The Homeschool Environment (with Images)

This little homeschool girl and her family live off the grid.

As I looked at the image above the first time I came upon it, one thing I thought about is how much the homeschool environment varies from family to family. No two homeschool families are alike, and some homeschool situations, yes, are like the one in the image above.

But others are like this one:

Or like this one:

Or like this one:

Or like this one:

Or like this one:

I’m not sure that there really was a point to this post, except that I wanted to post the picture of the little off the grid homeschool girl and then offer other pictures of homsechool environments to contextualize it. I know that public schools vary widely from one to another, but I would suggest that homeschools vary much more widely. After all, the public schools (at least in theory) are held to a common set of standards. Even in states that have standards homeschoolers must adhere to those standards allow for much wider variation than the standards governing public schools. And the result is a whole patchwork of variety, some exceptional, some simply good, some meh, and some not so good.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Stev84

    Some of these pictures are a bit deceptive because they suggest that parents inevitably mimic a class room. The third picture is probably more likely. Sitting with your books at a normal table in a normal room.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      I don’t know, each of these images look likely to me. My parents had a designated “school room,” and so did many of the homeschool families I knew growing up. One thing I would say is that, in my experience, homeschooled children through elementary school usually study either in a school room or at the kitchen table, working directly with the parent, and then by high school they study on their own at desks in their room, or sitting on their beds.

      • Dawn

        Ha! That’s exactly how it looks in our house. Except for the toddler who manages to be everywhere all at once.

    • Latebloomer

      I agree with Stev84–I didn’t come across many people who had special school rooms set up. We did all our homeschool work either alone at our desk in our room, or at the dining room table. The only “school-like” feature was the white board in the dining room.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        It seems like a lot would depend on how much space you have in your house. I certainly can’t imagine that that many but a fortunate few mega-families would have homes big enough to have dedicated home school classrooms.

      • Alice

        Yes, if you had a zillion kids, you would pretty much have to use the dining room table or something. I was an only child, so after we moved to the nicer house, I could have used the extra bedroom. But no one would have thought of having a dedicated schoolroom because I just had textbooks and writing supplies, and that’s barely enough to fill a desk. I did schoolwork anywhere and everywhere.

        The homeschool families with entire rooms must do a lot of kinesthetic teaching instead of just textbooks. That would have been nice.

  • Mel

    So here’s my daily grumble about one personal annoyance that happens within some families that include public school teachers. Public school teachers spend years listening to family members, friends etc who home-school their kids about how much better the education the kids are getting than they would in the public schools. Then, you get the phone call. “Hey, Luz isn’t doing so well in Chemistry. Can you help her?” “George is really having a hard time with Algebra. Can you give him a hand?” There is rarely an acknowledgement of the fact that we know how to teach your kid because we teach(taught) in the public schools. In the worse case scenario, the homeschooling parent will continue waxing poetic about how much better their kid is doing than your students while you are teaching the kid (on the side, without any sort of genuine thank you or *gasp* pay)

    Not saying this happens everywhere or with everyone but if you do home-school, your kid(s) please remember that you might be calling a public school teacher for help someday. We like helping; we don’t like hearing how much of a better teacher you are than we are. That’s just immature.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      What a good point! My parents brought in outside teachers, including some former public school teachers, on a number of occasions. In fact, off the top of my head, I just came up with four who helped out at various times, for various subjects, while I was homeschooled, and two who have helped since. And out of those six, three were former public school teachers, two taught college, and I’m not sure about the last one.

    • Conuly

      Wait, you’re helping out these boors for free?

      Sure it’s easy for them to teach their kids, they don’t have as many students as you do! That says nothing about the relative quality of your teaching ability, but if they spent 10 years boasting that they’re better than you, they really should pay you when they ask for help.

      • Mel

        The worst-case scenario is generally among family members. The reason you help out is that the kid had no choice in who their parent(s) are. Yeah, the parents can be total asses, but this tends to work in your favor especially if the student is a teenager. (If the parents hate you, most teenagers find you strangely appealing. Human nature is funny sometimes.) It also can be a nice counter-point for the teenager since one of those “evil” public school teachers is teaching you….and is quite nice….and the cognitive dissonance begins.

        Thankfully, my experience is mostly positive. With parents who are pleasant – like the group I met through friends of friends at a local church- I don’t mind helping out for free or very low wages or in-kind. I like teaching and enjoy meeting new teenagers to teach science or math too.

    • Dawn

      I agree. I’ve been homeschooling for ten years and although I started out with the superior attitude and smugness I now recognize its just a choice among many and has its tradeoffs.

      Some parts have been “better”. My daughter can pursue things like Latin and epistemology which the local high schools don’t offer and she enjoys working through her math on her own. But there are also big drawbacks. We’re rural so finding friends when you don’t have the network of school is tougher and I really don’t have the expertise our discipline to her a good foundation in high school science. In fact, she’s enrolled in the local high school part time to address that last concern. But again, the benefits work for us but they don’t come without tradeoffs. Every choice in life is like that.

      A note of appreciation though, through my years of homeschooling it has always been the teachers that I know who have been the most curious, helpful and supportive. So thank you for what you’re doing for the homeschool you know and I hope they start to realize what a gift they have in you.

    • Heather Scholl

      Wow….best comment on this subject that I have read so far. Thank you for letting us all in on this one. Not fair to teachers at all and rude. There is Sylvan. It is completely unaffordable for most people….but, if I were a teacher and approached by a homeschooling parent in this manner…I think I would consider suggesting it!

  • Petticoat Philosopher

    Eh, I’m not so sure about that. Off-the-grid outliers aside, I would say that public schools can give homeschools a run for their money as far as variation goes. Check out the schools of East St. Louis and then check out the schools of Scarsdale, NY. I can certainly say, as someone who grew up in one of America’s poorest cities with some of the lowest property values (meaning very little revenue for the school system) and went to public school, that when I saw schools in wealthy suburbs, they seemed like totally different universes. The “theory” that schools adhere to common standards is nothing more than that, a theory.

    There’s also going to be a huge difference between a tiny rural school and an urban school, or a big suburban mega-school.

    • Lucreza Borgia

      Miami-Dade schools is the third largest district in the US. When I was in school back in the late 80′s all the way to ’99, there were huge differences in schools based on location and whatnot. My elementary school was in an area that was in transition from white middle-class to Haitian middle-class and was able to give a great start to its students. My middle-school, however, was in a poor part of the county and was literally crumbling around us. The roof would collapse on us in rainstorms, asbestos forced some teachers out of classrooms entirely, and don’t even get me started on the lack of books and desks! My HS was in yet another city that wasn’t exactly poor by a long-shot but didn’t consider school funding a priority. The one word that comes to mind when thinking about my HS is deathtrap. The education was sub-par except for a few teachers that stood out. That school also suffered from a severe lack of equipment, desks, and books.

      Fast forward to my move to Wisconsin. Wow! Schools in the two counties I have lived in have shown themselves to be fabulously equipped and the school I worked at that had low test-scores was amazing and struggling with students who were living in poverty, but you wouldn’t know that from looking at the school itself.

  • Gillianren

    Is it just me, or does that first girl look like what she’s studying is how to be Glenn Beck?

  • Truthspew

    For the first time in my life I actually met someone who was homeschooled at a party about a week ago. Imagine that! And they said it so proudly. Of course I didn’t mention my attending Catholic schools. That would probably have sent them into a rant.

    • victoria

      You never know — one of my good friends here was homeschooled until college. She enjoyed it quite a bit — but she sends her own kids to public school.

    • Brightie

      Well, actually, even among the religious homeschoolers, Catholic schooling wouldn’t always be a put-off. I can remember three Catholic families in our homeschool co-op, and the people from other denominations present (Baptist, Assemblies of God, and Presbyterian, mainly) generally seemed to get on ok with them.

      • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

        Really? That is absolutely not my experience. I’ve seen co-ops enact policies explicitly to bar Catholic homeschoolers from leadership or teaching, and in fact, I reached college believing that Catholics all go to hell, as believed basically every homeschooler I grew up knowing.

      • Dawn

        I think experiences around this sort of thing vary widely depending on where you are. I’ve heard of complaints like those you’ve mentioned but belong to a couple of groups with a diverse membership that runs the gamut from literalist protestants to atheists. There aren’t enough homeschool of each of the subgroups for us to be especially choosy I think. I’m also on the east coast of Canada so there’s a much different dynamic in both the secular and religious spheres.

      • Brightie

        Maybe I did get lucky with my region. I’m in Louisiana, which means that no matter where you are there will be a goodly Catholic population, and if you’re in the southern half of the state they’re the religious majority. There are still plenty of mixed feelings about doctrinal divisions, but maybe if you bump into people often enough, it’s easier to like them?

  • Gail

    I’ve known two homeschooling families well enough to have seen their homeschooling environments.

    Family one had two daughters and attended the church where I grew up. The mother homeschooled the girls and they did their work on old PCs in their bedrooms. It seemed like their entire education was just reading material on the computers (probably from a Christian curriculum program) and then taking quizzes on it on the computer. It didn’t seem like their mother was that involved.

    Family two is a family I know as an adult. There are three children and the mother homeschools them Montessori/Waldorf style. They learn in a room that is kind of like a playroom with lots of art supplies and stuff around. The mother seems very involved with the kids and invents the curriculum around what the kids want to learn. The kids are also encouraged to express their creativity regularly.

    Yes, I’d agree there is a lot of variation in environment, in classroom setting, curriculum, and parental involvement.

  • Heather Scholl

    I think the success of the child being homeschooled may have something to do with these environments. I know some families who are so disorganized (me also, to a degree) that I wouldn’t really trust them to find an important bill on their kitchen table….let alone homeschool their kids. In one home, the computers (laptops) are never working due to being constantly stepped on or abused in some manner. If I were to ever take on this job (and it should be seen as one) I would have lots of cleaning and organizing to do to prepare to do it properly. I would want a “classroom” and the proper supplies handy and organized. Maybe this is a bit bourgeois but I would also want to be educated myself (maybe even with a teaching degree). If I am entrusted with my children’s education and future career opportunities…isn’t getting the proper degree the very least I could do? Why would I just say I am qualified and expect my kids to be okay with that …..just because they ARE kids and until they are 18 and are under my roof? Isn’t that taking advantage? They are not in control here I am….it is my job to make the most responsible decisions I can for them. Part of that decision is making sure my skills are up to the task. I guess I could say “Well, the computer program will educate them”. That sounds like a bit of a cop out to me. I always laugh (or cry) a bit when one mom I know posts on Facebook and her posts are full of misspelled words. Isn’t her job to learn how to spell or at least look up words she doesn’t know. How does she honestly know whether her kids are spelling them correctly. It is difficult to get a really good job later if you can’t spell ‘innocuous’ or ‘adolescent”. If you don’t know the meaning of ‘tenuous’ or ‘cloistered’ or ‘empirical’ how are you qualified to teach schoolchildren. Just asking!

    • oywiththepoodles

      Personally, I agree with this approach. I don’t have an early ed degree, but I do have a bachelor’s from a liberal arts college. I know I am capable of teaching most subjects at appropriate levels for my children, with a few exceptions. When it comes time for high school chemistry, I will have someone else teach. (This is all assuming that I do decide to do *secular* home schooling, which is not yet set in stone. My eldest is nearly 3 so I have time to decide.) I think there is something to be said for having the mastery of all of the things you need to teach your children, or having the wisdom and humility to realize that you cannot provide a proper education in a given subject and seek out assistance from someone qualified. If a person isn’t genuinely capable of teaching most subjects, why would they feel that they can give their children a more solid educational foundation than a public school teacher? One-on-one guidance (assuming a computer isn’t doing the educating) is pretty useless if the adult involved can’t explain concepts correctly!

      I guess in certain circles this comes back to the end goal of the education- is a girl raised in patriarchy just expected to “get by” until she is married and raising her own family? Is a son expected to do some kind of manual labor or run a business that does not require a degree? It seems that is often the goal of Christian home schooling. Maybe that allows parents to ignore their inability to properly educate- to the detriment of their children’s futures.

      • The_L1985

        I think part of the problem, too, is that most non-educators don’t know what it takes to be a good teacher. You don’t just have to know math and geography and spelling and biology; you have to know how people learn. You have to know how to effectively scaffold if you’re going to try discovery-based learning. You have to be a good explainer; you have to be patient; you have to be in tune with your students’ strengths and weaknesses.

        A degree in education isn’t just a fancy piece of paper, after all. :)

      • Dawn

        You would not have enjoyed talking to me ten years ago. I had just started homeschooling and was convinced an education degree wasn’t much more then that fancy piece of paper. Yeah, I had a five year old, a toddler and I was unwilling. I could afford to be smug.
        Now I have a teenager who is considering a science career, a tween with a suspected LD and another toddler. I’ve learned much of what you mentioned but gosh, it was hard at times and that was only with two kids and so totally not transferable to a classroom.
        I make a point of letting teachers know I appreciate their skills and knowledge now.

      • Sally

        What a degree in education actually does give you is a whole other conversation, though. I majored in general elementary ed. and also in special ed, specifically learning disabilities (think dyslexia). The spec. ed. major was very practical. The general stuff, though, was way too theoretical. -Bottom line, you end up learning on the job. And when I say learning on the job, I don’t mean topping it all off with practical experience, I mean you feel like you’re starting from scratch in all things from organizing your room, to trying to stay one step ahead of the kids in content subjects (if you’re teaching beyond 2nd grade or so).
        This is not just a function of the particular college I attended, or some lack of ability on my part. This is standard. In fact last year as a substitute teacher, I spent 2 1/2 weeks subbing in a special ed. class as an assistant. The teacher was a first year teacher. She was a very hard worker, but it was abundantly clear that she was still figuring this all out just like I did 25 years earlier.
        That said, I have no doubt there’s some ignorance out there in the homeschooling world about learning styles and hidden disabilities. There are a few standard education classes that probably everyone would benefit from. One would be “Exception Child” which addresses disabilities and giftedness with an overview.

    • Dawn

      Just one point. You need an education to get a degree but a degree isn’t necessary for an education. I never went past high school but homeschooling my kids has demanded a lot of me in terms of learning new content, concepts, and skills. I now have a decade of experience under my belt. Not a degree, no, but an education for sure.

      • Helix Luco

        i don’t doubt your education, but the idea of homeschooling guardians without significant experience in a college/university setting still bothers me a little, because knowledge is one of those things that’s really difficult to self-evaluate. even if someone who’s planning to homeschool their kids educates themselves earnestly, there’s no guarantee they would be able to spot any areas in which they might be lacking without some kind of external input.

      • Dawn

        Agreed but I’m doubtful as to whether college/university can supply the guarantee you’re after. Someone who studied English literature might have an advantage in teaching English but not understand that using the term borrow when teaching their 2nd grader subtraction is a conceptually poor approach. Someone with extensive education in maths might dismiss the importance of grammar. Heck, the math person, who might be something of a natural at math, go too heavy on teaching math concepts but dismiss the importance of drill and practice. Or the person with a teaching degree who’s education was steeped in whole language theory might be right back at the same square one I occupied when faced with a child who needed explicit phonics instruction. And all of those people would occupy the same place I often do and set out to remedy the lack, just as I did. The guarantees offered by a degree are generally very specific and related to issues of hiring. I’ve known a lot of homeschoolers who’ve had degree, even in education, who felt the advantages of that were limited at best.

        All that aside, I agree that external input is often required. I do need to check my knowledge and my children’s progress but that input isn’t hard to find outside a university. As Mel related in the first comment, we know how to reach out to people we know for that input (although I hope most of us practice better manners then the folks Mel dealt with).

        I think the biggest disadvantage to not having a university education myself is some anxiety around having a child who will be attending university in a few years. How do I shape her last few years of homeschooling? What skills will be most valuable? What is a university looking for in a potential student? If I’d gone through all that myself it might be easier. But again, I know people who can help and the admissions officers of the local universities are all an email away. Still, yikes.

      • AlisonCummins

        Dawn, that’s a straw man. Nobody’s talking about a guarantee. They are talking about knowing what it’s like to be held to a high standard by someone who really knows what they are talking about, and realizing how little you know at the end of it. I don’t know anything about the homeschooling community but you sound as though you are parroting a talking point from a homeschool echo-chamber. It’s completely unconvincing to anyone outside but you can’t see that.

        If you know how hard you worked to get your 3.0 in English Lit and realize what you know about literary criticism, history and culture that you wouldn’t have known otherwise, you will have respect for the high-level thinking and analysis in other disciplines. You will be eager to outsource other subjects so that your children can be fully engaged by people who know and love music, the sciences, athletics, history and geography as much as you know and love post-colonial african literature.

        If you have never been to university yourself you don’t know what people who have been are talking about when they say it’s valuable. People who have been to university *also have basic life experience* and know how valuable they *both* are. You have only basic life experience and are devaluing university, which is something that few people who have both will do.

        I would never send my child to public schools staffed by people who had never been to university. Why would I let my child be taught for fourteen years by a single, limited person who had never been to university?

      • Dawn

        Alison – Helix mentioned there, “being no guarantee.” I was simply pointing out that university didn’t always offer those guarantees he was after.
        I was too broad when I said, ” I’ve known a lot of homeschoolers who’ve had degree, even in education, who felt the advantages of that were limited at best.” I apologize. I meant that specifically in reference to homeschooling, not in general. It would make a good conversation if you were interested in why they thought so.

        I’m also not saying folks with university education lack life experience. My point was that one doesn’t generally learn *everything* at university. There will be areas where the English major has a huge advantage over me but other areas were we’re on equal footing when we start out. And I’ll tackle that as she tackles it, diving into math texts or history lectures or calling on so-and-so’s dad who happens to know Latin.
        And you’re right about outsourcing. I have my limits (and a toddler). My daughter knows them too which is why she requested to be taught science at the high school level by, “someone who knows what they’re talking about.” So she’s partially enrolled in the local high school. If that doesn’t work I’ll be outsourcing in some other manner.

      • Lucreza Borgia

        I dunno where your friend got their education degree, but that’s not how my husband is learning with his. Then again, a Wisconsin teaching degree is the proverbial golden ticket to almost any classroom in the nation.

      • Dawn

        Sorry. I didn’t mean it as an across the board claim. It was in reference to a specific person’s experience and simply an example that demonstrated my point.

      • Mishellie

        I did not know this. Very interesting… Perhaps if I have kids some day ill leave illinois…

      • Lucreza Borgia

        From what I’ve seen second-hand, the UW system is very serious about their teaching program. On top of learning theory, my husband is in an actual local classroom for each subject block. People I knew back in Florida who got teaching degrees didn’t step foot into a classroom until their student teaching semester, which is a very bad time to find out that you actually hate teaching! Before he could even get into the program, he had to spend a semester at a local school tutoring and the evaluation of the supervisor was critical to entry. There is tons of hands on experience with actual teachers every step of the way.

      • Helix Luco

        just as an aside, my local community college had lots of different classes and resources devoted to all the different aspects of university prep and walking students through the admissions process for first-generation college students, maybe your area has something similar?

      • Dawn

        It’s a little different where I am – Eastern Canada. The CC system is focused mainly on trades training but I hadn’t even thought of investigating a program specifically aimed at first generation students. That is a great suggestion and it may well be our dept. of Ed offers some resources along that line. Thank you!

    • Rose

      I grew up in a very disorganized homeschooling family, and yes, it can take a serious toll on a kids education. My mother is not the most academically gifted person in the world, and was still entrusted with my education up to my junior year of highschool. On the one hand, I learned how to teach myself. on the other hand, I got a completely F-ed up math education and now (in my junior year of college) I’m very disappointed that I missed out because I’m really interested in physics and chemisty, but never got a foundation to build from. I guess my point is, I totally agree with you. If a parent wants to homeschool he/she should at least have some sort of education about teaching/child development. But honestly, I don’t think it’s really possible for one set of parents to provide their children with a well rounded education (mine didn’t outsource as much as they probably should have).

      • Judith Pyrah Arnold

        My public school education also left me poorly prepared in math. My public high school was not accredited, offered no AP courses, and had no interesting, enthusiastic teachers. When I decided to go to college I had to gather information about the process on my own, and I had to teach myself the math I needed to know to get in. You may not be aware of this, but all public schools are not created equal and not all public schools offer a decent basic education. I don’t think parents are doing their child any kind of service to blindly accept whatever is offered in the public school their child happens to end up assigned to attend. In fact, I homeschool specifically because I know what is and is not being taught in my own local public school and I want a better education for my kids.

  • Celestine Stoltenberg

    There was a family in my neighborhood in Phoenix who “home schooled” their son. He was a preteen when we first met him. He never could answer me when I asked him what he was studying at the moment.

    In contrast, I worked with a man at the same time who wife homeschooled their children. She kept the household rigidly scheduled so that the kids would have set study times and she could also do other stuff like cooking and cleaning and shopping. I appreciate that we can look at homeschooling not as a monolithic thing, but in its diversity. Some people do it well, others don’t.

    However, regardless of how well a person home schools, I feel obligated to support the public school system. Many people do not realize the history behind public schooling. Public school has been a huge benefit to millions of people and needs to be kept in place.

    • Dawn

      Just a note on the kid you knew that didn’t answer your questions. Some homeschool kids get quizzed by strangers on a regular basis to the point that their parents might just let them know they don’t have to respond. Others might be studying something but are unsure how to categorize. Others, like my son, just freeze under questioning and leave their mom looking like a negligent doofus.:D

      • Celestine Stoltenberg

        I can understand that, Dawn. To me, asking about school is natural. What are you learning? What is your favorite subject? What is your least favorite? What do you like about that?

        And really, what else do kids do? :p

  • http://abasketcase.blogspot.com/ Basketcase

    Looking at the images you have collected, the one thing that stands out for me is that there is a parent in every single one, except the first “off the grid” one. The parent is there, helping educate their child. And to be honest, none of them look like they are negative, which is interesting. I see books, or activities, or a computer in all of them. They could be any home doing homework, or a home school.

  • j_bird

    On the chalkboard in the first picture is written, “He who controls the oil controls the WORLD.”

    That’s an odd truncation of Kissinger’s “‘If you control the oil you control the country; if you control food, you control the population.” Kind of changes the meaning.


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