Homeschoolers Don’t Need to Mimic Public School
How to Set Up Your Homeschool for Success (Hint: You don’t have to copy the public school model!)
There is an old Simpsons episode where Bart gets expelled from school, forcing Marge to homeschool him during his expulsion. Marge throws herself into the role with gusto, creating a mock classroom in the family garage. The mock classroom has a chalkboard, desk, and even the American flag in the corner. “I even bought a bell!” Marge giggles, displaying the handbell she uses to call her “class” to order.
Marge’s mimicry is, of course, played up for comedic effect, and Bart is understandably not happy with his mother’s over-the-top attempt to replicate every facet of public school within his garage. And yet, we homeschoolers can do the exact same thing!
Homeschooling is not merely public school at home; it does not need to replicate every aspect of the public school experience. Homeschooling is an entirely different model of education that does not depend upon public school metrics for its success. If we try to make homeschooling “public school at home,” we may find we add a considerable amount of stress to our lives and miss out on some of the things that make homeschooling so fun, as well as efffective. In fact, many children respond well to homeschooling precisely because it does not replicate the public school model.
In this post, I will discuss five signs that might mean you are trying too hard to mimic the public school setup.
Duplicating the Formal Classroom
The most characteristic symbol of the public school is the classroom: rows of desks, chalkboards or whiteboards at the front, and educational or motivational posters lining the wall. Ah yes, who can ever forget the ambiance of the public school classroom? It is a very formal educational setting that was designed to keep two dozen children orderly and attentive for long periods of time.
That, of course, is not the purpose of your homeschool environment, and most families lack the dedicated space to create an entirely separate classroom anyway. The most important consideration in your homeschool space is whether it facilitates learning. If your daughter does her math best sprawled out on the floor with her feet in the air, let her do math that way. If your seven-year-old son wants to snuggle up on the couch with you for reading time, then there is your classroom. For many homeschoolers, the classroom is simply the kitchen table, as this is the most logical place to spread out your books and papers and sit down.
It is not bad or wrong to have a dedicated educational space; it is misguided to think you must have a dedicated space and that it must approximate to a public school classroom with desks and a whiteboard. Use whatever space you have at your disposal in whatever manner is most comfortable for you and your children. That’s all that matters.
Being a Slave to the Clock
Remember the periods in public school? “I have to get to class! First hour starts at 7:55, and if I’m a minute late, I’ll be marked tardy!” Or sitting lazily at your desk, watching the clock count down to exactly 2:17 at the end of the day? Fixed time periods are another staple of public schools. Why are public school time periods structured this way? It basically comes down to math. The state requires that every student spend so many hours in school per year, and teachers’ union contracts stipulate that teachers can only be compelled to work for so many hours a day. The required yearly hours are divided into days, then each day is subdivided based on how long teachers are permitted to work and how many courses need to be covered per semester—and voila! That’s how you get those weird public school hours that go from 7:55 to 8:51, or 1:17 to 2:09.
Very little of this has to do with what is best from a pedagogical standpoint, and it certainly is not relevant to your homeschool. I recommend letting go of the concept of “hours” for your homeschool. It is difficult because this concept is deeply ingrained in our psyche; we tend to feel like a student who “only” spends 30 minutes on his math hasn’t “really” done math class that day. We have been programmed to regard a class as “one hour.”
Now, sometimes, our state’s homeschooling laws require us to spend so many hours on a subject, and that’s another story. But in general, we should not feel like we must keep our classes at one hour. If your first grader finishes handwriting in 20 minutes, perfect. Move on to the next subject. If your high schooler has been buried in Pride and Prejudice for her literature class for the past hour, why stop her? She’s reading and loving it. Let her go on. I am not suggesting you abandon scheduling altogether (most successful homeschools maintain some type of daily schedule), but I am encouraging you not to be slaves to the clock. Use your daily plan as a rough outline, not a creed that must be adhered to with unflinching orthodoxy.
Expecting Every Day to Be the Same
In public school, a student’s schedule seldom changes from day to day. They have a daily schedule they work through, made up of the same six classes in the same order all semester. There may be minor deviations here and there, but in general, each day replicates the day before it. While part of this is making sure children get enough exposure to each subject, it is also logistical—public schools have a huge student body, and they need a simple system for knowing where everybody is at any given time. This would be a logistical nightmare if everybody’s schedule changed daily.
One of the great things about homeschooling is that you don’t need to follow this paradigm. There’s no reason you have to do the same subjects every day. You can create a varied schedule that rotates classes throughout the week and allows wiggle room for those days when you’re just not feeling it. Do you insist on every day following the same pattern? Do you get stressed out, feeling like you must “get through” a certain amount of class time daily? Let go of that! If your student struggles with math, it’s okay to say, “You know what? Let’s not do math today. Let’s go to the park instead, and we’ll try again tomorrow.” That is a quintessential homeschool approach to burnout. Your schedule is supposed to work for you, not you for it. Every day does not need to be identical.
Teaching to the Test
This is one of the most substantial complaints about public school education: public school curricula are all focused on “teaching to the test.” Since the government uses standardized test scores to evaluate a district’s success (and funding), the entire public school system hinges on standardized test scores.
There is no need for this in homeschooling. Homeschooling dethrones test scores from their pinnacle and frees you to focus more on content mastery. This restores the joy to education as they experience the delight that comes with acquiring new knowledge that they truly grasp. Cramming for a standardized test does not elicit this delight. Depending on your state, you may still have to prepare for a standardized test now and then, but in general, homeschooling frees you from the need of “teaching to the test.” If you still find yourself teaching to the test, you might want to remind yourself that you are homeschooling because you believe its best for your child, not because you are trying to please the Department of Education or your school district.
Reliance on Uniform Grade Levels
Public school is characterized by the division of students into “grades” based on their age. Students are expected to advance through the grades at a uniform rate pace—a student who excels the pace is “ahead” while a student who does not keep up with the pace is “behind.” Since no child wants to be considered “behind” or “remedial,” there is an inherent stigma in not keeping up with the expected pace.
We replicate this system at home if we act as if our child has to be moving through every subject at a uniform pace. If your student struggles to understand 5th grade math, do you stress that she will be “behind”? Do you pressure your son to finish his biology textbook before the end of the school year so he can “move up on time?” If so, you may be carrying over that public school attitude of uniform grade levels into your homeschool. Who says a student needs to progress uniformly? It is quite common amongst homeschoolers for a child to be doing 6th-grade math, 7th-grade literature, and 5th-grade science simultaneously. They advance at their own pace; if they are ready to move on to high school history, they do so. If they need to spend another year in 8th-grade algebra, they do so.
Anyone who has been around homeschooling long enough knows that if you ask a homeschooler what grade they are in, they will often have to think about it. Homeschoolers can be in multiple different grades in different subjects, and this is perfectly fine.
You get the picture! Homeschooling is more than just replicating public school systems at home. It is an entirely different manner of education, with its own philosophy and methodology. Just to be clear, there is nothing wrong with having a dedicated classroom, grade levels, or standardized tests.
The danger is in feeling like we must check all these boxes—that we are not “really” schooling if we don’t replicate these characteristics of public school. Homeschooling is ultimately about flexibility and individualization, about creating routines that are best for your child. It makes little sense to save them from the public school meatgrinder if we are only going to toss them into another meatgrinder of our own creation.
If you are new to homeschooling, grasping all this may require a paradigm shift (especially if you have previously had your kids in public school). If you find you need advice or support transitioning into homeschooling, we suggest contacting Susie Lloyd, our homeschooling coach. She can help you set up a personalized homeschool plan for your family. Click here to learn more about personalized homeschool coaching from Homeschool Connections.
If you are looking for support for your Catholic homeschool efforts, here are three great options for you to explore…