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Why I Do Not School-at-Home

This is the second in a three-part homeschooling series. It was first published in 1996 in Super Learning Tools. Although my theories have morphed somewhat over the years, this series represents the beginning process of forming and implementing our homeschool and educational philosophies.

Why I Do Not School at HomeWhen my husband and I, at the suggestion of our oldest daughter, made the leap of faith into the world of home education, I was terrified. Being the person I am, however, I knew that my fears would be calmed once I got organized. You know, found a curriculum, wrote up a billion lesson plans, and worked out detailed daily, weekly, monthly, annual, and lifetime schedules.

Just days after making the final decision, I was off on my annual sanity-for-mom trip all by myself. So I used the five hours of unusual solitude between takeoff and landing to begin my planning with fervor.

A few pages of the original chicken scratching have survived the years. I keep them around for comic relief. The most legible version of the original looks something like this:

7:00  devotional
7:30  breakfast
8:00  chores and dress
9:00  math drill
9:05  math
9:45  recess
10:00 handwriting
10:15 language arts
11:00 music theory
11:15 music practice
11:30 critical thinking
11:45 geography
12:00 lunch
12:30 reading
1:00  unit studies
2:00  “school day” ends

By the time the plane pulled up to the terminal, I was ready! Other than the gnawing feeling that this looked an awful lot like the situation we were intentionally leaving, I did feel much calmer knowing that I had a plan.

Having a plan isn’t all bad — even if your plan is as ridiculous as mine — because it gives you a starting point. Having specific ideas to refine and redefine and even throw out is usually better than having no idea where you are going. And putting ideas in black and white tends to magnify their potential either for help or for harm.

Fortunately for all of us I had about ten days to mull this schedule over before making some grandiose implementation spectacle. Before I boarded the plane bound for Florida my very “schooly” schedule had been scrapped.

School-at-Home Defined

Like many of you, my schedule was modeled after public and private schools. Was it because I thought they were the epitome of education? No! I simply wasn’t familiar with any other learning environment. I started with things that were familiar and have continually refined and improved our model.

I wanted to write an article that explained what our home education model is evolving into. As I wrote the article got longer and longer and the sections more and more specific. Last month I wrote an article titled “Why I’m Not Unschooling” and intended to finish it up with our own homeschooling model. But it makes more sense, first, to explain why we don’t follow the other most common educational model either.

While I sincerely doubt that the school-at-home model, which is so familiar to most of us, needs to be defined, I will do so for clarification. Those who school-at-home:

Lean toward structured learning
Lean toward parent-led learning

 Keep It Structured

“Children need a great deal of structure in order to learn difficult subjects.”

Just as was discussed last month, this confuses two separate issues, one being the structure of the material being used and the other the structure of the environment.

Requiring a few children at home to follow rules that were designed to keep order in a class of 30 pupils with one teacher is unnecessarily restrictive. I recently read an article in a national homeschooling magazine that recommended the following home rules of order:

  • No talking about anything that does not pertain to the lessons being studied.
  • No staring out the windows.
  •  No food or drinks in the classroom
  • No talking to other students
  • No wasting time

Enforcing such classroom rules eliminates many of the most wonderful advantages of being at home! Children who learn at home have the opportunity to discuss anything interesting that comes up, even if it takes off on a tangent; to stop and think through their work without rigid time limits; to see, and even be distracted by, the wonderful things that occur outside the classroom or kitchen; to do all their studying at their best, rather than when they are hungry or thirsty or tired or ill; to learn from each other and encourage each other; and not to have their own pursuits and interests arbitrarily labeled a “waste of time.”

Maintaining integrity requires the use of only the structure that is helpful and reasonable, not just authoritarian. While structure of materials can be crucial for some subjects, and structure of environment beneficial to others, continuously demanding structure during “school time” prevents some of the greatest and deepest learning from occurring.

“Setting up guidelines to minimize internal interruptions is the best way to provide children with a quiet, stress-free atmosphere.”

This assumes that “internal interruptions” are the nemesis to becoming educated; that the things children want to do, and will do without guidelines, serve no purpose but to get in the way of the “important” stuff.

We have found quite the opposite to be true. If the material being covered is presented in a way that is interesting and understandable to the child, the child will come up with the most amazing insights and questions, usually much less superficial than most lesson plans I have seen.

This statement also assumes both that being quiet is an essential element to true learning and that being forced to be quiet is actually an effective stress-reduction technique.

Some of our best learning has taken place banging on instruments to very loud music, screaming our heads off as we play our own version of freeze tag in the park, and all talking at once while brainstorming over a project. And how many kids do you know who can concentrate on anything when they are so full of energy that they really need to be bouncing on the trampoline?

Certainly there are times when silence and solitude are beneficial to learning and concentrating. As homeschoolers we have the luxury to be just as quiet or as loud as the people, and the situation, dictate.

Parents In Charge

“Children aren’t qualified to set a curriculum.”

One of the prime advantage we have found in home education is that of being able to personalize our curriculum. We can consider the individual personalities, learning styles, internal clocks, strengths and weaknesses, and especially the interests of each child.

We don’t have to make our kids jump through hoops, we don’t have to be rigid and authoritarian. We can customize and refine our materials, our approaches, and our timetable to fit the needs of our children, rather than trying to customize our child to fit our (or some bookseller’s) idea of the perfect curriculum-in-a-box.

Children will be surprisingly rigorous when given a chance to have input into their educational choices. All on their own our children have chosen Shakespeare, American Sign Language, the solar system, in-depth research on dog pedigrees, and general physics this year alone. Kids truly are interested in learning—even the tough stuff—because learning is interesting!

“We’ve got to make sure that we’ve covered all the basics.”

Believe it or not, here I do not entirely disagree…in concept. My problem comes about when I ask specifically for what “the basics” entail. Many home educators have blindly accepted the “basics” agenda set by the public schools, a curriculum vendor, another home educator, or a favorite author without question.

Have you noticed how many first-grade “basics” lists include an entire unit on the study of “methods of transportation”? Or how many school scope and sequence charts require dental hygiene be taught repeatedly for six years straight? I don’t know about you folks, but if my kids took six years to learn how to brush and floss I’d seriously consider some remedial work!

Having goals is fine and admirable. But abdicating the responsibility for setting them to another person or institution is not in the best interest of our children.

Most public schools, for example, require children to memorize the times tables from 0x0 up through 12×12. Do you accept this as a “basic”? Or do you wonder why in the world 12 is the magic number rather than 9, especially considering the fact that we use a base 10 system? And even if you do accept that notion, do you also accept that repeated drilling is the best (or only) way to accomplish the task? Do you consider other options such as patterning, skip counting, music, or hands-on activities? Do you consider how your child learns best and what method(s) would be most interesting?

Deciding what to require of our children and why is difficult, rigorous, soul-searching work. It makes us question and examine attitudes and assumptions we have had for years. It may be less than invigorating, as most of us will continually have to reevaluate and refine our plan; it will likely remain incomplete and differ with each child. But I truly believe this deep philosophical work is one of the most important things we can do for our families.

The Good Stuff . . .I Promise!

We do not do school-at-home, although it almost turned out that way! But we do use some methods school-at-homers use, just as we have some similarities to unschoolers.

Next month…really!…I’ll discuss our home education philosophy!

{ 20 comments… add one }
  • Heidi G. November 9, 2011, 10:09 am

    LOVE LOVE LOVE it!!!! You’re encapsulated all the things that we home-schoolers love about homeschooling into one succinct article! Thank you, Alison! I often wished I had appropriate responses (and data to back my beliefs) to the myriad of questions that came my way from naysayers. I tried my best to ‘answer’ their (often ignorant or naive) concerns and give them something positive to think-on but, at best, would often feel that I didn’t ‘give’ them enough information to alleviate their ‘concerns’.
    How would I combine all my studies and research and books-read into something I could share with others’? Several times I thought of putting together packets of information that would help them ‘understand’ the great benefits and possibilities of home education. 🙂 Ha. It never happened since I was so busy doing all that needed to be done to be mom and homeschooling mom. And..I realized that I could never ‘convince’ them anyway. Many are into what they are familiar and ‘comfortable’ with. I finally learned what a boss had recited years earlier “a man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.’ It was then I realized that the fruits of our labors would be a better indication of our beliefs and studies than any type of argument or conversation. Positive and enlightening visits did have their place for the open-hearted who could see the struggles and desires of their children and who looked for more-fitting ways to develop personal gifts and talents in family enriching environments etc. I always appreciated those people and their willingness to look at things in a different way.
    Blessings to you for a great message and for all you have done for your family. What a great blessing and privilege they have with you as their mother. If all could be so blessed this would be a different world! Hats off to you in many, many ways!
    Heidi G.

  • Alison Moore Smith November 9, 2011, 11:37 am

    It was then I realized that the fruits of our labors would be a better indication of our beliefs and studies than any type of argument or conversation.

    Heidi G., this is exactly the conclusion I came to! Years ago, when others could see my kids excelling academically, the questioning (at least vocally) mostly stopped. When my oldest daughter got a full academic scholarship to BYU (and offers at every other place she applied as well), it pretty much shut down, once and for all, the concerns. Now, with one child in graduate school and the next two as undergrads, I hear nothing at all.

    The problem I still see, however, is that while this alleviates my personal problems, it doesn’t address how homeschooling can be such a benefit to kids who don’t fit into this generally accepted “success model.” Homeschooling can be a real benefit to many (most) kids — even if they choose a path that doesn’t end up in a competitive private college.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  • Heidi G. November 9, 2011, 1:20 pm

    Amen to that. I’m currently working with two different groups who feel that same way and want to make a difference. These are parents who have formed a coalition to see how they can change things for all. I’ll let you know more after I attend the mtg. this Saturday. You may be a very good one to help in this cause. You already have!
    Heidi G. recently posted…Treasure LearningMy Profile

  • Pardonthedust November 9, 2011, 1:29 pm

    Our schools are pretty good, but this leads me to think of all the possibilities of home schooling. How did you get started? How did you *dare* to get started? I wouldn’t know what to do at all.

  • Alison Moore Smith November 9, 2011, 9:07 pm

    Beth, thank you for the kind words.

    The best answers, IMO, are questions. Most people, honestly, have not clue what they think about education, they’re just going with the flow. For example, next time someone says, “What about socialization?” you can ask, “What do you mean by socialization?”

    In 18 years, only ONE person has actually had an answer for that. ONE. The dozens of others literally just looked like a deer in the headlights.

    Thanks for your comment!

  • Beth November 9, 2011, 8:23 pm

    Actually say that you’re encapsulated all the items that we house-schoolers really like about homeschooling into one succinct post! Thank you, Alison! I often wished I had appropriate responses (and information to back my beliefs) to the myriad of inquiries that arrived my way from naysayers. I tried using my finest to ‘answer’ their (typically ignorant or naive) issues and give them one thing good to believe-on but, at very best, would frequently come to feel that I did not ‘give’ them ample data to alleviate their ‘concerns’.
    Beth recently posted…How to Keep a Man InterestedMy Profile

  • sandraw2580 November 10, 2011, 8:44 am

    I actually love the idea of home schooling. Although it’s much expensive than going to actual schools.. But the fact that you don’t have to go to class and get bullied, it’s a nice idea.
    sandraw2580 recently posted…Surgical GlovesMy Profile

  • stephanie November 10, 2011, 9:28 am


    Thank you for this post! (I’m bookmarking it for future reference) I’m at the very beginning of our homeschooling journey– my kids are 6 1/2, 5 1/2, 2 1/2 and 1. We started out “schooling-at-home” with a virtual school last year and it was an exhausting and frustrating disaster. We’ve dropped the virtual school and are (I hope!) moving in the right direction, but I’m still trying to formulate exactly how we’re going to get there.

    I loved especially the bit where you mention how rigorous the learning of (even young) children can be when they’re allowed to follow their interests. My 6 1/2 year old is fascinated with airplanes and that’s opened the door for many in-depth physics discussions and experiments. He can explain propulsion, aerodynamics and Bernoulli’s Principle better than many adults. And if we’d stuck rigidly to recommended first grade subjects we never would have touched that stuff.

    Anyhow, thanks for a great post. I’m looking forward to the next one in the series.

    p.s. I found you via WHEN’s email list…
    stephanie recently posted…am back (with some notes on halloween costumes)My Profile

  • Alison Moore Smith November 10, 2011, 1:50 pm

    I look forward to hearing back from you!

  • Alison Moore Smith November 10, 2011, 1:52 pm

    LOL Two very different questions!

    I actually have an old article about how we started. I’ll see if I can dig that up and post it. 🙂 As to how to “dare” — well, I think I’d ask how you “dare” leave the education of children up to a school board!

  • Alison Moore Smith November 10, 2011, 2:12 pm

    sandraw2580, certainly doesn’t have to be expensive. Honestly. I know hundreds of people who homeschool with library books, an internet connection, and a little creativity. (I realize the NEA doesn’t want you to think that’s sufficient, but they’re…idiots.)

  • Alison Moore Smith November 10, 2011, 2:19 pm

    stephanie, welcome and thank you for commenting! Sounds like you’re doing a great job. 🙂

    Your kidlets are still young. Give yourself time to find out what works best for you all. It’s a process!

  • Anna November 13, 2011, 2:01 am

    If you educate your child at home, you should create this school atmosphere at home as otherwise it will be useless at all to study. I stick to the points that you have mentioned and in my country it is very ahrd to ge even the permission to ahve home education and the curriculum is agreed with local authoritives and it is followed very strictly.

  • Alison Moore Smith November 14, 2011, 1:45 pm

    Anna, I understand that countries vary in what they allow. Creating a school atmosphere at home, however, isn’t remotely needed — nor is it very efficient OR effective.

    What aspects of the “school atmosphere” would you say are crucial to quality education? In 18 years, I’ve found almost none. And, for the record, now — after nearly two decades of NOT creating a school atmosphere — we have one child in graduate school, two university undergrads, and three still at home. And, trust me, it wasn’t “useless” at all. 🙂

  • marg November 14, 2011, 2:16 pm

    Anna, I think you misunderstood the post. There isn’t much to argue with, is there?

    My favorite is the “internal interruption” quote. How many “internal interruptions” do you have with a handful of kids (or less) at home?

  • KateW81 November 18, 2011, 5:53 am

    In fact I love the thought of home schooling. Though it’s pretty costly than obtainable to definite schools. Nevertheless the fact that you don’t comprise to go to class and get harass, it’s a good thing..Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.

  • Wesley November 18, 2011, 7:33 pm

    We have several friends that home school, and they seem to fall into two camps. If the mom really has her act together, the kids seem to do well. However, several of the moms seem to get frustrated with the kids or tired of the routine, and the kids pretty much lay around the house all day.

  • Alison Moore Smith November 29, 2011, 11:46 am

    Wesley, I suggest that you have no idea about what moms do unless you live there.

    I cannot tell you how many times my kids have been out playing on gorgeous days (or beautiful snow days) while all the neighborhood peers are sitting behind a desk. I’m sure some clueless, nosy neighbors said the same things about me. But the truth is:

    Keeping up with public schools takes a fraction of the time the schools take

    Getting ahead of schools is easy

    Scheduling sensibly often means working when other aren’t working and not working when others are

    But if you want to send me the names of those neglectful parents, I’l be the first to sic social services on them. Thing is, if you’re really a lazy parent, you sent your kids off the a “free” institution for 7 hours a day, 180 days per year. You don’t keep them home.

    The most common questions/reactions I get?

    “How can you stand to be around your kids all day?”

    “I’d love to homeschool, but I don’t have the patience.”

    “Why do your kids take classes at Timpanogos? The busses don’t even go there!”

    “How do you get anything done?”

    “I need me time.”

    Tell me, who do you think is frustrated with their kids?

  • Heidi G. November 30, 2011, 2:12 pm

    Wow, this has been a great topic of discussion. There seem to be strong opinions on all sides of the issue. Some of those opinions are more educated/experienced than others’. Isn’t it a gift/blessing that we can still do for our families the things we feel to do? I honor you for your example, understanding and mission, Alison. You’re a great blessing to the rest of us.

    Yesterday a friend sent me a video seminar from a homeschooling Mom who presented some powerful information. It was amazing! I’ve attended many classes, conferences, read books, studied issues etc. over the years and…..this message from her seemed to encapsulate what many of us are trying to do. I highly recommend it for any who really care about bettering things for their children. I didn’t think I had time to watch it but…once I started – I couldn’t ‘not’ watch. I thought it was fabulous and share it in that same vein; there are wonderful resources now available to us; additional light and truth. It’s Celestial Education by Michelle Stone.
    Heidi G.
    Heidi G. recently posted…Definition of EducationMy Profile

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