the claim that the academic quality of home education programs is substandard.[11][12]


Home education exists legally in many parts of the world. Countries with the most prevalent home education movements include the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Some countries have highly regulated home education programs which are actually an extension of the compulsory school system, while others have outlawed it entirely. In many other countries, while not restricted by law, home education is not socially acceptable and, therefore, virtually non-existent.

In many countries where home education does not exist legally, underground movements flourish where children are kept out of the compulsory school system and educated at, sometimes, considerable risk. Still, in other countries, while the practice is illegal, the governments do not have the resources to police and prosecute offenders and, as such, it takes place largely in the open.

Home education in the United States is governed by each individual state and therefore regulations vary greatly from one state to another.

See also: Legality of homeschooling in the United States

Research Results

Academic findings

The academic effectiveness of home education is largely a settled issue. Numerous studies have confirmed the academic integrity of home education programs, demonstrating that on average, home-educated students outperform their publicly-run school peers by 30 to 37 percentile points across all subjects. Moreover, the performance gaps between minorities and gender that plague publicly-run schools are virtually non-existent amongst home-educated students.[13]

Some critics argue that while home-educated students generally do extremely well on standardized tests[14], such students are a self-selected group whose parents care strongly about their education and would also do well in a conventional school environment.

Some opponents argue that parents with little training in education are less effective in teaching. However, some studies do indicate that parental income and education level affect home-educated student performance on standardized tests very little.

Home-educated student curricula often include many subjects not included in traditional curricula. Some colleges find this an advantage in creating a more academically diverse student body, and proponents argue this creates a more well-rounded and self-sufficient adult. Increasingly, colleges are recruiting home-educated students; many colleges accept equivalency diplomas as well as parent statements and portfolios of student work as admission criteria; others also require SATs or other standardized tests. Some opponents argue that home education curricula often exclude critical subjects and isolate the student from the rest of society, or presents them with ideological world views, especially religious ones.

The results of home education with gifted and learning-disabled children have not been as thoroughly studied.

Social findings

In 2003, the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI) conducted a survey of over 7,300 U.S. adults who had been home-educated (over 5,000 for more than seven years). Their findings included:

  • Home-educated graduates are active and involved in their communities. 71% participate in an ongoing community service activity, like coaching a sports team, volunteering at a school, or working with a church or neighborhood association, compared with 37% of U.S. adults of similar ages from a traditional education background.
  • Home-educated graduates are more involved in civic affairs and vote in much higher percentages than their peers. For example, 76% of surveyed between the ages of 18 and 24 voted within the last five years, compared with only 29% of the relevant U.S. population. The numbers of home-educated graduates who vote are even greater in older age groups, with voting levels not falling below 95%, compared with a high of 53% for the corresponding U.S. populace.
  • Of those adults who were home-educated, 58.9% report that they are "very happy" with life (compared with 27.6% for the general U.S. population). Moreover, 73.2% of homeschooled adults find life "exciting", compared with 47.3% of the general population.[15]

The Education Resources Information Center (ERIC), a U.S. government agency, has published multiple articles on home education. Here are excerpts from one which examined several studies on home-educated children socialization:

According to the findings, children who were educated at home "gained the necessary skills, knowledge, and attitudes needed to function in a rate similar to that of conventionally schooled children."


The researcher found no difference in the self concept of children in the two groups, and maintains that "insofar as self concept is a reflector of socialization, it would appear that few home-schooled children are socially deprived, and that there may be sufficient evidence to indicate that some home-schooled children have a higher self concept than conventionally schooled children." [16]

Proponents argue further that the social environment of traditional schools:

and that socialization in the wider community:

  • leads them to see adults, rather than peers, as role models,
  • better prepares them for real life,
  • encourages them to be more involved in youth, church, and sports organizations,
  • helps them develop an independent understanding of themselves and their role in the world, with the freedom to reject or approve conventional values without the risk of ridicule,
  • teaches children to deal with a variety of situations and people,
  • still provides for interaction with conventionally-educated children after school hours in their neighbourhood and in other after-school activities.

Notable home-educated individuals

See also