10 Mistakes Homeschoolers Make

Guest Post by Josh Homeschool posts are back! Josh still has not finished his real defense of homeschooling post, but he was good enough to give his view of mistakes commonly made by homeschoolers. And all the previous disclaimers apply, plus it is just silly to be offended since this is coming from someone who not only was homeschooled, but is pro-homeschooling.

I loved homeschooling as a child/teen. I still love homeschooling. But when you’ve been in and around the homeschooling movement for 20 years, you tend to notice the mistakes which are repeated over and over again. Since I’d much rather parents figure out that something is wrong within a year or two than when their kids are finished with school, here’s my list of mistakes to avoid.

1. A lack of stability and regularity. The flexibility afforded by homeschooling is great, but it is also an easy trap which can result in insecurity and deprive children of the repetition and ritual which is crucial for learning. Regularity is not the same thing as regimentation! But everyone, especially children, needs some basic patterns in their life. If you do not have regularity and stability then you do not have an effective learning environment.

2. Neglecting subjects in areas of parental weakness. It may not even be that the parent is actually weak, just that they don’t spend time communicating it to their children. It is great if you think that literature is the most wondrous thing on earth. Your children still need to learn science.

3. Going it alone. Not getting help when you’re having academic or familial problems is just stupid.  And you are going to have problems. For academic issues, a tutor or co-op teacher can be a godsend. And for family issues, counseling is highly recommended. (Whether it is formal or not.)

4. Treating your children like they are little geniuses. Just because your children are gloriously smart does not mean you have to treat them that way. Homeschooling can very easily produce children who are smart in one area and don’t know much about anything else. The fact that they constantly impress you with how smart they are does not mean that they have a well-balanced education. And even if they are amazingly brilliant, you should be careful not to foster a sense of academic arrogance.

(Yes, I was the annoying homeschooled teenager who knew the answer to all the world’s problems if they’d only listen to me.)

5. Freaking out if your children are a little slower than normal in some subjects. Some children simply need more time with some subjects. Freaking out at anything less than perfection can compound problems and even create problems where none actually existed.

6. Not freaking out when your children are way behind. At some point it becomes very difficult to make up for lost time. You are not doing your 11-year-old son a favor by simply giving him more time to learn to read “when he is ready.”

7. Not having both parents teaching. If at all possible, you should try to give your children the benefit of both parents’ experience and expertise. Too many times I’ve seen a dad who was brilliant at math but didn’t communicate any of that to his children because homeschooling was the mother’s job. And beyond subject areas, parents tend to have different teaching styles and ways of thinking. You want to be offering both approaches so that you have a better chance of education “clicking” with your child.

8. Failing to distinguish between the learning styles of the multiple children. Even though “individualized education” is one of the most touted benefits of homeschooling, many homeschoolers don’t adjust their teaching styles and give all children same treatment. So parents get to teach with their unique teaching style, but the children are not accommodated with their individual learning styles.

9. Failing to prepare your children for higher education. In order to prepare children for the rest of their lives they should know how to deal with large classes where they are not the center of attention. They will even have to learn how to live without a teacher who is single-mindedly focused on making sure they turn things in on time, or else does not care at all about deadlines. Homeschool graduates are notorious for having no respect for teaching authority and refusing to complete assignments in the way required by professors.

(Yes, that’s me again. But what the professor was asking for was stupid!)

10. Lack of socialization. The issue isn’t that the kids don’t have plenty of activities, it is a problem of environment. Homeschool parents are far too easily tempted to know everything and control everything about their children’s social activities. Children need time to socialize on their own terms without parents around, even in the next room of the co-op.

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33 thoughts on “10 Mistakes Homeschoolers Make

  1. Dawn Farias

    Excellent post. I am so glad to see these points from a homeschool graduate and not yet another post by a homeschooling parent. It has begun occurring to me recently that we parents probably feed ourselves all the same information over and over. It’s nice to hear another type of voice give an opinion.

    (What happened to the follow comments button? I feel sad…)

  2. Erin

    Every single one of these reasons are the reasons I argue against homeschooling because my impression (judgment) is that all homeschooling parents make at least 50% of the mistakes you listed.

    I think what always urks me are the homeschooling parents who think their child is above “normal.” How do these parents even know what “normal” is? Most do not have degrees/experience in teaching, developmental psych, pediatrics… their idea of normal is based only on their children. All parents are like this, but most aren’t also their children’s teacher. They compare their kids to their other kids – but that means at any given time there is no control group of 8-year olds for their sole 8-year old. So how do they know if the child is ahead or behind their peer group when they don’t have a peer group?

    I’ve mentioned this bias on here before. I do neuropsych research and homeschool families LOVED to sign up to participate. It was supposed to be a “science field trip” which is a separate rant. Anyways, cognitive (IQ) testing and achievement testing were part of the research protocol and I was always nervous to go over the scores with the parents. They strongly believed their kids were geniuses – all HS parents did – and at best, their kids were quite average (and we also had “home schooled geniuses” who were below average). Of course the non-hs parents also thought their kids were the most fabulous – but they had more realistic expectations of their kids performances relative to same aged peers (maybe b.c. of parent teacher conferences? unbiased grades?).

    I think the homeschool parents have a lot of THEIR identity wrapped up in their kids performance – they are not only the parent, but also the teacher – and I think that is a lot of pressure for the kids and also creates unrealistic appraisal (i.e., their kids is a “genius”).

    1. Rae Post author

      In theory parents should have some clue about their children’s relative “genius” if only from achievement test scores, but this does not seem to do much good. And I have no idea how one could separate out parental identity from student performance in homeschooling.

  3. Rick Kephart

    I’m looking at this from the outside, as I wasn’t homeschooled and I’m not a parent, but I have been in and around homeschooling for a lot longer (30 years).

    I absolutely agree completely with all the points here (especially #3, since that’s what I do!) — except for #9 and #10. It’s mainly #9 that I think is way off, so that’s the one I want to comment on. Most homeschoolers are much better prepared for higher education than most schooled kids, as a result of being homeschooled.

    Lack of respect is one thing that kids tend to pick up as a result of peer pressure. The “cool” kids in school are not likely to be ones who have a lot of respect for authority.

    Homeschoolers don’t develop the same fear of teachers that schooled kids tend to have: and not the kind of fear that breeds respect, the kind of fear that makes them see the teacher as The Enemy.

    Homeschoolers tend to be more serious about their education than schooled kids. That makes sense, since they typically see their parents so concerned about their education, much more than parents who send their kids to school normally are (they have to be!), and taking their education more seriously means that those kids will tend to do better in higher education than schooled kids.

    Except for #9 and #10, the author really does a good job of hitting many of the most common mistakes homeschoolers can make.

    1. Rae Post author

      It is amazing how different things can look from the outside vs. the inside of anything! And yet I can so see how one could get this view, since I know that I and my family worked to make sure that others saw us this way.

      I am, however, very curious about where you live that you’ve known homeschoolers for 30 years since it was hardly legal in most states then. I have my parents documents from their legal fight back in the day, so this is a topic of great interest to me and I’d love to know more about which states had many homeschoolers that early!

      1. Rick Kephart

        I live in Pennsylvania. My mother started homeschooling my sisters in the 1970′s, right after I graduated high school and was just starting college (unfortunately for me).

        The law in Pennsylvania in the 1970′s said that it was up to the local superintendent whether homeschooling would be allowed in his district or not. The local superintendent in that school district (as in many school districts, possibly even most) would absolutely not allow homeschooling for any reason. That of course meant that it was illegal to homeschool in that school district.

        My mother got together with a few friends and they registered in Harrisburg as a “non-public religious school” (St. John Neumann Academy).

        They found a building where they could meet, so they could have an address for the school. There was a, shall we say, difference of opinion among the parents involved, over attendance, and the following year my mother registered in Harrisburg as another non-public religious school (Guardian Angels Academy).

        My mother found a very interesting loophole in the state laws. A school could set up an annex, and there was no requirement to notify the state of it. So my mother simply made the home of any students in her school an annex of the school! That way they could be taught by their parents at home – without being absent from school. Several other families enrolled in her school under those circumstances. So then they could function as homeschoolers without it being legally considered “homeschooling” (which was still technically illegal).

        My earliest experiences with homeschooling was with those families that were homeschooling while enrolled in my mother’s school. Then as homeschooling became legal in Pennsylvania, I started working with other homeschoolers who were finally able to call themselves that without the danger of going to jail.

        The state was convinced there was something fishy about my mother’s school and tried their best to close it down, but they were never able to do it. The school kept going until my youngest sister graduated high school around 1987 or ’88.

        1. Rae Post author

          That is such an excellent story! Thank you for sharing. I think that it is a gift, but sometimes wonder if it is good, that those who consider homeschooling now know so little about how recently people had to fight oh-so-very hard for it!

  4. That Married Couple

    Posts like this about homeschooling are my favorite. Instead of bashing it or glorifying it (or bashing or glorifying other education options), they take a hard look at the strengths and weaknesses of actual homeschooling and say “If you’re thinking about doing it, these are things to keep in mind/avoid/strive for.” And coming from a homeschool grad (esp. one who feels positively towards it) makes it even stronger. Thanks Josh, and Rae!

    1. Rae Post author

      Glad you liked it. I have also been working on a post about things that I have observed in families where homeschooling seems to go well/what I would need to see before I would be comfortable choosing to homeschool.

  5. Russ

    I’m a college professor, and I also disagree on #9. I’ve never had a homeschooled student refuse to do an assignment, but even if they did, I’d prefer a principled refusal to just blowing it off (which a small but significant percentage of students do, sometimes begging for extra credit later). For the most part, I’ve found homeschooled students to be more interactive in discussion, better at keeping up with assigned reading, and more interested in subject matter. They are occasionally socially awkward (as in the kid who wants to answer every single question the professor asks), but I’m not sure it happens frequently enough for me to call it a pattern.

    1. Rae Post author

      It strikes me as likely that most good professors would not have an issue with students refusing to complete assignments, and Josh only listed “refusing to complete assignments *in the way required by professors*” as one symptom of not being prepared for college.

      The lack of preparation is so common in my experience that I am struggling to understand how one could assume that it is not a problem simply because one has observed that it is not always a problem.

      Also, very few of my professors knew that I was homeschooled, so I wonder what sorts of schools there are where professors are confident that they actually know about all of their homeschooled students. Perhaps there is a strong self-selection bias not only in which students would reveal this information, but also in which students would go to schools where this information would typically come out?

      Finally, one thing that Josh did not mention is that many students simply cannot go to college because their parents fail to prepare to them for it, so I’m not sure how a professor would know that there is no problem with lack of preparation since they would never encounter these students!

      1. Russ

        I have taught in two Christian colleges, and have learned students were homeschooled by: 1) General conversation when I ask them about their background; 2) Some come to me individually because they are apprehensive whether they can succeed, because they’ve been told they haven’t been prepared to handle a classroom setting (I hear this from at least one student every year); 3) Using our college’s course management software, I can see some aspects of my students’ educational record.

        The underlying assumption of both the list and the comment seems to be that graduates from public schools are fully prepared to excel in higher education while, alas, homeschoolers have been shortchanged. Of course, not all homeschooled students go to college, sometimes because their parents failed to prepare them. How many public schooled students don’t go to college, or attempt but drop out, because the public school failed to prepare them? The majority of students entering the California State University system have to take remedial math or science. The majority of all students entering public universities won’t finish with a degree. By an absolute standard, sure, homeschooled students often are not as well prepared for college as they could be (especially considering the wide range of what falls under the umbrella of “homeshooling”). But most students entering college today aren’t well-prepared in their academic knowledge, study habits, or level of personal maturity. If you experienced a lack of preparedness, that’s unfortunate. That doesn’t mean that your non-homeschooled peers didn’t also suffer from the same problem, or that every other homeschooled student shares your experience.

        1. Rae Post author

          “The underlying assumption of both the list and the comment seems to be that graduates from public schools are fully prepared to excel in higher education while, alas, homeschoolers have been shortchanged. ”

          I can see how you could infer that, but I do not believe it was actually implied. The list is of mistakes that homeschoolers commonly make. The idea was that these are mistakes that are relevant to homeschoolers which they can avoid. Even if public schools made all of these mistakes x10, these would still be mistakes that homeschoolers make and caring parents should make a point to avoid.

          Unfortunately it seems that since homeschoolers have been criticized unfairly in the past, in some circles it is necessary to pretend that everything is perfect with all homeschoolers and reject any assertion that there are problems. This helps no one.

          I have seen the significant damage done to children by homeschooling and so I am not about to gloss over it all and say that it is fine for parents to continue to make the same mistakes simply because the government often does an even worse job!

  6. Collin

    As a college professor, I feel #9 misses the mark. I think Josh’s experience has more to do with personal temperament than it does with educational background. I teach at a small Christian college that gets many homeschoolers. On the whole, I find most homeschoolers more respectful and attentive to assignments than the average student.

    I resonate with Josh’s comment though. I also was a student who thought my teachers were fools and their assignments pointless. But I was an arrogant (though well-read) product of the public school system. Some of us are just born to be pains-in-the-butt. It doesn’t necessarily have to do with our schooling.

    1. Rae Post author

      The funny thing is that Josh and I have completely opposite personalities in this area, yet I completely agree with him. I practically venerated my professors, but that did not mean that I was prepared to do as well as I could have, had I had the same education that my peers got in elementary school.

      That said, I have very little experience with small Christian colleges, so perhaps they not only attract a different sort of homechooled student but also allow for a different adjustment to college?

      1. Mama Kalila

        You hit the nail on the head with your last statement there.

        I was not homeschooled. But I went to a small Christian college (tech a university now) and many of my friends were homeschooled.

        I would describe it as a High School like atmosphere… all the drama that goes on there lol. We lived in a bubble. It wasn’t all bad… You definitely get to know your teachers better. A lot more interaction in classes. Some of those things were better for me than a big university would have because of my personality and everything. The bubble and drama I could have lived without… but a lot of that came from students having been so sheltered (and not just the homeschool crowd).

        I will say that I have a much higher opinion of homeschooling after going there. The only people I knew who did it before it was just bad. Bad. Bad. But my friends who were did a lot better with it. A few social issues in some of them. But beyond that for those, most of them came out with a better education than I did. That being said, I’m only homeschooling through pre-k lol.

  7. Maggie

    Great post Rae! Homeschooling isn’t something I have to really think about yet, since I’m not married, but I do occassionaly consider if I’d be up for it when the time comes. Many of my friends were homeschooled and I know a few friends beginning to homeschool their young children. The caveat, though, is a combination of #3 and #10. Homeschoolers I know thrived for many reasons, but one of the biggest has got to to be the strong homeschooling community in which they were raised. Many parents, local and via the Internet, networked together to provide the best resources. Similarly, the homeschool group had many opportunities for socialization for both children and parents. This is key. Conversely, I knew a family who homeschooled in a very small community with practically no other homeschoolers. The result? The children were well-read and well-educated, but had trouble socializing with non-family members. As always, balance is key.

    But thank you so much for insightful remarks! This is great!

    1. Marla

      Every parent is afraid of messing up their kids. Also, ultimately, every parent is responsible for their child’s education, no matter how they choose to go about it. The decision should not be fear based either way. (Fear of homeschool, or fear of public school.) I guess I just want to encourage you to let go of the fear and look at the pros/cons more objectively.

  8. Annette

    I’m so glad to have had to opportunity to read this now whilst we are about to enter the 2nd week of our homeschooling adventure! Thank you.

  9. Jenny @Home is Where...

    I really enjoyed this post. I didn’t agree with every point…but I thought Josh did a great job pointing out traps parents should be mindful of.

    I was a public schooled student, top classes. I struggled with college, mostly because I earned my A’s in High School without having to give my full effort. I had horrible study habits. I think you are going to get a mixed bag with student success influenced more by student’s personalities and habits, not by school method.

    I homeschool our kids. I do worry about a few of these points- a few I think about and feel we have a plan to handle pitfalls, and the others I don’t worry about at all.

    College preparedness is one thing I do give great consideration to. I am beyond pleased to have found a homeschool program run by a local Christian University – my highschool students will all take a few classes there to push & stretch them so they will not struggle with college. It is my one big mandate, that I do not turn them loose unable to handle college courses with ease and confidence.

    I enjoyed the comments as much as the post. :)

  10. Young Mom

    I agree with all of these, and I am currently in the middle of writing my own post on my love-hate relationship with homeschooling. Going it alone (#3) is so harmful! I know so many homeschooling parents that refuse to get help for ANYTHING. It’s like it would be admiting failure or something and thats not acceptable. (#10) We had absolutly no involement in any activity that did not iclude the entire family. And on #9, I think it is very possible for homeschoolers to be unprepared for college. They tend to catch on pretty quickly, but some homeschoolers have never written a research paper. And most will have issues with say writing a paper including the theory of evolution (required by the professor) since they don’t agree with it.

  11. Sally Thomas

    Coming to this late, but it’s an interesting post and good conversation.

    I’m the product of neither homeschooling nor public schooling, but of fourteen years of private prep-school education which was generally excellent, though I myself did not often rise to the level of excellence which was set before me. Random thoughts which occur to me in the context of this conversation are:

    1. even an excellent and expensive education, meant to groom the whole person for success, does not guarantee that you won’t be socially awkward, if you’re an introvert. That’s not a defense of homeschooling, and I know that’s not, perhaps, an underlying assumption, but just sayin’. Basic personality traits aren’t necessarily the result of parental mistakes. (though when I see my homeschooled teenager tending in the same directions I did at her age, socially speaking, I challenge her to, for example, choose one person that day to say hi to, and to ask about him/herself, as in, “How’s your week going?” Little things I sort of wish someone had made me do at 16.).

    2. Re something Rae said in the comments: Parents with children in school can still over-identify with their children’s successes and failures. I stunk at math, for example (though I’m actually quite good at teaching math at precisely the level where I checked out as a child), and my mother took it as a personal embarrassment. Having had children in school as well as homeschooled, I can testify that ego-identification is basically inescapable, unless you recognize that that’s what you’re doing and try not to do it. Again, not an argument pro or con, just an observation that that’s again a general trait not necessarily related to a specific schooling choice.

    On the other hand, it is right and appropriate for me to view my child’s struggles with math as my fault, to an extent, and therefore my responsibility. Hence, tutors. And prayer.

    3. You can have received an excellent college-preparatory education and still have trouble transitioning into college. I know, because I did. I could write good papers, but had not learned to be very self-directed (and I’m still not, so maybe that’s yet another basic personality trait which has to be overcome by the cultivation of diligence), which made college difficult. On the other hand, I was a terrific graduate student. Go figure. Some of us are late bloomers, regardless of where we were planted.

    4. I’ll second or third or fourth what other academics have said about homeschool graduates in their classes. I’m not, at this point, in academia myself, but my husband is (a Catholic liberal-arts college). He also has many former homeschoolers in his classes, and on the whole finds them to be better prepared to do the work he assigns, and to engage with it actively. Of course there are kids who have trouble with deadlines, but that’s certainly not confined to the homeschoolers. Anybody can procrastinate, and plenty of people do, regardless of background. (and anybody can be a know-it-all, too. I personally find kids who either are in “gifted-and-talented” programs or have graduated from these programs far, far harder to cope with than any homeschooled kid I’ve yet met. Maybe it’s the constant consciousness that you have qualified for a “gifted-and-talented” program, and that this is your public identity . . . I dunno. And that’s a sweeping generalization, I know, but in teaching in a public school, acting as a writer-in-residence in public schools, and teaching college students, I’ve found it to be something of a pattern. Any kid who knows, and will say, that his GPA is “well above” a 4.0 needs to go out and fail at something . . . in my humble view! )

    In general, I think all these points are excellent, though I would think that they would be excellent advice for any parents, not just homeschoolers. These are mistakes everybody makes. I have plenty of friends with children in school who are, in the time that they’re with their children, far more controlling and anxious than I am most of the time. I mean, if I were making a parenting list, I’d say things like, “Do let your child plug in an electrical appliance before her thirteenth birthday,” or “teach your child to walk to the corner store before you teach him to drive,” or “a six-year-old can make an omelette,” or “do not fear the free, unscheduled afternoon.” At the end of the day, what makes good parenting (and I am a work in progress, I freely admit) is knowing your children as people, and trusting them not to be bad or stupid people, even if they occasionally are — as you yourself occasionally are. And, with that self-knowledge in hand, doing a lot of praying.

  12. Beka

    Oh my word.
    This is a great post.
    And your points are VERY right-on.
    Mom tended to lay out the math and Dad taught it better–when he got to, which was rare.
    Different learning styles, oh yes. But definitely not catered to as well as homeschooling is advertised.

    Thank you for writing this! Makes me think — a lot — about what I’ll do for my kids someday…

  13. George

    At first reading, I disagreed with a lot of the points. A few days have passed though and I actually find myself thinking these points are valid (save for #10).

    I was not homeschooled. My parents put 4 children through Catholic school, K-12. When my wife and I welcomed twins 5 years ago, I assumed that once we were out of graduate school and they were of school age, we would send them to Catholic school like my parents did (my wife converted to Catholicism in college, so she had no Catholic-school upbringing).

    The twins are boy/girl, and I had already slated my son to carry on the family tradition of attending St. Thomas High School here in Houston, an all-boys college preperatory school founded in 1900. I graduated from there, as did my father, brother, and numerous cousins. My nephew is there now. For my daughter (now daughters as we have a two-and-a-half year old), I slated her to attend Incarnate Word Academy, the all-girls counterpart to St. Thomas. My mother graduated from there, as did my grandmother, sister, etc….

    Both of these schools have high academic standards, with 98% or so of graduates attending college. Of course both schools are also strong in their catechizing. However, that’s 10 years away, and while I do want them to attend these schools, my wife and I have had to make a choice on how to educate our children NOW. Enter the concept of homeschooling.

    I wasn’t keen on the idea at first. I bought into all the myths, e.g. homeschooled children are anti-social, weird, etc…. However, as I met and befriend more homeschooling families through our parish, I warmed up to the idea, and now I support it.

    My reasons for homeschool are two-fold:
    1. Financially, it makes sense. To send the twins to kindergarten at our parish will cost me approximately $12,000 total, and that includes a sibling discount. I’m quite angry about that too. We live well within, or even below, our means and still cannot afford that. And I will not sacrifice a larger family just so I can send my children to private school.

    2. I believe my wife and I can catechize our children better than a catholic school. Simple as that.

  14. ella

    This is very late, but after reading the comments questioning point #9, I wanted to contribute a little. I’ve homeschooled my 2 children. I have a good friend who is a professor at a large, leading university and responsible for the undergraduate program in mathematics. When I asked his opinion about homeschooling, his concerns were almost exactly as expressed in the article. He finds homeschooled students struggle because they are no longer receiving individualized attention and they expect that the professor will adjust instruction style/assignments/examinations etc. to their individual needs. He quoted students as saying things like “When I had trouble before, my mom would do X and Y.” with the expectation that the prof would now step into mom’s shoes. If the professor did not adjust or accommodate, then the former homeschoolers were unable to figure out themselves how to adapt.

    His second largest concern about former homeschoolers is that they tend to have trouble seeing and following the big picture in a course syllabus or program. They tend to hyperfocus only on the elements that interest them and don’t really trust the professor or believe that there is a point to learning the stuff that isn’t of interest. This isn’t helpful if the professor is trying to develop particular themes or leading to certain discoveries in a subject.

    I appreciate his warnings. One of the things that I love about homeschooling is the freedom to nurture individualized learning and independent thought. I think we can get too invested in that philosophy and inadvertently do a disservice to our children.

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