When I used to think of homeschooling, I’d think of parents packing up RV’s and driving their kids across the U.S. to get them in touch with nature and get a real education, whatever that entailed. It wasn’t until we had a go at homeschooling my little brother during kindergarten, that I understood what homeschooling was all about — and it’s not a gypsy freedom.

Nowadays, there are so many programs that provide homeschooling services, many of which are free after 3rd grade. A number of them include interactive classrooms, where there are other students virtually attending and a teacher will actually hold class sessions. My brother joined up with K12, which in kindergarten didn’t come with any horns and whistles. They sent boxes of manipulatives and textbooks, and basically presented an entire online learning plan that my mother was supposed to drag him through.

Even the programs that provide teacher support and peer collaboration can’t compete with actually sending a kid to school, though. My mother’s friend is currently in misery because her son enjoys constantly playing hooky from his online classes; once he does get dragged to the computer, it’s not like the teacher can really call him out for misbehaving, though.

While homeschooling support groups and meet-ups are all very well in their own place, I’ve always felt like my homeschooled acquaintances are more sheltered than other children usually are. They are tentative about stepping into the world, and if they’ve been homeschooled all the way through high school, taking the leap into entering college comes with its own group of problems. I’ve also noticed that some parents who choose to homeschool their kids tend to be slightly overprotective of them, almost as if they think their kids are encircled in a sphere of thin plastic wrap.

Is school life harsh sometimes? Definitely — I can’t count the number of times I’ve gotten into scuffles or just held myself from tattling to the teacher, but I like to consider all those moments as essential life experiences. It’s hard to get that experience with the homeschool friends you meet up once a month with at McDonald’s.

It’s even more difficult when parents are shouldering the entire homeschool burden, not only for the parents but for their kids too. We have teachers teaching different things because those are their strengths; it’s unwise to expect a single person to hold the key to every discipline of knowledge. As a current student teacher, I’m learning so much about new strategies to use with struggling kids, gifted kids, new activities and experiments to try, etc. I recall that my brother’s program also had a bunch of optional activities you could try at home — my brother was somehow always behind on his coursework anyways, though, so we’d usually skim through everything labeled ‘optional’, in hopes of somehow making it to the end.

I’m not trying to say that homeschooling is completely without benefits, that it has no real educational value at all — people have their reasons and I respect that; my brother was simultaneously enrolled in a religious learning program so he had no choice but to be homeschooled. All I mean to say is that there’s some definite caution that needs to be taken when considering homeschooling as a replacement for sending kids to any charter, public or private school because the differences are there and they’re going to have an impact.