What is Unschooling?

Unschooling: it’s a point of eager discussion in the homeschooling world, garnering enthusiastic support from some and concerned skepticism from others. In fact, the term “unschooling” itself is a topic of debate, with certain groups ascribing it one definition while others ascribe it another. Regardless, many parents are curious about it, about what it means as an educational philosophy, and about whether it really is as effective a schooling option as many claim. To that end, let’s take a look at the reality of unschooling:

Unschooling is often called “child-led learning.” As this name suggests, unschooling allows children to follow their own interests at their own pace, without direction from adults. In this sense, parents act less as teachers and more as facilitators, watching to see what the children are interested in, and then providing the environment, resources, and opportunities to explore those interests.

Skeptics wonder how anything ever gets learned at all through this approach. Don’t children need an adult to constantly tell them what to do? On the contrary, adult unschoolers tend to exhibit a strong sense of self-direction and motivation, and are fully capable of setting goals and then finding the resources to achieve those goals. There are plenty of examples of unschoolers who have gone on to succeed in college and life in general.

The History of Unschooling

Unschooling is most closely associated with a man named John Holt, who coined the term in 1977. Holt was a classroom teacher who later rose to prominence by writing books about the shortcomings of the traditional education system, such as How Children Fail and Learning All the Time. He founded the magazine Growing Without Schooling, which became very popular in the homeschooling community. Holt has since passed on, but his organization Holt Associates and the website HoltGWS.com are still in operation under the direction of Patrick Ferenga.

Unschooling later inspired Sandra Dodd, educational writer and speaker, to take the concept even further and create the philosophy known as “Radical Unschooling.” Radical Unschooling families adhere to the “child-led” approach not just in the realm of education, but in every facet of life.

Unschooling Practicalities

To the uninitiated, unschooling may appear to be merely unused free time. To an unschooling family, however, the simplest daily tasks are an opportunity for learning. When children help to cook in the kitchen, for example, they learn practical reading skills (from the recipe), math skills (by using fractions to measure ingredients), and chemistry (understanding what changes happen to the food when heat is applied, etc.).

The unschooling philosophy is built on the premise that children are naturally curious, intelligent, and eager to learn, and unschooling parents trust this premise. If a child is daydreaming, then, rather than scolding him for wasting time, the parent trusts him, knowing that the daydreaming may be the precursor to a focused creative project like a painting or a novel. Unguided doodling may evolve into a comic book or a blueprint, and so on.

Unschooling parents are not neglecting or uninvolved. Quite the opposite, in fact. Unschooling parents use a number of strategies to maximize their child’s education. Some of these strategies include:

Provide a wide range of resources: Unschooling parents don’t dictate what their children learn at any given time, but they do provide resources which encourage curiosity, exploration, and self-directed learning. An unschooling family’s house will typically be filled with books, games, art supplies, musical instruments, etc., so the child has many possible directions to explore. Most importantly, the parents listen to their children about their interests, and foster growth in those fields of interests.

Travel: Unschoolers aren’t constrained to any set schedule, so they can take trips and travel to new places whenever they want. Travel is a tremendously educational experience by itself, and unschoolers gain a lot of knowledge from the cultures and places they visit.

Spend Time Outside: Children thrive in nature, and unschoolers unsurprisingly show a real predilection for learning outside. They may go playing in the woods and learn about the flora and fauna there. Or they may learn how to build simple forts from the raw materials they find. Unschoolers tend to want to take things apart, put them back together, and find mentors who can show them how to create what they want to create.

Allow Passionate Focus: It’s common for unschooling children to become incredibly focused on and passionate about a particular subject for a while. In traditional schools, the children would be dissuaded from pursuing this passion, because the schedule wouldn’t allow for it. Unschooling, however, encourages it, and children will often research a subject with deep commitment, usually far surpassing their grade level in the process.

Use Traditional Resources As Tools: When children become interested in a subject, they may choose to pursue it further. They may even choose to enroll in an online class, find a textbook, or use some educational software to achieve their goals. Traditional resources can be incredibly useful for the unschooling family, but they’re not rigidly enforced.

The Pros of Unschooling:

Educational Freedom: Kids are free to learn and grow according to their unique personality, interests, and learning style.

Kids Actually Want to Learn: Unschoolers tend to be highly motivated, because they’ve chosen the subjects themselves and they’re actually curious about them. No more butting heads up against brick walls trying to force children to complete worksheets they’re not interested in. Furthermore, kids can stop pursuing a subject when it is no longer interesting to them.

Preparation and Monitoring is Much More Focused: Rather than planning a course of study an entire year in advance, without knowing exactly how much time a subject will take and how well the student will have mastered it by a certain time, unschooling allows parents to plan and prepare in response to the child’s interests as they develop. Parents also evaluate their child’s progress in a similar way, by being involved and paying attention to what the child has mastered as they progress.

Kids Learn to Act Responsibly in the Community and Beyond: In unschooling, a great deal of education happens while the children are interacting in the community or simply helping around the house. As such, they become much more independent and comfortable with interacting with new people of any age. They also develop a sense of responsibility, and accountability for their own education and behavior.

The Cons of Unschooling:

Missing Puzzle Pieces: Because children choose which subjects to study, there will likely be information gaps in their education. This is true to some degree of any style of education, but it can be more pronounced with unschooling. Because the children learn to motivate and direct themselves, however, they are typically able to fill in these gaps themselves if and when they need to.

It Takes a Great Deal of Parental Commitment: Unschooling is not the same thing as permissive neglect. Parents must be highly involved in and aware of their children’s growth, and must be able to provide resources and opportunities when interests and needs change. This schooling style requires a great deal of attentiveness, spontaneity, and focus, and is not a perfect fit for every parent’s personality or circumstances.

Kids Must Motivate Themselves: Some children thrive in a structured environment, and don’t respond well to the pressure of having to make all their own educational choices.


Top Positive Reasons Why We Homeschool

Any informed parent knows there are shortcomings with our public education system. All too often we use that list of grievances to justify homeschooling our children, as if homeschooling were just a last resort, a choice made only begrudgingly, the sweeter of two poisons.

The fact is, homeschooling can be a very positive force in your family’s life, regardless of what’s going on in the public system. There are many advantages to homeschooling which don’t get discussed often enough, but which make it a very strong option for your child’s education. In that spirit, here are some positive reasons to homeschool:

1. We Have More Fun

When you homeschool your children, you get to learn and play with your kids. You go on all the field trips with them, you read the same books, and you get to do the same fun art projects. This degree of involvement is much more engaging for parents and children alike, and it really accelerates the learning process.

2. We’re Closer as a Family

When you cultivate an environment of trust, encouragement, curiosity, and creativity in your home classroom, your children will be much less likely to become the stereotypical rebellious, angry teenagers that you hear about all the time. That angry rebellion is often the product of a repressive educational system which squashes creative thought and curiosity, and leaves children feeling frustrated and powerless. Many parents of homeschool teenagers report that their children grow to become independent and responsible young adults without that dark, reckless rebelliousness ever coming between them. As a result, their families enjoy close, loving, and supportive relationships.

3. You Learn As Much As Your Kids Do

They say the best way to learn is through teaching, and homeschooling certainly supports that claim. Most of us have some gaps from our time in school, especially if it’s been quite a long time since we learned about a subject. Homeschooling is a great way to explore a subject together with your children. Rather than the typical rote learning approach, homeschooling gives you the opportunity to learn about the spirit of a subject, to discuss the most interesting aspects of it, and to explore the practical usefulness of it. This is much more effective education than memorizing and regurgitating dates and formulas, for you as well as your children.

4. Kids Enjoy It

Homeschooling gives children a good deal of freedom–freedom in scheduling, freedom to explore subjects which fascinate them, and freedom to learn and work in their own style. Not surprisingly, kids really enjoy this level of freedom, and most wouldn’t trade it for a public school experience for any reason.

5. Children Learn to Behave as Responsible Individuals

Homeschooling teaches children how to behave like civil human beings, especially with adults. For children in public schools, the only interaction they have with adults is taking endless orders from authority figures. This often results in either excessive shyness or excessive acting out. Homeschoolers who go out into the community have a very different perspective of adults, and are able to learn how to behave like reasonable people in public. It’s a valuable form of socialization, one which your kids’ public school counterparts don’t receive until much later in life.

6. Children’s Unique Passions and Interests are Encouraged

Children have very unique and vibrant personalities, and they often have a specific area or subject which really interests and motivates them. Your child may be fascinated with surrealist art, for instance, or video game design, or comic books. In a public school setting, those interests would be largely discouraged by teachers, and set aside in favor of core curriculum. In a homeschool setting, however, you have the freedom to encourage their passions, and to use those passions to teach a host of other subjects. Children learn and grow incredibly well when their individual strengths are acknowledged and encouraged.

7. We Get to Meet a Lot of Interesting and Inspiring People

A big part of homeschooling is going into the community and learning from local professionals and teachers of various subjects. This is a really positive thing to do, because it introduces your kids to successful adults who are working in their field because they want to. Remember, in a public school setting your child would typically only interact with his or her teacher, who may very well be overburdened and burnt out. Seeing successful members of the community gives homeschoolers a very different perspective of what adulthood is, and provides some very valuable education in the meantime.

8. We Have a Lot of Flexibility in Our Schedule

Homeschooling gives you and your family a lot of freedom to design your own schedule, and to adapt your children’s learning to the other important parts of your lives, such as taking a family vacation. With homeschooling, there’s no need to drag your kids out of bed while it’s still dark just to make the bus on time, and you can arrange your year’s schedule to accommodate that big family trip you’ve been dreaming about.

9. Homeschooling Pushes All of Us to Grow

Homeschooling teaches you as much as it does your kids. You’ll be amazed at what you’re able to do when you start teaching. Before long, you’ll be guiding your kids through subjects like algebra and trigonometry, when at one point you wouldn’t have thought you could possibly teach those subjects. By pushing yourself to new levels, you’ll not only be helping your kids learn new subjects, you’ll be teaching by example that they can achieve whatever they put their mind to. What lesson could be more important?

10. We Strengthen Our Family Values As We Learn

Perhaps the most important reason to homeschool is knowing that your children are receiving an education in line with your ideals and values. This simply isn’t possible in a public setting, where classrooms are filled with 30 or 40 children each with a different set of values. Homeschooling allows you the control to reinforce what you believe deserves to be reinforced, and in the way you believe it should be reinforced. This means a higher level of freedom, but it also means a higher level of accountability as well. In the end, though, the resulting quality of education is more than worth the responsibility.


Standardized Testing and Homeschooling

Standardized tests are a source of debate in the world of education, for traditional students and homeschool students alike. The tests take up a good deal of time and resources, and the accuracy of their assessment is often dubious at best. There are, however, some good reasons to implement the tests, which we’ll explore a bit later.

In many states, the tests are mandated by law. In other states, though, many parents still opt to give the tests anyway. If your state gives you the freedom to decide whether or not to test, and how to implement the tests if you do decide to use them, here are a few things to consider:

The Concerns About Testing

The nation’s public school system is shifting more towards a Common Core curriculum, which means that standardized tests are becoming a more integral part of a public education. Many teachers and parents disagree with this direction, claiming it removes a great deal of flexibility from the classroom. Teachers are no longer able to adapt their courses to the unique needs of their students; rather, they’re strictly held to a schedule which revolves around a standardized test, regardless of how their students are progressing.

Many teachers and parents are also concerned about putting students as young as 6 or 7 through several long and stressful days of testing. Students are showing signs of stress and anxiety at home, because they feel an acute pressure from their teachers and administrators to perform well on these tests. These symptoms in some cases are problematic enough that a large number of parents in several states have started an “opt out of testing” movement. The symptoms are even more prevalent in high school, when the student’s test scores carry more significant consequences.

Advocates of standardized tests claim that they help students prepare for college testing. However, the testing environment of many college campuses is rapidly changing. Online tests and open-book tests are becoming increasingly popular at campuses across the nation, which give students much more flexibility to decide the time and place of testing. These tests also ease the pressure of traditional proctored tests.

Still others claim that standardized tests in no way prepare students for using information and working in the real world. With so much time and money being directed towards the implementation of these tests, a lot of people are demanding that they be examined and questioned.

The Pros of Testing
    • Without tests, it can be very difficult to assess how a homeschooled student compares to his peers in traditional schools.
    • Many college programs, gifted programs, and scholarships require students to take tests.
    • Standardized tests help students prepare for these tests.
    • Tests are often required to receive a high school diploma.
    • Test-taking is a skill which can be useful later in life. Many professional certification or civil service programs, for example, require adult learners to take standardized tests.
    • Tests do measure a student’s proficiency at certain subjects.
The Cons of Testing
    • Tests do not always measure subject mastery accurately.
    • Scores do not perfectly reflect a student’s actual ability. Scores can be adversely affected by testing conditions, test-specific preparation, and level of test-taking skill.
    • Tests encourage students to foster certain habits, such as the “cram-regurgitate-forget” cycle, which can actually be detrimental to their overall education.
    • Students must spend a significant amount of time preparing for the tests, which many view as a distraction from more meaningful learning.
    • Students often experience extreme anxiety and stress because of tests.
    • Tests which carry significant consequences for the students’ future create a culture of cheating, for students and educators alike.
How to Improve Your Homeschooler’s Testing Experience

Many states require homeschoolers to take standardized tests at certain grade levels. When tests are unavoidable, there are still many ways to ease the stress and pressure they carry. For instance:

Create a pleasant testing environment: There’s no need for your children to take their test in a sterile, intimidating testing center with a proctor breathing down their neck. Many parents let their kids have snacks and drinks while they take the test, and allow breaks to move around and play in between test sections. Making the environment comfortable will ease the sense of stress and pressure significantly.

Treat the test like a game: Kids love puzzles and games, and that’s really all a standardized test is. Help your children understand how the test questions are created, what rules to follow, and some tips and tricks to succeed. For example, make sure your children know to watch out for trick answers (“distractors”).

Look over the test beforehand: Make sure your children are at least slightly familiar with most of the subject matter covered by the test. Some outdated tests ask questions which are no longer applicable to modern children’s experience (such as using a library card catalog). Try to avoid these tests if possible.

Choose a test with no time limit: The pressure of a ticking clock sends stress levels through the roof. Plus, students who actually know the material quite well often freeze up and do poorly when faced with a stressful time limit.

Administer the test at home: Homeschoolers aren’t used to taking tests in a crowded testing center filled with other students (that experience is stressful even for children at traditional schools). Much of the stress associated with testing can be avoided or lessened by taking the test at home.

Pretest: The option to pretest isn’t always available, but if it is, take advantage of it. Pretesting ensures that the test your student is taking is at the proper difficulty level, and isn’t full of material that they’re not prepared for.

Teach your child how to take a test: Test-taking is a skill that improves with practice. Make sure your child knows about testing conventions and terminology. For example, make sure they understand the concept of “all of the above,” and know how to properly fill in the bubbles on the answer sheet.

Explain why the test is necessary: If kids don’t understand the reasons behind taking a test, they can jump to anxiety-provoking conclusions. Let them know why you’re giving the test, that it’s simply something every student needs to go through to continue on with their schooling. This can alleviate their anxiety, and improve their performance.


Public School or Homeschool? Making the Decision

Choosing between public school and homeschool is an important, yet difficult, decision, one that causes many parents a lot of anxiety. But not to worry: even though it may seem like the decision is terribly, disastrously important, and even though you may feel unprepared for either option, there’s actually less to worry about than you’d expect, particularly if your child is still young.

ServingYou’re More Prepared Than You Think

Starting out with homeschooling when your child is still young is much less stressful than waiting through a few years of public schooling first. As the parent of a young child, you’re probably already spending a lot of time together playing outside, making art projects, reading books, watching educational videos, and so on. The transition from these early childhood activities to basic reading, writing, and arithmetic can be very smooth and natural. Simply watch for signs that your child is ready to be guided toward these kinds of academics, and then provide that guidance (with or without materials such as textbooks or computer programs).

As you progress through basic concepts, you’ll learn more about how your child learns best, and you’ll also gain confidence in yourself as a teacher. Teaching, then, becomes a natural extension of parenting.

ServingHomeschooling Doesn’t Necessarily Take Up More of Your Time

Many parents may think that homeschooling requires practically 100% more time than sending their child to a public school, but this really isn’t the case. If you send your child to public school, remember, you’ll still be devoting hours each day to helping them with homework (even as early as 1st grade or kindergarten), driving them to and from school, attending parent-teacher conferences, chaperoning on field trips, going to school board meetings, etc. All of this can add up, and can even take more time than you would spend homeschooling.

Your child’s education will be a major investment of time for you, of course, regardless of which type of schooling you choose. But through homeschooling it is certainly possible to keep your child at grade level, or above, with the same amount of time you would spend on homework alone at a public school. What’s more, the time you do invest in homeschooling can be much more flexible than it would be with a public school education.

Special-Needs Students Can Still Receive the Services They Need

Choosing to homeschool your special-needs child doesn’t mean giving up the many state-sponsored services provided by your local school. The level of assistance you’ll get may vary depending on your state, and you may need to drive to the school to receive some of the services, but they’re still there for you to use.

Furthermore, homeschooling itself can eliminate the need for many of these services. Many special-needs students struggle in a public school environment for many reasons: an overload of sensory input (imagine 35 first-graders shouting), a lack of personalized attention (despite the teacher’s best efforts, perhaps), or a rigid schedule, among others. At home, you’d be able to design a learning environment best suited to your child’s learning style, and you’d be able to accommodate your child’s unique needs much more easily.

Homeschooling Does Not Equal Isolation

The image of the homeschooled child as an awkward, unsocialized weirdo is a thing of the past. It’s a misconception. In fact, the majority of homeschooling families claim that they actually don’t spend an excessive amount of time at home at all, since they’re actively engaged in a vibrant homeschooling community and participating in community activities.

There’s a huge number of homeschool groups out there, and likely a few in your community. If you don’t identify with the groups in your area, you can easily form your own. Similarly, without much effort you can organize a field trip, play group, or sports day with some other homeschooling families in your town.

You’re Not Alone

Often, parents considering homeschooling are worried about having to teach everything by themselves. They may feel intimidated by the prep work, or may simply struggle in certain subjects and don’t want to try to teach them. Whatever the reasons, rest easy knowing that you don’t have to teach it all. Practically every community offers a wealth of enrichment classes, afterschool programs, and community education that you can use to ease the teaching burden.

There’s also a wide range of resources, workshops, and classes designed specifically for homeschoolers. It may take a bit of time to find the right teachers, classes, or resources for you and your child, but it’s definitely possible, and it’s definitely worth the effort.

Your Choice Isn’t Set in Stone

Parents get anxious about this decision because it seems like it will determine the entirety of your child’s life for them. This just isn’t true, however. Whichever path you choose to take now, you can always change the road you’re on later.

If, for example, you decide to try homeschooling for a while but then decide it isn’t for you, you’ll still have all the options available to you that you had to start with. Public schools must provide all children with an appropriate education, regardless of where they received their schooling beforehand–it’s the law. Plus, there are plenty of examples of homeschooled children who have successfully and smoothly switched to public schools down the road.

The bottom line? Don’t be worried. If you think that homeschooling might be the right choice for you and your family, try it out! There’s really nothing to lose, and even if you change your mind later on, homeschooling can be a tremendously rewarding experience for a family.


Montessori Schooling

Montessori schools, and the Montessori philosophy of education, are named after Dr. Maria Montessori. Dr. Montessori was an Italian doctor who, after much time teaching children in the ghettos of Rome, developed a revolutionary educational methodology and philosophy, which is now exceptionally popular across the globe.

A Montessori school, therefore, is a school which adheres to Dr. Montessori’s philosophy and methodology. Be cautious, though: Dr. Montessori never copyrighted her methodology or her name. Just because a school has the word “Montessori” in its title does not necessarily mean it follows the Montessori methodology, nor does it necessarily mean that the school has been accredited by the American Montessori Society. Do your research before committing to any school.

Montessori Methodology and Philosophy

In theory, Montessori schools may teach children from infancy through high school, but in reality, most only teach up to 8th grade. The vast majority (90%) of Montessori schools are geared towards children aged 3-6.

The basic tenet of the Montessori philosophy is children-guided learning. In other words, children choose what they want to learn, and teachers guide the learning process based on that choice. Teachers do not grade students; they simply assess what the child has learned and then steer him or her towards further development and discovery.

Montessori schools seek to cultivate a sense of self-esteem, independence, curiosity, and confidence in children. They encourage students to explore new concepts, to trust and believe in themselves, and to treat others with respect. In stark contrast to traditional educational methods, in which children are disciplined and forced to adhere to a rigid system of expectations and criteria, Montessori schools respect children as self-directed individuals, while encouraging growth towards social responsibility and independence.

The classrooms in Montessori schools are designed to be open and spacious, with multiple work stations located throughout the room and learning materials easily accessible on wall shelves. Children of multiple age groups are included in a single classroom. This fosters not only individual growth, but social growth as well. Lessons, rather than being delivered to all students at one time, are given to individual students, or to small groups of students, while the rest of the class works on other projects independently.

Students take an active role in planning their schedule and holding themselves accountable for their education, with gentle guidance from the teacher. Classes use a variety of materials to enhance their lessons, such as objects of nature, treasures from distant cultures, stories, Montessori-specific materials, and more.

The Montessori philosophy is inclusive and encourages diversity. Children are taught to behave respectfully and harmoniously with others, to take responsibility for their own actions, and to view themselves as part of a global community. This inspires generosity, understanding, and compassion when interacting with others.

Multiple Intelligences

One of the most important distinctions between Montessori education and traditional education is the application of Dr. Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences theory. In fact, Dr. Montessori was applying the central concepts of Gardner’s theory decades before he officially codified it in 1983.

The multiple intelligences theory states that there are a number (Gardner lists 8) of different “modalities” of intelligence, and that individuals each possess a unique blend of all the intelligences. The eight modalities defined in Gardner’s theory are: musical-rhythmic/harmonic, visual-spatial, verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic. Certain people learn much easier through certain methods, while other people may struggle with those same methods. The people who struggle are not necessarily less intelligent; they may simply learn more effectively through a different modality.

The Montessori approach to education embraces this theory of multiple intelligences, and seeks to find out which modalities work best for each individual student. Traditional education, on the other hand, does a remarkably poor job of this, opting instead for a one-size-fits-all approach to learning, forcing large groups of children to learn primarily through reading and writing. This approach is not only ineffective, it labels large numbers of children as “remedial” or “delayed” when, in fact, they are simply not being taught in the modality best suited to their needs.

If you feel the idea of multiple intelligences is important to your child’s education, then Montessori schools may be what you’re looking for. However, they are not the only schools which implement the theory into their approach. Waldorf schools, as well as schools in the progressive education movement, are also great options which use the multiple intelligences theory in their approach.


How to Homeschool Gifted Kids

The same basic principles apply to homeschooling gifted children as to homeschooling any other children. The goal of homeschooling in general is to provide the environment, resources, and experiences which encourage curiosity, growth, and exploration.

Gifted children often respond very well to the homeschooling approach, which provides more flexibility and personal attention than traditional schooling. Gifted children often work at a quicker pace than their peers, and enjoy exploring a subject to a much greater degree of depth than might be taught at a public school. Homeschooling is the perfect approach to cater to these preferences.

Some parents of gifted children worry that they may not be able to teach certain subjects well enough to really draw out their kids’ potential. If that’s the case, there’s no need to worry. You don’t need to teach everything yourself, and there’s a large number of resources out there to draw upon, from community classes to online courses to private tutors and more.

Because gifted children are so intrinsically motivated, often you merely need to provide the resources and materials and then get out of the way. However, there are a few special considerations that come with having a gifted child:

The “Gifted” Label

In a homeschool setting, labeling a child as “gifted” doesn’t have the same effect as it does in traditional schooling because all homeschool programs are personalized, regardless of the child’s ability level. So is there any reason to use the label in homeschooling? There are some instances in which the label could be valuable:

If you want to transition into the school system later on: The school can easily test your child when you enroll, but it can be useful to already have the label established so you can get the most enrichment services possible.

If you want to take advantage of outside enrichment programs: A gifted label is very useful when using outside enrichment programs, such as those provided by John Hopkins and Stanford.

If your child is gifted enough to be admitted to college early: Some homeschool students are so profoundly gifted that they’re able to enroll in college as early as age 12–sometimes even younger.


When homeschooling parents see that their children may be gifted, they often wonder if they should have them tested to find out. After all, most traditional schools and institutions determine eligibility for gifted courses and programs based on test scores.

The answer to this question is “it depends.” Many gifted children actually enjoy taking tests. If your child is one of these, then by all means, let them take the test. However, some children find testing to be a very stressful and uncomfortable experience, no matter how gifted they may be. If this is the case, carefully consider the potential benefits of testing before subjecting them to it.

There are a few problems with testing. For one, you may not actually learn anything new from the test results. Chances are, from your time spent working with your child, you have a very accurate idea of where he or she stands. Furthermore, tests are not always accurate. Standardized tests have a number of serious shortcomings. They may be misused, or may only measure certain aspects of intelligence, rather than taking a holistic view. Tests may also have a cultural bias which puts your child at a disadvantage. At any rate, be cautious of tests and of putting too much stock into test scores.

Telling Kids That They’re Gifted

It’s tricky to know whether to tell your child that she’s gifted or not. There are pros and cons either way.

Homeschooling offers a unique challenge because, unlike traditional schools, children aren’t usually aware how they compare to their peers. This can actually be a positive thing. Gifted children, when left to their own devices, will typically have healthy relationships with their friends, sharing their unique strengths and learning from the strengths of others. They also tend to interact well with kids of all ages.

Telling children that they’re “gifted” can be risky, because it can become a source of ego-identification for them. In other words, their whole sense of self becomes defined by the “gifted” label. This can go one of two ways. They may actually become more insecure as a result. They may even avoid taking risks or pushing themselves to new levels, because if they fail they might lose their status of being “gifted.” Or, on the other hand, they may treat other children who aren’t labeled as “gifted” with condescension or disrespect, which can cause some pervasive social problems.

These problems are often in response to, or at least exacerbated by, parents who consistently compare their gifted children to other kids. The fact is, everyone grows at a different rate. Just because a child is ahead of the curve at age 5 doesn’t necessarily mean he will be his entire life. A healthy sense of humility, and of celebrating everyone’s strengths, is a much more effective approach. This isn’t to discourage you from being proud of your child and of his accomplishments. Just be cautious, and remember that being too competitive with your child’s academics can lead to problems down the road.

Part of a well-rounded education includes learning how to treat others kindly, and with respect. Often, worrying about labels can needlessly complicate things. Children thrive when given the resources and opportunities necessary to pursue their unique passions and interests at their own pace, without the added pressure and expectations that go along with labels.


Home Schooling Your Special Needs Child

Many special needs children are homeschooled. There are many advantages to this approach: it offers you a lot of flexibility in setting up a learning environment conducive to your child’s style, and it allows you the freedom to adapt lessons and curriculum to fit your child’s specific needs. However, there are certainly a number of challenges as well. Here are a few considerations to take into account when homeschooling your special needs child:

Make Sure You Stay Informed

There is absolutely no need for you to figure it all out yourself. There are a wealth of resources online to help you learn everything you need to know for a successful school year.

One thing to find out is whether your child needs assistive technology. The answer to this question will vary greatly depending on the nature of your child’s disability. For some students, prepackaged curriculum may work perfectly for their learning style, while others may need to have the lessons adapted, or have a device to help translate the information presented. Many students use computerized talkers to help them communicate, others need special software to help them write correctly, still others need very personalized interventions designed specifically for them. Talk to your child’s physician and therapists to see what they recommend, and see what state-sponsored services are available to you. Also, don’t be shy about taking advantage of free-trial periods on assistive technology, to make sure you find the right match for your child.

Many parents are anxious because they don’t know how to start, what they need to prepare, and how to go about teaching certain subjects in a way which their child will be receptive to. If you are feeling this way, remember: there have been many others before you who have already gone through this, and many of them have written helpful books, articles, and guides to help you. Make sure you do plenty of research ahead of time. Read scholarly articles and blog posts about homeschooling as it relates to your child’s specific disability. Talk to your child’s educational therapists, speech pathologists, and anyone else who might be working with your child. Before you know it, you’ll have a mountain of information and resources, and you’ll be able to choose what works best for you and your family.

Research Your Child’s Disability

“Special needs” is, of course, a very broad term. In order to best serve your child, you need to be well informed about the specifics of your child’s condition. Autism, for instance, will require a very different approach than, say, mild intellectual disability.

It’s your responsibility to learn about your child’s particular diagnosis. What are the biological factors? How do those factors manifest psychologically and behaviorally? What practices have shown to be effective in teaching children with this diagnosis? What resources will be necessary to carry out those practices? Remember, you’re not the first person who has attempted to do this, and there’s a wealth of helpful information available online, at your local library, and through talking to the trained professionals who work with your child.

Connect With Others Like You

Online forums are a great way to stay connected with other families who are homeschooling a special needs child. Having a forum to ask questions and receive helpful advice can be an absolute lifesaver, and can also be a valuable source of emotional support as well. A quick online search will reveal a list of forums specifically devoted to families who are homeschooling special needs children.

You may also want to find a local support group that meets face-to-face in your community. These groups offer a priceless opportunity to make friends, learn about what other families are doing and how it’s working for them, and to trade, share, buy, or sell useful curriculum. If you can’t find a local support group that fits your style, start your own. Chances are, there are more families out there like you who will eagerly join up.

Legal Requirements

The laws concerning homeschooling special needs children vary in each state, and it’s your responsibility to know those laws and teach in compliance with them. The resources listed above are a great place to start: the online forums and support groups that you joined will be able to point you in the right direction, and the professionals you work with will undoubtedly be helpful as well.

If your child is receiving any state-sponsored services, he’ll need to have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). This is a plan outlining specific educational goals for the upcoming year, and is very useful in measuring and documenting your child’s progress. This website is an excellent resource for learning more about IEPs and their requirements: http://www.ldonline.org/indepth/iep/iep_guidance.html.

Take Care of Yourself

Homeschooling a special needs child is a demanding and stressful task at times. Often, devoted parents work and worry themselves into a frenzy and experience the classic symptoms of burnout: fatigue, illness, anxiety, stress, etc. Don’t let this happen to you. Although burnout is usually the result of good intentions, you’re not helping your child by working yourself sick.

To avoid burnout, make healthy eating and rest high priorities in your life. You may also consider such activities as yoga and meditation, which are proven to relieve stress and tension in the body as well as the mind. Make sure, also, that you take time for yourself and your spouse. Go on dates together, get out of the house, have some fun. Don’t feel guilty about it, either; it’s a very healthy thing to do, which will ultimately benefit your child and his education.

It may all seem overwhelming, but there’s no need to worry too much. Just take things one step at a time, seek out help when you need, and trust yourself. You can do it!


Eclectic Homeschooling

“Eclectic Homeschooling” is an approach to homeschooling in which parents pick and choose the best parts of several different homeschooling resources. As such, it’s not exactly a set homeschooling philosophy (like the Classical or Charlotte Mason philosophies), because it will be completely different for every family who implements it.

Eclectic homeschooling has become very popular because it allows parents to design a schedule with their children’s unique personalities in mind. You know best what your kids like and what they find interesting. You probably also feel that some topics are particularly important or engaging, and eclectic homeschooling gives you a great avenue to focus on those topics. As you design your schedule and curriculum, you can adopt the methods that fit well with your family’s style, and leave out anything that isn’t such a great fit. It’s a highly personalized, customized approach to homeschooling.

To some homeschoolers, however, creating an eclectic curriculum sounds intimidating. Here are a few basic strategies to get you on the right track:

Start with a basic framework: You don’t need to design a whole curriculum out of nothing. Sometimes eclectic homeschooling simply means choosing certain parts of a curriculum and leaving out the rest. Find a guidebook or program that you find appealing and helpful, and use the parts of it that resonate with you and your style. If it offers suggestions that you don’t agree with, or which just don’t fit with your children’s learning style, leave them out. Simple as that.

Use textbooks, but don’t be bound to them: Just like your overall framework, you can use textbooks and programs to teach certain subjects. Textbooks can be valuable tools, especially if you’re not a bona fide expert in that subject. Unlike traditional schools, however, eclectic homeschoolers can skip over activities that don’t fit well with their style, and can switch to different textbooks whenever they please.

Join a homeschooling “co-op”: Homeschooling coops are informal collaborations between several homeschooling families. Typically, parents take turns teaching various classes (depending on the parents’ strengths and expertise), and may even travel to community centers, libraries, or museums together for enrichment classes. These coops are a great way to pool your community’s knowledge and talents, and they offer your children valuable socialization as well.

Design lessons in response to your children’s needs: As you go along, it will become clear what areas your kids need a little extra help in. Knowing your children best, you can design activities and lessons which will help compensate for these relative weaknesses and ultimately overcome them. Be mindful of their learning styles as you design these lessons. If your child struggles in a subject, you may want to include occasional breaks in the lesson, or present it in an entertaining, playful way.

Give children space to learn naturally: Lessons needn’t be formal or strict. Reading, for example, could be as simple as a trip to the library, where your kids can choose whatever book interests them. Or you could read them stories out loud before bedtime, to strengthen their listening comprehension.

Pay attention to your children’s interests: The best part about eclectic homeschooling is getting to design a curriculum based on your child’s unique personality, something that public schools couldn’t possibly accomplish. What is your child passionate about? Or at least interested in? Design lessons which build on and encourage those interests, to further bring out your children’s innate strengths and talents.

Is Eclectic Homeschooling the Same as Unschooling?

Not exactly. The two approaches certainly share a great deal in common, but they’re not quite the same thing.

Unschooling is often called “child-led learning.” It’s a philosophy in which the child chooses what subjects to study, and at what pace. The parents act less as teachers and more as facilitators, providing the child with the materials, resources, and opportunities necessary to pursue his interests as independently as possible.

Eclectic homeschooling offers parents a great deal of flexibility to respond to their children’s interests and design lesson plans accordingly. However, parents typically choose what topics are covered, and may even provide a rough schedule to follow. In other words, eclectic homeschooling occupies the middle ground between the rigidly structured curriculum of traditional schooling, and the free, structureless approach of unschooling.

The Pros of Eclectic Homeschooling

Flexibility: Children’s interests evolve and change, sometimes at a staggering rate. Eclectic homeschooling gives parents the flexibility to adapt to those changes as they occur. There’s no need to complete a pre-packaged curriculum if it no longer suits your needs, and you can change strategies and materials at any time.

Customizable: Rather than forcing a child into a one-size-fits-all approach to education, you can design your lesson plan according to your child’s unique personality and learning style. You can even design different teaching plans for different children.

Inexpensive: Picking and choosing your own resources can cost a lot less money than paying for an all-inclusive pre-packaged curriculum.

Parents help choose the course of study: In contrast to Unschooling, in which the child takes full control of their education, Eclectic Homeschooling gives parents a measure of control in deciding a course of study.

The Cons of Eclectic Homeschooling

More prep time: Designing your own, customized curriculum takes much more time and preparation than just using a set, pre-packaged curriculum.

You’re completely responsible: Choosing what to teach and how to teach it requires a fair amount of research. Since the plan you’re creating is unique and customized, you’re completely responsible for its outcome.

Every child is different: Eclectic homeschooling seeks to create a course of study specially adapted to your child’s needs. As such, you need to be constantly alert and attentive to your child’s evolving interests, and be ready to change directions whenever necessary.


Home Schooling and Socialization

For many, the term “homeschooled” conjures up images of children cooped up at home all day, unsociable, awkward, lonely. This is a misconception! In fact, homeschooling families typically have rich social lives, plenty of friends, and are actively involved in their community.

But be cautious! “Socialization” is not a synonym for “social life”. Socialization is the process of learning the skills necessary for thriving in the community, for interacting with other people in different circumstances, and for knowing how to act appropriately in different situations. It is best taught by example, by adults who love and care about the child.

Serving as an Example

Children become socialized by observing others, and understandably their parents exert a particularly strong influence in their observations. A parent’s example of how to behave across a range of settings is one of the most important factors in a child’s socialization. This is a gradual, day-by-day process, where even seemingly insignificant interactions can have lasting effects. Guide your actions with love and mindfulness, and your children will do the same.

Not every child learns the same way, however, or at the same pace. Some children easily and naturally pick up on social cues; others struggle and need to be deliberately and kindly taught. Caring, patient parents who are willing to work with their child through thick and thin are the best mentors to teach social skills.

Children develop their social understanding as they interact with other people. Make sure your children have space to try to develop their skills, and opportunities to use them. Lovingly guide them toward appropriate behavior, and correct inappropriate behavior when you need to. Explain to them why certain behavior is acceptable, and be patient as they learn. If your child is having trouble with certain areas of his or her social development, make sure they have opportunities to work on them out in the real world.

The Social Life of Homeschoolers

Just like their public school peers, some homeschooled children have a vibrant social life which comes naturally and easily, and some need to exert more effort to stay involved. There are many opportunities for homeschoolers to have a rich social experience:

Connect with other homeschooling families: It’s quite common for homeschooling families in the community to connect and arrange field trips, sports days, or coop classes. There are many advantages to this sort of arrangement, and socialization is one of them.

Sports leagues: Homeschoolers can join city sports leagues, homeschool leagues, and even some public school teams.

Youth groups: Scouting, 4-H Club, youth groups, and other such clubs and organizations are great opportunities for homeschoolers to get out into the community.

Friends: You and your child can arrange play dates with friends, who may be fellow homeschoolers, neighbors, scouts, etc.


What Home Schooling Parents Want To Know

here are some of the most common questions asked by parents who are already homeschooling:

I’m not using a set curriculum. Where can I find quality materials that won’t cost me an arm and a leg, particularly for older students? Is homeschooling cost-effective for high school students?

There’s been a huge increase in the number of resources available to homeschooling families recently. There are more curriculum companies offering a wider variety of teaching tools and resources than ever before, which can really help you round out your lessons.

But, thankfully, you don’t need to purchase everything you need these days. The library is a veritable gold mine for homeschoolers, especially when you take advantage of their interlibrary lending system. Not only can you access practically any novel or reference book you can think of, many libraries also offer a large number of audiobooks, movies, music, games, and more. In some library systems, patrons can even borrow electronic devices such as Kindles, Nooks, or mp3 players. There’s a wealth of resources available from the library, and, best of all, it costs you nothing (provided you return everything on time).

The library, in addition to offering free books and materials, also provides classes, workshops, and activities in a range of subjects. Many of these activities are in after-school hours, but many take place during the day, allowing for a good deal of scheduling flexibility. Furthermore, many libraries are a gathering place for the local homeschooling community. Activities, support groups, and parent-taught classes from fellow homeschoolers can be great supplement to your own curriculum.

Other than the library, the Internet is a homeschooling family’s best friend. The resources available online are practically limitless, provided you know how to sort out the gems from the junk. If you do, you’ll find numerous resources, activities, lessons, videos, tutorials, projects, and more which can keep you and your child busy year-round.

If you’re looking for a way to get out into the community, check out some the learning opportunities available at local schools, museums, businesses, and colleges. Many of these establishments offer classes available to the public, and many offer classes specifically for the homeschooling community. Additionally, many school districts offer after-school community education classes in a long list of subjects, from advanced German to beginning guitar to computer technology and more. These classes are generally very affordable.

What if I struggle with a subject myself? How do I teach that subject?

Many parents feel overwhelmed because they think they need to teach everything by themselves. Luckily, this just isn’t the case. One option is to find resources and materials that kids can use by themselves, such as online courses or guidebooks. These can be found from any of the sources listed above, and don’t require you to have a mastery over subjects that you struggle with.

If you’re looking for a real-life, face-to-face teacher, there are plenty of options there too. Consider a homeschool co-op, for example, in which parents of different homeschooling families trade lessons. For example, you might teach a class in algebra to your own children and to the children of another homeschooling family, and the other parents, in exchange, might teach a class in Spanish. These co-ops are a great way to pool knowledge, and distribute the teaching burden amongst many willing parents.

There are still more options: private tutors can be very helpful for teaching more difficult subjects, such as higher math. Private tutors may be local college students, public school teachers, or professional tutors online or at commercial tutoring centers. You could also try distance learning at an online college, or attend a local private school part-time (many private schools offer this part-time option to local homeschoolers). It may take a bit of time to find the option that works best for you, but there’s a lot of help out there that you can take advantage of.

My Child Doesn’t Want to Write. How Can I Encourage Him?

Often, children don’t want to write because they associate writing with a frustrating pile of rules. Rather than an avenue of self expression and communication, writing becomes an odious chore. A great way to cultivate writing skills, therefore, is by removing all the rules. Let your child be creative. Don’t worry about spelling errors or grammatical mistakes. Even the most reluctant of writers will fill page after page if they don’t need to worry about the technical details.

While this may seem counter-intuitive, it actually can be quite effective. When children are given the freedom to use their imagination and develop their own unique voice, grammar and technicalities often naturally fall into place later on.

One of the hardest parts about writing, for writers of all ages and levels, is simply getting started. Here are a few strategies to overcome this hurdle and inspire some creative imagination in your student:

    • Give your student the first sentence, or part of a first sentence. Then let them take it wherever they want to.
    • Show your student a picture, news article, or illustration, and then have him adopt the perspective of one of the people in that situation.
    • Let your student start by drawing an illustration of his story first, then writing the corresponding story. This works particularly well for younger kids.

Another way to motivate your children to write is by publishing their finished work. This can easily be done at home, with the kids making their own cover and binding it together with thread, brads, or staples. Or, you can lay out the text of their story or book in a word processing program, and send it out to be professionally bound. There are a number of companies, online and in your community, who can do this for you for a reasonable price. For your kids, seeing their work become a real book can be highly motivating.

Also, remember that the best way to learn how to write is by reading. Make sure your kids have access to a wide range of different writing styles, and encourage them to read for pleasure. The more they read, the more they’ll absorb different writing strategies, and the more they’ll be able to construct clear and thoughtful sentences on their own.

What sports can my child play if we can’t join the school sports teams?

The answer to this question varies depending on where you live. Homeschoolers can join public school sports teams in 30 states, but the requirements and regulations may be different across different school districts. Check with your local school district to see what your options are. It’s possible your child can join the sports team with no problem at all. In addition, many states have enacted, or are considering enacting, “Tim Tebow laws,” which allow homeschool children to join public school sports teams.

Beyond public school sports teams, though, there are a large number of options for you and your kids to play sports and exercise without worrying about state laws and regulations. Community sports teams, for instance, are open to children from all backgrounds. Through these leagues, your child could play baseball, basketball, football, soccer, or swimming, to name a few. There are also many homeschool leagues out there, which offer competition in a number of team sports exclusively for homeschooling families.

A popular option for many homeschooling families is a regular Outdoor Games Day. Homeschooling families gather at a local park once every week or so and have a day of outdoor play and exercise. The children decide which games to play, how to organize teams, and how to adapt the rules to accommodate the participants. It’s a great way for your kids to get outside, play with their peers, and get some exercise.

Plus, don’t forget the many other options for recreation available in your area. This might include hiking, biking, kayaking, rock climbing, or visiting a community fitness center. These not only offer great exercise, but can be a great way to strengthen family bonds as well.

Does every homeschooling family hold the same religious and political ideals?

Homeschooling is an option available to everyone, and no one religious or political group can claim exclusive ownership of it. True, there are some who choose to homeschool for religious or political reasons, but there are many others who choose to homeschool simply because they find it to be a good fit for their family and lifestyle. The homeschooling community is very diverse, with members of practically every religion and political group imaginable represented.

If a spokesperson of the homeschooling community champions ideas which you don’t identify or agree with, remember that they don’t speak for all homeschoolers out there. And if you find that your local homeschooling group adheres to a set of religious or political beliefs that you don’t share, find another inclusive group which welcomes all perspectives and all backgrounds. If you can’t find such an inclusive group in your area, start your own. You don’t need to change your ideals and values in order to homeschool.