Questions Answered by a Homeschooler: Did You Have a Choice?

This is post #2 of a series in which I answer questions collected for me from the Hip Homeschool Moms Community about what it was like to grow up homeschooled. The first post in the series had to do with my favorite memory of being homeschooled. You can read that post here. Today’s article has to do with whether or not I had a choice in the decision to homeschool. I hope you enjoy it!

HHM The Decision to Homeschool

Did you have any choice in the decision to be homeschooled?

Not at all. I was the third child of six, and my parents began to homeschool around the time I was born. There was a brief period in high school where I wanted to go to public school, but my reasons were all wrong. I wanted to “prove myself” against public schooled children. Throughout most of my childhood I had access to a large community of peers through my church, my co-op, and the private high school where I took math and science classes. In addition to all these, I used to spend hours every day interacting with public schooled teenagers in online chat rooms as a form of recreation (I belonged to a creative writing group). So there was no need for me to go to public school for any good reason, and as I said, my reasons were bad. It would not have ended well, and I’m glad my parents refused.

What are the things you loved most about being homeschooled?

I was too young, too naïve, and too foolish then to value many of the things that I have since learned to love most about being homeschooled: family relationships, a rich mind, personal discipline, a love for other human beings, for service, humility, respect, responsibility, etc. But even as a child, I loved the passion that my mother had for history. I enjoyed even math and logic when my father taught them because of his love for them. I liked learning Latin with my brothers. I was glad I had a sister to hug on the way home when we visited the Holocaust museum. I knew, even as a child, that I was happy to share so much with people whom I would always have in my life to talk to about them. I loved our in-jokes and our little universe of shared information and insights, to which each of us was continually adding with every trip to the library and every interaction with friends or neighbors. I also loved being able to explore the world with freedom and without fear. I loved learning how to be human from people who were very fine and loving humans.

Was there anything you didn’t like about being homeschooled?

Having to work hard! Having to respect my mother. Not being able to get away from my siblings when they wouldn’t cater to my preferences. Having to trust my parents that my studies were worthwhile. Not having any easy way to avoid making my family part of my life. Having to learn to obey because I couldn’t simply avoid the authorities around me. Oh, yes, there was a great deal I didn’t like about being homeschooled! As it turned out, everything I didn’t like about it was also everything that made it so good for me.

Did you attend public school or private school at any point?

I took part-time classes in math and science at a private high school for several years, while also doing the majority of my school at home and participating once a week in a large homeschool co-op setting.

What was a typical homeschool day’s schedule like?

It depends on the day. In our family when most of us were in our tweens and teens, Mondays were “setting up the week” day. While the two littlest ones played or started their simple lessons, we four older students had a sort of staff meeting with my mother, when we would receive our weekly assignments and be made aware or reminded of deadlines as well as expectations for any family events or unusual chores. That was great training for professional life and adult time management, by the way! From there, we were taught to organize our own weeks so that everything came out on time. My parents even bought each of us day planners (back when day planners were a thing) and taught us to use them. That training saved my life in college. After organizing ourselves, we spent most of the rest of Monday and Tuesday doing reading for our Wednesday discussion of History, as well as Latin class.

Thursday was usually devoted to reading for Literature and drafting our weekly writing assignment. Friday was Literature class, Writing class, sometimes a test, etc. Math, science, geography, and other lessons were fit in around those biweekly class deadlines. Our studies all dovetailed with each other, which was a godsend for both comprehension immersion and workload efficiency. If I was reading about Charlemagne in history, I would also be writing about him and reading something like Chanson de Roland for literature.

We generally had organized sports several afternoons a week (volleyball for me; soccer for my brothers) and several of us took art or music lessons (or both). When we were all younger (mostly elementary ages), we stayed home more (though friends visited and were visited, of course). At younger ages our days were organized around regular devotions, chores, meals, naps, simple lessons or reading aloud, projects, and playtime (preferably outdoors), with some outside activities (I took ballet). Mom was a firm believer in peacefulness at home and dependable family rhythms. As a result, even in a large family, there was a certain serenity and safety in my childhood. One day was very much like another, and that was more wonderful than we might realize as adults.

Did you have any really great childhood friends?

I did not, but that was largely my own fault. I was not a nice person as a child and as a teenager. However, I have five homeschooled siblings and they had no significant trouble in making friends among other children. (We didn’t have any logistical problems with finding other children or having designated times to be around them since we had a large church community.) On the other hand, both of my parents went to public school and later to private prep schools, where both of them struggled to make friends. Yet both had rich friendships by the time they were in college. Therefore it seems to me that a person can struggle with friendships in any school context, depending on many factors such as personal maturity and the availability of people who share interests. I also believe that a really good friend at any age is a great gift and not to be had merely because of one school context or another, provided you can be around other people at all (which you generally can).

Is there anything you wish your parents had done differently?

I have been asked this question very often, and I have always tried hard to think of something. Of course, when I was in the process of growing up there were plenty of things I wished they had done differently. I wished that they would indulge my selfishness, my laziness, my arrogance, and in fact my every whim. I shudder to think what the results would have been. I might never have learnt algebra, logic, respect for others, how to clean, cook, and do laundry, or manners, or how to be a good friend. But although I have often asked myself whether there is anything I now wish they had done differently (in the larger issues, I mean, since I have now forgotten minor ones like bedtimes), I keep coming up blank. My parents were not perfect, but they were careful, loving, faithful, and humble. As a result, they seldom took a wrong turn and would listen to others and make a change when they found they had gone a little astray in their parenting or teaching. There was nothing they did that I now truly wish they had done differently.

Is there anything you wish you had done differently?

I wish I had been a more humble person who didn’t fight so hard against the people who loved her most and the things that were best for her. I wish I hadn’t chosen to make my mother’s teaching life more difficult. I wish I had tried to like the things that I was told (perfectly truly) were valuable, instead of turning my nose up at many of them. I wish I had sulked less. I wish I had tried to be nicer to my siblings. I wish I had tried harder at English grammar. But, just like my parents and siblings, I wasn’t perfect. I think it’s easy to forget as a parent-teacher that the whole education thing isn’t just on you. It’s your responsibility as an adult to be faithful and do your best and set a great example, but if your students choose to be difficult (like I did), that’s on them. Ingratitude is a real thing and those negative consequences that we students experience as a result of our bad choices are some of the most important life lessons we will ever have. They do us good.

Were you ever “behind” in any subjects at any point in homeschooling?

Goodness, yes! I spent most of my elementary years fighting my schoolwork and was also a late bloomer in several areas. I failed Algebra when I was fifteen and had to retake it. My mother traded Latin lessons for math lessons with another parent so that I could have a tutor. Thanks to the patient efforts of my parents and tutor I did make a passing math score on the SAT as well as very respectable math scores in college. I was also a very bad writer until about age twelve, but again my mother worked with me until I improved. The faithfulness of my teachers was what made the difference. In the end I got a high score on the verbal skills side of the SAT, took a degree in Literature from a tough private liberal arts college, and became a professional writer. So, there’s hope!

Did you feel bad if you were at a level that one of your siblings was at if he or she was younger than you, or did your sibling feel bad if you were at his or her there level and he/she was older than you?

I was one of six children. Since we were each only about eighteen months to two years away from another sibling, our mother took our education in pairs. My “pairmate” was my eighteen-months-younger brother. We did all our work together and attended the same classes in co-op and in private high school. He was better than I in most subjects and seemed to do school effortlessly, graduating at age 16. However, I don’t remember envying him even once. I didn’t make friends easily and was glad to have a close companion in school. I do recall my mother telling me that my eldest brother sometimes wrestled with jealousy of his pairmate (my next oldest brother), but it didn’t do any lasting damage to their relationship. They went through school, part of college, and half of Europe together quite happily. They are today as firm and devoted friends as any two adult men I ever met. Overall, I would say that jealousy is a common experience when human beings have the opportunity to compare themselves to one another. It will happen in homeschool or in public school or in private school or in any school. I’m glad we were at home where two adults who knew us well and loved us dearly could address it carefully, patiently, and consistently when it arose.

What was something special that your family did for educational purposes that you would not have been able to experience had you gone to public school?

Anything we did as a family during school days is probably something that public-schooled children wouldn’t get a chance to do with their whole families on those same days, so the list is rather staggering. Long weekly library trips and fun or interesting errands leap to mind. I remember rarely having to fight crowds at educational venues because we could go at unusual times. We once traveled across the country with Mom for two weeks in our conversion van (back when having a television in your car seemed like deep magic). I will never forget what it was like to discover America that way. We met up with my father in Colorado, where he had just finished a business trip, so we had even more family time on the way home (Dad read aloud to us most of the way). We children routinely got to go on business trips with my father that would have been difficult to arrange if we had been in school. Also, for several years during high school, my older brothers and I were able to go to work with my father three days a week, to do math and science with him. Because he had a three-hour round trip commute at the time, those years when we had hours in the car simply to talk to our father as young adults made a tremendous difference in our thinking and in our relationships with him. I later found out that this was what he intended. It was a gift of almost incalculable value. We were also able to pursue unusual extracurricular activities at times when we would ordinarily have to be in school, like horses (me), computer science (my older brothers), and art (my little brother and one of my little sisters).

What has this experience taught you about life skills in general compared to a public school graduate?

That’s a subject for a much longer post, but I will attempt to summarize by saying that the homeschooling experience taught me how to do life with adults in the adult way, whereas I have observed that public school taught my peers how to do life with children in a childish way. Since children have a way of soon turning into adults, I found time and again that my collection of life skills far outran those of my public schooled peers, both in kind and in quality. It was like the difference between making your own furniture out of hardwood vs. particle board: slower, but much better. Also, being homeschooled forced me to learn to serve, love, forgive, obey, respect, and generally live in harmony with my family members. I observe that this is something that public schooled children can much more easily avoid. Since my road to deep friendships with my family was not easy, I’m glad that I didn’t have an easy way out. I would have taken it, and I would have regretted it for the rest of my life. Being homeschooled taught me to stay and keep trying rather than to give up and leave. That lesson can be taught in a family where the children go to public school, too, but I think it’s more front-and-center when you are homeschooled.

Was the graduating process as simple as everyone says? (Like as in the transcripts for college.)

It was for me, and has been for every homeschooled student whom I’ve known personally (that’s hundreds of people by now). I know it is not absolutely a myth that the graduation process can be difficult, because for fourteen years my father was a lawyer who specialized in representing homeschoolers, and I’ve heard some of his stories. However, it is certainly normal for graduation to be easy, especially if parents have been diligent in providing their children with a reasonable education and keeping basic records.

Do you plan to homeschool your own kids?

That will depend on my husband, my children, and God’s leading. I do not believe that homeschooling is invariably the right choice for every child, nor do I believe that God necessarily intends for every family to homeschool. However, it is certainly my inclination and desire to homeschool my children, all else being equal.

Based on your experience, is homeschooling good for kids?

That depends a great deal on whether the adults in a given homeschool environment are better peers, companions, mentors, and examples than those to be found in the local public or private school. If they are (as is very often the case), then yes, I think homeschooling is vastly good for children. If not (as is sometimes the case), it may very well not be. Fortunately, homeschooling is not only “parenting concentrate,” but is also self-selecting. Typically, I find that parents who want to take on the burden of their children’s education are (or are becoming) the kind of parents who are good for their children to be around all the time. Of course, not all parents are able to homeschool their children (for financial or other reasons), but the kind of parents who want to are usually the kind of parents whom I’d want to see doing it.


For the last ten years, Christina Somerville has specialized in classical education and is the author of a high school Literature program for Tapestry of Grace. Christina has also authored Poetics, an independent textbook on the history of literature and on systematic literary analysis. She has taught for both a homeschool co-op and an online school and provides teacher training for homeschoolers. You can read more of her articles at her company’s blog, Love the Journey.

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