Homeschooling and Social Interaction Q&A

Today we have invited homeschool alumni Rachel Coleman (CRHE’s Executive Director) and Sarah Evans (currently a student at IUPUI in Indianapolis) to sit down and reflect on their social activities and friendships as homeschooled children and teens. In this discussion, moderated by CRHE, Rachel and Sarah will speak from their own experiences and offer words of advice to both homeschooling parents and homeschooled children. Because “socialization” can refer both to social interaction and to learning the social norms and customs of one’s culture, we will be using the term “social interaction” throughout this discussion.

Sarah Evans and Rachel Coleman
Sarah Evans and Rachel Coleman grew up in Evansville, Indiana.
CRHE: Can you tell us about what sort of social interaction you had with people outside of your family while growing up homeschooled?

RACHEL: We were involved in various homeschooling co-ops over the years, made a lot of friends there. These tended to be either weekly or twice a month. There were other activities as well. At one point there was a monthly homeschool roller skating event at a local roller skating rink, and sometimes there were science exhibitions. We also saw our friends regularly at church and Bible club, and sometimes our church children’s choir would have an additional rehearsal during the week. We also had music lessons, sometimes took dance class, and occasionally had tutors.

SARAH: Up until middle school, and even a little after, I would say I had social activities three to five times a week. Before my family moved to Indiana, we lived closer to town, and it was very easy to see friends regularly and become involved in numerous activities. It was also easier for my parents because me and my siblings didn’t have such diversified/specific interests yet. My siblings and I were in a co-op and did Bible club and other church activities. We also took piano lessons and swimming lessons. In late middle school and high school my social interaction declined, in part because my family lived further out from town. In order to save money on gas we would try to combine our social activities into one long day (Latin class, piano lessons, and sport activities for instance). Some social activities that I did, such as speech and debate, were only every other week in high school—so even though I was involved, there were times when I wouldn’t have to leave the house for two days at a time. Since my family mainly did social activities with other homeschoolers, this greatly limited my social interaction in high school.

CRHE: Were the high school years different? 

RACHEL: While the type of social interaction I had changed in some ways once I was a teen, the overall level of interaction I had didn’t decline. As a teen, I saw people outside of my family almost every day, including other teens. On Sundays was church, and my parents usually had people over for a big Sunday dinner afterwards. On Monday mornings was our music co-op and Monday evenings was debate club. On Tuesdays I offered Latin classes for other homeschooled children in the community, so parents and kids of all ages were in and out all day. Wednesday night was Bible club, and Thursday night often meant children’s choir practice at our church for the younger kids, an activity I assisted with. Every other Friday night was our Bible study group, which meant another chance to see our friends. Saturdays were typically family work days at home.

SARAH: My high school experience was the most difficult time for me to get social interaction. I took a lot of online classes because there weren’t many homeschoolers in the area in my grade to form a co-op with. There also weren’t many options for sports. While my older brother had excelled in speech in debate (the main social activity for homeschooled teens in my area), it was not something I was passionate about or made many friends through. So there just weren’t a lot of options in my area for interaction with other homeschoolers, which is mainly the only group of people I considered interacting with. This became really problematic for me, but interestingly, my other siblings always had plenty of kids in their own age group.

CRHE: How did your parents’ personalities affect how often you had social interaction outside of the family?

RACHEL: My mother was very extroverted, and she loved throwing a party. My dad was an introvert, but he loved having a family or two over after church just to talk and fellowship. My parents Bible study group was always at our house, and it was a rare Sunday when we didn’t have people over for lunch. My mother was also quick to throw a party, and events like Memorial Day and Fourth of July were huge extravaganzas. My parents were well connected into both our church and the local homeschool community. They had a large social circle, and people were always stopping by the house to pick something up or drop something off or just chat. In fact, some days my mom complained good-naturedly about how many people came by, asking how she was supposed to make sure we got our schoolwork done with everyone going in or out.

SARAH: My parents always prioritized quality education, and they frequently went out of their way to give us instruction and social activities that enhanced our learning. I would say that social interaction and learning were always tied together (ie. debate was an educational activity and also gave us opportunity to see our friends). They would also seek out classes or tutors, and they were pretty open-minded if we came to them with something we wanted to do. For instance, when I wanted to go to a piano camp or a journalism camp in the summer, they made that happen. My mom was also committed to driving us all to our various activities, even when it was exhausting for her. Although our house was never a social hub, my parents were active and involved in our church, led a Bible study group, and frequently invited families and foreign exchange students over for dinner. A lot of the limitation of my social interaction was the fact that we lived far out from town and my social circle was limited to the people from my parents’ church or the local homeschool community. It’s probably too long to get into here, but I didn’t really interact with the public school students who attended my church until my last year of high school. This was mainly because I (as a result of what I’ll call “homeschool culture”) mistakenly believed they were all shallow hypocrites. My parents never said I couldn’t interact with non-homeschoolers, but it was more of a general assumption/natural action to stay within my own pre-established social circle.

RACHEL: It’s worth noting that parents’ social circles change over time, and that as they change, so does the social interaction available to their children. Many of the families I grew up with have graduated their children and moved on to the next stage in their lives, but because I’m from a large family my parents are still homeschooling my youngest siblings. They’ve had to find new families to associate with with children my youngest siblings’ ages. My parents are currently preparing to move to a new state, and when I think of my siblings adjusting I focus not on hoping that my siblings find new friends in their new schools but rather on hoping that the area has an established homeschool community and that some of the neighbors will have kids my siblings’ ages. And hopefully my parents will seek out additional opportunities for social interaction—church, team sports, various club activities—but you can see how avenues for social interaction change when school is removed from the mix.

CRHE: What role do homeschooled children’s personalities play in the amount of social interaction they need?

RACHEL: Personally, I found the level of social interaction I had growing up sufficient. I always had close friends and rarely felt lonely. But part of the reason I was satisfied with the level of social interaction I had is that I was fairly introverted. I enjoyed having friends, but I preferred a few close friends to a wider circle. This has been different for each of my siblings. One of my sisters had a hard time in high school because she was a very extroverted teen who never got the level of social interaction she needed. In other words, the level of social interaction sufficient for one child may not be sufficient for another child, even in the same family.

SARAH: Social interaction has been different for me and each of my siblings. My older brother was satisfied with a small amount of social interaction each week, and so my parents didn’t realize right away how much social interaction I needed. This ended up being very problematic for me, as I needed much more social interaction than my older brother. My younger siblings are also unique in the amount of social interaction they need (and the kind of social interaction—such as sports or art), so I think it’s really important to consider a child’s personality and make sure that they are getting the amount of social interaction that’s right for them. I was very different than my older brother, and I think I would have really thrived in an environment with more social interaction (such as an actual class or a co-op that met several times a week). Looking back, I think that I would have benefited from a more public school like setting, with options to play team sports or take a math class that was taught in an actual classroom and not online.

RACHEL: There is also an element of chance. One of my brothers had a large number of friends his age that he saw incredibly frequently. It worked out that way because of our parents’ friendships and the activities we were in at the time, and the whole group of friends just really clicked. My extroverted sister had a harder time with that. I think my parents assumed that if they had a family over with a girl my sister’s age, the two of them would play or hangout. But my sister’s interests tended to be different from those of most of the girls in our social circle, so she had a harder time finding friends she really clicked with. This would have been different if she had had a wider social circle to pull from.

CRHE: Both of you went on to attend college. How well did your social interaction as a homeschooled student prepare you for that?

SARAH: Well, I’m still in college, so it’s not a closed book experience! But I will say that my freshman year was rough because there were so many options for activities, and at the same time it was very isolating because it was easy to just be one of the crowd. I wasn’t used to having so many options, and it was almost as if I had to build up social stamina because I could interact with people daily. I wasn’t used to planning activities or trying to organize get togethers with friends, simply because I had never had a ton of practice doing that before. Plus, up until then, I really hadn’t had a lot of choice in who I interacted with (almost always other homeschoolers), so it took me some time to realize that just because I was in a social circle, it didn’t mean I had to stay there if I felt like I didn’t connect with those people.

RACHEL: The social circle I had growing up was in many ways very homogenous. We interacted with friends from church and other homeschooling families, the vast majority of whom were evangelical Christians. One of the hardest parts of transitioning to college was the sudden shock of interacting with people who were wholly and vastly different from me. That was very new. Another things I struggled with was learning to coexist with people I clashed with or people who were not always kind, something I personally had not really had to do as a homeschooled student. There are a lot of interpersonal skills I had to learn on the fly, as it were. This might have been different if I had participated in sports at our local public school or if I had grown up in a neighborhood full of kids instead of in a rural area. I did ultimately gain some mastery these skills, and I look back fondly on my college experience.

SARAH: I wasn’t as sheltered coming in to college as some homeschoolers, but the amount of apathy nearly all other students had towards school was really shocking to me. Ironically, I was almost better at interacting with professors, since education had been so heavily emphasized in my home (and both of my parents and older brother attended college—so I came in knowing what valuable resources professors can be). But I wasn’t used to just hanging out with people my own age, especially since there had always been such heavy emphasis on “doing hard things.” Because of that, I was probably too studious my freshman year, and I was still figuring out a lot of social things that most kids learn in a high school environment. On the positive side, however, it was easier to stay out of a lot of social drama, or at least, not feel trapped to participate in social structures that weren’t worth my time. I think the homeschooling culture, which largely emphasizes independence, allowed me to feel comfortable being different.

CRHE: What advice would you give current or future homeschool parents?

RACHEL: Please remember that every child is an individual. What works for one child may not work for another. Listen to your children, especially as they move toward their teen years. Ask for their input and incorporate it into your lives and into your homeschool plan. If your child is feeling lonely or would like more friends, find activities, a club or a co-op or a sport, to enroll her in. Don’t assume that having a two or three children your child’s age in your social circle means your child has all he needs to find his best friend. He might really click with one of those children, but he might not. Don’t assume that your child will tell you if she is lonely or wants more social interaction. Your child may see admitting loneliness as admitting defeat, or as suggesting that there is something wrong with homeschooling, or may be afraid you won’t be willing to listen. Take your child’s need for interaction with other children seriously.

SARAH: Social interaction is really important. I remember hearing many homeschool parents laugh at the “socialization” question, but the truth is, it’s not something to laugh about. There was one year in high school, where I became really depressed because I hardly had any friends in my social circle—or I only saw them once a week. While the rest of my siblings all had a large number of friends in the homeschool circle, there weren’t many my age, and my parents overlooked the importance of this. They mistakenly assumed that I was happy only having friends who were four years younger than me or four years older. There is kind of an expectation when homeschool families interact that the parents will be friends and the children will be friends—but just because there were a lot of children around in these families, didn’t mean I connected with any of them. I had several good long distance friends but was incredibly lonely in my immediate circle. So I would say, make sure your child has a group of friends that *they* want and need. Don’t just say, “Look, plenty of people around! You’re getting the kind of social interaction you need!” Pay attention to what your child needs, and also be aware that they might not even know yet that they’re missing something. When I came to college, I realized how much I thrived in a more social environment. I had never experienced this learning environment, so I didn’t even realize that I would have been better with it.

CRHE: What advice would you give current or future homeschooled children and teens?

RACHEL: If you have plenty of friends and activities and are happy with your level of social interaction, that’s awesome! But if you’re lonely, know that this doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. Ask your mom or dad if you can add a social activity to your schedule, and think about your interests and how they might translate into ways to meet new people and make new friends.

SARAH: As Rachel said, if you’re happy and content, that’s wonderful! But if you’re not, then it’s not wrong to want different options. Don’t let anyone make you feel stupid or abnormal for wanting more or different social interaction. Also, know that it may be really tough at first to make friends or feel welcome if you branch out to something new. I still cringe when I think about how socially awkward I was when I finally joined a swim team! Even though I was happy having the social activity, it still really rough for me as I was a little alienated and unsure of how to interact with the other high schoolers. Know that it takes time to make friends, and that it takes time to grow in social graces and become more natural at things like small talk. It can be frustrating, and of course with a wider range of social interaction, you’ll experience mean people too. So just be prepared that it may be a steep learning curve, depending on how sheltered you’ve been. But don’t let that stop you from doing things you really want to do!

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Pennsylvania’s HB 1013 is Bad for Homeschooling

Eleven states include a portfolio option in their homeschool law. Under this option, homeschool parents put together a portfolio of each student’s work which is then reviewed and evaluated by a qualified individual. CRHE supports such evaluations because we believe accountability is healthy and good for homeschooling families and communities. Portfolio evaluations add not only accountability for homeschool parents, but also encourage parents to receive input and advice about their children’s education. These two actions help to promote the quality of homeschooled students’ education.

Unfortunately, only 1 of those 11 states — Pennsylvania — ensures accountability for the individuals who evaluate homeschooled students’ annual portfolios. PA is the only state that actually requires the supervisor of the home education program (the parent) to provide the superintendent of the local school with both a portfolio of the student’s work and a written evaluation of the student’s educational progress composed by a teacher or other professional.

Even more unfortunately, a bill that just passed the PA House of Representatives — HB 1013 — would eliminate this requirement. On July 1, HB 1013 cleared the House and has now been referred to the Senate Education Committee. HSLDA, the Homeschool Legal Defense Association, has thrown their support behind HB 1013, specifically stating that it would “Eliminate the public school superintendent’s review of portfolios” and urging their members to “Contact members of the House Education Committee and urge them to vote for HB 1013!”

The Christian Homeschool Association of Pennsylvania (CHAP) has also rallied behind HB 1013’s irresponsible advocacy of accountability removal. CHAP created a Change.org petition in support of the bill, falsely stating in the petition that “studies also indicate that homeschoolers in low-regulation, mid-regulation, and high-regulation states (such as Pennsylvania and New York) all perform approximately equally in standardized testing, and in every case outperform public school testing results.” Accurate reviews of what those studies actually say can be viewed here.

CRHE profoundly disagrees with HSLDA, CHAP, and advocates of HB 1013. We believe that eliminating PA’s requirement of portfolio review would be irresponsible and would take away an important tool that can protect homeschooled students and encourage those students’ teachers to ensure a quality education. We hope that all states will adopt a portfolio review requirement because we believe that checks and balances between state, government, and child are both common sense and integral to children’s best interests. Testimonies by homeschool alumni give voice to what happens when such checks and balances are neglected. Kierstyn and Teresa’s testimonials, in particular, reveal how badly things can go when there is no accountability included in a state’s portfolio requirement.

CRHE applauds Pennsylvania’s current homeschool statute as the only homeschool statute in the country that provides accountability for portfolio evaluators. We urge the PA Senate Education Committee to reject HB 1013 to ensure this fact does not change — for the sake of both homeschooled children and homeschooling parents.

HB 1013 is sponsored by Representative Mark M. Gillen, who can be reached at his home office at (610) 775-5130 or at his capitol office at (717) 787-8550.

TAKE ACTION AGAINST HB 1013

Please take a stand for PA’s homeschooled children and against HB 1013 by emailing or calling the following 11 members of the Senate Education Committee. Their contact information is provided in the links below. There is also a sample email template to help you craft your own message to each senator based on your personal homeschool experience.

Also, please spread the word on social media that HB 1013 is bad for homeschooled children! If you’re using Facebook or Twitter, use the hashtag #HB1013.

Contact Information for PA Senate Education Committee Members:

1. Senator Mike Folmer, Committee Chair: http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/member_information/senate_bio.cfm?id=1080

2. Senator Andrew E. Dinniman, Committee Minority Chair: http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/member_information/senate_bio.cfm?id=1049

3. Senator Lloyd K. Smucker: http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/member_information/senate_bio.cfm?id=1185

4. Senator Joseph B. Scarnati III: http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/member_information/senate_bio.cfm?id=283

5. Senator Patrick M. Browne: http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/member_information/senate_bio.cfm?id=76

6. Senator Jake Corman: http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/member_information/senate_bio.cfm?id=251

7. Senator Stewart J. Greenleaf: http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/member_information/senate_bio.cfm?id=173

8. Senator Robert M. Tomlinson: http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/member_information/senate_bio.cfm?id=151

9. Senator Daylin Leach: http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/member_information/senate_bio.cfm?id=991

10. Senator Rob Teplitz: http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/member_information/senate_bio.cfm?id=1628

11. Senator Anthony H. Williams: http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/member_information/senate_bio.cfm?id=153

Sample Email to Send Each Senator:

Dear Senator ______,

My name is ________. I am a former homeschool student and graduate. I was homeschooled for ____ years. I am writing to you today in opposition to HB 1013 — the “Homeschool Portfolio Evaluations” bill sponsored by Representative Gillen and currently referred before the Senate Education Committee on which you serve.

It might seem strange to you that I, as a homeschool student and graduate, would oppose this bill when you have likely heard so much support for it from HSLDA, CHAP, and other homeschool organizations as of late. So let me explain: All those “homeschool” lobbyists are lobbying for the voices of parents and extremists, not actual homeschool kids or alumni — like me — who have first hand experience of what it is like to be homeschooled without a good system of checks and balances to ensure a kid receives a good education. As someone who has that first-hand experience actually being homeschooled, let me assure you that PA’s law – that requires portfolio review and quality assurance — is one of a kind. Literally: no other state has such a good law. And HB 1013 would eliminate this unique and positive aspect of PA’s homeschool oversight.

I could tell you stories of real homeschool students and alumni from other states who suffered because those states did NOT have a law like PA’s. So for the sake of homeschooled children and graduates everywhere, I urge you to not put your own state’s homeschool kids at risk. Please vote to protect us homeschoolers by voting against HB 1013.

Respectfully,

_______

Last Updated

Why My Parents Refused to Homeschool Me and Why That Was the Right Choice—For Them

Rachel Lazerus familyWhen my parents moved to New Jersey, they wanted the best possible education for my older brother and me, so they bought a house in a town with a strong public school system. And because they wanted the best possible education, when they made friends with other families and found out that there was a parochial school for our religion with an even better reputation than the district’s public schools, they sent my brother and me there, despite the financial hardship it put them through. And at first, my brother and I were both happy and challenged at our school.

But by seventh grade, it wasn’t working for me anymore. I was bored in all of my classes and bullied by my classmates. My parents were concerned about me: I was concerned about me. And so I came up with the perfect solution: I should be homeschooled.

My parents disagreed, and took that option entirely off the table.

After several months of arguing with the parochial school’s administration and trying to find a solution, meeting with teachers and administrators at the local public school, and a week’s trial at the public school, my parents and I agreed to enroll me in the public middle school and then high school. I excelled there, eventually taking 10 AP classes (and 11 AP tests) and winning a merit scholarship to the University of Chicago, where I graduated with honors.

Today, I look back at my educational history, and I admit that my parents were completely, absolutely, 100% right not to homeschool me.

Before I go into the reasons for why my parents were right and I was wrong (something I wouldn’t have ever admitted for any reason when I was twelve), I don’t want this essay to be seen as prescriptive: each family has its own story about why homeschooling is or is not right for them and their children. This is only my family’s story. Maybe you’ll recognize yourselves in it: maybe you won’t.

I wanted to be homeschooled for the wrong reasons. I got the idea to be homeschooled from my friend Peter, who was homeschooled via a virtual curriculum where he had to be online for several hours a day to complete his work. For twelve-year-old me, being on the computer all day sounded like a dream come true. My parents feared that if given free rein, I would spend all day chatting with friends or working on my website. That was indeed my plan, and they thwarted it.

I was afraid of public school. I had been having such a terrible experience with my peers at my parochial school that I was deeply afraid of other kids my own age. I wanted to avoid public school, or contact with anyone new. I pushed for homeschooling because it was a way to avoid my biggest fears. Had I been homeschooled as I’d hoped, I could have completely escaped having to interact with people my own age. As it turned out, on my very first day of public school, I met someone who has become a life-long best friend and even had a role in my wedding. This is clearly a best-case scenario—but if I’d been homeschooled, I would have never faced these fears, and I would have had fewer opportunities to make friends.

Some of my fears about public school were internal, and some of them had been planted in me. The parochial school I had attended informed all of its students—and all of its students’ parents—that going to public school would result in your child smoking, drinking, and having sex by the age of 16. I was a good kid, and I was petrified of any of those kinds of shenanigans. In reality, I was never offered so much as a puff on a cigarette at my public school. My parents now also regret that they trusted the parochial school’s line that they were the most academically rigorous school around, as we later found out that the public high school offered a much better academic experience.

My parents didn’t have support. No one in my parents’ circle of friends homeschooled—why would they, with such great local schools? My parents would have had to start completely from scratch. Perhaps if they had planned to be homeschooling parents, they would have been able to find a community or support. But as it was, with me mid-school-year, they prioritized my need for stability over their learning curve.

My parents understood their limitations. My parents are brilliant, hard-working people—my father is a computer engineer, my mother is a registered nurse—and I love them deeply. But they are not temperamentally suited toward teaching, especially not at the middle or high school level, and they understood this. By age twelve, I was also developing a strong preference for reading and writing over anything science or math-related, and they were not confident in their ability to engage my passions or teach me subjects I didn’t want to learn. They knew it would be best for me to be in a school where I would be required to take classes in math and science — and indeed, I ended up getting a statistics-heavy Masters degree, something I would have never done if not for a particularly influential high school class.

Back then, I didn’t really understand their reluctance to homeschool. But recently, prompted by my work for CRHE, I asked my parents again why they didn’t homeschool me.

My dad replied, “I don’t think we could have homeschooled you. Yes, I could teach you math through calculus, but that would be about it. Yes, I made fun of some of the silly phrases your bio teacher taught you, but you learned a lot more biology in that class than Mom and I could teach you. Also we had no way to give you bio, chem, and physics labs. Social studies: you were lucky to have such a great teacher there; we could never have come close to what he taught you. One further thing: your having to write compositions for a *variety* of teachers was training in writing and thinking that we could not have given you.”

My mom chimed in, “I was scared about homeschooling you. I did not think that I had the knowledge to teach you, and you would be done with whatever projects I could have given you, and then you would be on the computer talking to your friends all day.”

Even without being homeschooling parents, my parents were able to educate me in a variety of different ways. I gained a love of reading and writing and history from my father, who also typed up my very first short stories when I was four. My mother grounded me in religious texts and thought and gave me a strong sense of civics, social justice, and how they combine. They took the whole family to museums regularly, bought educational computer games, and always let me get as many books as I could carry from the library or bookstores. Parents teach their children lessons in many ways, even when the relationship isn’t formalized as teacher and student.

And the most important lesson they taught me?

Each child is different. Throughout all of the turmoil over whether or not I would transfer to public school, my brother was a tenth grader at the same parochial school. Other parents in their situation might have insisted that he change schools when I did to make life easier for them—not only would our schedules have been far more coordinated, it would have meant that our parents could stop running into the same administration they’d been battling for the last six months. Instead, he stayed there for his junior and senior years, where he was valedictorian, a starting athlete, and editor of the school paper. It was the right school for him, just as public school was the right school for me.

I can’t tell you what would have happened to me if I had been homeschooled as I’d wanted, or if I’d stayed in parochial school through twelfth grade as my parents had initially hoped. And I don’t think there’s a single right way or path that a parent can choose that results in 100% good things. But ten years after I graduated from public high school, I am very happy with the place I’m in, and the success that I have had—and so much of it depends on my parents’ involvement in my education.

There was a period of time where I thought homeschooling could save me from everything that might possibly hurt me. Now that I’m older, I realize that this was a dream. Homeschooling is a tool used to educate, not a savior in and of itself. Homeschooling can be a wonderful experience for many children when parents are responsible and responsive to their children’s needs—but when parents aren’t involved, are negligent, or outright abusive, then homeschooling can be a nightmare.

Less than a year after I enrolled in public school, New Jersey changed its homeschooling law after being heavily lobbied by a coalition of (mostly religious) homeschooling groups. Under current state guidelines, homeschooling parents don’t have to inform anyone when they withdraw their children from schools. Local school boards are not allowed to examine homeschool curricula and determine educational equivalence with local districts. Most damning, homeschooled children are not required to receive regular medical check-ups—even though there have been multiple cases of homeschooled children being abused, starved, and even found dead.

Inevitably, the defenders of the status quo will say that these deaths have nothing to do with homeschooling: they’re just bad apples and not true homeschoolers. It’s true that the majority of homeschoolers would never think of abusing their children, and that many are very involved with their children’s educational process. But when mainstream homeschooling groups have repeatedly lobbied against even the most basic forms of oversight that could catch abusive parents, homeschooling parents are enabling the abusers already existing within their midst.

But it’s not just the outright abuse that has consequences on homeschooled children. The homeschooling laws in each state have effects on how parents act. In a laissez-faire system like New Jersey, parents face no legal consequences when they do not educate their children. Failing your children only results in, well, failing your children.

I’ve seen the impact of parents’ apathy and refusal to educate in my own life. Two of my friends from my public middle school were “homeschooled” during high school. One friend, “Janet”, asked to be homeschooled. Her parents let her choose her own curriculum and were not involved in her education. The other friend, “Sadie”, was pulled out of school by her mother and was not educated for a period of several months before eventually moving out of state. To the best of my knowledge neither Janet nor Sadie completed high school, and both have had difficulties personally and professionally. Meanwhile, my homeschooled friend Peter who lived in a different state, where his parents were required to report standardized test scores, is about to graduate from a top-tier law school.

Now obviously I don’t believe that homeschooling alone is to blame for Janet and Sadie’s struggles, nor do I think that homeschooling alone is to be credited with Peter’s successes. But I do think Peter had a boost from his parents’ legally-mandated high level of involvement and I think that Janet and Sadie were hurt by their parents’ legally-allowed zero involvement.

When parents aren’t involved in their children’s education, children’s outcomes are inevitably worse. When homeschooling parents are legally let off the hook by a coalition of lobbying interests, that’s a perversion of the intent of the homeschooling law as it stands. I’m sure that these lax laws make it easier and more convenient for homeschoolers to do as they wish. But what my parents taught me, through their words and deeds, is never to do something  because it’s easy, but only to do something because it’s right.

Homeschooling shouldn’t be done out of ease or convenience. It should be done because it is in the children’s best interests. And if I homeschool my future children, I won’t be homeschooling because it’s what’s easiest for me, or because it works best with my beliefs — I’ll be doing it because it’s what’s right for my children’s education.

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A Call for CRHE Volunteers

This week the Coalition for Responsible Home Education turns six months old. Our mission of raising awareness about the need for homeschooling reform and advocating for responsible home education practices has struck a chord, and we’ve received support from homeschooling parents and homeschool alumni across the country.

One of our primary features is our testimonial section, where homeschooled alumni and homeschooling parents write about their experiences and connect them to our call for reform. Over time, we have published several testimonials from homeschooled alumni who had positive experiences and who affirm our mission. You can read more about these testimonials here.

We invite all current and former homeschooling parents and homeschooled students who are supportive of CRHE’s mission and goals to contribute to our efforts by writing a testimonial grounding their support for CRHE in their experiences. Instructions for how to write and submit your own testimonial can be found here.

We are also looking for volunteers who are interested in contributing to our mission with blog posts or short research projects, or by helping us with fundraising and spreading the word. If you are interested in contributing in these or other ways, we encourage you to fill out our volunteer form.

You may also contribute to CRHE by donating to our Paypal account here. Every dime we raise will go towards our overhead and making sure we can continue advocacy for responsible homeschooling. We have filed for 501c3 nonprofit status with the IRS and hope to hear back from them in the next few months. Once we received 501c3 status, all donations made to us, past and future, will be tax-deductible.

Here’s to many more anniversaries to come!

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When Homeschool Dreams Meet Reality

I live in New Hampshire, where kindergarten is optional and compulsory education begins at age six. In September 2013 my son was five and would have begun half-day kindergarten at our local public school, while my daughter would not eligible for kindergarten until September 2015. After years of informal early home education for both of them, I decided to formally launch our homeschool program. I figured that if it didn’t work out, I could simply enroll my son in first grade on schedule next year, no harm no foul.

I knew which homeschooling philosophy best met my objectives. I purchased curricula for reading, grammar, math, and history. I set our school calendar and plotted out our daily schedule. I took the obligatory ‘first day of school’ picture showing both my kids standing in our playroom/schoolroom, smiling broadly and still wearing their pajamas. And then we got started.

And we hated it.

It was drudgery for both me and the kids. After the first month I decided my plan was too ambitious for a preschooler and kindergartner, so I dropped history and grammar and just focused on reading and math. But ‘doing school’ was still a miserable experience for all of us. I gave up the reading and math curricula in the middle of October and we took a week’s vacation while I researched online options.

I found an online program that included language arts, math, and science, and started the kids on it in late October. They loved it, as long as I backed off and left them alone to do their thing. I just monitored their progress online and only stepped in to bring them back to revisit activities they didn’t do very well.

My daughter completed Pre-K 1 and Pre-K 2 in just a few weeks. She began the kindergarten activities shortly before her fourth birthday. She moved on to first grade language arts four months later.

On a hunch I put my son in kindergarten math and first grade language arts from the beginning. He was doing well with it, but I soon realized he was skipping all the worksheets and skimming past the reading assignments. He was also neglecting the subjects he didn’t like. So in a fourth major shake-up of our homeschooling plan, I began assigning the kids online activities, overseeing worksheet completion, and listening to the reading assignments. School became miserable again.

In an attempt to find the right balance between independence and accountability, I reinvented our homeschool plan yet again. In our fifth incarnation, eight months into our first “formal” year, I realized both my kids shut down when forced to dwell on something they’d already grasped. The worksheets, which had been intended to cement concepts through additional practice, were actually serving as a barrier to progress, so I agreed to let them skip those. The math curriculum wasn’t working for either of my kids, so I found two others that we now alternate between, and they seem to work a lot better. Both of our new math programs require a lot of one-on-one attention from me, but the kids can progress through language arts at their own pace. They know to call me over to listen when the online activity requires them to read a story, and they know I’ll help them skip through some of the more repetitive non-scored activities they find so annoying. I wasn’t impressed with the online science program, so now we do some fun science experiments every few weeks. I’ve also added handwriting and German language instruction, a monthly world geography activity, and have included more time for fun (and educational, but they don’t know that!) computer games. Audiobooks have become a staple in our car when we’re running errands or driving from one activity to another.

Less than a month before the local public school wraps up for the year, I feel like we’ve finally found our groove. Our homeschooling looks nothing like what I’d meticulously planned last September, but the kids have progressed quite a bit since the beginning of the school year and they can easily match their public school peers in academic proficiency.

For all my years of research and early experimentation, I was not prepared for the reality of a sustained academic year of homeschooling. My one saving grace was that I’d gone into this year understanding it as a trial run. That mindset gave me permission to shake things up as often as necessary until I found what worked. Now that (I think) I’ve found it, I’m willing to sign up for another year.

If what’s working now stops working later, I’ll shake things up again until we’re back to making forward progress. I’ll keep evaluating year by year, and enroll them in public or private school if homeschooling ever stops serving my children’s educational needs. Because the other big thing I learned this year is humility. It’s not about me as a teacher. With a lot of the independent work my kids are doing, I’m not teaching them a thing. But they’re still learning, and the best thing I can do is give them the resources they need and get out of their way. In other areas, the teaching style I’m most comfortable with doesn’t work for them at all, and I have to adjust what I’m doing so it benefits them. As much as I love my schedules, my calendars, and my neatly planned milestones, my kids couldn’t care less about them. If my schedule says we’re going to do math for 30 minutes but it takes one of my kids an hour and 15 minutes to grasp the concept, then I’d better be willing to throw my schedule out the window and give them the time they need, regardless of what it does to the other lessons I had planned for that day.

If you’re thinking of homeschooling, know that flexibility isn’t just a benefit—it’s a requirement. Whether you’re doing a ‘trial run’ year like I did or you’ve gone all in already, give yourself permission to make changes—both minor adjustments and major reinventions—if that’s what it takes to help your kids along. Someday your children will be adults needing to function in this world, and as a homeschooling parent it’s up to you to give them the tools and the skills they’ll need to do that effectively. By remaining flexible enough to meet their individual academic needs, you’ll also teach them important lessons in tenacity, learning from failure, and adjusting to a changing environment, not to mention showing them just how important they are to you. These skills are just as critical to a successful future as mastering the three R’s.

My homeschooling dreams share little in common with my homeschooling reality, but I can’t deny that my kids are flourishing, and that is my ultimate dream as a homeschooling parent.

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Homeschool Alumni with Positive Experiences Call for Oversight

There is sometimes an assumption that only homeschool alumni with negative homeschooling experiences support oversight of homeschooling. This is not the case. Many homeschool graduates with positive experiences grew up knowing homeschoolers who were limited or harmed by their homeschooling experiences while others have been saddened by stories of homeschooling gone awry and want to do what they can to improve homeschooling for present and future generations. These homeschool graduates have a vision in which homeschooling supports children’s academic, emotional, and physical wellbeing, and they draw from their own positive experiences as they argue in favor of homeschooling accountability.

Last week Alisa Harris became the latest homeschool graduate to write a testimonial for our website. Alisa praised her own positive homeschooling experience before grounding her call for homeschooling accountability in the negative experiences of others around her:

Even growing up, I knew I was one of the lucky homeschoolers. My family knew homeschooled children who worked in the family businesses instead of doing school, kids who could barely read and who had learning disabilities that their families were not equipped to even identify, let alone address. There were cases of neglect and shocking domestic violence and sexual abuse. In so many of these cases, the physical, educational, and emotional neglect was never confronted, not even by fellow homeschooling parents, the only people in a position to see it. The abuse remained hidden until it ended up on the nightly news or the wives and children fled.

Giselle Palmer, who went on to become a public school teacher, also had a positive homeschooling experience. In her testimonial, Giselle spoke of her positive experience before grounding her support for homeschooling accountability in the not-so-glowing stories of some other homeschool parents she has come in contact with and in her passion for education and supporting children’s interests:

My main reason for supporting accountability for homeschoolers is to help prevent the abuse and neglect of children. I have met children who were “homeschooled” and then entered the public schools woefully unprepared. I’ve encountered others who were habitually abused and, because they were homeschooled, no one knew or suspected what was going on in their families.

I believe that the majority of homeschooling families raise and educate their children in good faith, to the best of their abilities, and in a generally appropriate fashion. I do not believe intensive oversight of families is necessary, unless there are serious suspicions of abuse or educational neglect, demonstrated by a lack of academic progress. However, as an educator and a child advocate, I believe that all children have the right to learn and live free from fear and abuse. For these reasons, I support homeschool accountability at the state/county level.

Homeschool graduate Arielle G. made similar statements in the testimonial she wrote for CRHE earlier this year, describing herself as a “homeschool poster child.”

When I was in my late teens, an obscure magazine named me one of “America’s Top Ten Outstanding Homeschool Students.” The article’s headline read “Homeschooling Works!” I now find that headline misleading. More accurately, it would have indicated that the way my family homeschooled worked—for me.  The choice to homeschool, in itself, guarantees nothing; in some cases, it is deeply damaging. Oversight won’t fix all of those damaging cases, but it will help stop some instances of abuse and give basic structure to families who need it. Additionally, I’m optimistic that oversight could help foster a culture of accountability in some homeschooling circles and temper the culture of fear. (As my fellow legal historians like to note, law and society shape each other!) Most of all, I hope that one day all homeschooled children will receive an education like the one I had, preparing them to flourish and reach their full potential in a world they’re ready to explore.

Our CRHE board is made up of homeschool graduates with a mix of homeschooling experiences ranging from profoundly negative to profoundly positive. Board member Kathryn Brightbill, who was homeschooled in the 1980s and 1990s, bases her involvement in CRHE and her interest in advocating for homeschooled children in her own homeschooling experience. As she wrote in her testimonial:

I support oversight of home education not because I had a bad homeschooling experience, but because I had a good one. I’ve seen how wonderful homeschooling can be when it works because I’ve lived it. When I hear the stories of homeschooled students who experienced educational neglect or abuse, or the formerly homeschooled adults who are struggling to overcome the deficits in their education, it saddens me to know how much the system failed them. The educational method that gave me wings to soar is the same one that left them hobbled and struggling. It doesn’t have to be that way, it shouldn’t be that way.

This desire to help make homeschooling as positive for others as it was for them is a common thread that runs through testimonials. Another common thread involves dispelling fears about homeschooling oversight. It is not uncommon for homeschooling parents to express concern about how their homeschools would be affected by the sort of oversight recommended by CRHE. In their testimonials, however, these homeschool graduates are emphatic that basic oversight of homeschooling would not have negatively impacted their positive experiences in any way.

I made this point in my own testimonial:

I was homeschooled in Indiana, a state with no oversight of homeschooling. My parents did not even have to file notice, which meant that as far as the state knew, we did not exist. All of the things my parents did—creating curriculum plans, putting together annual portfolios, having us tested—they did in an effort to homeschool us effectively and responsibly. My parents would not have found oversight of homeschooling an inconvenience or burden because they already voluntarily did everything effective homeschool oversight generally requires.

Another homeschool alumnus, Jeremy, made the same point in his testimonial:

As for the regulations being discussed by the Coalition for Responsible Education and other organizations, not only are they only a minimal intrusion on the educational experience of homeschooling, they are in most cases things my family, and others, already did.  Portfolio requirements?  My mom always maintained a “school folder” for me and my sister consisting of a representative sampling of our academic work and our creative “non-school” activities, so that we could have a record of our achievements when we grew up.  Occasional standardized testing?  My parents administered the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills to us every three years, just to check on how we were doing, and of course we had to take the SAT if we wanted to attend college.  Yearly meetings with mandatory reporters?  That would be my regular yearly checkup at the pediatrician’s office to make sure I was in good health.  These are not the sort of burdensome requirements John Holt and others feared would teach children to please authority figures rather than to learn for learning’s sake.  Instead, they are common sense requirements that responsible families already follow.

Alisa Harris concluded her testimonial with a similar statement:

I am in favor of sensible homeschooling oversight that preserves all the best aspects of homeschooling—the rich, individualized, and creative education—while mitigating some of the isolation, neglect, and potential harms. Homeschooled students should be allowed to benefit from the diversity of relationships and experiences they can gain by taking a class at a public school or by participating in public school sports and extracurricular activities. We also have a responsibility to protect children who may be at risk for neglect or abuse. We need to intervene and assist if a child’s education is being neglected, and we need to ensure that parents are qualified to teach. My parents and the many other responsible homeschooling parents I knew would have easily exceeded the standards proposed by Coalition for Responsible Home Education. For less fortunate kids, these standards would have protected them and kept them from slipping through the system’s cracks.

We appreciate Alisa and others like her for supporting CRHE and sending us their testimonials. We could not discuss responsible homeschooling without the examples of positive homeschooling experiences before us. Just as negative homeschooling experiences point to what can go wrong, positive homeschooling experiences point to what can go well. Understanding what factors make homeschooling a success is key to making homeschooling the best it can be for each child.

If you would like to read more testimonials please see our testimonials page, and if you would like to submit your own testimonial please see these instructions.

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Checks and Balances: The Conservative Case for Homeschool Oversight

“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Growing up in the conservative Christian homeschooling world, I heard this quotation more times than I can count. It was always wielded against the specter of “big government,” whether that meant government intervention or government programs. Presented in contrast to the so-called “liberal” ideals of big government was the conservative ideal of checks and balances. Conservatives pointed to the U.S. Constitution as the prime manifestation of the conservative ideal. The Founding Fathers created checks and balances in power between different branches of government: the executive, the judicial, and the legislative.

It’s been years since I was a homeschool kid, reading “Whatever Happened to Penny Candy?” and absorbing political arguments from the Heritage Foundation. I don’t know today whether I’m a “conservative” or a “liberal.” The difficulty there, of course, is that it depends on how you define those words. I’m not a fan of sloppy, mismanaged government. But I’m also not a fan of scarce government. I believe in human rights for all people, and I believe government serves a vitally important role in protecting those rights.

What I do know is that I am mystified by the anarchy (and consequent parental dictatorship) that reigns supreme among most homeschooling communities—whether those communities are conservative or liberal, Christian or non-Christian. In fact, while many homeschooling communities are sharply in disagreement over issues like religion and educational method, most of them appear unified in a stance against any and every government oversight of homeschooling. The atheist unschooler will stand side by side with the right-wing Christian in lobbying against protections for homeschooled children. Pluralistic homeschool organizations will join HSLDA even against minimal research of homeschooling methods, as VA Homeschoolers did when they lobbied arm-in-arm with HSLDA against Virginia’s HJ 92.

This mystifies me. For one thing, liberal homeschoolers contradict liberal principles with this sentiment. Liberal principles would say children—with their marginalized position and limited rights—need people to advocate for them. Their rights ought to be protected, and the liberal position is that government should be a tool in securing those rights.

But honestly, conservative homeschoolers contradict conservative principles with this sentiment, too. I know this because I was once a conservative Christian homeschool kid myself. I was raised a good conservative, which directly primed me for supporting homeschool oversight.

Conservatives believe in checks and balances. They believe that power should never be focused entirely within one group: whether that group is the executive branch of government or the legislative or judicial branch. Consistency with this conservative ideal would dictate that power over a child’s education should never be focused entirely within one group, whether that group is the federal government, the local school board, or a child’s parents.

The “parental rights” agenda popular among conservative homeschoolers attempts to give parents absolute power over their children. But this very idea is a betrayal of the conservative ideal, which would demand that neither parents nor the government should have absolute power. After all, absolute power corrupts absolutely. A common sense attitude toward government oversight of homeschooling would provide useful checks and balances between a parent’s right to educational choice, a child’s right to a quality education, and the government’s duty to both sets of rights.

Advocacy for homeschool oversight shouldn’t be a radical position. This should be the common sense position for both liberals and conservatives. Unfortunately, the homeschooling world has stubbornly staked out the actually radical position so consistently that they—not us advocates of responsible homeschooling—have moved the Overton Window to the point that basic checks and balances are “tyranny.”

But remember: tyranny begins in the absence of checks and balances. It begins when power is invested absolutely and with no responsibility. That includes parental power. I therefore challenge conservative homeschoolers to rethink their opposition to basic oversight, because that opposition isn’t as conservative as they think.

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Homeschool Transcripts and Diplomas in the Admissions Process

While some homeschooled students receive transcripts or diplomas through accredited correspondence programs or satellite schools, homeschool diplomas and transcripts are typically family-generated. In other words, homeschool diplomas and transcripts are similar to diplomas and transcripts from unaccredited private schools, except that they are composed by the student’s family.

How does the fact that the homeschool diploma and transcript are family-generated affect the admissions process? How do admissions officials evaluate these documents? As part of his 2003 dissertation, “The Selection Process and Performance of Former-Homeschooled Students at Pennsylvania’s Four-Year Colleges and Universities,” Joseph Richard Barno sought to answer these questions by sending surveys to admissions officers at all 109 four-year colleges and universities in Pennsylvania. Ultimately, he collected responses from 72 schools.

One of Barno’s major findings was that the homeschooled students he surveyed felt they were treated fairly by admissions officials. Another finding was that admissions officials used different criteria to evaluate each group of students.

In the case of traditional students, admissions officials relied heavily on diplomas and transcripts, with 75% relying ‘mostly’ on diplomas and 95% relying ‘mostly’ on transcripts when evaluating traditional students’ eligibility for admission. By contrast, only 25% of officials relied ‘mostly’ on diplomas and 50% relied ‘mostly’ on transcripts when evaluating homeschoolers’ eligibility.

DiplomaTranscript

Note that admissions officials gave diplomas and transcripts generated by correspondence programs or satellite schools more weight than those generated by a student’s family, though still less weight than those issued by a public school. This indicates that the reduced weight placed on homeschool transcripts is a result not of discrimination but rather a result of the family-generated nature of these documents.

While transcripts and diplomas carry the most weight for traditionally schooled students, for homeschooled students other admissions criteria are more important to the admissions process. As Barno reported:

Admissions personnel rated high school transcript as the most important criterion for traditionally-schooled students, but not for former home-schooled students, while virtually all other criteria, including SAT score, ACT score, personal interview, letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities, portfolio and statement of intent were more important for former home-schooled applicants than for those traditionally schooled.

In his survey, Barno asked the admissions officials to do the following:

Please indicate with a check mark the degree to which each of the following is important in the acceptance of former home schoolers to your institution.

The result was the following chart.

Percentages (Barno)

Note that, while almost one-third of admissions officials relied ‘mostly’ on the quality of homeschoolers’ portfolios when determining admissions eligibility, only 10% of officials did so when evaluating traditionally schooled students. A similar pattern is found in other admissions criteria such as the SAT score, personal interview, letters of recommendation, essays, extracurriculars, and statement of intent—admissions officers relied more heavily upon these criteria to determine homeschoolers’ eligibility than to determine that of traditionally schooled students.

Barno’s findings indicate that, because homeschool diplomas and transcripts tend to be family-generated, admissions officials place increased weight on external and corroborating measures of achievement such as SAT scores or extracurriculars.This suggests that homeschooled students and their parents should take extra care in preparing letters of recommendation, essays, and other application materials, as admissions officials will be looking to these documents to confirm the quality of their homeschool education.

In this month of graduations, we at CRHE wish every graduating homeschool senior all the best. We support parents’ and students’ efforts to draw up transcripts and diplomas and collect corroborating information and documentation to make their college applications well-rounded and successful. Congratulations to the 2014 graduates!

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An Update on Our Progress

It has been almost exactly five months since CRHE launched. Today, we would like to update you on our progress and several recent changes.

We registered as a nonprofit in the state of Massachusetts in December and filed the paperwork for 501c3 status in March. We have received word from the IRS that our application is being processed and we will hear back from them again sometime in the next three to six months.

In March we had two big articles published for two very different audiences: one in the Congressional Quarterly Researcher and the other for TheHairpin.com. These articles, which featured interviews with CRHE’s Rachel Coleman and Heather Doney, bolster CRHE’s credibility as an organization and build interest in homeschooling reform outside of the homeschooling community.

In April we added a blog feature to our website. Our stories range from general information to data analysis to personal reflections, each focused on supporting and promoting responsible homeschooling. Some recent posts include Giselle Palmer’s Advice from a Homeschool Grad Turned Public School Teacher and Sarah Henderson’s How I Was Almost Rescued from Abuse. We intend to keep updating this feature—please send any ideas you may have to info@responsiblehomeschooling.org!

In early May co-founder Heather Doney parted ways with CRHE for personal reasons. We are sad to see her go and wish her all the best in her future endeavors. At the request of the board, co-founder Rachel Coleman has stepped in as Acting Executive Director. Also in early May, we posted a thorough rebuttal of Ray’s 2003 study on homeschool graduates.

We also have established a working relationship with the International Center for Home Education Research and hope to apply for research grants through the center. We have several grant applications in draft form and are in the process of initiating IRB approval for different studies. We are excited to announce that our first study will be looking at homeschoolers’ academic achievement using state-level data from Alaska and Arkansas that has so far been overlooked and unused.

We have continued updating our Homeschooling’s Invisible Children (HIC) database, which now includes 177 cases of egregious abuse or neglect suffered at the hands of homeschooling parents or guardians. These cases include 87 fatalities suffered by homeschooled children between 2001 and the present. HIC also now features a series of tragic stories of homeschooled students who committed acts of violence. This series was developed in partnership with Homeschoolers Anonymous.

We have some exciting projects in the works, including an infographic on homeschooling and a listing of how to report educational deprivation in homeschool settings in each state.

We also want to hear from you! We’re still collecting testimonials on how more oversight could have helped you or other people in your community. We’re also interesting in hearing your suggestions for future research projects and issues we should focus on. Feel free to contact us!

Finally, we want to take a moment to congratulate founding board member and legislative policy analyst Kathryn Brightbill on her graduation today from the University of Florida Levin College of Law. Congratulations, Kathryn! We’re all incredibly proud and excited for you.

Thank you for your support!

The CRHE Board

Kathryn Brightbill
Rachel Coleman
Kierstyn King
Ryan Stollar

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My Parents Homeschooled Me Successfully (Here’s How!)

Family 2I was homeschooled from kindergarten through high school. Upon graduation, I was accepted to Ball State University with a full tuition scholarship. I graduated in three years with highest honors and went on to earn a master’s degree. I am now a Ph.D. candidate at Indiana University, and will soon have my doctorate. As each of my siblings has graduated in turn, he or she has likewise headed off to university on scholarship. How did my parents achieve these results?

In the eight years since I graduated from high school, I’ve had time to think about the homeschool education I received and what parts of it were most successful. Based on this reflection, I’ve pinpointed the ten things I think were most critical to my parents’ successful homeschooling.

1. They valued learning

We children knew from a very young age that my parents placed a great deal of importance on learning. They were always learning themselves, always trying new things and going new places. Dad would read history books on his own time, catching some peace and quiet in his room, and then act out what he had read at the supper table, whiteboard marker in hand. My parents took us to museum after museum and historical site after historical site. We were interested because they were interested, and that interest rubbed off.

Fostering an internal love of learning is probably the most important thing homeschool parents can do. After all, learning at home tends to involve a lot of independent study, which makes self-motivation a key ingredient to successful homeschooling.

2. They made education hands-on

Up through middle school, my mother taught history to all of us children together. She would read historical fiction aloud, but that was only to start. She also checked out books full of historical crafts and activities from the library. We made a sarcophagus, assembled a Viking ship, and played at Greek gods and goddesses. History was full of adventure and discovery. We held a medieval feast for my father’s birthday one year, in full costume and complete with mead and trenchers made from bread.

During those same years, science was similarly hands-on. We did experiments out of Usborne science books and watched tadpoles turn into frogs and caterpillars into butterflies. My mother would send us outside to explore, and explore we did. When my mother read aloud, she would get out the playdough or legos and we would put our imaginations to work. As I grew older and the subjects became more advanced, my learning became more textbook-based and less hands-on. Yet those early years fostered a love of learning and kept my active childhood self interested and engaged.

3. They read to us

My parents read to us children constantly. Even before we were school-aged, Mom read us book after book after book. When we begged for her to read another book, or for her to read the same book again, she rarely turned us down. Once we were older she read chapter books aloud to us, choosing works of historical fiction and integrating her reading schedule with our history curriculum. My father read aloud to us too, and I have many fond memories of family reading time after supper on winter evenings.

We visited the library multiple times each week, and we children always came away with stacks of books. Our appetite was insatiable, and we devoured whole series. My parents created a culture where reading was not a burden or a chore but rather a favored pastime. This had a tremendous impact on our academic progress and planted seeds of lifelong learning in each of us.

4. They taught us how to write

Over the years I have become more and more appreciative of my parents’ dedication in teaching us how to write. For a few years, my mother used materials from the Institute for Excellence in Writing. At the time, I found the program nitpicky. Today, I can see how much it benefited me. But mostly, my parents just had us write. My mother believed that the key to improvement was practice, and practice we did! We wrote stories in elementary school, copying them into blank books my mother bought for us. In fifth grade or so, my father paid us to write reports on each of the fifty states, working out of the encylopedia. I remember an entire summer spent researching and writing about each state, painstakingly typing up each report and proudly receiving a few dollars for each one. During our middle school and high school years my mother had us write timed essays. She would sit us down with paper and pencil, give us a prompt, and tell us we had forty-five minutes to write.

My mother was a bit fuzzy on how to use footnotes and I had to learn many of the skills needed for writing research papers once I was in college, but she provided me with a sound foundation in good writing. While it is true that copious reading can contribute to a student’s writing ability—and I’m sure it did—my mother never assumed that that was enough.

5. They involved us in extracurricular clubs

Throughout high school, I participated in debate through the National Christian Forensics and Communications Association (NCFCA). I learned about logical fallacies and gained experience with research. Participating in debate also gave me confidence in myself and provided me with a social outlet. While NCFCA is only for Christian homeschoolers, homeschoolers in some states may also be able to participate in a debate club at a local public high school.

Debate is not the only extracurricular activity that provides this sort of opportunity. Several of my siblings have been involved in Civil Air Patrol, which has offered experience with citizenship, service, and leadership. These sorts of extracurricular clubs provide opportunities for gaining confidence, creating new social networks, and broadening both interests and skills. Whether it is NCFCA debate or CAP, 4H or a robotics club, club activities like these have a lot to offer.

6. They individualized our education

Starting when we were each twelve or so, my mother asked every summer about what we were interested in studying the following year. While there were certain core subjects that were mandatory, our interests had a definite impact on our curriculum. I had an interest in ancient languages, so my parents found a tutor to teach me Greek and Hebrew. My sister had an interest in art, so my parents found her a correspondence school art program. That we had input in what we studied made us feel more invested in it.

7. They didn’t take our education for granted

When one of my younger siblings was born with Down syndrome, my mother immediately embarked on years of research into how best to care for, raise, and educate her. Books on teaching children with Down syndrome how to read, among others, graced our kitchen counter as I grew up. This approach was not limited to this one sister. For as long as I can remember, my mother has checked out books on pedagogy and teaching from the library, poured over a huge variety of curricula at homeschool conventions, and asked other homeschool parents or teachers she knew for advice when she got stuck.

Even though the state we lived in (Indiana) did not require testing, my parents had us each take a standardized test after sixth grade to see how we were doing. They wanted to be sure that they weren’t missing something, and to have a good idea of our strengths and weaknesses and how we compared to other students. I spent a few hours each morning for a couple of days completing the test, with my father as proctor. My parents didn’t take my education for granted.

8. They were organized

My mother kept careful records of our educational progress. At the beginning of each year she created an educational plan for each of us, complete with what we were going to study for each subject area, and at the end of each year she edited that as needed and collected samples of our work to create a portfolio for each of us. None of this was required by state law, but my mother wanted to have a record of our education. This was especially helpful to her when creating my high school transcript and when planning out the younger children’s education.

My mother became known in our homeschool community as someone who could show new or prospective homeschoolers the ropes. In fact, today she speaks at regional homeschool conferences on homeschool record-keeping and homeschooling through high school.

9. They thought long-term

My parents have worked hard to prepare each of us for college, taking into account our interests and future plans. When one of my brothers was interested in attending a military academy, my parents found a sports league that gave him athletic experience. My sister’s correspondence school art program and supplemental art tutoring allowed her to put together the portfolio she would need to apply to an art school. Another sister’s involvement in a summer program for students interested in medicine helped her gain early entrance to a nursing program. My parents sought to ensure that our present education prepared us for our future ambitions.

10. They listened to our feedback

In the years since high school graduation, several of my siblings and I have given my parents additional feedback, feedback they have taken seriously and put into practice with our younger siblings. For example, as teens we older children learned math and science from textbooks without the benefit of a class or a tutor. Based on our feedback as adults, my parents have engaged tutors in these subjects for our younger siblings, or have had them take community college courses. I’ve appreciated my parents’ willingness to listen to this feedback and to continue striving for excellence as they homeschool my youngest siblings.

Conclusion

Homeschooling offers parents the opportunity to create an ideal learning environment for each of their children, but that does not come automatically or without effort. I look back on the hours my mother spent reading to us each day, the hands-on learning environment she created for us, and the way she took our interests into account when planning out our school year, and I am very grateful for her time, effort, and commitment. My father, too, contributed to my education through his love of learning, with the supplemental education he provided—teaching me long division, for instance—and through his support of my mother and her efforts.

My parents weren’t perfect, and I don’t agree with every resource or method they used. But I appreciate the work they put into homeschooling, and they did do a lot of things well. It is my hope that this reflection on the things my parents did right—the things that most contributed to my success—will be encouraging and insightful to other homeschool parents.

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