How to start homeschooling: See things differently

I took a bunch of photos waiting for the doctor to tell my son that he’s fine. (The kids are always fine until I don’t take them to the doctor and then they are deathly ill and I’m a bad mom. But that’s another post.) Melissa cropped the picture so that I look at it and forget that my son is leaning on me. He looks just fun and happy and I’m there to hear his laughs, but it’s not how I expected to be in the picture. This is exactly how I feel about homeschool: I’m there, and it’s fun, but it’s not at all how I expected to be in the picture.

In the beginning I thought the way to get comfortable with homeschooling was to find a way to teach geometry at the kitchen table. But I learned it’s not about curricula or planning. Because plans always change. I don’t have to be a subject expert in everything under the sun. But it took me so long to understand that homeschooling isn’t about the parents being teachers. Because it took me so long to see learning as self-directed rather than teacher-led.

The thing that really helped me to feel like homeschooling is the right path for me is when people showed me another way of looking at educational institutions that I trusted. Once I stopped protecting myself from the reality that our education system doesn’t work, I was able to see whole new ways of looking at things. Here are some examples:

Stop Penalizing Boys for Not Sitting Still at School, Jessica Lahey gives us a survey of the language we use to describe boys’ very human, primal need to move around: “ADHD, lack of focus, troublemaker, slow reader, poor listener.” All these things are the result of a boy needing to run around. Depending on the language you use, you will prop up the institution of school, or condemn it.

What Medical Education Can Learn from Homeschooling, Craig Koniver is a doctor and so is his wife, and they homeschool. He explains that the benefits of homeschooling, such as self-directed learning and one-on-one engagement, are essential skills for becoming an effective doctor. Kids don’t learn this in school, and then they go to medical school and don’t learn it there either. My favorite part of this piece is that so often people tell me “what if he wants to be a doctor?” as if homeschooling immediately makes my kids unable to make it through the rigors of that profession’s training.

Surviving a For-Profit School, Stephen S. Mills has written this article so well, and so funny, that you should read it even if you’re not interested in the topic. But Mills gives an insider view on the supposed education reform movement. So many of the reformers are actually either people invested in keeping the status quo (all kids go to school) or are people who want to change the status quo to make money. Mill’s example is the latter, and it’s amazing, really, that the public is funding places like this.

If you want to homeschool, don’t focus on the nuts and bolts of teaching at home. Allow yourself to look at common institutions in uncommon ways. Challenge yourself to do things that are logical instead of conventional. It never feels easy to do that, but it’s much easier than pretending to be a teacher. I don’t have to pretend to be a teacher. My kids just need to be with someone who loves them all day. I can be that. No matter what part of the frame I’m in.






16 replies
  1. Natalie Lang
    Natalie Lang says:

    Great post Penelope! Another great closing paragraph. I like that you asked us to challenge ourselves to do things that our logical instead of conventional.

  2. Sheela Clary
    Sheela Clary says:

    Love the wonderful rant on the for-profit school….my godson was roped into that school…Full Sail University if I am not mistaken….and he’s now unemployed and $80,000 in debt.

    The whole system from K – for profit college is like de-evolution. First there’s young children, like upright man walking proudly into school on his first day, then, by age 18 or so they’ve become gullible, passive, and lazy.

  3. Kelsey Langley
    Kelsey Langley says:

    I’m quitting my job this week to homeschool full-time (this is our second year homeschooling, but I worked last year and had a sitter who homeschooled her same-age daughter who helped us.) We began homeschooling because my daughters’ natural curiosity and child-like behavior (read: her spirit) was being squashed. Going through it, I couldn’t help but think of the movie Uncle Buck (I know, I know.) where Buck says the the principal ” I don’t think I want to know a six-year-old who isn’t a dreamer, or a sillyheart. And I sure don’t want to know one who takes their student career seriously. I don’t have a college degree. I don’t even have a job. But I know a good kid when I see one. Because they’re ALL good kids, until dried-out, brain-dead skags like you drag them down and convince them they’re no good.” It’s so true. And I realized that after less than a year of kindergarten. This post helped bolster my confidence as I begin to homeschool the way I’ve been wanting to. Thanks, P.

    I just came back from a weekend with my grandparents and aunt who are against homeschooling. I don’t get it… public education didn’t serve any of them very well, and I’m an intelligent college grad… What makes teachers more qualified than me? I sought and earned degrees in higher education too! And I know I’m a great parent- how could I need anything more? But the only thing that will convince my extended family is to compare their kids to mine when they’re a bit older. Based on our already-stellar results after only 1 year, I know they’ll eat their words someday. :)

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I love the Uncle Buck quote, too! And you perfectly capture my experience of going through the world where the craziest, most unlikely stuff looks to me like a logical, sound argument for homeschooling.


  4. Andrew M.
    Andrew M. says:


    Just came across from your other blog (didn’t even know this one existed) and am enjoying your connection to education…

    The article by Stephen Mills is really problematic…that you connect his rant (entertaining or not) to education reform really calls into question your perspectives on any sort of education questions:
    1) Horrible critical thinking skills…on Stephen’s part (“move to Orlando with my poetry degree!!!”) and yours (education reform?).
    2) I could do a similar hatchet job on just about any university, for-profit or traditional. Would require a lot more room than I want to take up on your blog. I taught for 10 years at a traditional school and have visited hundreds…there is fantastic stuff and horribly embarrassing stuff.
    3) Who works at a job like that for 4 years? With hatred and contempt and fear? Zero credibility.
    4) Why should we have any sympathy for students who go $60k into debt attending a university without a real accreditation? I didn’t realize your politics were so heavily left…maybe the government should stop people from buying cars they can’t afford, or getting drunk five nights a week in their homes.

    If you’re coming up to speed on higher ed please put a whole lot more effort into it…

    • Wellergurl
      Wellergurl says:

      WOW !!!!!!!! What a buzz kill to the 6, positive replies I just read with a smile. DAMN !!!!!! I physically felt a DROP in stomach. Nice job #7.

      • Andrew M.
        Andrew M. says:

        Not sure if you were thanking me for being a buzz kill or criticizing me…

        My comment doesn’t invalidate the overall message of the post, or homeschooling as a strategy.

        But if you’re going to wade into this world -implicitly agreeing that critical thinking, creativity etc are important to ‘education’ (small ‘e’)- then you have to walk the talk.

        Anyone who spends 4 years ‘teaching’ and working at that school has some serious issues.

        I have an MA in Creative Writing and know the situation…astounded me that people were in my program expecting to get some sort of great job with their ‘creative writing’ job. Read Penelope’s many, many grad-school-disemboweling posts on her career blog.

        In fact, I’m surprised she was so soft on Stephen…she’d have chewed him up (I think) if he’d pitched that whole sad story to her as some sort of career train wreck.

        Thanks for reading!

        • Penelope Trunk
          Penelope Trunk says:

          Andrew, if we are going to judge the quality and worthiness of an author’s writing by the quality and worthiness of the author’s choices, then there goes the western canon:

          Melville had tons of kids and refused to hold down a job to feed them. Which means children literally starved so Moby Dick could be written. Does this mean you actually graduated from a creative writing program without reading Moby Dick? Because that book just blows me away with it’s awesomeness.

          Lewis Carroll wrote Alice in Wonderland to seduce a neighborhood girl. He may or may not have been successful but certainly taints the book more than, say, working at a stupid job during the writing of the book would have tainted it.

          Hemmingway shot himself. Certainly not anything we’d want to emulate in our personal lives. So I guess you will not be reading him, either.

          Did you ever read Touched with Fire? It’s by a Harvard Psychologist who studies why there is such an huge preponderance of mental health disorders among great writers. Which makes me think that if you are rating writing by how well the author lived his life, my sense is you will have a long life of reading sub-par writers.


          • Andrew M.
            Andrew M. says:


            I appreciate that argument…and know the asshole writer thing well. Especially Melville and Hemingway.

            You’ve missed my point completely, though.

            First up, Stephen (at least in this piece) wasn’t aspiring to great literature. It was just a bloggy, essay-y, journalistic thing. He was making an argument, not trying to capture man’s inhumanity to man (or his own family).

            My focus is simply on your equating Stephen’s report from a shitty school with the entire “education reform” movement. Whether Hemingway shot himself with a 12 gauge or a Mauser has very little to do with Stephen’s story.

            Stephen, at least as portrayed in his own piece, is a sad sack. Or was. And so he worked at a shitty sad sack place that catering to sad sack students who can’t even spend 15 minutes educating themselves about accreditation and college expense. Because he’s a sad sack he undermines his own outraged take on for-profit education.

            You can’t paint the entire education space with those colors.

            I wasn’t rating his writing – it isn’t writing worth rating or talking about as a piece of writing. I was trashing your audience’s acceptance of his story as representative of for-profit education or education in general. And your acceptance of the same.

            The real indictment of education is that the traditional education system was able to produce someone as clueless as Stephen. I’m being harsh, primarily to make a point. Instead of indicting the homophobic Ted and Full Sail (or whoever), Stephen should have described his crappy parents and crappy K12 school and crappy traditional college and traditional college grad program that apparently, at no point, taught him to think critically or make decisions based on evidence.

            I know nothing of the man’s life…only what I read.

            I have no doubt he’d have been better being homeschooled, which is I guess your primary point. But pointing at his for-profit job as the tail wagging the dog. How he got there in the first place is the real evidence against traditional school.

            Similarly all these alleged unemployed 20-somethings. Didn’t anyone tell them that computer programmers get jobs? Tech companies can’t hire people fast enough and can’t find enough talent. But we have an employment problem in America?

            I look forward to the continued dialog. How do I get a little picture for my avatar?

          • David R
            David R says:

            Penelope –

            I have been reading your blog for about a year, after finding it from a few links by Instapundit. This is my first comment here, but I am not entirely new.

            I think there are some interesting points raised by Andrew M. that have been lost as the conversation devolved. So I want to jump in.

            1. I think Andrew’s underlying argument is a good one: Stephen Mills is an author with an axe to grind. Mills’ experiences at a for profit college do not seem to differ much from experiences my friends and colleagues have had teaching in (a) the public school system, (b) state colleges, (c) private (non-profit) colleges, (d) charter schools, and (e) even places offering swim lesson. All of our educational institutions are designed to make money for someone, and it will always be the marginal students who are taken advantage of. We should not single out for-profit colleges for particular scorn. And there are some that provide important skills (esp. vocational). Therefore, his piece needs to be read critically.

            2. Your lens on the world is clouded by your socialist views. This leads you from time to time to track a conventional wisdom based on those precepts, and ignore more logical conclusions.

            I would have liked to see you address those points rather than get into a pissing contest with a commentator somewhat lacking in social skills.

        • K
          K says:

          I feel like I need to leave this comment for future readers of this article/thread.
          “for profit” schools are not all like what Stephen described. Stephen was writing about a scam where it tricks people into paying 60-80k for a worthless “degree”.
          My brother went to a different “for profit” school in Florida, except his was a marine mechanic school that certified him to work on Yamaha and Mercury engines. The tuition was not outrageous, he graduated and started his own business, and now he hires other kids graduating from that same school.
          I get the sense that most readers of this blog are not in the skilled trades – meaning engine repair, electric, carpentry, etc.
          I went the 4-year college route, but it has not escaped my notice that everyone around me with technical skills is still very employed, while everyone with college degrees is struggling to find good work.
          SO in our zeal to trash the “education reform” movement and associate it with scammy for profit schools, we need to use those critical thinking skills when assessing a certificate program and not throw out the good ones with the bad.

  5. Tawni
    Tawni says:

    I loved your comment, Penelope, that you don’t have to pretend to be a teacher. After 20 years of mixed schooling and unschooling with three kids, I’ve absolutely come to see that kids learn what they want and need when they need it; I’m not “teaching” them per se, just talking with them, helping them find and access resources, and “teaching” them only as much as any parent teaches their kids by living daily life. My youngest, who’s always unschooled, is far more “academically advanced”, but more important to me, she still has excitement and curiosity for learning, and when she needs to learn something new–no matter what it is–she knows how to find and absorb the information.

  6. A'ya
    A'ya says:

    Penelope, I absolutely love your blog! You seem like a great Mother! Your child/ren are lucky to have you as a mother! I am inspired by your mindset and hope to be more like you in a sense that you have a strong heart! God bless you! Your blog is a real help to me in my journey as a new mother! Thank you!

  7. Courtney Surigao
    Courtney Surigao says:

    gosh I am glad you exist. and I am extra thrilled you share your perspective with the rest of us. and I am hysterically glad I found you.
    thanks a million.

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