A Facebook friend asked a question the other day that blew me away. It was very simple, yet it showed me that you can never assume anything about what people know, and that what is clear as crystal to you may be clear as mud to someone else.
She asked, “What exactly is homeschooling anyway?”
Now, she isn’t uneducated. She is, in fact, a very intelligent person. But she was pointing out, during a conversation we were having, that not everyone actually knows what homeschooling is – and that, if I’m going to help people make the transition into homeschooling, I need to make sure they even know what homeschooling is in the first place!
So, if you’ve always wondered what exactly homeschooling is, you’ve come to the right place. Read on!
Sometimes it’s best to start with what something is not, in order to clear away some of the assumptions and misconceptions that one might have before trying to explain what something actually is. So, what isn’t homeschooling?
Homeschooling, in its purest form, is not recreating a conventional school experience at home – although one possible approach to homeschooling is to emulate, in some ways, what that approach is like.
It is not focused on the curriculum – on finishing the curriculum by the end of the year, or on executing the curriculum exactly as written without consideration for how the child learns or what the child needs, or on following the curriculum schedule regardless of whether the child is ready to move on or not.
It is not hiding your child away from the world and prohibiting them from interacting with anyone. (That is child abuse.)
And, finally, homeschooling is not educational neglect or irresponsible parenting. It is not damaging or hindering to a child’s development. It’s not robbing them of a “normal” childhood. It is not emotionally or mentally abusive.
Okay, enough with the negative examples. Let’s get down to what homeschooling truly is.
If I could wrap it up in one sentence, I’d say homeschooling is an extension of parenting that puts hands and feet to the parent’s educational philosophy and provides instruction in a way that is mindful of the child’s needs.
That’s a bit of a mouthful, so let’s break it down and look at what each of these phrases means.
This excerpt from my Busting The Homeschooling Myths ebook explains this well:
“Think about it: How did your child learn their ABC’s? Learn to count? Learn the names of colors, animals, and shapes? How to dress themselves? How to eat with utensils? How to walk? To talk? To ride a two-wheeler? I’m guessing they learned those skills from you. Parenting is instructing. Homeschooling is parenting.”
People seem to think that the minute you start talking about academic subjects, parents are no longer capable of instructing their children. But they’re teaching language arts when they teach the ABCs, math when they teach them how to count, science when they teach them that blue and red make purple, and history when they read Little House on the Prairie.
Do those subjects get more difficult the further on you go? Well of course – and I speak to this in my book as well:
“‘Okay, fine – I can teach my kid the difference between yellow and blue and how to put a shirt on. But I barely understand algebra or grammar myself, and I sure as heck don’t remember everything I learned in school! How am I supposed to teach them these things?’
“Again, the laws of supply and demand are the best friends of homeschoolers – because the answer to all of the above is curriculum, local resources, and the internet! No one remembers everything they learned in school (not even homeschoolers!), but guess what: conventional teachers don’t know it all, either. They have these marvelous things called ‘Answer Keys’ and ‘Teacher’s Editions’ – and homeschool curriculum comes with those, too.
“I am a certified elementary and middle school teacher. That means I am qualified to teach kindergarten through eighth grade – meaning I am able to teach at least five different subjects (one of which covers seven distinct sub-subjects) over NINE different grade levels! Do I know all the information for every subject for each of those grades? NO WAY! But when I taught in the classroom, I did have the materials I needed to teach that information – and so will you when you homeschool. And you’d be surprised how things come back to you when you have the answers right in front of you. (You’ll also be surprised how much you learn when you have to teach it to someone else!
You’ve probably never thought about it before, but you already have an educational philosophy. Over the course of your life, you’ve come to believe that education should look a certain way and follow a certain path. Until you sit and think about it, however, you may not truly know what your educational philosophy is – and once you’ve done that, you might find that it doesn’t actually work with the life or education you want for your children.
Many families who are now homeschooling never had any plans to do so. Their children started off in conventional schools, either public or private, because they believed on some level that this is how education should look: sending their child to someone else to be educated with traditional curriculum amongst their peers.
But then, somewhere along the way, the wheels came off the wagon. Their child had a learning disability that the school couldn’t or wouldn’t work with. Or a bullying situation made the school environment unsafe for their child. Or a chronic illness made it impossible for their child to attend school. Or they realized their family was moving in a million different directions and never got to spend any time together.
And so, their educational philosophy changed.
“Every child has a right to learn” or “curriculum and teaching methods should be tailored to fit the child’s needs” now took precedence over “send them to someone else.”
“Children should be educated in a place where they feel safe” replaced “children should be educated with their peers” and “school should take place away from the family.”
“Eduction can happen anywhere and with any materials – like in a hospital with documentaries, touchscreen apps, and historical novels” overrode “traditional curriculum.”
But just as often, it’s not some pivotal experience or crisis that causes them to reframe their philosophy. Instead, it’s a slow shift in beliefs.
Year after year, they become more and more frustrated by the factory-like system in which their children are being educated, until one day they realize they just don’t want to deal with it anymore.
Or assignment after assignment comes home that stands in direct opposition to their religious, ethical, or political beliefs until they can no longer in good conscience continue to expose their child to what they believe is blind indoctrination.
Or teacher note after teacher note makes it clear that their child just isn’t cut out for this educational approach.
And so the parent is forced to reevaluate what they really believe about education. And then, faced with the realization that their newly reformed philosophy will never be compatible with the educational philosophy of the local school, they decide that their only choice is to bring their child home and enact their philosophy themselves.
The parent’s beliefs no longer lie dormant in the nebulous ether of their abstract thoughts – now they live and breathe, taking shape around them as they piece together a method of education that is true to and consistent with those beliefs.
Therefore, homeschooling is essentially putting your educational beliefs into action yourself.
Gather ’round, kids. It’s story time.
When I taught fifth grade, I worked in a school where we were required to complete all our textbooks by the end of the school year. To do this, we had to assign a math page nearly every single day of the school year – even field trip days and half days. We had no wiggle room in our math schedule at all.
I vividly remember one instance where this policy hit my students with a double-whammy that blocked their success. I had to teach a mathematical process called casting out 9’s, which you can use to check the accuracy of your addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division of whole numbers. I had never heard of this concept before, and it took me three days to learn how to do it myself so I could actually teach it to my students.
The thing is, it is in no way superior to the usual ways of checking your answer. It can take longer (so why bother?), is confusing (so you’re likely to get your “check” wrong and then think your answer is wrong when it actually isn’t), and is not a necessary skill in any mathematical field, for any college entrance test, or for anything else that I’ve seen.
And of course, my students struggled. “Why are we learning this?” “Why can’t I check it the easier way?” “Do we have to do this?”
Over half my class simply did not get it. I didn’t blame them. It’s a really neat little numbers trick, but a pointless one as well. If I’d had the power to do so, I would have skipped the lesson entirely. But I wasn’t allowed to. I had to teach them something that made no sense to teach, simply because it was in the book, and I had to teach the book.
But the frustration didn’t stop there.
There was one math page in the book that taught casting out 9’s. Even though fully half of my students didn’t understand the concept, I didn’t have the time to review it, to reteach it, or to practice it. The next lesson went on to a completely different concept. The review problems from there on out would occasionally require that the student use casting out 9’s to check their answers – and of course, every single time students would ask me to review it because they didn’t remember how.
And therein laid the double-whammy: Not only could I not give them a sufficient amount of time to learn the process, I also had to continue on even though they had no idea what they were doing.
This is a perfect example of not being mindful. What then does mindfulness in education look like?
When we are mindful of how we educate a child, we think outside the boxes of curriculum and pacing and schedules and we start asking the questions that really open up their education beyond memorizing facts and reading textbooks. What does this child need right now? What approach is going to set them up for success? What is going to inspire them, motivate them, and equip them for the goals both we and they have for their future?
This aspect of homeschooling is the one that makes it so wonderful: the fact that we can customize, tailor, tweak, overhaul, modify, revamp, and rework every facet of it however we want to in order to make it fit our child like a glove and eliminate as much friction as possible from the learning process.
Conventional schooling says, “Kindergarteners need to know these sight words and how to read at this level by the time they move to first grade.”
Mindful education says, “The ability to read requires that children hit specific developmental milestones, so until those milestones are reached, I will not try to teach my child to read.”
Conventional schooling says, “Everyone is going to learn this concept by reading this textbook and doing this workbook page.”
Mindful education says, “Because this child learns best through interaction, I’m going to work one-on-one with them and teach them this concept through discussion and hands-on activities.”
Conventional education says, “We will follow this pacing in order to cover this material in this set amount of time.”
Mindful education says, “Once my child has demonstrated mastery of this subject, then we will move on – but no sooner.”
In practice, homeschooling can look very different from one family to another. With about ten unique educational philosophies to choose from and an unending number of combinations of those philosophies, it’s safe to say every homeschooling family does things in a way that is utterly unique to them.
In general, however, homeschooling often looks something like this:
Do hygiene and chore stuff
Learn some things
Take a break
Learn some more things
Have some lunch
Learn some more things, or do some hobby stuff or leisure stuff or socializing stuff. Or take a nap.
Have some dinner
Do whatever you do in the evening
Go to bed
For families who engage in what is called unschooling, it looks even less complicated:
Eat and live life
Repeat to heart’s content
Go to bed
I know, I know. You don’t think it can possibly be that simplistic. You want specifics. I don’t blame you! I just can’t give them to you – because my specifics look different from how yours would. But trust me when I say, it’s really not that complicated, and you really can do this.
I can see your wheels turning. “What do I teach them, though…and how do I know when they’re ready…and what do I do if they don’t seem to get it no matter how many different ways I teach it and how much time I give them?”
Okay, yes, the nitty-gritty details can seem a little overwhelming. BUT – that’s where GoodSchooling comes in. Like our tag line says: You can homeschool. We can help. That’s why we exist!
Our blog is full of content-rich articles – many of which also have a free download available to provide further assistance – to help you DIY your launch. Or, if you like the idea of a family-prioritized, faith-infused, life-focused and SIMPLIFIED approach to homeschooling, then check out the Simplified Homeschooling Framework.
So, there you have it – that’s what homeschooling is, what it looks like, and how you do it. Drop your questions and feedback in the comment section below so we can get to know you and help you get started on your homeschooling journey!