What it feels like to homeschool

I am a person who prefers to take social and political action by just earning more money and donating it to people who take social and political action more directly. I’m way more comfortable just earning money.

But as a homeschooler, I’m out of my comfort zone as an indirect activist every time I go to the grocery store.

“Hey, your kids don’t have school today?”

“No, we homeschool.”

“Well, don’t they have homeschool today?”

“Yes. This is it. Buying milk.”

The reason I can do this is that it feels like I’m so lucky. I feel like this fox. He is in the National Portrait Gallery in London. He got caught on the surveillance camera. The photos capture the fox totally out of his element, yet somehow, the photos are also gorgeous, like maybe he is okay there anyway, just sort of showing us a new view of foxes and portraits.

Some days I feel like the world is a gallery, and I’m showing the kids how to march through paintings in a different way. Some days I feel like I’m being watched by everyone. Some days I feel like it’s so incredibly clear that school does not teach what kids need to learn that people sending their kids to school are the ones who should wake up nervous and uncomfortable, not me.

But I like that no matter how I see the fox in these pictures, I always think he’s incredible for having found his way, and letting other people see.


35 replies
  1. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    I love the metaphor. It’s funny how so many of my facebook friends are rejoicing that (for some) school is back in session. They’re just tired of entertaining their kids and want their free babysitting back. I envy them sometimes, but honestly, I just want the neighbor kids back in school, too, because they’re so loud all summer long, all hours of the day and night.
    Sarah M

    • Commenter
      Commenter says:

      We’re looking forward to the kids being back in school again too. Other people’s kids, that is. There’s a new playground we want to check out, but I won’t do it until school starts.

    • Caroline
      Caroline says:

      So true Sarah. As I was picking up a friend’s kids yesterday, she said (in front of them) “I can’t wait for them to go back to school.” I am also seeing teacher friends on Facebook post the reverse: “Today begins my last week of freedom even though I have already been preparing for the next 180 days to come. I’m going to relax, be lazy, wear my shorts and t-shirts, eat lunch OUT every day, and savor no alarm clock for the next seven days. Summer, you fly by way too fast! Sigh…”

      Parents can’t wait to get rid of them and the teachers dread getting them. Facebook posts like these remind me of some of the reasons why we left school and do not miss it.

  2. Sarah Pierzchala
    Sarah Pierzchala says:

    I love those photos!

    I like to tell my kids that as a homeschooling family, we are like a wizarding family from the Harry Potter books, the rest of society are muggles….!

  3. mh
    mh says:

    We are so glad that the schools are back in session. It’s sad for the school kids, but we sort of gloat as we wave bye-bye to the buses.

    Now the pool has only one or two homeschool families all day. All those typical school-kids are plaguing their teachers, instead of the lifeguards. And the homeschoolers get along beautifully.

    Also, this means the pool is free for the swim team kids to work on their skills all day, then show off at swim team with the after-school crowd.

    They spend all day at the pool, what can I say? It’s homeschooling.

    The character of a third grader is better shaped at the pool than in a desk.

  4. mh
    mh says:

    By the way, that fox? He should StayWithTheGroup.

    Have you ever been at a museum or gallery with your homeschooled kids when the school field trip comes through? Poor things.

    • Catherine Thiemann
      Catherine Thiemann says:

      Yes! When my son and I encounter those field trips, I can see the relief on his face that he’s not part of the group. He can actually touch things without a teacher barking at him to get back in line. And who can appreciate a great museum or outdoor space if they’re busy completing a worksheet on a clipboard?

      • Kate
        Kate says:

        I am home schooling my 10yo daughter now and this illustrates exactly why she is going to choose to go back to school next year. She is an insatiable extrovert and thrives in large groups. We went as home schoolers to a museum out of town. She ended up following a large school group around so that she could listen to the guide and teacher and observe the other kids’ social interactions. She was also dying to have her own clipboard and fill out a packet!

        • Jenifa
          Jenifa says:

          This is so interesting! It may point to a huge benefit of homeschooling during elementary years that may taper off as they get older. Another way of saying that is school does the most damage to younger children.

          My niece was homeschooled and now that she is in public school as a middle-schooler, she still has a wonderful perspective on school and how much authority a teacher should have over her education. I would say she is going to be a great public school graduate, but only because of the terrific base she got as an elementary years homeschooler.

  5. karelys
    karelys says:

    As my son learns to walk and talk and do other things I get nervous for homeschooling. I am nervous that he won’t learn how to read and do math, etc.

    Of course it’s a ridiculous anxiety. He will.

    I am just nervous that I he won’t. And that school is better than homeschooling at our house. Or that homeschooling won’t be better than school and I made our lives miserable (free childcare!) for nothing much.

    But I just keep pushing forward. Making myself used to the idea of homeschooling. So when the time comes it won’t be so harsh.

    • Zellie
      Zellie says:

      The time is now. You are doing it now. If your lives are miserable now, homeschooling won’t help. If you are enjoying and respecting each other, you won’t want free child care.

    • Rea
      Rea says:

      I feel the same way and have felt the same way since my oldest was born. I’ve gone back and forth a few times as well, but kept coming back to the original conclusion that homeschooling is probably the best option for our oldest. But I think that homeschooling is hitting a turning point. More people have heard of it these days or know someone who is going to homeschool, so when they hear you’re planning on homeschooling, you get less of a “OMG FREAKS” reaction and more “oh, my neighbors homeschool. It’s great because the oldest is a teen and can babysit during the day because she finishes her school work by noon!” That’s all pretty reassuring I think. I hope!

  6. Erica
    Erica says:

    Penelope –

    I love reading your blog. It’s really helped me change the way we think about homeschooling. We started last year for the simple reason of customizing my son’s education, but your insights have really helped form the way we think about learning.

    I would love your/your reader’s feedback on one thing that is always nagging me. We live in a school district that is consistently ranked in the top 10 (out of 600+) in our state. For some reason, I can’t get over the guilt of not sending my son to this “awesome” public school. Some of this guilt is from me, some from neighbors, etc. Any thoughts on this type of situation?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I’ll start with the feedback – I hope others will follow.

      Here’s a peek into my life at a public high school that is consistently in the top 20 in the country. It was extremely high pressure. To graduate in the top 15% of a class of 1200 I spent literally 100% of my time doing homework for four years. I had nothing going on in my life that wasn’t schoolwork. People tell me that the school is even more competitive now.

      After the first year of college, all I did was independent studies because I was so exhausted from being told what to learn. All I wanted was for people to leave me alone so I could read what I wanted.

      My take on this: the most dangerous of school might be the schools where the parents fight hard to get into the district so their kids can go to the best school. The focus on performance and competition is destructive to the bright minds that convene there.


    • mh
      mh says:

      Among African-Americans, there is even more pressure to keep kids in the schools rather than homeschool. I think there are two (probably more) reasons for this:

      1) the right to an integrated education was so desperately important to the Civil Rights era
      2) so many black middle-class jobs are in the public schools

      There is tremendous peer pressure NOT to homeschool black and bi-racial kids. And yet… it happens more and more.

      • Judy S
        Judy S says:

        mh – I am African American and I have never heard anyone say that we shouldn’t homeschool because we should support public education (although I have read it online). To the contrary, it’s pretty much unanimous that public education has and continues to fail Black students, particularly Black boys.

        I think Black families don’t homeschool because of economics. Since one parent typically takes on the role of homeschooling the kids, I have found that even among Black families who have attained a high SES, the thought of giving up one income is out of the question. No one among my aquaintances can even fathom why or how I could leave my six figure job in order to HS my kids. And sell my McMansion to move into a starter house. Being the first generation post Civil Rights era and the first generation where having my type of education and career was even possible for Blacks, I get much more pressure for “having walked away from it all.”

        I also think that deciding to homeschool takes a certain amount of thinking outside the box and traditionally Black people have simply not had the luxury of being able to think outside the box and have that thinking be acceptable or rewarded among peers as well as society. Things are changing though.

        So, I think like many people have commented on penelope’s blog, homeschooling really boils down to economics. As for the school supply thing, I wonder why you have to have ALL that stuff at the beginning of the year and why you can’t just buy it when you need it like you do at home. Honestly,do you need 300 pages of notebook paper on day one?

        • Lisa S.
          Lisa S. says:

          Judy, your post is right on target regarding African American parents and homeschooling. Two working parents is the norm in most middle class AA families and homeschooling, if it is even considered, definitely becomes an economic issue As a child it was instilled in me that I was going to do well in school so that I can go to college and get a good job. Leaving your “good job” to stay at home in order to homeschool your kids can be down right scandalous! In most cases, when middle class AA parents realize that the local public school is failing their kids they often do one of two things: move to the suburbs to find a “better” school district or they struggle to pay the expensive tuition of private school.

          This year I am homeschooling my kids because my husband’s work relocated us to one of the most expensive parts of the country. Housing costs are ridiculous here and so I decided to take some of Penelope’s advice. I will homeschool so that we can live in an affordable house that is not the size of a small apartment and we won’t have to worry about the school district or test scores or any of those things that drive people to buy tiny houses in so-called great neighborhoods. This decision will truly hurt our bottom line because I still have student loans that will take longer to pay off but then we all make these economic trade -offs for what we hope is a better life for our kids.

    • Mark W.
      Mark W. says:

      If you “live in a school district that is consistently ranked in the top 10 (out of 600+) in our state”, I’m thinking you live in a school district with relatively high school taxes. You’re subsidizing them and they’re giving you grief and guilt. So why do you live there? Buy a nice place in the “country” that has lower taxes in a location you find pleasant and enjoy. Now, having said all this, it may not apply at all to your situation but that’s what comes to my mind since you’re already homeschooling.

    • Jenifa
      Jenifa says:

      I think parents in good school districts know that the whole game of keeping up their status as a top school requires all parents to get in line. If some good, engaged parents such as yourself take your smart, good-test taking kids out of the school, whew! enough parents do that and the test scores could start going down and before you know it, you have a bunch of people who paid a lot of money to live in a neighborhood with a ‘good’ school that isn’t good anymore. It may still have the same teachers, curriculum, and opportunities, but the test scores don’t support top school status. You may now be messing with the value of their home.

    • Karen
      Karen says:

      The answer is in your own comment – a customized education for your child. No school can provide that, no matter how highly ranked it is. I know how hard it is to have confidence in your decision to homeschool, especially when it seems like everyone you know is questioning your sanity. It will get easier as you watch your child thrive – at least that’s how it worked for me.

  7. Bec Oakley
    Bec Oakley says:

    Oh I love that fox so much. I’ve been sitting here for a long time just imagining what he’s doing in there every night when everyone’s gone home. The adventures that he’s having.

    I hate that homeschool feels like that… that we’re having these great, secret adventures when everyone else has left for the day. Like we’re doing something we’re not supposed to be doing.

    • Cristen H
      Cristen H says:

      As an ISTJ, one of the most challenging and exhausting aspects to unschooling is that it makes me a reluctant activist. It’s the same with full-term breast-feeding. I do not want to make statements with my actions, with our lifestyle. I just want to live peacefully with what feels to me are our families’ best choices. I accept that living outside the mainstream is my choice. Still, the camera on the fox feels like a search helicopter, yet I’ve done no crime.

  8. Kathleen Dowd
    Kathleen Dowd says:

    I am in a graduate program in Special Education. I have worked in both public and private schools. I am seeking teaching licensure but I don’t know what I’ll do with my degree when I graduate next May. While I see much that could be improved in our public schools, I also feel some obligation to stay and help make change where I can. My daughter has decided to homeschool my 5 year old grandson this year and I am excited about sharing this experience with them. I don’t know what the answer is for the state of education in this country. I will try to follow my heart as I figure out how I can serve children best and also enjoy my work in a setting that I can feel good about. I am also a holistic practitioner ( Reiki, Flower Essence therapy and homeopathy- specializing in children’s learning and behavioral issues) so I have a wholistic perspective on special needs students. I can only hope to be led to the right job when the time comes.

  9. Judy
    Judy says:

    I am a little familiar with the town near where Penelope lives and I bet seeing kids in the store during the school day is definitely something that people talk about there!

  10. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    Hmmm…I am actually a public school parent who has homeschooled previously and is considering returning to it. I was disheartened to see so many negative comments from homeschoolers about school starting and the “relief that those public school kids are going back to plague their teachers” and the general sentiment of “now we can have peace and quiet here!” I understand the freedom that homeschooling brings, however I didn’t expect to see some rather snarky attitudes here. Just a gentle reminder that public school parents love their children just as much as you do. And for that matter, children who go to school are equally precious and not a “plague.” Ok, rant over. I really do appreciate homeschooling and look forward to exploring what that could look like for our family. All the best to you amazing families. ☺

    • Splashman
      Splashman says:

      Sarah wrote: “Just a gentle reminder that public school parents love their children just as much as you do.”

      That’s a strawman. And you are speculating as well.

      Will you agree that a comment such as “I’m so glad my kids are back in school” indicates a less-optimal parent/child relationship than a comment such as “I really enjoy being around my kids all day”?

      • Sam
        Sam says:

        Splashman- sometimes a little bit of distance makes the heart grow fonder. I don’t have any kids, but I find this to be true with my parents at the very least. ;)

    • Yasmin
      Yasmin says:

      I totally agree Sarah. We have just started homeschooling our two boys this week and I don’t think its fair or right to judge anyone who sends their child to school. All my friends send their children to school and they adore their kids and would do anything for them. Not everyone can do it, not everyone feels confident or brave enough to do it. Everyone’s situation is different but we must support and not exclude or single out. Indeed, we are just starting out but we know it’s the right thing for our children. Despite the challenges it will bring we want to do it for the reasons we have in our boys lives. Let’s not alienate ourselves. These are precious children we are talking about here who all deserve the best start in life whether that’s through ‘the system’ or through their parents. Good luck to everyone, Yasmin

  11. Erica
    Erica says:

    Penelope and other posters –

    Thank you so much for all your replies. They, once again, gave me a lot to think about as well as more confidence in our choice.

    Your comment – ” I spent literally 100% of my time doing homework for four years. I had nothing going on in my life that wasn’t schoolwork.” – rang so true. I was reading an article on some of the top students in the district and over and over, they talked about the huge amount of time they spent studying. I know I don’t want that for my own child.

    As for the comment on moving.. logically that makes sense, but we love our neighborhood, neighbors, and community.

    Thanks for this great site and all your insights!

  12. Sarah M
    Sarah M says:


    I didn’t mean my comment as a snarky one, it’s just honest. I live in an apartment complex (not my choice, but as a 12-18 month pit stop in this particular area) where there are around 20 neighborhood kids. I really like all these kids, my kids play with them *hours* each day, and I even spend some time–perhaps a few hours a week–outside talking to them and hanging out while I’m watching my kids. However, the noise level is out of control in the summer from about 10am until 10pm, talking, smoking, yelling, etc. and it’s just too much for me, since I’m an extreme introvert. To me, this is the same sort of thing as saying, “I can’t wait until my in-laws are done with their visit” if their behavior or presence is a stress factor, even if you love them.

    I also don’t think anyone would argue that public/traditionally schooled kids are less precious in the sight of their parents. I didn’t see the quoted “plague” anywhere, but it was inferred in Caroline’s comment that a public school teacher was dreading going back to school and having the kids on a social media site, not a parent of a homeschooled kid.

    Sarah M

  13. Caroline
    Caroline says:

    I don’t just see school parents on social media counting down, they tell me consistently to my face and in front of their children how they can’t wait for school to start back. “My kids are driving me up the wall” “I can’t wait until they go back” etc.

    In fact, last night a mother said it jokingly in front of her 12 year old and the child was visibly hurt. There are a significant number of parents who spend their children’s lives finding ways to get their children out of their presence. It is sickening and sad.

    There are indeed school parents who love their children and don’t do what I mentioned above. I didn’t intend snarkiness, I am upset that it is so normal, seemingly acceptable, and even humorous to gleefully countdown the days until school starts back.

    • Karen
      Karen says:

      Long before I had kids, I had a job waiting tables and one of the women I worked with had 3 kids in public school. We were working the dinner shift on what happened to be the first day of school and I jokingly commented that she must have had an awesome day all to herself and was stunned when she said that no, she hated sending her kids to school because she missed them so much when they we’re gone all day. I had never, ever heard a parent say this before. The prevailing culture insists that children are so annoying that their own parents can’t stand to be around them. It’s seriously messed up.

Comments are closed.