Confession: I was once a never-homeschooler. I went to public school, and I'm the daughter of a public high school teacher. The homeschoolers I knew growing up were socially awkward at best (even more so than me, which I thought was impossible).
Enter 2020: A time when early learning centers shut down frequently due to Covid.
That November, we finally decided to pull our daughter because the center was closed more often than open, yet our monthly payment remained the same. Aurora was 3 months shy of turning 5 years old, so we figured this was a temporary arrangement and that she'd start kindergarten the following fall.
Boy, were we wrong.
Although she missed seeing her friends every day at first, she thrived in her new learning environment. By the time she would have started kindergarten, she was too academically advanced to "fit in" with her peers. At home, I could provide her with highly individualized education and accommodate her severe ADHD and OCD without disrupting others.
But, it's taken a bit of creativity to address the social and developmental needs typically met within a larger family or traditional classroom setting. If you find yourself in this situation, here are my tips for homeschooling an only child.
1. Determine your child's learning style.
I wish I'd learned this sooner. Instead, I approached homeschooling like school at home. Don't get me wrong: That method does work for some families, despite the outcry against it from the homeschooling community. But you have an only child, and they might learn best with a different approach.
We fought screentime for too long and wasted a lot of money on curriculum and other resources. Yet, it turns out that my daughter learns best via video and audio.
Don't make my mistake. Experiment with different learning styles on small scales to determine what works and doesn't.
2. Personalize learning.
Homeschooling allows your only child to set their own pace. If they excel at math but struggle with reading, more time can be allocated to literacy without making them feel pressured or "behind."
For us, homeschooling has been about catering to personal interests as much as state academic requirements and expectations. Aurora loves birds and mythical creatures that fly. Watching her become a budding ornithologist has been priceless.
If your child shows an interest in something specific, like astronomy or coding, embrace and pursue it in your day-to-day learning and online and/or in-person groups of like-minded kids.
3. Supplement your curriculum.
First, I can tell you there's no such thing as a comprehensive all-in-one curriculum. The big names everyone recognizes make this claim, but you'll find each one lacks something. But that's OK; just supplement!
Use online resources. Frequent your library. Watch documentaries. Subscribe to educational kits. Go on field trips (in-person or virtual).
Why is supplementing especially important for and exciting with an only child? Because this is your time to foster their lifelong love of learning. It's just you and them.
As they grow older, they become more independent, which is great in many respects. But sending them off to complete their curriculum work for the day removes that treasured one-on-one learning time. Supplementing gives you the opportunity to get it back!
Aurora is only 8, but she's already fiercely independent. Am I obsessed with (or even mildly interested in) birds? Nope. Do I know a whole lot about them and could carry on a conversation as though I was? Thanks to encyclopedias, documentaries, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and just general conversations with her, you betcha!
4. Design interactive learning experiences.
To foster critical thinking, interactive learning experiences are key. This could include hands-on science experiments, cooking projects that teach fractions, or history reenactments.
Use everyday moments as teaching opportunities, and encourage your only child to ask questions and explore solutions on their own. This approach helps develop self-reliance and problem-solving skills.
Every weekend, Aurora visits my parents. My mom is an incredible cook and seamstress. Although she initially fought the idea of homeschooling (after all, she was a public school teacher!), she's now fully embraced it. Aurora's learning so much from her about things she'll experience throughout her life.
My husband is an engineer, so he oversees science experiments. We subscribed to Kiwi Crates for several years and took them on travel with us so they could build and bond on the road! Now she's very into Legos, and they discuss the best way to design whatever pops into her mind that day.
5. Don't rule out online socialization.
The question of socialization is often at the forefront of discussions around homeschooling--even more so when you have an only child. Without siblings or classmates, how do they develop vital social skills?
Be proactive, and provide social experiences through alternative means. This can include joining homeschooling groups or co-ops, participating in community sports, arranging regular playdates, or engaging in group classes in areas like art, music, or martial arts.
But seriously, online interaction counts, too. Think about your own life. How many friends and family members do you keep in touch with via social media, texting, and FaceTime? If you're like me, it's pretty much everyone.
Aurora's best friend used to live across town, but they moved to Puerto Rico a few years ago. Yet, they still talk nearly every day over Facebook Messenger Kids! She's also part of a Feather Family (Roblox game) virtual meetup twice a week where a group of bird-loving homeschoolers gather on Zoom to play the game together. They've even celebrated each others' birthdays online!
6. Don't over-schedule.
Signing your only child up for every possible opportunity to socialize might be tempting, but there is such a thing as going overboard in more ways than one.
For example, among many other activities at the time, Aurora used to take gymnastics classes. She met a few friends there, but when we asked if she really liked going, she said no. My husband and I had chosen it for her just to meet new people, but it turned out it just wasn't her thing.
Only children might also become over-stimulated and overwhelmed by too much on their plate throughout the week. You might think they need exposure to as many kids as possible, but they might value their solo time.
In other words, socialization shouldn't be the only goal. Involve your child in schedule- and activity-related decisions. Give them their options, but allow them to say no.
7. Encourage community engagement.
Volunteering offers a two-fold benefit: it provides practical experience in working with diverse groups and instills a sense of empathy and responsibility. Whether it's helping at a local food bank or participating in environmental clean-ups, these experiences enrich an only child's understanding of teamwork and community spirit.
This is not something we've done yet, but Aurora wants to volunteer for the local animal shelter. She has such a big heart, and we're waiting for her to get a bit older so she understands she can't bring them all home!
8. Be flexible.
The flexibility inherent in homeschooling is one of its most empowering features. You have the freedom to meet educational standards and ignite your child's love of learning through everything from unit studies to hands-on projects that bring concepts to life.
Moreover, without the constraints of a traditional school timetable, learning can occur at times when your child is most receptive. This could mean aligning lessons with their natural rhythms or interspersing educational activities with regular breaks to keep them motivated and focused.
In the Huhman household, we're all morning people. Aurora gets to wake up and start whenever she's ready, but we're almost always done with official schoolwork for the day by 9 a.m. That leaves the rest of the day for exploration and play!
I'll leave you with this: Even though only 19% of homeschooling families have an only child, it is a uniquely wonderful opportunity for you and your learner. Embrace it!