homeschooling after fifteen years

I guess this post will have limited interest for most of my readers, but the truth is I'm writing it mainly for myself. I've been a homeschooler for so long now that the end is in sight. I've got some parts of it right, many parts wrong, and sometimes I wish I could go back to certain junctions and make different decisions. So I thought today I would jot down some advice I would have liked to have had myself at those junctions.

This is from the perspective of the homeschooling mother, not the student. I suspect my student would have quite different ideas!

Read widely of the various teaching methods before you start.

When I decided to homeschool, I had no internet. I learned about homeschooling from a government brochure and researched it from books at my small local library. My girl was just a baby at this stage, so I had a few years up my sleeve, but really the only methods of education I was exposed to were school-at-home, unschooling, and unit studies (and later, Waldorf education). The choices I made were poorly informed, and by the time I finally got good access to the internet it was pretty much too late to reform our foundations. Having said that, I think our early homeschooling years were perhaps the best, because I cobbled together the things that worked well for us. But I wish I'd known about Charlotte Mason from the start. And I wish I'd read enough to be confident in my original educational philosophy.

Build your educational method from the heart.

I am a very old-fashioned person. I like copperplate handwriting, old books, quiet mornings, cups of tea. Regardless of what method I used in my homeschooling, whenever it was infused with my own spirit, it worked well. At those times, I felt assured that I wasn't only teaching information but creating an atmosphere, imparting a way of being in the world, which I valued equally to maths and science. The only method which didn't allow this - which worked actively against it - was unschooling. (Having unschooled for several years, I must confess my initial wariness of it has never been proven wrong. Unschooling is my number one homeschooling regret.)

The teacher's preferences should be the priority.

I know this goes against all modern pedagogical wisdom, which puts the student first. But as a homeschooler, you are generally on your own, with little training or practical peer support. If you try to teach your child in a manner they like but you don't, unhappiness and burn out will ensue. A joyful, excited teacher is the greatest resource any classroom has.

My biggest struggle in this was with the conflict between me and how other people outside the home thought homeschooling should happen. Because we started very early, we faced a lot of pressure to unschool, to give relaxed instruction, or to simply "let the child play." This suited neither me nor my student, but it was very hard to fight. Looking back, I see clearly that my family was in agreement about how we wanted to homeschool, but I kept messing it up with my externally-imposed guilt about blackboards and textbooks and lesson hours.

Many homeschooling families face this issue particularly when their children become teenagers. Then the pressure to send them to school becomes intense, especially if social opportunities are insufficient. Most homeschoolers I know would let their children go to school if the child asked. I can see where they are coming from - many people homeschool to suit the child - but I come from a different place. I homeschool because I believe it is a superior option for our family and meets out particular needs in a way school could not. I also homeschool because I don't like most things about public schools. I struggle to understand why a parent who holds strong values about education would allow a child, or someone outside the family, to overturn those values. Most school parents wouldn't have a problem saying no if their child, or anyone outside the immediate family, urged them to let the child leave school.

Consider the student's needs.

At the same time, you have to of course consider what your student actually needs. For example, a Waldorf approach would never have worked for us because my student simply didn't match its developmental stages. Classical education would not benefit a child who needs lots of doing and exploring. CM would not benefit a deeply introverted child. And homeschooling itself doesn't work for every family. A mother can of course adapt styles to suit, at least to some degree, but doing this means having a good understanding of how education works - which takes me back to the first point on this list.

I also think it's vital to be honest about your student, their abilities, their needs. I spent years dithering over this - not only at the beginning, when I was just getting my head around it, but even years down the track when I kind of forgot about it because it was such a daily reality. I think it's easy to get used to your child's particularities, to let them fade into the background, and even to think them no longer important. But they're always important.

Plan for change.

What benefits one age or phase might not benefit another. It's a little hard to to be intellectually satisfied and thoroughly educated by making cardboard models from Pride and Prejudice! And I have yet to meet a homeschooling family who didn't eventually tire of the unit study approach. It would have helped me immeasurably as a teacher if I'd thought about this aspect of education more carefully, and planned smoother transitions between phases.

Hold on tight.

On the other hand, don't accept change just because it's knocking at your door. The advice given everywhere is, "be adaptable, be willing to change to meet your student's changing needs and desires." But I think that advice can be too broad. In our case, we had a change of lifestyle which required adaptation. Or seemed to require it. Not really, though. I just needed to dig my heels in and work a little harder to maintain what was best for my homeschool. Instead, I listened to conventional wisdom and adapted, gave up control - and ended up with something unsatisfactory. Don't throw away what works just because the going gets tough. Usually, the stuff that does work will support you and provide stable ground through that difficult time.

There will be gaps.

Actually, from what I've seen, there are generally fewer gaps in a homeschooled student's education than that of a child in public school. But the way I got through my anxiety over this is by forming a personal philosophy of education. What did I want homeschooling to achieve for my child? Once I knew that, and convinced myself it was as valid as any government's proclamation, I relaxed completely about the "gaps" issue. Algebra has no power over the mother who is educating a child for life rather than learning.

It's okay to want things for your child.

We all want our children to be happy and healthy. Some of us want our children to be compassionate and kind. Some of us want them to have successful careers, to marry, have a family, buy their own home, travel ... It's normal to hold aspirations for your child, based on what you value. And yet in Western society there is a great sense of disapproval surrounding parents who want certain things for their child's education. I hear it all the time: "education is about teaching the child to take charge of their own learning." Sure, I agree, in terms of the mechanics. But I also think it's actually okay to want a particular education for your child, and to want what you consider to be the best for them. Not to the point of squelching their own dreams, of course. But I do believe a parent generally is wiser than a young child when it comes to guiding their educational process until they are old enough, and educated enough, to make good decisions for themselves.

Find support.

Simpatico fellow homeschoolers are invaluable to a mother. One thing I've noticed in my own culture though is a reluctance amongst homeschooling mothers to actually discuss the nitty gritty of education. I don't know why this may be. Thank goodness for the internet. And yet, as children get older, it's more difficult to find online discussions about homeschooling. Everyone is, quite rightly, protecting their teenagers' privacy. But teaching can be hard work. If you can find a homeschooling mum buddy, it will be a great gift to you both. Failing that, a really good book on the subject can shore you up. Something like Karen Andreola's companion guide to a Charlotte Mason education, for instance.

I could say more, but look at how long this post is already! I know most people won't have read it, but writing it has actually been tremendously helpful to me. If you are a homeschooler, I hope something in here has been helpful to you also. Let me know what you think.

And for a wonderful look into how one family continues homeschooling although their daughter has finished with a high school curriculum, read this post at Beauty That Moves. We never really did high school in the usual way - that is the greatest benefit of homeschooling. You can go ahead, stray behind, wander around, all at the same time!


  1. Thank you for this post, Sarah! I'm in the trenches of homeschooling and love hearing words of reflections & wisdom from experienced mamas. I will happily read any of these posts!

    1. thank you, I feel encouraged to write more :-)

  2. Enjoyed this Sarah, :-) as someone who has known you the internet from way back long ago! Bless.

    Regarding high school level work, my 12 and 15 year olds are learning everything together and at the same level and this means that if my 12 year old remains a homeschooler until he turns 18, as opposed to starting college, which is the only legal way he could be be considered graduated before 18, then he'll have something like seven years' worth of high school acdemics. Heh. It is odd, but we are so there you go! Homeschooling is wonderful and i am so grateful to have hadthe opportunity.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Dear Ellie, so lovely to get this note from you :-) I skulk on your weblog and you are in my heart often, but I wasn't sure if you wanted to hear from me so have remained quiet :-)

      The timing issue is a complicated one, isn't it? You can meet your child's individual learning needs - fast or slow - in homeschooling, but at some point many of them will want to enter the public system and then their levels are all out of sync.

    3. Sarah, I am astonished to hear you say such a thing. What did I do that made you feel that way?!

    4. Oh, nothing at all my dear! I will tell you all about it via your own comment system :-) I hope you are having a lovely day.

    5. {{hugs}} Sarah.

      Dentist for the children today, always fraught! I hope you all are well.

  3. (As opposed to stting college early i mean: we'll homeschool all the way through)

  4. This is wonderful! My
    Little one is only a baby yet, but my husband and I are already discussing homeschooling as an option for our family. I was homeschooled all the way to graduation. I'll be passing this post along to a couple homeschool moms I know :)

    1. thank you, I am so pleased you found it helpful. I am tremendously grateful I discovered the homeschooling option when my child was a baby, because it turned out to be an absolute necessity. I always believe Divine Intervention played a hand there.

  5. Oh Sarah, it's good to read this. The truth you tell in each post, and always beautifully, never fails to illuminate.

    When we started homeschooling I thought I was balancing all sorts of different philosophies with my intuition, heading always in the direction of my children's needs. But I was badgered by people quite dogmatic about their own choices, from radical unschooling to school at home, making me doubt myself too often. I was also slow to shed old preconceptions about education. If I could I'd go back to undo mistakes I made, especially with my oldest child. If I could, I'd read more James Hillman and Bill Plotkin, add more Reggio Emilia ideas, and mostly, trust the process as it unfolded each day. My youngest is in college now so we're officially no longer homeschooling. I see the difference it made not only to my children but to our family as a whole. I wish I'd had a larger measure of wisdom when we started, but then, wisdom usually accumulates slowly.

    Here's a piece I wrote about my homeschooling misconceptions. Eventually I'll get the courage up to write about my homeschooling mistakes!