Before Mandy Davis began homeschooling her children, she was their school principal. “I still even felt at arm’s length to my own children’s learning,” she tells Yahoo Life. “I wanted my children to have an education that respects their individuality and fosters their natural curiosities.”
Across the country, record numbers of Americans are opting to homeschool for a host of different reasons, from wanting education to be more individualized, to instances of bullying, to fears of a school shooting, to anxiety about politics defining the curriculum. In some states, the rate of homeschooling has doubled since the pandemic.
A 2023 study by the Washington Post confirmed that homeschooling is the fastest-growing form of education in the country, estimating that between 1.9 million and 2.7 million American children are homeschooled — up from 1.5 million in 2019. The popularity also ranges across political, religious and geographic demographics.
“It was a hard reality, as an educator and principal, to understand that the kind of reform our school system needs will simply not happen in our children’s academic lifetime,” Davis, who lives on a homestead in Oregon, shares about her decision to take the homeschool plunge. “It was time to make a change and prioritize their future.”
Homeschooling is historically a controversial form of education. There are the stereotypes of the sheltered homeschool kid, as well as the roots of homeschooling initially being in the world of progressive education but moving quickly to evangelical Christianity. There is also the reality that a lack of regulations makes homeschool curricula and homeschool children’s safety largely unmonitored.
Elizabeth Bartholet, professor emeritus at Harvard Law School, has written extensively about the risks of homeschooling in its current form. To Yahoo Life she lists those risks as: inadequate education, children’s lack of protection from abuse and neglect, and children’s lack of exposure to different viewpoints. She also notes the larger societal risks, including its risk to democracy. “Homeschooling as practiced today, absent any significant regulation, allows and encourages this dangerous dividing of society into hostile groups with little understanding of each other,” she says.
“As an organization, we don’t believe there’s any state that has adequate policies in place to protect children,” Angela Grimberg, executive director at the Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE), an organization entirely staffed by homeschool alums, tells Yahoo Life. “The states that do have policies, there’s no enforcement of those policies. There are 11 states in the country that don’t require any notification requirement at all — so in those 11 states, you don’t even have to tell your local school district about your intent to homeschool.”
Still, American families from all 50 states homeschool their children, and, thanks to social media, many are finding new ways to access curriculum ideas, form community and share how to make this version of education work. “I’m actively involved in sharing educational resources and insights through my website and YouTube channel,” shares Davis, whose Instagram boasts over 125,000 followers. “This allows me to extend my passion for education beyond my home, reaching other families and educators.”
Homeschooling is also a massive time commitment for families, often, but not always, requiring one parent to exclusively focus on the children’s education. That said, in some families both parents work and both share homeschooling responsibilities. “We both work from home and are flexible,” says homeschool mom and writer Sarah Menkedick. “If one of us has a big thing, the other one sort of takes over.”
Why these families chose homeschooling
For the DeBruin family in Texas, homeschooling began after a few traditional schools didn’t work out for their oldest daughter. “It was a huge leap for us,” says Candice DeBruin, who began homeschooling when her child, who is now in college, was in second grade. “To me, homeschoolers were weird. I wanted nothing to do with that. I never wanted to be a teacher. But there was nothing else available that fit Madison’s needs at the time. So we just did it.” As her two daughters got older, she and her husband gave them the choice every year to return to traditional school. “They would go for visits every year and they both picked to stay home,” says DeBruin. “They enjoy what we do.”
Kara Hance, who homeschools her ninth grade daughter and fifth grade son in California, grew up being homeschooled herself, so the choice was always on her radar. But when her daughter began to be bullied in kindergarten, she decided to consider it for her own family. “Nothing seemed to be changing, so I just decided I’ll homeschool her until we figure this out,” she says. “After that, we really just didn’t look back.”
In Pennsylvania, Menkedick decided to homeschool her daughter after a confluence of things, including what she calls her “post-COVID reckoning.” For her this included the disenchantment of watching her daughter do pandemic Zoom school, safety issues upon the return to school, racial dynamics that left her uncomfortable as a parent to a daughter of color, and the cherry on top — a professional opportunity that will temporarily relocate her family to Samoa. “It was a very slow burn of reading more about it and being like, ‘Oh, you can do this in a way where it’s not school at home, where you’re not doing math worksheets — you’re just living your life,” says Menkedick. “It was a whole life philosophy for me of not having your kid in a system that seems really deadening.”
A typical day for a homeschool student
There is no one-size-fits-all to a homeschool day, and that seems to be one of the things families love most about it. “We have a school room, so that way they had a place where they could go that is just for school. But sometimes school is out at the kitchen table, or in the car on the way to something, or on a plane; school happens everywhere,” shares DeBruin.
In Oregon, Davis notes that her family blends structured academic subjects, creative projects and time outside. “We maintain a flexible schedule that adapts to the children’s needs and interests on any given day,” she says. “The goal is constantly: Pair life with learning.”
What the curriculum looks like
“I make sure we’re hitting all the state requirements and I have a teacher who holds me accountable to that,” says Hance from California. “It’s given me the freedom to really explore with them — their personalities, their interests.”
Hance works with a charter school to help determine her children’s curriculum. “The problem with the public school system is that it’s so one-size-fits-all and kids are just not like that,” she says. When she decided to start homeschooling her daughter, she found that the charter school offered more flexibility. “Through [them] I was able to basically pick her curriculum based on the needs she had and the interests that she had and the way that she learned.”
In Texas, DeBruin used purchasable curricula when her children were younger but changed things up as coursework got more advanced. “By the time they got older, we hired outside teachers and private teachers,” she says. “I’m the coordinator.” In high school, the family turned to the guidance of a private college counselor to help them find courses for the girls online. “We take a lot of AP-certified classes with some of the best teachers in the country,” she shares. “They’ve taken classes on how to read hieroglyphics, with adults, because they wanted to. I mean, you just don’t get the opportunity when you have to be in a chair from 8 to 3:30.”
Davis uses a combination of techniques. “Our homeschooling blends structured learning with flexibility. While my children learn independently according to their grade levels, we also use programs like Outschool for collaborative learning experiences,” she notes. “Our approach is about balancing structured academics with the freedom to explore their interests.”
What about socializing?
“I think homeschooling is kind of a poor choice of words for the way most people I know homeschool,” says DeBruin. “We took a ton of classes with other kids at the museum downtown, at the arboretum, at the zoo. There’s groups that you can socialize with. In each area there are large homeschooling groups with recesses and stuff.”
Adds Davis, “Socialization is a key component of our homeschooling. My children are involved in activities like youth group and dance, which provide ample opportunities for interaction and social growth. We’re intentional about incorporating social activities into our routine.”
How to make homeschooling safe for kids
In many states, no government oversight is involved in homeschooling. “What this has allowed is a loophole in the system where children are able to fall through the cracks,” CRHE’s Grimberg says. “And abusers are able to take advantage of these loops in the system to further isolate and abuse and neglect their children.”
As for how people are working to make homeschooling safer for all children, Bartholet’s recommendations include making sure children are tested and parents are qualified and also screened for prior abuse and neglect histories.
Grimberg notes CRHE’s advocacy work. “We are advocating for getting commonsense policy recommendations that have been modeled after what responsible homeschooling parents are already doing,” she says. “There’s homeschooling parents that are among our supporters because of this.”
Both Grimberg and Bartholet agree that in some cases homeschooling can be a positive for kids. “Children that are homeschooled for reasons such as a disability or because of discrimination, they actually outperform their peers in several subjects. It is valuable for some children,” Grimberg says. “We just want to be sure that it’s being done responsibly.”