Home schoolers often face a lot of negative, incorrect assumptions from the general public. The most common ones being that 1) you will not know how to function socially, 2) you will be sheltered from every good and bad thing in this world (because, of course, you never leave your home), and 3) you wear funny clothes and have a billion siblings. Interestingly, when people got to know me in my high school years, they were always surprised to find that I was indeed home schooled--I guess I wasn't what they were expecting.
I was home schooled (commonly referred to as a "homie" by home schoolers) for my entire K-12 career, as were (and still are), my seven sisters. Yes, I said 7 sisters--that makes 8 of us altogether. It wasn't until I entered college that I stepped foot into a public classroom both as a student at our local community college and also as a substitute teacher in the local grade school system. The real world came as such a shock to me that I immediately threw out my ankle length dresses, cut myself a set of bangs, and practiced saying the word "sex" out loud because I had only ever read it before (and only then in the context of the Bible). Oh wait, none of that actually happened.
Being home schooled is not a restraining education system. In fact, it is the most liberating that you could have if you do it right. The only other educational model that I hold in as much esteem is a true Montessorian modality, and that is harder to come by than a solid home education. So what exactly does it mean to be "home schooled?" People often ask me who "taught" me, where I sat to do my school, and if I ever left home. These questions show me that people misinterpret being home schooled as just a different way of schooling, not a different way of educating. To really understand what goes on in the home school system, you must first stop thinking of it as traditional schooling.
To further illustrate this point, I will explain the answer to the three questions above:
1) Who "teaches" you when you're home schooled?
Answer: Many people and many things. During the early grades, there will be much 1:1 instruction similar to a traditional teacher role. Most of the education in home schooled families is done by the mother during the morning and early part of the day (you will find that homies are able to complete the same amount of coursework much faster than their non-homie counterparts). As the student progresses in grades, the traditional teacher role will become more of a mentor role as the student takes on a strong self learner ability. Think about it--do you need a teacher to read the text book to you in High School?
It is generally a parent who will oversee and correct your work, though home schooled students are often expected to self-correct where possible. For instance, I would compare my math question answers to that in the teacher's manual for my math curriculum. If I couldn't correct any mistakes I'd made, I would then ask a parent who would re-explain the concept to me until I understood it. This brings up the issue of cheating from traditionally schooled people, and I must admit that cheating isn't a problem. There's no need for cheating since you're already the top of your class and the point of school is to learn, not to merely fill up time.
Many education options are available to home schoolers. Most use a variety of different curriculums including even developing their own. There are textbook, video, Internet, workbook, and project based curriculums on the market right now. You can also use hands on experiences for schooling though, such as gardening (botany, anyone?), ice skating (P.E.), and volunteering to maintain a shelf at your local library (alphabetizing). If you are interested in a "classroom" option, there are home schooled groups all over the country that meet on a regular basis for specialized classroom instruction, usually in something like art, music, or a foreign language. A little unknown fact, too, is that in most places, home schoolers can opt to take as many or as few classes at their local public school as they wish.
2) Where do you sit to do school?
Answer: anywhere, and most of the time, I'm not sitting. This again goes back to the idea of education vs. schooling. Research on learning shows that we learn best when provided with a multi-sensory approach that allows us to experience something rather than learn about something. Many students struggle in a traditional classroom not because they're unable to learn, but because the teaching style doesn't meet that student's learning style (learning styles: auditory, visual, kinesthetic, musical, etc.). Research also shows that a child's best learning environment is one that is free from basic distractions (hunger, cold, etc.) and is comfortable. I used to lay outside under the sun while completing an English assignment, sit on the floor while piling math manipulatives, and curl up on my bed with a calculator for math. Handwriting, though, was always done at the dining room table. ;-) If you were home, would you want to sit in the same spot all day?
3) Do you ever leave home?
Answer: I suppose that maybe somewhere, home schoolers stay at home all day. I have never met them, though. Because home schooling allows you to complete your schooling in a shorter time frame every day, you have a lot more time to devote to other things. My sisters and I were/are constantly involved in volunteering (libraries, fire departments, etc.), sports (*gasp* even joining the public school's ski club!), music (lessons, choirs, bands), hanging out with friends, and pursuing the things that were interesting to us--I was even able to start and run my own business while still in high school!
With all of this said, home schooling requires discipline and creativity. Done correctly, it will provide your children with a very well rounded and strong academic experience while providing them with even more new experiences during their young years than a non-home schooled child typically will. Done incorrectly, your child will not be academically prepared for college and may not understand all of the "social" rules of his or her peer group. For me, the home school experience was a brilliant one. I was able to pursue things I wouldn't have had time for otherwise, academically learned more than my public and private schooled friends, was well prepared for college (3.98 GPA at a Junior Ivy-League 4 year college--all while double majoring and working full time), and have had a very satisfying social experience for as long as I can remember. Home schooling, in my experience and opinion, is like Mark Harris' song that says "so let my love give you roots and help you find your wings." It is the opportunity to learn.