Is “homeschool” just “school at home”?

Most of us have a pretty standard picture of what “school” is supposed to look like. Whether you look at a classroom from 1935 in Austria or more recently in the US, you would immediately be able to identify similarities. The décor and fashions may have changed, but kids are sitting in desks and a teacher is standing at the front of the room.

A homeschool does not have to look like that! Your child is not required to sit at a desk for the work to count. You do not have to stand at the board and lecture for it to count as teaching.

My kids sit on the couch or lie on their bed to complete reading assignments. They sit at our kitchen table to complete written assignments or work at the desk where the laptop lives for online or typed work. I did put up a 2 x 4 ft. whiteboard by the dining table when we first started homeschooling, but it is rarely used for school anymore.

I sit with my kids on the couch or at the table. I read books to my younger child and discuss readings with my older child. I sit right next to them and go through math problems. I stand at the kitchen counter and do science experiments with them.

Once the pandemic is over, homeschooling can take place at museums, zoos, and aquariums. Many even offer classes for homeschooled kids. It could take place at the library or the park or along the stream in the woods. School kids are actually at a disadvantage being stuck in the school building all day every day with only very occasional and very choreographed field trips into the real world.

Just as the physical space in which you homeschool your child does not have to look like school, the temporal space does not, either. You do not have to follow a class schedule. If you planned on reading only one chapter of a novel today, but got really caught up in the story and read for 3 hours, great! If the math worksheet was just a little too difficult and resulted in tears after 10 minutes, put it away and try again tomorrow with a different explanation.

A homeschool day does not have to be 8 hours long. One-on-one instruction takes a lot less time than teaching a class of 30 students. First of all, you don’t have to take attendance, walk around and check homework, or pass back papers. All that saves probably a good 15 minutes out of every 45 minute class. Secondly, you have a more dynamic feedback loop. Your kid doesn’t have to do 20 similar math problems if you can see after 5 that they get the concept.

You can discuss as you read or work out problems, instead of the kid doing a bunch of work and then you grading it. 

Speaking of grades, that is probably the biggest difference between homeschool and traditional school. You do not need to grade your child, especially not below high school age. There is no benefit to telling a kid, “You only understood 85% of that history chapter. But you can forget that now, because we are moving on to the next topic.” That’s where that dynamic feedback loop comes in again. Talk about stuff as your child is learning. Don’t wait until the end of the chapter to assess if they understood it all. Many homeschoolers work on the principle of mastery, they don’t move on until the kid gets what they were supposed to get. For reading, writing, and math, that might mean staying on one concept for quite a while until it is mastered. For science and social studies, it could just mean exposure to ideas to integrate with later topics.

Can a homeschool look like school at home? Sure, kind of. Part of it depends on where you fall in terms of homeschooling philosophy. If you identify with the unschooling approach, then your homeschool will rarely look like a traditional school. If you choose to homeschool using an online program, you could end up falling more into a strict schedule of when classes take place. But homeschooling gives you the flexibility to pick and choose from a wide range of options, so at different times and for different ages and subjects, your homeschool takes on a different style. It will always have more of a one-room schoolhouse feel than a modern day public school, though, just by fact that you will never have a couple dozen kids of the same age sitting at desks in your house.

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