by: Pamela Greer
Looking around at the homeschool families you know in your co-op, support group, or church, you might observe that most consist of more than one child. In fact, a 2006 National Center for Education report found that families with three or more children make up 62% of the homeschool population. If you're one of the few with an only child at home, you may be asking yourself the question, "Can I homeschool my only child?"
The emphatic answer is yes, you can. Only-child families reap the same benefits homeschooling provides to larger families. A friend who homeschooled her only son until the age of 10, when their family miraculously grew in size, reminded me that homeschooling, like anything else, is what you make it. If you sow good seed in your homeschool, you will reap an abundant harvest, regardless of the number of children in your home.
My husband and I set our hearts to homeschool our kids before we even had any. We'd been introduced to homeschooling just before our now 12-year-old was born. Our reasons for homeschooling mirrored those of most families: to educate the whole child, to keep her heart at home, to raise her with a strong Christian worldview. We paid little attention to her being an only child until I joined a homeschool support group and realized we were in the minority. Only two of the more than thirty families in my support group—including ourselves—were only-child families.
I didn't panic. Our convictions hadn't changed. We had a God-given vision for our family. I rejoiced in the benefits of only-child homeschooling I could see immediately: an abundance of one-on-one time, more freedom in choosing curriculum and activities, and more flexibility in our schedule than that already afforded by homeschooling.
But first, let's consider some of the trials you might face as you endeavor to homeschool your only child. Homeschooling an only child does provide some unique challenges, but none of them are insurmountable.
Interaction with Others
I don't believe there's a homeschooling mom out there who has not fielded questions about socialization. As an only-child family, you might feel doubly targeted. Well-intentioned friends and family argued that our daughter needed to be in a traditional school setting because she didn't have siblings to help her learn to share and work out differences. Privately, I didn't want her subjected to a classroom of same-age peers who would help shape her sense of self.
So I purposed to fill in the gaps left by the absence of brothers and sisters. One of the first lessons we taught her was respect: for herself, for others, and for things. Simple, I know; also useful as overall life values. Applied to homeschooling, these rules taught our daughter the elements of true socialization, not what society calls socialization. She was taught to respect herself in her thought life and in her image of herself as a bright, compassionate, and strong child of God. Respecting others became important when we visited the library and when listening to the instructions for her math assignment. Respect for things developed naturally out of discussions of God's creation. Caring for her own toys, the fragile things in our home, and items borrowed from friends grew out of that.
We also strove to provide opportunities for our daughter to build relationships. We involved ourselves in church and community events. We attended field trips organized by our support group. We took steps to promote friendships, scheduling time together. We joined our support group in visiting residents at a retirement home once a month, providing our daughter both the benefit of practicing her social skills and the value of being a blessing to others. These activities had as their main purpose to teach her to interact with people in all ages and stages of life.
Avoiding a Child-Centered Home
Falling into the trap of a child-centered home is a genuine concern for any parent, especially the parent of a homeschooled only child. With our child being such a large focus in our lives, how do we maintain the proper authority in our home? We make sure her responsibilities at home increase as she grows in maturity and capability. We set the example of serving others by reaching out to widowed neighbors and sick friends. We model a healthy marriage where we make time for each other as husband and wife, and we remember to put God first above all else.
One-on-One Time with Parents
Homeschooling already affords valuable quality time between parents and children. When you are homeschooling an only child, that time becomes perhaps even more beneficial. With Mom and Dad as our daughter's main playmates, we are able to focus on specific skills such as sharing and playing fairly.
Once, my husband came in from work and found our daughter and me competing fiercely in a game of Candy Land. Although it's sometimes tempting to let her win, we know that if we let her win every time, she won't know how to lose graciously. We are able to devote much of our time to nurturing her gifts and interests and embedding our values into her heart. Regardless of family size, that's one of the greatest blessings of home education.
Freedom and Flexibility
Every child is a one-of-a-kind creation of God, and homeschooling gives us the opportunity to focus on the uniqueness of each child. That's another one of the blessings we enjoy regardless of family size—which means families like ours can benefit from homeschooling just as much as anyone.
We cherish our freedom of choice. We choose the curriculum that compliments our child's learning style, the amount of time devoted to a subject, whether our child will learn cursive or Latin, workbooks or manipulatives, and on it goes.
Different Sizes, Same Blessings
As I've emphasized again and again, the blessings of homeschooling are basically the same regardless of family size. Some of the blessings may show themselves in different ways, and to some extent they may vary in quantity. For example, a family with more children enjoys more built-in opportunities to teach qualities such as cooperation and sharing, while a family with only one child enjoys greater flexibility in choosing curriculum and activities. In both cases, the versatility of homeschooling allows families to customize their approach, take advantage of built-in strengths, and fill in potential areas of weakness. That's the great advantage of homeschooling—it's customizable, flexible, and adaptable to the unique circumstances of your family.
The Journey Is Worth It
What I want to impress upon you, the parent of an only child wondering about pressing on, is this: the journey is still worth it. It may take some creative thinking on your part, but if God has given you the vision to homeschool your child, nothing is impossible with Him. "He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6).
Pamela Greer lives in the beautiful Pacific Northwest with her husband and 12-year-old daughter. When the homeschool day is done, she can be found curled up with a good book, hiking in the great outdoors, gardening, or baking.
This article was originally published in the Mar/Apr 2010 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine.