Kids homeschool themselves

This is a guest post from Kate Fridkis, whose family did homeschooling when she was growing up. She blogs about body image at Eat the Damn Cake and she blogs about homeschooling at Skipping School.

As a fourteen and fifteen-year-old homeschooler, the last thing I wanted to do was sit around the house with my mom all day. What kid wants to do that?

And people always whispered to me, “I could never do what your mom is doing.” They said, “So she has a degree in education?” No, not exactly.

The idea that being a homeschooling parent means being an expert on every school subject and walking your kids, day by day, year by year, though everything they would otherwise have learned in a classroom is a huge misunderstanding of the way homeschooling works.

When they’re very young, kids need a lot of attention and support. They need to be watched, in case they try to jump off the top of the stairs, to see if they can fly. But education doesn’t really need to be nearly as structured and guided as people imagine it does. Kids learn from being alive. And once kids develop interests, they can pursue them doggedly, on their own, for weeks at a time. For years.

But most adults don’t trust kids, even their own, to have the “right” interests. Adults worry that kids are always wasting their time. Or doing things wrong. But adults don’t seem that good at picking subjects for kids to learn. Sir Ken Robinson has a lot to say about how science and math get picked over, well, everything else. But even people like me, who haven’t been knighted by the Queen, can see that even the people who get A’s in science and math haven’t necessarily learned why science and math are important. So who are we, as adults, to tell kids what they should be learning and when they should learn it?

17 replies
  1. Karen
    Karen says:

    “So who are we, as adults, to tell kids what they should be learning and when they should learn it?”

    Umm, their parents?

    Sorry, I don’t mean to be sarcastic but that’s a pretty lousy argument. Would you let your kids choose what they have for dinner every night? Of course you wouldn’t because children are not mature enough to make those kinds of decisions for themselves.

    My sons are given plenty of opportunity to explore their own interests in their schooling. That doesn’t change the fact that they need to be drilled on their math facts even though they are not particularly interested in them or that they need to have an understanding of Roman history so that they have the ability to better understand the world that they live in.

    Life is made up of a series of tasks that you may not be interested in performing, but that have to get done anyway. Very, very few people (as in, none) get to spend their lives only doing things that they are interested in and enjoy. Shielding kids from this reality is not helping them.

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      Your argument is interesting but not all encompassing. Which is weird for someone that asserts herself so strongly.

      Many kids are drilled about their math, history, science, etc. but they still have no understanding or interested. Maybe because they’re not interested.

      I think that if you give kids the bottom line they’ll have a platform to build upon.

      They’ll learn more about what they are interested in.

      If I homeschooled my kids I’d teach them just enough for what they don’t like so that they’ll pass tests and get into school that will teach them and train them (or workplaces) what they really love.

      Whatever you’re doing in your life right now you’re not using every single thing you were force fed in school when you were a kid.

  2. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I also came to the same conclusion as Karen after reading the last sentence. The parents should have some idea of what’s important for their children to learn. They were a child themselves at one time and have life experience to draw upon. I’m not saying that a rigid academic program of learning material and tests is the answer either. However, it seems to me that if kids were given their way for all the learning that needed to take place, it would be like handing over the asylum to the lunatics. They still need to learn basic skills where there is some drudgery involved such as memorizing and copying stuff. In fact, copying works of others is one of the first steps in the creative process. The process of learning (i.e. – how the problem is approached and what steps are involved in the process) are more important than the answer itself. Reasoning and other critical thinking skills are also very important. My real question, though, is how is a home schooled child tested to verify that he/she is learning stuff that is at least comparable to another child going to a public or private school? The standard/benchmark (rightly or wrongly) is based upon these educational institutions. Does each state have their own set of tests for children who are home schooled?

    • Zellie
      Zellie says:

      “…like handing over the asylum to the lunatics.”

      It might seem so, but you might be surprised to observe how a child’s innate drive to learn keeps him learning, including as he gets older and sets goals for himself. People will do what they need to do. (Kids are people to.)

      Each state has its own regulations. In my state there is no requirement for testing or reporting and people worked very hard for years to get it this way. In a neighboring state the family must either have a teacher (or approved representative) attest that the child is working to his ability or take a standardized test. There are not requirements that a child achieve a particular score. In any case the school superintendent is ultimately responsible.

      People are often shocked that homeschooled kids don’t have to prove that they are as good as schooled kids. What if they aren’t? What happens to a kid in school who doesn’t measure up? Everyone is different and you can’t regulate learning. What people don’t realize is that it just doesn’t matter. It’s not a problem or you’d better believe there would be a crackdown on homeschooling.

      • Mark W.
        Mark W. says:

        Zellie, the “…like handing over the asylum to the lunatics.” was a bit over the top but I thought it was clever at the time. :)
        I agree that kids have their own innate drive to learn. However the subject matter that is taught and learned is different than that from a school. One is not necessarily better or worse than the other, it’s just different and maybe that’s why people say they can spot a home schooled kid. I’m not against homeschooling since really it’s the final result (child’s education) that matters here. Also it’s not just about the child … it’s about the family as a whole unit … what works best for the family. That’s why IMO that all options (public, charter, private, and homeschooling) need to be available to the family. I’m optimistic that they will change and improve as education is discussed more and made more of a priority. As for a kid in school who doesn’t measure up, they’ll probably be made to repeat a class or, in the worst case, fail the grade entirely. Whatever the case, their performance will be flagged to more than just the parents. Hopefully remedial help will intercede before it becomes a “crisis”. Obviously there’s a lot I don’t know about homeschooling and you’re right … I haven’t heard about any crackdowns on it.

    • Zellie
      Zellie says:

      Mark, I should have addressed your question of subject matter. In the state statutes I am familiar with there is a clause regarding the child’s receiving instruction in certain topics such as math, language, science, etc. There is not specific language dictating how each subject is to be taught and when.

    • Carrie
      Carrie says:

      “how is a home schooled child tested to verify that he/she is learning stuff that is at least comparable to another child going to a public or private school?”

      My question is, why should they have to? Is there some test that proves that you and I know the same things? I bet we don’t know the same things, but we both contribute to society and earn money and take care of our homes, families, etc.

      “School” as it is now is a relatively NEW social experiment that is failing. A new way of looking at things is required.

      • Mark W.
        Mark W. says:

        Carrie, I think we’re on the same page regarding testing. How do you test anybody to really know how much they know and does it really matter when most information is readily accessed on a computer. I think what really matters is what you do with what you know. The reason I said “comparable to another child going to a public or private school” is because the majority of people will hold these institutions as the standard. I think that’s the case because most children go to these institutions … not because they are necessarily any better … just as homeschooling is not necessarily any better for whatever reason. They’re different and what really matters is the end result … the quality of the child’s education.

  3. Lori
    Lori says:

    i think most adults — including people who are just beginning to homeschool — are fuzzy on how it is that kids teach themselves. they don’t know how to help kids investigate their interests, and if their kids need to be deschooled first, the kids themselves may not know what their interests area. this post is nice but doesn’t begin to address the complicated issue of how we help kids figure out their interests and teach themselves in a rigorous way.

    i also take issue with that last sentence: “So who are we, as adults, to tell kids what they should be learning and when they should learn it?” i hope what the author means is that we need to respect kids’ interests and help them learn about what matters to them. but that’s not really what it sounds like.

    my sons have a deep respect for what my husband and i say about what they should learn — and that includes when we urge them to spend most of their time digging into their own interests. we don’t just say, “whatever you do is fine — go learn about whatever you want.” we have serious discussions about what it means to be educated, how you build up knowledge and skills so you can make a significant contribution to society, and more. we support them; we mentor them. we create the circumstances and environment that help them manage their own learning.

    • Karen
      Karen says:


      I was pretty harsh before and it was because that line really rubbed me the wrong way. I have expended a great deal of time and effort in choosing and teaching my sons’ curriculum. I don’t disagree that kids should be encouraged to explore their own interests but mine do so within a structure that I believe to be important. I have benchmarks that they are expected to meet in the certain areas of academic study such as math, language arts, science, history and music. We are completely flexible about how those benchmarks are achieved and we are always taking their individual learning styles and interests into account when making decisions about what they do and when.

      I wish that the author of this post would write in and explain more fully what she meant by that statement.

      • Zellie
        Zellie says:

        It’s the “unschooling” philosophy- that kids will learn what they need when they need it. Maybe most homeschoolers don’t take this approach, and it takes a lot of either trust or hope to do it.

        When I first heard of the concept, I really couldn’t agree that kids don’t need to be taught math until and unless they decide to. That was pretty much the only subject I was worried about. But then my daughter was fairly uncooperative about it. She decided at age 12 she wanted to use Saxon math and do it herself and get 100% on every lesson. All she did for math through her high school years was that algebra 1 book, over and over. Finally at college age she is doing higher math.

        It was like magic really. I’m sure it was more difficult than for other kids, but by applying herself she was able to learn new concepts because she was motivated and excited about it.

        It’s not for everyone, and parents of unschoolers may find that their kids don’t choose a path that the parent’s would prefer, but by now I do trust that regular kids will do what is necessary.

        With “special” kids I don’t have any faith. I think my son might still be wandering around breaking things if we hadn’t forced him to learn to count, etc.

  4. QS
    QS says:

    This is one of the dumbest articles I have ever read, with an absolutely asinine final statement.

    “So who are we, as adults, to tell kids what they should be learning and when they should learn it?”

    I was thinking, “Oh, there must be more to the article if I scroll down”. But, no. Nothing. Just a ridiculously stupid statement and then nothing to back it up. Maybe you ought to go back to home school.

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