One of the parts of homeschooling that feels most risky is that the kids will miss out on opportunities school kids will have.

This question reminds me of the question, How will kids learn social skills if we homeschool? It’s one of those worries that is common to parents who don’t homeschool, and parents who do homeschool don’t ever worry about it. 

Here are three reasons you can stop worrying that your kids miss out on opportunities if you homeschool them:

1. This is not a homeschooling issue, it’s a parenting issue. We want to give our kids everything and we can’t and that’s the core pain of parenting. Kids who live in the city miss out on rural opportunities. Kids who live on a farm miss out on city opportunities. It’s a lesson that is fundamental to making choices: commitment to something inherently limits opportunities. Always. But if we don’t show that lesson to kids by committing to what we think might be best in then they will be scared to take action as adults. You don’t get to live near goats and museums.

2. The opportunities in school are in the context of forced curriculum: This is what we’re doing and this is how we’re doing it. Take it or leave it.  An opportunity is something you recognize and you pounce on. I have noticed, as an adult, that the difference between success and failure is often luck. However luck is not really luck, but rather seeking out opportunity, recognizing it, and pouncing. Most people miss it when it’s in front of them because school doesn’t teach those skills.

3. Parents wouldn’t recognize an opportunity for kids anyway. My kids find stuff I’d never notice. Like, my younger son found a friend in Cambodia to play PVP Minecraft with every Sunday morning. This is a great opportunity. I have no idea how he found it. And my older son was one of the first kids to create his own plague in the new version of Plague Inc, It’s a great opportunity to create fake biological weapons based on real science that other kids play with. I’d have never seen the opportunity for him in a million years.

The real reason we don’t trust kids to pick what they want to do is that our culture distorts the language of opportunity. We lock kids up in school, limit the types of learning they can do, and then we call that “exposing them to diverse opportunities” so we start to wonder if free range kids at home are lacking opportunities.

To make sure your kids don’t miss opportunities as homeschoolers, you don’t have to do anything except take back the language of learning from the people who use it to crush our confidence.

35 replies
  1. KT
    KT says:

    I love this. Claiming homeschooled kids miss opportunities is as insidious as claiming they don’t socialize. In my experience, because homeschooled kids have more unstructured time, they also have more time for opportunities. It’s hard to find opportunities such as you describe when one is chained to a desk inside for eight hours a day.

    • Commenter
      Commenter says:

      Funny… I was just thinking the opportunities cited are very much the sort one might find if one were chained to a desk for eight hours.

      I guess it’s the democratization of the internet – it doesn’t matter whether your body is in a city or in the country, video games are the same everywhere.

  2. Bethy
    Bethy says:

    I have been reading your blog for over a year now but haven’t felt brave enough to comment. Your recent posts on self-directed learning and now this has really opened my eyes to what we can do with my daughter. She is very independent and takes charge of her environments in seeking what she wants to learn. I have to remember that every time I inadvertently trap her in a learning box.
    Thank you Penelope!

  3. Rosemary Beam De Azcona
    Rosemary Beam De Azcona says:

    I love this, but I’m looking for the rest. Is there a second page? Are there three reasons or five? Either way, good stuff.

  4. gt
    gt says:

    Homeschooling means “you, the parent are now fully responsible” you can no longer go about your life thinking “my child is getting all they need” because school is so amazing. If you’re rural, you try to show them the cities and vice versa. If I compared our homeschooling community here, they are much more likely to go to visit the big city than all the rural families who send their kids to school, thinking they are getting the education they need.
    I think because it’s top of mind that no one else will give our kids what they need, we are much more prone to be concerned and give them so much more by design.

  5. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    Will my kids miss out on opportunities if I send them to school? I think that is the better question.

    It is nice being out in the world taking advantage of what life has to offer now instead of sitting in classrooms reading about stuff.

  6. jessica
    jessica says:

    Yes, your kid will miss out on opportunities by not going to school. Such as:

    A) being bullied with little outside help, I mean how is a kid to learn to take care of themselves in hard times?
    B) to sick to everyone else’s timeline. We don’t need the kid to go off and start achieving things they’re clearly ready to now do we?
    C) 30 minute recess. How will they learn how to work hard and play hard unless we limit play to nothing and show them how much it is worth?
    D) junk lunches. How else will we keep Big Food in business if we don’t keep the unknowing kids trained to be addicted?
    E) to speak when spoken to, but not the other way around. If they don’t know they’re place in the world, school will sort that out pretty quickly.

  7. Sarah Pierzchala
    Sarah Pierzchala says:

    Ha!

    I ‘d just like to brag that we have a quarter of an acre in town, where we have goats and chickens, yet are about 8 miles from the city’s science and art museums….

    Otherwise, I agree with this great post!

  8. Me
    Me says:

    My kids go to what is considered to be an excellent school. I have a lot of problems with it – I don’t like the approach to some of the academic subjects – and have toyed with the idea of homeschooling.

    The reason I haven’t is because of one specific opportunity that this school gives them that I would never be able to replicate at home: public speaking. There is a big emphasis on presentation skills. I didn’t have this in my school growing up and I dread speaking in front of a group; my kids are now adept at it.

    There is something about speaking before your entire class (and sometimes the the entire school) that pulls your best preparation, and best performance, out of you. I can’t give this to them at home. If I were homeschooling them, it wouldn’t even occur to me that this was a skill I should be cultivating.

    Whether you think this one skill is worth the trade-offs of having kids in school all day is a question of judgment. My feeling is that I can make up for the deficiencies in the curriculum after school, on weekends, and during breaks (my kids don’t watch TV, play video games, or have cell phones, which opens up some free time for this). But I do think that being able to present one’s ideas in a convincing way to an audience is of paramount importance, not only in a career, but in many situations that arise in life.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      Hi Me,

      I just wanted to share with you how my unschooled children engage in public speaking. They take professional acting classes every week for two hours with about 10-15 kids within a five year age range. They learn improv which is a huge skill for public speaking. Confidence boosting exercises. Collaboration while working on scenes, the give and take involved. On-camera work. Audition technique. There is a whole curriculum that gets covered and it is also fun.

      That is just one way you can still have your child participate in public speaking, but really there are many other ways and your child can spend as much time as they want working on public speaking while being homeschooled.

      I look to my community for things that I cannot help directly. Maybe your community has something as well? Like you, I agree on the importance of being able to speak in a convincing manner to whomever your audience may be.

      • jessica
        jessica says:

        I’d have to agree with this.

        My husband sees a lot of interviewees with bright minds. They don’t get the jobs because they crash and burn during the presentations. Literally holding flash cards, reading off pages, fidgeting, and talking quietly. Granted the skill set has to be pretty high for the jobs anyway and finding some candidates that have all the cards is like a finding needles in a haystack, but it never fails that the one thing that holds most back is the lack of presence and poise when presenting and speaking in front of a group. Most think they are great presenters too!

        My older son is such an E that most people ask me if he’ll run for office one day. Improv might be a great place for him.

        Public speaking is an interesting concern I hadn’t really thought about. Wouldn’t the parent seek out more opportunities in this area regardless of if the the kids were in school? If there is something we think we should be doing, we find ways to do it. Homeschoolers are generally not home watching paint dry. We’re out and about meeting people, doing things, and living life :)

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

          Your son sounds so cute! I bet he would love an improv class, and I have a hunch that NYC would have some classes…;)

          I have heard some interesting interview stories from my husband. He is in a different industry though, so he gets to be more flexible with presentation since engineers just need to show competence, and that they will fit in to the group well, as well as how much hand holding they will need before they start to make an impact. If you are both competent and an excellent speaker you move up quicker, at least that is what I have seen happen.

    • Linda
      Linda says:

      It’s great that your children now have this skill! Now you can move on to other opportunities–possibly at home!

    • Brynn
      Brynn says:

      My homeschool son speaks regionally about climate change. He has so many public speaking engagements that we cannot place him in public school – he would not meet the attendance requirement because of his other obligations. Over the last two years he has spoken in front of the state legislature, in front of the governor, dinner with the governor of a different state, hosting rallies of between 500-1000 people, in conference he organizes, for his non profit he started, for donations to the non profit, as federal testimony in over a dozen NEPA hearings, etc. I guarantee you that the public speaking your kids are doing at school is absolutely nothing like public speaking in the real world. I say this as someone who was in oratory, debate, and a public speaking kid in public school. Real world speaking is nothing like it and requires completely different skill sets. Yet again, this is one of those things schools tell you doesn’t exist in the real world and it is a lie.

        • Brynn
          Brynn says:

          He decided to show up to a local National Environmental Policy hearing and asked to speak. These happen regularly. They are in your news paper. He liked it and went to another one. When he could not find opportunities that took kids seriously outside of NEPA, he began talking to organizations about sponsoring him to become his own non profit which focuses on kids getting a voice. When the first couple were patronizing, he organized a rally where the focus was kids voices with the one person who took him seriously. It got major media attention. Fast forward three years and next week he has been personally asked to address the Confederate Nations of our state and has his travel expenses paid by one of the tribes.

          Opportunities exist if you just start showing up. You cannot be a bystander. You have to allow your child to possibly look stupid. School does not allow that. This is why kids who learn public speaking in school are not learning real world skills. There is no media coverage. There is nothing on the line. No one is counting on them. They crash and burn and they are just momentarily embarrassed. That is not real world. They do not have to make opportunities happen in school. It is all just given to them. That is not real world. When my son blew a major grant proposal, he lost thousands of potential dollars and major supporters. It was a very high stakes loss. Now he realizes the value of social capital. School doesn’t teach that, only life does.

    • Alicia W
      Alicia W says:

      My SHY homeschooled kids have public speaking opportunities. In fact, we just came home from a Haiku Festival based in Chicago in which all honorees read their poems in public (on a big, fancy stage at that) — and that fell into our lap because he submitted a poem on a whim (actually top prize was $100, which was the primary motivation, in all honesty – he got an honorable mention and free pizza instead). If you want to focus on public speaking, they can find opportunities to do so — lots of homeschool coops do public speaking or debate classes. There’s also theater classes, becoming museum docents or nature center guides. My upper elementary kids were asked if they wanted to help with daytime preschool classes — an adult instructor leads, but they talk to younger kids about how to care for animals, etc – that’s public speaking. When they are teens, they can do more independent presentations. Honestly, some of the best public speaking opportunities might come if you let your kids follow their interests, and then volunteer or work with an organization that allows them to present to the public about a topic they are already passionate/knowledgeable about. Totally transferable and much more real-world than most opportunities schools can provide in terms of public speaking.

      If more formal opportunities are what you are looking for, I was just looking at a national poetry recitation program/contest. No reason homeschoolers couldn’t enter that, and go through all of the intense preparation that the students go through to get to the national competition. So if you want your kids to be competent, and even gifted public speakers, they can do so if you provide some focus — and I mean some, it doesn’t have to be some all-consuming focus on your part — it doesn’t take a lot to keep public speaking (group work, performance, debate, team sports, etc – just thinking of other things homeschoolers “can’t do”) opportunities flowing unless you really literally stay at home.

  9. Beth
    Beth says:

    My children have also participated in theater for years and attended improv camp for several summers. But they have also participated in Speech and Debate. There are several national homeschool SD organizations, which give them the opportunity to speak in front of a crowd. And we do monthly presentations with our local co-op. If you look for it, there are ways to homeschool and learn public speaking.

  10. Mary G
    Mary G says:

    “You don’t get to live near goats and museums.”

    SINCE WHEN??? Most of us live near cities, if not in them. We lived in a small town about an hour west of Washington, DC for most of my daughter’s hsing years. Then we moved another 10 miles further into a rural area. We raised chickens, we rescue kitties, we attended performances at The Kennedy Center (they have a marvelous program for children!), we went to the Natural History Museum, Air and Space Museums.

    We are surrounded by farms with horses, cows, goats, chickens (probably pigs, though not nearby, thank God – they STINK!). We have gardens where we’ve grown our own food, or farmers markets for buying local.

    We’ve been to plays, ballets, Lakota Hoop Dancing, River Dance (at Wolf Trap Center for the Performing Arts).

    Then there were the BIG “field trips” that we had the luxury of time for: A trip to the UK for her 10th birthday, when she got to meet her favorite author, Ann McCaffrey. She and I stayed with a friend in Scotland and got to climb all over an old castle’s remains.

    We went to Israel for 2 weeks, visited historic sites, swam in the Mediterranean Sea, and experience their most important national holidays.

    Yes, Virginia, you CAN have it all!!!!

  11. Alicia W
    Alicia W says:

    I meant daytime preschool classes for a farming program they are in because homeschoolers are free during the day. Not an opportunity they could take on if they were in school.

  12. Alicia W
    Alicia W says:

    I guess I also wanted to say this: Yes, absolutely, your kids will miss out on SOMETHING by not going to school. But kids miss out on other things by attending school. The “missing out” thing only makes sense to me if the alternative is “nothing.” But it’s not nothing, it’s just different. Life is about choices – and as Penelope said, choices inherently narrow the possibilities. If I marry Frank, I’ll never know what it might have been like to live with Paul. If I go with the egg and toast for breakfast, I’m not also going to have the waffle (at least not and be remotely healthy). If you live on a dude ranch in Idaho, you miss out on life in Manhattan. Okay… Maybe your kids will miss out on awesome public speaking opportunities at their current school, but they are missing out on awesome public speaking (and other) opportunities while being in school. I’m not in the camp of one being necessarily better than the other. But I really no longer get the “missing out” argument. Stuff is different – yes. Some of it more challenging to do, but lots of it less challenging to do. But missing out ? Maybe, depends on if you prefer Idaho to New York. I’ve been thinking about all of the things my kids would be missing out on if they were in school — the opportunity to spend hours and hours with their toddler sister (the opportunity to be there at her birth!), time to daydream, time with their great grandparents, impromptu trips to the beach during the week, the time to go from not being able to stand up on ice skates to proficiency in forward, backwards and quick stops/pivots within 2 months to get good enough to join a youth hockey team, Chinese lessons, ceramics and metalworking before the age of 10, the chance to begin algebra at age 9… school would certainly have other experiences and some of these might even be available in some school, somewhere, but I guess, for now, we “prefer Idaho.”

  13. Cassie
    Cassie says:

    One of the reasons we decided to homeschool was to expose our kids to opportunities they would not get in school. We live on a wooded lot, in a diverse suburban town, near two smallish cities, and within two major city centers. There is almost nothing that we can’t help expose them to or that they can’t find themselves. With a world of opportunity almost literally at our feet, I find that what our district schools offer can be quite limiting.

  14. Rachael
    Rachael says:

    Thank you for this post. We are on our second year of homeschooling my 13 and 9 yr olds and I still find myself worried that they are not getting the same opportunities that they would if they were still in school. I feel guilty bc of the missed zoo field trips, daddy-daughter dances, etc. Then I finally stop and think: my children are raising chickens and ducks and turkeys, they don’t necessarily need to go to the zoo, we practically have one in our backyard. We are going to start beekeeping this next month. We take trips. They get to spend more time with grandparents and great-grandparents. They have far more and far richer experiences than they would if we were tied to public school. They have opportunites, they are just different.

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      When I first started looking into private schools for my son I sat and calculated that I could take him around the world to 12 countries in the same year with the $$ I would be spending on sit-at-a-desk schooling. I wanted him to get to know more local kids in the community who mostly went to schools (which he did, and are still friends with), but it was a great early realization that there are more exciting ways to get an education. Not that I have to fly all-over, but that I don’t need to do it the way it’s been done for the past few decades.

    • Brynn
      Brynn says:

      Actually, the letter that dad got from the school is a standard form letter that is a legal requirement if a child takes a vacation which puts them over the standard federal allotment of absences. It does not mean the dad should not take the kids on vacation, much like Penelope has discussed about the power dynamics with school running family life, but it is nothing amazing. It is one of the most standard ways that all school districts just cover their ass because they have to report truancy. I used to work in an at risk public school program and saw that letter (word for word) quite frequently.

      Such outcry is yet another version of people on the Internet posting and sharing information they only know the tiniest bit about without doing any research.

      • Anna
        Anna says:

        The reason I think it almost reads like parody, and the reason I posted it here, is that the dad gives an extensive list of what can be done outside of school, even comparing the far outweighing benefits, and still sends his kids to school. It really reads like “no contest”, yet he goes forward with school. He is one logical step away from thinking, “Hey, forget school! Look what we can do.”

        Not only that but the content of the letter from the school – especially as a form letter used for every situation – shows the imbalance, overreach, and lack of parental authority that has seems to have become normalized in some schools. I would expect a letter like this to come from a country like Germany, which as far as I know, has much less liberty when it comes to school. Federal allotments seem like nonsense to me. Since when does the government have the right to get involved with school? Education is supposed to be a check and balance to government. Otherwise you have the risk of inculcation that serves government interests (the state) rather than the other way around (liberty).

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