How Does Homeschooling Work? Insight From a Former Homeschooled Kid
One evening, while my mother chatted away on the phone with a family friend (as moms in the 90’s often did) the subject of homeschooling popped up. This wasn’t that surprising, it came up a lot—this family friend homeschooled her children and when we spent long summers swimming at their grandmother’s lake house I’d grill them with one hundred questions. How do you learn anything? Don’t you get tired of your mom?
Maybe it was the half hour commute each way to my private school during northern Michigan winters, maybe it was the notes being sent home about all of the hippie things she wasn’t getting right (I watched an ungodly amount of RugRats on the weekends and my mom was always sending me with non-organic Chef Boyardee) or maybe it’s just that I kept saying, “wow mom, I hate going to school”, I don’t really know for sure. All I know is that beginning that fall, I was a homeschooled third grader.
It went amazingly.
Psyche! It did not actually go that well at first. Remember, this was a time before Facebook homeschool support groups, BabyCenter mom-to-mom banter, Amazon Prime 2-day shipping on any school supply your heart desired, Netflix’s Magic School Bus reboot and aromatherapy as an alternative to chain-smoking through your stress. My mom was a pioneer, the captain of our wayward ship, sifting through curriculum, staying up late to re-learn equations and formulas she’d forgotten, and tracking down other homeschooled kids through every awkward means available - there were these things called “homeschool directories” and you would cold-call families with kids who were listed as the same age as yours for play dates.
The first year was, to be honest, a disaster and looking back it makes sense why - our homeschooling fantasy didn’t match the reality. So, what is the reality of homeschooling, you might be wondering? After sticking to it for a solid decade, here are some things I learned about being homeschooled.
Homeschooling Versus Public School
I was only in public school for kindergarten, first grade and a couple months of second grade so that’s the only perspective I can come from. In general, here are the differences I noticed between homeschooling and public school:
Play: I had a lot more time to play and enjoy my imaginary world once I was homeschooled. One of my report cards from my public school days even said something like, “Kierstin is a really nice girl with good manners but she daydreams too much and doesn’t pay attention in class.” Even if your child is older than elementary age, middle-school and high-school aged kids will also find they have more time to “play” and explore their own interests as homeschoolers. When I was in the middle and high school years I spent a lot of time knitting, writing, and long-boarding—all more grown-up versions of my childhood play.
Structure: Obviously, the biggest difference between homeschooling and public schooling is structure. Where I spent a lot of time waiting in line for my lunch, waiting until the end of class to use the bathroom and waiting for the bus home I now spent that time doing more at-home things like watching my mom make meals (and helping too), helping with chores and going with her to run errands. We didn’t spend a full 8 hours doing schoolwork because really I didn’t do 8 hours of school work at school either. Instead, a lot of that time was me being shuffled and I only spent a couple hours doing actual book work each day.
Social interactions: You were waiting for this one but you’re not going to get the answer you’re thinking of—I actually had a lot less social interaction in public school. My guess is that my social anxiety, mixed with the idea that we weren’t supposed to speak unless we raised our hands and were given the okay to speak kept me pretty clammed up. I didn’t have many friends there and the teachers were frustrated by my shyness which made me keep to myself more. Once I was homeschooled I found out that I was actually pretty outgoing and did better in more real-world social situations like getting out to the playground, local parks, restaurants and kid-friendly functions. I didn’t have to raise my hand to speak in these places. That probably helped.
Homeschooling Versus Private School
I only attended private school for second grade so my experience is limited but my time there had a big impact on me. I would say that the differences between homeschooling and private school have more to do with money and politics and less to do with structure, at least at the one I went to.
Cost: Homeschooling was surprisingly expensive when I was a kid. Besides the library, there weren’t many resources and the resources there were limited strictly to books at that point anyway. The internet wasn’t that broad yet, Amazon wasn’t a thing, YouTube didn’t exist and my mom ended up shelling out big bucks at the “teacher” stores (and driving long ways to find them) so she could get us stocked up on workbooks, learning resources and educational programs. These days, there’s a huge cost difference between homeschooling and private school because you can homeschool for super cheap now! I’m in the beginning stages of homeschooling my two young children and while I pick up new workbooks, supplies and learning games/toys here and there, we already have most of what we need in our local library, the streaming services we’re subscribed to and on the internet.
Political and religious freedom: I’m not saying private school is oppressive. I had a lot of fun there and fit in fairly well. But as in any group that you’re paying to be a part of, there are certain ideologies that can sometimes be forced down on you and that was certainly true of private school. With homeschooling, since you aren’t paying any one group to be a part of things, you get to pick and choose what’s important to your family, what values to focus on and leave yourself room to change your mind and that’s nice. Plus I could eat my non-organic snacks without any judgments. Phew!
Can You Skip Grades?
You can! Homeschooling, at least in Michigan where I’m from, is very flexible with grades. I stayed on track and graduated at the normal pace but I had friends whose parents skipped them forward a grade or two which allowed them to start attending college earlier on (and get their degrees earlier too). Each state has its own laws and you should look into them if you’re considering homeschooling, but basically, if you want your child to skip a grade or two, there’s nothing that you need to do other than just give them work that’s at a more advanced grade level. If you want them to graduate early, you’ll just prepare their transcript earlier on.
Homeschooling and Sports
I’m clumsy. I’m not saying it in a “look how cute and random I am that I’m clumsy!” way. I’m saying it in a “one time I ended up in the E.R. with part of my eye missing because I’m clumsy” way.
Regardless, I briefly ended up playing soccer with other homeschoolers and one time I even made a goal. I dropped out, but those homeschoolers went on to form their own team (go, Bulldogs!), opening up an opportunity for organized sports for the local homeschool community. Chances are, you have some homeschool sports teams of your own and the way to find them is by searching Facebook for local homeschool groups and asking around in there.
Thinking About Homeschooling?
Are you considering homeschooling? What's your biggest fear surrounding it?
Is It Hard to Make Friends When You’re Homeschooled?
It’s not as long as you’re willing to facilitate your child’s social life. That’s going to look different at every stage and age and even for each child (my brother had to be around other kids all of the time, I needed breaks). When I was a kid my mom would have playdates at our house or at the park, take us to community events to meet new kids, and took us to homeschool meetups. As we got older, I met friends through my youth group and directed my own social life - with my mom opening up her basement (and her fridge) to my new friends.
If you’re not so keen on the idea of a youth group that affiliated with a religious organization, I’m finding that more and more local homeschool communities are putting together their own “secular” youth outings so that homeschooled teens can get to know each other.
Other places for homeschooled teens to socialize outside of a church setting are:
A part-time job
- Organized sports
- Formal classes (like an art class, a dance class, etc. This is also a great way to meet kids who are NOT homeschooled)
Partnership classes (where homeschool students meet up for group studies of a particular subject)
Can You Do it Without Workbooks?
Yes! Once I was in high school, I rarely used workbooks. The internet was becoming way more prevalent and I found resources there, along with the library that I worked at to help me along in my studies.
I think there’s a place for workbooks though and I believe a lot of kids do well with the little bit of structure they provide. Personally, for me as a student, and now for my own children, I’m noticing though that a full curriculum can be too confining. My daughters really like wipe-clean workbooks, especially as they’re learning how to write letters and numbers. Search Amazon or Google for workbooks at your child’s grade level and you’ll probably find a few that work too but it doesn’t mean your kid needs to work in them every single day.
How Many Hours Should You Do School Each Day?
Remember how I said in public school I really only did a couple of hours altogether of true, organized learning and that the rest was waiting? You too should only do a couple of hours of school work each day, max. Your child’s day, no matter their age, should include free-thought and interest-led activities. I’m not saying your kid should play video games all day (but I mean, I played a lot of Nintendo and X-Box, not even gonna lie) but forcing them to keep their nose in a book for eight hours isn’t going to help their mind either.
In my elementary years the schoolwork I did each day mostly consisted of learning basic things - math, writing and reading especially. As I got older I took on more interest in history and by the time I was graduating from high school I’d spent three years doing music journalism and interviewing my favorite bands - something I wouldn’t have had time for if I’d spent the whole day at school. All of that was a prerequisite to how I now earn a living—creating content online.
Can You Homeschool Through Highschool?
Yes, you can absolutely homeschool through high school. It's important to keep a record of your high schooler's day-to-day learning schedule so that a transcript can be put together before graduation.
High school transcripts, whether from private, public, or homeschool, are the determining factor in whether or not a student has actually completed all of her required credits in order to graduate.
Credit standards vary by state.
How Do Homeschoolers Go to College?
The same way anyone else goes to college. During (or after, depending on the student's desire) their last year of high school, students prepare for college by filling out applications, writing essays, and applying for scholarships. Just as any other student, homeschoolers may choose to attend a two-year college before transferring to a university.
It wasn't an option when I was a college freshman but these days, if your student wants to keep going to school from home, most colleges now offer online courses or full programs that are completely online.
Will My Child Be Successful Later On in Life?
A Short List of The Things my Homeschooled Friends Now Do For a Living
Writer (that's me, hey!)
Research assistant/math genius
Small business owner
Certified massage therapist
Small business owners (a few of them!)
Formally trained chef, blogger and world traveler
Acclaimed photographer (and another world traveler!)
Formally trained hair stylist (in a city that gives many cares how good their hair looks)
Want to Know Something Else About Homeschooling?
Ask away! I'd love to hear from you!
Questions & Answers
My granddaughter is being home schooled and was talking to me that she fears she is not learning at the same level as the kids in her grade at school. Afraid she is getting behind everyone else. What can I do?
You could suggest to her homeschooling parent that she take a placement test. For more info on where and how to help her take a placement test, you can go to HSLDA.org
Another thing she could do and that I do for my own daughters is to find out what pediatricians expect children to be able to do and know at each age. This might be more applicable to elementary aged children. For instance, for my five-year-old, I make sure that she's able to use children's scissors, hold a pencil properly and sound out letters.
Keep in mind that kids (no matter their age) learn at different rates and have individual interests. If your granddaughter is concerned she's not learning at the same grade level as other kids her age, it may help to remind her of this and then to ask her what she's anxious she's not learning and help her find resources to learn those things (another example - my daughter has expressed an interest in reading so I've purchased her the Bob Books set and we're working through those).
The beauty of homeschooling is that, unlike her traditionally-schooled peers, your granddaughter has the space and voice to say she wants to be learning more and have that facilitated.Helpful 3
© 2013 Kierstin Gunsberg