Is an only child better off not being homeschooled?

A reader asks:

>>I’m wondering — what is your opinion on homeschooling just one child? My youngest daughter wants to go to school next year, and that would leave only my son at home, who will be seven next year. On the one hand, I love how homeschooling allows him to grow at his own pace, make his own discoveries, and explore the world around him. I’m worried that putting him in school would stifle his love of learning. On the other hand, would it really work to keep just one child home, especially given that he’s my only boy? He’s just getting into playing with other boys — he used to just follow his sisters around — and I’m wondering if being around other boys would be of greater benefit to him than homeschooling. Or if I should continue homeschooling, and sign him up for as many classes as possible, and then do freelance work while he’s in class so we can actually pay for them…

What’s your opinion? Thanks!<<

Plenty of people homeschool only one child and it can work beautifully. It comes with its own advantages and disadvantages (as does everything!) but many children have thrived in this framework.  Others haven’t.  And sometimes the child thrives but the parents doesn’t, since having just one child home is parent intensive.

There are times that I doubt my homeschooling choices and periodically wonder if my kids would be better off in school.  At those times I need to recalibrate and think again about what I’m doing and why.  Sometimes I just need to consciously reconnect to my deepest values.

Sometimes, there’s an imbalance that I need to address. Am I actively living the values I espouse?  Am I too busy with home management (or something else) and not spending enough time being fully present?  Do I need to focus more time on one area, invest more in relationships, find a new way to help a child approach a skill set?  Basically, what do I need to do to be in balance again?

Perhaps you would find it helpful to take some quiet time to reclarify for yourself what your educational and parenting goals are.  If you have trusted mentors with experience homeschooling, now is a good time for some heart to heart conversations where you can honestly share your fears and conflicted feelings.  It sounds like you’re wrestling with a set of conflicting values, that of your own conscience and that of the general society around you, and that doesn’t lend itself to peace of mind!

It sounds like your big concern about homeschooling is socialization. A general principle is that the more of himself a child has before being put in a situation that can easily lead to peer dependency, the more he can maintain his sense of self when around others.  Until a child has a clear sense of himself as his own person, he’s limited in how he will benefit from the social opportunities of school.

Instead of giving you a direct response to your question, I’ll reflect your question back to you: Why and how would time with other seven year old boys be more valuable than taking an individualized approach to his educational and emotional needs along with lots of nurturing time with you?

Will these young boys model good character for him?  Will they make him kinder, more helpful, more responsible?  Will they help him overcome his rash inclinations, enhance his emotional maturation, encourage his individuality, sustain his self-esteem?  Will they value who he is and care for him unconditionally?

Play time with other kids is fun, and fun is good!  There may be benefits to you or your son for him being in school at this time.  It’s important to be able to honestly assess what is right for your family.

Get clear with yourself about what gains you expect him to have if he’s in school.  Recognize what are needs and what are wants so that the two aren’t confused when making decisions about what will best support his development and help you reach the goals you have for your family.


10 thoughts on “Is an only child better off not being homeschooled?

  1. Thank you Aviva! I really needed to read that. Both the validation of the reality- it’s VERY parent intensive, and the reality check on the benefits. Maybe a separate group list for homeschoolers of one would be a good idea h tfor a supportive community. It is really quite different.
    I appreciate your thought out response to your questioner!

    1. Shoshana, I had a guest this Shabbos (visiting from the US) who is homeschooling a thirteen year old boy who you would probably enjoy connecting with. She also said it’s very challenging homeschooling an only child – but at the same time, credits homeschooling with gains he’s made that he wouldn’t have made in school.

      1. Ongoing comment, I think I might have been the guest… And my message to my son for the last few months coming up to Bar Mitzvah, is that his learning is about what is inside of him. This has led to much more personal goal setting recently, and I have to say our daily routines are working so much better. Being Bar Mitzvah has added structure to shul attendance and learning, and outside some core requirements, he is now making all decisions about how he wants to structure his time and what he wants to study, and how he wants to study. I am constantly growing and evolving myself on this journey of homeschooling. I have 3 adult children who all homeschooled, and have all been able to chose their path successfully in life. Hope this can add to the inspiration Aviva gives here in her blog.

        1. You were the guest, Karen!

          As I see the amazing strides my ds13 has made in the last year, I keep saying out loud to my husband and kids: “The miracle of maturation!” There’s a natural developmental process that when supported appropriately is quite amazing to watch unfold.

          The challenge is that all kids don’t reach this point at the same time and some take longer than others. When it takes longer than we think it should, it takes a lot of patience and trust to believe in the process. But when it happens, like for this son – all of a sudden he’s blowing us away every day with his maturity, self-control, motivation and sensitivity.

  2. Thank you for your thought out and thought provoking response, Avivah!

    I think a big part of my doubts is a general insecurity about raising boys. My son is very different from my girls. And I don’t have any brothers either.

    But on the other hand, doesn’t every human being need to be around people who share his interests? I’ve been learning a lot about science, engineering, robotics, power tools, etc., but my interests are very different from his and I’ll never share the same fascination and passion about those things as my son has. My husband can relate to all of that much more, and they had a great time putting together and taking apart the sukkah. Watching them, I can’t help wondering if my son would benefit from more male presence in his life, not only late at night and on weekends. I also enjoy watching him interact with other boys who do share his interests. Then again, those are homeschooled boys who are free to develop and follow their interests. I don’t know if it would be the same with school kids. Although he did go to day camp in the summer and enjoyed being in an all-male environment. It really is different. And he had a Rebbe in addition to the counselors — another male role model. Any words of advice on raising boys?

    1. I don’t think being around people who share your passion is a *need*. Don’t throw that word around so casually! You’re causing yourself unnecessary pressure by thinking in absolutes.

      While as the mother of seven boys and three girls, I’m well aware that there are differences between them, my main feedback to you is that more than anything they’re individuals. Boys and girls are different, yes, but each one is an individual with his/her own interests.

      Your husband’s (limited) presence is enough of a male role model for your son at this age. As he gets older it’s likely that he’ll start to gravitate to situations in which older boys/men are involved, and with minimal input will develop those connections.

      I would have loved if my husband was more available at home over the years (as would he) but there was and is the technical detail that someone needs to be working to pay the bills. That means that he has mostly been around in the evenings and weekends. My oldest son has learned many things from my husband but he got started on home repair stuff with me. And I didn’t have experience with anything! I got out a library book and read the instructions out loud for our first project, installing kitchen cabinets in our basement for a kitchenette.

      I don’t know a lot about electronics, robotics and tons of other things that might interest one of my kids, but that’s okay. There’s a whole world of resources available – books, online lessons, kits, activities.

      Important – just because something interests a child has doesn’t mean that you have to jump into it and facilitate more learning on the topic. It’s okay for them to have an interest and explore it to the degree that it’s available at home – eg, banging with hammer and scraps of wood at home, taking apart broken electronics, playing with building toys, digging in the yard and making mud or planting seeds. You don’t have to turn everything into a curriculum!

      You know what my primary message to you is? Relax. It’s going to be okay in the end. Really. I’m not saying that in a belittling or disparaging way, but as someone who thought about all these things and worried about them, and then realized that it really didn’t matter nearly as much as I thought.

      Parenting and homeschooling aren’t nearly as hard as we make them out to be. There are so many expectations that we can bury ourselves with that don’t enhance our lives at all. Letting go of the excessive expectations allows us to let go of a lot of tension and mental energy that doesn’t serve us or our children. The challenge is recognizing what’s excessive because it often looks positive and conscientious.

      1. Apparently, the Wright brothers learned technical designing skills from their mother, Susan, who was very technical in aptitude, and whose father was not home most of the time.

  3. I have an only child, 13yo DD, who has been begging me to hs her for years. I’m finally at the point where I think it’s in her best interest to give it a try. We’re in Israel, and her Hebrew is very weak. Can you suggest a program for me to look into? I need something that will prepare her for the bagrut. We made Aliyah a year and a half ago, and she is really struggling.


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