Homeschool

Challenges of Homeschooling an Only Child

Your family is simple – mom, dad, child.  Homeschooling an only child has to be simple, right?  You can get through all of the daily assignments without having to worry about teaching the other siblings, or bouncing a baby in your lap.  This isn’t quite the case.  Instead, these smaller families face their own challenges of homeschooling an only child.

Looking for more information about how to homeschool an only?  Check out our resource page for homeschooling an only child.

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 (You can also read about the advantages of homeschooling an only and socialization strategies for onlies.)

Below are the 7 most common challenges that we’ve encountered from homeschooling an only child.

Challenges of Homeschooling An Only Child

1. You are the sole instructor.  That means you have to do all of the teaching, especially in the lower elementary grades.  There are no younger siblings for an older child to practice reading; there are no older siblings to teach or demonstrate a concept.  It’s entirely up to you to fulfill all of those rolls.   Likewise, this can also cause it’s own problems.  Your singleton can become dependent upon you sitting next to him for his entire school day.  I’ve noticed that when I step away for a moment to load the dishwasher, my son will suddenly loose all concentration, and cannot complete a single problem.  We’ve learned that talking while working helps my son to stay focused on his assignment, without me having to sit right next to him.

2.  Curriculum is costly.  When you have a larger family, it’s cost-effective to purchase curriculum and then reuse them when the younger siblings are ready.  However, when you have only one; you can’t reuse it, and must purchase new curriculum for each upcoming school year. We’ve found that buying used curriculum, when available, is a more economical option for our family.

3.  Your child strives for approval and self-worth from you. According to psychologists, singletons crave approval from their parents. In fact, most “onlies” are so sensitive to disapproval they can become disheveled over the slightest sense of disapproval. I often see this in my son, especially when he feels he is not meeting my expectations. Other times, if he feels he is going to be a failure from the start of a task, he’ll immediately decide he is not going to complete the task. I’ve learned that I must encourage him, and let him discovere that he can (italics) complete these tasks.

4. Household chores cannot be split among siblings.  One of the hardest challenges that we’ve faced is balancing schoolwork, housework, and running a business.  Many larger families find ways to balance all of the chores around the house, by splitting the tasks among the children.  This isn’t an option with an only child.  In fact, it would seem that having fewer children would mean that the house is cleaner; however, this is not the case in our home.  It seems that the messes appear everywhere, and the task of cleaning is never-ending.  Our adjustment is that the entire family shares the rolls of cleaning house.

5.  Your child has to learn how to be a team player.  In a school setting, children learn how to work together in small groups.  In a homeschool setting, they learn how to interact with their siblings, and even sometimes complete group projects together.  A homeschooled singleton misses out on both of these.  It falls to the parent to fulfill the roles of the classmate, as you would in a group setting.  By completing tasks and projects together, you both can enjoy the time together while learning about a new subject.

6. Likewise, you have to be the competition for your child.  When I was in 3rd and 4th grades, I had an arch-nemesis in school.  Her name was Brandy.  Looking back, I’m sure she was a sweet girl.  She was always respectful and kind, and never spoke a mean word.  But she was smart – really smart.  Every week, I wanted to beat her scores on the weekly language and math tests.  She was my competition.  Now that I am homeschooling an only, I realize that my son doesn’t have that “friendly competition” to push him to work hard, especially since there are no siblings to compete against.  Instead, my husband and I have to be the ones he strives to beat academically.  Of course, there are other activities that he can join to meet that competitive drive – sports teams, boy scouts, or even academic teams.

7.  Building friendships can be difficult. I’m stating this one last, as most new homeschooling families worry about the big S word – socialization. Personally, I am not worried about the socialization part, as there are numerous opportunities for socialization – the grocery store, outings and fieldtrips, playdates, etc. Playing and being around other other children is not the issue. It is friendships that an only child craves… or I should say my (italics) only child does. Luckily, he has a best friend who is essentially an only child, and also homeschools. His mother and I make sure that we plan at least one playdate together every other week minimum, so the boys can work on their budding friendship.  (UPDATE:  Here’s where I’ve also written about socializing the only child.)

What other challenges do you face from homeschooling an only child?  Have you found other ways to cope while homeschooling?

Are you homeschooling an only or thinking about homeschooling an only? See these other great resources for homeschooling an only child.

About the author

Leann

Leann is a homeschooling mama of an over-active 6 year old, proud wife of a cop, and pet lover of their two dogs, frogs, turtles – and cricket. Her blog, The Hands-On Homeschooler, chronicles their homeschooling journey, while throwing in tidbits about life, reviews, and recipes. Prior to being a stay-at-home mom, Leann taught math at a public high school for high achieving students. She and her family currently reside in the middle Tennessee area.

45 Comments

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  • We are homeschooling our only also. At 10 he is getting a little better about not needing me right next to him every moment of his learning but not completely yet. We found that cub scouts was a great way for him to get both the time with friends and working on group projects.

    It is nice to see that it isn’t just my family these things are happening in.

  • Great post! Thank you for sharing your thoughts. They are very synonymous of my own the last two years of homeschooling my only. He’s a great kid, but I’m learning as he gets older the time we spend away from each other is just as valuable as our homeschooling time together.

  • Yes, it is very encouraging to hear that there are others out there homeschooling only one child. This is very helpful information! Thank you!

  • Thank you for sharing this. I homeschool my only son who just recently turned 7. One thing that I find exhausting is that my son is the kind of kid who doesn’t like to be alone, has been since he was a baby. I get so exhausted being my son’s primary playmate. Sometimes I just have to step back and realize that I’m not an entertainment director on a cruise and just encourage him to go off by himself. Don’t get me wrong, my son has plenty of opportunities to play with other children at our co-op, church, and during organized sports, he also has some great friends that just live around the corner, as well as the next door neighbor’s children. When I first started homeschooling 2 years ago I felt like an outcast as I was the only one I knew at the time who homeschooled their only child, although nobody actually made me feel this way. I’ve just recently met more and more moms who homeschool their only as well. Thanks for sharing!

    • Erin, I agree…. (as my son is walking up to me right now, asking to play). We’ve always encouraged him to be his own playmate at times, so I fully understand what you are saying. We do play together as a family, but there are times when he needs to have his own personal time as well.

  • I also have an “only”. My daughter is eight. It has it’s challenges. But I can’t have anymore, so I count my blessing every day. It just makes me more creative. LOL

  • Leann, thank you for writing this post! We live way up in Sequoia National Forest and I homeschool my 5 year old daughter with lots of nature, art and projects. We live in a very remote area, where there are NO other children, and the isolation and socialization factors are difficult for us. I drive her to as many events and activities as possible, and we do travel quite often, but, still, we do drive 1 1/2 hours one way to reach even a grocery store. (Shocking-sounding ‘eh? My husband and I ran away to the mountains together to grow grapes, hike and make love at all hours, “back in the day”. 🙂 It was different before we had our wonderful child!) You are right about singletons not having as many others to bounce things off of, and learning to be a team player is often difficult for our daughter. When she does play with other kids, she tends to be dominating, often, and, partly because she is so much taller than her age, and has such a huge vocabulary etc., and partly because she is raised the way she is (lots of time in nature etc.) and just WHO she is, she tends to motivate toward much older kids. She thinks she is older. This can be a problem too. It has it’s ups and downs, but I love that we have the opportunity to live where we do, and I am grateful to be able to be a stay at home, homeschooling mom! I seem to have written a novel here, so I will stop now! Thanks again for writing and I wish all the hip moms a wonderful day!

    • Thanks, Karen. Sounds like your daughter learns a lot from her environment! Oftentimes, the challenges of having an only can also be the advantages! My son has a large vocabulary as well, and he always wants to play with the much older boys. In fact, we went to a Karate studio last summer, to see if he wanted to take Karate lessons. After watching the kids his age for a while, he turned to me and said, “Now, when are we going to stop watching the babies and see the kids my ago.” Lol.

    • “She thinks she is older. This can be a problem too.”

      It most certainly is not—especially as you homeschool her. She’s not shoved in a classroom with 25 kids her age. She gets to meet people of many ages. And she *can* have friends who are older. Most of my kids’ friends are 1-3 years older than her. When she’s an adult? It won’t matter. She will hang out with other intelligent cool people like herself—be they 20 or 82. That is the wonder of homeschooling. I would be concerned about her being exposed to other people outside the house. It isn’t quite the same, but a good compromise—have you ever considered Virtual School? They exist! She can build online friendships. She can also have pen pals. But most importantly, she will gain skills by being connected with you being a present part of her life. I can also speak as a child who grew up for a couple years in a remote area (in the mountains of West Virginia) that what your daughter may lose in not seeing other kids regularly, she will gain in learning about nature and experiencing it to the fullest every day. There are countless people who’d kill for that kind of childhood for themselves or their kids.

    • Hi Karen, I hope you get to see this. We have an 18 month baby also in a very remote area with no other children. She will be an only child and I am very keen to home school but have been concerned about lack of social contact and wondering if we should move somewhere less isolated. Would love to make contact with you and see how things are going with you guys now and your thoughts and suggestions would be much appreciated. Linda – littledriftwood@yahoo.com

  • Thank you so much for this. I feel like I’m the only one with an only child, 12 year old daughter. My main concern is developing friendships and not feeling lonely. One great thing about being an only child is they can handly being by themselves. My dad is an only child and has to work out of town, away from the family, and handles it well because of this. My mom, on the other hand is not an only child and doesn’t handle being by herself very well. Thank you again! GOD bless you.

  • Thanks for the insight! I have an only as well! Most of our friends have AT LEAST 3 kiddos! So, to help my daughter out, and my friends(heehee) I often take a kiddo off their hands! It’s good all the way around! I haven’t gotten into used curriculum too much yet, but am thinking of re-selling my lightly used when I have finished with it. My daughter wants to keep all the books though! 🙂 I definitely miss out on the lack of bodies to delegate housecleaning to as I come from a large family.

    • Tessa, I have to share with you that we “borrowed” a 3 year old today, and it was adorable how he was teaching her how to do some of his chores and even a few lessons. However, it was a relief that I could let her go back home at the end of the day.

      … and I’m off to the bookstore tomorrow to sell all of our curriculum from last year. It still looks brand new!

      • YES! Always nice when you can send them home! LOL! Well, surprise for me, not going to be an only much longer!! YIKES! I think they are a bit to far apart to share curriculum though so I still plan to resell… 😀

  • I was an only child and now my child is also an only. She, like all of you with onlies, is homeschooled. In a lot of ways it may be more of a challenge to the parent and the child come to think of it… Because from our standpoint- it all falls on us- everything! (It took a fellow homeschool mom with several kids to explain that to me!) More challenging for the child-because of everything you mentioned Leanne. What I’m doing now (she’s 6) is working with her when its appropriate. If she has an art project, I do one right along side her. She loves that! And I llisten to her read aloud now but I can totally envision both of us in a few years from now, sitting side by side on the couch- feet up-enjoying our individual reads together. What a blessing she is to us- I’m so thankful for my girl!

  • I just came across your blog and I really love it! I also homeschool just one child. I have a boy who is six years old. It is nice to connect with others who have just one child and homeschool. Yes, there are challenges. But, I try to look at all the wonderful blessings we have at homeschooling him instead of the challenges. I look at any challenges as opportunities of growth for me and my husband as well as my child. I will definitely be checking your blog often.

    • Thanks so much Denise. I’ve now added to this series, including posts about the advantages of homeschooling onlies as well as socialization strategies. I do hope you’ll come back and read them!

  • Thank you for this! 🙂 My only is 7 years old and acts like an adult. The problem is that he thinks he knows it all. I love him to pieces and we truly do have fun learning together. I just think that sometimes he thinks he needs to teach me. I’m praying he will learn some humility and not be so set in his ways. He has a wonderful imagination and is super intelligent…sometimes that intelligence is used to make mischief. He knows how to work all the electronics..make his own breakfast etc. He treats the cat like a sibling and I often have to separate the two. Lil man is sweet and often complimented for his manners. I think he just lets out the steam at home with me. I get to see his “other” side the most.

    • Amber, if you were a fly on the wall in my house, you’d often hear me repeating, “Remember, you DON’T know everything!” So, yes, I fully understand what you are saying! Not sure if it is a stage (my son is now 7), or just part of being an only, but humility is definitely something that we have to work daily!

  • Thank you for this! I am currently in my second year of homeschooling an only child, and have begun to see these exact issues pop up (especially the last one). I’m glad we aren’t the only family who faces these. We will start to implement your tips in our day. 🙂

  • Thanks so much for this post! I just happened upon this post (thank you God!) when I googled “homeschooling only child”, desperately searching for a little encouragement in this area. It’s such a comfort to know that there are moms homeschooling their only child out there and that makes me feel less alone. Every homeschooling family I know has at least three children and I feel almost like an outcast when I’m with them. My dream was to have a house full of kiddos that I would homeschool, but the Lord has chosen to bless us with one child instead of many, and we have grown to accept that. My passion for homeschooling is no less than those families with lots of children and I’m relieved to see posts like this one that encourage me in the journey!

    • Awww, Amanda, you are so sweet! We too wanted more children, but that was not part of God’s plan for us either.
      Thank you for your kind comments. I’m glad I could be encouraging to you.

  • Thanks for this great post Leann! It sure is comforting to hear that we are not alone in our daily challenges. My only is a five, soon to be six, year old little man. Two of our biggest challenges are also the humility aspect, and jealousy (mainly when he hears me praising other children). I presume the later issue is because he is so used to my full, undivided attention that when he has to share that, and the encouragement that I offer other children, he feels like he is having to share Mommy. We continue to work on both issues, always keeping in mind that building a strong character in our little man is a totally worthwhile investment 🙂

  • I really appreciated this article! I can COMPLETELY relate to each aspect – especially about having to SIT.RIGHT.THERE. the entire time to keep my 10 yr. old on task!! Glad to know I’m not the only one!! 🙂

  • I so understand this article. I have another unique prospect. I’m a widow and my son is my only child. So its us against the world. He becomes anxious easily if he thinks I’m disappointed while working on schoolwork. He also tends to think if its too hard, why bother to try? It’s very stressful at times to convince him that he can do it. He went to ps in kindergarten and 1/2 of 1st grade. He was considered gifted and was already doing 2nd grade work in the 1st grade. He was overwhelmed at times and bored if they backed off and let him to 1st grade work. I decided he needed one to one with me and he thrives BUT he has his moments. We have church friends, belong to a homeschool group and he is a cubscout. Thank you and god bless and a pinch of good luck in your endeavors.

  • I love this post and really needed it today. I have a son who just turned 7. We had always more than one but like another mom said here, God blessed us with one. I don’t know His plan but it will trump mine sure. I understand all the challenges you mention. This summer, I feel like I am failing my son. Today, he said he didn’t like himself. What? I didn’t know if that was an attention-getting tactic or if he really felt that way. I don’t want to play all the time. I need some silence…time to have my own thoughts. I need to plan for next year! He is a talker and I love that he can express himself. I still invoke “quiet time” most days. I work at night so I need rest at some point during the day. I also make a conscious effort to do group activities. I am creating an all boy’s book , joined at least 2 homeschool groups, go to the park every other week. I am forcing him to play a sport (any sport) for the competition and team connections. Even with all that, I feel it’s not enough. I worry about humility, strong work ethic and age-appropriate behavior. Chores are an issue for us. He hasn’t yet fully grasped the idea of working for rewards. He gravitates towards older kids too like the others mentioned. I have “borrowed” kids from time to time. It’s wonderful!!! I should try to “borrow” a younger child so he can enjoy that kind of caring for another. I do seek out other moms with onlies and seek to create friendships with them. We need to stick together and encourage one another! But never have I felt like an outcast in my area for homeschooling one. Everyone has been so wonderful really. I have no complaints there.

  • These are silly. These are problems people can equally have with *multiple* children. Just because you have more than one child doesn’t guarantee any of your kids have social abilities or won’t need help learning to share or be “team players.” The only child syndrome is an unfounded myth (even worse than the homeschooler stereotypes). There’s plenty of research that proves this.

    My husband (an only) is very successful in his field and has a lot of people who are friends. He is kind, funny, quiet-but-outgoing, and quite competitive (in a healthy way). Our daughter is following fantastically in his footsteps. Some of it is she takes after her dad, but I also don’t treat her any different than I would if I had a second kid. She isn’t a “special little snowflake,” and her social skills were gained from me taking her out of the house. You know—among people outside our family?

    Too many parents of multiples fail at this because they expect children to learn to “socialize” from siblings, but that actually isn’t a substitute for getting children around different people. I have a friend of 5 who has that misconception, and her kids are suffering for it—in spite of being in public school (in their situation, it’s probably for the best she *isn’t* homeschooling them).

    Take your child out and about. Be present for him or her when needed, and raise him/her with love. Regardless of whether your kid is naturally extroverted or introverted (needs to stop being a negative thing), s/he will turn out just fine. It’s all about balance.

  • Thank you for this blog!!!! It is a blessing to me. My 7 y/o daughter recently went to a homeschooling friend’s house (mom of 8 with 4 in elementary) for daily school time while I was in the hospital. Afterward, my friend said, “I never thought about single children in this setting, but it must be very trying for both of you at times.” And she is right. It is very trying. We have struggled and continue to struggle with many of the same things some of you have mentioned. My daughter got a taste of what it would be like schooling with siblings during that time and she had a lot to say about it…some good, some bad. Yes, she would like to see other children learning by her side, laugh with other kids at funny history lessons, make creative art with other small hands, read aloud to a cool teenager, see another child struggle with cursive, etc. But, she has me and dad to pour into her and her alone. With one child, we can pour undilutedly into her heart. I used to be envious of families with multiples. Many things are easier in those settings, and many difficult. But I know God’s plan is perfect and his blessings are good and come in all shapes and sizes… and amounts. Thank you Lord, and please give us the patience and encouragement we need each day to teach our child!

  • I have a 10 year old daughter who I have been homeschooling since 1st grade. It is nice that she can now work more independently, for I work full time and she is home with her dad during the day. She has an extremely social personality so I allow her to do several “after school” activities. She takes dance class because she loves to dance but feels left out because the other girls gossip about school and do not include her in their conversations at all. She was in the school play last year and some kids gave her a hard time about her being there, but she really wanted to do it since her friends were in it. She yearns to be able to do school with other kids, but I have yet to find a co-op or other group that meets in the evening or weekends since I work during the day. And I have found that “borrowing” a child does not seem to happen since it is a male caregiver at home, even a close friend of mine who homeschools her 2 daughters. This breaks my heart because she expresses that she is lonely. But on the other side, I love the one on one time that we get to share together and I love being a part of watching her learn and grow as a person.

    • I’m sure you’ve probably already thought of this, but is it possible for your daughter to go to your friend’s house once a week to do school and play instead of having your friends children over to your house? Or is her dad able to take her to co-op or on field trips with other local homeschoolers? In my local homeschool group, we have one or two stay-at-home dads, and they attend field trips and play days, etc., just like the moms would if they were the ones staying at home. Also, there could be chances for her to volunteer at an animal shelter or veterinarian’s office or even a local pet store. (We have a pet store near us, and they allow folks to sign up to take the cats out of the cages and play with them one or two at a time. It’s good for the cats and fun for the volunteers!) You might want to check with a local library to see if they might have chances for her to help with children’ programs. Or she might even be allowed to go to a local kindergarten class to read to the kids there once a week or help them with art activities. I hope some of these suggestions are helpful!

  • Your article hit on many of my concerns with my 11 year old only son who I’m homeschooling for the first year (he went to Catholic School prior to that.)

    I just wanted to thank you for the encouragement and insightful comments.
    Leslie G in Calabasas, CA

    • Have you checked to see if there are any homeschool support groups near you? When my children were little, we did once-a-week play days at a local park.

  • A great friend he meets at a minimum once every 2nd week?! My son gets into a funk if 3 days go by without spending long quality time with a good friend (age 7 now). He would be so depressed if that was all he got. Things like cubs or swimming lessons don’t count in his mind – he wants a good 4 hour play block every few days (every day if he could). I guess it depends how much intro-extravert a child is. We moved out of province, and despite being in a valley with a huge homeschooling capita and great people, they don’t get together regularly enough for my child’s social needs. I had to opt for a small private school part-time just for friend regularity. I find the biggest challenge in homeschooling an only is the lack of ability to do group projects. My son is extremely bonded to me and really needs his mommy-time, but he isn’t as inspired to learn things if he can’t work on it with another child. I would really like to have a homeschooling co-op. Hoping desperately that I can get people on board with me for next year :). Other people with ideas?

    • When my children were that age, we got together for a play day each week (on a set day and time) for a few hours. But at that age, we did only a couple of hours of school work each day, so we had plenty of play time. Yes, you could definitely start a co-op for next year or just find a friend or two who would like to get together once a week or so. But if your child doesn’t consider activities like Cub Scouts or swimming lessons as time with his friends, will he consider co-op time as time with his friends? If not, then I would definitely put more effort into play dates each week than into starting a co-op.

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