The preconceived notions I had about homeschooling parents created one of the biggest barriers to me decided to homeschool. I thought I knew what homeschooling parents were like. And I was certain I was not like them.

Here are three stereotypes I had in my head about homeschooling parents that were wrong:

1. They’re organized.
When my kids were in school, I’d get stressed out that there would be another thing I’d have to do, another project, another event, another rule. School was like an endless to do list with no clear big-picture goal.

For other parents, school seemed so easy. They got their kids to the door on time. They packed the right folder on the right day. Those parents always knew what was on the menu for lunch. I always put Fritos in the bottom of the backpack in case my kid was starved.

It turns out that when it comes to staying organized, homeschooling is way easier than school. There is no crowd to follow, no one else running the schedule, no notes in knapsacks that need to be dealt with before dinnertime.

Homeschooling is great for parents who can’t stay organized enough to follow the day-to-day minutea of school.

2. They’re patient.
I’m sure a patient parent makes a great homeschooler. But the problem is that patient parents are probably the ones who are waiting for miracles that transform the school system. Patient parents are not the ones bucking a system that needs to be bucked.

So it’s the impatient parents who are homeschooling, which goes to show that you do not need patience. I find, in fact, that my impatience means that I don’t want my kids to waste their time memorizing facts for tests. And I expect my kids to be passionate now, not when they grow up.

In the end, I’m pretty sure that impatience is just as beneficial as patience, because both benefit the kids, just in different ways.

3. They’re good teachers.
The first thing I did when I decided to try homeschooling: I bought workbooks. I was great at making the kids do pages. Three pages and then video games. Six pages and then video games. We did workbook pages like I used to run intervals at track practice.

Then I told myself I was more competent than that and I developed art projects and cooking projects. And after a week I was exhausted, and my son negotiated to dump all the workbooks and just play chess.

I am not a good teacher, because it bores me. But luckily, it bores my kids too. They don’t want to be told what to do. They have their own ideas about what they want to learn. I am a good listener. I listen very carefully to what my kids say they want, and I try to translate that into what is possible for their life right now.

These are just three of the preconceived notions I had about homeschooling. What I realize now is that almost all my preconceived notions were off-base. In fact, the only thing a parent needs in order to be a good homeschooing parent is a deep sense of love for the child. Because then you’ll help your child find their way in an intimate, fun, family setting. But I’d never have known until I tried it.

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25 replies
  1. Bec Oakley
    Bec Oakley says:

    Before I started homeschooling I had so many preconceived ideas of what parents were like too. Mostly I thought they were all super-religious nut jobs who wanted to protect their kids from the evils of public school. But I haven’t actually met any parents like that (not that I really make a point of meeting many, I like staying in my little bubble).

    I think to be a good homeschooling parent you also need to feel comfortable living outside the norm… or maybe the ability to not give a flying damn about conventions :)

  2. Heather Sanders
    Heather Sanders says:

    In fact, the only thing a parent needs in order to be a good homeschooing parent is a deep sense of love for the child.

    Yes. We make a lot of mistakes, but this one truth holds it all together while we pull it together, reassess, and strike out on a different path.

    • mbl
      mbl says:

      That coupled with “I listen very carefully to what my kids say they want, and I try to translate that into what is possible for their life right now.” and couple of cups of coffee and you are all set.

      I love the phrasing of “what is possible for their life right now” because it takes into account time, money, energy, and the whole family.

      It was life changing for me when someone suggested that “with balance” should be tacked on to “do your best.” If someone has numerous areas in which they could excel, external pressure added to the internal pressure can really suck!

      As for the list in the post:
      Organized–not by a long, long shot
      Patience– I have loads; except when I don’t
      Great teacher — I’m more of an agreeable Socratric kind of a gal. But it doesn’t matter, because she just wants to be in charge and ‘teach’ class all day.

  3. Amanda Hittson
    Amanda Hittson says:

    I’ve been reading your posts for a while now and finally decided to start commenting. You’ve convinced me homeschooling is the best option for when I do have kids. Yet, reading this article I found I had the same old ideas: I need to be patient and organized. Thanks for clearing that up!

    I have to say, it makes me wonder what other things I think I need to homeschool well that are also off the mark.

  4. Cindy
    Cindy says:

    I totally relate to what you wrote, Penelope! Admittedly, I didn’t have preconceived notions, but I did think those attributes were needed. In fact, I wonder if I secretly still think they do, even after more than 20 years homeschooling, and always went along feeling a bit guilty. Your description of each attribute is my reality as well, and now I can release the weird guilt I’ve carried thinking somehow I just succeeded by the seat of my pants, when in actuality, all the positive things you said under each category was very much prevalent and I do think were the basis for my success. Thank you for sharing this!

  5. mh
    mh says:

    I never knew any homeschoolers before we started homeschooling.

    Now that I’m a homeschool mom, I am so envious of the moms I know who are second-generation homeschoolers. They (and their children) are the most natural, and naturally curious, people.

    It does make me realize I am giving my kids that sort of advantage over their traditionally-schooled peers. I homeschool because I want what’s best for my kids — but it turns out to be what’s best for our whole family.

    Confidential to Penelope — I have a child who LOVES workbooks — he takes so much PRIDE in completing them! He’s always asking for more. He’s also the kid that does his music theory FIRST after the lesson. He does puzzles galore and lots of word games. I’ll never understand.

  6. JT
    JT says:

    Well, they also need enough money to stay at home, or a job that allows them great flexibility. They also need at least a basic education, or enough money to pay for others to teach.

    • Crimson Wife
      Crimson Wife says:

      They don’t need to have had a great education themselves so long as they are willing to learn ahead of their kids. I had some appalling gaps in my education (never studied world history, physics, logic, rhetoric, or economics) that I have had to remedy as I’ve gone along. Math I took through Calc 3 but it was a very procedural approach and while I could calculate the right answer, I never understood why the algorithms worked. I’m using a conceptual program (Singapore Math) and it has been very eye-opening.

  7. Jana @ The Summer House
    Jana @ The Summer House says:

    I struggled with the view of ‘long denim dresses and baking your own bread”-type homeschoolers. I just couldn’t relate. When I met a woman who was a classy dresser and quite well educated, I realized that I could give it a go.

    And I also got involved with a very diverse group of homeschooling moms who held my hand through those first few years. And a few of them wore those denim skirts :) I had been way to judgmental looking from the outside, in.

  8. Kay
    Kay says:


    “I listen very carefully to what my kids say they want, and I try to translate that into what is possible for their life right now.”

    Could you write a detailed post sometime about how you do this (with some examples)? Thank you (in advance)!

  9. Jenn
    Jenn says:

    This is my favorite post in a long time. Practical and endearing all wrapped up pretty with a big bow of loving perspective.

  10. JT
    JT says:

    Are you saying that if a homeschool parent is an impatient, disorganized bad teacher, that this is OK?

    I think my kids deserve more.

    • Heather Sanders
      Heather Sanders says:

      Almost…she believes being an impatient, disorganized, bad teacher clears the way for her children to be passionate now, and own what they choose to learn.

      I don’t always share the same fundamental approach as Penelope, but I enjoyed this post. It is honest and refreshing.

      I speak with many families who beat themselves up personally, and won’t take the step to homeschool, because they don’t meet a certain pre-set criteria.

      • Commenter
        Commenter says:

        I agree, Heather. I think this post is right on the money. I can see myself being all three of these things at times. I’m certainly impatient most of the time, I have far too little patience to teach a group of kids more than once a week, and my house is a mess. Yet my kids are thriving with homeschooling. Certainly part of that is the need to overcome my limitations, as you say.

        I was questioning the confidence JT felt in assuming all the teachers at the local PS would be patient, organized, and good teachers. I haven’t found that to be the case.

        We’re all imperfect. But at least I love them.

        • JT
          JT says:

          I don’t think all public school teachers are good, far from it.

          I think, in ps, you get a variety of teachers, some good and some bad. At least that’s been my experience, after nearly two decades of involvement in public education. Some are good, some bad.

          One of the disadvantages of homeschooling (there are many advantages) is that if a parent is disorganized, bad at teaching, and impatient, that is often all the child gets, all day every day.

          If a homeschooling parent feels she is disorganized, bad at teaching or impatient, I don’t think they should just say “oh, well.”

          Instead, they should try to improve. Their child deserves as much. It’s silly to paint these qualities as virtues (or pretend they don’t matter). I sure wouldn’t want to learn a job from someone who’s disorganized a poor teacher, or impatient with me.

          • mbl
            mbl says:

            I’ve met about a hundred HS moms (and 3 HS dads) since September and I have yet to meet this mythical parent you are so worried about.

            I mean, why go to the trouble of homeschooling just so you can yell at your kids in squalor while forcing them to stare at wall when you could get civic approval by watching them get on the bus, take advantage of free baby sitting by crowd control specialists for 7-8 hours and blame the school if the kids aren’t up to snuff? If you come across one, by all means please do exert some effort to enlighten them.

            I have observed dozens of styles of HSing and I haven’t seen anyone who would make the exact same choices that I would. But they don’t have my child and I don’t have theirs. And I have not seen a single family in which I think the child would be better off in school. Are there some kids who would be okay in school? I think so. Better off? No.

            At a homeschooling co-op that offers art, Spanish, science, legos, etc, I may find myself sitting with a denim jumper clad mom, one in yoga pants, one observing hajib, and lots in jeans and a t-shirt. About the only thing you can assume about anyone there is that they shop at Trader Joe’s. :) And there are many paths that brought people there, 2nd g HSers, school sucked for me so I won’t subject my child to that, we thought we’d give it a shot, my child requested it, they couldn’t be worse off than they were at school, omg this was our last resort–if you know of a school that would be a good fit let me know!

            I am reading a great book right now that has nothing to do with HSing (and everything to do with it.) MotherStyles by Janet P. Penley. It is based on Myers-Briggs types and list the strengths and challenges of all 16 types. It offers some strategies to help compensate for weaker areas and addresses the conflicts that can occur between types among family members. It’s good.

          • Commenter
            Commenter says:

            What I see in your response, JT, is a very different idea from mine of how education works.

            If we conceive of education as something a parent, or a teacher, does to a child, then your argument makes sense. In that view, the education of the child is a subset of what the adult is or knows, which is passed down to him. If the relevant adult doesn’t possess this thing, then the child is short-changed. As you say, that is all the child gets, all day every day.

            On the other hand, one could conceive of education as something a child does. A child may pursue his education at school, amid the many strictures, rules, compulsions, and in an inherently hostile environment. Or the child may pursue his education from the base of his family, in the absence of homework, busywork, bells, periods, and bullies.

            It is to this latter view that many homeschoolers of my acquaintance subscribe, as do I. I have my limitations, as a parent, a teacher, and a person, but my children are not controlled by my limitations or deficiencies to the extent that school children are controlled by the deficiencies of school. The first and most important step in my children’s education is me creating the space and freedom for them to pursue it.

            My children are not limited by my limits, because we have the freedom and the time to seek out mentors, teachers, tutors, and literature in whatever matter interests them. We parents have the freedom to organize classes and take turns teaching each other’s children things we don’t all know, or pool our resources and hire someone who knows things none of us know.

            My boy, near the end of his second hour of violin practice yesterday, exclaimed how marvelous it was that he could play a double-stop perfect fifth with one finger on two strings in the third position: “It’s like riding a dinosaur on a spaceship!” If he did not have the leisure to practice so much, he would not have this experience now.

            Homeschooling gives us the freedom to talk about whatever we want to, whenever we want to, and my boy can study whatever he wants how ever many hours he wants. He can loaf, and invite his soul.

            On the drive to his fencing class afterwards we discussed return on investment of musical practice and whether it was a linear or geometric function. Then we discussed jobs that have become obsolete, jobs that are current and didn’t exist when I was a child, jobs that might exist when he becomes an adult, and the fact that the music we listened to would still exist despite any changes in economy and technology.

            I wouldn’t want to learn a job from someone who is disorganized, a poor teacher, or impatient with me. But my children don’t have to learn my job. My children have to learn what they need and want to learn, and if there is one thing that’s certain, it’s that I don’t already know it all.

  11. Julie
    Julie says:

    The love makes up for a lot, especially when you have a special needs child who isn’t always so easy to love. School did not go well. I could be a pretty crappy homeschooling parent and she would still learn more here than sitting in the hall or principal’s office at school.

    I am a horrible cook. I have tried to like it and I just don’t. I have zero creativity with cooking. If I don’t have a recipe and follow it exactly someone has to go pick up some Chinese. And yet my teenage daughter is a fabulous and creative cook. She loves it. She taught herself. All I had to do was take her list to the store and buy the groceries.

      • mbl
        mbl says:

        Anna?!? Is that you? We missed you last week at the co-op. I’ll bring the Percy Jackson book to you along with the casserole dish next week. The free range, organic chicken with meyers lemon was delicious!! You were right, dd devoured PJ in one sitting! :D

        Yet another reason to love homeschooling: the ability to decide safety standards for your child. Our co-op was scheduled for today, as was a snow storm (groan.) The plan was if that area district wasn’t cancelled we wouldn’t be either. The problem is that heavy snow started at 4am and district policy, since it requires massive coordination to execute, is to do the drive thru check at 3:45am and make the call. So the co-op was all set to meet. But then parents started cancelling via email, including a parent whose husband was a state trooper who advised staying home. Soo, because we can, a last minute decision was made to cancel entirely. One mom, who had taken one of her children to school, reported seeing buses in ditches and a skating rink parking lot.

        If a parent chooses to keep their child out of school without a doctor’s note, the school has the right to alert social services. Last year my child was counted as flat out tardy for weekly OT sessions.

        Instead, we made a giant snowman in the middle of April. And then received a delightful thank you email from a neighbor who is recuperating from surgery and was cheered up by our snowman. That, in turn, brought a huge smile to my daughter’s face. Lookie, lookie, she had a civics and community building lesson today. ;)

  12. JRW
    JRW says:

    I just have to tell you all that I have copied this comment discussion into my personal blog journal. I can’t believe the wisdom I get to soak up around here. A very sincere thank you to everyone who contributes.

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