The home as the location of a child’s formal education is not a new phenomenon. According to Whitehead and Bird (1984), home schooling was once considered the primary form of education in America. In fact, many of this country’s earliest leaders and intellectuals were home educated (Taylor, 1986). Home schooling today, however, is a contradiction in the general trend towards dual‑career marriages and the concomitant increase in child care outside the home. Arons (1983) points out “…it is hardly surprising that we have all but abandoned the urge to participate in the education of our children in favor of the ease of institutional schooling. To do otherwise would be impractical and inconsistent with our lifestyle” (p. 88). Home schooling has been tried by many different people for a variety of reasons, but it basically involves the parental decision to maintain the locus of power and control over a child’s learning at home.


In the past ten years, research concerning home schooling and home school families has begun to appear in the literature with greater frequency. In general, this research has had an orientation toward educational issues, with the exception of studies by Williams (1984), Reynolds and Williams (1985), Greene (1984), and Taylor (1986). The literature has lacked studies which focus on the structural and interactional aspects of home school families. Most research has also not focused on or identified any significant patterns or similarities to home school families, outside of demographic features, which would serve as a means for structuring and organizing further study, nor has the research identified a conceptual framework in which these families may be viewed.

The lack of an identified home school family typology has made it difficult to develop a cohesive understanding of home school families and has made ongoing research efforts less effective. The development of a family typology in conjunction with a conceptual frame of reference can serve as a basis for the comparison of home school families, and the means by which information pertinent to these families may be organized.

This was a descriptive study. Its main intent was to initiate the development of an underlying typological and conceptual framework to facilitate the study of the structure and function of home school families. Due to the scope of this study, and its length, this paper will deal with the central aspect of the study–the typological assessment and its findings.

Conceptual Overview and Rationale

The development of a typology of home school families requires a shift in focus from content to context. This shift in the view of families can be found in an examination of systems theory as it has been applied in the marital and family therapy literature. In family treatment, it has been the underlying family context to behaviors i.e. the family’s system of relationships, which has become the most important factor in understanding how the family functions, because it is a means of grouping seemingly unrelated and random behaviors into a meaningful pattern. Family systems approaches, because they focus on these patterns of interaction and structure have been the theoretical basis for the development of family typologies and formed the theoretical context of this study.

Literature Review

The review of literature for this study centers primarily on developing the contextual and conceptual framework of the study since there is little in the home school research which pertains to the focus of this research. The literature review is divided into three sections. The first section outlines systems theory and explains key systems concepts pertinent to the study. The next section of the review highlights issues in home schooling: compulsory school laws and their impact, and a general rationale for choosing to home school. The third section examins the home school family and its environment.

The conceptualization of a family as a system is based on general systems theory, and encompasses the definition of a system as being relatively stable, yet capable of change; characterized by dynamic interactive processes of several members. The application of systems theory to the family has been written about extensively (Andolfi, 1979; Bateson, 1972; Haley, 1977; Keeney, 1983; Minuchin, 1974; Napier & Whitaker, 1978; Olson, McCubbin, Barnes, Larsen, Muxen, & Wilson, 1983; Papp, 1983; Watzlawick, Beavin, & Jackson, 1967). Within the literature, several concepts were discussed, some of which are included here.

Family structure consists of the family members, behaviors which have a tendency to persist over time and are highly dependable (Phillips, 1980). Family structure ensures stability as well as providing an organized and controlled means for allowing necessary change.

Each family system must not only maintain itself with consistent patterns of behavior, but must also adapt its behaviors in response to changing developmental and environmental demands on it. Each new pressure requires the family to organize its resources to assimilate it and maintain stability. Andolfi (1979) refers to it at the “dynamic equilibrium between two seemingly contradictory functions” (p. 7). It is this ability to balance change with stability, based on family needs, which has been cited in the literature as determining healthy family functioning (Olson et al., 1983; Walsh, 1982).

Olson et al. (1983) conceptualized a family’s level of adaptability as ranging on a continuum, with rigid adaptability and chaotic adaptability patterns at the extremes. Families with response patterns falling towards the center of the continuum, except during times of great stress, have been seen in the literature as being the most effective (Minuchin, 1974; Olson et al., 1983; Walsh, 1982). Families with rigid adaptability patterns are usually unable to respond in a timely manner to the need for change. Often, this will be expressed in the family by feelings of frustration. Families with chaotic response patterns, on the other hand, will tend to respond to anything by a change in the system resulting in the lack of system stability and continuity, which is often expressed in the family by feelings of insecurity.

Boundaries have two functions in the family system: differentiation and regulation. Differentiation determines what roles people play within the family, and who performs specific tasks, as well as who is considered a member and who is not. Regulation determines the amount and type of information coming into the family system to influence how the family maintains the balance between stability and change. Minuchin and Fishman (1981) sees the clarity of boundaries defining the health of a family. He proposed that individuals in the family will vary in the amount of self that is engaged in the family system and with other systems in the environment.

Minuchin (1974) Minuchin, Rossman, and Baker (1978), Minuchin and Fishman (1981) and Olson et al. (1983) conceived the level of interaction between individuals in the family as indicative of the amount of emotional bonding between family members. Both conceptualized these as patterns of cohesion in the family ranging on a continuum, with enmeshment and disengagement at tile two extremes. Enmeshment is characterized by diffuse, or blurred interpersonal boundaries within the family and rigidity of boundaries between the family and the outside world. The range of behaviors acceptable to the family are closely regulated. Now input from outside the family system is not easily incorporated. Family members are characterized by high levels of dependency on each other. Information from outside the system is often not acceptable or is considered threatening.  Disengagement, at the other extreme, is characterized by low levels of bonding between family members and high levels of individual autonomy. Boundaries between family members are rigidly defined. Boundaries between the family system and the outside world are indistinct and highly permeable; often not discernable as separate from other. systems. The flow of information into the system is often indiscriminate, causing an overload which is equally as detrimental as a lack of information. As with adaptability, most families will normally tend to function in the midrange on the continuum (Olson et al. 1983; Minuchin, 1974; Walsh, 1982).

It must be noted that these types of adaptability and cohesion patterns represent preferences, or styles of transactions for families that develop over the family’s developmental lifer‑.pan. They are not indicative of the quality of a family’s interactive processes. Cultural norms, developmental factors and unique family situations make it not only possible but. probable that families will vary in where their patterns of interaction fall on the two continua.

Comparison of Family Structure and Interaction Patterns Based On School Choice
When a child enters the educational system, usually around the age of six, there are many potential effects on the family’s structure and interaction patterns. When a family opts instead to home school the child, it too will have effects on the structure and functions of the family as it strives to accommodate the additional tasks and roles.

Even though a family decides to teach their child(ren) at home, the school‑age child will have developmental needs similar to his/her peers. Their families will still need to adjust their system to accommodate the changing needs of their child(ren) including those of socialization and education. In other words, there are similarities that the home school family has with others in their developmental life stage. There are also differences. These similarities and differences will be made clearer by an examination of the home school family and the family whose children are in conventional schooled.

This comparison is based on the literature, discussion with home school families, and the author’s ten years of experience as a home school parent. The following is a comparison of the impact the educational experience has on the home schooled child(ren) (HSC) and his/her family with the conventional schooled child(ren) (CSC) and his/her family.

CSC 1.
In this family, there is a necessity to be more disciplined about sleep times and awaking times to ensure the child has adequate rest and gets to school on time. This may have the effect of changing the control of scheduling from centering around family needs and the child’s school needs (Moore & Moore, 1984; Williams, 1984).

HSC 1.
The home school family does not need to be as disciplined about time. Although families vary in what kind of school schedule they keep, most choose to accomplish the structured learning during the morning hours. While scheduling does become more focused on the child’s needs, it is usually not dictated by an outside source (unless required by law) and remains in the control of the family system.

CSC 2.
The conventional school child spends less time at home. Interactions with the other family members must become more intentional and involves planning. The family may initially experience feelings of separation/alienation until this is accomplished. Interaction with peers is less controlled by the family system (Benson, 1981; Divoky, 1983; Greene, 1984; Holt, 1981; Merrill, 1983; Taylor, 1986).

HSC 2.
The home school child continues to spend most of his/her time in the home environment. However, interaction outside the family must be more intentional and involves planning, to ensure that the child’s developmental needs for independence are met. Interaction with peers is more controlled by the family system than the child’s conventional school peers (Divoky, 1983; Krivanek, 1985; Schemmer, 1985; Sexson, 1988; Williams, 1984).

CSC 3.
The conventional school child spends less time with siblings and others who are older and younger upon entering school (Holt, 1981).

HSC 3.
The home school child spends more time with siblings and adults (Feinstein, 1986; Holt, 1981; Krivanek, 1985; Moore & Moore, 1984; Williams, 1984).

CSC 4.
When the child enters school, the mother has more time to spend in other ways. She may spend more time with siblings in the home. She may pursue a career or go to school. Parents of the school child have more time for other children or for personal activities.

HSC 4.
Because the child not only remains at home, but goes to school at home, parents take on additional responsibility. This may result in less time for other children, or for personal activities (Benson, 1981; Divoky, 1983; Krivanek, 1985; Williams, 1984).

CSC 5.
Parents begin to be involved in outside institutions and groups in a parent role. These involvements are mediated by the child as the result of his/her involvement in the school (i.e., PTA, sports activities, school band booster clubs, etc.) (Schvanevelt & Ihinger, 1979).

HSC 5.
Parents begin to be involved in outside institutions and groups in a parent 2‑ole. However, these involvements are usually initiated by the parents and are more controlled by them (Sexson, 1988; Williams, 1984).

CHS 6.
Although a large portion of educational expenses are accounted for in taxes, parents must still pay for band instruments, miscellaneous school supplies, uniforms and other items generated by the school environment.

HSC 6.
In addition to the amount taken out in taxes for public schools, parents must allocate money for the educational supplies and curriculum materials of their choice. This results in less money available for other family needs, particularly since one of the parents must also usually stay out of the work force. However, the family has greater control over identifying and prioritizing educational expenses (Benson, 1981; Williams, 1984).

CSC 7.
Parents and teachers are separate people with separate functions. The educational environment is more defined as is the educational process. However, because of this parents only have a general understanding of what the child is learning and have a harder time monitoring the child’s progress.

HSC 7.
The parent/teacher role and the child/student role are combined in the home setting. this can often lead to role conflicts. However, the parent has a more focused understanding of what the child is learning because the parents maintain control over the learning process. The home becomes the learning environment. Learning tends to be extended as it overlaps with all the daily family interactions (Holt, 1981; Kink, 1983; Sexson, 1988; Williams, 1984).

As can readily be seen here, the home school family retains a greater degree of autonomy and control regarding their child’s life in general than is maintained by the family with a child who is conventionally schooled. It appears possible that autonomy and control is maintained not only over the level of change in the family system but also over the level of constancy or sameness. Winter (1973) called this ability “family power” and argued that it is the ability or capacity to produce intended effects. Olson and Cromwell (1975) also defined this power as a property, to varying degrees, of family systems.


This study had as its sample population twenty‑five families in Oklahoma who were currently home schooling one or more children between the ages of six and twelve years old. Low visibility of home school families prevented the selection of a random sample. Instead those families initially contacted by mail were from membership lists of various home school organizations, who in turn identified other home school families known to them.

There were three instruments used for the mailed questionnaire. The first section was developed for this study and included basic demographic information, needs and problems data. The first section of the questionnaire also included two sets of semantic differential scales used to assess the home school respondents attitudes towards both the home school and the more conventional school their child would be going to otherwise. The next section, called F‑Copes, is an instrument which gathers data concerning coping mechanisms (and is not the focus of this paper). The third assessment section of the questionnaire, FACES III, assesses family cohesion and adaptability levels and was the assessment tool which was central to this study.

The semantic differential scales compared parents’ attitudes by utilizing ten identical bipolar variables for both home schools and conventional schools. On one scale the parent rated the home school, and on the other identical scale, the conventional school. A t-test was then performed comparing the mean scores of each home school scale with its corresponding conventional school scale.

FACES III was developed by Olson, Candyce, Sprenkel, and Douglas (1980). It has been shown to have an overall alpha reliability of .90 and a test/retest reliability of .90 (Olson et al., 1983). It is used in conjunction‑with the Circumplex Model, which is a graphic way of illustrating four levels of each of the two dimensions for cohesion and adaptability, simultaneously. The four levels of cohesion range from low to high:  disengaged, separated, connected and enmeshed. The four levels of adaptability also range from low to high: rigid structured, flexible and chaotic. This translates into sixteen family types (Figure 1). These types have been combined into three groups on the Circumplex (Figure 2).

FACES III asked the parent to describe how he/she perceived the family using a five-point rating scale to describe how often particular family situations or conditions described the family. The two dimensions, cohesion and adaptability, had specific subscales in the instrument and each level of cohesion and adaptability had specified cutting (or categorization) points. Those families whose scores placed them at the two central levels for cohesion and adaptability comprise the balanced types on the model. Those families who scored high for the two dimensions made up the four extreme types. Families who scored high on only one dimension comprised the midrange on the Circumplex Model.

Olson et al. (1983) published the results of a study using the Circumplex Model and FACES III to examine differences in families at varying developmental life stages. Because of this it was possible to compare the scores of families with

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Figure 1. Circumplex Model (from Olson et al., 1983).

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Figure 2. Three family types (from Olson et al., 1983).

school age children in more conventional school settings with the home school families in this study by a visual, qualitative comparison of percentages of sample populations within each family type on the Circumplex Model.


This study was able to use family typology within a family systems framework to begin to determine common characteristics in the structure and function of home school families. In doing so, it was also able to begin developing some tentative suggestions for how these families maintain stability in their family systems.

All but one of the teaching parents who responded were female, highly educated, and ranging in age from 24 to 42 years old. The families in this study were primarily rural and had been home schooling between 3 to 4 years. Family income tended to be higher than averages found by the United States census (United States Census Bureau, 1984).

Using the semantic differential scales, it was found that home school families tended to view conventional schools more dangerous, t(22) = 7.95, p < .05, authoritarian, t(19) = 3.04, p < .05, closed, t(17) = 4.09, p < .05, rigid, t(20) = 4.48, p < .05, boring, t(20) = 6.44, p < .05, and traditional, t(21) = 3.13, p < .05, than the home school.

The typological assessment of cohesion and adaptability levels revealed that home school families tend to score high for both variables. When the families in this study were divided into the balanced, midrange, and extreme family types, 20% had scores that fell within the balanced range, 52% had scores that were in the midrange, and 23% had scores which fell in the extreme range.

Olson et al. (1983) indicated in the study of families with school-aged children that 62% of the families in the general population had scores in the balanced range, 25% had scores in the midrange, and 15% had scores in the extreme range.

A comparison of the families in Olson et al. (1983) with those in this study indicates that there are fewer home school families in the balanced range. There were more home school families scoring high on one of the dimensions placing them in the midrange, and more home school families whose scores for both dimensions placed them in the extreme range on the Circumplex Model.

An examination of the sixteen family types gave a more detailed perspective of the clustering of types. The extreme family types (6 families in this study) clustered in the upper right quadrant on the Circumplex, indicating high adaptability and high cohesion. Families in the midrange tended to also cluster in increasing numbers toward the upper right quadrant.


The Olson et al. study (1983) found that families with younger children appear to function best as extreme rather than balanced family types. They found that families with younger children tend to move into the upper right quadrant with the birth of their first child and that some families would shift as their children age into less extreme levels of cohesion and adaptability.

In general, the majority of families in this study did tend to congregate in the upper right quadrant of the Circumplex Model. However, a closer examination appears to indicate that these families continue to stay in the upper right quadrant and to have higher scores for both cohesion and adaptability than is true for the general population of families with school age children in more conventional school settings.

Although these families tended to be highly adaptive, they appear to have been able to achieve a kind of dynamic equilibrium between stability and change. For example, most of these families had been home schooling for more than one or two years.

The presence of this kind of equilibrium suggests that there are stabilizing forces within home school family systems which allow most of these families to accommodate higher levels of both adaptability and cohesion than the population of families whose children are more conventionally schooled.

Family consensus about its structure and functions can be one potential way in which families can tolerate such high levels of cohesion and adaptability as are seen in this group. The life stage in which these families are in also tends to require or accept higher levels of cohesion and adaptability, although these families have higher levels than are usually found even in their developmental life stage.

While these home school families have the same two tasks, socialization and education (Olson et al., 1983), as do other families that are in the same developmental life stage, they tend to have greater levels of control over these issues than families whose children are conventionally schooled. It is possible that a system can accommodate extreme levels of change when there is an underlying ability to have clear and accessible lines of control over life stage tasks, such as socialization and education. It is even possible that for families with high adaptability and cohesion, home schooling may be a stabilizing mechanism in the family as it increases the amount of control the family has over its life stage tasks.


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