Often homeschooling means doing nothing

I am at my favorite dance recital ever. There are 260 kids, and there are parents backstage all day to keep everything organized. I am in the boys room, where they all have a DS, and many have something else as well for video games.

While little girls pitter patter room to room in ballet slippers and tap dance shoes, the boys pounce in high tops, and strut to and from the bathroom right by the girls section. “Did you see the flapper girls?” one boy said, who I would have thought would be too young to notice.

Parents packed knapsacks full of usually forbidden treats. But the candy is all over the floor, fallen from mouths screaming about creepers in Minecraft.

I sit in a corner, writing with my laptop. We are all in heaven.

Which reminds me of the discussion on last Friday’s post about what good homeschooling looks like. Many parents commented that what homeschooling looks like in their house is the parent doing what they want nearby where the kids are doing what they want, too. That’s what it looks like in my house as well. It’s why I can have a job and homeschool. Because I work mostly all day long.

Homeschooling in my house looks a lot like the part of the dance recital where the boys are not dancing. They are just being them and I’m just being me.

I wondered, when I was reading those comments, why do we worry so much that we are not doing enough? And I realize that we are holding ourselves to the ridiculous parenting standards of people who never see their kids.

People who send their kids away for eight hours a day feel that the time they have with their kids must be intense. They must instill values (no TV!) and they must control for quality (no comic books!) and, more than anything, the parents feel they need to be involved in everything because really, the parents are largely not involved because the school runs the family’s life.

But homeschool parents do not need to be involved in the same way, because our involvement is inherently part of keeping our kids all day. To those of us who grew up with school (which is most of us) we grew up with the idea that you don’t see your parents a lot but when you do, they pay attention. If you grow up homeschooling you see your parents constantly, so it would be overwhelming if you had their attention, in that way, all the time.

I am in a room with twelve boys ages 8-11. They are so incredibly well-behaved. I have not told one boy how to behave or what to do in the last hour. I realize that kids need very little attention from adults if you let kids do whatever they want. And that’s why homeschooling feels so jarringly easy to me. So I need to stop worrying that I’m not doing enough. I need to stop seeing the world through the eyes of a parent that sends the kids away for the day.

20 replies
  1. karelys
    karelys says:

    I wrote a comment and then got too long. I am in a hurry and I don’t know how to say the same thing in a few sentences.

    Anyway, if I remember right, the parents that made us (as kids) feel most comfortable were the ones that were around but didn’t force us to do what they wanted us to do. They were there for help but we didn’t have to sit still or watch out mouths or anything like that.

    I think the key to the last post was that the parent is around but is not always doing the intense attention part. It gets too exhausting.

    For kids, it’s not fun to have a parent around if you always have to watch how you behave. It’s like a boss that is always over your shoulder watching what you do.

  2. Lisa Sharp
    Lisa Sharp says:

    Penelope – how is it that you are able to hit the nail on the head every single time you write a post.? The concept of not doing enough is permeates every aspect of our lives and it creates so much anxiety for parents.
    Is thete end of the school year (last day is 6/17) and you would not believe how much work my son’s middle school has crammed in between Memorial Day and Friday 6/14. My son is tired and frankly so am I. I often wonder if teachers are worried that parents will complain if they just let the kids do nothing until school lets out so they over compensate by working the kids to the very last minute. Someone needs to explain to the school district that they have “done enough” and whatever they didn’t get to probably was not that important. But I know I’m just preaching to the choir because this just highlights one of the many reasons why people decide to home school their kids.

  3. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    This post could serve as a metaphor for my argument for a limited government. I never did like to micromanage or be micromanaged.

  4. Madalen
    Madalen says:

    The way you say the final sentence, it is as if you sent the kids away for the day and wait for them to como back fretting about in the house.
    It doesn´t work like, in my experience.You don´t send the kids away for the day. Usually, we all go to our places for the day, parents and children alike, and meet up in the afternoon, which actually, it´s quite nice. I think your sentence was giving a very peculiar idea of family life, kind of old fashion..

  5. CJ
    CJ says:

    There’s a great way of being “responsible to your children, not responsible FOR them,” explained beautifully in Screamfree Parenting. As homeschoolers, I think we have this understanding in the bag. I am with my children, interested, supportive, helpful, but I am not their dictator. They vote about how budgeted money is spent (I.e. violin lessons? Soccer? Theater? Etc) and I am in their orbit. But, they decide how things go FOR themselves. Very few things are a demanded rule, such as no violence, everyone contributes to our home and family, and health choices in food and lifestyle- and even those things are accomplished more with modeling than rules. I am amazed at how many parents tell me how they “plan their time together” for themselves and their kids without even asking their kids how they feel, then the plans are a disappointment and they can’t figure out why. Many parents reply that kids don’t know enough to know what they want and that’s bs. Even an infant human knows what s/he wants. Also, the whole notion of engineered quality time creeps me out a bit. Very Borg. “You will now experience pleasure in my presence little people!” Yuck!

  6. Carol
    Carol says:

    Penelope, you are my idol. Most of the time our emotions run our lives. It is precisely because we parents feel we don’t do enough that it’s awkard to sit still and do nothing with our kids. But how do you instill the value of striving for perfection or self-improvement in this case?

  7. kristen
    kristen says:

    The reason those boys are so well behaved is that they have their drug of choice. Take away the video opiates and I think you’d find something else. It took technology to achieve the Victorian ideal of children being “best seen and not heard.”

    • Sarah
      Sarah says:

      I don’t agree. An example would be our homeschool group park day. We sometimes spend upwards of four hours in a park with no electronic devices and yet the kids are well behaved. The moms talk, the kids play. The younger kids are on the playground equipment. The tween girls usually go between cooing over the babies and swinging. The older kids walk around or huddle up somewhere. Then all of a sudden they all get together and organize a game or play Pokemon, or act out Minecraft or who knows what else. Without gaming devices the kids might get louder and more active, but given enough space and freedom I think they would be just as well behaved. Video games only allow them contain their energy in a small space.

      • Our Muddy Boots
        Our Muddy Boots says:


        I agree and was thinking the same thing as I read this comment. Yes, my kids play video games- sometimes a lot. Sometimes they play with friends and problem solve things that are beyond me. I watch their imaginations work overtime and create worlds and backdrops that I never could have imagined.

        My son learned to read from playing video games. When given the option of learning this way, or being drilled, I will choose video games every time.

        As I read this comment though, I was thinking about our homeschool park day, and days at the pool, and at the trampoline gym, and exploring the arts district in our town… these are all done without video games, and the children are respectful, and careful, and make sure everyone is okay. The need to reprimand for behavior simply does not exist in our group.

        Sometimes we explain stuff, and in these cases the kids are glad to know that doing something differently will make his friends more comfortable. Kids do not resist learning to be kinder and more compassionate, as we have been led to believe.

    • Nat
      Nat says:

      Kids have been hiding away quietly with books for a hundred years or more.

      Technology requires greater interaction, communication and problem solving skills than any book ever. So I never understand why people want to bag technology but books are held to this godlike status. Don’t get me wrong, books are great. I just don’t understand the vilification of games, when books are actually quite linear – You submissively take in the story. With games you make the story and create plots, scenes and characters with your mates.

      It’s a balance thing. It shouldn’t be “this is great” and “this is evil”.

  8. Amy @WorldschoolAdventures
    Amy @WorldschoolAdventures says:

    I find that I often feel like I’m not doing enough. When that happens I know it is time to take a mental inventory of everything I do do and everything my kids are learning. Bringing my awareness back to what is happening, as opposed to what is not, always puts me back in a place of feeling grateful for our unschooling lifestyle.

  9. monika
    monika says:

    love this post Penelope.
    thank you.

    there is never nothing going on.

    and as you say.. the best thing we can give our kids is that authentic space, where neither/none of us feels they have anything to prove.

  10. Lynisa
    Lynisa says:

    Many years ago people used to ask me all the time why I was homeschooling (not so much anymore) – I would tell them that I failed at quality time parenting so had to switch to quantity time parenting.

  11. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Hi !
    I came across your blog by accident on the Gifted Homeschoolers forum – I can’t tell you how pleased I was to read your words and to find out you are also an entrepreneur !

    I hv 3 children, run 2 start ups and also can’t help but think that school does nothing but test my children for their own benefit and ruin their desire to learn.

    My eldest was tested at neatly 8 yrs old and found to be in the 99.8th percentile for processing. I’m forever struggling with the school to get them to understand that being gifted does not mean he should pass each and every one of their tests with a perfect score.

    I’m so pleased to hv found you. Will keep reading with interest and one day may also make the decision to home school too :)

    • Kat
      Kat says:

      As a parent who just started homeschooling our 13 yo last year, my advise would be: DON’T WAIT TOO LONG TO DECIDE. I regret that my gifted daughter went to public school for as long as she did. She has lost her love for learning, and we hope and pray that she can gain it back.

  12. Joshua
    Joshua says:

    Here’s my answer to what my kids do all day: Whatever they want with no TV or Computers allowed (They think this computer is broken).
    How did my 4 year olds learn the alphabet? I have no Idea.
    How do I get them to read all day? I don’t. They just do it (i take them to the library).
    Aren’t they bored? Nope, Busy all day long with cooking, reading, gardening, painting.
    So, yeah, my 4 kids are doing nothing in most peoples eyes. Definitely no curriculum. They love trees and plants. If I wanted to kill that love, I’d sit down formally and teach them.
    Back to my smug answer to people who think I’m an idiot for what I do. If they ask what we do all day my answer is “Not much of anything”.
    My curriculum? Hahahaha
    I really have to laugh when people say they’re “Studying” this or that.
    So am I smug? maybe. Not half as smug and judgmental of 95% of the people who judge our lives. But they are wrong. I am right.

  13. Our Muddy Boots
    Our Muddy Boots says:


    I am so grateful to have found you. My son turned 6 on friday which makes this our first official year of homeschooling. This is an unexpected, no SHOCKING! choice for us.

    I spent time deschooling, and it shifted my world. I still have so far to go though.

    Your piece combined with a conversation I had earlier this week has propelled me into the next dimension of living more authentically with my kids.

    Thank you so very much!

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