I’m convinced that the risks of homeschooling are not about the kids: Of course they will learn because kids do that naturally, if you just leave them alone; and of course whatever you do at home will be better than school. The risk is that parents go nuts.

The most convincing evidence that you can do it is to watch someone like me do it. I am the last person in the world who should stay home with kids. I love working. I love power and money and all the scummy things not associated with raising kids. I love being alone to think. And I love expounding to people who eagerly listen. I should not be home with kids all day, yet I’m doing it.

Here are three things that keep me from going nuts.

Engaging family
I have a 29-year-old brother, and my sons are fascinated that he dates women but doesn’t marry them.

“What does he say before he kisses someone?” my older son asks.

“I love you,” I tell him. In a hopeful sort of way.

“Will I be his best man?” says my younger son.

“If you are a good listener when he babysits.”

When my brother comes to visit, I’m so happy. But the truth is that my family thinks homeschooling is going to be a trainwreck. The specifically wonder how I will prepare my son to go to an earth sciences program for paleontology when we are not learning math or science at school. I am specifically wondering this as well.

But even though my family is stunned at the nonstop video games, the visits with family help me to feel less responsible. I realize that my kids are part of something larger than me. And that gives me the freedom to say to myself, I’m not good at that. It’s okay.

Hiring someone to clean the house
Burnout is not a result of too many hours of work. Burnout comes from too many hours of work that you don’t like. So, if you enjoy taking care of the garden, then you don’t get burnt out doing it. If you don’t like cleaning legos up off the floor, then you will feel burnout after just a few hours.

So instead of feeling burnt out, think about what are the tasks that are particularly draining for you, and get rid of the worst one. If you can’t hire someone to do it, you could let it go, or let a spouse do it, or make the kids do it. (Though something would have to be really really loathsome for me to pick, instead, to have a fight with the kids about them doing it.)

Also, don’t assume that just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean someone else won’t like it. Detail-oriented people like paying bills, outgoing types like managing the social calendar, logistics geniuses like planning trips. I don’t like any of those things, but I like figuring out how my husband and I can both stay home and run our own businesses and still have a long-term plan for keeping a roof over our heads. Know your strengths and focus on that for homeschooling.

Inspiring myself
I cut out lots of stuff from magazines and put them on my wall. When I was working a bazillion hours a week I had a high-end nanny who always worried that I was raising my kids to be crazy. “You are too old to put torn out magazine pages on a wall.”

So I hid them in my bedroom. For a while. But then I missed them. So they are back on our walls. And they make me happy. They remind me all the new things I’m seeing and thinking about.

The picture up top is an ad for paint that I tore out of a magazine. I liked that one for the colors. I didn’t realize that there is a palette that we are familiar with for technicolor films. I realized those colors instinctively made me think of things that are old and special.

I was surprised how sensual Judy Garland can be if you take the Wizard of Oz out of context. And I think, maybe I will be ok, even though I have myself out of context homeschooling.


9 replies
  1. Heather Sanders
    Heather Sanders says:

    I have a cook and a housecleaner. I don’t have to nag to get these things because the trade-off is I pay a monthly cell phone bill. When they decide they don’t want to cook their allotted meals or clean on the agreed upon schedule, they have to pay me cash from their jobs they work outside our home. And since they want their cash, they keep their complaints to themselves.

    Jeff has a similar arrangement with our 10 year old son regarding mowing our never-ending lawn, but that’s not an area I have to manage, so I rarely think about it. Also, he doesn’t have a phone so their arrangement is a bit different – it involves LEGOs.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Heather, you make me think a lot about how much I ask of my kids. I am never sure if I am asking too much (because they whine) or too little (because so much research says that kids who help around the house are happier as adults.)

      We live in a community (farming) where the amount of work that kids do encroaches on their ability to learn and grow. They are told and over again that how hard they work defines how much they are valued. I’m sure this is wrong — thinking time is totally undervalued. New ideas are undervalued.

      In the minds of people in my community, I’m pretty sure my kids are spoiled slackers. I can’t figure out what feels right in my mind. Your comment, Heather, gives me some ideas.


      • Jrw
        Jrw says:

        I just can’t make peace with the idea of turning helping with the house into an economic agreement. So much of life is that anyway, it seems like the one area where we can say as a family, “We help each other because it’s the right thing to do and we care about each other, not because we get something tangible out of it.” As you say, Penelope, it seems like the happiness research points to the idea that rewards/punishments aren’t the way to go. Would love to read more about your thoughts on this!

  2. Kim
    Kim says:

    I also cut out magazines but I have them in a file folder. I would like them on my walls but my walls are also my bussiness, preschool. I wonder of my preschooler would think it was neat. Now I am going to have to rethink that…
    My mom home schooled me so I have her in my court as well as my husband. My brother sent his kids to public school this year said it was the worst mistake EVER. He will be putting them back in private school (claims he can home school).

  3. mh
    mh says:

    Your kids are going to be fine.

    Think back.

    Remember — try to remember — how you actually spent your time in the classroom.

    Notebook pages filled with doodles, song lyrics, notes to friends, practice 3-D lettering, practice graffiti lettering, arrows pointing up (No! That means penis!), arrows pointing down (No! That means suicidal tendencies!), swirly arabesque, hotwheel dragsters with flames, see-through cubes with one side shaded to practice optical illusions, obsessing over whose friendship pins/barettes/bracelets are the best, and listing potential baby names if you and whatshisname ever procreated. Worrying about who is saying what. Worrying about why that mean person calls you names. Cryptic check-a-block notes. Will you go with me? Yes/no. And vacant staring, staring… staring.

    There is a whole world of information and exploration available to children who are not subjected to compulsory schooling. There is no way your children are getting LESS out of a school day than they would in an actual school building. They live on a farm and climb trees.


    • Commenter
      Commenter says:

      mh, when you decide to keep a blog, I hope you’ll let us know. I am always entertained by your comments.

      Revisiting the sheer bulk of time-wasting that was school is shocking. This, what you’ve listed, is the benign part of school.

      Doing nothing all day at home is a clear improvement.

      • mh
        mh says:

        Yes. The truly awful thing about school is that so much tedious time-wasting is built in to the day. So much scary violence is accepted, so much disrespectfulness to the teachers is dismissed.

        But heaven forbid your child should READ A BOOK at his/her desk instead of paying attention.

  4. Louise Taylor
    Louise Taylor says:

    To help me not go nuts, my son does nature camps full time in the summer. During the school year he goes to Boys & Girls Club for 3 hours a day – that meets his social and exercise needs, and it’s all unstructured play, which we prefer. He plays soccer in the gym and plays pool, they also have arts & crafts. During those 3 hours I can work out or run errands. It’s a win/win. It’s also free in my town (but I make donations). So far the kids are nice and the environment is supervised even though kids organize themselves.

    Also, we unschool primarily. So it is low stress for me, and he’s the kind of child who learns best when he’s in the driver’s seat. I came to realize his progress would be much greater with unschooling, given his strong willed personality. Nearly everyone in my family has worked in K-20 education so they believe in formal education but fortunately they respect my decision.

  5. Natalie Lang
    Natalie Lang says:

    I don’t really like giving other homeschool parents homeschool advice, it’s kind of like trying to give first time parents advice about taking care of a baby, they just don’t want to hear it.

    However, my daughter also wants to go into a field where she will need to know math, all the way to the highest levels of math. So I give her lots of math to do now. There is a program called “teaching textbooks”, it is all done on the computer so you wouldn’t have to do any teaching. The CD program does it all for you, the planning, instruction and making sure they understand before moving on, you as the parent/teacher are hands off. I plan on moving to this program. I have only heard good things, and they don’t “teach to the test” either.

    Just a thought!!! You of course can do whatever you want :)


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