Expectations and reality
Ever since I was a little girl, I loved to ‘play school’. I also played ‘house’ and with baby dolls. My younger sister and her friends were usually willing to play school and house and store and I was usually the teacher. Naturally I began babysitting for neighbor kids when I got old enough. I quickly got many customers and some of them even entrusted me with infants. Not only did I get paid, I got to play house and school! Later, during my college years, I happily worked in day care and preschools.
With all of this experience, I thought I would be a good mother. Having been raised with two brother and two sisters, I thought it would be fun to have a big family. My identity was centered around being a mother. And when I discovered that homeschooling was a legal option, I knew that was what I wanted to do! I could be a mother AND a teacher.
This is hard!
I expected ‘fun’ and got ‘hard work’. The days were long and exhausting. Children have endless needs, are naturally self-centered, and go through easy and difficult stages of development. This normal childish behavior was not really a problem before because babysitting and working in day care is just not the same as parenting your own children. You get to send them home to their parents at the end of the day!
Homeschooling Requires a Mature Parent
But after 27 years of parenting and homeschooling, it’s clear that I had some misconceptions of motherhood and idealistic visions of teaching my own children. I discovered that I lacked some essential parenting skills , such as establishing rules, having a consistent routine, providing age-appropriate discipline, having reasonable expectations, and enforcing consequences for behavior. My own immaturity became evident. Being patient and compassionate with other people’s kids also turned out to be so much easier than tolerating my own kids’ immature behavior and needs. I had to work on myself.
As far as being a teacher, I found that my own kids didn’t necessarily want to learn what I was teaching and they learned how to get away with doing as little as possible. Some days were better than others, and we did have fun sometimes.
Do I regret choosing to have a large family or to homeschool ? Not at all! I only wish I’d had more realistic expectations.
Learning Styles Differ
- Some kids learn by working with their hands. Children are unique human beings and deserve to be taught in the ways that they learn best. Not all children are going to be academically inclined.
- Some kids love workbooks and textbooks and school type stuff, but many homeschoolers think those things are horrible and should be thrown out. But we shouldn’t eliminate what might work for an individual child.
- ‘Unschooling‘ also called child-led learning, can be a great way to learn, but it does not work well with all kids. Kids can and do learn best when they are interested in the subject matter, but it takes resources and the right family atmosphere, one where the parents demonstrate curiosity, encourage independence, and reward initiative. However, no matter how great the environment, some kids just need more structure and guidance than others.
- Teaching boys is very different from teaching girls.
- Some kids thrive in a group setting while others do better with a tutor or by teaching themselves.
- Allowing children to learn in a way that matches their personality will help them be more successful.
- Homeschooling doesn’t work well for every child.
A few things I loved about teaching my children at home.
- Being with them and watching them learn new things.
- Teaching them to read.
- Reading aloud to them.
- Flexibility of schedule and subject matter
- Teaching from a Christian worldview
- Spontaneous field trips and days off
- Learning happen anywhere and anytime
- More time with siblings, relative, and Dad
- Lots of discussion time
A few difficulties
- Establishing and keeping any kind of routine with a newborn and/toddler keeping me up at night.
- Making sure they were exposed to different cultures and experiences.
- Figuring out how to teach each child according to their learning style.
- Being patient through the Terrible Threes, Elevens, Fifteens, and so on.
- Finding time for myself didn’t happen until they got older, which is when I became a runner.
- Kids always home. No days off. 24 hours on duty.
- Paying for all the curriculum ourselves.
- Not being able to afford extras like classes and activities on a single paycheck.
- Not comparing my family to other homeschool families.
- Stress. Making time for my marriage.
Advice from a Veteran
If you are thinking about homeschooling, I urge you to do a lot of research and some deep thinking and soul searching, then:
- Make a list of your reasons to homeschool, your expectations for your kids, yourself, and your husband if you have one, and your concerns.
- Think about what you are excited about and how each child might learn best
- Consider your learning style and worldview. What is your guiding philosophy of life?
- Learn about the many different options available including online schools and co-ops and homeschool classes.
- Once you start, don’t overwhelm yourself with too many plans or outside activities for each day.
- Give yourself time to experiment and find what works for you and your kids.
- Don’t try to copy public school.
- Enjoy the freedom to revise, adapt, and throw out things that don’t work!
- Don’t start with the most difficult subjects or curriculum style. You’ll need time just to get your routine going.
Once you make the decision to homeschool, give it your best shot. Don’t give up after a bad day or bad month. Be ready to spend time teaching yourself subjects that you might not remember from your own school days unless you plan to outsource those subjects to videos, co-ops, or classes. Consider taking Fridays or Mondays off from book work and use that time for real-world experiences.
Beware of letting social media consume your time. Kids will gladly skip doing their work if you do not make them do it and it’s hard to make them if you are sitting on your computer or scrolling your phone all day.
Books about Homeschooling
As I see young mothers just starting to homeschool their kids, I get excited that another generation is willing to make the financial and personal sacrifice that it requires, and I hope that they will seek advice from older moms to avoid unnecessary stress and problems.
For example, many young moms (and professionals) have the idea that with learning, earlier is better. However, some research has shown that early formal education can be harmful. There may be a few gifted children who can handle it, but most kids will do better in school if allowed to develop and learn according to natural timetables. I’m so thankful that I was exposed to the books about this topic by The Moores early in my homeschool journey. Better Late than Early may seem a little outdated by now to some readers, but I think it has good ideas. .
I was also greatly influenced by John Holt of Growing Without Schooling. A few others that shaped my educational and child rearing philosophy are John Taylor Gatto, this child development series by Ilg, Ames , and watching Penelope Leach and T. Berry Brazelton on cable TV . Those names are not heard much these days. There are tons of old and new books available on this subject. Don’t overwhelm yourself, but do read some of them. Homeschool bookstores are a wonderful source of wisdom. The older books are still worth reading!
Parenting is the most important job in the world. After all, how we raise our kids will greatly influence how THEY relate to their kids and spouses and other people. Just because having children is a natural thing doesn’t mean parenting always comes naturally. No matter if you choose to homeschool or not, it is important to do all you can to be the best parent you can be. Your children, and theirs, deserve it.
What do you think? Is homeschooling a good idea? Are you a homeschooler? Please share your thoughts.
I enjoyed “kindergarten” at home with my Mom, but she just was not equipped (especially back in the prehistoric era when I grew up) to homeschool me or any of my three siblings.
“Kids always home. No days off. 24 hours on duty,” you said. Hey, THAT’s what grandparents are for!!
‘Course, then I remember a meme showing a child biting into a Hershey’s bar over a foot wide and probably three feet long, with the grandmother in the background saying, “Well, maybe just one more snack before you go home.” 😂
I homeschooled my daughter for middle school. I was part of a Charter Homeschool group in Southern California that had 5,000 students! We chose to homeschool because I was really disillusioned with our Catholic school at that time, plus my daughter was a competitive swimmer and we were traveling for meets. My son was three years older and began high school. He was always jealous I didn’t home school him, too. I didn’t have the confidence when he was younger. I wish I would have. Those three years with my daughter were very special.
Wow! That’s a big group. Did your daughter go back to school for high school?
It was Orange County, San Diego and Riverside Counties. They had all sorts of field trips including Disneyland, Sea World and whale watching — all for homeschoolers. We met with a teacher once a month to review my daughter’s work. It kept us on track. Yes, my daughter went to public high school and then college on an academic and athletic scholarship 🙂
Thanks for saying home school isn’t for everyone, Paula! Sometimes home schooling parents can be so zealous for their choice that non-homeschooling parents feel guilty.
When I was taking an inquiry course as part of my teaching certification, I chose for my final project to create a self-test for parents considering home schooling to help them decide whether it would be a good idea for them. It asked questions about the family dynamics, financial situation, personality and needs of the child, etc. When I presented my project at the end of the term, the other teachers all took the test and got various results, from “Go for it!” to “make some adjustments first,” to “not a good fit for your family.” They all found it very interesting.
That’s a great idea for a project. You should publish your quiz online !
I sent it to a radio psychologist who had been talking about the subject, and I heard from her agent (manager? I forgot the title..) about doing a radio interview. For a while I was waiting to hear back to set up a date, but nothing came of it.. Maybe I’ll dig up that paper and post it. Thanks for the suggestion. 👍
I’m glad I’m not the only one with mixed feelings about it! The biggest drawback for me was getting overwhelmed and never having any time off. But my kids also span a 12-year time frame. The youngest is now in a private high school. It’s fine. Homeschool is great for academics, but sometimes it’s better to put kids in school. I have no regrets about homeschooling; I did it for about 20 years total. My takeaway is buying an easy to use curriculum with lesson plans and teacher keys is absolutely necessary for me not to go crazy. Also, just because it’s in the lesson plan doesn’t mean you have to do it. School teachers don’t even do entire lesson plans.
That’s a very good point! You don’t have to do everything in the book . I really wanted to use an online curriculum for high school but I never could find one I liked .
I did Abeka streaming for a couple years with my eldest. I’ve always liked Abeka, despite their anti Catholic sentiments.
I used Bob Jones satellite for one year. But they discontinued the cheap option and required you to pay $1000 per student which was not worth it .
If I had to do over and especially now I would home school my kids. I had to contend with teachers hitting my kids which was a huge no, no with me. I always sent a note at the beginning of the year stating they were not use physical discipline with my kids. If my kids needed spanked it would be me doing it and not with a paddle. I had to speak with the principal over this more than once and then the time a teacher backed my daughter into a corner yelling at her because she my daughters hair was dirty (which it wasn’t) and she came home sobbing my daughter was in third grade and was just learning to wash her own hair and hadn’t gotten all the shampoo out. Regardless that was something to be taken up with me not my daughter.
In junior high a boy backed my daughter into a corner in math class slapping her in the face hard enough she had a hand print an hour later. She defended herself because the teacher did nothing to intervene. So the Dean decided she had to be punished too and was given in school suspension because she defended herself from someone attacking her. Later it came out the boys dad was not happy that his son was going to be the only one punished and he was a doctor so my daughter had to be punished as well.
Now with all indoctrination going on in schools I don’t care how hard it is to have kids home all day everyday that is where mine would be. People taught their own children for centuries and survived it so I could too if I still had young children because it would be safer for them. There is also the increase in school shootings I would be worried sick every single day it just wouldn’t be worth the risk to me to have them in a school.
Yes, there are many good reasons to homeschool. 🙂
We have been homeschooling for five years now. I am absolutely convinced that it has been the best thing for our daughter and our family, but it certainly was not what I expected it to be in some respects.
– Raising a “wise” child (in the words of our pediatrician) – good character, good decision-making, calm/mature demeanor, ability to reason through problems from an early age, an eloquent speaker that adults take seriously
– Not missing our daughter’s important milestones, genuinely getting to know her as a child of God
– Not having the increasingly irrational political landscape take our daughter’s childhood hostage. We have escaped having to deal with gender ideology (which has consumed the schools even in our hyper-conservative region), critical race theory, social-emotional learning, etc. etc. etc.
– Not having to deal with school violence or drop our daughter off in an environment that physically resembles a prison
– Ability to teach a gifted child at the level she actually performs at instead of having her suffer through over a decade of mindless boredom
– No teaching to the test; we use the Socratic method and discussion; we teach to mastery of skills instead of issuing grades that don’t really mean anything at all
– Flexibility in scheduling, which helps with our business (we write financial/accounting/operations management software for corporations clear across the world). I cannot fathom dealing with emergencies in the middle of the night for a client in Europe and then sitting in a car line. We avoid so much completely unnecessary stress and time-sucks by homeschooling.
– The ability to have so much fun, especially at random times. We can drop everything and travel whenever we want. We can go on a nature hike in the middle of the day. Yesterday, my daughter and I did “Pool School,” where we did all of her science reading floating in the pool and reading out loud.
– Everything is educational. Our daughter gets to see us talk to clients and solve problems. She’s learning how we earn a living, how to negotiate for better terms, how to manage anger and frustration when working with difficult people, etc. How to see things through even when they are difficult. She won’t be a 23-year-old toddler who has no idea what she wants to do with her life. She could be a child of privilege, but instead she’s seeing the very real work that goes into being successful. She doesn’t take what we have as a family for granted and understands the risks involved with being an entrepreneur. You will simply never get life lessons like that in a classroom.
– Kind of a weird one, but the ability to be healthy. Not sitting under fluorescent lights all day and eating bad cafeteria food. Getting out and getting exercise throughout the day instead of being sedentary. Talking to people and participating in society instead of having kids being treated as an afterthought (which I think is horrible for their mental health)
– Frankly, I am not able to be friends with many other homeschoolers these days, which is unfortunate, I guess. I think this is more of a product of the unschooling fad and the fact that so many parents now are choosing homeschooling for purely non-academic reasons (politics, covid/vaccines, etc.). We are a nerdy family and we do go hard on academic work. I am not justifying or apologizing for that to anyone – if I wanted her to get an “easy” education, I’d put her in a public school with their virtually non-existent academic standards. I am not okay with my daughter slacking off on any subject – that is generally not about intellectual prowess, but a disciplinary problem. (You will never learn you like something or excel at it if you do not give it a chance.) Older homeschoolers used to grok this, but a lot of the Millennial homeschoolers (who are driving the unschooling fad) are raising emotionally coddled children that our daughter genuinely does not want to be around. I don’t even make an effort to go to the homeschooling co-ops or group playdates post covid, because I don’t want to listen to the influx of women who have been homeschooling for like five minutes tell me what the best way to homeschool my kid is. A lot of these women simply aren’t that serious about taking their kid’s education into their own hands and I have the sense most of their kids will be back in traditional classrooms when they are old enough that it’s embarrassing how little substance they are getting. It’s a weird season for long-haul homeschoolers right now. This isn’t to say our family doesn’t have circles of friends – we do – I’m just not making them in homeschooling groups as I expected would be the case.
I have a feeling your daughter is going to be very well-adjusted and successful. Not everyone does ‘high academic standards’ the same way. I think you are doing great. I wish I had done better at convincing mine of the importance of learning some high level marketable skills. But I think my boys will be okay. As for homeschool moms, it’s not easy finding one you connect with. I have met some good ones over the years, but we rarely had everything in common.
Sorry, that remark was definitely not directed at you – I understand what you are saying, and I know where your heart is on this topic. I’m not sure what I am saying will even translate to folks who have already made it through the long homeschooling journey. Things that were perceived as totally normal observations, like don’t be quick to judge the performance of a young child on things like reading abilities (or to proclaim yourself a failure), each child will flourish at their own pace in those years, are now taken totally to the extreme. Like I have met some “homeschooling” mothers who are literally doing nothing for their kids all day long. And it seems to be a thing that has picked up in recent years. I keep trying to tell some of the more seasoned homeschoolers that they do not want a piece of this movement, it’s not what they think it is. It took me a while to figure it out myself. I always regarded myself as being a pretty libertarian person on education (John Taylor Gatto is one of my heroes too), but that has definitely shifted. I met one “unschooling” mother who told me she wakes up every morning and asks her children “what do you need from me today?” Then she leaves her kids to do whatever they want while she rants about politics online all day or watches daytime television. Her five-year-old kid was still wearing diapers. I knew another group of unschooling mothers who met at the playground or beach every day and that was their “school.” Not like they took books or anything. They would sit around drinking Starbucks for hours and gossiping while the kids did whatever. It’s like their 8yos were preschoolers. These folks truly do not care about teaching their kids anything. And there are so many of them now. I’m not saying this is all the people there are homeschooling, per se, but the numbers have gotten so overwhelming that it’s not worth my time to sort through them anymore. My daughter’s best friends go to public and private schools and I am okay with that. I am not trying to merge my curriculum with other homeschoolers’ for the sake of “socialization.” I am not contriving park days for the sake of “socialization.” We have totally embraced that education is a private thing we do and friends and meet-ups are not going to overlap with that. I did have this whole existential crisis for a while though where I was looking at local homeschooling groups on Facebook and thinking, maybe I should send my kid to a private school just so she does not get branded as belonging to a social cohort like this later on in life. I am okay with people thinking of us as Christian tiger parents or whatever, but not people who are opting out of education altogether.
I’m surprised to hear that so many are unschooling (fake homeschooling). I feel sorry for their kids. I think it’s a rare kid that is motivated these days to actually learn enough to survive in this very competitive world with zero guidance. Not only that but eventually kids need to be able to do boring stuff because that’s part of being an adult . We all have to do things that we would rather not do!
I think your point in this piece is spot-on, and I have said the same thing to many people: If you are considering homeschooling, it is not enough to dislike what is happening in government schools, you have to want to be a teacher and rise to the occasion. And that’s not an easy thing to do. It’s a character-building experience for both adults and children to go down this path. Folks truly need to do some soul-searching before they get going.