CHILDREN’S PERCEPTIONS OF THEIR HOME SCHOOLING EXPERIENCES
Don C. Adams, Ph.D.
Lewisburg, Pennsylvania 17837
Shannon R. Purdy, M.Ed.
West Shore School District
PO Box 803
New Cumberland, Pennsylvania 17070
Keywords: Homeschooling, home schooling, home education, experiences.
The rapid growth of home schooling during the past two decades (Marlow, 1994; Natale, 1992), from less than 50,000 to as many as 1 million students (Churbuck, 1993; Ramsey, 1992; Rieseberg, 1995), prompted extensive research to investigate parental motivations for choosing home schooling for their children (Mayberry, 1989, 1993; Mayberry & Knowles, 1989; Van Galen, 1987). These parental motivations include meeting the unique needs of their children, dissatisfaction with public or private school systems, a desire to instill certain values or ideals into their children, a desire to foster closer relationships with their children, and an inherent belief that education is the responsibility of the parent as opposed to the responsibility of the government (Bell & Leroux, 1992; Holt, 1981, p. 13; Mayberry, 1989; Van Galen, 1988).
Past research has indicated that parents often express their motivation for home schooling as a complex combination of the above reasons. Two major orientations, however, appear most common: those that relate to a concern for developing a specific set of values or ideals and those related to a concern for the academic and social development of the child (Knowles, Marlow, & Muchmore, 1992; Marlow, 1994). Extensive research concerning the impact of these two parental orientations has been conducted, particularly as these orientations relate to curriculum decisions made by home educating parents (Marlow, 1994). Conversely, an area that has received limited attention is the impact of these two orientations on children’s perceptions of their home schooling experience. Research to this point in time has focused predominantly on gathering interview data from home educating parents regarding their perceptions of home schooling effectiveness (Charvoz, 1988; Knowles, 1989; McGraw, Bergen, & Schumm, 1993). A few studies have also made attempts to quantify information related to parental motivations for home schooling (See, e.g., Wartes, 1988). However, studies designed to investigate the relationship between parental reasons for home schooling and children’s perceptions of their home schooling experience are absent in the literature. If a major parental motivation for home educating children is to address their unique individual needs (Lines, 1987; Van Galen, 1987), then one important measure of whether or not those needs have been met is home schooled children’s perceptions of their educational experience. It is for this reason that this study investigates the effect of parents’ motivations for home schooling on children’s perceptions of their home schooling experience.
Perceptions of children’s home schooling experiences were investigated in two academic areas, reading and mathematics. These two areas were selected because home schooling laws in many states require home educated students to take standardized tests as a measure of their academic success (Ramsey, 1992). Past research has also used math and reading scores as measures of effectiveness of home education programs (Wartes, 1988).
Children’s perceptions of their home schooled experiences were also measured in two social areas, frequency of playing games with friends and interaction with other home educated children. Social areas were included because of criticism that home education programs often “short change” students (Ramsey, 1992, p. 22). Critics of home schooling state that public and private schools have definite socialization advantages and “question whether even the most active and outgoing home-school environment can compete with the socialization offered in more traditional school settings” (Rieseberg, 1995, p. 14). Frequency of playing games with friends and interaction with other home schooled children were selected as measures of socialization for two reasons. First, the researchers believed that both of these items represented attempts by the family to provide socialization opportunities for their children. Second, because the survey targeted children from a wide age range, the researchers felt these two items represented questions of limited complexity which both preadolescents and adolescents had knowledge of and could answer accurately.
In addition to parental reasons for home schooling, there are three additional areas which were investigated in this study. McGraw, Bergen, and Schumm (1993) identify the amount of interaction between parent and child, parental experience with home schooling, and age of the home schooled child as three areas that have received limited attention in the literature. Interviews with home schooling parents identify home schooling experience and time spent with children in educational activities as keys to effective home education programs (Divoky, 1983). Age of child has been identified as influencing effectiveness of home instruction, because as children become older, they become more self-directed in their learning; therefore their home schooling experiences may differ from younger children (Lines, 1987). Time spent daily on home schooling, years of parental experience with home schooling, and the age of the home schooled child therefore have the potential of influencing children’s perceptions of their home schooling experience. It is for this reason that these three variables were investigated for both their main effects and their interaction effects with parental motivations for home schooling.
Review of the Literature
Past research identifies two broad orientations for parents choosing to home school their children, those related to concerns for the academic and social needs of children and those related to a concern for the morals and values that children are learning (Knowles, Marlow, & Muchmore, 1992; Marlow, 1994). Van Galen (1988) describes these two broad orientations using the term ideologues and pedagogues. Ideologues choose to teach their children at home in order “to reinforce a way of life and system of beliefs” (Mayberry, 1989, p. 175). This “way of life” often conflicts with formal school curricula of public schools. Objections of ideologues to formal school curricula often center on values issues related to religious preference. Parents perceive the public schools as having “secular humanist” curricula and do not want to integrate secularism into their way of life (Mayberry & Knowles, 1989). These parents choose to teach their children at home so that an appropriate set of values and morals, consistent with their religion, can be developed in their children.
In contrast to parents who wish to instill a certain set of religious values, are parents who are concerned with a broader moral and social context. Marlow (1994) identifies a growing number of these ideological parents, who respond to a broader set of societal changes and perceive these changes to be detrimental to their children. This set of parents is characterized as being “motivated by perceived threats to particular moral understandings and a desire to reinforce and protect the beliefs and values to provide a stable world view and guide to life” (Marlow, 1994, p. 441). These parents therefore choose home schooling because the family is viewed as the institution that teaches, reinforces, and preserves traditional societal values.
However, not all ideologues object to public school curricula on values issues related to religious or broader societal values. Another group of ideologues are categorized as New Agers. New Agers feel that parents, as primary caretakers of their children, are in the best position to provide educational experiences which emphasize the worth of the individual (Mayberry, 1989). Public schools are seen as fragmented by the emphasis placed on separate subject areas, grades, and controlled movements, and therefore represent ideals which are contrary to the New Age philosophy which promotes a “oneness and interrelatedness of all reality” (Mayberry, 1989, p. 175). New Agers therefore home educate based on a value system that promotes the worth of the individual in a holistic approach, unfettered by artificial grade and subject divisions.
Whether parents have a New Age, religious, or wider societal orientation, home schooling parents who are characterized as ideologues choose to educate their children at home because of values issues. To ensure that appropriate values are taught, the home school curriculum used by ideological parents is tightly controlled in its content (Mayberry, 1989). These curricula are often purchased in a prepackaged form and encourage a very structured, traditional teaching style on the part of the parent (Marlow, 1994).
Pedagogues, in contrast to ideologues, choose to home educate their children because they have deep misgivings about the quality of education in formal school settings (Knowles, Marlow, & Muchmore, 1992; Marlow, 1994; Mayberry, 1989; Van Galen, 1988). These parents are concerned with addressing the special academic and social needs of their children and the formal schools’ inability to provide learning environments conducive to the academic and social development of their children. Strategies, such as individualized instruction and integration of learning opportunities through experiential learning, are often key components of home education programs provided by parents who home school for pedagogical reasons (Marlow, 1994; Meadows, Abel, & Karnes, 1992). These parents are described as being more progressive in their approach to education, emphasizing the innate curiosity and interests of children. Therefore, instead of a tightly controlled curriculum, the curriculum of parents, who home school for pedagogical reasons, encourages discovery and the pursuit of individual student interests. This in turn promotes a teaching style which is less didactic (Marlow, 1994).
Because these two different orientations, pedagogical and ideological, appear to encourage different types of curricula and different types of instruction on the part of the parent, what effect does this have on the way children perceive their educational experience? If parental motivation for home schooling is aligned more tightly with an ideological orientation, will parents, in their effort to control the curriculum, also try to control socialization and other relationships, limiting contact to a more select group of peers such as other children who are being home schooled? Will children, whose parents are more pedagogically driven, perceive themselves as being more proficient in content areas such as math and reading, because the emphasis is more on academics as opposed to the teaching of values? These are major research questions which were investigated in this study.
Within these two groups of home schoolers, pedagogues and ideologues, variability exists with respect to the age of children being home educated, parental experience in home schooling, and time spent in the daily educational process. Each of these variables has also been shown in past research to influence the learning of children. These variables were therefore investigated with respect to their interaction effects with parental motivation for home schooling.
Time spent daily on home schooling was investigated as a variable because past research on effective instruction indicates that time spent in the learning process is critical for student achievement (Brophy & Good, 1986; Stallings, 1980). Increasing time spent on areas such as reading and mathematics has consistently produced increases in student achievement (Fullan, 1991; Fullan & Miles, 1992; Levine & Lezotte, 1995). In the case of home schoolers, time requirements for instruction, which are comparable to the state-required time constraints of formal schools, have been eliminated through court battles and legislation (Marlow, 1994). Therefore a specific amount of time required for instruction in each subject area is generally not mandated for home schoolers. Home educators also often emphasize integrated approaches to instruction, therefore making it difficult to separate the amount of time spent on reading, social studies, mathematics and other subject areas (Marlow, 1994; Meadows, Abel, & Karnes, 1992). For these reasons, time in this study focused on parents’ reports of overall time spent in formal instruction as opposed to time spent in the specific subject areas of math and reading.
Age of child was specifically chosen as a variable because of the changing nature of peer relationships as children get older. As children move into adolescence, peer groups take on increasing significance in a child’s life (Comer, 1993; Ianni, 1989; Medway & Cafferty, 1992). Adolescent children, contrasted with preadolescent children, are more likely to use the peer group as a reference group. That is, the attitudes and aspirations of peers in adolescents’ lives are a measure by which adolescents judge the worth of their own aspirations and the appropriateness of their attitudes and values (Levine & Levine, 1996). Because of the increasing influence of peers as children move into adolescence, will home schooling parents promote interactions with other home schooled children more for adolescents than preadolescents? Will children, whose parents home school primarily for the purpose of teaching values, perceive that their network of friends is being more directed toward other home schoolers than pedagogical parents who are more oriented toward academics and experiential learning (Marlow, 1994; Meadows, et. al., 1992)? These two research questions served as the focus for the investigation on age of child.
Parental years of experience in home schooling was chosen to explore the possible support systems and skills that parents may develop with increased experience in home schooling. Parental confidence in their home schooling abilities and the ability to locate educational materials and make connections with other home schooling families appear to increase with experience in home schooling (Churbuck, 1993; Pitman, 1987). Length of home schooling experience also appears to increase the ability of home schooling parents to be more innovative and individualistic in their instruction (Marlow, 1994). Establishing connections, locating materials, and developing lessons is an ongoing process for families who choose to home school so no specific years of experience can be identified that make a parent “proficient” at home schooling. Because of the greater connections with other home schooling families and increased parental ability to provide quality educational experiences, children whose parents had more home schooling experience were predicted to perceive both greater opportunities for social interaction with friends and other home schooled children and higher levels of academic proficiency in both math and reading. Two years of experience was established as the dividing line on experience in this study because of the challenges that parents express during their first year of home schooling (Divoky, 1983).
Method and Data Source
A 25-question survey, designed to assess children’s perceptions of their academic and social experiences in home schooling, was completed by the home schooled children in 70 home schooling families. The questionnaire asked students to respond on a six-choice Likert-type scale (1 = Strongly Disagree, 2 = Disagree, 3 = Sometimes Disagree, 4 = Sometimes Agree, 5 = Agree, and 6 = Strongly Agree) to questions such as “I think I am good at math,” “I think I am a good reader,” “I often play games with my friends,” and “Most of my friends are also home schooled.” In addition to the 25 questions, children were asked to respond to three open-ended questions, “What are your after school activities (sports/clubs/music)?,” “Is there anything you would like to do differently in your home school?,” and “What do you like most about being home schooled?”
Eighty-two families were identified through a regional home schoolers’ network. Three parents, who were members of the network, volunteered to distribute surveys to the families in the network. The network was a regional organization of home schooling families and was not affiliated with any particular religion or broader state network. Surveys were returned by mail by each individual family. Of the 82 surveys distributed, 70 were returned, two of which were eliminated due to insufficient data. Five surveys also contained incomplete information, resulting in differences in the number of respondents used in specific analyses. Within the 68 families who returned usable surveys, 103 children responded to the survey. Of the 103 children, 55 were male and 48 were female. Fifty-eight of the children had parents who were classified as ideologues; 45 of the children had parents who were classified as pedagogues. The children represented 26 different counties in a northeastern state. Sixty-nine children lived in rural or small town geographic locations and 34 children lived in suburban/urban geographic locations. Ages of the children ranged from 8 to 17 years with the majority of subjects falling between 10 and 14 years of age. Of the 68 couples, all but one had the mother as the main educator of the children in the family. All 68 families had intact marriages, that is, a mother and father were present in each of the households.
A separate parental survey asked parents to report specific demographic information including personal reasons for home schooling, age of home schooled children, formal hours spent daily in home schooling, and number of years parents had been home schooling. With respect to reasons for home schooling, parents were given a list of four major reasons why parents choose to home school and asked to select the reason which best represented their primary motivation for home schooling their child(ren). Two reasons corresponding to values or morals (ideological reasons) were “For religious reasons or disagreement with the secular curriculum of the public school system” and “Concern with instilling cultural beliefs and values in our child/children.” Two reasons corresponding to academic or social concerns (pedagogical reasons) were “Concern with the quality of education provided by the public school system or a desire to address the special academic needs of our child/children” and “Concern with the public school’s ability to provide our child/children with a learning environment conducive to their social development.” The terms ideologue/ideological and pedagogue/pedagogical are used in this study for the convenience of presenting data relative to the above reasons. Parents were also encouraged to provide additional explanations of their reasons for home schooling in space provided on the survey. In seven cases parents felt that none of the four reasons represented their primary reason for home schooling and provided written explanations only. These seven explanations were reviewed and classified independently by each of the researchers. In two cases where the researchers could not determine a primary reason for home schooling, the surveys were eliminated from the study.
The hypotheses and research questions were tested by means of a 2 x 2 factorial design. Independent variables were parental reasons for home schooling (pedagogical, ideological) with stratification on age of home schooled child (11 or younger, 12 or older), formal hours spent daily in home schooling (4 or less, more than 4), and number of years parents had been home schooling (less than 2, 2 or more). Dependent variables were children’s perceptions of their reading ability, mathematical ability, frequency of playing games with friends, and having friends who are home schooled.
The ANOVA for the effect of parental reasons for home schooling on children’s perceptions of their mathematics and reading ability produced no significant main effects, but produced two significant interactions for reading. No significant interactions were found for mathematics. The first interaction effect was for parental reasons for home schooling by number of hours parents spend on formal education per day, F(1, 89) = 6.45, p < .05. Children whose parents home schooled for pedagogical reasons and spent four hours per day or less on formal education (M = 5.61) had perceptions that their reading ability was more proficient than children whose parents were pedagogues and taught for more than four hours per day (M = 5.09). Conversely children whose parents home schooled for ideological reasons and spent more than four hours per day on formal instruction (M = 5.65) had perceptions that their reading ability was more proficient than ideologues who spent four hours per day or less on formal instruction (M = 5.27).
The ANOVA for the effect of parental reasons for home schooling on children’s perceptions of their reading ability also produced a significant interaction for parental reasons for home schooling by age of home schooled child F(1, 93) = 4.68, p < .05. Children who were 12 years or older and whose parents home schooled for ideological reasons (M = 5.70) perceived their reading ability as more proficient than similar age children whose parents home schooled for pedagogical reasons (M = 5.00).
The ANOVA for the effect of parental reasons for home schooling on children’s perceptions of how frequently they play games with friends produced no significant main effects, but produced a significant interaction for parental reasons for home schooling x age of home schooled child, F(1, 95) = 7.82, p < .01. Of children ages 12 or older, children whose parents home schooled them for ideological reasons (M = 5.25) had perceptions of a greater frequency of playing games with friends than same-age children whose parents home schooled them for pedagogical reasons (M = 3.95).
The ANOVA for the effect of parental reasons for home schooling on children’s perceptions that most of their friends are also home schooled produced no main effects but produced a significant interaction for parental reasons for home schooling x number of years parents had been home schooling, F(1, 94) = 7.33, p < .01. Children whose parents home schooled for ideological reasons and had more than two years of home schooling experience (M = 4.14) had perceptions that more of their friends were home schooled than children of similarly experienced parents who home schooled for pedagogical reasons (M = 3.14).
Discussion and Significance of Study
The results of this study are important because they explore home education from a viewpoint that has received little attention; that is, the child’s viewpoint. In addition, this study also extends our knowledge of factors that influence children’s perceptions of their home schooling experience through a quantitative analysis, as opposed to the qualitative analyses that appear commonly in the literature. Parental reasons for home schooling, in this study, interacted with hours spent on formal home schooling, age of student, and parental experience in home schooling to impact children’s perceptions of their home schooling experiences.
With respect to perceptions of reading ability, greater time spent on formal education appears to be a significant factor that positively affects children of ideologues, but negatively impacts on children of pedagogues. Because many pedagogues place a high premium on academic success (Mayberry, 1989; Mayberry & Knowles, 1989), pedagogues who formally educate for longer periods of time may be focusing strictly on improvements in content areas thus subtly sending the message to their children that they are not academically proficient. Conversely, ideologues, who are more interested in values and creating family relationships (Mayberry, 1989; Mayberry & Knowles, 1989; Marlow, 1994), may include a greater balance of content and social activities, thus creating a more supportive learning environment as instructional time increases. These findings may be particularly valuable for parents who are currently home schooling or planning to home school their children. As parents structure their home education program, knowing how one’s reasons for home schooling and time spent on formal education impact their children’s attitudes, may assist parents in providing an appropriate balance between formal instruction and informal experiential activities.
The results of this study also call attention to differences that children of pedagogues and ideologues perceive with regard to their reading ability; that is, adolescent children of ideologues perceive their reading ability to be more proficient than adolescent children of pedagogues. Mayberry and Knowles (1989) describe pedagogues as perceiving a need to set high academic expectations and push their children to reach their potential. Therefore pedagogical parents may be placing greater academic pressure on their adolescent children than ideologues. This pressure may subsequently create perceptions, in children of pedagogues, that their academic proficiency is lacking in quality. It is also conceivable that this sample of pedagogues contained many parents whose primary motivation was to create a “safe learning environment for their children” (Mayberry & Knowles, 1989, p. 219). Therefore their emphasis may have been less focused on actual academic proficiency and more focused on creating a nurturing environment for learning.
As with time spent in education, age of one’s children may impact children’s perceptions of reading ability. The interaction of age of child and time spent on formal instruction with parental reasons for home schooling, in affecting children’s perceptions of their reading ability, suggests the importance of self-reflection on the part of home schooling parents when planning their child(ren)’s educational program. By understanding the potential impact of a child’s age and the time spent in formal education, home schooling parents may be better able to design educational programs which will result in greater perceptions of academic proficiency on the part of their children.
Children’s perceptions of opportunities to play with friends and the exposure to a wider or narrower group of friends (as represented by having mostly friends who are home schooled) were two additional areas that appear to be influenced by parental reasons for home schooling, age of home schooled child, and home schooling experience of parents. A reason for the differences between adolescent children of ideologues and pedagogues, with respect to playing with friends, may be that academic pressure placed on children of pedagogues, particularly as they enter adolescence, alters their perception of having time to engage in as many peer relationships. Information gathered from open-ended questions on the child survey also indicated that ideologues create opportunities for socialization within existing institutions such as the church. The role of religiously affiliated organizations in providing opportunities for socialization is supported by previous research (Meadows, Abel, & Karnes, 1992). Interaction with peers in activities like church youth group and choir may create perceptions of more frequent social interactions on the part of children of ideologues.
A possible reason for differences between children of ideologues and of pedagogues, in their perceptions of relationships with other home schooled children, may be that ideologues, once they have been home schooled for more than two years, become networked with home schooling organizations and religious groups which also have children who are home schooled (Churbuck, 1993). The availability of religious institutions to ideologues may offer opportunities for parental contacts and student socialization that are not typically available to pedagogues. Thus, children of ideologues may have more frequent contact with peers and home schooled children.
Connecting children with appropriate peer role models is a concern that parents express, regardless of their reasons for home schooling. Understanding how experience as a home educator, age of the home schooled child, and reasons for home education affect children’s perceptions of their socialization is important in helping plan an educational program which promotes the type and level of interaction that home educating parents desire for their children.
In addition to being of value to home schooling parents, information gained from this study could also be of great value to public school officials. The current working relationship between many public schools and home schooling parents is strained (Ramsey, 1992), often due to public school officials’ perceptions that home schooled children will be negatively affected both academically and socially (Knowles, 1989). Perceptions of school officials, particularly superintendents, “are based on preconceived notions rather than on detailed discussions with the parent educators (Mayberry, Knowles, Ray, & Marlow, 1995, p. 92). Providing accurate, empirically-based information to school administrators about parental reasons for home schooling and their children’s social and academic experiences may eliminate some of these inaccurate perceptions on the part of public school educators which are responsible for many of the negative attitudes that public school officials have toward home educators. Accurate information, gained through empirical studies, may therefore create more positive, cooperative relationships between public schools and home schooling families. It is this positive relationship between home schooling families and the public schools which John Holt (1983) described more than a decade ago as a symbiotic relationship which has great potential for improving the educational opportunities of both home schooled and public schooled students.
Some caution should be used in interpreting the results of this study. The authors did not subdivide ideologues into New Agers or religious-oriented, nor did they subdivide pedagogues into those primarily interested in socialization and those interested primarily in academics. A larger sample that would have permitted this analysis would have strengthened the study and provided greater insight as to how parental reasons for home schooling affect their children’s perceptions of their home schooling experience. Readers are also cautioned to note that although the findings of this study represent statistically significant differences, mean scores of all groups indicate that home educated children, in general, have positive perceptions of their reading ability and perceive numerous opportunities to interact with friends.
As more parents consider home schooling as an alternative to public schooling, the need for research-based information to assist both home schooling families and public school officials will increase. It is through the communication and dissemination of knowledge, that home schooling families can enhance their education practice and greater understandings can develop between home schooling families and public schools.
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