Corporate homeschooling

The following link is to an article by Lawrence Williams, founder of Oak Meadow. The article discusses for-profit school-at-home programs that are often available to parents through state-funding, and Dr. Williams’s decision to make Oak Meadow a non-profit organization.

Corporate Homeschooling, Lawrence Williams, Education (AERO)

I’ve finally realized that education and for-profit organizations don’t mix. Perhaps the thrill of enormous profits inherent in the for-profit world is simply incompatible with the educational arena in which compassion, integrity, and self-sacrifice are valued so highly. If we want to teach our children to become strong, intelligent, compassionate adults—and thoughtful members of the global community—that can be best accomplished through a business structure that sets an example of disciplined, responsible, ethical behavior.

Over the years, we’ve had many offers to sell Oak Meadow, but on each occasion it was clear that the motivation of the buyers was for profit, not for children. Many other homeschool organizations have started, grown, and been sold to large for-profit corporations since we began, and the number of heavily-capitalized for-profit educational corporations seems to be increasing daily.


Homeschooling styles and methods: Waldorf schooling

Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher and founder of the “science of the spirit,” to which he gave the name Anthroposophy, also developed a school for the children of the workers of the Waldorf Astoria cigarette company in Stuttgart, Germany in 1919 [1].   The name of the cigarette company gave its name to Steiner’s style of schooling.

For young children Waldorf schooling emphasizes art, music, handicrafts and physical movement (Eurythmy). The schooling philosophy divides children’s developmental ages into three stages of about seven years each: birth to change of teeth, change of teeth to puberty, and adolescence.  Waldorf schools teach from an Anthroposophist viewpoint, a viewpoint that has its critics, but the homeschooling parent, as always, can choose only those aspects that best fit her talents, philosophy and disposition.[2]

A distinctive aspect of Waldorf schooling is an emphasis on the children making their own books rather than reading only from textbooks. These books can be handmade using Manila paper, cloth, glue and cardboard, or the book can be an art sketchbook from the store. Either way, they are individualized records of the child’s interests and work and make excellent ‘souvenirs’ of the homeschooling adventure.


[1] Soul Economy:  Body, Soul and Spirit in Waldorf Education, Rudolf Steiner, 1977, 2003,M1

[2] Foreword, R.A. Jarman, The spiritual basis of Steiner education, Roy Wilkinson, 1996,M1


Copyright 2009 Valerie Bonham Moon

This work may be copied and freely distributed as long as the copyright and this notice are included.

Homeschooling styles and methods: unschooling

John Holt[1] was the first writer to use the existing word, “unschooled.” Holt used the word to mean children who learned outside of school, instead of the word’s meaning of people who have never been to school.

Holt was an elementary schoolteacher before he wrote his first book, How Children Fail.[2], [3] During his teaching years, Holt found flaws in classroom style instruction and worked to reform public schools, going so far as to propose an underground railroad to help children escape from the effects of compulsory schooling laws.[4] After he discovered homeschooling, Holt changed his focus from school reform and started the magazine Growing Without Schooling [5]. He initially used the term ‘unschooling’ as a synonym for homeschooling but the word has come to mean a separate form of self-directed learning.  This use of ‘unschooling’ contrasts with the various styles of school-at-home teaching that usually characterize homeschooling.

Like homeschooling, unschooling has also experienced a fractalization similar to that in homeschooling:  the greater the number of people who participate, the greater the number of styles that develop.

Perhaps the ‘eclectic’ style of homeschooling could be thought of as a middle-of-the-homeschooling-road style of unschooling:  no set curriculum, no set list of materials, and no set style of learning.  Eclectic homeschooling though, can still include formal lessons (depending on what each family chooses), so it could probably be categorized more as possibly ‘unschoolish’ than actual ‘unschooling.’

The practice of unschooling is raising children with parental encouragement, conversation and support.  An everyday example of the unschool style is the time of life of small stay-at-home-children between birth and whatever point they are assumed to be educable and are sent off to school.

At the far end of unschooling lies ‘radical unschooling.’  Radical unschooling does not mean unschooling by politically radical parents, although that would not be surprising.  Radical unschooling is allowing children to grow up ‘just living’ and making their own decisions about many aspects of life usually controlled by parents, such as mealtimes or bedtimes.[6]

Regardless of whether a family’s unschooling style is more eclectic or more radical, the intent of unschooling is not to ignore the children and allow them to age without direction.  The intent of unschooling is attentive, engaged parenting that supports the children in their interests and activities:  life as learning, rather than learning separated from living.[7]


Interview with Canadian publisher, Wendy Priesnitz

[1] John Holt


[3] Google Books version

[4] John Holt and the origins of contemporary homeschooling, Patrick Farenga, 1999

[5] Growing Without Schooling

[6] “Is there a difference between a Radical Unschooler and just an Unschooler?”

[7] Wikipedia article

Copyright 2009 Valerie Bonham Moon

This work may be copied and freely distributed as long as the copyright and this notice are included.

Homeschooling Styles and Methods: Unit study

What are unit studies?

Homeschoolers usually think of the unit study method as a group of lessons that use a variety of approaches.  These approaches can work together to focus on a smaller part of a larger subject (perhaps a multi-media report on the “Lost Battalion” of WWI[1]), or may spread out to look at many aspects of a single subject (George Washington’s political path plus the kind of house he lived in, what he ate, the popular music of the time, etc.).  All the children in a family can take part with each one working at his or her level.  Unit studies can be the main style of the family’s homeschooling (as with the Konos[2] program), a part of each new subject, or a special treat.

Parents can allow the unit study to be as wide or narrow as they or their children wish.  Parents can set aside an amount of time for the project – usually a week or two – or they may allow it to continue until the kids run out of steam.  As with any homeschooling method, no single unit study style is t.h.e. official way of spending time with any material.

The goals people have for a unit study are as varied as there are people using the style.  Pieces of music have different aims; few trendy dance club managers invite polka disc jockeys to perform, even though composers of polka and techno music may all mean to get people dancing.  Likewise, painting the nursery walls using Jackson Pollock’s style could be a workable way to camouflage dirt in a toddler’s room, but most parents prefer room decorations with more structure, such as blocks of color arranged in a design, or nursery pictures.  In the same way, the result of a unit study could be anything from journal entries tracking the study, a completed Lap Book®[3], [4] or a 4H project or Scout badge.

Commercial unit study programs often work ‘across the curriculum.’  A ‘store bought’ program may include writing assignments for English, worksheet activities for handwriting, illustrations for art, physical information for science, and different levels of information for working with children of different ages.

As with most things, people of different levels of creativity and skill put together commercial unit study programs.  Some programs are original, but some are plagiarized information from books whose copyrights have expired and are now in the public domain.  This is a problem within the commercial sphere of homeschooling, not just unit studies. The practice of ‘buyer be aware’ coupled with making only a small first-time purchase after asking around may keep any poor choices, such as ‘unit studies’ that are little more than elaborate worksheet exercises that children paste onto construction paper, from knocking a big hole in a budget or ruining a long stretch of school year as the shortcomings show up.

Where do I find unit study materials?

For homemade unit studies, idea starters might be:

  • the calendar, for notable days, holidays or the birthdays of famous people[5]
  • a history book for pinpointing ‘little known facts’ that hide behind the larger events of history
  • a science project book, for interesting experiments that can be researched as to whether the experiment was famous or significant, such as Galileo’s insight into freely falling bodies
  • children’s interests

Parents can think of any focused area of study as a unit study.

Parents who prefer prepared programs can find unit study suppliers using a search engine.

[1] Blood in the Argonne:  The “Lost Battalion” of WWI, April 2006 review in The Journal of Military History

[2] Konos program

[3] Lap book trademark

[4] “Winter Vacation Book”

[5] “A Birthday a Day,” Rebecca Rupp, Sep/Oct 1997,  Home Education Magazine

Copyright 2006, 2009 Valerie Bonham Moon

This work may be copied and freely distributed as long as the copyright and this notice are included.

Homeschooling Styles and Methods: Umbrella schools

What is an umbrella school?

An umbrella school is a type of home education support with which parents can register/enroll the children so that the school keeps a record of the children’s progress for the family.

“Umbrella schools” also overlap with correspondence schools, and distance-learning providers.  Any of these providers may use scripted lessons, tests and a log of daily reports, or may just give an outline of recommended studies, but let the families choose how the children will complete their studies, and if that work was satisfactory.  The common function among all the services is record keeping.

Are umbrella schools a homeschooling requirement?

No, although the church school requirement in Alabama[1] comes close.  Umbrella schools are a service available to homeschooling parents.  Fees, the services from the school, and the requirements of the families vary among the providers.

Umbrella schools are useful if you live in a state with cumbersome requirements although Pennsylvania takes exception to the practice.[2]

How do umbrella schools work?

Some schools provide books and workbooks; others let the family choose what to use for the children’s learning.  Usually the family provides agreed upon information so the school can construct records for the children:  hours of study/schoolwork, subjects, and perhaps evaluations.

Umbrella schools can also be a way of coping with a teen’s high school records for those of us who, in Cafi Cohen’s words, “. . . say, ‘I would rather walk ten miles in a snowstorm than write a transcript,’ and happily delegate the paperwork.”[3]

[1] The Code of Alabama 1975, Title 16, Chapter 28 School Attendance

See:  Definitions

[2] Pennsylvania legal attitude towards umbrella schools

[3] “Independent Study/Umbrella Schools.” Cafi Cohen’s Homeschool Teens and College

Copyright 2006, 2009 Valerie Bonham Moon

This work may be copied and freely distributed as long as the copyright and this notice are included.

Homeschooling styles and methods: Montessori schooling

Montessori education 

Maria Montessori was an Italian teacher who started work as a medical doctor and then changed to childhood learning after studying psychology and philosophy.  She worked from the early 1900s almost until her death in 1952. Dr. Montessori’s schooling style focuses on children working at learning in a prepared setting, and using small tools and materials that fit a child’s size.

Montessori homeschooling is not a specific curriculum sold to parents.  The Association Montessori Intenationale[i] grants teaching credentials for Infancy, Primary or Elementary level training, and those teachers work in Montessori schools.   Parents, though, can learn about the work and philosophy of Maria Montessori and use this information at home.

[i] Association Montessori Intenationale



International Montessori Society:  What is Montessori?

Montessori homeschooling

Home Ed Montessori Homeschooling


Copyright 2006, 2009 Valerie Bonham Moon

This work may be copied and freely distributed as long as the copyright and this notice are included.

Homeschooling styles and methods: eclectic homeschooling

What is eclectic homeschooling?

As early as the 1980s, homeschool writers applied the term ‘eclectic’ to a style of homeschooling that is non-specific in terms of sticking to the ideas of a particular style of schooling.  Parents who homeschool eclectically may pick the parts they like best from schooling models such as:

  • the replication of mainstream school in the home
  • Holt’s unschooling
  • Montessori’s real work for small children
  • Steiner’s spirituality
  • Mason’s emphatically twaddle-free regimen


How does eclectic homeschooling differ from other specific styles of homeschooling?

The chief marker of eclectic homeschooling is the lack of a single method for schooling children.  Instead of tailoring their days according to someone else’s prepared plan, parents select methods that fit the child, the moment, and the material.  Part of this ‘freedom to choose’ is common sense.  For example, few people try to teach non-bike riders to ride bicycles by having them read about the physics of balance and inertia, friction and momentum.[1]  We just get behind the kid and push.  Just as eclectic homeschoolers may use parts of other homeschooling methods, we all vary our approaches to learning different skills.


What are the benefits of eclectic homeschooling?

Perhaps the best part of eclectic homeschooling may be less stress than with boxed programs.  Parents who use a packaged curriculum may find that while one part of the package works well for their children, another part may be a round hole into which they try to pound their children’s square, rectangular or triangular learning pegs.  When this happens, neither children nor parents are often happy.

The same situation might crop up if a parent feels a connection with the philosophy of an educational visionary, but the child does not.  A highly organized mother with a more … go-with-the-flow … child might feel stressed when they are unable to make it through a full day using the mother’s highly organized series of lessons from the curriculum that works so well for those decades-worth of satisfied parents (according to the advertisements).  Conversely, a highly organized child turned loose in the garden with the instruction to glory in nature and become one with the butterflies could very well stomp back into the house and demand worksheets she can complete and then file in a notebook. 


What are the drawbacks of eclectic homeschooling?

Perhaps the most common drawback of eclectic homeschooling is anxiety.  Parents may feel a lack of reassurance about this non-specific path’s destination, a destination that hides behind the event-horizon of the future, and behind the glare of the rising sun.  Who knows what the new day will bring?  Who knows where this road will lead?  

Our society’s schools come with projected outcomes, and this is the accepted state of things.  Students (a label that is the kids’ job title) study programs assembled by experts and those programs include X, Y and Z.  When the students graduate, they receive diplomas indicating (although never guaranteeing) that they are competent concerning X, Y and Z. 

Unfortunately, for the homeschooling parents who were probably organizationally schooled themselves and thus have a learning model already in place, the path macheted out of the jungle of homeschool advertising, and illuminated only by the light of learning as filtered through the leaves of the syllabus-trees, have no such implied … indications … of competence.  Will that final step along the homeschooling path bring the learner to the gates of a shining city of educational attainment with a fanfare, or, as the critics contend, will the rocks of unaccreditation, strewn by her amateur parents through their choices of books with hokey history, marginal math, spurious science, and wrotten writing, send the innocent child spiraling off the cliffs of ignorance into the roiling sea of unemployment?  As the child goes off into the world, will the parent be praised or prosecuted?

It was enough to keep me awake at night.

Another parental anxiety is the welfare of the children.  More than one parent has asked, in essence, “what if I break my kids?” as if the parents would go wild with power and purposefully teach their children untruths just because they can with the children not knowing any better.  I have read comments from mothers saying, “I like a strict program.  It keeps me accountable.”  I always wonder how these parents nurtured their children through infancy and toddlerhood without “accountability.”

‘Breaking’ kids is unlikely even if you invent a world, populate it with beings whose discovery CNN or Fox News have not yet presented for 23 of the past 24 hours, write its history yourself, and invent languages for it all.  Consider J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth.  Children whose parents imbued them with such a mythical upbringing would not make that journey without learning something, but who is likely to do that, even given total power over their children?

A perceived drawback to the eclectic style of homeschooling is the time seen to be lost through the piecemeal choosing of materials and strategies. Some parents feel that taking the time to find the right ‘fit’ wastes time, and that buying an established schooling program presents the least ‘danger’ to their child’s future. But using materials you later discard might be a form of refinement.  Instead of limiting your view to one outlook (adhering to a specific method), or cluttering the forest with too many trees (trying to get it all in), you might be pruning deadwood that restricts your view, and become more aware of why you need to prune. 

Determining what you do not want is as useful as determining what you do, and parents may find that they homeschool themselves in the process of the journey of homeschooling their kids.



Eclectic homeschooling is yet another of the choices available to parents as they work to raise their children well.  To me, this style of homeschooling provides the most flexibility for both parents and children and almost seems to be the foundation that we hope education was meant to be.


[1] How you steer a bicycle


Copyright 2006, 2009 Valerie Bonham Moon

This work may be copied and freely distributed as long as the copyright and this notice are included.



A single word or phrase is not set for ‘free’ at-home programs such as K12 Inc., Connections or the ‘free’ versions of Calvert or Oak Meadow, that are provided at public expense, and this leaves the field open for a variety of descriptive labels.  Some people call these public-school-at-home (p.s.a.h.) programs ‘charter schooling’ although the phrase ‘charter school’ means a brick and mortar school in a specific place, not a school program delivered through a computer.  Other people call the p.s.a.h.-programs cyber-schooling, online charters, e-schools, virtual schools or virtual academies.

Whatever the p.s.a.h. is called, it is a ‘homeschool look-alike’ in which state systems enroll children in a distance education program, and those children usually stay home for school.  Some states with large rural areas use their p.s.a.h. program to deliver services to children and teens enrolled in public schools, and provide them with classes that the local school does not offer.  Sometimes the program delivers the classes at home, and sometimes through the computers at school. 

The success of homeschooled children and teens inspired public schools and state education departments to transfer children’s educational instruction sites back to the home[1], but leaving out the independence of homeschooling.  The rules are different when other peoples’ money is in the mix.[2]

The problem these programs cause for parents who homeschool their children is that the outward similarity of the p.s.a.h. programs to homeschooling — kids stay home to learn — leads to confusion when the companies that provide the programs to states bill themselves as ‘homeschooling.’[3], [4] 

The resemblance between homeschooling and p.s.a.h., whether accidental or with purposeful aforethought[5], has caused some members of the non-homeschool public to complain about the lack of ‘accountability’ by people they see as ‘homeschoolers’ who they think use taxpayer money to pay for their children’s at-home educations.[6]  Further confusion arises because companies that provide p.s.a.h. programs play both sides of the revenue stream and market their programs both privately to families, and to states as p.s.a.h. programs.[7], [8], [9]  

Advocates for all forms of educational choice disagree with homeschooling advocates that the confusion between homeschooling and p.s.a.h. is a problem for parents who homeschool. The way I read the position of the ‘all forms advocates’ is that if homeschool groups limit their support only to those people who completely fund their children’s education, that this restriction will alienate a significant block of sympathetic alternative educators.  The advocates of unrestricted inclusion in support groups of ‘anyone’ think that this position makes homeschoolers appear not to care about the good of all children[10] even though most parents who homeschool are supportive of the best education for each child.  The sticky point in the discussion is the use of the word, “homeschool.”[11]

Of course, all parents should have the choice of how they manage their children’s educations, but the popular meme of ‘school choice’ is misleading if what parents understand as ‘school choice’ is a taxpayer-funded education of the parents’ choice, which is a misunderstanding.[12]

The worry for parents who homeschool is that the growing popularity of ‘free’ at-home education as a guaranteed ‘choice’ will indeed, ‘change the way the world sees homeschooling,’ and that the shift in public perception to controlled school-at-home as the norm will overshadow their independence and academic freedom. [13]

If the root word ‘homeschool’ loses its connection to inherent freedom, not only will families who want to educate their children at home find it harder to put their plans into words, but much of what was written before the advent of the p.s.a.h. programs will be so much nonsense.  “… Don we now our gay apparel, fa la la, la la la, la la la. …”[14]

As for advice about the programs, it is difficult for an ‘outsider’ to give an opinion about the particulars of one program or another without any experience of the programs.  Parents who want specific information must either read the contract they have with the provider, or go to the providers themselves for specific information on how they currently administer the program.


[1] “How William Bennett’s Public E-Schools Affect Homeschooling.”  Home Education Magazine, November-December 2002
“Homeschoolers are a key to the K12 Inc. enterprise. Milken and Bennett are building on the success of homeschooling. … Without evidence provided by the success of the modern homeschooling movement, Milken, Bennett, and others would be having a much more difficult time launching their enterprise and recruiting investors and potential participants.”

[2] “IL: Parents ‘may engage only in non-teaching duties’.”  Home Education Magazine News and Commentary, 10 March 2009
“(6) The remote educational program is at all times under the direct supervision of a parent, guardian, or  other responsible adult identified in the approved remote educational plan. The parent, guardian, or other responsible adult may engage only in non-teaching duties not requiring instructional judgment or the evaluation of students. The parent, guardian, or other responsible adult shall be designated by the school district as non-teaching personnel or volunteer personnel.”

[3] “Home school program puts its curriculum on display.”  Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, 29 April 2008
“The IDEA is a home school support program based in the Galena City School District. The program has 3,700 students statewide with 800 of those students from the Fairbanks area, IDEA Director Tim Cline said.”

[4] “Another On-Line Charter School Continues Threat to Homeschooling in Ohio.”  Ohio Home Education Coalition, Revised April 2002

[5] “Who Is Pat Lines and Why Is She Writing About Homeschooling?”  Home Education Magazine, November-December 2003
“Lines’ monograph encourages school districts to establish programs to draw homeschoolers into public schools. ‘Quite practically,” she writes, “districts are seeking to regain some of the students they have lost to homeschooling.’ (p. 7) She describes one district working to ‘recapture students lost to the district because of homeschooling.’ (p. 24)”

[6] “Senate candidates discuss education.”  Topix forum, April 2008  
“Do these two know how much Home Schooling costs our schools?  “This entire system is one hugh (sic) scam. These aren’t all kids sitting around the kitchen table while mommy tells them about addition. These are kids who sit at computers that we buy & using software that we pay for.”

[7] K12 Inc.  Online Public Schools, Online Private School (Worldwide)

[8] Calvert Partner Schools

[9] Schools that use Oak Meadow curriculum

[10] “Why I Will Not Sign the ‘We Stand for Homeschooling Statement and Resolution'”

[11] We Stand For Homeschooling

[12] U.S. Dept. of Education,  Choice and Supplemental Educational Services.
“Children are eligible for school choice when the Title I school they attend has not made adequate yearly progress in improving student achievement— as defined by the state–for two consecutive years or longer and is therefore identified as needing improvement, corrective action or restructuring. Any child attending such a school must be offered the option of transferring to a public school in the district–including a public charter school–not identified for school improvement, unless such an option is prohibited by state law.”

[13] “Home-school parents balk at state plan.”  Anchorage Daily News, 13 March 2008
“The proposed changes would also require individual school districts to exert greater control over the curriculum available to parents who educate their children at home.”

[14]Don We Now Our Gay Apparel: Gay Men’s Dress in the Twentieth Century


Copyright 2006, 2009  Valerie Bonham Moon

This work may be copied and freely distributed as long as the copyright and this notice are included.

Homeschooling styles and methods: Delayed instruction

Delayed Instruction

Parents who use the delayed instruction approach to homeschooling introduce the formal aspects of education when the child is typically older than the usual formal schooling age.   Some parents wait until the children are eight or nine years old, while some may wait until ten or twelve.

Waldorf, Montessori and Charlotte Mason schooling, the work of the Moore Academy, and the school practices of the country of Finland[1] all share aspects of delayed instruction in their approaches to educating children.


Much Too Early!, Dr. David Elkind
Understanding brain development and early learning, Bruce Murray
Educational Media for Babies, Toddlers and Pre-schoolers Have Questionable Value, 14 December 2005 (scroll down)

Books by Dr. David Elkind:
Miseducation: Preschoolers at Risk
The Hurried Child 
All Grown Up And No Place To Go: Teenagers In Crisis

Books by Dr. Raymond and Dorothy Moore:
Better Late Than Early: A New Approach to Your Child’s Education 
Home Grown Kids 
Home Spun Schools  
Home-Style Teaching:  A Handbook for Parents and Teachers 
The Successful Homeschool Family Handbook 

June Oberlander:
Slow and Steady Get Me Ready  


[1] What Makes Finnish Kids So Smart?  Ellen Gamerman, The Wall Street Journal, 29 February 2008


Copyright 2009, Valerie Bonham Moon

This work may be copied and distributed for free as long as the copyright and this notice are included.

Homeschooling styles and methods: School-at-home


When people hear the word ‘homeschool,’ the picture that comes to mind is most likely a classroom.  Many correspondence schools design their programs to look like what happens in schools, and some parents see the familiar classroom example as the way to homeschool ‘properly.’  The school-at-home method is one way to homeschool, but it may be a stressful way.

The homeschool style of school-at-home attracts parents because, even if we did not enjoy it, most of us were taught in classrooms.  With a structured program, parents can easily start lessons at home with children who have attended school because both parents and children know ‘how school looks’ and what to expect.  The influence of the classroom model is so strong that some parents, whether or not they homeschool, even talk about “my student” instead of “my daughter” or “my son.” In this way, parents cast their child’s identity in terms of school instead of in terms of family.  Because of this strong social framework that shapes our view of the world, it is not a surprise that the school-at-home style is popular among parents.



A problem with the school-at-home style is that the schoolroom model can wear thin in a household.  Other than breaks for music lessons or sports practices, usually parents and children do the housework, complete lessons and hurry from one activity to another.  While their children play music, kick balls or break boards with their fists, parents wait to move on to the next event.  Mom may read a book, knit or work crossword puzzles to fill the time, but the clock tick, tick, ticks. After months of this, a child may grow restive when ‘Teacher’ — who knows all about that book report — wakes him at sunrise and tucks him in as the moon peeks in the window.  Parental nerves stretch as Mom tries to maintain ‘classroom discipline’ both for the kids and for her.  More than one mom has said words such as, “I want a program so that it keeps me accountable,” as if these mothers did not raise their babies well without an in-home dietician, nurse or crossing guard.

The parent who seizes every teachable moment can burn out[1] , especially if the school program requires classroom-style records.  Is it a coincidence that the first page of the search results for “homeschool burnout”[2]  features articles aimed at Christian parents who often prefer highly structured ‘classical’ programs?  The problem is not with Christianity or with parents who want a classic education for their children.  The problem is that en masse we forget that children are born into families, not into schools.

When parents start to homeschool, the school-at-home style program may be a way for everyone to get their bearings through the familiarity of the routine.  If this technique appeals to you, just remember that if this method stresses you or the children, you are the one who can decide that another style of home education may fit your family better.  You can make that change. 


Mental roadblocks to change

Parents who feel stress from a structured program may run into mental roadblocks that keep them from making a change.  One roadblock could be disappointment because it seems the stress means they are ‘doing it wrong.’  Another roadblock could be guilt at having spent a large sum of money when the parents could have sent the child to a public school ‘for free.’

If the monsters in your closet are that you think you are ‘doing it wrong’ or Aunt Jane tsk, tsk, tsking about the fool who thought she could out-teach the professionals, keep in mind that the mass-schooling model didn’t evolve in homes.  School-at-home programs transplant a school framework onto the family, which is about as useful as putting a saddle on a cow just because it has four legs, a broad back and may wear a halter.  People have saddled cows, but there are good reasons why we don’t often see this.  Just as a school run like a family would be a poor fit (although it may first sound nice), so too would a family run like a school be less than it could be.

One of organized schooling’s assets is that it can serve a large number of people efficiently.  Teachers, children, janitors and cafeteria ladies arrive together to begin the work of the day.  Teachers and children read the same materials, and the children keep pace with one another.  The form of the activities provides a momentum so that (most) of the participants march smartly along in time to the beat set by the state’s department of education. 

Family members do not march smartly along in time to the state department of families.  Family members live.   Family nominating committees do not hand out awards for “Best Eight-and-a-half Year Old of the Quarter,” or plaques for “Best Dad of 2009,” complete with gift cards (and I so hope this does not give anyone ideas).  Even though parents like regular activity because of the mental stimulation, physical exertion or satisfaction in a job well done, Mom and Dad usually are not vying with each other for the children’s approval.  For their part, children are busy, and the busy-ness of children is not part of a plan to win an allowance bonus — it usually takes a grownup to invent something like that. 

Even in a family with twins, there are no ‘best’ eight-and-a-half year olds.

Schools are about efficiency.  Modern families are about relationships and a span of time sprinkled with good memories.  To quote singer, Carly Simon, “These are the good old days.”

Money also plays a role in resistance to change after a large purchase.  Although no bureaucracy controls a family’s daily life, parents will plug along with an expensive set of school books because of the money spent.  Some parents will not abandon that paid-for program, long after any ‘buyer’s remorse’ clause has expired, because of guilt over the purchase of a program that is a bad fit. The parent may continue with the program to try to ‘save’ the money already invested — known as ‘sunk costs’[3]  — although what is gained is misery and no cash is recouped.  Sometimes the family members think the fault of the poor fit lies with them instead of seeing the people behind the materials as human beings instead of as learning oracles.  Family members may try to shave their own squared corners so that they can fit into someone else’s round holes.

If you find yourself painted into this corner, weigh the stress caused by the schedule, worldview or technique, against how the routine affects the attitudes of you and your children, and changes how you get along with each other.  Only you can take into account your family’s culture and set that culture onto an imaginary scale with the program to see if the lack of balance is worth a decrease in household harmony, especially if the material of the program makes little sense to the children the material is supposed to educate. 

In a lovely world, learning would be an adventure of the mind, not a punishment for the soul unless what you want to teach is punishment.

The library is one place to find resources to replace the parts of the paid-for program that do not fit well.  The resource librarian or the children’s librarian should be able to help you find interesting replacement material in the library’s stacks.

If you need to stop using a program, don’t beat up yourself about it.  Consider it as a step in homeschooling yourself about homeschooling, and take the materials to a curriculum swap.  Perhaps the materials will find a home that fits better.  A clichéd quip about this kind of instance is that ‘in life you get the test first and the lesson last.’



School-at-home is as legitimate a way to learn as any other way, and many people have successfully used it with their children.  The classroom model is familiar, it feels like authentic ‘education,’ and employers and higher education admissions staff members recognize it.  Still, school-at-home is not the only form of homeschooling, and if that style causes more problems than it solves, parents should keep in mind other styles of homeschooling.  It makes little sense to punish the family by spending good time on a method that doesn’t work.


[1] “Surviving Homeschool Burnout.”  Karen M. Gibson, Leaping from the Box

[2] Google search for “homeschool burnout.”

[3] “Sunk Costs, Rationality, and Acting For the Sake of the Past.”  Thomas Kelly, Associate Professor, Princeton University


Copyright 2006, 2009  Valerie Bonham Moon


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