This post on how homeschool looks different is part of a How to Start Homeschooling series. If you would like to have more help getting started with homeschooling, check out How to Start Homeschooling, a comprehensive guide to establishing your homeschool.
Homeschool looks different from school.
I think that everyone recognizes that to a certain extent. Homeschool isn’t in an institutional setting, the kids are working with their parent instead of a teacher, and the lines between academic time and free time are notably blurred.
But for some reason many homeschool parents still try to replicate school at home when they first begin. There’s nothing wrong with doing the same types of assignments at home as are done in school. However, you’ll likely find difficulty recreating the same environmental and behavioral standards within your house.
Let’s take a moment to think about how homeschool looks different from conventional school, and why we shouldn’t expect our kids to respond in the same way as if they were in a class with a teacher.
In the average public school, there are sizeable classrooms full of 20-30 students to one teacher- perhaps with an aide. The walls are decorated with posters, seasonal bulletin boards, and class projects. There is a large chalkboard, whiteboard, or smartboard at the front of the room. Resources in color coded bin or neat filing cabinets line the edges of the room. The metal chairs have an attached desktop, so each student has an individual workspace.
Adhering to Averages
The students are roughly the same age, working through the same material at about the same pace. Every once in a while, a student with special needs works individually with an aide or leaves the room to go to a special class.
There is an average expectation for speed and quality of the students’ work. Students who finish sooner may work on extra credit assignments; students who take longer are expected to spend extra time on the work at home and during study hall.
In a classroom, students should sit quietly at their desks and listen to the teacher, unless they raise their hand with a question relevant to the subject matter. They have assigned times to work independently or in small groups in stations around the room. They have set class, activity, project, and free play times, usually dictated by the dinging of a bell or timer.
Students participate in regular tests and quizzes. Sometimes they are told when to expect them, sometimes not. They sit in silence as they take the test, and flip over their papers when they are done. They hand in their work and receive it back after the work, with grades and markings written in red pen.
Students’ personal belongings are to be kept in a locker assigned to them- perhaps with a coat hook or two, and a shelf above or below for books and lunchboxes. They cart their backpacks home and back to school each day, delivering paperwork, homework, permission slips, school photos, and newsletters.
If they are at school and they need something from home, they must get permission to go to the office and call their parent or guardian for help getting it. If they are home and they need something from school, they have to wait til the next school day.
Kids see their friends in the halls between classes, in the cafeteria, and on the playground. They used to pass notes to each other when the teacher’s back was turned; now they sneak their phones to send a quick text under their desk. They hang out after school, on the weekends, and on the phone in their rooms at home. They might also see each other at after-school sports, clubs, and activities.
Now, let’s shift gears.
In your average homeschool, there are one, two, or maybe a houseful of kids. There are usually one or two parents involved. Sometimes grandparents, stepparents, friends, or aunts and uncles help out too.
The home size may be large or small, and the classroom can look very different from family to family. Some homeschooling students use their kitchen, their living room, or their bedrooms for schoolwork. Some have designated “school rooms” at home, filled with organized shelves, pinterest-perfect wall hangings, nature displays, and color-coded supply bins for each child. Others have a threadbare couch with a favorite blanket and a desk piled with stacks of completed worksheets and art projects in the corner of a busy living room.
Many homeschooling parents use a combination of settings in their home where schoolwork gets done, looking somewhere in the middle of tidy and messily-lived in. Students move from room to room depending on the subject, the space requirements, and their individual noise tolerance level.
Family and Individual Standards
Homeschool siblings are, naturally, in different age groups in the same home. Some material might be studied together as a family, and other material may be tailored to fit the age and ability of each individual student.
In fact, one child may be working on material from two or three different grade levels, because she may be behind in math but ahead in reading comprehension. If she is getting work done quickly, she continues to advance at her own pace. If she is struggling, she can slow down as much as is needed. Parents really have to do their homework to find all this differing material to feed, nurture, and challenge their young scholars individually.
Following Natural Patterns
In a homeschool classroom, schoolwork is often done while warding off a toddler who pulls papers off the table. A parent might read aloud while stirring soup on the stovetop. A child might take an extended bathroom break, stopping to play at the Lego table before he finally moseys back to his handwriting assignment.
Conversation abounds; so does bickering and a general hum of activity. There’s multi-tasking, there’s distraction, there’s all the coziness of home.
Structure as Needed
Some families assign a schedule, designating certain days and times to certain subjects. Others follow a daily rhythm or routine without following the clock. Still others let the day take them on its own adventures, letting spontaneity and curiosity be their guiding principles.
Students may have tests and quizzes that they take at home, while other families don’t see the value in using an assessment tool when they already know how their child is performing. Regardless, many homeschoolers still need to participate in state-approved standardized tests.
When homeschoolers do test, it may be behind closed doors in their bedroom, or it may be at the kitchen table while lunch is being prepared. Parents often go over the results and wrong answers right alongside their students.
Likewise, homework is less common in a homeschool setting. In a highly individualized education, extra practice is only doled out as necessary.
Feeling at Home
There is no carting back and forth of personal belongings, because they are all where they belong. Coats are in the coat closet, school books are in the living room or bedroom, lunchboxes are rarely needed. Permissions slips don’t exist in a homeschool setting, and field trips can be taken as often or as little as parents and students like.
Kids don’t see their friends during most school days, but they see a whole lot more of their families. They do get to see friends during homeschool co-op events, play dates or hangouts, and afterschool classes, clubs, or activities. They, like their public or private-schooled counterparts, for better or worse, send texts and DM their friends on social media.
Not Better or Worse- Just Different
There’s no value judgement on these two styles- they are just different. There are advantages and disadvantages to both worlds, and different kids thrive in different contexts. Obviously, I have just given generic examples in this lesson, and your individual situation may look different.
The point is that you have to recognize the differences and acknowledge that homeschooling simply won’t look the same as going to school.
Your children will behave differently than if they were in a school building, because you’re not their teacher, and they’re not with their friends.
They will approach learning in different ways, because at home they have different learning options and expectations.
The kids will complete their work with different mannerisms and habits- after all, they’re home, in their comfortable place!
These things are not necessarily good or bad; they just are.
You might need to spend time learning how to think about them and how to work with them. If you are wondering why your child isn’t behaving the same way they were at school, try to remember how different their environment is now and consider how you can best work with them.