Top 10 Questions on Leaving Public School

These questions appear over and over in emails from parents who are considering homeschooling, regardless of the reasons. Here are the most frequent questions and our honest answers, in no specific order.

1.  How soon can I pull my child(ren) out? Now—if that’s what your gut is telling you to do. Tell the office you have a “family emergency” and take your child(ren) home. Then check Home School Legal Defense Association’s website ( for your state’s legal requirements and get that in order. If you prefer to wait a few days, weeks, or months before removing your student(s), that’s your decision—but please understand that you can remove them immediately. After all, if you have a reason that prompts you to consider homeschooling as an option, then you do have enough reason to remove them immediately, and they will benefit more from being at home than they would benefit from a few more days to finish out a week, a month, or a semester.

2.  What curricula do I need? Start with nothing.
a) Begin by bonding with your child through shopping, movie-day, hanging out at the library, baking cookies, anything.
b) Explore an interest of your child’s through doing online research together, building a model, whatever. Follow every interesting bunny trail that comes along, because those paths are filled with great learning opportunities! (Someone decides which topics go into every textbook and how much each topic should cover—who says that your child’s bunny-trail interests are any less important or any less interconnected than the topics in a textbook? Bonus: your student will learn more and retain more from his bunny trails than from a textbook.)
c) Start slowly by using Google, Pinterest, or the library for one or two subjects and build your class load from there.
d) Allow each of these steps to progress as slowly or as quickly as needed. Your instincts will tell you when your student is ready to move on.

3.  Can I remove just one of my children from public school? You could, but what’s the point?
a) Teaching more than one child is actually less work than shuttling several students back and forth all day to various activities in multiple locations.
b) Sibling bonding is just as valuable as parent-child bonding (see #2a-b above).
c) Do your other children deserve the same learning opportunities and freedoms as the one you want to bring home?

4.  How do I teach several children at the same time? Any who can already read—can read.
a) Let older kids start the day with their favorite subjects that require the least help from you, allowing you to get a younger one started.
b) Kids don’t all have to be doing schoolwork at the same time. One can play with the toddler while another does math, then switch. For a time, my daughter got up early and did all her schoolwork from 6-10 in the morning, then worked on other projects throughout the day.
c) Let them assist each other when necessary, because Mom is not the only one capable of answering questions.
d) Problem-solving skills are developed through solving problems! I told my kids that if they got stuck they should try to figure it out themselves first, then ask their sibling for help or come find me at whatever chore I was doing. They were always proud to tell me what they had figured out on their own, and I was happy to praise them for it! Other options include phoning Grandma or asking Google—there are many ways to solve a problem.

5. How do I get the house cleaned and the laundry done?
a) Whose standards are you following? Sparkling clean houses with nothing out of place are owned by families who are never home.
b) Home Economics is a class we teach here. We used breaks between subjects as a way to get the wiggles out and get a few chores done. My kids were happy to carry their clean laundry upstairs and put it away because it meant a break from schoolwork. Unloading the dishwasher meant they could listen to the kitchen radio for the duration of that task. Taking out the trash could be followed by a few minutes on a swing. Breaks can be shortened or extended to fit the chore desired. Chores teach kids skills, responsibility, and independence—plus they break up the rest of the day while bringing real-world benefits.

6. Is it too soon/too late to pull my kids out? No.
a) Homeschooling has many more benefits than could possibly be gained from leaving them in longer. We began homeschooling when the school couldn’t cope with our child’s medical condition, but once she was home we found some serious academic deficiencies and other problems that we hadn’t realized existed. Don’t assume everything is fine at school, just because your child hasn’t complained.
b) A student at home can learn much more than a student in school, being free to move on at will instead of waiting for the entire class. A child who is motivated to learn can make incredible progress at home, making up for lost time and surging ahead in his chosen field of interest.

7. I’m thinking of homeschooling because [fill in the reason of your choice]. Is that a good enough reason? Yes, but you’ll also come up with several more good reasons as soon as you get started (see #6a above). My list of reasons for wanting to homeschool grew longer with every year that we homeschooled.

8. Can I teach my ADD/ADHD/ODD/ETC student without special training? Professional credentials don’t outweigh parental instincts. Moms and dads know their child and their child’s needs better than any professional ever will. A more accurate acronym-label for your child may actually be MIISE (More Interested In Something Else). Treat* your child for MIISE until that proves ineffective. Another syndrome common in the institutional classroom is TETL (Too Eager To Learn)—a phenomenon that classroom teachers find surprisingly difficult to manage while keeping to a schedule. Help your child follow his interests and coach him in learning to research the various aspects. Don’t be afraid to follow bunny trails and let topics run together in rapid succession. Genius flows easily across multiple ideas, and it’s the simpler mind that must limit itself to only one thought at a time. Forty-five minutes to an hour of following bunny trails will produce more significant learning than an entire day of planned lessons.

9. But what about friends? If they are a true friend, you won’t lose them. Homeschooling can be a great opportunity to ditch the troublesome relationships that needed to disappear anyway. In general, friends and acquaintances come from a variety of aspects in life: siblings, neighbors, cousins, church, clubs, sports, music lessons, friends of friends, etc. Today’s social media phenomenon provides an avenue for maintaining close contact with friends regardless of distance or schedules.

10. We can’t do sports, music, or other extra-curricular activities at home. Are those just out of the picture for homeschooling? No. There are numerous possibilities for private lessons and group participation that don’t involve public school:

  • You Tube, Netflix, Google, online instruction and/or tutorials
  • Homeschool curriculum for the desired skill
  • Private tutor or coach, who could range from an advanced student to a professional teacher for the desired skill
  • Homeschool co-op group offering team sports, band, etc.
  • Church-based or community-sponsored sports & recreational activities
  • Dual-enrollment with public or private school for specific activities

HSLDA has discouraged families from trying to “keep one foot in both worlds” through dual-enrolling for specific classes or activities. And I agree. When we left the government school system, we were ready to break all ties and not look back. Then a community-wide sports activity became available that was run through the schools but didn’t require dual-enrollment, and my kids were interested in participating. I inquired about whether this was strictly a school-sponsored group (no, it was funded by participants) and if homeschooled members of the community could be involved (they supposed so), and we went to their first session of the year and signed up. It seemed to be going well for the first few practices and even through the first public performance, but things quickly went downhill after that. We weren’t notified of subsequent exhibitions, and the group’s leader made it increasingly difficult for my kids to participate, to the point where we eventually felt it was in our best interests to withdraw from that group and focus our efforts in more homeschool-friendly areas.

Throughout our homeschooling career, we knew other homeschooling families whose students participated with private schools, public schools, community groups, church groups, or homeschool co-op groups for a variety of extra-curricular experiences. The opportunities can be found or created to suit the needs, but the bigger questions is why is it necessary? Discuss this as a family to determine your motivation, whether for music, sports, drama, foreign languages, artistic endeavors, or whatever. Are your students just looking for a place to hang out with friends, or are they genuinely interested in learning the skill? Are Mom and Dad trying to live their own lives over again through their children, or is this something the student truly desires for himself?

Yes, Harvard has been known to award scholarships to distinguished harpists, but is winning a 1-year scholarship to an Ivy League college the only reason for dedicating a minimum of ten years of one’s childhood to an instrument (especially if the child lacks the passion to maintain this as a life-long activity)? The price of the instrument(s), the cost of years of weekly lessons, and the time investment for enough daily practice to become such an accomplished player as to merit a prestigious scholarship could all have been applied toward another area that the student enjoyed and appreciated more than being able to say “But it got me into Harvard.” Were all those years of music lessons merely the foot-in-the-door for a college education leading to a non-music-related career goal? Was the motivation just to give Mom and Dad the bragging rights of “Our kid’s going to Harvard”? Could the time, energy, and resources have been better directed toward the student’s desired career path? Could the same amount of money have been invested in such a way as to return an amount equal to or greater than the scholarship itself?

The freedom and flexibility provided by homeschooling can be used to the student’s advantage in numerous, subtle ways, resulting in a focused interest, rather than a schedule filled with diverse activities that yield more social involvement than academic advancement. I would rather see a student pursue his interests as vocational preparation than devote his time to activities that merely serve to fill his calendar with a variety of time-consuming distractions.

For more info, check out these links:

Leaving Public School
*How to Adapt Lessons to Fit Your Student’s Interests and Make Learning Come Alive
Teach Your Students to Teach Themselves
Knowing How to Find the Answer Is the Same as Knowing the Answer
People LIVE in This House
Using Your Household Staff
Family Is Spelled T-E-A-M

Consider this one as the answer for the unofficial Question #11:
Homeschooling an Only Child

Encouragement Corner: What About Writing Assignments?

Encouragement Corner is a new feature here at Guilt-Free Homeschooling, sort of a mini-seminar for the busy moms who can’t spare the time or expense to go to a major homeschooling conference, but who still need answers to their biggest questions. We’ll be grouping a few of the most-often-recommended articles around a central issue and making those articles easier to share on Pinterest by adding a photo or graphic as needed.

I don’t believe in writing assignments. There, I said it. I never liked creative writing, story writing, or other frivolous paragraphs, essays, or compositions, so I didn’t force my students to write them either. What I used instead was reading — lots of reading, and grammar lessons. I only held a formal reading class during the learning-to-read stage, and once my kids were reading fluently by themselves, I let them choose their own pleasure reading to serve as an unstructured subject. Since they each spent as much (if not more) time telling me about what they had read than it actually took them to read it, I wasn’t at all worried about their reading or comprehension skills. Relaxing with a book at bedtime was a great way to unwind from the day, and it didn’t feel to them like yet another academic endeavor.

I frequently read aloud to them, and they read to themselves from a variety of sources (fiction, non-fiction, poetry, biography; books, magazines, newspapers, web articles, etc.), giving them vast understanding of many different types of writing. Exposure to a multitude of authors showed them how any given genre could be handled in a multitude of ways. My students loved some authors’ writing styles enough to read everything they could find by those authors. Other authors’ writing styles were so cumbersome and awkward that they closed the book and moved on with no regrets for not finishing.

As my students matured and developed their own voice (meaning personal thoughts and opinions) on various topics, they were able to express them coherently, in part because they had read how others had expressed ideas through the written word. Their first serious writing assignments came from a composition class at the local college (taken during their Senior year of high school), where the teachers were impressed with their writing abilities. They could write good summations of their reading and research, because they were already accustomed to reading and evaluating, and the results were scholarly compositions.

By skipping several years of trivial paragraph-writing, my students had been able to read a wide variety of sources. They had learned how to form their opinions into logical arguments. Their minds weren’t cluttered with topic sentences and formulaic outlines. They were able to reproduce any type of composition just by reading it and analyzing the key components. They had read good writing, they had found a voice, and they had many interests which afforded them numerous topics for their composition needs. Delaying the writing assignments worked very well for us.

Linked below are our most commonly recommended articles on writing (as composition, not to be confused with handwriting), to help you decide how to tackle this topic in your homeschool.

Tests, Book Reports, and Other Un-necessities 

Teaching Spelling (and Grammar) Through Reading and Listening

Grammar with Giggles, Mad Libs Style

How Did You Learn to Write? 

How to Adapt Lessons to Fit Your Student’s Interests and Make Learning Come Alive 

Top 10 Signs that Unschooling Has Overtaken Your Life

This article was written by Jennifer Leonhard.

Top 10 (tongue-in-cheek) signs that unschooling has taken over your mindset completely and you might just need a spa day:

  1. When unloading your cart at Walmart, all you see is a giant algebra equation.
  2. You go for a walk in the park and tell your kids to get off the playground equipment because they have thoroughly proven the law of gravity, and it is time for biology class before this butterfly flies away again.
  3. You canceled your subscription to your local newspaper because your children were spending too much time correcting grammatical errors and not enough time on math.
  4. The guy sacking your groceries knows you well enough that he answers “Everyday is a learning day, and life is their classroom” when the cashier asks your kids “So, no school today?”
  5. You know that if you took a spa-day you would feel guilty that your children were missing out on a vocational field trip.
  6. Your kids ask if you can go out to eat tonight, not for the food, but because they are tired of studying fractions which inevitably happens every time you have them help you cook dinner.
  7. On date night with your husband you find yourself discussing the properties of beeswax and paraffin, instead of looking into his eyes over the candles he so thoughtfully lit to set the mood.
  8. When people ask where you get your scope and sequence for math and science, you answer “I DVR The Big Bang Theory.
  9. During a trip to the grocery store, your kids automatically replace the items you casually toss into the cart with choices that a) cost less per ounce, b) contain healthier ingredients, c) contain more food than packaging, or d) all of the above.
  10. Your kids ask to stop at the craft store and the library, but you tell them you’ll have to go home to get the big car first.

Have you noticed other fun indicators that unschooling has taken over your life? We’d love to hear them!! Share them in the comments!

When Did I Become an Unschooler???

I went to public school for my education. It was a rural school with Kindergarten through twelfth grade all in one rather small, three-story building. The teacher-to-student ratios were fairly low, since most classes rarely exceeded twenty students. Most of the teachers used traditional methods of oral lectures and reading assignments.

I remember feeling detached from the rest of the class, because I was either way ahead of the teacher or way behind. In Kindergarten, I could already read enough to know what the workbooks said, and I could tell when my teacher was changing those directions and leaving out the parts that I thought sounded like more fun than what she wanted us to do. I had to sit and wait and sit some more, surrounded by a roomful of enticing learning toys that could never be touched. And my teacher insisted that sitting quietly and listening quietly were the best and only suitable ways to learn anything.

In fourth grade, I knew nearly all of the spelling and vocabulary words before my teacher wrote them on the board, but she often mispronounced them. I had my very own personal dictionary in my desk, something I loved to read more than any of the storybooks on the classroom shelves. I pulled it out one day to show my teacher what the correct pronunciation of a certain vocabulary word was, because I thought she would want to teach things accurately. Instead, she just got upset. For some unknown reason, we didn’t get along for the rest of that year.

In sixth grade, I had a very old, very worn out teacher. She had her methods that she had used for decades, and she expected them to work forever and for every student. She also had certain subjects that she didn’t care to teach, so she glossed over them with the same three words for every assignment: “Outline the chapter.” I learned nothing from geography that year, except that I could not possibly produce an outline to her satisfaction.

Occasionally, a random teacher would allow us to do a special project as an assignment, but it didn’t happen more than once every few years and never in more than one subject. Any project was also limited to about a week in length and still had to meet that particular teacher’s expectations. The year I prepared a typical Medieval meal for my World History teacher, I thought he was going to have a stroke right there in the classroom. He seemed very concerned that I had smuggled some beer into the school building, until I whispered to him that his tankard contained cream soda as a visually-similar substitute. Despite all my research into the types of foods, serving utensils, and customs common to the time period, he didn’t know how to grade my beef stew and fake beer. He was much better with salt-dough castles and cardboard armor.

All in all, I hated school. I hated the teachers who treated me with contempt for daring to want something other than outlining the entire geography textbook and droning through random passages from Shakespeare read aloud in class. I hated the endless repetition, year after year of boring textbooks that all said the same boring things. I hated it all.

Once I had my own children, everything changed. I loved watching my kids discover the world for the first time. I loved the expression of recognition on their faces each time something new began to make sense. We played games, we played house, we played dress-up, we played everything we could play. We made forts, we made cookies, we made make-believe. We read stories and more stories until we knew them by heart, and then we recited them together when the books weren’t close at hand. I read them simple stories, pointing out the details in every picture. I read them chapter books beyond their years, allowing them to meet brave explorers like Christopher Robin and form pictures in their minds of what “heffalumps” and “woozles” must look like. I read them the lyrical poetry of A.A. Milne, Edward Lear, Robert Louis Stevenson, and countless others. And then suddenly they were old enough for school.

When I sent my children off to public school, they fit into their classrooms just as well as I had in mine, which is to say “poorly.” They wanted to play with the hundreds of wooden blocks at the back of the classroom, instead of sitting at the teacher’s feet as she did yet another mind-numbing counting-to-ten exercise. They had to endure adding 1 + 2 + 3, being told it was difficult and challenging, when they had already figured out how to do 2-column subtraction in their heads. They had to sit and wait and sit some more, surrounded by a roomful of enticing learning toys that could never be touched. And their teachers insisted that sitting quietly and listening quietly and reading quietly were the best and only suitable ways to learn anything.

When my husband and I made the decision to remove our children from public school to begin homeschooling, I used the traditional school model of textbooks and worksheets, simply because it was the only thing any of us had ever known. There I was, ordering boring curriculum, assigning boring lessons, and grading boring worksheets, doing all the same things I had hated all through my own school years and boring my own children with every step.

My students began stumbling over what I called “potholes”—missing portions of vital information that their former teachers had failed to impart. My 5th-grader was delighted to discover that anything she hadn’t understood at public school could be re-studied at home without penalty or ridicule, and she provided me with a list of math concepts that she wanted to master, including fractions, decimals, percents, and measurements. Specialty workbooks helped us fill in those gaps, but actual practice in real life experiences gave the concepts purpose. We measured dozens of things around the house, maybe hundreds of things. We converted the measurements into fractions and decimals. We converted the fractions and decimals into percentages, until it was apparent that the different forms were just “nicknames” for the same amounts. Manipulating the numbers became fun, and math lessons became less intimidating.

I realized that my children were benefiting from the hands-on experiences that solidified what the textbooks had to say. When a math problem spoke of so many red trucks and so many blue trucks, and my child wasn’t understanding it, we used colored blocks to illustrate the problem in a way she could do over and over again until she got it. When my daughter couldn’t solve an anagram for her spelling lesson, she took the letter tiles from the Scrabble game and rearranged them until she figured out the word. The enticing learning toys gave the lessons tangibility, and the fingers understood what the eyes had missed.

I haven’t met a spelling curriculum yet that I like. Phonics is a systematic method for learning to read, but why should that be followed by repetitive lists of spelling words that anyone with a decent grasp of phonics could spell without difficulty? Vocabulary words were never much different from the spelling words. If my students could break the word down into its phonetic components and learn to read that word, either they already knew its meaning, or we would look it up in the dictionary together.

As a child, I had loved having my own personal dictionary, which I routinely browsed for new words. That was the basis of my own vocabulary expansion. Using the pronunciation guides, I could learn to read any word I came across, and the definitions, origins, and various forms of the words added even more to my personal studies. My son picked up this habit himself and regularly quizzed me with new words he had discovered, trying (usually unsuccessfully) to stump Mom. Reading material is an excellent source of new vocabulary words – if it’s not, then your students are reading things that are too simple for them. Another personal habit of mine is to keep a dictionary and pencil close by while I’m reading. Any unfamiliar words get their definitions written in the margin of the book. (Don’t tell anyone, but I’ve even been known to pencil a definition in the margin of a library book, reasoning that if I didn’t know that word, the next reader probably wouldn’t know it either and would be grateful for the notation.)

No matter how many curriculum programs we tried, nothing was a perfect fit for us. The textbooks were too boring and too far removed from everyday life. We supplemented the textbook studies with activities, games, and field trips, and we always found that we learned much more from the extra activities than we did from the textbooks and workbooks. Even the math texts that provided solid teaching were tedious in their repetition-without-application. Board games could always be counted on for practice in the same concepts, but with much more enjoyment. Although we enjoyed a wide variety of supplemental activities, most of the time we stuck to a pretty structured sequence of academic studies. It was only toward the end of our homeschooling journey that I began to research and understand learning styles and see the full value and effect of alternative types of study over traditional methods.

Today, I’m much more likely to recommend family activities, a video-and-discussion session, or a round of board games instead of textbook lessons. How did I get to this point? When did I become an unschooler? If we had it all to do over again, we would probably be more like that eccentric unschooling family we met when we first started homeschooling—their spontaneous and unconventional approach to learning did not fit into my definition of education at all (but they did seem to be having a lot more fun at learning than we were). We would read more biographies from the library shelves, instead of purchasing over-priced textbooks that barely scratched the surface of any remotely interesting topics. We would spend hours dropping Mentos into Diet Coke, instead of just watching the You Tube videos. We would have all sorts of wonderful fun, we would learn all sorts of wonderful things, and we would enjoy journaling all our wonderful exploits, because we would be making and documenting real history instead of slogging through yet another tedious assignment made up by some stranger who knew nothing about us or our interests.

The way I see it, looking back over many years of actively homeschooling and many more years of mentoring homeschoolers, if a student can learn something well by reading it in a book, he doesn’t need anyone’s help. On the other hand, if a student is struggling to learn from reading and struggling to learn from discussions and explanations, that student needs a hearty dose of unschooling methods. Get elbow-deep in an experiment, work out a physical representation of a math problem with some type of thingamabobs, watch someone demonstrate a real-life skill and ask them to help you learn it step-by-step. Going places, seeing stuff, and doing things are much more valuable methods of learning than just reading about someone else going places, seeing stuff, and doing things. If unschooling means leaving the books behind and getting out there to learn from life itself, then I’ll happily call myself an unschooler. I never did fit into a classroom very well.


[For a further explanation of educational potholes, see Meatball Education: Filling in the Potholes of Public School]

How to Adapt Lessons to Fit Your Student’s Interests and Make Learning Come Alive

A GFHS reader wrote to me, concerned about her student’s lack of interest in doing homeschool lessons, although he showed a wide capacity for learning and retaining facts about sports. The mom was frustrated as to how to get any actual lessons accomplished, since their days were an endless series of disagreements and strife. This is when out-of-the-box thinking can really pay off. Taking the lessons out of the box and away from the textbooks can make a huge difference and ignite the spark of learning in a “reluctant” learner such as this student. The examples given here will relate to football (this particular child’s passion), but you can easily adapt these ideas to wherever your students’ interests lie.

When a child is keenly interested in football or other sports, that can be used as an “in” for other subjects. For instance, put a map of the USA on a bulletin board and have him stick a pin in the approximate places where his favorite NFL players were born. Then have him place another pin in the city where each player went to college and connect the two pins for each player with a piece of yarn. Suddenly he’ll be up to his elbows in a fascinating research project and geography lesson that doesn’t feel like schoolwork to him at all!

Take this in a slightly different direction by challenging him to do some research on the NFL teams, making a chart showing when each team was founded, where it began, and if or where it has moved. Have some of the teams’ names or colors or mascots changed throughout the years? Now he’s found a history lesson that he can really enjoy! Give him more pins for the map (and a different color of yarn) to show the movements of the teams. A little more research can reveal what important world events coincided with significant team events or crucial games for more history, this time linking football to other events. Find inventions or products that were introduced during the years that match up to his favorite events regarding games, teams, or players, and that can bring in some science lessons. Look at how football uniforms, pads, helmets, and other equipment have changed over the years and why for some more science and history.

Challenge him to research the backgrounds of a few favorite players and write “color commentary” that could be used by a sportscaster, and you’ll have a writing assignment he’ll be eager to do! Challenge him to write his own sports “column” or read and critique the sports columns or blogs by professional sports writers, and he’ll have reading material, comprehension studies, and analytical writing assignments that hold his interest. To round out the language arts lessons, focus on his content first, then work on helping him correct spelling, punctuation, and grammar — always examining the rules for each change, not just criticizing his writing without reasons. He may even learn to spot spelling and grammar errors in the professionals’ columns for an important lesson in why accuracy matters!

Players’ statistics can be analyzed for some practical, real-life applications in math. Calculate the total yards of passing or rushing, the percentage of completed passes, or how a player’s averages have improved or declined over his career. Math practice is math practice, regardless of whether it uses random problems on a worksheet or real-life statistics. When the real-life applications mean something to the student, he will have motivation to complete the work. Learning one fact will spur curiosity to learn more facts, and before long, the student will be knee-deep in new information and hungry for more.

The homeschooling mom mentioned earlier took this advice and began adapting lessons to her son’s interest in football. When his curriculum focused on poetry, they searched the internet for poems about football—and were delighted with their results. One poem prompted a discussion, which led to further studies and more topics. This simple substitution transformed a struggle over a single, uninteresting lesson into a day filled with curiosity, researching, exploring, and learning.

Lessons that are based on real-life interests will combine several academic subjects all at once, rather than following the institutional school model of working on each individual subject for forty minutes before switching to the next unrelated subject for the next forty-minute period. Your student can research a given topic, study and analyze the reading material, pursue more research as to the geography, science, or history related to the topic, perform some math calculations to gain better understanding of the data, create a timeline of events, and express his conclusions and personal opinions in a variety of formats. The analysis of the information is conveyed, whether it takes on the form of a formal essay, a news story, editorial column, a poem, song, or rap, or even a personal journal entry. My own student who was reluctant to read assigned stories outside his field of interest became a voracious reader when the subject matter fed his curiosity. (How many adults would waste valuable time reading things in which they have no interest?) Adapting lessons to your students’ interests teaches those students how to learn from every facet of life and sets them firmly on the path to life-long learning.

See also:
The Value of Supplemental Activities
10 Ways to Improve a Lesson
How Can I Teach Out-of-the-Box Thinking?
Is Learning Limited to Books?
Every Day Is a Learning Day, and Life Is Our Classroom

Outdated Excuses for Why You Could Never Homeschool

The following article was written by Jennifer Morrison Leonhard, a light-hearted homeschool graduate who believes life is what you make it. What she usually makes it is funny!

“I’m not smart enough to homeschool my kids.” A typical answer from me is that you do not need to have the encyclopedia memorized, and you do not have to be a former valedictorian — you can simply learn right along with your kids. You start with colors and shapes and letters and from there you grow one day at a time. Lessons are usually fully explained in their textbooks, so you can read along and learn it all just ten seconds before your student does! It is now 2011, and I could argue that yo’ momma and her smartphone could homeschool your kids. (Bet you weren’t expecting a good momma joke, were you?) You do not have to buy a single book or even own a library card anymore. Like the popular commercial says “There’s an app for that” — whatever it is that you want to know or do. Science? My phone can take my pulse through the camera! Or try Google Sky Map to learn the stars. Music? I have a drum kit on my touch phone, and I’ve never had so much fun with an instrument! Not to mention that Pandora allows me to experience a wide variety of music styles. Learning directions is no longer something you have to do with a laminated “placemat” map and crayon (yep, that’s how I learned when I was still in public school) — now you can use Google Maps on your phone. For teaching math there are applications to teach formulas, offer practice math problems, flash cards, and math games. You can get an application for reading ebooks, search random questions with your browser, and document your findings with a “notepad” application and your camera feature. My mom always told us that as long as we knew how and where to find information, there are very few situations in life that require you have everything memorized.

“I do not have the time to homeschool my kids.”
Yeah, you’re probably too busy telling them to stop texting, get off that computer, and put away that video game. Again, in an electronic age, if your biggest hurdle is getting them away from electronics, you can probably find ways to substitute actual learning into those same gadgets — gadgets that frequently fit into a pocket and go everywhere anyway. It really doesn’t require a lot of time to homeschool. Once you cut out standing in line for this and that, waiting for the other students to catch up, or waiting for everyone to be quiet, you can see that only a few hours of real learning time are necessary. Unschooling is currently popular, so if electronics aren’t something your family indulges in, you can simply learn from Life. You can’t exactly avoid Life, and there are plenty of lessons to be learned each day, with or without 21st century electronic assistance.

“I could not stand to spend that much time with my kids.” Fine, send them to their rooms, and then Facebook friend-request them, and message their lessons to them. No face to face contact needed. They can chat with you when they need individual help, and message back or post photos and videos of their work. You, in turn, can post back their grades using the “Comment” feature, or for pass/fail there is a “Like” button included. The “Like” button would also give you feedback from their peers and other parents if you felt that you needed an outside opinion on a subject in which you are not an expert. Your children can also use the privacy features offered on Facebook to prevent certain friends and family from seeing their schooling, if that option is preferred. The Facebook photo albums are also a handy way to maintain homeschooling records if your state requires a portfolio for legal reasons. There it is: photographic documentation, all neatly packaged, and no fear of fire, flood, or other natural disaster wiping it all out, such as you would have had in the age of paper records only. And it all stores much more neatly, too. For added security, you can back up your files on flash-drives or with Carbonite.

“Socialization.” Did I mention electronic devices? Smartphones? Facebook? I think I did. Oh, and if you prefer actual human contact, go outside. There are still a few people left out there who aren’t busy on Facebook or their smartphones. There may also be some out there that are probably still on their smartphones and Facebook, so please drive defensively.

So You Think You’re Not Smart Enough to Homeschool?

Suppose your child wants a special cake for her birthday. What will you do? A few moms may be practiced in the fine art of baking the perfect cake from scratch, combining flour, sugar, and eggs in the correct proportions to rise to delicious heights without falling. Some moms will grab a boxed mix, whip it up, and top the resulting cake with ready-made frosting and colorful sprinkles. Other moms will simply stop by their favorite bakery and purchase a completed cake. In each case, the problem has been solved, and the birthday will be celebrated.

The same strategy can be applied to teaching in a homeschool setting. You can research topics yourself, much like looking for recipes in a cookbook or online or asking friends to share their favorites. You can collect a few do-it-yourself elements and put together your own curriculum, as with the mom who used the cake mix, canned frosting, and instant decorations. Or you can purchase an assortment of courses fully prepared by someone else, as in the case of the bakery cake.

I have met many people whose reaction to homeschooling is “You would have to be smart to do that!” Knowing what really goes on behind the scenes in homeschooling, my thought is “What is smart?” How intelligent does a person have to be to homeschool successfully? I do not have to know all the answers in order to be a good teacher, I just have to know where or how to find the answers. I do not have to be able to do something myself in order to be able to teach about it.

In my past educational experiences, I have had art instructors who effectively taught me about DaVinci and Rembrandt, but who could not duplicate the works of those masters themselves. I had English instructors who taught me about Shakespeare and Longfellow, but who had never written comparable works. I had history teachers who had done nothing memorable themselves and geography teachers who had never traveled the globe. My science teachers had made no remarkable scientific discoveries, and yet they were able to pass on accurate scientific knowledge. These successful instructors all relied to some degree on the resources and experiences of others.

A successful homeschool teacher is one who is able to impart the material to his or her students. The source of the material is not relevant if no one is able to learn from it. There are homeschool students whose curricula cost hundreds of dollars and students whose books are borrowed for free from the public library, and both learn equally well. There are homeschool teachers who write every page of their own lessons and teachers who read word-for-word from purchased, scripted manuals, and the students of both learn equally well.

If I had waited to begin homeschooling until I felt confident enough in my own knowledge and abilities that I could answer any question my students might ask, well, I would still be studying. In reality, I learned right along with my students. If I became hopelessly confused on some topic, the resources and experiences of others were nearby in the form of other homeschoolers, reference books, internet websites, or packaged lessons. When we encountered an unfamiliar word, we consulted the dictionary together. When we stumbled over a math problem, we worked it out together. When we were stumped by a reference to an exotic location, we leafed through the atlas or did a quick “Google” search together. The bonds created through learning together taught my students more than just new information. My students saw first-hand that learning can be an enjoyable and profitable, life-long process.

If you are intrigued by homeschooling, but feel you may not be smart enough, I encourage you to give it a try. You can supplement your knowledge through the materials you choose, increasing your teaching staff from one (just you) to dozens or even hundreds of experienced and qualified tutors (the authors whose works you consult).

If you currently use pre-packaged curriculum and would like to try your hand at creating a lesson on your own, go ahead and give it a try. There is no Official Omnipotent Homeschooling Rule Book that states you must always continue using the same method with which you started. If you currently are writing all of your own lessons, but find yourself so overwhelmed by recent developments in life that you would really like to try an all-in-one package, go ahead and give it a try. There is no Official Omnipotent Homeschooling Rule Book that states you must always continue using the same method with which you started. That non-existent Official Omnipotent Homeschooling Rule Book also does not prevent you from switching back to your original choices if you find you really prefer them. Variety is the spice of life, and flexibility is the blessing of homeschooling. Take a break, take a chance, and watch the learning continue.

If you are able to create your own lessons out of thin air, God bless you. If you prefer to use pre-prepared lessons purchased from an experienced publisher, God bless you, too. Guilt-Free Homeschooling frees you from the competition for Most Original Lesson Plan and allows you to use the method that works best for you and for your students. How smart do you have to be to be able to homeschool? Just smart enough to use what works.