Month: October 2019

Misconceptions about Homeschooling

Misconceptions about Homeschooling

Many years ago, I went to a home school conference to listen to Dr. Raymond Moore, one of the fathers of modern homeschooling. He said that half an hour was good for the younger ones (5-6), working up to an hour as their attention spans grew. An hour and a half a day of direct instruction and bookwork was enough for any kid under twelve. Of course, older ones may spend more time at it, because hopefully they figure out that there’s so much more to learn!

Homeschooling takes very little time!

You have to be available for your children. That involves time. Even if you have a self-directed teen who has taken control of her own schooling, you need to be there for encouragement and discussion. Generally, the younger the child, the more time of direct teaching  is involved, really. It also seems that some kids become self-educating for a while in late childhood, then regress to sleepwalking through life sometime in the early teens. This kid needs positive attention, and maybe a gentle poke to get them moving. In any case, they grow out of it. A good outside activity, like refereeing soccer or working at a food pantry can help.

Homeschooling is very easy!

It can be, at times. Occasionally it seems to fall into place like clockwork, and all is smooth.

Don’t get comfortable!

Your kids will change, your life will change, the type of education they need will change…it’s normal, and so are a few growing pains. Don’t let them throw you. Give yourself a chance to acclimate to the new situation. And, if all else fails…ask the kids. They often know exactly what’s needed.

Homeschooling is so hard!

It can be. But challenges are what make life the thrill that it is. When it gets to be that way, take a bit of time off. Have school at the reservoir for a few days, or study how to make igloos in your snowy backyard. watch some Bill Nye videos, and learn to make a new kind of fudge. You need a break, and it’s okay to take one.

There are some situations which can make home schooling especially difficult. Moving, a chronically ill child, a new baby, other dramatic life changes can make it much harder for a while. That’s when educational games, dvds, kits, and even workbooks can be useful. Or just make occasional forays to the library and come back with huge stacks of books. Look on this site for good educational websites to visit. Some are even recommended for bored kids. These are great for when you can’t plan lessons, but want something ‘educational.’

I have to teach them everything!

No…they will teach themselves more that you will teach them. Remember that reading is like having a conversation with the author. Remember that your kids think and absorb constantly. Remember that your kids want to learn…even if they complain sometimes.

Which they will.

They can teach themselves everything!

Maybe your teen can…if she’s self-motivated and has access to the right tools. But even the most gung-ho kid needs a bit of encouragement and..dare I say…advice now and then.

Younger ones often need help with how to direct their energy, and guidance with discovering things that they’ve never considered. So even unschooling doesn’t mean that they don’t need you!

Homeschooling is so expensive!

While it is possible to teach a child right up to their admission to Harvard or Cambridge using only pencils, paper and the Internet, it’s not very common, probably because most of us don’t carry the entire structure of the Tree of Knowledge in our heads. We’d like a little help with the structure of our learning and with ‘what to teach when.’

That being said, the  books and tools we use don’t have to be expensive. For instance, has used books for sale, quite often at less than half the usual price. I’ve bought hundreds of these books, and only rarely have I been disappointed.

Many communities have free or inexpensive programs for children that can be counted as part of their education. Clubs like Girl Scouts, Civil Air Patrol, Spiral Scouts, church and synagogue youth groups, library programs, youth sports leagues…they’re all possibilities. Some colleges and  museums have inexpensive classes for kids. Teens can take classes at local colleges, which can be cheap in the long run, when they get more scholarships and have credits already banked before they start college.

Homeschooling costs nothing!

While  doing school with nothing but pencils, papers and a stack of library books can work fairly well in the early grades, it becomes a bit more problematic when you have to keep trying to renew the Chemistry textbook for the fifth time. Most libraries have limits on these things!

It can also be a bit problematic when you are doing history in chronological order and the books you would like to use are out, possibly until seven weeks from last Tuesday.

Children who grow up in an environment rich with books and learning materials tend to be more intelligent and go on to higher education with more ease. So a bit of wise spending is in order. But don’t go into curriculum overload. If you do, sell the excess on Amazon and use the money for a museum membership, or buy other stuff that you need at our store.

Homeschooling has to be set up like a school!

Says who? It’s your school. You’re the teacher, or facilitator, or guide, as you choose. You design your school to reflect your educational goals for your family. For some families, this will mean a structured environment, though many who start this way loosen up as time goes by and the parents see that the children can take charge of at least part of their own educations. For another family, it may mean a loose, child-led approach, with hardly any textbooks at all, though many of these young people tend to structure their own educations as they get older and prepare for college admittance or other adult learning experience.

Homeschooling has to be totally unstructured!

It can be, but, here again, who says? What many call ‘unschool’ usually involves a lot of time spent with the child, using teachable moments, and educating them as a natural part of life.  there may appear to be no structure, but there quite often is a rhythm to the flow of the days. Many parents also do ‘semi-unschooling’ (myself included), which incorporates a lot of free time for self-teaching, and a small amount of more structured learning most days.

You must have a classroom!

And sit at desks in a row, and raise your hand to talk…like the observation of the auntie who can’t think of any other benefits to ‘regular school’ other than learning to stand in line, it’s structure for the sake of structure. Part of the joy of homeschooling is the freedom to make learning part of your entire life, something that can be done outside in the treehouse, or under the table in your pjs.

You must do all classes outside or under the kitchen table!

Dining room tables work better for writing, and couches are really good for snuggling while reading. Get comfortable, and fit the environment to the activity!

They have to be kept in their proper grades!

All six-year-olds aren’t ready to learn to read. Some are not quite mature enough, and some have been reading for a few years. It’s all okay, they’re just different types of kids. A child who loves science may need a high school or college level book at ten,  but he may still be in a math book for kids ages 8 to 9. That’s fine. The different parts of their brains mature at different rates. Give them a bit of space to grow in.

Homeschooling Math…and liking it!

Homeschooling Math…and liking it!

Teaching math has always been more of a chore than I want it to be. I’m not one of those ‘nail-’em-to-the-seat-til-they’ve-finished-their-100-multiplication-problems’ type person, but would they learn without being forced?


I was talking to a physicist friend who was quite happy to hear about how much my son Neal loves science. I asked my friend about what was important to get across to a science-minded child, and he said, “Math. How far he succeeds in math will determine how far he can go in most areas of science.”

He then went on to say that what’s important isn’t knowing the times tables extremely well, though that doesn’t hurt, but knowing how to actually use all the numbers to solve real-world problems. It helps to see the beauty and the power of mathematics.

This lead me to devise a much more friendly approach, aimed at helping kids to be more likely to enjoy math, to appreciate what they can do with it, rather than to see it as endless lists of computations.

The computational side must be dealt with, of course, but for most children this can be made more enjoyable and more effective by using games. Children’s minds tend to hold on to things that they’ve actually used much better than ones that they memorize for a test….and ‘use’ seems to include Math Blaster and multiplication war card games!

In practical terms, this means that we follow a regular mathematics curriculum with a few twists. Currently we’re using Sra Math Explorations and Applications, which is an older series that is very highly-rated by mathematicians and scientists, as well as by my children. We love the emphasis on real-life problems and situations, and the use of games for drill. We do most of our work on memorizing the four basic operations using games, whether cards, computer or activities. (We do a few written pages here and there to document it all for our year-end portfolios as required by the State of Ohio.) We do much of the story-problem work out loud, with scratch paper available for computation. We supplement this all with extra thought problems from the Challenge Math series, and the Critical Thinking books from Prufrock Press.

Another fun source of mathematical enrichment and amusement is puzzle books, like Sudoku, kakuro, logic problems, and other mathematical  puzzles. These can keep an older child occupied for hours. Highlights has a series called Mathmania, which is very good for younger (5-10 year old) kids.

Sometime around age 12 or beyond, Jacob’s Mathematics: A Human Endeavor can be an excellent text or supplement to any curriculum. It introduces many of the great mental puzzles and challenges of more advanced math, but at a level that can be appreciated by most people. It brings out the beauty and fascination of math.

Learning and Squirming

Learning and Squirming

We sit down at the dining room table all ready to “do school.” Pencils are sharpened: notebooks are opened: books are stacked neatly beside each child. They’re all dressed, combed and breakfasted, and eagerly awaiting my words of wisdom about the gross national product of Liberia….

Yes, of course I’m dreaming. Reality, as we know, is more like, “Wait, Mom! I have to finish this tower before the cat knocks it over!” “My gerbil just got loose and he’s eating the sofa!!” “The baby just squeezed toothpaste all over the cat!”

Or the dread “This is so boring! Can I go watch TV?”

No, you can’t, unless it’s “Mythbusters” or “Bill Nye the Science Guy.” After that, you can watch while Mommy tries to glue back in the hair she just pulled out!

But I have found a few ways to lure in the most reluctant and squirmy learners…at least some of the time.

Over the years, I’ve observed that bored children don’t hear you anyway. If they have the least bit of imagination, they are mentally off at the beach when you start ‘discussing’ the anatomy of flatworms, unless flatworms fall within their areas of interest. So all those lectures are really just an exercise for you…and not a really exciting one at that.

I tried having them take notes, but that doesn’t seem to work well or comfortably until they are in their teens. Before then, they just seem to get so wrapped up in what they are writing that they lose track of what else is being said. Once they reach thirteen or fourteen, I do encourage them to try note-taking now and then as preparation for college.

One day I was so frustrated that nothing was getting done that I sat on the couch and began to read A Child’s History of the World while Renee (then age 6) and Claire (age 3) played in the living room with Legos. I read several chapters, and we discussed them as I read…all while elaborate castles and forts grew on the floor. The surprising thing was that they remembered far better than when I attempted to make them sit still and pay attention…and their recall was better the next days and weeks. Even little Claire began naming her Lego people after historical characters.

And so began my experiments with things that keep their hands busy while allowing their minds to focus on what they hear. So far, our family favorites are:

• a floor full of Legos or Lincoln Logs


• mathematics manipulatives,  like Cuisenaire Rods

• drawing, painting and coloring supplies

• food

• modelling clay

• beads to string

In my family’s experience, the saying, “The mind can absorb no more than the seat can endure” definitely holds true. But the mind can absorb a lot more if the body is happily occupied.

They do grow out of it and learn to sit still. My daughter didn’t take Legos to play with during her lectures at college, though I’m sure she continued her habit of doodling on the margins of her notes!

Homeschool Record Keeping

Homeschool Record Keeping

I’m not a naturally organized person. I tend to ‘go with the flow,’ changing and adapting as the moment arrives. I’m almost too flexible sometimes, or at least it can appear that way.

So in twenty-plus years of homeschooling, I’ve tried all sorts of record keeping systems, sometimes even in one year. In the beginning, it was  mainly so that we would have some kind of proof of actual education taking place in case we were hauled into court (that was happening in parts of our state), but later on it became more a matter of being a family record – a diary of sorts.

Things to Consider

  • Why are you keeping the records? Is is a formal matter, in case your someone reports you for educational neglect, a record of achievement for your child, or a personal log that lets you keep you general direction in mind?
  • What kind of legal requirements does your nation or state have? In some places, the only legal necessity is attendance, while in others, a full record of materials used and activities completed is advisable.
  • How likely are you to keep it up? If you’re not blessed with the Record-Keeping gene, a simpler, more easily completed method is best, along with a bit of self-discipline. If you get a sense of accomplishment from neatly filled in charts and have the time to put into them, then they might help you feel like you’re progressing. If you’re unsure, it may be best to start with a simple program, like using index cards or notebook paper, and move on from there.
  • Would this be useful in the future? Would having a record of what you did with Dear Child #1 help down the road with DC#2? It might, but, then again, what are the odds on you being able to find and use it?
  • How many kids are you teaching? Do you want a separate log for each, or would it be easier to keep them together? How many subjects do you teach more than one child together?


The easy way to do attendance is to use a calendar – printed out from the internet, hanging on the wall, or from inside a homeschool planner, and just circle the days that you have school. Simple. Don’t forget to include half days, and remember that sports, library trips, religious activities, clubs, and even vacation can count as school. Even what’s thought of as ‘Christmas vacation’ can be school, if the kids put on a Bill Nye video, make a skyscraper out of Legos, or build a tent and have a book club in the backyard.

That leaves about four days a year of ‘no school.’

Door Folder

It is always wise to keep a copy of your correspondence with your school board (if any) and a copy of your nation or state’s laws on homeschooling in a folder by your door. That way, you can prove your legality to relatives, passing tradesmen, police officers, truancy officials, or child welfare employees.

What You Intend to Do vs. What You Do

This is what I always fought battles with myself over. My husband would say, ‘Plan your work and work your plan”, and I’d try to fit my school into that mold…but it never seemed to work well. So I’d end up sliding to the opposite extreme, that of having no plan at all, which works well when your kids are in a highly motivated phase, but not so well when all they want to do is sleep and watch silly videos on YouTube. There has to be a happy medium, and it’s an individual matter for you and your child to find it at that time.

The system I came up with is based on the idea that I have things that the kids and I have talked over and agreed to study, and a few that I’m adamant on, but sometimes life in the present demands answers now, not in three weeks when we finish our unit on the body structures of Protists. Alanna wants to know why cats get hairballs and what to do about them; Neal wants to know what happens to satellites that are hit by space debris; Ken wonders how to make a photo of his sister’s face stretch out ridiculously with Photoshop…these questions demand mini-studies now! That is a very good thing, too, because kids retain more of information they seek themselves than they do information that we plow into their heads.