Record: Sarah Pannone, “The Experiences of New Home Educators” Journal of Unschooling and Alternative Learning, 11, No. 21 (2017): 8-28. [Abstract]

SummarySarah Pannone is an adjunct professor of education at Liberty University. The main questions of this study are (1) How do new home educators describe the experience? and (2) What do they value about homeschooling?

To answer these questions, Pannone investigated the experiences of ten mothers who had been homeschooling for less than three years. Since homeschoolers can be difficult group to reach, snowball sampling was used to recruit the sample. Regarding demographics, each of the participants were mothers who were the primary educators 0f their children. While the mothers predominantly employed a direct instruction style of teaching, several of the mothers with older children also used supplemental online learning programs. All of the mothers had at least some college education, and five had previously been employed as teachers in some capacity. Pannone both interviewed and administered surveys to her subjects. To expound on some of the thoughts brought up in the interviews, four mothers then participated in an online discussion board.

9 of the 10 mothers believed that anyone with a desire to homeschool could homeschool successfully. For example, one mother stated, “I just think there are so many people who are like, ‘Oh, I could never teach my kid’ but there are so many resources out there, there is so much support, like there wasn’t before, but there is so much now, that anybody can do it.” Pannone notes that this finding stands in contrast to research on the experiences of new educators in traditional schools who often feel overwhelmed and frustrated.

Regarding the second question of what these mothers value about homeschooling, the themes that emerged were family time and flexibility/adaptability. The mothers loved that they were able to customize their homeschooling practices to the educational needs of their children, and they appreciated the family ties that homeschooling strengthened.

Appraisal: As Pannone makes clear, there are many limitations to this type of qualitative study. The results cannot be generalized to say that all or most new homeschooling mothers feel this positive about homeschooling, because it is likely that the snowball sampling technique led to mothers who were connected with support groups that made the transition to homeschooling a bit easier. Furthermore, there are other factors such as the number of children, the mothers’ experiences in education, and demographic characteristics that likely influence the success of new home educators. Further research to identify the characteristics of successful vs. unsuccessful home educators is needed.

Something that this study indirectly draws attention to is the distinction between motivations for homeschooling and pleasant byproducts of homeschooling. Namely, in some studies on parental motivations, the line is blurred between the reasons that families begin to homeschool and the positive effects that families may come to observe while homeschooling. In this study, the new homeschooling mothers greatly appreciated the family bonds that homeschooling strengthened, but they did not cite a desire to strengthen family bonds as an initial motivation for homeschooling.

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