The right way to homeschool

There isn’t one.

When I was a little kid, hanging out in the schooled world with both other unschooled kids and kids who went to school every day, I had no idea that there were different ways to be homeschooled. The critical difference was between being in school and not being in school.

Later, I learned that my family was probably doing everything wrong. Why? Because my mother had purchased a curriculum. That’s right. I was ten, and I was doing math out of a text book.

Good unschoolers, it turns out, never ever use a text book. They don’t depend on curricula. They aren’t weak-minded like that.

It was confusing. Because I also learned that my family was doing it wrong for not using more text books and curricula. We were doing it wrong because, as a child, I sometimes drew princesses all day long, on a Monday, without doing a single math problem.

(Who wouldn’t want to draw them all day? source)

Some homeschoolers thought academic structure was really important. They kept their children at the proper grade level. Some unschoolers thought that any type of formal structure was unhealthy and intellectually suffocating for children.

I wasn’t even sure how much I was an unschooler and how much a homeschooler. We were kinda just doing our own thing. It didn’t always work great, and sometimes it was perfect.

When I hear people laying down rules about unschooling, I get annoyed. I feel a little defensive. What if I am terribly flawed because my family didn’t get it “right”? I don’t believe in that.

Homeschooling is about trusting yourself. It’s about relying on common sense, rather than what the world tells you you should do. It’s about knowing yourself and your family. It’s about being brave enough to do life differently on a basic level. That might involve a curriculum, too. It might not. It might involve auditing classes at the local university, or it might involve reading all day long. Or both. It might change from week to week, from month to month, from year to year. Or maybe parts of it will change, and parts remain comfortingly consistent.

It’s OK.

No one has the answers. No one knows the secret about exactly what children need and should have at every moment. Some people are pretty sure they know. But they don’t. Because everyone can only know what their lives have allowed them to.

I think the thing my mother did best, as a homeschooling mom, was treat me like she really, really cared. She was invested in my life, every day. I think the thing my father did best, as a homeschooling dad, was trust both my mom and me.

Beyond that, well, the rest isn’t so incredibly important. We all messed up and changed our minds and tried again. But we were willing to be different.

We were willing, even, to do it wrong.

Which, in retrospect, was practically impossible.

33 comments to The right way to homeschool

  • Great blog. I completely agree. I have looked back over the years as a homeschooling mom and discovered that my thoughts on homeschooling have changed from moment to moment, day to day. I love the freedom to change how we go through life on a whim. We change what isn’t working and add opportunities for new things to work. It can be very empowering for a child to learn that its ok for something not to work and to change to something that does work. trusting ourselves in the learning process is one of the best things that we can do.

  • I just recently found you blog. As a homeschooling mama, I want to thank you for writing this post. I just let my 7th grader spend the day reading a good book because he was enjoying it so much. I felt a little guilty thinking about him missing math and science. But now I don’t! Thanks again.

  • Melissa

    As a new unschooling Mom of three little kids, I am every single day feeling like I am doing it wrong, I am not doing enough, etc. Your posts give me hope and help me remember why I am doing this. Thanks!

  • Today we did it ALL WRONG. I had a deadline and worked ’til 2:00 am. That meant when Emelie pulled me up from my sleep at 8:30 to take her to her job I was only half-awake. I very well may STILL be half-awake. So, I called off school. The two kids cleaned their room and now Meredith is telling me science facts and Kenny is reading from Dr. Frankenstein’s Human Anatomy. I kid you not.

  • shevrae

    I’m trying to find the courage to take 6 months or a year off of “school” to just read good books to my girls. There are so many good books I want to read with them and we never seem to have enough time. Posts like this make me think I should really consider it. . .

    • kate

      Very few things are better than books. I think most of my formal education came from reading and being read to. If you took 6 months to do just that, I don’t see how it wouldn’t benefit you and your family.

  • This is beautiful! I think every new homeschooling parent needs this advice.

  • A great post!!! I really dislike it when followers of any homeschooling philosophy treat non-purists as “not really doing it right”. I’ve seen it in many boards and groups, and it’s maddening – because what it comes down to is just what you’ve said, an individual family working together to meet the needs and hopes and goals using whatever combination of approaches works best for them.

    Shevrae, go for it!!! You will be amazed at how many topics come up naturally through the sharing of good books. And, you will want to sing when you see your girls making connections between what you share together and other things they encounter – “Oh, this is just like when Meg and Charles Wallace had to fight the It!” 😀

  • Kelley

    Thanks for sharing. It is wisdom. I have been paralyzed by not trusting myself. I wasted so much time trying to do what others were doing. It has put us so far behind. Learning to trust oneself is a valuable attribute to obtain.

  • Maya

    Great post! I’m just glad I found your site. Every post I read from you just empowers me to keep on doing what I and my daughters are doing. It’s like the summary of your every post concludes that what I’m doing won’t hurt my kids’ learning, and that I’m not doing anything wrong, and that I should trust my instincts more. Really, it’s hard when my in-laws almost always tells me that I’m not doing my kids any good when it comes to their learning, and that I’m doing a bad thing for not sending them to a regular school. All the more, when I know that I maybe the only mom who unschools my kids here in our place. (Homeschooling is still a very alien thing in our place, so what more if they here the term unschooling?) Support homeschool groups are quite far from us, and a regular once-a-week meet-up thing would turn out quite expensive. That’s why I’m really glad I can interact with people like you, and other homeschooling/unschooling families, at least on the net. So, a big thanks for coming up with this!

    • kate

      Not having a support group nearby can be tough. Maybe you should start one and see who shows up? My mom actually started several, and people trickled in over the years. If you want, I can connect you with her for more info.

      But even if you don’t go that route, or there really are incredibly few homeschoolers in your area, that’s what the internet does best! Your kids can go online and connect with other unschoolers, too. Or they can hang out with each other and kids who go to school, and they will still have great, fulfilling childhoods :)

      • Maya

        Thanks for the offer, but you’re right. We’re very few (3 families I know of, including us, after searching and connecting online for alomst 2 years now) in our area who do homeschool, and the other two have curriculum to guide them, so that brings us to only “us” who do unschooling. But that’s fine, I’m not so bothered at all coz there’s always the internet to make us feel not so alone, hahaha… Thanks again! 😀

  • Kate! Thank you for this!

    I first learned about homeschooling in the early ’90s (I was working in alternate ed), long before I had children of my own, and I fell in love with unschooling as per John Holt’s writing.

    How surprised I was, several years later, to learn that there are now “rules” about how to unschool. As a result, we’ve chosen to say that we follow an unschooling philosophy at home (rather than call ourselves “unschoolers”) as that seems to be more acceptable to everyone, somehow. It leaves us some much-needed loopholes and doesn’t make me feel like I’ve joined some sort of organized religion. 😉

    I liked this bit the best: “I think the thing my mother did best, as a homeschooling mom, was treat me like she really, really cared.”

  • Ami

    I used to tell people, ‘we just… learn.’

    And that everyone’s homeschooling journey is different because none of us have the same destination.

    Some people thought we were weird.
    Others were certain.

    Doesn’t matter. Worked for us.

    And Maya.. as for inlaws.. you do know the difference between inlaws and outlaws, right?
    Outlaws are wanted.

    • Maya

      oh yes, thank you for reminding me about the in-laws and out-laws… 😀 But I guess no matter what I do, as long as I’m married to my husband (and that we’re together in all ways, for that matter, thank God!)I could never really consider them “out-laws”,as part of my respect for my husband, to say the least. Besides, they’re just a few blocks away from us, so, can you imagine them showing up on our front door any (mostly unexpected) time?!
      I’m just happy that I know who I am to my kids and to this family, so whenever there are times my in-laws would try to cross the boundaries, oh, I’ll just be ever ready and on-guard to stand my ground.
      Thanks again! 😀

  • I really enjoyed reading this. I find myself wondering if your extended family was completely supportive or if your parents were just incredibly strong and brave. Whatever the case, I love reading your perspective. I love that new homeschoolers and unschoolers can read about such positive outcome while they learn to trust the natural learning process.

    I remember beautiful winter nights when we’d go “Midnight Sledding”. Literally. We’d see the occassional cop pass by but thankfully, they never stopped. I had an excuse all worked out in my mind…which was…”we’re having recess.”

    I can’t imagine a life without those memories.

    • kate

      My extended family was definitely not completely supportive from the very beginning. It seemed like my parents were doing something insane. My parents were already doing a lot of things differently, though. They’d been running a business together since they were teenagers. They are both very opinionated and strong-minded. Which can be annoying sometimes, but definitely helped them do something very unique with their lives and our lives :)

      I love your little midnight sledding story!

  • Roxi

    Thanks for this post, someone shared it on facebook. I just started “home schooling” this year, but I haven’t been great at keeping up with what others have expected me to do. Sometimes I feel like I am failing. Your post reminds me that as long as I am encouraging my kids to do what they are interested in, I can’t fail.

  • Michelle

    Let me preface my post by saying, I am not a homeschooling or unschooling mom. Yet!

    Here is what know.

    Learning is a lifelong process. It does not stop when you graduate from high school or college. You may not know all of your multiplication facts by the time you are age 8 or 9 or 39. And, that is OK. It’s OK not to know them by heart, without thinking about them. What is important, is that you know how to solve 9×9 when you need to know the answer. Knowing the answer seems so less important to me, then knowing how to find the answer.

    In public school, kids are expected to know things by a certain age. Well, my children are dyslexic and guess what? Their brains don’t process information in the same way or rate that non dyslexic brains process information. Sometimes their brains are working extremely fast and the material is being taught too slowly for them to make sense of it. Sometimes it is too fast and they can’t catch up, no matter how hard they try.

    Curriculums are designed for the mainstream kid. At least the ones in school. I find this so incredibly frustrating. When a child does not fit into that mainstream box, they often dummy down the program in an attempt to meet their educational needs. Guess what, my kid’s learning differences have nothing at all to do with their intelligence.

    I don’t know much about homeschool curriculums, but shouldn’t the biggest benefit of homeschooling be, and individualized curriculum? This is possibly the biggest selling factor for me. My kids think outside of the box. I’d like to keep them that way!

  • I’m glad your parents were strong-willed independent thinkers. I imagine they smile everyday at the result.

    The person who believed in us most (and with great enthusiasm) was actually my ex-mother-in-law. She passed away far too early. Life was much sweeter when she was here to cheer us on.

  • Mere

    I love this post..we follow Charlotte Mason..I love her philosophies..but then in saying that today I had to prepare some other stuff and so we all packed up and hung out at the library, and then yesterday the kids had some morning tea while they waited for me to read to them…and then somehow ended up swimming instead..and then the day before..well that’s way too far back to remember.
    Anyways, maybe I not doing it 100% correctly according the original version of our chosen philosophy, but I am at home with my kids and absolutely loving learning with them, in whatever context we are learning in, and so that is the main thing.
    Did you know it’s a National Holiday for every single one of my children’s birthdays? All 5 of them. Apparently some people aren’t aware of it but in our house we all know about it.

  • i’m not an unschooler, but i’m a homeschooler, and my ideal starting out was unschooling :) – i’m “doing it wrong” – and now that my first son is going into grade 10 i’m having a lot more ways to do it wrong staring me in the face :) – my best friends are the ones who say “why are you doing this? Remember that, and keep on doing what you know is right”…

  • Beverly

    I confess…I’m jealous. I’m 40 years old, trying to wriggle my way into grad school with less than perfect scores, and while I have always loved learning and still do, I have a lot of bad memories that I could do without because of my ‘formal’ education. Truth is, I’ve never been the formal type, and forcing myself into that mold has been one of the most painful things I’ve ever had to do. I applaud all of you for saying no to the puppy-mill style that our public schools have fallen into. I wish you strength and confidence.

  • Love this! I don’t think John Holt, who coined the term of unschooling, had ever said about no teaching and no textbooks. We can unschool the way we want to, not dicated by some (mainstream?) unschooling beliefs.

  • Heather Jones

    I just found your blog (through OMSH). This post is exactly what I needed this morning!

    We very reluctantly started homeschooling about 18 months ago – and have undergone a huge transformation in that short time! I quietly told a friend a few months back “I might be a secret unschooler,” as if it were a shameful thing. See, we started with a curriculum, and it didn’t work – but we still go back to it for pieces from time to time. We don’t seem to be able to stick to a set schedule because we’re always going off on a tangent. I can’t even manage to truly lesson plan most weeks (although I always have an idea of where we’re headed). The most important thing I seem to have learned the last few months is to embrace our spontaneity and to relax. The kids will learn in spite of my best efforts (grin).

    It is comforting to see that there are others out there who have been (or are in the midst of) an learning lifestyle that doesn’t fit into a box and which none of the labels quite stick to.

  • I really agree with what you had wrote about “The Right Way To Homeschool”. I have two sons (12 and 16) that are homeschool started in 2010. At first, I followed the time table just like public school but….I changed gradually as time pass by. After 6 months of homeschooled, my husband decide to drop all the exams for our sons. If they want to enter local university, there ihttp://hafidzyoungscientist@yahoo.coms one university in Malaysia that does not require any certificate. They will take your experience in life as the judgement. I think it is cool and my sons will always have a chance to study in university even without certificate.

    We are free to study anything without worrying about exams. Usually my sons decide what he want to study and we just go to internet and together we search for it.Sometimes it is just very simple topic that is about the rain. From there, we explore lots of thing about the rain. Sometime this simple topic will lead us to science, sometimes it run to geography and even to math. The amazing about this style is, my sons don’t feel stress and enjoy every minutes of it.

  • […] as an unschooler, I did not want to be like everyone else. Not at all. I really, really liked being different. I […]

  • Angelica

    As of 5 days ago I listened to what has been an instinctual knowing ever since I became a parent 10 years ago. I am homeschooling my children. I have a 9 year old, a 5 year old and a 3 year old. This post made me cry because there is so much love in your words and I want myself and my children to always feel brave enough to be different. Thank you so much.

  • Jamie

    I am so happy and thankful that I found this site. I have been homeschooling for 12 years. I homeschool all 3 of my children. I cannot tell you how many days I doubt myself wondering if I am doing things right, feeling depressed and having lots of anxiety, thinking I have to do schooling a certain way. After reading comments on this site, I feel so much better about how I homeschool my children. I was ready to give up today, but now instead of feeling discouraged, I feel encouraged to keep doing things the way I have been. Thanks. :)

  • So well-put! I call myself an “us”schooler, because I do what works for me and mine at any given phase of life – and that phase might be a year, a term, a month, a day or even just a moment! I pray that my children appreciate our choices in the long run!

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