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. The photo is Kate as a girl.

Adults are afraid that kids will fail at life if they don’t learn all of the basics. And adults believe that the basics are things like math, rather than subjects that naturally center around a kid’s interests.

My parents believed that their kids should get the chance to find out what they were really interested in, and to take a lot of time finding it out. But letting their kids do that wasn’t always easy, because my parents had gone to school themselves. So my parents were scared.

At her best, my mother didn’t try to structure our education. When she was bravest, we read all day. Or played outside all day. Or we read all morning and then played outside all afternoon. We were totally unpredictable;  we were experimenting and our lives themselves were utterly experimental. There were a lot of those days.

And then there were a lot of days when it seemed like she was nervous, and she asked, “What have you accomplished?” which meant that I should make sure I did something that looked a little more like traditional school. Math, for example. From a textbook.

I fake-learned when I had a textbook, and I really learned when I was reading, or playing outside, or writing a book, or starting a little business.

I already knew what was interesting. Homeschooled kids already know.

12 replies
  1. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    Kate, I went to a public school.
    Would it have been better if I were homeschooled? I don’t know because I didn’t experience it firsthand.
    So my response to “I already knew what was interesting. Homeschooled kids already know.” is – I already knew what was interesting. Kids already know.

  2. d-day
    d-day says:

    Hi Kate: Good post. My little one starts kindergarten next year and I’m thinking about homeschooling, but I am still pretty uncertain.

    A question for Kate, Penelope, and other homeschoolers: Do you think that there are children whose personalities suit them for homeschooling and some who would not benefit from homeschooling? My daughter is EXTREMELY shy. She is also very quiet – she lives in her head. I worry that homeschooling would harm her because I don’t see how she will find things that interest her and engage her passions such that she would want to pursue them. I don’t have any experience with this — my school experience was extremely structured and intensely focused on academics (top 10 nationally ranked private schools).

    So say you have a kid who is extremely intelligent but very passive. Mine takes everything in and thinks about it and will often draw sophisticated conclusions, but she rarely DOES anything to exert her will on outside events. Do you think homeschooling would be better than traditional schooling to impart those sparks of interest? To get a kid to be a more active agent in her own life?

    • Pamela
      Pamela says:

      I think what you’re really asking is about whether the lack of “socialization” via public schools could potentially “harm” your shy child? I’d say homeschooling is no riskier than her being bullied for her introversion or overlooked in a sea of faces in a classroom.

      The issue of shyness is separate from your homeschool decision.

      I’d look into bibliotherapy options for your kiddo along the lines of nurturing self-respect for her personality and look for ways to encourage her to take risks. I’d find positive examples in media demonstrating successful “shy” kids. Ask your librarian, do some research on Google.

      If you’re still worried about socialization via homeschooling, go look up info on the topic in homeschool books and forums. If you think your daughter is gifted intellectually, then look at the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum.

      Frankly, the public school system seems to favor “shy” kids because they don’t openly buck the system, no matter what they may actually be thinking.

      In our experience, homeschooling has been more receptive to open exploration–far more so than my public school was. As for socialization? We are constantly engaging with people of all ages as opposed to sitting in a room with a bunch of people of the same age.

      It’s really not an issue.

  3. Mark K
    Mark K says:

    In Ohio, you have to pass a test or pass an in-person evaluation by a certified teacher each year. That is a requirement, then you “apply” for exemption from mandatory schooling. And then you hope the superintendent is not looking for someone to set some kind of example with. Eventually the documentation from the school board comes in the mail telling you that you have another year approved.

    As a result, I admit, I fell into the latter camp that you describe Kate, for the last six weeks before the evaluation. We’d try to gather all the scraps and evidence of education having happened, and put it together to look like we planned it to come out that way. And we’d always notice little gaps and we’d work on filling in those gaps in the weeks before the eval.

    But it was good practice for finishing and polishing things – which is part of life too. Every evaluation was an oral presentation, and involved rehearsal – things that were done because they needed to be.

    Seeing the progress from the year made manifest was always something my son enjoyed though. It was worth the deviation from the rest of the year which consisted of the unstructured style you remember fondly.

  4. Jason
    Jason says:

    We are homeschooling our kids – they are 2 and 4. The thing I love about it is that there is no “school starts next year” aspect to it – they are always “in school.” It is kind of a different mindset altogether.

    I guess the one question I do have is – are there some subjects where a structured approach is required? Or is it possible to encourage enough interesting investigation that you really do end up teaching calculus for example? It does seem like some math skills may need to be taught because they are tools required for further investigation. Since I was “schooled” I actually am not 100% sure how all the tools I learned are actually put to use.

    I personally loved learning math and will try to instill that in my kids as well. I think as being homeschooled though we will try harder to look at interesting ways to use math instead of just making it through chapter 12 in some textbook.

  5. emily
    emily says:

    I totally fake learned!

    Practicing every day at my house was a requirement. So to get around the requirement I’d put a comic book in front of my score and turn the music stand against the door. That way when my mom peaked in it looked like I was practicing what i was supposed to when I was really reading comic books and noodling around at the same time.

    Same goes for practicing piano. Book in front of the stand in the morning when parents were upstairs sleeping, comforted by the sound of the piano downstairs. Sometimes I’d put my head down on one end of the piano and nap while using one hand to keep the sound going.

    Even after music camp, a summer activity I loved more than most things, no one could get me to pay attention to music theory. While I still can’t write out the circle of fifths, I can really play my feeling. The technicalities I learn by necessity.

    • Niecie
      Niecie says:

      Emily…THAT IS SOOOO CUTE AND HILARIOUS AT THE SAME TIME!!! I laughed out loud at the visualization of you as a young girl (not even knowing what you look like). Thanks for that…just made my morning.

  6. DL
    DL says:

    Kate, I peeked into your Skipping School blog and enjoyed your good writing. Hope you don’t mind if I combine the two in my comment here.

    In Skipping School, you mention people sent loads of hateful comments to an article you wrote for Salon.com. You say it feels like everyone is out to get homeschoolers.

    I, for one, don’t really care if families choose to homeschool or not. I figure that’s their choice and their right. I also realize homeschoolers feel the need to defend their decisions and that, yes, they actually are learning. What you may not understand though, is that often you sometimes come across as pious. That can be irritating and maybe that’s why it feels like we’re all out to get you.

    For example, you comment above: “I already knew what was interesting. Homeschooled kids already know.” Really? Just homeschooled kids know this? Kids going to conventional school don’t have a chance to learn this as well?

    I think we need to accept that there are different ways of learning for different people. There’s no right or wrong, and one is not completely better than another. Acceptance goes both ways.

  7. Jen
    Jen says:

    I think Mark and DL are missing the point of the last two sentences. Kids in public school know what is interesting in Kindergarten but probably by 3rd grade they are just doing the workbooks, taking tests, behaving status quo. My son is in 1st grade at public school and I’m starting to see it happen already. School is separate from “outside interests” outside interests such as biking, Legos, robotics, anything not related to the curriculum lose focus. When you homeschool kids can keep those interests as part of learning. At least that is how I read these posts. I don’t get defensive; I try to learn from homeschool families and see if it the right choice for us. Thanks for sharing all this!

  8. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    Jen, I don’t think I’m missing the point of the last two sentences or the post for that matter.
    I’ve been reading and commenting on this blog since it’s inception. So if it sounds like I’m defensive based on my comment on this post, so be it. However, the truth is I like the idea of homeschooling since it has many benefits and it is a great option for many families.
    Initially, after reading this post, I wasn’t going to comment. While I do appreciate the author’s willingness to share her homeschooling experiences, they come across to me as being smug. As in, my education is better than yours because I was home schooled. Also, I haven’t seen her reply to any comments made to her posts here on this blog. I don’t expect her to reply to every comment but it would be nice to see some evidence that she is reading the comments here. Comments are allowed but there are no replies from the author. It’s better than a Seth Godin post but not as good as when Penelope replies to a comment. My learning is lifelong.

  9. sophie
    sophie says:

    I think our whole education system is at a huge turning point, one that has to happen for many reasons. But as many of you critique our public schools and their methods of teaching, particularly the lack of individualized learning, let’s look at the situation.

    We have the largest population ever, meaning the greatest number of kids to educate. And since not everyone can, or will, homeschool their kids, this means we have larger than ever classroom sizes. Really, how in the world can a teacher manage individualized teaching when he/she has 20-30 kids? Can you imagine a classroom of 30 kids each doing only what interested them, when, where and how they wanted to do it? Is it possible our school’s structured, curriculum-based learning provides the best learning for the greatest number of kids?

    Now let’s look at our government’s support of education – or lack thereof. State after state is taking away funding from education. Wait, we have more kids than ever and we’re taking funding AWAY? What does that say of the value we’re putting on our children’s learning? Is it the school or teacher’s fault our system is lacking? Or maybe is the government’s and we who have elected them?

    Whether your kids go to public school or not, everyone should respect our schools and demand our government support them. In 20 years, the kids who now attend these schools will be the doctors treating our illnesses, officials serving our government, engineers creating our technology. What they learn today, affects the quality of of our future life.

  10. S
    S says:

    Do a google search about “free schools”. There are many that ARE doing 15-30 kids in a class all doing self-directed learning. I personally don’t want to patch a sinking ship, but for those that do, attend pta meetings and demand LESS homework for kids. If you’ve got a skill or passion consider being a guest “teacher” at your kids school and fire them up about what you’re interested in. I don’t think more money is the issue. Just my 2 cents.

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