let kids watch beauty and the beast

A Field Guide to Homeschoolers

Unexpected encounters with homeschoolers outside their enclosures can be disconcerting. They typically start with generalized anxiety induced by seeing children outside during school hours and quickly progress to a host of questions the startled observer feels need to be answered. What about socialization? Is that even legal? What about the prom? This pushes the wary homeschooler into a defensive posture and her answers may signal aggravation. Don’t be concerned. They’re rarely dangerous. But I’ve spent 13 years studying the elusive homeschooler and wrote this guide to help cautious observers like you interact more comfortably with these fascinating specimens.

what is homeschooling

What is a homeschooler?

A homeschooler is a peculiar species who has opted to take over the primary role of educating her children herself. I refer to them as “she” for ease of reading and because the primary teaching role does tend to fall on the female of the species. This is not to downplay the role of the male in the education of his young, nor to discount the number of stay at home fathers who have taken on the responsibility.

How can I recognize a homeschooler?

Homeschoolers once had a kind of unofficial uniform. A denim jumper and a line of similarly dressed and perfectly behaved children were tell tale signs of a homeschool family. Recent protection efforts, however, have allowed the population to grow. It is therefore becoming more and more difficult to recognize a homeschooler on the street. They tend to move casually through their environment with a gait designed to not arouse suspicion or unnecessary attention. When they run into each other, they generally greet one another with a warm smile and possibly even a hug. Shouts to their “homegirls” across the aisles are unlikely.  Seeing a parent with minor children out and about during school hours remains the most reliable marker. Turning everyday things like nutrition labels at the grocery store into lessons can also be a strong indicator. Exercise caution before labeling. A mother discussing the label with her child may simply be a good parent. If she then launches into a history of where the 2,000 calorie diet originated, she is very likely a homeschooler.

Is homeschooling even legal?

Homeschoolers were once hunted nearly to extinction in many parts of the United States. They lived largely in the shadows, forming underground networks for support and as an alert system against those who would do them harm. They proved tenacious fighters, however. They successfully expanded their range and have since received protected status in all 50 states. They maintain strong local, regional and national networks to maintain these protections.

What is the homeschooler’s natural habitat?

It is a common misconception that homeschoolers reside predominantly at home. They have been known to participate in almost any activity that parents have been known to engage in, though they are somewhat less likely to attend PTA meetings and parent-teacher conferences tend to be somewhat one-sided. They frequently congregate at libraries and office supply stores. When planning excursions into the wild, some homeschoolers deliberately choose to be most active during school hours when lines are shorter and exhibits less crowded. Others prefer to camouflage their activity by venturing out when most other humans are active.

What about socialization?

Many casual observers are highly concerned with the socialization of homeschooled children. Before approaching a suspected homeschooler with this question, however, it is important to be sure you understand what you mean. If you mean “social skills,” it is important to note that social conventions frown upon confronting strangers with their differences. Staring, drawing attention to them and interrogating them are generally considered rude and will lead the homeschooler to muse later on her blog about your social skills. Whether or not the homeschooled family you are observing has adequate social skills to be productive members of society can generally be noted without confrontation. Any behavior you see, however, is most assuredly also present in the public schooled population. I have noticed an increased likelihood that children will look you in the eye while talking to you and that they will answer your questions without that apathetic “Why are you still here?” look about them. This, however, is purely anecdotal.

If you mean socialization as it is most often understood by sociologists, i.e., the process whereby the social order is involuntarily (and at times coercively) imposed on us, you might be stumbling into one of the primary reasons the homeschooler you have discovered has chosen this path. This might also make more sense of the varied, sometimes sarcastic and often annoyed responses homeschoolers give to this ubiquitous question.

What about prom?

Homeschoolers have a number of social venues open to them. This may seem counter-intuitive to the outsider, but many homeschooled children actually meet each other through homeschooling. How does this happen when they don’t all go to school in the same building? Homeschoolers tend to be more intentional about their socializing and networking. They organize park days, co-ops, field trips and even dances. Many communities now have homeschool formals that act very much like a prom, though with less of the “twerking” plaguing public schools. Being homeschoolers, these, too, are subject to becoming learning opportunities. At the event I observed, the homeschooled youth were taught dance moves prior to being expected to actually dance. This resulted in near universal participation.

How should I approach a homeschooler if I see one?

Homeschoolers are passionate, but not generally dangerous. If you meet one in person, simply passing by while looking at your phone is acceptable. If you happen to make eye contact, don’t panic. A smile and a nod before returning on your way will likely be accepted in kind. If you say “hi,” they very likely will return the greeting. Curiosity is generally warmly received. The children are frequently asked math facts and state capitals by observers. Try mixing it up a bit by asking them what their favorite subject is. They’ve likely been asked if they like their teacher before, but when asked in a gently teasing tone and with a warm smile, it is also as well-received as most other small talk. Think of the length and depth of other conversations you have had with complete strangers in an elevator or in the check-out line. Use this as a model for the length and intensity of your questions. Most homeschoolers are happy to discuss their educational choices, even with strangers. That’s why so many of them blog. Still, try to keep it to one question and always maintain a polite, curious air rather than an obnoxious, judmental one.

Keep these observations in mind and your interactions with the homeschoolers you meet will likely remain pleasant. If you have further questions, feel free to drop me a note in the comments below and I will be happy to assist you.

let kids watch beauty and the beast

A Homeschooler’s Guide to Unhappiness

School is well underway for most of us, and we are far enough into the year to begin feeling behind. Stressed, we begin looking over the fence at the Jones’, where the grass is always greener and the children never whine. Meeting with other homeschoolers brings a mixture of encouragement and feelings of inadequacy as we begin to second guess those plans which looked so good on paper. If this describes you, you are off to a great start! After all, there is nothing mankind desires more or works harder for than misery. A brief survey of world literature reveals our fascination with sin, danger and tragedy. If we cannot experience it personally, we do so vicariously through what have become the classics. Even the quest for happiness robs our happiness in the end as Paul Watzlawick so aptly noted in his book, Anleitung zum Unglücklichsein (Guide to Unhappiness). To help you along the way to maximizing your unhappiness, I have written the following guide. Some of these steps may come naturally to you; others may require practice. With diligence, however, anyone can achieve the unhappiness they so earnestly desire.

homeschool humor

1. Copy the public schools.

Buy desks, set them up in neat rows facing the front of the room and invest in a pointer. Even if you have only one child, make him raise his hand to answer questions. Schedule restroom breaks. Let the clock dictate your every move. Giving a toddler a megaphone is a good stand in for a disruptive PA system.

2. Choose your curriculum based on what everyone in your homeschool group is using.

Better yet, find a stranger online and ask her. Don’t consider your temperament or your child’s interests. After all, these other people have way more experience than you. Remind yourself of that continually when things are not going well.

3. Contact every curriculum publisher.

Make sure they have your correct address and get on as many mailing lists as possible. When you first get those glossy catalogs, you will think that this is having the opposite effect than what is intended here. The texture, the smell and all the neat stuff! But then you realize just how much stuff is out there. And how much stuff you do not have. There is always one more book and one more manipulative set to squeeze out of any budget. After all, you only have one chance to educate your children properly. Never let yourself become content with what you already have.

4. Make a clear distinction between school and life.

Do not consider the educational value of trips to the zoo, visits with grandparents and vacations. The more narrowly you define education, the more likely you are to avoid spontaneous “experiences” in favor of “the book.” This also helps maximize the stress of wondering if you are doing enough.

5. Take everything personally.

Everyone has a bad day now and again. Even children. Use this to its fullest potential by taking these opportunities to question your parenting. When your child says, “This is boring,” consider it a direct reflection on your character and personality. Think what it will be like when they talk to their bosses that way. Wonder what your homeschooling friends would say. Most importantly, try to isolate where you have gone wrong as a parent and fret over the permanent damage you must have caused.

This is intended only as a cursory introduction to maintaining general unhappiness in your homeschool. There are many other proven techniques for making yourself miserable and they all progress rather naturally to making those around you unhappy as well. For those of you who are more seasoned, or have just caught on quickly to the art of creating unhappiness, please feel free to add your own suggestions. I will add links to anyone who shares a proven technique for increasing the level of unhappiness in our homes. Even if it is not specific to homeschooling.

Misery loves company.

(Image courtesy Evil Erin under a CC license.)


let kids watch beauty and the beast

Reasons to homeschool

Summer of Mom is Teaching asked for eight reasons why we homeschool. That’s easy.


    I love discussing the socialization of my children with total strangers.


    HSLDA alerts? Pure poetry. How could I get through my day without reading them at least four times? Once via my email. Once via an internet forum. Okay, maybe twice that way. And once again via my email when someone else forwards it to me. Oh…and at least one of the blogs I read is bound to post it, too, just in case I missed it via the regular channels.


    I always wanted to be able to put “right wing fundamentalist nutcase” on my resume. “Christian homeschooler” seems to be a close synonym.


      Maybe I


      to induce a

latent adult social anxiety disorder

    on my children. It is bound to happen to all of us if we live in the world that particular blogger appears to wish to create.


      I am a complete traitor to the cause of feminism. I have spent years trying to figure out how best to rankle the movement and present myself as a target. It wasn’t enough to go into teaching despite my GPA. It wasn’t enough to stay home. But when I started homeschooling? Wowzers. Now

I am enslaved.



      Think how quiet running errands would be without being informed at least twice per destination, “

You have your hands full

    .” It helps fill those lulls with absolute strangers.


    Come to think of it, think how quiet (and quick) running errands would be if they were all in school or daycare? That would be scary.


    What on earth would I blog about?

So why do you homeschool? I will not pressure you for eight reasons. In reality, I have only one: I believe it is the best option for our family to promote the social, emotional, intellectual, physical and spiritual needs of our children.