Homeschooling Overseas: Is it right for you?

My skin prickled as I turned to stare at my husband. "There is no way you're going to put me in that ball and chain," I said. It simply wasn't an option.

It was 1989 and we had just taken a big hit in our monthly support. As stateside missionaries, too much of our meager income already went to tuition at the local private Christian school. The public schools in our area were simply not an option. Our three youngest children were getting ever closer to school age.

And John had just made the outlandish suggestion that we consider homeschooling.

But I didn't want to homeschool. Why reinvent the wheel? The school system already existed to teach my children. I'm an introvert; I could not imagine being home with the kids 24/7.

And how could I possibly be the only educational resource for my children? Surely I wasn't qualified to teach them. Would they learn?

To make a long story short, John and I prayed and together decided to give home education a try ... mainly out of financial necessity. Much to our surprise, we all loved it! Of course, there were some tricky adjustments and rough patches. But my four kids flourished under the one-on-one attention from mom. They developed an insatiable love for learning. I got to create many precious memories with them. John and I could address discipline issues, emotional needs and questions right as they surfaced. We developed closer family bonds. And we all (including Mom!) learned more than we could have imagined.

Now my four children are all flourishing adults following their own unique dreams. Looking back on it all, I can't express my gratefulness for the time at home with my children.

But that's my story. What's yours? If you have children, I hope you've already found a great solution for their education. But I hear many overseas workers express frustration with their education options. And I know it can be a touchy subject. It may feel like your stateside family and supporters, your local neighbors and co-workers, maybe even strangers at the market all have opinions about how you should educate your kids.

So let me encourage you with a simple truth: you know your situation best. You know your children best. As you seek the Lord's guidance, you and your spouse can make the best decision for your unique family and children. Whether that means public school, private school, boarding school or home school.

But since homeschooling is my area of expertise (I'm not only a former homeschool mom, but also the co-founder, primary curriculum developer and president of Sonlight Curriculum) let's dive in and explore the home education option here. I'd love to help you explore whether this might be a good fit for your family. After all, I know many, many moms and families who thrive while homeschooling overseas. I also know that many moms are scared (as I was) of teaching their kids at home.

So I asked some friends for their thoughts on the topic. These friends are typical homeschooling moms who live overseas and have formed an international community on the Sonlight Curriculum online forums. They graciously shared their triumphs, struggles, obstacles, joys and insights. May their thoughts help you consider your options.

Let's start with the fun part! Here's what they said about...

Potential benefits of homeschooling overseas (according to moms who do it):

  • You can ease your children's transitions into foreign countries and home assignments. They don't have to adjust to a new land, new language, new culture, and new school all at once.
  • Finances. As one mom said, "The public schools here are not safe and the private school is too expensive."
  • You can teach your children what you want to, even if your surrounding culture has a very different view of school or faith.
  • Flexibility. You can completely adjust your schedule as needed. Home assignments, travel and holidays can all become integrated parts of school instead of disruptions to your children's education. You aren't tied to a school calendar, so you can take breaks, celebrate holidays, go on last minute trips, and take time off for illness or other life interruptions whenever you want to. If you move frequently, you can do so without disrupting school.
  • Time. You can give your kids a fantastic education in far less time than a classroom school requires. You can skip a long (and sometime dangerous) commute to school and work at your own pace. Many families have great, well-rounded homeschools that finish by noon each day. Homeschooling can give you more time to live at whatever pace of life you desire.
  • You don't have to rush your kids out the door in the morning. You can even sleep in if you want to (that is, if roosters/car horns/vendors/etc. aren't making a ruckus right outside your window)!
  • If you use a literature-rich curriculum, you can build up an English-language library for your family right at home. Your curriculum doubles as quality entertainment—your kids will read those gripping books again and again for years to come.
  • Because you're so involved with your children's education, homeschooling can open up extra lines of dialogue with your children. This can be a huge blessing when they have so much to process all the time.
  • You can live wherever the Lord sends you, even if there aren't schools nearby.
  • And of course, many of the benefits of homeschooling in the States still apply overseas. You have the opportunity to form close family bonds through learning together. You have huge flexibility in what, when and how you teach. You can tailor each child's education according to his or her learning style, strengths, weaknesses, special needs and interests. Because you can teach your faith as part of school subjects, you play an especially large role in your children's spiritual formation. And the student to teacher ratio is outstanding!

But I don't want to sugarcoat anything. Homeschooling can be difficult. As one homeschooling mom in the Middle East said, "Homeschooling overseas is scary. It's perfectly normal to feel that." Your life may be filled with changes. If you didn't homeschool in your homeland, you might feel overwhelmed to do so overseas. Here are some potential obstacles you may face if you homeschool overseas.

Potential obstacles to homeschooling overseas (according to moms who do it):

  • Homeschooling may be very unusual where you live. Your neighbors (and possibly the government) might think you're a bit odd.
  • Your neighbors may wonder if their local schools simply aren't "good enough" for you.
  • You may have to be more intentional about helping your children develop local friends. (Although some say homeschooling actually gives their children more time to play with other kids.)
  • You may face pressure that you aren't doing "real work" if you're at home homeschooling the kids.
  • You may feel inadequate to do the job. You're not a certified teacher; how can you know your children will learn? (Let me assure you: you can be a great teacher whether or not you are certified. You've taught your children so many skills and installed so much knowledge in them already; you can definitely continue teaching them "school" subjects.)
  • Homeschooling cements the fact that you're a stay at home mom. You can't get out and do as much work when you're homeschooling. (Though you can often complete school in half a day and still have the rest of the day to do as you'd like.)
  • It may be hard to draw good boundaries between homeschooling and your work. Your local neighbors (and supporters) may not understand that you really do have a full-time job as your children's teacher.
  • The biggest obstacle the moms on the International Forum raised is one you may already know too well: isolation. Sometimes having your children in school helps you connect with other families.

Overcoming the Obstacles

For many families, the benefits of home education far outweigh the drawbacks. But how do you overcome those obstacles?

First of all, please know that you really can homeschool if God calls you to! You know your children best, you love them dearly and you will make sure they learn. You figured out how to be a mother when you had never done it before. You taught your children how to talk, dress themselves and interact with the world around them. You can continue teaching them at home as they grow. (If you want more encouragement in that arena, click here for "You CAN Homeschool," a short podcast from real homeschool moms.)

I also want to encourage you that you are not alone. Thousands of moms all over the world homeschool successfully. Thousands of homeschooled adults now thrive in college, on the field, in the workforce, and in families of their own. There are resources, co-ops, online communities (like this one), websites, books and curriculum to help you. Also, know that you have options. Your homeschool doesn't have to look like anyone else's. You can use the curriculum you want, in the style you want, with the schedule you want. You can do all the teaching yourself, join a co-op where different parents teach different subjects, send your kids to school for only a few subjects, or use self-teaching products for high school (for example, you could use something like Teaching Textbooks for Math or Apologia for Science). You can use a boxed curriculum that gives you everything you need teach in one shipment. You could even hire a tutor to come teach your children at home.

If you feel God leading you to homeschool, I encourage you to pray about whether your main work for a season might be the education and training of your children. If God shows you that it is, know that this is a high and worthy calling!

Give yourself permission to take your job seriously. Ask a friend to pray regularly for your homeschool. Communicate clearly with your husband and brainstorm about his role in this endeavor. He might teach certain subjects, serve as the disciplinary "principal" of your school, help you pick curriculum, or just give you lots of encouragement and support along the way.

Now, how about finding community? The first step could be to look for a local homeschool support group or co-op. Consider starting one if need be. If there aren't other homeschoolers around, head online. Look for Yahoo groups and forums where you can feel at home. Over at the online Sonlight Curriculum Forums, our international moms have their own space where they encourage one another, share their struggles and triumphs, laugh together and pray for each other. (I'm sorry I'm not able to provide a link to that particular forum. It is hidden from public view to protect participants' identities.) It's a place where they find acceptance and understanding. They rally around the motto: Normal is only a setting on a dryer.

If you do start homeschooling, be realistic in your expectations. It's not going to be sweet family bliss every minute. Take it one day at a time. And whatever you do, don't compare yourself to others! To compare is futile at best, and downright discouraging at worst. Simply do what works for your unique family. As one mom said, "The homeschool experience works because it is personalized for each family."

So be good to yourself. Remember that God gives grace, grace and grace. He will be with you through the ups and downs of your family's journey. And in case you're still concerned, let me assure you that, yes, your children will learn.

As a wise friend told me, "Homeschooling is never really the goal." And she is so right. Our goal as parents is to walk with God as we raise, educate and disciple our children to walk with God, too! May God bless you deeply however you go about that precious privilege.


Author bio: Sarita Holzmann is co-founder and president of Sonlight Curriculum. She started Sonlight in 1990 in order to help missionaries stay in the field "one more year" by making homeschooling overseas more feasible. Her goal is to provide families with the rich resources they need to raise life-long learners who fervently pursue whatever God calls them to do. Sarita homeschooled her own four children and cherishes a legacy of family-centered, literature-rich home education.