Homeschooling 101: Answers to Common Questions

Homeschooling 101

Homeschooling can be a conversation stopper or starter. I shy away from people wanting details about curricula and levels of my kids. I’ve also quietly excused myself after responses of “I could never homeschool my children.” (Great news! No one’s asking!) Many are genuinely curious about how it works. I can only talk about what works for us. Here are some of the most commonly asked questions I’ve faced:

What about socialization?

Most common question asked. Ever. I could write a book on this question alone. When I was new to homeschooling, I could be snarky. (Me? I know, right? Hard to believe.) More relaxed and seasoned with years, I now talk about kids being shy in public, private, and homeschool. I discuss the benefits of homeschooled students establishing relationships with people of all ages. My son has friends 4–5 years his senior and 3–4 years his junior. Our kids interact with all ages. They learned how to interact with adults, respectfully ask questions, and even respectfully disagree with them from time to time. A college professor friend of mine boasts about the communication abilities of homeschool students in his classes.

The past two years, I taught an all-boys science class in our home. So much fun! We covered anatomy and physiology one year, zoology the next. We completed group projects and presentations, held discussions and dissections, went on field trips, and did tons of other fun things together. Each class we borrowed from Monty Python and ended up with something completely different (i.e. blew something up).

They held foster puppies, helped train older rescue dogs, and even brought their own slithering, crawling pets to class, all while suffering the insufferable farts of a three-legged dog napping under the table. They ranged in ages from 11 to 15 years old. They learned to work together and build each other up. I’m happy to report that 75% of them transitioned to public school and are all doing well in various endeavors. Our Science Fridays and Thursdays will forever hold a special place in my memories. Socialization? No problem for these young men, most of whom had been homeschooled all of their lives.

Likewise, my oldest transitioned to high school as a sophomore (her choice), and my middle child to community college. They both are excelling with academics, jobs, and more than enough friends and social engagements. Trust me—their socialization skills did not suffer.

What about curriculum?

First, let’s talk about how my children learn. All three are different. Two have similar, yet unique, learning styles. I have a great support system—from an amazing occupational therapist, to coaches, to co-op teachers, to friends like family—but it still takes a village. All of these people and more help me find the best way to teach my children. I discussed how to teach to different learning styles in an earlier post.

In January, we read about MLK. In 2013, The Batman and I took a road trip from Texas to Maryland, stopping in Birmingham. We walked the park and quietly stood outside the 16th Street Baptist Church where sweet innocent children were violently killed. Watching the movie Selma and then coming home and looking at our Birmingham photos brought it all together for him. I overheard him tell a friend it was a “powerful” movie. Indeed it was. #homeschoolingsynchronicitymoment

In science, we’re reading Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma (young reader’s version). The Batman keeps a sketchbook notebook to go with it. We love the notebook-ing style of homeschooling.

Our curricula is eclectic, with a strong literature base, subject to change as our needs to change. Really, curricula could be its own post. Suffice it to say, it’s a decision made after considering your child’s learning styles, your budget, and taking a look at what’s out there.

Weren’t you afraid to homeschool? What if you screw up?

Sure, I’ve asked myself these questions. Still do. Not to be trite, but parenting alone is scary business. I don’t believe in operating from a place of fear, but…

Here’s a peek into my brain. Watch where you step. I’ll randomly grab a few homeschooling thoughts as they scramble by and let you listen in:

How much can I screw them up in a year? I mean, really?

We can go see the new Percy Jackson movie at 10:00 A.M. Thursday. Who cares? We’ll go home and talk about it, maybe even read and draw some Greek myths, and call it a lesson!

If this year doesn’t work, we can always do something else: new books, a co-op, private school, etc. I’m in control. Heck, let’s chuck the horrible math book tomorrow and find something else. Note to self: Call veteran homeschooling friends. They always have great suggestions.

There are probably few, if any, public or private school teachers lying awake at 2:00 A.M. for the second night in a row, worrying about a child like mine, who just doesn’t like reading. So, hey, all this concentrated energy ought to be worth something.

If he’s not getting the concept of a noun right now, we’ll wait. Three months, six months—whatever. A noun is a noun is a noun. Same noun in first grade and twelfth grade. Breathe. Be patient. He’ll get it.(FYI, multiplication tables and spelling rules don’t change either.)

If I need help, I call a veteran homeschooler. It’s so important to have supportive friends who have walked this road before you—in all facets of life. We hold each other up, wipe tears, and share both laughs and curricula. Whether the kids are three years old or thirteen, whether it’s tantrums or multiplication tables or mitosis—whatever the struggle—it helps to hear another mom’s experience. For all the questions out there, there’s a veteran homeschooling mom or dad willing to answer my questions. Our family is better for their willingness to share and mentor.

What does a typical day of homeschooling look like? 

Here is a glimpse of a typical homeschooling day (just The Batman and me now) in our house:

7:00–8:00 A.M.: Wake up, tend horses and other animals, and do morning chores. The Batman practices music. I fix breakfast. If Dad’s around, breakfast tacos at a local cafe, because we can. Some basketball practice happens before school on our private driveway court.
10:00 A.M.–2:00 P.M.: School. We have a sort of schoolroom: a room with a table and books. Really, we use the whole house. Most homeschoolers do. Here’s a secret: You can’t recreate school at home. Don’t even try. We try to do spelling, math and reading every day. Reading, independent and read aloud, revolves around history and social studies. We’ve been known to finish barn chores and read in the barn with a cow or a horse.

Plenty of breaks are built in through the day. The Batman needs to spread those wings and stretch his legs—often. There are dogs to chase and legos to build.

It’s surprising how little time it takes when you’re working one-on-one. Our biggest distractions are letting a dog out (or in) and my cell phone. I keep it near me, on silent. I return calls later in the day. My friends have a code: need me emergently? Call me twice in quick succession. I’ll pick up the second call.

Afternoons are reserved for things like music lessons, basketball practice, online video games with approved friends, etc.

How do you structure each week when homeschooling?

Mondays are “get it together” days. Home for a large part of the day, we set assignments, clean critter cages, and do laundry. Afternoon is The Batman’s first piano lesson of the week. In October, he asked to take piano twice weekly. We’re flexible. We made it happen. At some point, he’ll probably ask to return to once a week, and that’s cool, too. (As an aside, at his recital, he played the theme from The Walking Dead, Beethovan’s Moonlight Sonata, and his own composition. He’s kinda into the keyboard, and his teacher is way cool.)

Tuesday is another hang-at-home day. On five acres, The Batman finds time to wander around outside with his tri-pawd, Dexter. He loves getting up early to shoot some hoops before our day begins.

Wednesdays are busy. There’s basketball practice from 11:00 A.M.–1:00 P.M. (homeschool team) followed by lunch out with a stop at the library or comic book store, or errands with Mom. Then, the second piano lesson.

On Thursdays, The Batman takes a Morning class at a San Antonio co-op. Afternoons are spent at home.

Fridays include homeschool rock-climbing, followed by an art class at another co-op.

Like other kids, weekends include basketball games, hanging with friends, video games, and/or playing outside.

The hardest part about homeschooling in San Antonio is staying home. There are so many things to do around the city for homeschooling families that it’s actually quite difficult to be isolated. We take advantage of as much as we can.

How do you find time for yourself as a homeschooling parent?

I’m a pretty selfish person. I’ve hired a babysitter to help while I ran errands, went to the bookstore, or had coffee with friends. When The Batman was born, I hired a mother’s helper once in awhile. I bartered with friends for babysitting: I’d teach a friend’s child to sew, and they’d keep The Batman. My husband is also great about tag-team parenting when I need it. He’ll come in the door as I’ll go out. My sanity is important.

The Batman is almost a teenager. I’m beginning to find snippets of time here and there. Sometimes on a Tuesday or Thursday afternoon, I’ll meet a friend for a quick coffee or tea at a cafe close to home. If Dad’s home, I can leave assignments for The Batman to complete and my hubs to oversee while I meet a friend for lunch on a weekday.

What are the greatest challenges of homeschooling?

Homeschooling is simultaneously the simplest and most complex thing I’ve ever done. It’s rewarding and challenging, exhausting and exhilarating. It’s often thankless (c’mon, we’re moms—that’s nothing new). I’m not gonna lie: Homeschooling has reduced me to curling up in the fetal position while sobbing into the phone. But so did working at McDonald’s, arguing with a four-year-old, and throwing up 24/7 for 36 consecutive weeks in my second pregnancy. Homeschooling is my job. It’s also the way of life we’ve chosen for our family right now. Most days I love my job and our way of life.

On rough days, I do what I did when I taught in a school. I switch it up, change the plan, learn something completely different. We may blow something up (rockets using vinegar and baking soda, for example), or take school to the library or bookstore. A really rough day may find us at the movies. Because we can. It preserves our relationship and dissipates most negative feelings. Tomorrow is always new day.

Two of my kids struggled with anxiety or depression. Homeschool didn’t cause it any more than sending them to public school would’ve made it go away. Their rough times would’ve been there no matter where we schooled.

Occasionally, there are disagreements—days when someone doesn’t want to do what I have planned. I don’t think sending them to an outside school would miraculously lessen the metaphorically induced cranial bruises. Kids are supposed to butt heads. I butted heads with my parents, and I went to public school. I want my kids to know how to disagree with an adult without being rude and disrespectful. Let’s just say there were times we did entire units on that. When you homeschool, the key is knowing when to disengage, switch gears, and revisit the hot topic at a later time (something I’m still kinda learning—I want to solve it all NOW!). I also had to learn not to respond to my teenagers as if I were a teenager myself. I think these are things all parents struggle with.

One of my biggest challenges is there’s never enough time. I’m always looking for more time to do the wonderful extra homeschooling things: the art, the field trips, the books we didn’t open. Don’t we all secretly wish for just a little more time?

In the end, like my dad would say, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat, Sis.”* I want compassionate, respectful, happy, productive children with the ability and willingness to continue learning. There are many ways to get there.

Wherever our children receive their education, it’s our responsibility to stay involved. This post is not anti-public school or anti-any school. My very best friends are teachers. I’ve taught. Teachers work hard. We chose homeschooling because it works for us. It works for now.

*Although the origins of the phrase “more than one way to skin a cat” are sad, gross, and disgusting, my dad never in a million years would’ve actually skinned a cat. However, it may have something to do with me never being a “cat person.”

2 Responses to Homeschooling 101: Answers to Common Questions

  1. Bob Yamtich April 1, 2015 at 1:40 pm #

    “Kids are supposed to butt heads.” Yes, and they want to be met, and matched, and fully engaged in dialogue. Every moment of choice is an opportunity for increased connection.

    • denise l. moore
      denise l. moore April 1, 2015 at 4:41 pm #

      I couldn’t agree more, Bob. I’ve told my kids (more than once) – go ahead. Push. Butt. Try to rock my world. I’m not going anywhere. With 2 out of 3 over 20 years old, we’ve survived. This 12 year old is not letting me down. We will survive and the connections made through head butting survival are worth it all. In a lot of ways it’s similar to a toddler saying “I do it my own.” So very important. Thanks for reading the post!