Issues in Educational Research, 8(1), 1998, 1-13.

Homeschooling: The meaning that the homeschooled child assigns to this experience

Erica Clery
Edith Cowan University

While there are documented cases throughout history of individuals who have received very limited or no formal education and yet have made a significant contribution to society, the long held assumption has generally been that formal education is more likely to lead to success and that a comprehensive education can best be provided to children within an institutionalised setting. However, over the last couple of decades in Australia this assumption has been challenged. There has been an increasing number of families choosing to homeschool who live in areas where mainstream schools are easily accessible.

Homeschooling practice varies from family to family. It ranges from families who use a highly structured school curriculum based on material from non-government sources through to those whose children's learning occurs and flows from the contexts and interchanges of daily life. This freedom of choice which homeschooling allows needs to be recognised, not only as challenging a firmly entrenched educational structure, but as offering a viable alternative to families when making educational decisions.

This report explores the meaning which homeschooling has to homeschooled children and offers suggestions for future research which focuses on homeschooling from the homeschooled child's point of view.

Consideration of where and in what manner schooling should be provided is significantly influenced by the philosophical base from which such decisions are being made. Various values, beliefs and ideas therefore colour any perception of education and its expected outcomes.

The purpose of education has often been a focus of writers on educational matters and various viewpoints have been espoused within those writings. In the mid nineteenth -century Arnold argued that the value of education lay not in its making of men into good citizens or in its vocational uses, but rather in its pursuit of shaping the mind towards perfection (cited in Gribble, 1967, p.12). According to Whitehead's writings at the turn of the century, the basic aim of education is 'to provide for the development of a man of culture who has expert knowledge and who is capable of creative responses' (cited in Bowyer, 1970, p.314). More recently Holt (1976) asserted that a widely held view of education is that it is about shaping people and making them learn what others think they ought to know. Education is commonly provided in institutions - that is schools. Apart from those living in remote areas it is considered usual for children to attend school. However, some families choose to educate their children at home despite other options being available to them.

Hunter asserted that the homeschooling population in Australia is not susceptible to a straightforward census. A reason previously given by Hunter (1990) for the level of support and growth of homeschooling was that some individual parents considered they could offer a superior educational program to that provided by schools in the areas which they considered to be most significant. In revisiting the issue of a resurgence in home school education, Hunter stated that the expansion appears to be based on the combination of three factors - parental rights as a priority over government regulation, desire to maintain an exclusive family unit for as long as possible, and the fear of mental, physical or spiritual harm being inflicted on the child within a government-sponsored or supervised school environment (Hunter, 1994, p.31).

In a small study Maeder (1995) investigated parental choice of non mainstream schooling for the early education of their children. The results showed an interest in a strongly child centred and holistic approach was indicated by most participants.

Knowles (1987) focused his study on the life histories of parents who teach their children at home. The study found that home schooling motives were complex and congruent with the life histories of the majority of homeschooling parents who participated in the study. A central factor was identified as parental dissatisfaction with their own experiences in school. Holt (1967) suggested that the advantage of being schooled at home lay in the provision of an environment conducive to the child's natural way of learning. He asserted that parents better understand the ways, conditions, and spirit in which their children learn and are therefore in a better position to encourage them to use and improve the style of thinking and learning natural to them.

Wade (cited in Hunter 1990 & 1994)) suggested that there are five main opportunities which homeschools offer over a regular school placement : parents can educate their children according to their own convictions, a non-competitive environment, enhanced social development, enhancement of autonomous and well-timed learning, and the development of parental satisfaction with their own lives and a stronger relationship with their children.

Mooney and Kissane (1985) explored the experiences of four families who were homeschooling. Their study suggests that parents who home school expect their children's natural inquisitiveness and eagerness-to-learn to be fostered within a homeschooling environment.

Krivaneck (1988) based his thesis on a study of families whose primary school aged children were being educated at home. The focus of the research was on the subjective social experience of the children, their understanding of friendship and opportunities for the development of autonomy. The study found a direct correlation between the satisfactoriness of the home educated children's social experience and parents' attitudes and practices in the area of socialisation. The subjects' understanding of friendship showed the features and limitations normal for age. Contrary to the home educators' expectations, relationships within the family were not unusually close or harmonious. Opportunities available to home-schooled children for self- determination were found to be generally restricted to those aspects of daily life which were somewhat trivial in their consequences.

Brosnan (1991) focused on the psychological growth and development of home schooled children by examining children's competence, family processes and family environments. He found that homeschooled children in his study had average to above average competency levels. In relation to families acting as a resource for the child, the study indicated that in comparison to families with conventionally schooled children, homeschooled children view their mothers as being much more supportive. They also see their families as being more cohesive and consider that they are much more a part of the decision-making processes within the family. However, no clear link was found between children with above average competency levels and family process resources as a whole.

It is clear there is a lack of studies which have as a major focus examined the interpretation and understanding children have of their home learning experience. Thus the intention of this project was to focus on how homeschooled children view their homeschooling experience, researched from a position of impartiality and using qualitative methods for both collection and analysis of data.



The research was approached from an interpretivist perspective. The assumption of this paradigm considered to be particularly significant in relation to this research project is -

We need to search 'for the systems of meaning that actors use to make sense of their world' (Sarantakos, 1993, p.36)
The intention of the research was to attempt to construct a joint understanding between the participants and the researcher about the children's experience of home schooling and the meaning it has for them.


Two home-schooled children participated in the gathering of data. Thus the number of participants is small and this is acknowledged as a limitation. At the time of participation Participant A had been home-schooled for approximately eighteen months and Participant B, although returning on two occasions for short periods of time to a mainstream school, had been home-schooled for four and a half years. Although both were girls, age and stage of development were the only essential criteria in their selection as participants for data collection. Participant A was 13 years of age and Participant B was 12 years of age. Both girls would be in year eight in a mainstream school setting.

Children making the transition out of childhood could be considered to view their schooling experience quite differently to children still in middle childhood or those who have reached adolescence. According to Peterson (1989, p.307), the transition out of childhood offers '.... the new set of privileges and demands which define a semi-adult social status, while also heralding in major physical and psychological changes....'. The possibility that the participants for this research could be in the process of readjusting their interpretation and understanding of their schooling experience to fit in with the internal and external changes they are encountering has therefore been given consideration in this report.

Although it was the intention to enter this research project without any expectations, the assumption that participants may be adjusting the way they view their schooling experience was considered to be acceptable. The reason for this acceptance was that the expectation was not one of outcome, but rather of what may be influencing the way the participants were interpreting and understanding their experience at the particular point in time when the research was being conducted.

Method and materials for collecting data

Data were collected using a semi-structured interview. This form of interview was selected because of the degree of freedom it allows for the interviewer to probe answers and follow-up themes as they emerge in the interview (Berg, 1989, p.17). Interviews were taped.

A list of thirty open-ended questions was prepared. The initial questions focused on broader issues such as when and why the participants began their homeschooling and what a typical school day involves for them. The questions then addressed more specific issues such as what they liked or disliked about their schooling experience, the extent of both their own and others' involvement in that experience, and the interrelationships between those people. The participants were then questioned about social activities and friendships outside of the home. The interview was completed with a focus on the participant's perception of homeschooling generally.


As is common in qualitative research, data analysis began during the actual interviews. Themes began to emerge and the process of finding meaning in the information being gathered began.

Methods outlined by Minichiello, Aron, Timewell and Alexander (1991) were drawn on when undertaking the process for analysing the collected data. After the interviews were completed the tapes were listened to until the researcher was completely familiar with the data they contained. These data were then transcribed from the tapes into written form and themes which flowed through the interviews were identified and coded. Themes were drawn from the content of the interviews by examining words, phrases and sentences used, when they were used, their frequency and how they were connected to each other. The researcher also listened for what might be being said between the lines by examining the latent content of the interviews.

A case summary was written up for each respondent and examined for themes which flowed through them. These themes were also coded using the same form of coding system. Once the themes had been categorised those coded from the transcript of the tape and those taken from the case summary were compared and then condensed into the one coding system. This process was followed for both interviews and then the themes from each were compared looking for themes which were common to both.

Results and discussion

When the analysed data from each interview were compared four common themes emerged. They were autonomy, self- awareness, socialisation and family relationships. In discussing the results each theme will be dealt with individually.


Both participants contributed significantly to the decision to be homeschooled. Although this decision was made jointly with their parents, the participants had been influential in initiating discussion. They each had known someone else who was being homeschooled and had thought they would like to try it themselves. In neither case could moving into homeschooling be viewed as being sudden or in response to one particular incident or relationship. In choosing to leave mainstream schooling Participant A had made a considered decision in respect to what type of schooling was most likely to meet her needs. Participant B had had the opportunity to re-assess her decision on the two occasions when she re-entered mainstream schooling, and had returned each time to homeschooling as the preferred option.

The participants each have the freedom to plan their day's work themselves. Participant A stated that her parents had some input into deciding what work she had to cover but only to the degree, for example, that she must do maths each day. Her mother most frequently helps her if she needs it and her father helps her one morning a week. Besides being helped by both her parents, Participant B goes to a retired teacher for some of her subjects once a week. Participant B stated that she uses pace-books to give her a guide as to how much work she should do, and while she generally covers the same number of work pages each day, she has the flexibility to vary it if she wishes. Both mark their work themselves from the back of workbooks. Participant A felt that by marking her work this way she had a better understanding of what she might be doing right or wrong than she had when her work was being marked in a classroom situation. Participant B didn't think how she marked her work was greatly different to the way it would be marked in school - still ticks or crosses. Both participants indicated that they like the way homeschooling allows them to have control over what work they do and also the way they do that work.

From their responses, both participants indicated that they had little difficulty in applying themselves to their work - that they are motivated and self-disciplined. This is consistent with the shared belief of homeschooling parents, referred to by Mooney and Kissane (1985), that children are eager to learn when allowed to range freely through their areas of interest. The participants in this study both work alone in their bedrooms and each cover the majority of their work in the mornings, using the afternoons for excursions and meeting with friends. Participant A did not indicate any disadvantage of studying in a room alone and Participant B stated that she felt having someone else in the room with her could be a distraction.

The results indicate that both participants are very independent in relation to their schooling. Although they have adult input, it is generally confined to guidance and assistance as required by the participants. It cannot be concluded from the results, however, that it is homeschooling which has been solely responsible for this independence. Many other factors may be impacting on this behaviour. The homeschooling situation could be seen to well suit the participants because of their independence rather than being the reason for that independence. It can be concluded, however, that the homeschooling experience is viewed by the participants as providing them with the autonomy they require.

The findings are consistent with Wade's (1988) listing of the enhancement of autonomous well-timed learning as one of the opportunities offered by homeschooling (cited in Hunter, 1994 and 1990) and to Brosnan's (1991) finding that in acting as a resource for children, homeschooling families involve them in decision making. They are, however, contrary to the findings of Krivanek (1988) that self- determination was generally restricted to aspects of daily life of trivial consequence. The fact that the children in Krivanek's sample were of primary school age whereas in this study they were older, and the difference between the methods used and sample size of the two studies, could all be factors in the differing results. Krivanek also did not focus his research on the development of autonomy specifically in relation to the actual home schooling experience and from the point of view of the homeschooled child. However, these factors do not appear to be as relevant in explaining the difference between the results of Krivanek's study and that of Brosnan's or the research on which Wade based his listing of homeschooling opportunities. Only further research into the development of autonomous behaviour in homeschooled children will uncover the reasons for the discrepancies in the results of past research.


The Homeschooled child's level of self-awareness was not a focus in the literature reviewed. In this present study, however, it was identified as a key factor in the way the participants viewed their homeschooling experience. The fact that it emerged strongly as a theme could be viewed as confirming the success of this research in focusing on the interpretation and understanding of the homeschooled child. Both participants revealed an understanding of their individuality and of their own unique needs and were able to apply that understanding when considering what home schooling meant to them. Homeschooling is viewed by them as another type of schooling which is available to those who feel it suits them better for some reason. While they believe that for them it is best, they also acknowledge that for others it is not - a clear recognition of their own individuality as well as that of others.

When discussing the advantages and disadvantages of homeschooling, both participants referred to being able to learn at their own pace with materials and resources which best suit their learning needs and styles as being the main advantage. Participant A expressed a feeling of satisfaction with the way and the level at which she was working, and Participant B indicated a desire to be able to confirm her belief that she was achieving high grades by comparing her work with children in a mainstream school. Participant B stated that for this reason she was giving some thought to returning again to a mainstream setting for a period of time. Participant A was emphatic that the homeschooling situation met her needs sufficiently in all areas.

Participants B's uncertainty about her grades and Participant A's confidence that homeschooling was meeting all her needs could be explained by the initial proposition of this research - that the participants could be in the process of adjusting their interpretation and understanding of their schooling experience. Given that Participant A has only been homeschooled for eighteen months, she may indeed already have recently adjusted her view of her schooling experience. This adjustment may have resulted in her leaving mainstream schooling and opting to be schooled at home. The enthusiasm with which she is embracing homeschooling at the moment could be seen to be due to the 'newness' of it to her and the fact that she is able to reflect back to fairly recent experiences in a mainstream setting. On the other hand Participant B has been homeschooled for a lot longer and has not had a recent opportunity to compare her work with children in a mainstream school. Therefore, as part of the process of adjusting her understanding and interpretation of her schooling experience she may be seeking this comparison.

In considering the level of self-awareness of the subjects, it could be suggested that being away from a large group of children had provided the opportunity for them to gain a greater understanding of self - that is, in a group their understanding of self may be influenced by their understanding of the group and their position within it. Alternatively, this self-awareness may have been present prior to the participants entering into a homeschooling situation and may have indeed been promoted within a mainstream schooling environment initially. It may in fact have been that the awareness of their own needs was what enabled the participants to make the choice to move out of mainstream schooling - that they recognised their needs were not being fully met in that environment.

The results indicate that the homeschooling situation is supporting each participant's awareness of self and that they evaluate their home schooling experience mainly according to its ability to meet their own individual needs. Whether the homeschooling environment is promoting the development of their understanding of self any more than would occur in a mainstream school setting cannot be determined from these results. Further research needs to be carried out which focuses on the levels of self-awareness of homeschooled children in comparison to children who are receiving an education in a mainstream setting. This research is necessary not only to determine the impact which homeschooling has on a child's development of self-awareness but also the impact a child's level of self-awareness has on homeschooling decisions, including the choice to move into or out of a homeschooling situation.


The meeting of friends and excursions in the afternoons were indicated by the responses of both participants to be an incentive to complete schoolwork in the mornings. When asked what they liked and disliked about both mainstream and home schooling, Participant B referred to the opportunity that mainstream schooling provided for her to compare her work and stated that while she had always been popular at school, she disliked having too many other children hanging around all of the time. She feels that she has enough friends without going to a mainstream school. Participant A explained that, while she had plenty of friends now, she would have the company of more friends if she was at a school.

Both participants have contact with other homeschoolers, they each have homeschooling friends, other friends whom they spend time with, and special friends who come to their home for sleepovers. When discussing the places that they meet with friends, Participant A said that she engages in a variety of social activities and specifically mentioned those which are organised or advertised through the homeschooling network. Participant B referred to church on Sunday, drama, involvement in sports and her intention to join a youth group.

When asked if there was anything about her homeschooling she would like to change Participant A stated that she would like her younger sister to start homeschooling. Participant B already has an older sibling being homeschooled and indicated from her responses that, even though they work in separate rooms, she has a comfortableness about having another homeschooled child working in the same environment. Even though the participants were both happy with their socialisation opportunities, perhaps having a sibling who is also being homeschooled provides some form of social contact within the schooling situation which impacts to some degree on the level of satisfaction a homeschooler has in his/her schooling experience.

There is no evidence of the participants' social development being enhanced to any greater extent by their homeschooling experience than it would be in a mainstream setting. This result is not consistent with Wade's (1988) listing of enhanced social development as being one of the opportunities offered by homeschooling (cited in Hunter, 1994 and 1990). There is also no evidence from the results that the participants' level of social satisfactoriness is directly correlated to the attitudes and practices of their parents in the area of socialisation as found by Krivaneck (1988).

It can be determined from the results that both participants are satisfied with their social experiences and value time with friends. Taking into consideration the difference in ages between Krivaneck's sample and the sample used for this research, it could be concluded that there is some consistency between the results of this present report and Krivaneck's finding that the understanding of friendship showed the features and limitations normal for age. Past research in this particular area, however, has not been as extensive as may be generally thought and further research which focuses in more depth on the social development of homeschooled children needs to be undertaken.

Family relationships

The results suggest improved levels of communication between the participants and their parents, particularly with their mothers. Participant A expressed a noticeable improvement in the communication between herself and her parents since starting homeschooling. Each viewed their parents as being supportive and Participant B mentioned that, from her experience, she felt homeschooling mothers were kinder and more understanding than other mothers. It is interesting to note however, that these results were drawn when the children were required to make general comparisons between their families and families who do not homeschool. When the question focused on their family alone in regard to whether home schooling made any difference to the way they and their parents related, both answered that they didn't feel there was any significant difference. Apart from the increased time spent with siblings who are also at home during the schooling day, being homeschooled was not regarded by the participants as making any significant difference to the relationship the participants had with their siblings. Planned quiet times together as a family were mentioned by both participants. Participant A referred to talking sessions in the evening and Participant B to family bible study times. Participant B also mentioned going to church together and on outings to places like the museum. Participant A remarked on the way her family always have breakfast together, something which she feels not all families do.

The results suggest that homeschooling is supporting a good relationship between the participants and their families. No negative aspects were indicated. However, apart from improved communication with parents, it cannot be concluded that the relationships within the families of the subjects are significantly different because of the homeschooling factor. These results are consistent with the findings of Krivaneck (1988) and could be viewed as being compatible with the findings of Brosnan (1991). It could also be suggested, giving consideration to the planning of family times together, that the results of this present research support, to some extent, Hunter's (1994) viewpoint that the expansion of homeschooling is due in part to the desire to maintain the family unit.


The results of this research indicate that homeschooling provides an opportunity for children to take greater control over the manner and pace at which they learn and, in doing so, offers a type of schooling which is more suitable to the needs of some children. There is no indication that family relationship and socialisation factors have any greater impact on a child's schooling, or are notably different, because that child is being schooled at home.

It is acknowledged that the study is limited in that the sample was very small and the research focused on a specific age and developmental stage. Further studies of other age and stage groupings, or far more extensive research which has access to a much larger sample, needs to be undertaken to provide the extensive qualitative data needed to identify the common threads which run through the various interpretations which children of all ages and at varying stages of development give to their home schooling experiences. However, it is asserted that some inroads have been made by this research project into gaining a greater understanding of the home schooling phenomenon.


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Please cite as: Clery, E. (1998). Homeschooling: The meaning that the homeschooled child assigns to this experience. Issues in Educational Research, 8(1), 1-13.

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