There’s not just one way to homeschool

I’ve heard of the King of Prussia Mall throughout my life. It’s like Mall of America. It’s one of those malls that is so big it comes up in casual consumer conversations. But our first trip there was different than all other mall visits because the boys are old enough that I can let them to go look around by themselves.

Their approach to shopping is totally different: my younger son will buy something at any store. He loves interacting with people, and he loves clothes, so the act of getting to talk to people while you get something new to wear is irresistible to him.

My older son brings his iPad and his iPhone and his DS and his laptop and all of the chargers. Just in case. Because what if we get locked in the mall forever?

When I write about homeschooling, it’s like writing about going to the mall. There is not one way to go shop just like there’s not just one way to homeschool. It’s a totally different experience for each kid. So when you ask someone how they homeschool, a better question is how do you homeschool this particular kid.

When people say they are unschooling, they are talking about the parent’s attitude toward school. It has nothing to do with what the kids want or don’t want. I know, because I used to be an adamant about unschooling and now I let my son’s AP biology tutor teach to the test.

Paul McCarthy talks about how he and Linda homeschooled their kids in a hippie commune. And Kate Middleton kept her kids at home as long as the Queen would let her, declaring herself capable of schooling the future King at home. In both cases, homeschooling is not so much a curriculum choice as a lifestyle choice. Paul wanted to make music and have a family at the same time. Kate wants to raise normal kids instead of socially stunted British royalty.

The same is true of parents who use travel as school. Sure, you can teach your kids on the road, but that’s not their choice, it’s yours. And eventually the kids will have an interest that precludes travel, and you’ll have one of those moments when you have to choose between the kid’s pursuits or the parents’ pursuits.

I have a feeling that homeschooling has a path: It starts out as a vision the parents have for how they want to live their life. And it morphs into what the kids want to do with their lives. So it turns out that homeschooling is really a constant give and take among family members to get what they want without having to go at it alone.

31 replies
  1. Alyson
    Alyson says:

    I’m one of those parents that uses travel as a big part of my kids’ education. We’ve been on the road full time 4 years now and they’re great kids, very knowledgeable. But that’s a small part of their education story. They will never get a rounded education just through the act of travelling, so much more goes into it and I think a lot of parents don’t see that. But yes, 2 kids, 2 boys, totally different, rather like your pair actually.

  2. Jim Grey
    Jim Grey says:

    It’s also a bold statement about values: that the family values its members figuring out what they want, and supporting them in getting it.

  3. Dana
    Dana says:

    Interesting. This is something I completely missed but I’m glad you brought this up. It seems that when it comes to homeschooling the key is to stay flexible and be open minded.

  4. LoneStarMama
    LoneStarMama says:

    Wow! You’re incredibly rude. You also make a lot of assumptions. You know what they say about assuming…….

    • Cáit
      Cáit says:

      Please. This is a litany of compliments. “You’re so high class. You do so much for your kids..”

      • Lana
        Lana says:

        Penelope thinks she’s middle class. What does she do for them? Buy tutors. Let them play games the rest of the time. Blog on her neuroses

  5. Lana
    Lana says:

    I’m calling it as I see it like Penelope says she does. What assumptions? I read what she writes. She’s not private. And I wish someone who Homeschools their kids themselves actually did blog. As a parent of an autistic child who requires huge support from me I resent Penelope siphoning school resources. If her son is autistic and just being less social or more sensory is not autistic then he’s so high functioning it’s not worth labeling. Do you even know what autism is? It’s not a lady like Penelope. Not even at the high functioning end. I changed specialties but I trained in psychiatry. She’s bipolar with bpd. She self-diagnosed as having Asperger. That was removed from dsm rightly. I think many kids are labeled simply for not fitting into school. Ten percent of boys have a significant speech delay. Now we label 1-2% as autistic. Moms like Penelope with money steal money from taxpayers and it’s less money for kids who really need it. I agree with her schools aren’t good with autistic kids or any kids who don’t fit in. But how is hiring full time nannies and tutors brave? Because you’re insecure and did it anyway. Parents who actually homeschool their kids are my heros. She’s gross. She’s a slave to articles on how to live. This research shows that research shows. Penelope maybe you look for research to back your ideology. I think her kids will be successful not hugely but like her. Iq and skills are largely heritable. She’s bright her kids are. Her husband she said was very musical so now one or both kids are. Duh. I don’t think you’re a homeschooler when you hire others to do it. I’m entitled to that opinion.

    • Cáit
      Cáit says:

      I just meant that I thought there was zero percent chance that she was really hurt by anything you wrote, just a factual observation. If I wanted to I could probably make a list of things from her blog you could critique that would really hurt. No one is sensfivd about being called rich. ( and I think she more is good at creatively generating cash and blowing it than she is ‘rich’)
      My personal least favorite advice from this blog isnt the unchooling/screen time. Those are interesting viewpoints. It’s the ‘economic diversity is as valid as international/intercultural diversity.’ Ewe that’s what’s gross about America. The class diversity, bail bond places, people on the bus talking about court ordered urine analyses. Ewe no thanks sign me up for Switzerland.
      My most favorite idea is that most public school teachers are two personalities types. Who will never be your boss in the real world. Yes!! I have had hours of fun reminiscing with my sister on that point!
      Also I liked the point about people who love to read needing to get over themselves.
      I don’t think people read this blog thinking the author is completely realistic in her self assessment. It’s like the literary device of the compelling novel with the unreliable narrator.

    • Bostonian
      Bostonian says:

      Well, that was fun.

      So what’s homeschooling like for you, Lana? Do you have just one kid, or more?

    • Lana
      Lana says:

      I see. So just doing school at home even if it’s tutors and nannies is homeschooling. Sorry. M bad. I gave up a career to homeschool. My son really does need a special approach. She’s a fraud. The worst was the I want to die post for attention. Who does that?

      • Bostonian
        Bostonian says:

        PT doesn’t homeschool like I did (or would again). I never hired a tutor, and my son usually had only one instrumental lesson a week (plus theory, orchestra(s), chamber music…).

        My son is also not autistic. I imagine that must be more difficult than homeschooling a boy who is merely unusual, like mine.

        Her system doesn’t look familiar to me, and I don’t get it either. I do, however, believe that she is doing the best she can for her boys.

        I frequently disagree with PT, and I admit to feeling annoyed at times. But I don’t imagine my annoyance is as interesting to others as other things I might express.

        I’d be more interested to hear about what has worked for you than in another disquisition about what a fake PT is.

        So what’s your homeschooling like? Does your son have any particular fascinations?

  6. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    It’s interesting that you mention how a parents view of school impacts how they homeschool. To me unschooling is allowing kids the freedom to explore and discover where their aptitude lies and then coming up with a game plan to help them achieve their goals. My oldest has very specific things she wants to do, and they all require going to college. Whether she goes to her preferred school (MIT) or a back up school they still require academic achievement of some sort, whether through tests or classes.

    My middle child wants to be an actor, so her education looks very performance arts based. My youngest may end up going to school. Three kids with three very different educations based on who they are, what they want in life, their aptitudes and abilities, and I’m teaching actually very little in the way of academics (I outsource that), but they are learning so much from me still.

    My apologies to the above ranter who thinks hiring tutors makes one not a homeschooler, but I plan to hire tutors as well, and many homeschoolers do the same. We are a community that is very different, and not all of us does 100% of the teaching, and we are flawed and make mistakes. Our lives aren’t perfect. Some of us divorce, some move across country, some do things that others will never understand. But, we are trying to do the best we can, all without having the judgmental rants from randos thrown in our faces. I don’t agree with P on everything, especially her view on girls and women in general. But everything is a conversation starter for intellectual debate, and hopefully some of my disagreements have helped others learn something.

  7. Tina
    Tina says:

    This post feels like a justification as to why it’s ok that you left the farmer and why he should abandon his life and the farm to be with you.

    While I agree that at different times one person’s needs take priority over another’s, there is a difference between need and want. It seems like you are prioritizing the kids wants and your wants over the needs of the farmer.

  8. jessica
    jessica says:

    Honeschooling gives kids the ability to be more proactive, in terms of time and choice. I dont think it matters tutors versus curriculum books, lessons versus self taught, etc. Every family is going to have different resources and objectives.
    If the focus is the kids and their best interests, that’s all that matters to me.

  9. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:


    Here are some clarifiers for you:

    I did not say I have two autistic kids. I have two special needs kids. One has autism and one has hemifacial microsomia.

    And I have already said on this blog that I have BPD.

    The reason I never have money is I spend it on tutors and music lessons, and any middle class parent could do the same.

    And Lana, it sounds like you’re really angry at me. But maybe you would actually like me if you called me. I always answer my phone: 917.853.7772.


    • Anna
      Anna says:

      I want to call you or text you to say how much I like you. Probably a lot of others want to too. Thank you for your blog.

      • Penelope Trunk
        Penelope Trunk says:

        That’s really nice. Thank you, Anna.
        A comment that says that is the best. I love comments more than anything.


  10. Cáit
    Cáit says:

    Lana, you should totally call her. I always think that about internet arguments: what would it look like with real people attached? You probably will like each other.
    I had a huge problem once with a blogger. The ‘good man.’ I tried to gently and politely dissent, to offer his readers another perspective on his motives, because I KNEW he was a liar, con artist and his ‘good man’ ruse was just about keeping the drugs and women flowing.
    He blocked me for mildly disagreeing with him.
    So I never read him again till I saw he had been exposed and was in like a half way house and getting divorced. I wonder why the students he slept with two at a time never came forward to question his ‘good man’ status first.
    Penelope seems to me like basically a good mother and likeable. You know which mommy blogger is the real psycho? “Her bad mother”. The real fraud mom?…..well it’s a lady who is very rich.

  11. Niki
    Niki says:

    I just watched “Class Dismissed”, a documentary about homeschooling. It showcased different homeschooling methods (unschooling, Classical Conversations, out of the box curriculum etc.) One of the parents featured in the movie said that she did different things at different times for her kids while she homeschooled. It seems to me that is quite common among homeschooling families. I’ve been homeschooling now for 7 years, and our style has certainly changed over the years.

  12. michelle
    michelle says:

    Thank you for always inspiring me. Thank you for helping me reflect and accept my own homeschooling philosophy. Thank you for your complete support for women like me who are trying to figure it out the best we can.

  13. Imo
    Imo says:

    I think when people hear the word “homeschooling,” they automatically (but incorrectly) imagine a mom teaching every single last subject to their own kid. In the 1980’s maybe this was true, but most likely not because homeschoolers still found each other and formed communities. I also think the term “homeschooling” doesn’t accurately describe today’s homeschooling.
    “Homeschool,” by today’s standards, takes on a different meaning, and it means “any education outside the typical brick and mortar public school.” So, homeschooling may be religious or secular; online, private tutors, or taught by mom; child directed or parent led; traditional academic coursework or nontraditional; or any combination of the above AND (gasp!) individualized for children within the same family (crazy talk, I know!).

  14. Em
    Em says:

    My oldest is approaching kindergarten and my husband is still very opposed to homeschooling. I would like to unschool but I think we will end up sending her to a small private school with a student-led philosophy.

    I think he is concerned that if we homeschool, I will be completely focused on the kids’ education and lose myself and my own interests. Any suggestions?

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      Hi Em,

      I think perhaps your spouse may be confusing connection with your child with education obsession. FWIW I am in several groups that includes school parents, and in my opinion those parents seem way more obsessed and involved with their child’s education than I am, or any homeschooler/unschooler I know. Because we homeschool, we know exactly what kind of education our kids are receiving and it becomes a lifestyle. As far as losing your identity, it is very important to take care of yourself, and maintain your own interests for exactly the reason he stated. But I don’t think that homeschooling is a reason for that to happen, it’s a parenting thing.

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      I think it’s great that you and your husband are having a dialogue about school and education choice.

      I would suggest touring different schools together, meeting different homeschooling groups together, and encouraging him to remain open minded and discuss your decision together. It should not be an independent decision and you both should be comfortable with the choice. Also, your daughter is young and you have time to try different things and make changes.
      If it is a parenting concern, ask him why he feels that way and address that together.
      I think, though, emphasizing it is a mutual decision through your actions will encourage more dialogue about education options.

  15. Pat Sommer
    Pat Sommer says:

    Started out being a one-man-band homeshooler. Got her reading and numerate while we changed timezones frequently.

    My now 15yr old pretty much has control over her studies; online mostly. Far cry from middle years stateside when I paid for private lessons in art sport music and language -like all the affluent public school families!
    $900mo on a $3000 budget; rent was $1850. Where there’s a will…
    Anyway, we are back to travel-schooling. Her papa has to travel so it works for the family. The long separations sucked. Now her firm friendships will be nurtured with airline tickets and shared online classes.
    college prep? She would rather stay home and stay young. I am aiming for her to do a philosophy degree since A) she wants to continue to write fiction and B) I want her to meet clever people and find a husband to support her.
    She will let me know if she chooses a different path. Thought at age 8 I was raising an engineer. Kids.

  16. K
    K says:

    I’ve decided to use the term customized education to describe our homeschooling style. My children are customizing their education to fit their needs and interests. Everybody seems to understand that explanation.

  17. Francesca Thomas
    Francesca Thomas says:

    I knew my son was smart but I didnt realise just how bored he was at school. I put him into a small elementary school (200 kids from K to gr 8) and he did quite well. The one on one attention actually did him a lot of good. Everyone knew everyone and it was a family. I also put him into this school because I didnt think I could cope with his strong-mindedness about negotiating every choice he wanted to make. My thinking was, that if I kept him home to homeschool him, he would choose the wrong things to learn. It was driving me nuts. I thought unschooling went too far in one direction, and of course, public schools go too far in the other direction. I wanted to homeschool, but was not sure how this could be done.

    By age 10, my son was into video games big time, naturally. He asked for a headset with a mike to talk to his friends in the chat rooms. I balked at that. He has a headset so he can hear them, and he types back. Consequently his typing speed is FAST!! I still only use 2 fingers!! LOL

    He has learnt to self control his emotions. When he was 10 he was cry and get upset whenever he lost a life in a game – especially in those sudden death games where you cannot respawn, or you dont get more than 1 life. Now I just hear a GGGGRRR sound for a few seconds and then silence as he either gets back into that game, or chooses another one.

    He started grade 9 last year. The first semester was interesting. He had all the “elective subjects”, so he manged to get through his classes quite well. Things really changed once we hit the second semester in February this year. Remember I said he was smart and bored?

    Do you have any idea how boring it is to have to sit in class and twiddle your thumbs while the teacher helps a slow kid in the Academic stream (academic stream here in Canada is supposed to be the smart stream) and my son cannot move ahead at his own pace? He started refusing to go to school and flat out demanded to be homeschooled so that he can go as fast or slow as he wanted. He had friends online who were doing that and they were doing fine.

    It took a few days of talking to dad to persuade him. Dad made several conditions. Son would finish school and get his diploma. Son was perfectly fine. He doesnt really care what he learns, he just doesnt want to be held back to the slowest kid in the class. He also hated to having to get up so early to take a 1 hour bus and train trip one way to get to school, sit there for 6 hours and then 1 hour trip home, for barely 30 minutes of learning in each of his 4 classes. He thought that was such a waste of time.

    Of course he wants to spend more times on his video game and with his friends online. That’s OK. He also wants to work in video game design or computer technology anyway. I have even seen him reading up on GAME THEORY!! That goes way over my head!!

    So last week I withdrew my son from the local school board, and today I enrolled him in the local distance learning center. He will still follow the provincial curriculum, but he can now go at his own pace. I am hoping that he can finish grade 9 and do all of grades 10-12 by the summer of 2019. If he can do that then he would graduate just after his 17th birthday!! If he can do it all faster, so much the better!!

    So Hello. My name is Cesca and I am a new homeschooling parent!! We live in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      Hi! Good luck to you and your son! You won’t regret letting him be in charge of his education. You are telling him you trust him and his choices, that is great!

      I homeschooled my senior year of high school back in 1997 and I have no regrets. Got a diploma, and went to a 4 year traditional university with no issues. It really allows one to see the huge time suck that happens in a school where kids aren’t in charge of what they want to study, order of classes, etc. When I did my studies at home, I did follow a prescribed curriculum and all 7 subjects were finished in 2 hours and I had the rest of the day to work on my interests.

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