Keeping Up with the Joneses in School

Keeping up with the Joneses in School

One of the challenges of homeschooling is that most of us never were. We grew up in schools. We have the voices of a dozen administrators and teachers whispering in our heads as we teach our children. They ask us if our kids are doing enough “school work,” if they are “grade appropriate,” if they could survive if they were ever put in school.

Sometimes even our spouses or parents add volume to these voices with specific questions:

“Did you do anything today?”

“Why doesn’t Katie know her times tables like her cousin?”

I know that for me, these voices get loudest when I’ve been distracted and not attentive to my kids. If a week goes by where I’ve had two dental appointments, a trip to the vet, lots of business and a flooded basement, the routine of activities that reassures me that my kids are getting a better education (or at least, a different one) than their schooled peers is sidelined. When that happens, I doubt my effectiveness as a home educator and all those whispers become shouts.

A personal philosophy of home education
is critical to resisting the voices.

I’ve noticed that today’s new homeschoolers often start right out with curricula and skip what I consider the most important step in the homeschooling journey: developing a philosophy of education. Brave Writer, for instance, isn’t a system or schedule or curricula as much as it is a philosophy of language arts and writing that then gets executed very differently from what is done in school. The process and results don’t match well with 3rd grade language arts or 5th grade creative writing. The only way to embrace the difference is to believe in and be reassured by the philosophy (and documented evidence of its effectiveness) when you wander down this very different path to your children’s education.

So what should be done to develop that philosophy of education and what good is it at the end of the year when your kids have to take standardized tests (as they do in some states)?

Let’s look at each piece:

The Philosophy

Home education is deliberately not “school.” The home education movement removes children from buildings, teachers and curricula to bring them home to spend the day with parents. Parents’ reasons for this non-traditional educational path have ranged from religious conviction to special needs support to accelerated learning to real life learning (as opposed to learning from a canned curricula). Each one of us must spend time identifying our reasons for homeschooling. It helps to read books, to join email lists, to chat online in homeschool discussion groups, to meet monthly with a local support group. These are the places where you cultivate your convictions about why home education is the right choice for your family.

Remember: there is no perfect educational model that will yield better results in every category, in every condition. You can’t expect kids educated at home who aren’t being drilled to death for standardized tests to do as well as kids whose teachers spend half the year preparing their kids to take those same tests. That some of our kids do better than the kids in school without all that preparation is even more remarkable! If you are a home educator, standardized testing is one good reason to keep your kids out of the system so that all they have to do is take the tests, not be enslaved to them for half a school year. Additionally, no one is going to make your child “go to school” for a low score. Find out what the minimum score is that your state requires to show advancement and then shoot for that. You are educating a whole person, not a test taker.

The Practice

When you’ve determined your philosophy of home education and have developed it to include why you see it as a better choice than the alternative, it’s time to think about how to carry out your philosophy. Here’s the trick, though. The practice is nothing like what you remember from school. That means (pay attention here) the results will look different than what you get in school. Some of what you accomplish will be light years better in an obvious way (snuggling on the couch, great discussions about a book you are reading aloud, trips to the zoo, kitchen science experiments that are bubbly and dramatic, nature walks that lead to blackberry bushes, learning to read at one’s own pace, math facts learned without ever studying them). Other results will seem inferior (not as advanced in math or spelling or writing as age mates in school, timidity in your child, no cool projects to hang on the wall, standardized test scores not as high as you imagined).

Even some schooled kids have low test scores, don’t learn their times tables well, are poor writers and readers, and find it difficult to sustain friendships in the school setting.

Read that last sentence again. For some reason, when we compare our kids to schooled kids, we tend to compare our normal kids to the top of the class in school. We just assume that the norm in school is higher than what our kids are producing, but that is patently false. Think back to your own school career and the friends you had. Some of you excelled at everything, but many of you are painfully aware of your own gaps as an adult. You remember friends who fell through the cracks, or who had to repeat a grade.

Home education is not about scores, proving oneself in the arena of “A” students or even meeting the demands of school scopes and sequences. Home education is about nurturing your children’s love of learning so that as they encounter new and interesting aspects of the world around them (the sciences, history, literature, art, music, poetry, theater, nature, astronomy, movies, writing, crafts, gardening, cooking, cleaning up after one’s self, driving a car, making a friend, redecorating a bedroom…), they feel inspired and competent to learn all they need to about the subject at hand.

We are attempting to create a rich educational environment
that is not out of a box or canned curricula,
but that invites participation!

We homeschool because we want to catalyze a love of learning. We homeschool because we value each child’s unique pace in acquiring what he or she needs for a successful, satisfying, meaningful place in the adult world.

So standardized tests? Don’t stress about them. Evaluate your home education by your philosophy and practice, not by how school measures it.

Beware the Ghost of Public School Past

6 Responses to “Keeping Up with the Joneses in School”

  1. Michelle O says:


    Thanks once again for the wonderful candid, thoughtful quality of your sharing. One thing that is impossible for me not to notice about my 13 yr. old whenever he participates in outside classes and activities is his unbridled enthusiasm for whatever it is he does. Teachers and coaches always comment on it and how much they appreciate it. I attribute his eager attitude to lack of burnout. I really think this love of learning something new is a natural state that gets strangled out of our kids through pressure, fear and just a misunderstanding of what learning is about.

    Some friends of ours who homeschooled their two kids while touring the U.S. as a family band,for years, recently put them both into public highschool. He commented that they are having a great time and doing really well after going through a month of shock regarding homework requirements. They experience highschool as a new adventure and challenge because they gained such confidence from all their performing, traveling and real life experiences. Our kids don’t have to carry such a load of pressure, stress and burnout with them if we choose another way.

    I love Charlotte Mason’s observation that children are people!

    I love your opening sentence. It says so, so much! How humbled and blessed we are by that simple statement! I guess ignorance and opportunity often go hand in hand.

    Sorry to blab so much! Thanks Julie!

  2. Hilary says:


    I couldn’t agree more with you on this post. Developing a philosophy of education is so key! I think one of the reasons I personally struggled so much early on in our home school journey in choosing curriculum was that I didn’t think about a philosophy of how to learn, and how to teach. I just used what people I admired used. But then, naturally, problems arose as what worked for them didn’t work for us.

    I would encourage people who are interested in learning how to develop their own philosophy of education to check out my website at I have a lot of free articles and a free seven-part eCourse that walks people through this very process. Now with more curriculum options to choose from than ever, and more approaches that can seem so opposed to each other, I think we really need to focus on what is right for our own families. But what is that? How do you find out? I earnestly hope I can help others in this process through my website.

    Thanks for sharing your wisdom with all of us, Julie. You are an inspiration and a wealth of wisdom.

    Visit for advice and tools to bring joy and success to your home school.

  3. Katy says:

    Timely as always, Julie. We are in the midst of standardized testing which I choose to do because it is easier on me than scheduling a portfolio evaluation. I try to see it as a hoop to jump through. this is difficult when my 6yo looks at me with a silly grin on her face and proceeds to fill in the wrong circle simply because she likes the picture of the horse above it!

  4. Jennie says:

    You have just asked the question that has been lingering in my mind. I finally got the courage to file my notice of intent with the DNPE a few weeks ago. I have browsed all the unschool/homeschool and soaked info up like a sponge. My children are 14 & 11 and the one thing that keeps coming up is ” will they pass end of grade?”.
    I would be lying if I said I weren’t scared to death that I may somehow ruin my children’s life in this endeavor. My son has TS,OCD & ADHD. Public school is a punishment for him! My daughter is such a truly unique gal and PS has left her feeling inadequate. I have to do this! Thank you for being out there in internet land. It keeps me form feeling completely alone in this task.

  5. Veronica says:

    Thanks so much for this article. At this time of year I have a tendency to focus on everything we didn’t accomplish so far this year (and may not). Though dd has to take standardized tests, I don’t want to emphasize that so much real learning gets forgotten. She has managed to retain a love of learning through high school and we have enjoyed this journey so much. I absolutely agree about having a philosophy of education. Once you have that it is so much easier to set goals, and to see them achieved. Thanks again for the great article!

  6. Elaine says:

    Spot on, Julie and so timely. You just said for me what I was mulling over how to say to another family in our homeschool group. Thanks for beating me to it. 🙂 And, for saying it in a way that can help and encourage all of us as we take this personally unchartered journey.