Don't Worry! Homeschooling Your Kids Will Only Make Them as “Weird” as Everyone Else

Of course there are differences between homeschooling and more traditional approaches to education. But the outcome doesn’t necessarily vary.

When we decided to homeschool our kids, it was widely touted that homeschooling’s individualized attention would result in better grades, higher-than-average standardized test scores, and most importantly, lots of scholarships to elite universities who would recognize my children’s inherent intellectual potential. Though they sound like a typical mother’s high hopes, these claims are not unsubstantiated.
Research studies, such as one from 2009 mentioned by US News & World Report, reveal that homeschooled youth who go to college graduate at a higher rate (over 65 percent as opposed to a little over 55 percent for those publicly schooled), while holding higher than average GPAs.
The US News article goes on to tell the story of San Diego native Jesse Orlowski who was homeschooled and later accepted into a number of name universities, such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Princeton, and Vanderbilt, ultimately choosing MIT and double-majoring in physics and math.
Orlowski attributed his academic excellence to his homeschooling experience, praising its flexibility and extra opportunities to follow his curiosity. Stories like this one inspired me and fanned the flames of hope for full-ride scholarships.
I had also read that homeschooled children would be well-mannered, socially mature, and not prone to tantrums like other, well, normal children. Critics argue that public school provides the best venue for children to learn the social skills needed to get along in the real world, but homeschooling supporters point out that nowhere in the real world is a person placed within a group where everyone is the same age and doing the same tasks. In fact, some wonder if it’s really possible for children to have meaningful interactions when they’re immersed in such a large group of peers.
Though some homeschooling families pride themselves on shielding their children from any negative cultural influences, others, like professor and homeschooling parent Stephen D. Holtrop, say that guiding children’s exploration of culture is much more fruitful. Still, well-intended sheltering by some has given rise to the stereotype that homeschoolers are socially inept.
When my husband and I decided to jump on the homeschooling train, he had only one request: that our children wouldn’t grow up to be socially awkward or “weird.” So he took on the socialization and cultural studies portion of the homeschool curriculum. (I was stuck with English and algebra and it became clear who the “fun” parent was.)
My husband took our kids to movies, to play paintball, and made sure the way they dressed reflected their own unique style and taste. As a Rotarian, service opportunities like the United Way’s Day of Caring were plentiful, and he took them along to collect and sort canned goods.
One spring a nearby village was in danger of flooding, so my husband took our two boys, then ages nine and 10, to help other Rotarians and concerned community members fill sandbags to keep the flood waters at bay.
His socialization efforts were rewarded by the time our kids reached their teen years. They became involved in the local YMCA’s Teen Leaders group, an organization that connected with other YMCAs across the state and into neighboring states to plan service opportunities and fun leadership events for teens.
Several times a year, our kids would pile on a bus and travel three hours or so to sleep on the wooden gym floor at another Y. They raked leaves, painted, or played bingo with senior citizens at an assisted living home. There were some teen dances, too, and a few dress-up dinners. New acquaintances would ask where they went to school. After our kids shared that they were homeschooled, these new friends would gasp, “You’re homeschooled? But you seem so normal!”
Standing here now – 18 years, a few tantrums, and one 4:30 a.m. call from the sheriff later – I can say with confidence that all three of our kids are decidedly normal. Their bedrooms were always a mess and their standardized test scores were average. College has so far been a mixed bag with average or slightly above average grades and some failed or retaken classes.
I can testify that homeschooling will not create geniuses if they are not already geniuses. (Some have even argued that socio-economic status and a stable family probably contribute more to a child’s academic success than homeschooling does.) This observation doesn’t discredit the choice to homeschool. It simply removes homeschooling from a pedestal and places it on the same level as other educational options that parents have to choose from.
So perhaps the biggest difference is that a homeschooling parent has a front row seat to watching their children learn and grow. And then there’s the bond created among siblings who are homeschooled together. From the time we brought our daughter, the youngest, home, we taught our sons that they must always look out for each other and for their little sister. On one of their YMCA teen treks to serve at the Special Olympics in a bigger city, I charged them with staying by her side. “If she needs to use the bathroom in the middle of the night, you will escort her,” I said.
They did, and they even started including her when they invited friends over to play video games or watch movies, sparking a comment from one of their friends (whose stepsister would rival Cinderella’s), “Your sister is so cool.”
I loved every minute I spent homeschooling my children, but expecting grand outcomes – besides the joy that comes from a loving family bond – only creates unrealistic demands and pressures for both parent and child. Homeschooled children will be normal, with strengths and weaknesses, victories and mistakes, just like the parents who raised and educated them.
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Oak Meadow partnered with Parent.co to sponsor this post because they believe that a homeschool curriculum can be joyfully and artfully integrated into your life.

10 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Homeschooling

Helpful words of wisdom and experience from a homeschool mom who felt just as intimidated as you might be feeling now. The bottom line is: you can do this.

My one-year-old son, Sam, sat on my hip as my three-year-old daughter, Wren, ran around the backyard before the oppressive Texas heat settled in for summer. Squatting on the ground to investigate a flower and the bee crawling on it, Wren turned her face to me and asked excitedly, “Mom, how do the bees do what they do?”  

I stared at her, unsure of what she was actually asking me. How do bees what? Pollinate? Fly? Sting? No matter the question, I had no answer, so I tried to fake it.

“Well, um, bees use pollen, or make pollen, or nectar…they for sure make honey and that’s good. They die after they sting you, so whatever they do, they don’t do it after that.”

Wren gave me a halfhearted smile before turning back to the flower she was observing. Suddenly, I doubted everything I thought I knew about what it would be like to homeschool, brought to my knees by the curiosity of a three-year-old.  

I wasn’t homeschooled, but I knew from the beginning of my life as a parent that I would be a homeschooling mom. Now my qualifications seemed shaky at best. There was so much I didn’t know but needed to, and that day I started grasping in the dark for answers.  

Here are 10 things I wish someone had told me before I started my homeschool journey.

1 | Homeschool parents don’t have to be experts – they just need resources.

No teacher has all the answers to every question, but the good ones know when to seek help. That’s the key to teaching a child how to be a lifelong learner: be the example.

Be a model of curiosity, exploration, experimentation. Avoid developing the habit of reaching for a predictable teaching tool or another worksheet. Instead, model active learning by asking questions, trying out ideas, and making adjustments.

2 | Teaching a child to read is 90% of the battle and 100% of the solution – but don’t rush it.

Focus on not rushing this basic, vital part of learning. Rushing equals struggles, and can take the joy out of reading and writing. So lead your child gently with lots of read-alouds and playful explorations of the letter sounds and shapes.

Once a child can read, they’ll find books and information on topics that interest them. Before I knew it, my kids were teaching me about squirrels, Mars, and why the Headless Horseman couldn’t be real because they read up and learned themselves.

3 | Socialization isn’t going to be an issue.

When people think of homeschooled children, they tend to imagine unsocialized outcasts who lack people skills. This simply isn’t the case. Socialization takes place in a variety of settings, not just at school.

For parents who want more support in the socialization realm, Homeschool World offers a way to search for homeschool support groups by area. The lists are extensive and include co-ops that offer everything from book clubs to weekly playdates. In fact, the only problem a parent will have is information overload.

There’s also nothing like Meetup.com to connect with like-minded individuals. Homeschool groups abound on the site, but parents should make sure the group they join meets the needs of their family. Some of the Meetup homeschool groups are extremely structured, while others just offer a place for kids to hang out and play.

Sports leagues are another great way for kids to make new friends and learn about sportsmanship. Children will interact with kids who are homeschooled and public schooled in leagues, and this will help them understand the other side of schooling.

4 | Playtime is brain food.

In fact, many schools are adding more playtime throughout the day to let kids work off fidgety energy so they can focus on learning. When the kids spend time engaged in imaginative games in the yard, that’s school.

The key is to give kids mini breaks throughout the day. Instead of expecting them to sit for hours and hours and then receive one 15-minute break, let them get up and play after 30-45 minutes of work or when you notice they’re distracted and having trouble sitting still.  

Play is a way to refill their cup and bring them back to the learning table ready to focus. Also, don’t use play as a reward. Make it a part of the everyday homeschool plan, an essential part of learning and exploring.

5 | Start the day with a loose plan.

It’s not necessary to micromanage when homeschooling, but it is a good idea to start each morning with a written list of what is to be accomplished during the day. To make sure these expectations are realistic, sit down the weekend before and look at the calendar. How many playdates or field trips are planned for the next week? Are any visitors coming to town? Are there holidays or special events that will interrupt the normal flow of the homeschool week?  

Once all of this is taken into consideration, use index cards or a weekly planner to sketch a plan for each day. If something doesn’t get finished on Monday, move it to Tuesday. If much more is accomplished on Wednesday than expected, make sure to note it.

Daily planning can become a learning experience for your older students. Give them a planner of their own and show them how to make a checklist to organize their day or their schoolwork. Check things off and create a new list the next day.

6 | On the hard days, decide what it’s worth.

Kids will have days where they get out of bed and knock out all their work quickly. Other days will feel like a struggle from start to finish. This is normal. The upside is that homeschool parents have the chance to decide whether to push forward on the hard days or to let their child run in the backyard and make up the difference tomorrow.

7 | Teaching children at multiple academic levels is possible.

Though it takes work and planning, teaching children who are different ages and doing different levels of work is possible. This plan will change throughout your children’s development, but here’s an example of how it works for a mom with three kids – a toddler, a kindergartener, and a second grader:

  • For the toddler, make sure the child has a sensory station with kinetic sand or water that he or she can play with. Whatever keeps the toddler happy for the longest period of time should be offered.
  • Move on to working with the child who is the most self-sufficient, probably the second grader. Take some time to review information or cover a new skill before letting this child work independently until they need their work checked.
  • Finally, move to the child who needs the most guided help, such as the child who is just learning to read or properly trace letters (around kindergarten age). You’ll need one-on-one time to dedicate to helping this child develop essential skills that are the foundation of his schooling.

It’s also possible to purchase curriculum that is designed for multiple ages and includes activities based on grade level.  

8 | Borrowing vs. buying resources

Some libraries have STEAM kits that offer hands-on math work and materials for science experiments. While there is usually a waitlist and we only get to keep the kit for a designated amount of time, we have the opportunity to sample tons of different items without purchasing.  

There are exceptions. If a child loves math manipulatives and will work on math more willingly with them, then invest in manipulatives to enhance the learning experience. It will be worth the cost.  

9 | On creating a “real school” vs. a living homeschool

There are parents who like to segregate home and school within the homeschool environment. They want their children to be in school mode and see them as only a teacher during certain times of the day. They may even set up a classroom-style area in their house complete with school desks.  

For me, this didn’t work, but it could have been because of my prior teaching experience. As a former teacher, I needed to actually pull away from what I thought school was supposed to be to open myself up to all homeschool had to offer.

In our house, it’s always home and it’s always school, so everyone feels free to discuss science experiments at dinner or to talk about problems with a friend during math lessons.

10 | You don’t have to teach every subject every day.

History and science are great, but elementary-aged children don’t have to go over those topics every day. Math, reading, writing, and play are the daily essentials, with focused history and science lessons on the agenda two to three times a week.  

Once kids master reading and other basic skills, it’s much easier to fold in other subjects. Plus, children inadvertently study science every day. All those questions about where the earth came from, why slugs come inside when it rains, and what life is like on the moon? That’s science, and kids never stop asking questions.  

••••

The afternoon of the bee question, we went to the library and grabbed books. Wren and I read them during Sam’s naptime and then looked at videos and pictures of bees on the internet. Wren fixated on the notion that bees communicate by dancing.  

As the sun began to set that night, my daughter led me outside. She put her two index fingers straight up over her head, shook her bottom, and made a raspy noise from her throat.  

“Do you see them?” she asked.

“Who? The bees?”

“Yes!  This is how they tell each other where the pollen is, remember?”

I put my fingers on my head, shook my bottom, and buzzed back at my daughter. I’m not sure if the bees ever arrived, but it didn’t matter. We laughed and learned together, and I realized we were going to be just fine.  

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Oak Meadow partnered with Parent.co to sponsor this piece because they strive to keep the wonder and excitement of childhood alive and to spark each individual’s passion for learning.

Why I Chose to Unschool My Son

Kids learn in many different ways. And the truth is, opportunities for teaching are everywhere. Unschooling embraces that.

“Where do you go to school? What grade are you in?” they ask my little man.
“I don’t GO to school. I UNschool.”

You can imagine the looks he gets. To our son, the style of schooling, or the option of traditional brick and mortar versus homeschooling and all the iterations therein, are as conversation-worthy as discussing the style of one’s underwear.

We have options. What we were wearing at one point in our lives might not be what we choose to wear now. On the other hand, many of us grew up wearing one style, only to find that there’s something new and improved out there; something that embraces our birth shape; enhances our natural assets; provides a layer of protection between our special bits and the rest of our armor.

We don’t question other people’s choices. We just accept that people have come to these decisions after trial and error. Some folks stick to what was presented to them the day they moved out of diapers, while others have ventured away from conventional and found their version of underwear mecca.

And so it was with our little man. We set off on the tighty whities of educational paths. My husband and I followed the most traveled and most familiar path to us as former school-goers and now parents. We have both met society’s expectation of us, so certainly there was no need to question this decision – or so we thought.

Our spirited little human, on the other hand, is quite the visionary. Convention was never going to be his path. Surely I set him up for a life of questioning, of options. The choices were many right out of the gate – cloth diapers, all-in-ones, wool, disposables, commando… Hell, his precious bits knew more textile variety than Dolce and Gabbana.

Articulate, chatty, and extremely inquisitive, our son made it clear that he wanted to be an active participant in his education. When you’re four or five, however, you don’t get a say. An authority presents information deemed important and relevant. Some kids are more than happy to open their wee birdie mouths wide and take it all in. Others all but purse their lips. Reading, autography, and testing, supersede playtime and emotional development.

Two months into kindergarten were 60 days too many for our little sparrow. He did not take a liking to sitting, nor to being silenced at every question. He had many questions. He still does and I want him to ask every single one.

My homeschool experiment

Like so many who are new to homeschooling, I found the options overwhelming – online schooling, boxed curriculum, unit studies, classical schooling, eclectic homeschooling, radical unschooling and the list goes on. I was nervous that I would deprive my child of opportunities to learn, so I researched online schooling programs, i.e. public school online. I wanted guardrails. I didn’t know if I could DO this on my own. I finally landed on something that felt safe and secure and traditionally untraditional. I waited several weeks for all of our educational materials to arrive.

When the big brown boxes hit our doorstep, I dug into them like I’d just discovered King Tut’s tomb. I had sweet visions of orderly teaching sessions; an engaged, angelic, little boy eager to learn. We’re reading “One Fish, Two Fish,” sprinting through workbook pages, making volcanos like nobody’s business. Week one – a success. I’ve totally got this. The novelty keeps the dream alive for a few months, weeks if I’m being honest.

Stubborn and steadfast, I dragged my poor child to the “classroom” table where we both painstakingly moved through “lessons.” This was miserable, for both of us. I finished up the homeschool year and I cursed it. I was no longer relieved that I didn’t have to drop my son off at school. I was stressed and anxious at a complete loss as to how I should move forward. I hated that this was what we needed to do. And yes, NEEDED to do. I am persistent. I will not give up. I will find a better way.

Year two

I researched curriculum and attempted to figure out how my son learns. But I still didn’t feel confident about my ability to teach. I signed up for an online charter school, where I could select the curriculum and have it paid for. I figured I needed some accountability to ensure that we both stayed on track and if I didn’t have this all dialed in, at least I’d be learning on my tax-paying dollars. Check-ins and weekly updates would surely be a key to our success. 

The DVD art classes that I was so excited to watch and do were of little interest to my son. Every kid does art in school and likes it, right? We went from five subjects down to two (math and reading), down to, “Houston, we have a problem.”

I kept the online-school-at-home dream on life support for a few more months and then the Universe stepped in as she does. Employment opportunities brought our family to a new state and I had to gracefully bow out of our on online charter school. Thank you Universe. Hugs and kisses to you.

I loaded our school books and art supplies back into big brown boxes and never unpacked them.

Unschooling was the answer

This is how unschooling seduced me. I stepped away from the classroom, curriculum, and everything I had been led to believe was the way children learn. I looked at my son and realized that he has been learning since birth. He knows how to question and explore the world and I know how to follow his lead and expose him to new information. I look at his interests, his passions, and I nurture them. I am a resource librarian and I chart these unfamiliar waters with him.

We embrace curiosity; we learn where to find information and we grow ever more excited by the choices that we have every day. No longer is it time to “do math.” No one subject lives in isolation anyway. It depends on the context that surrounds it. Fortunately, the world provides plenty of context. Learning happens; teaching is secondary.

I trust that we are all born learners. Unschooling is the path we are on today. The kitchen table, no longer home to workbooks and lessons of the week, is once again cluttered with the stuff of childhood and, if I’m lucky, take-out Thai food once in a while.

A Former Homeschooling Mom Tells All

“Hi, my name is Lisa and I’m a former homeschooler,” I say to my imaginary 12-step support group of parents who survived homeschooling their own kids.

Many people think of homeschoolers as a generic lot of religious Luddites who nix technology, lack social skills, grow their own food, live off the grid, and want to be around their kids 24/7.

That describes maybe five percent of homeschoolers. And the Amish. I am not in the five percent (or Amish).

“Hi, my name is Lisa, and I’m a former homeschooler,” I say to my imaginary 12-step support group of parents who survived homeschooling their own kids.

I say “survived” because it was not all fun and games (although a lot of the times, it was exactly that). Homeschooling, with both its pros and cons, was one tough gig.

People often asked how I ended up down this alternative life path. I certainly didn’t plan it. In fact, when my friend Livie said she wanted to homeschool her twins, I said, “Are you kidding? I would never want to homeschool my kids!”

The thought of being around my still-going-through-the-terrible-twos-even-though-he’s-now-three son all day long sent chills down my spine. Plus I had an infant. I was exhausted from just being a mom. How could I be a mom and a homeschooler?

But yet, just a couple years later, I made the leap into home education. Why? After a very bored two years in public school, my son clearly needed more of a challenge. (We had to sneak Magic Tree House books into his classroom because they weren’t on the “approved” first-grade reading list.) Plus, when his teacher spelled “Santa Clause” on the chalkboard, my faith in public school took a bit of a nosedive.

So, we pulled him after first grade and homeschooled him (and his younger brother) for almost ten years.

Over the years, people asked me what homeschooling was really like as if we were escaping from North Korea and they wanted the insider’s secrets of what we did beyond the demilitarized zone. But I get it. They were curious. We were educational deviants, and they wanted to understand what we did and if we ever left the house.

Let me pull back the curtain to show what homeschooling was really like, at least for our family.

The Pros

 

+ We started school later, sometimes in our pajamas, because I’m not a morning person. (We often made morning runs to Panera Bread for bagels and coffee for the same reason.)

+ We “did school” everywhere – at the kitchen table, on the couch, in the pool, on the back porch, in the car, at the park, at the science center, and wherever the day’s activity took us.

+ We filled many days with beyond-the-worksheet fun – field trips, co-op classes, library visits, hands-on activities, science experiments, concerts, plays, recipes, homeschool support group activities, music, games, and art projects.

+ We custom-tailored our curriculum to what the boys enjoyed learning about while still covering the basics. For example, instead of just making the boys memorize the parts of speech, we let our artist son write and illustrate a grammar booklet based on Mario, his favorite video game character.

+ We adapted the environment to our boys’ special needs. The oldest (on the autism spectrum) liked a structured, quiet environment with lots of reading and art projects. The youngest (with ADHD) liked the noise, movement, and hands-on activities.

+ We “skipped school” whenever we felt like it. If we wanted to go to the beach for the day or head to the Orlando area theme parks when it’s less crowded, we did.

+ We read thousands of books, which helped instill a love of reading in my boys.

The Cons

– We fought. A lot. My two boys, three years apart and polar opposites, were masters at sibling rivalry. And my younger son and I constantly battled, with power struggles over snacks and pencils and petting the cat and making too much noise and . . . everything. Just because we homeschooled didn’t mean we all got along all the time.

– We questioned the decision to homeschool our boys at the beginning and end of every school year– and sometimes even in the middle if we were going through a particularly rough behavioral patch with our boys.

– I’m not the kind of person who thrives being around other people all the time, especially when those people are my own demanding little kids who often exhaust my patience. I regularly needed some “me time” and sometimes felt guilty about taking time for myself or going out with friends.

– As the boys got older and busier, homeschooling wasn’t nearly as fun. In high school, everything counts on a transcript. We had much less free time to go on field trips and pack in all those “beyond-the-worksheet” fun activities like we did when the boys were younger.

– We finally realized homeschooling wasn’t a good fit for our younger son.While we homeschooled our older son through 12th grade, we realized that our younger son needed to answer to someone else in high school. Plus, he thrived around more people, noise, and activity, so our quiet little homeschool drove him a bit stir-crazy.

The veil has now been lifted off the shroud of homeschooling secrecy  – at least from our family’s perspective since no two homeschoolers “do school” the same way. But, if we all fessed up, we’d agree that, despite differing pros and cons, homeschooling is one tough gig.