I think we need to kick this off by calling out the elephant in the room:
What parent doesn’t mess things up?
We’re all trying to do our best, but perfection is impossible. Being a perfect parent, providing your child with a perfect life, is impossible. Public school, private school, homeschool, unschool…the flavour of ‘education’ you layer into life can never change the fact that you're human. You're fallible. You'll make mistakes.
You'll do your best to correct them, learn from them, and do better next time. But the fact is that no matter what path we take we’re all having a huge impact on our children’s lives. And we’re probably all ‘messing it up’ in different ways.
But I get that this feeling is more acute when you take on the ‘education’ side of life, so let me give you some reassurance that’s specific to that. If you’re worried about the impact of homeschooling at a broader life level, it probably comes down to two areas: your child's potential career, and their social life. Because you're probably less worried about messing things up for them right now, and more about what might happen in their adult lives.
So let’s start with the career bit, which really has two parts - getting a qualification, and getting a job. And I separate those two things for good reason, because they are nowhere near as closely related now as they were a few decades ago.
Fact: homeschooled kids can enrol at almost any college or university.
Fact: choosing to homeschool does not close college doors.
It’ll take a little more work to prepare an application, sure, but I’m yet to meet a homeschooler that’s afraid of a little hard work for the right outcome. Harvard, for example, doesn’t even evaluate homeschooled applications any differently to the ones coming out of public school. It’s a level playing field. Those high school diplomas are far from make-or-break.
What’s more, many top colleges are now actively recruiting homeschoolers.
Why? Because the research so far (like this, this and this) is showing us that - on average - homeschoolers are outperforming their schooled peers in entrance exams, are completing their first year of study with higher average marks, and are going on to graduate at higher rates.
And why is that happening?
Because of the fundamentally different outcome of living a life where you're told what to do, and a life where you have significant say. Because of the major difference between being driven by external measures or internal motivation.
Generally, homeschooled children have more autonomy in each day (if you haven’t read my thoughts on the importance of that, it’s the first piece in a four part series on motivation), and through that autonomy they’re developing a set of very useful skills. Skills like critical thinking, problem solving, and the ability to self-direct discovery and learning. These skills are highly valued in higher education. Not to mention the fact that when these homeschooled kids arrive at a place like university, they’re generally clearer on why they’re there and what they want to get out of it. They're not just there because that's what you do when you've finished school. They're not just there because they've been told they should be. They've likely made an intentional decision to attend with a specific end goal in mind, and worked hard to make their entrance application successful on those grounds.
But I think just dwelling on the qualification piece is a trap, because so many teenagers and young adults go on to attend universities and colleges when they really don’t need to. So it’s also important to remember that not everyone should set out to walk the higher education path. In fact, I would argue that far less need to pursue that level of qualification than those who don't.
See, those skills we talked about earlier - the critical thinking, the problem solving, the self-directed learning - apply to all of life. And guess what? The best employers value those skills too. Really value them.
(I’ve hired a lot of people for some really great roles in some really great companies, and I can promise those skills and attributes are extremely important. Far more so than a 'formal qualification')
Sure, you will need to train to become a teacher or lawyer. No, you will not be able to walk into an operating room and perform surgery without the necessary training and qualifications first. But the list of professions that require - as in, really require - a formal qualification is shortening drastically. Just Google the impact of technology and AI on professional careers. Not in the far-distant-future, but right now. The list of traditional jobs undergoing significant change will surprise you, and the impact all this is having on what our children’s adult lives will look like is immense. Formal education - and in particular, a formal qualification - is becoming less and less widely relevant, and more and more niche, by the day.
In summary: if a homeschooler needs a degree they can simply go and get it. And from the research so far, they’ll be just as successful in doing so (and possibly even more) as anyone coming out of the school system. But maybe - like my children, so far - they’ll decide they don’t even need that piece of paper at all.
Either way, choosing to homeschool will categorically not mess up your child's future career prospects.
Ok, now the social thing.
Did you know that there’s actually research (seriously) that suggests home educated children are more deeply connected to the community around them? That they more actively participate in their local neighbourhoods in various ways, connecting with people of different ages and from different walks of life more often? That they take up more social and extracurricular activities every week, on average, than school children?
Now obviously that varies from family to family, and obviously it takes some effort. Homeschooling families generally need to be more intentional in seeking out opportunities for their children to interact with different people, in different environments, because it's not just ‘built in’ to life like it is with school. But the key thing is that you get to tailor those opportunities, and that exposure, to who your child is. Maybe they’re more extroverted and crave continual connection and experiences. But maybe they’re not. Maybe they're way more introverted, and find too much interaction exhausting. With school you get what you get, whoever you are. With homeschooling, your child gets what they need. If you’re clear on what that is, and how it should evolve as your child grows, you can help support it.
Remember: true ‘socialisation’ is not just about being surrounded by other kids regularly. It’s having the opportunity to engage with the community, and to develop meaningful relationships with other people we naturally connect with (of all ages!). Because it’s these experiences and connections that allow children to see life from different perspectives, and to develop empathy, understanding and effective communication.
To me, this is the true meaning of socialisation. And often what’s completely missing from a hectic playground environment during a classroom break.
To bring this to a close, I want you to walk away from this post knowing something: homeschooling or unschooling will not inherently "mess up" a child's life. It is just a different path, with a totally different set of opportunities and challenges. All parents, regardless of the path they take through life, will make mistakes. No path, to or from anywhere, can prevent that. Just have faith in your ability to guide and support your children, and know that the most important thing you can give them is the knowledge that they are loved, valued, and supported.
Provide that, and I can promise you won’t mess them up.
(at least, no more than any of the rest of us 😂)