What do Homeschoolers REALLY do all day?

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I know, it sounds like the headline for some celebrity gossip magazine. What superstars do in private isn’t the same thing that they project to the world and we all want to know.

Well, this is actually a pretty similar situation except what homeschoolers really do isn’t the same thing that non-homeschoolers or even new homeschoolers believe is happening or should be happening.

This is why so many non-homeschoolers are worried about socialization among homeschoolers and why so many new homeschoolers feel overwhelmed and that they aren’t doing it right. So while any experienced homeschooler will tell you that no two families homeschool alike, this is a brief attempt at explaining what homeschoolers really do all day.

It’s actually easier to start with what they don’t do–they don’t spend seven hours a day doing school at home.

Okay, there are probably some families somewhere who do, but I’ve never heard of them. Yet, apparently a lot of non-homeschoolers have since this is what they think homeschoolers do. We sit down at a table and do math for 50 minutes and then switch to history for another 50 minutes and then to language arts and…you get the idea.

Maybe they even imagine the mom (and while there are many more dads doing the homeschooling, it’s still mainly moms) rings some sort of handheld bell to indicate time to switch to another subject. No wonder they worry about socialization issues for homeschoolers.

No, we don’t spend seven hours a day doing school work.

There is something in education call “time on task” which means how much time is actually spent learning in a class as oppose to non-learning activities (I’m being nice, you can choose for yourself which non-learning activities they would be.) I haven’t looked at the research lately but I would be surprised if the actual time on task is much more than half the time actually spent in school.  So if homeschoolers don’t have to deal with all of the non-learning activities in school, doesn’t it make sense that they probably only spend about half as much time doing school work as their traditional schooling peers?

So for non-homeschoolers, this means that homeschoolers have that much extra time to socialize and for new homeschoolers it means that you shouldn’t worry if you finish all your school work before lunch.

Now about the school work–learning doesn’t have to be like traditional school.

This is where a lot of new homeschoolers trip themselves up. They buy a packaged curriculum with a nice set of teacher plans that are scheduled for the year. It’s comforting, they don’t have to figure out what to teach which can be intimidating, they just have to teach.

But what starts off seeming like a great idea soon becomes a daily reminder of inadequacy and failure around January or February. By this time, most new homeschoolers will be behind according to their lesson plans and will be panicking that they can’t teach their kids everything they need to know.

Because the curriculum was sold as homeschool curriculum, new homeschoolers think the lesson plan is the measure of success for homeschoolers. It isn’t.

  • You don’t have to do each subject every day.
  • You don’t have to do each subject every week.
  • Heck, you don’t even have to do every subject every year.

You do have to do what is going to work for you and your family.

You may find you have one child that thrives on a schedule and loves workbooks but learns math better with one curriculum and history with another.

You may find you have a child that will become totally absorbed with a subject to the point where you are buying college level material and you just try to maintain a low level of effort in other subjects so that you don’t feel guilty. (Don’t, these are the kids that get into Harvard.)

One child may learn through videos, another through books, another by building something related to the subject.

This doesn’t mean that homeschoolers can’t be organized or structured.

What it means is that you are going to have to decide if you want to change your family to fit the needs of the curriculum or change the curriculum to fit your family’s needs.

So ultimately what homeschoolers really do all day is what works for their families. Some may have school rooms with nice stacks of books and weekly tests while others may be on a first name basis with the staff at the local museums.

You can make  a few generalizations of what homeschoolers do:

Homeschoolers will not be spending as much time on school work as they did in school because there is no need to.

  • Homeschoolers will not be doing school work only during school hours because there is no need to.
  • Homeschoolers have a lot more free time to socialize and will often be involved in more “extra-curricular” activities than kids in traditional school.
  • Homeschoolers spend a lot more time around various age groups, including adults, and subsequently will act differently than kids who are only around other kids their same age and background.

As for specifics, that will vary from family to family. I know that’s not a good answer, especially for new homeschoolers who want to know how they might do things differently. So I offer the following four blogs of homeschoolers that give glimpses into what their days look like.

Four Homeschooling Blogs

Stephanie Hoffmann Elms’ blog “Throwing Marshmallows” has 40 blog entries on Typical Homeschool Days–thanks for making them so easy to find. These are detailed descriptions of what she did with her kids that day. Stephanie’s Notes for the Past gives a nice sense of her approach to schooling and how their days go.

I like her “By Jove I think he’s got it post” for several reasons. It shows Stephanie dealing with a learning block. She already realizes that Jason is a right brain learner and is not going to be good at rote memorization–this means she has taken the time to figure out how Jason actually learns, not just how she wishes he would learn. She’s been looking for other ways to teach number facts and keeps trying different things until something works. Ultimately, this is a common homeschool situation that you need to learn to recognize–what you’re doing isn’t working, try something else. And homeschoolers spend a lot of their days trying to figure out what works.

The Sprittibee blog is done by Texas homeschool mom Heather who can tell a good story. Her posts will give you the feel of the spirit of homeschooling. The post “Hello, my name is Heather and I Steal French Fries” is a great example of accepting being less than perfect (no, there isn’t a wholesome home cooked meal everyday) and more importantly being able to laugh at said imperfections. I think “The Naming – and CLAIMING – of a Year” is a poignant self-examination of how easy it is to get off track while how hard it can be to recognize it.

The Sardines in a Can blog may not be the most prolific homeschooling blog around but it is one of the funniest. For anyone interested in seeing how unschooling works, read “How We Manage Homeschooling in the Can.” Seeing as how she is an unschooler, you might guess that there isn’t a lot of “managing” involved. There are five children in the sardine can, so she always has something interesting to say. Having finished my son’s transcript for college, I found “We’d Like that with a side of Geography and a Textbook Garnish, Please” hitting close to home. And I’m sure any homeschooler, unschooler or curriculum hound understands her outburst:

I lost it. I yelled. And I threatened them with SCHOOL. Camille started crying, Joel ignored me because I’ve done this before, Jules pulled the big Backfire Plug by saying he’d always wanted to ride in a school bus, and Jasper screamed, “What?  You want to send me to school? But I’m not EDUCATED!!” That was my point, but he was missing it.

Yes, we threaten our kids with sending them to school.

The Shaggy Boys Blog by GrilledCheeseChic has a nice variety of posts on her family in homeschooling mode. There’s the post “Co-op” which is about, surprise, the co-op four families formed. “Weekly Rhythm” is an early description of the boys schedule and Austen’s need for more “school work.” “Natural Learning” is a later post on how even recognition of the need for more structured learning can and should be put aside as needed.


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