This was sent in response to a worried mom. Take what you can use and forget the rest.

Boldface are the questions and concerns. Indentations are my responses (Sandra Dodd, in 1995).

If they're college-bound, don't they need to have studied history, mathematics, science, literature, etc.?

Mine just wants to play and although I know play is valuable, I don't see what he has learned from it (academically). What about higher math, chemistry, writing, etc.?

Your kid is eleven years old! Do you play with him? Do you have pattern blocks or board games or card games or computer games you do together? There are LOTS of opportunities to discuss things during play, to explain how things work, why, what certain toys represent in the real world (playing Lego we've talked about real masonry, catapults, horses, armor, weapons---while messing with plastic representations).
He forgot to capitalize, put periods, or quotation marks and his sentences were incomplete. Do you teach these things to your children? Perhaps you don't use an actual program but gently show him how to punctuate or spell the words?
Mine aren't writing, except in a rudimentary way yet. They see me and my husband write all the time, though. I'm not worried. We always answer their questions, and they'll ask.
Do you make them look up the words?
I don't make ANYBODY look up words. I'll look them up for them. I'm a dictionary fiend, and nobody--adults, friends, relatives, nobody--gets away from me without at least FAKING an appreciation for dictionaries. 🙂
As Adrienne said, even to help the kids find areas they are interested in, means work on her part. She has to be aware that she needs to tell them to do an art project, for ex.. She can't leave them totally alone or they would do nothing productive.
If she did art in front of them they would want to do it too. If she NEVER does art on her own, what makes her think her kids need to know how?
For ex., unless she teaches them about composers or great artists or Ancient Greece or latin, etc., she doesn't think they would ever willingly or knowingly learn about these things. As for writing, how will they learn the fine points of grammar unless they are taught?
She can "expose" them to those topics without "TEACHING" them in a structured, scheduled way. The fine points of grammar are not necessary to those who don't want to write. To those who DO like that sort of analytical stuff, she just needs to offer them the vocabulary and they'll figure out on their own. There are computer games, paper-games...

I personally disagree with the limiting TV to 1.5 hours after 5:00. Some of the best stuff for kids is on PBS in the daytime. After 5:00 things get iffy. Helen, on the other hand, doesn't have a TV.

What if your child (like mine) has an interest in one area (Civil War), yet hardly reads about it and never shows an interest in other historical periods (mine does, luckily)?
Videos. Novels. Ignore the periods he doesn't care about. He'll care later, or he won't, and the world will still turn, and he can learn what he wants WHEN he wants. History is NEVER all learned. It's all relative. "Knowing nothing" is impossible in this culture.
My son loves to read, but it's Berenstain Bears chapter books, Garfield books, Superman comics, or Hardy Boys. All twaddle. No classic books, and he has them all
He's too young. Fifth graders in school are not reading "classic books" unless forced, and then they're not very hard ones (with a few exceptions, which being exceptions don't count). You should be reading to him, if you want him to "know" a certain book--"classics" are not easy, generally, and you could read to him.
He says he loves science, but almost never looks at any of the many Usborne books we have or other science-type books.
Read them to him, or pay him to read them aloud to you.
He has a whole collection of civil war books, but only looks at the pictures in the books.
I have a huge collection of non-fiction books, mostly history, and some of them I only look at the pictures in, but when I need to look up details I can usually remember by the pictures which books dealt with what subjects.
Word problems are almost impossible for him; I have to hold his hand and guide him through them and basically do them for him.
No big deal. He's young.
Even in cooking, I don't think he can multiply fractions although he's doing it on paper!
No big deal. He's young.
When we got 2 puppies this summer, he would not even read the books I got him about puppy care and training!
Did you read them? Did you tell him what was in them? Did you read any to him? Did you ask him to look something particular up? (He'd probably read other stuff on the side if he went hunting for a particular piece of information.)
Do you teach (or attempt to) your kids anything formally?
She can't leave them totally alone or they would do nothing productive.
She thinks that but can't prove it, because she probably won't leave them totally alone long enough to see what they would do.

At Halloween our kids can eat all the candy they want, and if they don't like it we encourage them to chuck it in the trash. Other families ration it out, it lasts a month and the kids eat every last crumb because it is VALUABLE. Ours is cheap trash, and half goes in the trash.

It's a study in economics. I have forced my kids to watch TV if they weren't getting along, and they'd beg to get up and play and I'd say "wait until this show is over." "We don't like it." "I don't care. Just sit." I'm serious.

A couple of times, but it was all it took. If I use their room for punishment they'll see it as a prison.


My daughter channel surfs, so she probably would choose cartoons over PBS.
We don't channel surf. Even before we had kids, we subscribed to TV Guide and unless we know what's on and what we intend to watch, we don't turn it on. Kids have learned that from us.
Rescue 911, Unsolved Mysteries
It's interesting--we don't limit TV, but my kids have never seen either of those shows. 🙂

PBS has music, kid-shows, stories, science shows...

My husband makes comments to him like, "You know, Ricky, when I was your age I had already read Robin Hood and King Arthur. I have them here for you to read."
That probably isn't helping. Ricky probably just feels more self-conscious and might resist reading the books, feeling that when he does he's just "finally" doing what his dad wanted him to do, instead of what HE wants to do.
Science has never been an interest of mine. I would fall asleep if he read them aloud to me. He likes science, though; I guess I'll have to lay them out attractively so he'll see them and want to read them!
Could be a genetic thing, then. You have no interest in geology, biology, meteorology, chemistry, physics, oceanography, botany, entomology, astronomy, flight mechanics, electricity--NOTHING!? Did school ruin your joy in knowing how things work and what they are made of?
I guess I'll get them down and tell him to go to it. I'm just not interested in getting involved in them.
If they're that boring and uninteresting, don't make him do them. If you, knowing what they're good for, can't stand the thought of touching them, don't expect him not to pick up on that. Maybe it would be better to let him wait and get interested on his own than for him to sense that he's doing something you think is odious.
What would you do? Just tell him to go ahead and read the books in his library? Plan a unit study? Just read the novels together and rent videos? Give him projects (excuse me, suggest projects) to do? He obviously wants me involved since he could study it on his own any time he wanted to. He wants me to direct him, I guess.
Ask HIM what he wants. Have you done the museum/bookstore/library circuit? Costume books? Foods of the period? Architecture of the period? Books on guns, cannons, bayonets--whatever of the period? I wouldn't petrify it into "a unit study," but be on the lookout for good stuff.
I feel like I'm the one home schooling. I read so much, at least 2-3 hours a day, at least. About all sorts of things. I read instead of cleaning house, home schooling, paying bills, or whatever! I want to learn italics so I got me a book to learn how. I wanted to learn about the Catholic religion; I've been reading tons of books. I wanted to learn about British History--I've been reading biographies. Will my kids ever do this?

Next level to work toward: Forget about the concept of "homeschooling" and try to move toward the idea that your home/life/family is involved in learning all the time, so that you don't feel foolish learning all the time, and your son can't think of any other way to live.

So, what do you do in a day? Or rather, what do the kids do?
Today, support group meeting (I updated the list, which involved some phone calls to get spellings of kid-names and verify some info), and I kept two kids for moms who had stuff to do (surgery for ovarian cyst, in one case), and picked up a kid in our group whose mom's car wasn't running. Took five kids to the video store to rent games (dollar day) and a movie, brought them all to my house, counseled a depressed friend in Toronto, discussed history and philosophy with a e-mail group from Ontario while the kids played video games, the little girls played with homemade playdough and watched their videos, played house.

Went back to the park hoping the jumpropes we left weren't stolen (they weren't), kids talked about adding numbers. 1+2+3+ (etc. and all the totals, as they went). I wasn't in that conversation, although I was overhearing it.

There was a big tag game in the front yard for a while, and a battle of knights in the backyard, treehouse was a castle, kids had "boffers" (padded toy swords)... My husband came home with some groceries, grabbed recorders and music and went to a Renaissance dance music practice. There's another one here tomorrow night (rehearsal for some dancing in three weeks), and I need to have the living room clean enough for that.


I think I feel (for what reason?) that I need to be there to see what he's learning. Maybe I should just let him do them on his own and tell me about them or ask for help if he needs it.
Because teachers document stuff. You want to do your teacherly job and supervise and document. Even if he does them on his own and does NOT tell you about them he's still learning. You have to develop a faith and a trust which school conditioned out of you. You're not the only one.
He's adopted! I remember as a kid liking to collect rocks and bugs. In high school biology was pretty cool. Chemistry, meteorology, mechanics, electricity and physics--ugh. In college I took zoology--just okay. I think as a kid I liked to learn about birds, too. Oceanography--the creatures are pretty 🙂 , amazing, really. I'm more interested in the people of science, their lives. You know, Madame Curie, Thos. Edison, Enrico Fermi, Louis Pasteur, A. Bell, etc. Don't really care about how things work or what they're made of. I do like math though--loved working out those trig proofs, doing Algebra problems.
AHA!!!! Good. There's hope for him not to inherit your problems. 🙂

So it's amazing. You remember LIKING science but you said science was so boring you would fall asleep hearing your own child read to you. That evil conditioning again! Don't think of it as science--granulate it. Think of it as "a book about birds," and "an article about volcanos" and so forth.

I don't even teach my kids the concepts of "science" and "history" and "geography"--we'll say "let's read about Rome" or "let's read about stars." They'll figure it out but by then they'll know the parts. School messes people up.

His grandmother had a real union uniform custom made for him. He has a cap, insignia, haversack, gun, canteen, etc. He's been to the Gettysburg re-enactment. He's taking drumming lessons; specifically civil war drumming! He plays civil war computer games. He has a bunch of civil war movies. He met the director of the movie "Gettysburg". But he wants me to "study" it with him!
Sounds wonderful! I'll tell you what--I'm the way he is but about the middle ages. We've been involved in the Society for Creative Anachronism 20 and 19 years, my husband and I. By knowing the minutest details of one period of history you get the idea that there are similar minute details about every other one. When I talk to friends who do civil war reenactment, or Regency (they dance and play cards a lot 🙂 ), I understand immediately that there are certain foods, courtesies, superstitions, songs, etc. that they must have found out about, and that they know WHY people were doing what they were doing (i.e. that there are motivations out the wazoo concerning any historical period or event), and it's more the concepts than the facts which are important.

What I'm trying to say is if your kid wants to learn about the Napoleonic wars, it won't take him half a day to ask the important questions. He already has the grid in his head to fill out. What were they eating? How were regiments communicating with one another? Did their uniforms work for or against them? What was the command structure and how dedicated to their cause were they? What were their beliefs about the motivations of the enemy?

BTW, are your kids involved in activities like music lessons, sports, gymnastics, etc? Do you do support group activities? Our activities (and we've cut back to one music lesson and one sports lesson a week, each, plus support group stuff) keep us pretty busy.
No, not yet. The 4-yr-girl wants to take gymnastics and the boys were signed up for a defense class which fell through and are kind of bugging us for karate. I have nothing particular against group activities except that I tend to get sucked into management, newsletters, etc. whenever I get near a group activity and right now I'm trying to avoid any more commitments on our time and energy.
All is quiet and I want a thin mint girl scout cookie!
You can eat just one!?
a friend and the county extension agent are coming over to discuss whether we want to start a 4-H group.
I was hit up about starting a 4-H group. Sound AWFUL. (I must really be in a commitment avoidance phase 🙂 ) I was in 4-H as a kid. Learned to arrange flowers and identify seeds, and sang songs. That part I could handle--leading songs.
Is this all we need to do? Sounds like fun!
Sounds like about six times as much as the best school in the country does 🙂.

I can't imagine having a husband who would threaten me that HE (yeah right) would put OUR children in school against my wishes. My husband knows I don't do things lightly, and he trusts me.

As to having been a teacher, I was a radical teacher. The things I believe about how children learn were taught to me in college. I was an English major, but had the requisite 24 hrs of education classes, and had a psychology minor. When I taught I was (as I can't help but be) very analytical about which teachers the kids liked and learned from and which were jokes. It seems the main factors are intelligence and enthusiasm, not method. If there's that electricity in the air of "THIS STUFF IS COOL!" then whether the kids are goofin' or answering questions at the end of the chapter, knowing that the teacher really understands and enjoys the subject makes the kids believe there is actually something there worth knowing.

I never used textbooks. I used dictionaries and made up my own exercises. I used a lot of humor. I tried to make things memorable (appealing to different learning styles, although I wasn't thinking of it in those terms in those days--I just remembered having vivid memories of days/lessons in my youth when there was an element of surprise). I wasn't able to get out of grading/scoring/comparing, and that was the worst heartbreak--"giving F's" and such. I will never, ever do that again. My children don't fail. I'll move the target to make them successes.

He complains about their attitude, that school isn't everything, but some of it is in him still. What can I do?
Wait. Ignore. Dodge. When he sees your kids happy and enthusiastic about things he'll know it's okay. He NEEDS to see other homeschool families. If he won't read the books, read him the good parts in some natural fashion. If he complains don't defend yourself, but ask things like "why does that concern you?" because he may talk himself into a corner and realize on his own that it's a kneejerk concern. If he pushes you might say that as you've read and studied and he hasn't, you feel insulted that he thinks he knows more about it than you do, and you'd be glad to discuss a particular book or article if he's willing to read it.
You are my hsing idol, oh great one!
OH NO!!! 🙂 And here I am looking at your descriptions and thinking your life sounds much more interesting than mine! 🙂
Ever been to Medieval Times in Orlando or in NJ? About 1,000 people fit in there and you watch knights jousting while you eat without utensils and root for your knight. It's neat. In Orlando they have a medieval village outside with a falcon show, torture chamber, people weaving, etc. etc.
There's one in California too. I've had friends who have been. The bad thing is that the people eating are wearing modern clothes, and the food isn't period. 🙂

When we have feasts the food is fancier and documentably medieval (usually), and everyone involved is garbed appropriately and we eat by candlelight. They don't do candlelit feasts around Virginia and Maryland, and the rest of the country thinks they're weirdos for eating by electric light 🙂.

I really like those things, but I'm so tired of IT (the organization, the amount of work I keep being expected to do to maintain it) that the magic fades and I take it for granted. Nineteen years is a long, long time. A lifetime! (Ask any 19-yr-old 🙂 )


Years later, I figured something out, concerning schoolkids and books. Much of the reading kids do (those kids who read) is escapism, or related activity. Books and Saxophones

Huge Gambles (or small gambles)

What Proof is there that Unschooling Works?

Help for new unschoolers