Understanding Homeschooling: What It Is and What It Isn't
During the Covid-19 pandemic with school being out of session, it wasn’t long before I noticed desperate parents asking about homeschooling, even specifically reaching out to homeschoolers asking for advice. They were worried that their children’s education would suffer and uncertain how to continue their child’s education at home. During this time, I witnessed many homeschoolers reaching back and offering encouragement and hope.
Many of these parents probably had no intent to homeschool indefinitely. Others witnessed the benefits of the direct involvement of parents in their children’s education and continue to homeschool to this day. In fact, homeschool numbers have jumped from 3% to 4% of school age children in the U.S. in 2019 to 6% to 7% today.
I think it’s important to clarify the legal definition of homeschooling. Public school online is not homeschooling. Don’t assume that this frustrating scenario families were forced into during the pandemic was reflective of what homeschooling is like. Homeschooling is an education directed by parents (not a school) and based at home. That does not mean all learning is done in the home, but that it is centered around the family. Of course, it must be in compliance with state laws, which vary. If you are interested in homeschooling, you can find your state laws here.
The purpose of this post is to share a little about homeschooling—what it is and what it is not—and how it differs from doing school at home. And that is my first point.
1. Homeschooling is more than simply doing school at home.
I know it may seem like I’m splitting hairs, but I think any homeschooler who has been in this for a while would agree. Homeschooling is more than sitting down with a child and doing a few worksheets. Homeschooling requires planning, whether that is carefully choosing a curriculum set or putting together your own curriculum from various resources. Homeschooling isn’t just watching a few videos and having a child take a test. Homeschooling—watch this—isn’t mimicking the public school at home.
Often parents new to homeschooling will try to set up a room or a desk and mimic the schedule and teaching style of public schools. No surprise. It’s what they know, and how they were taught. But soon parents usually find it doesn’t work well at home. Many of the same problems their child exhibited in school are present at home and are even exacerbated. Talking, daydreaming, restlessness, taking an hour long bathroom break, or eating a snack every five minutes.
Homeschooling seldom looks anything like what we’ve been taught to believe education should look like. Why should it? Learning doesn’t only happen at a desk.
Homeschooling parents soon learn: Don’t fight against your child’s energy and imagination, rather use it. Channel the talking into engaging conversations. Take a nature walk or allow the child to do their work at the table outside. Incorporate a special tea time into the history lesson. Play Apples to Apples to help with vocabulary. Get out the measuring cups and spoons and teach fractions while baking cookies. Allow the child freedom to daydream. Creativity and innovation begin with daydreaming. Raise thinkers instead of followers. They will lead the world.
When I was a child, I gathered all my favorite stuffed animals on my bed and taught them my math lesson. Sure it took me twice as long to get my math done, but I had fun. Homeschooling seldom looks anything like what we’ve been taught to believe education should look like. Why should it? Learning doesn’t only happen at a desk.
2. Homeschooling is more than a parent teaching a child what they know.
One of the criticisms I’ve heard against homeschooling is: A parent doesn’t know everything a child needs to learn. How can parents make sure their child doesn’t lack in some area when they don’t know everything? Homeschooling isn’t about a parent teaching a child what they know; it’s about teaching a child how to learn on their own. Homeschooling is about developing a child into a lifelong learner. It’s about a child falling in love with knowledge, so that they continue to explore and learn beyond what their parents know. Nothing thrills my heart more than when one of my children come to me excited about something new they learned. Not something I required them to know, but knowledge they sought out on their own during free time when they could have been doing anything else.
Homeschooling is about a child falling in love with knowledge, so that they continue to explore and learn beyond what their parents know.
So how do we develop and keep the excitement of learning in the hearts of our child? I wrote a whole blog post on how we are unintentionally Killing the Desire to learn in our children. Children are naturally curious, but we often strip them of their desire to learn by boring them to death with busywork. Homeschooling should be fun and action oriented. That doesn’t mean it is never difficult, but it should engage our children’s interests and abilities. We should teach the way a child learns rather than forcing them to learn the way we teach. One book I recommend that every parent read whether they homeschool or not is Discover Your Child’s Learning Style by Mariaemma Willis and Victoria Kindle Hodson. One of the great things about homeschooling is the ability to gear education to the specific needs of the child instead of a one-size-fits-all approach.
3. Homeschooling is about the parent spending time with the child.
This is really the heart of homeschooling. No matter what one’s homeschooling style looks like or which curriculum they pick, homeschooling is about parents building relationships with their children. Time is one of our most precious commodities in this fast-paced modern world. Homeschooling isn’t the parent simply assigning the child work while we disappear to our room. Okay, sure I’ve done that. Sometimes we all need a break. Sometimes I need to pick up the phone and have a conversation with an adult before my mind melts. But truly, one of the greatest benefits of homeschooling for both our children and for us as parents is the time we get to spend together. Those are precious moments your children will never forget and opportunities to create treasured memories.
TIME is the heart of homeschooling.
Perhaps homeschooling isn’t something you can do right now. I don’t know your situation. What I do know is that whatever sacrifices need to be made to make homeschooling work for your family is truly worth it. We only have a short time to impact our children before they become adults, and that’s not something I want to leave to chance. Most homeschoolers do not come from well-to-do families. It doesn’t take a large income or a college degree. Homeschooling takes dedicated and intentional parenting, and a willingness to learn, be flexible, and give of ourselves to our children’s future.
So tell me about yourself? I’d love to hear from you. If you’re new to homeschooling or contemplating homeschooling, feel free to ask questions.
If you’re a veteran homeschooler, be an encouragement to others. Why did you decide to homeschool? What is your favorite thing about homeschooling?
Check out Overwhelmed? Help for Home Education.
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