Are my kids learning enough?

I get a lot of mail from people asking me how they can homeschool if they work full-time. Or if they have a new baby. Or if they hate being a teacher. All of these questions really boil down to the same question: how can we know if our kids are learning enough?

The answer is that homeschooling takes a lot less time than you realize. Kids who have choices will never choose to not learn. So your kids will learn enough, even if you’re not teaching them, per se.

Most of this blog is about working full time and homeschooling my kids. So it’s no coincidence that most of my blog is about how kids don’t need a curriculum. It was a miraculous reality I stumbled on when I was trying to figure out if I should take my special-needs son out of third grade.

What I found is that curriculum is basically a construct set up to justify keeping young kids in school. And for curriculum companies to make a lot of money.

There is very very clear research that says kids don’t need to be taught how to read and kids don’t need to be taught how to do math (I’m pretty sure my younger son learned both from video games). And that there is no benefit to teaching any advanced math before sixth grade.

Both my boys have been way below grade level before. But now they’re at or above grade level — mostly because kids waste so much time in school.

And in terms of technology my kids are way ahead, because they have had unlimited screen time since they were six and eight. They are actually horrified by how incompetent other kids are at navigating the internet – presumably because the kids don’t get screen time.

I am not saying my kids are geniuses. I am saying they are totally fine after not having curriculum. Kids see parents worried that the kids “aren’t learning enough” and then the kids worry they aren’t learning enough – whatever that means. And I wish I could go back to the beginning of homeschooling and just let them be.

The best thing you can do as a homeschooler is tell everyone that your family doesn’t need curricula because your kids are curious and engaged, and that’s the best way to learn. Your kids will hear you say that over and over again – because people ask all the time — and your kids will internalize it as true when they see that’s what you believe about them.

20 replies
  1. Carrie Willard
    Carrie Willard says:

    I agree. I have 7 kids, so far one has graduated homeschool. I don’t have the same crises of confidence I used to suffer. Curriculum really doesn’t matter, and everyone, no matter how they’re educated, has “holes” in their education. But that’s easily fixed! You can learn anything you want to, for free, via the internet these days. School makes kids hate learning.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      So well said! A hole in education is only a hole of we choose not to fill it ourselves. Everyone has to choose to have some holes.


  2. Lucy Chen
    Lucy Chen says:

    Thank you for keep reaffirming the unlimited screen time, Penelope. From time to time, I do get worried.

    My son (we’re about to see a psychologist again to have him tested for Asperger’s) is in year 1 and is already doing year 3 English, and he says it’s very boring because he already knows all the words. He is bored so sometimes he goes to the floor to sleep, or becomes disruptive in class. I’m talking to the teachers to see if we can move him up a level. How he learned to read and spell is from playing games on iPad all the time. He uploads some Youtube videos and designs games on paper as other hobbies.

    In Australia, if you home school, you still have to send in documents as evidence that you’re keeping up with the curriculum.

    As an “special-needs” kid, say he does have Asperger’s, if he stays home, then he has even less chance to interact with other kids and make friends. Shouldn’t I worry about this?

    • Zellie
      Zellie says:

      That’s tough, because moving up a grade level will make the social skills problems even more evident since the other kids will have had another year of maturation.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      If being in school enabled kids with Aspergers to make friends then school would be the cure for Aspergers and it wouldn’t be nearly as costly and significant as it is today.

      So, obviously being in school does not help kids with Aspergers make friends. The problem is way more complicated than that. And if you ask pretty much any 15 year old kid with Aspergers if school was helpful they will say no.

      What kids woth Aspergers really need ata you g age is a place to feel calm and in control and a place where they will feel success and competence. And a room of 30 kids doesn’t do that. Eating in a cafeteria doesn’t do that. Having
      20 balls flying through the air in gym class doesn’t do that.

      It’s a complete myth that kids with Aspergers meed to be in school for social reasons, and it comes at the heels of people saying kids need to be in school to make friends.

      The whole doscussion is absurd. Do you make more friends playing with them all day, doing what you like to do together? Or do you make friends sitting in a classroom and raising your hand? School is not designed to foster friendship. If you talk to much to the kid next to you the teacher separates you so you don’t disrupt class.


    • Lisa Shafer
      Lisa Shafer says:

      My asperger son is homeschooled. He was in school for 3 years with not one friend. I’m still upset that as a homeschooler he has friends, but not deep connections. My therapist asked who was worrying about his friends or lack thereof- me or him? I had not thought about the fact my son never mentioned this as a problem! It’s been my problem as I perceive his life as lonely when it’s filled with all the things he loves.

  3. Debbie
    Debbie says:

    It *is* a complete myth that kids with Asperger’s need to be in school for social reasons. Little kids with AS need a typical kid or a younger sibling with shared interests and an adult making sure they learn how to play 1:1. Older kids with Asperger’s need to be around other kids with Asperger’s, doing or talking about something they love. None of this happens in a typical school setting.

    School is about survival for kids with AS. And society brainwashes us to think teachers can help 30+ kids at a time.

  4. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    The thing about a curriculum is there’s nothing “real life” about it. It’s an artificial construct that sets boundaries on what’s taught about a subject so that a teacher can measure how much of the material was absorbed (or not) by the student. It doesn’t prepare the student for learning on their own outside the classroom. And that’s what they’ll have to do after they graduate from school. They will have to build their own curriculum for what matters to them. In the process of doing that, they will come across numerous sources which they will have to decide is either applicable to what they’re trying to learn or isn’t. They’ll discover new avenues they didn’t know existed and they’ll also run into dead ends. One thing they won’t be is bored because they’ll be in control of their own learning. Also being in control of your own learning makes you personally responsible. There’s no placing blame elsewhere. And if help is needed, it helps you learn how to ask for it.

  5. jessica
    jessica says:

    I was homeschooled for 2 years and was ahead by 4 years when I went back to school. I worked on my own in curriculum workbooks about an hour a day.

    That informed my decision to homeschool.

  6. Karen Bracken
    Karen Bracken says:

    So what happens when you live in a state (Tennessee for example) where they require home school students take the state test in 4th and 8th grade? If they aren’t reading or doing math they will fail the tests and be forced into the public school system. So although I totally agree with the method parents need to be aware of the rules in each state. I would like to see TN drop this requirement but home school is a threat to the system and our state legislature is faster to pass bills in favor to Charters and vouchers than anything to make homeschool easier for parents.

    • Terese
      Terese says:

      In Tennessee I would connect to The Farm in Summertown. They have a satellite school for homeschooling that is awesome. You have a backup system and bypass the headaches. They understand.

      • Karen Bracken
        Karen Bracken says:

        They srecstill required to take the state test. And the state test in 4th and 8th grade and the test is fully aligned to the Commin Core standards. Tan is also just one of 4 states that requires vaccinating home school children. Thanks for your response.

  7. Karen Bracken
    Karen Bracken says:

    Penelope. When you use the word curriculum are you talking about standards?? I can see not following a set of rigid standards (I do not believe in standards at all) but isn’t curriculum merely the tools we use to teach a child or help a child learn on their own? Are you against rigid structure. I totally agree with what you say but I need to understand what you mean by curriculum because I know a lot people that use the word when they really mean standards. Are you saying just let your kid do his or her own thing when it comes to learning. Don’t sit down and teach them to write, read or do math…just let them learn on their own how to do it?

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      I think what is meant by the post is the so called “gaps” in education that unschoolers worry about. For instance, my current 4th grader didn’t learn about CA missions like all the other 4th graders in public and private schools do. That is considered a “gap” in her education. However, she preferred to research slavery in-depth, instead of studying what other typical 4th graders learn about in their social studies. Her test scores in social studies are average instead of superior like her other scores because we don’t follow a prescribed curriculum. She chooses topics that interest her. She also doesn’t know the pledge, doesn’t have her states and capitols memorized, and hasn’t done a book report. She has studied physics, biology, engineering, robotics, programming, mixed media art, history, pre-algebra, has read a hundred 60,000 word novels and has written 10 short stories, taken a class in narrative writing, music lessons, and taken acting classes that included performing in front of an audience. But still….there’s the GAPS!!!! The horror!

  8. Golden
    Golden says:

    Hi! First can i say i love all your posts! I know you probably get this a lot…. but I have recently started a blog and don’t know how to get it noticed! I don’t want to sound naggy but i was wondering if i could get a shoutout? I know you get a lot of messages like this but i guess i can only hope that you give me one or al least some advice :(
    GoldenGalaxyxxx – your biggest fan xxx

    • Cáit
      Cáit says:

      Hi Golden,
      I can you some advice. I once had a popular blog on a very very niche topic.
      My counsel: grow organically. If you blog is very interesting people will find it and love it. Concentrate on interesting content and don’t worry about promotion. Most personal blogs are boring. Make yours good and your audience will appear as if by magic.

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