051 A Christian Author’s Guide to the Homeschool Market

Here are the show notes for the most recent episode of the Christian Publishing Show.

You can listen to this episode here.

 

Apology: Sorry there was no episode last week. I was recovering from a trip to the ER.

For many authors, the homeschool market seems like the promised land. Here is a market that buys millions of Christian books a year.

It looks to many authors like how China looks to many international businesses. “Wow China has a billion customers. If we could reach only 1% of them with our product we would be rich!” Those companies then slap Chinese labels on their products only to watch them fail in the Chinese market. Why? Because China is a different market.

To succeed in selling to a culture you need to understand that culture.

Why the Homeschool Market is Important for Christian Authors

It is not uncommon for homeschoolers to walk away from the library with a couple dozen books every few weeks. My homeschool mom has purchased perhaps 4,000 books over the last 20 years. Maybe more. She has an entire room in her house dedicated to books with shelves covering every wall. This is not uncommon. Homeschool moms brag about their “book buying problems.”

More and more homeschool moms are getting into book writing, especially as their children grow up.

My Experience Homeschooling

I am the oldest of five children and my parents started homeschooling us in 1992. They went on to homeschool for another 26 years making them “Elders” in the community. As a family we have helped start homeschool speech and debate clubs around Texas.

My first company, Brook Audio, was an audiobook publishing company for the homeschool market. I have traveled around the country attending and speaking at homeschool events and conferences.

My wife was homeschooled all the way through and her family was also very active in the homeschool community. Her dad was on the board for our local homeschool organization.

While I understand parts of the homeschooling movement, there are literally hundreds of different homeschool communities around the country. Each one is a little different from the others.

The History of Homeschooling Explains a Lot

To understand the homeschool market you need to understand the different streams homeschool parents come out of. There is no homeschool market but rather several separate homeschool markets. In this guide, I will be talking most about psychographic and demographic differences but realize there are also many different geographic differences. Homeschool communities in Suburban California are very different from communities in rural South Carolina.

5 Types of Homeschoolers

Disclaimer

These streams tend to represent how homeschoolers congregate, not how they see themselves. They don’t identify with any of these streams and would probably not appreciate being “put in a box” like this. These groupings are for marketing purposes.

Every homeschool family is a unique snowflake, and it will not be hard to find exceptions to these observations. But as a marketer I find it very helpful to see how the markets are different from each other. Just because an observation is not universally true does not mean it can’t be generally helpful.

All of these streams continue to this day although some are bigger than others. Also, some families come out of more than one stream or have more complex motivations for homeschooling.

Stream 1 Hippie Homeschoolers

In the 70s the first wave of homeschoolers were hippies, believe it or not. Their parents didn’t want “the man” indoctrinating their children or couldn’t be bothered to take them to school. A good representation of this early homeschool culture is the bestselling book Possum Living, which is about a father and daughter who live “off the grid” not paying taxes and living off of about $1,000 a year.

Hippie Homeschoolers are more likely to use an approach called Unschooling that eschews curriculum in favor of a curiosity-driven education.

This is perhaps the smallest group today, and they value independence and eschew traditional morality and mainstream culture. This is the kind of homeschooler that smokes pot, has purple hair and spent a few years living in a commune at one point in the 90s.

Quick Stats:

  • Location: Rural
  • Estimated Size: 50,000

Stream 2 Fundamentalist Homeschoolers

It started with sex education in the 1980s. Conservative parents did not want their children exposed to sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll in school so they brought them home. These homeschoolers tend to value morality and character more than education. They were willing like the hippies before them to break the law in order to homeschool their children.

I remember the days of hiding from the police as a homeschooler. My family had a cover story, a “name” for our “school” and were very careful what we said to strangers. So different from today where my siblings proudly proclaim that they are homeschooled to anyone who asks.

The academic benefits are icing for these parents. They would continue to homeschool even if they could get a better education at a public school. This is stream is the biggest homeschool segment of if for no other reason than that these parents have so many children.

The typical fundamentalist family has 4-6 children and it is not uncommon to see families who count their children in the double digits. This group is also the poorest typically living off of a single income that is sometimes blue collar. This group of homeschoolers also tends to be more rural than the academic homeschoolers.

Quick Stats:

  • Location: Both rural and suburban.
  • Estimated Size: 1,750,000

Stream 3 Academic Homeschoolers

The 90s marked a low point in our nation’s views of its public schools. Parents lost confidence in the government school system. Local governments, not knowing how to fix their education problems, relaxed laws that discriminated against homeschooling. Remember, this is the decade that led to the drastic “No Child Left Behind” reforms in the early 2000s.

Also in the 90s, reports started coming in from the first two streams of homeschoolers. Despite their (sometimes) uneducated parents, they were getting into and excelling in colleges around the country. Universities began to rescind their policies that discriminated against homeschooled students and soon many started to actively recruit them. Remember the hippie girl from the book Possum Living? She went on to work at NASA as a rocket scientist.

This encouraged academically-minded parents in bad school districts. In these homeschool families, both parents typically have college degrees with perhaps a few postgraduate degrees as well. This stream is generally wealthier and more suburban. They live in nice neighborhoods and shop at Costco.

Also in this stream are parents of savants and geniuses. Parents of “wiz kids” often opt to homeschool to help their child advance at an accelerated pace. These “wiz kids” often get a truncated homeschool experience and typically enter college early.

Academic families see tend to see homeschooling as an option while fundamentalist families tend to see it as a calling. It is not uncommon for Academic families to be in and out of private schools.

This Academic Stream tends to be more liberal, more permissive and less sheltering than the Fundamentalist Stream.

Academic Homeschoolers could be further subdivided into two groups: religious and secular. Just because a parent is homeschooling for academic reasons, does not mean that the parent is not also religious.

This is an important distinction to understand.

The Fundamentalist Homeschoolers systematically exclude the Secular Academic Stream from as much as they can. They do this by requiring parents to sign a Statement of Faith in order for their children to participate in homeschool activities.

Do you want to:

  • sing in a homeschool choir? Sign a statement of faith.
  • join a homeschool debate team? Sign a statement of faith.
  • play on a homeschool basketball team? Sign a statement of faith.
  • attend a homeschool science co-op? Sign a statement of faith.

This discrimination has created two separate homeschool communities. The Secular Academics tend to stay to themselves.

Religious Academics can float in both communities but tend to join the fundamentalist actives which are the bigger and more established. Academic families tend to have only 2-3 children while fundamentalist families have 4-6 children. So, the fundamentalist homeschool basketball league will typically have more players than the secular league. This becomes a self fulfilling prophecy as the religious academics opt for the fundamentalist programs making them even bigger.

When I was a student the big hullabaloo was that one of the local homeschool choirs allowed Mormons to participate. Some fundamentalist parents did not want their children singing next to a Mormon and pulled them out of the Homeschool choir. It can be hard to find a community as a Mormon or Catholic homeschooler.

Quick Stats:

  • Location: Mostly suburban.
  • Estimated Size: 1,000,000

Stream 4 Special Needs Homeschoolers

This stream is the photo negative of Academic Stream. These are parents who bring their children home because of mental, emotional or physical needs.

These children usually have some sort of:

  • Debilitating illness
  • Physical/Emotional/Mental Special Need
  • Relational Challenge (bully problem, extreme autism, etc.)
  • Location Challenge (missionary kids living in a remote area of a foreign country)

This stream often does not identify themselves as “homeschooler”. They still think and act with public school social norms. They often see their time homeschooling as a temporary. They typically don’t embrace a homeschool community, choosing instead to stay on the outskirts of the public school community they came from.

Often only the child with a special need is kept home while the siblings still attend a public/private school. They want to return to that community. You can find these homeschoolers at the local public school football game on Friday nights. This stream is arguably the oldest since some special needs children have been kept home for as long as the public school system has been around.

Quick Stats:

  • Location: Mostly suburban.
  • Estimated Size: 250,000

Stream 5 Second Generation Homeschoolers

Homeschooling has been around long enough that homeschool students are starting to homeschool their own children. I don’t understand this stream as well, despite the fact that my wife and I plan to homeschool our children. From what I can tell, they are generally less extreme than their parents. They also tend to be less idealistic and less dogmatic about homeschooling. They are more likely to see homeschooling as something with pros and cons rather than an approach that is superior in every way.

Another difference I have noticed with second-generation homeschoolers is that they are more secure in their homeschooling. I remember my mom being nervous about criticism from our church and extended family when we announced we were going to homeschool. One of the homeschool books recommended doing service projects for your church to get them to think positively about homeschoolers. 2nd Genners have less to prove, thanks in part to the hard work of the previous generation. Homeschooling is more mainstream now. For 2nd genners, homeschooling is normal. Going to a regular school would be a weird thing for us.

Quick Stats:

  • Location: Mostly suburban.
  • Estimated Size: Unknown

The Future of the Homeschooling Community

Homeschool Leadership Shift

The fundamentalist homeschool community is just now entering a big season of change. Most of the first generation homeschool leaders have or will soon step down. These men have guided the homeschool movement for the last 30 years giving it form and direction. A leadership vacuum opening at the top of the fundamentalist homeschool movement and it will be interesting to see who fills it moving forward.

The new leaders that emerge will give new direction to the movement. I don’t know who those leaders will be but keep an eye on Alex Harris and Brett Harris. Their father Gregg Harris is very influential in the community. The Harris Brothers have already started challenging the matriarchal homeschool culture with their book Do Hard Things.

New Challenges

Homeschoolers have finally won their legal battles and have gained legal protection from most governments and acceptance within the academic community. These external battles where the primary challenge for first generation of homeschool leaders.

The challenge for the second generation of leaders will be more internal. Dealing with sexual predator problem inside the homeschool community and with disillusioned homeschool graduates who are becoming the biggest opponents of fundamentalist homeschooling.

Mainstreamification 

We should also see homeschool communities get more mainstream as University Model Private Schools and new technology lower the barriers of entry. Also homeschool graduates will start rising into prominence throughout culture bringing more visibility to the movement.

More Diversity

In the early decades of the homeschool movement it was mostly white and evangelical. While homeschool leaders accepted people of other ethnicities they did not accept their cultures. Bill Gothard was famous for rejecting any music with an African influence, for example. As the influence of these voices wanes, more communities and ethnicities are experimenting with homeschooling.

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The post 051 A Christian Author’s Guide to the Homeschool Market appeared first on Christian Publishing Show.

12 Responses to 051 A Christian Author’s Guide to the Homeschool Market

  1. Avatar
    Roberta Sarver November 26, 2019 at 7:00 am #

    Thomas, Thanks for this informative post. As per your comment about Bill Gothard rejecting music with an African beat, I think this could be misconstrued. Although we don’t know the man, we had interaction with the people in his music department years ago, when selling some music we had written. Mr. Gothard rejected ALL music with a contemporary beat, in favor of the old hymns. Since African music contains a strong beat, it fell into the category of music he didn’t allow to be used in his organization. Again, we don’t know Mr. Gothard, but I don’t think he could be construed as racist.

    • Avatar
      Thomas Umstattd Jr. November 26, 2019 at 1:47 pm #

      The reason Bill Gothard rejected rock beats is that he claimed they originated with animistic rituals from Africa. Its was the “African influence” in the modern music he didn’t like. This seems like a distinctly racist motivation to me.

  2. Avatar
    Mrs. White November 26, 2019 at 7:46 am #

    I appreciate this thoughtful insight into the different categories of homeschooling. I found the background you shared to be fascinating. There are certainly different markets for books geared to this group. I homeschooled all of my children and they are now parents themselves. It was a wonderful time!

    • Avatar
      Katie J Trent November 26, 2019 at 12:30 pm #

      Thanks for sharing. I’m interested in your practical tips and tools for marketing to homeschoolers. I homeschool my kids and am in the process of publishing a devotional for homeschool moms. I live in Arizona and am part of a larger network of homeschoolers, but as a new author, I’d love your thoughts and suggestions for effectively reaching Christian homeschool moms. Happy Thanksgiving!

  3. Avatar
    Daphne Woodall November 26, 2019 at 7:55 am #

    Thomas, I’m saving to listen later. Sorry about the ER visit. I hope you’ve recovered. We have lots of homeschoolers in our church and our Small Group. I love their children because they are some of the brightest, intelligent and great communicators. And they bring books to read during their time. They love fiction and some have written and self published. Very impressed. I know they take advantage of the library resource and purchase as well.

    I look forward to listening to your podcast.

  4. Avatar
    M.C. Weaver November 26, 2019 at 7:58 am #

    Thomas, I appreciate your succinct summation of the homeschool movement, and many of your observations resonate with me. As homeschoolers ourselves during the 80’s and 90’s in Central Texas, we served the homeschool community by selling used textbooks. During those years of selling books, we observed the conscientious (the majority) as well as the laissaz faire parental/teacher approach to homeschooling. Our fellow homeschoolers, with whom we interacted in a local homeschool organization, ranged from six-child families to only-child families. For religious as well as academic reasons, we homeschooled our three children until we believed that they needed what a Christian school environment had to offer. A few members of the homeschool community did criticize us for not homeschooling “all of the way through.” Now we are second generation homeschoolers as we help our daughter in teaching one of our grandgirls. Ultimately, I would agree that catagorization of homeschoolers defies clear boundaries; however, your descriptions help provide clarity.

  5. Avatar
    Lori Ann Hatcher November 26, 2019 at 9:50 am #

    Thank you, Thomas, for this excellent summary of the homeschool community. I agree that it’s a slippery thing, hard to pin down and even harder to characterize, but you’ve done a great job. We began homeschooling our daughters in 1994, just a few years after your parents, and I remember coaching my girls how to answer someone if they were asked, “Why aren’t you in school?” or “Aren’t you lonely?”

    We saw the shift from having to convince colleges to take a risk on a homeschooled student to seeing them recruit them. They discovered they were independent, conscientious learners who were well-rounded additions to their campus.

    My greatest joy was hearing my youngest daughter (who was convinced we were out to ruin her life) announce her desire to homeschool her children. I take this as the second-highest vote of confidence. Some day I hope to hear the highest accolade: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

    Every time I hear or read one of your well-written and insightful posts, I smile. “He’s one of us,” I think. Kudos to your mom and dad. Best wishes as you prepare to homeschool your precious daughter.

  6. Avatar
    shaunaletellier November 26, 2019 at 1:27 pm #

    Fascinating article. Makes me wonder if you read/listened to “Educated” by Tara Westover. It’s also fascinating (and heart-wrenching).

  7. Avatar
    Barbara Ellin Fox November 26, 2019 at 2:11 pm #

    I understand your purpose is marketing, but your post on homeschooling disturbed me, particularly your view of the history of homeschooling.

    Homeschooling certainly has deeper roots than the hippie culture. By need, homeschooling started in America during the seventeenth century. Many American statesmen had lengthy periods of homeschooling in their educations. John Quincy Adams and Thomas Jefferson are two who come to mind. Even Patrick Henry was schooled by his father after he did not do well with early education in a school setting. I feel that beginning your history with the hippies of the 70s belittles homeschooling.

    I would also ask you how the one who smokes pot and has purple hair differs from many of the people we see today in the public school system.

    And, the belief that the use of birth control is sinning against God stems from certain religions that include many publicly and privately schooled families. These belittling descriptions are the wrong way to describe homeschooling families.

    Your article indicates there is a great deal of prejudice among homeschoolers which makes it sound like a most unpleasant way to school children.

    As my husband always warns, 70.28 percent of all statistics are made up. With that in mind, it would be good for those who are going to market to know where the statistics you quote originated. Did they come from a reliable survey?

    This quote from Sir Winston Churchill not only represents the beliefs of many of the homeschooling families I have known, it also portrays a common belief in the business world, particularly the last line.

    “Schools have not necessarily much to do with education… they are mainly institutions of control, where basic habits must be inculcated in the young. Education is quite different and has little place in school.”

  8. Avatar
    Luci Tumas November 26, 2019 at 4:38 pm #

    All five of my grandkids are being homeschooled for 3 of the reasons you listed: cheaper than the local Christian school, better option than the public school environment, and for a learning disability. My daughter and kids participate in a weekly 1/2 day teaching consortium with other families. She will be using my newly-written Middle Grade novel (unpublished so far) to teach life lessons, science modules, and Biblical principles. I look forward to your suggestions of ways to connect with an agent / publisher interested in this novel-with-curriculum.

  9. Avatar
    S. K. Stewart November 27, 2019 at 7:02 am #

    I homeschooled my kids beginning in the early ’80s. I fell in your categories of hippy homeschooler and fundamentalist. A couple of things I see differently.

    “Unschooling” is possibly more popular now than when I started homeschooling. Only the name has changed. Some Christian rejected “unschooling” because it began with John Holt in the 70s. He not only believed that children should be able to choose what and how they learned academics, they also should be able to determine religious beliefs without influence from adults. Gregg Harris’s “Delighted Directed Learning” is very similar to unschooling, for example. Harris, however, includes Christian training as part of his model.

    As I continue to write and speak in the homeschool world, I’m finding more interest in what I call Lifestyle Learning than thirty, even twenty, years ago.

    You refer to the first generation of modern homeschool movement as men. Actually most state and local organizations were led by women. We women leaders would at times receive criticism if our husband weren’t active leaders. My husband along with others were the ones employed so we could homeschool and help others who were homeschooling.

    I see more men involved now because homeschooling has also become big business. The men who are “leaders” are actually the head of the company and not so much the leaders of organizations. I know there are exceptions. This is a general trend I’m seeing at conferences.

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