Disrupting what we know about education

Research, analysis, and insights to help you decide whether homeschooling is right for you

Are you ready for homeschooling?

Have you done all the research already, or do you not know where to start?  Feel like you've made a decent start but not sure what you're still missing?

Take our seven question quiz to test your readiness and view your personalized results.

This course is for anyone who ever researched the safest car seat, the most educational toys, the right daycare situation – who wants to be sure they’re making the best decision possible about the path for their child’s education.

You went to school, right? You’ve got questions about why on earth you wouldn’t send your child to school? (I know you do!)

I’ve got (research-based) answers.

Here are some questions that parents who went to school often have - I asked them myself and I’ve been asked them many times.

There are plenty of good things about school. I liked school. I did well in school. Why would I consider homeschooling?

Great!  So did I, actually.  Despite graduating second in my class from a mediocre high school in England, I got into Berkeley (double major in English and Forestry & Natural Resources) and then Yale (Master of Environmental Management).  Then when I became a parent and decided I needed a better parenting toolkit, I went back to school and got a Master’s in Psychology with a focus on Child Development.

And what was the single skill that ensured my success throughout my educational career?

Rote memorization.

Sadly, school does not provide opportunities for the kind of deep learning we like to think it does.  We don’t get a chance to find something that truly interests us and dive as deep into it as we like, branching out to related interests from there.  We’re constrained by (1) the curriculum, which tells us what we need to learn and when we need to learn it, and (2) the standardized tests that check we’ve learned what we needed to learn and when we needed to learn it.

Some students do very well in this environment.  Others experience significant challenges and end up with poor test results to show for it, when they might discover a totally different path if they were allowed to follow their own interests.

I had a great teacher in school. Some of my relatives are teachers, and I know they have children’s best interests at heart. Really, how can school be bad?

I had at least a couple of great teachers in school – one of whom I’m still in touch with today.  I believe that there are many good teachers, and many who are trying to teach well but are constrained by a system that, really, does not have a child’s best needs at heart. 

It might sound crazy to say that schools weren’t designed to promote a child’s education. 

Schools date from about the third millennium B.C. in Mesopotomania.  The first schools in the U.S. were established to indoctrinate children with the Protestant work ethic, although few children attended them and most learned to read anyway - the literacy rate in Boston was estimated to be close to 100% by the end of the 1700s[1], compared with 75% in Suffolk County (in which Boston sits) in 2003 (the latest year for which the National Center for Education Statistics maintains data)[2].

As the churches lost power, governments looked to compulsory education to control what ideas students were exposed to, and to fine-tune them into machines for churning out workers that were well-equipped to take their place on the assembly line.  This control is achieved through a centralized curriculum, where administrators decide what a student will learn and when – whether or not that student is ready (or willing) to learn it.

Many “good” teachers do the best they can within this system.  I wrote my master’s thesis on what motivates children to learn in the absence of a curriculum, and I was struck by the variety of ways that teachers use to try to get students interested in material that they otherwise would have no reason to want to learn. 

One set of researchers proposed that teachers should use one of four strategies to support children’s intrinsic motivation to learn: (1) ask questions that will challenge the students (2) provoke their curiosity by asking questions (remember how it’s always the teachers who ask the questions when the students don’t have any curiosity?), (3) provide children with a sense of control (e.g. by letting them choose between one of two assignments) and (4) by encouraging the learner to become involved in a world of fantasy and make-believe (e.g. by asking children to use Pythagorean theorem to advise Captain James T. Kirk on how to set the transponder beam on the Starship Enterprise given two parameters but not knowing the third)[3]

Do you recall teachers using these strategies on you?  Does it now seem more clear that they were doing this to motivate you to learn otherwise uninteresting material so you would do well on a test?  Your teachers were doing the best they could within the system they had.  But what if there was a different system, where children were intrinsically motivated to learn without being coerced? 

Would you be interested in hearing more about that?


[1] https://www.history.org/Foundation/journal/Winter11/literacy.cfm

[2] https://nces.ed.gov/naal/estimates/StateEstimates.aspx

[3] Lepper, M.R., & Hodell, M. (1989). Intrinsic motivation in the classroom. In C. Ames & R. Ames (Eds.), Research on Motivation in Education, Volume 3: Goals and cognitions (pp73-105). New York, NY: Academic Press.

I think we’ll be OK. We live in a good school district. Why would we need to consider other options?

So do I, actually.  I’d always assumed my daughter would go to school.  But I put so much time and effort into choosing a daycare environment for her that would help to develop her love of learning that I realized I couldn’t then imagine putting her into an environment where Common Core standards would dictate what she learned and when and how she learned it. 

So I started doing a LOT of reading about school.  And what I learned from reading over fifty books and over 150 scientific research papers about how children learn was not that children don’t learn much in bad schools, it’s that they don’t learn much in schools

I wrote my master’s thesis on what motivates children to learn in the absence of a curriculum, and I found that curiosity is really a key ingredient for learning. 

Do you have (or have you had) a toddler?  Are you going (or did you go)  absolutely crazy because they ask so many questions?  They’re curious about everything, right?

One researcher, Susan Engel, wanted to compare the curiosity of kindergarteners with fifth graders.  The drop-off in motivation to learn in elementary school years is well-known and -documented by researchers.  Susan Engel assumed that she would be able to watch this decline happen by studying both kindergarteners and fifth graders. 

She was wrong. 

She found almost no signs of curiosity in either age group, in any activity or any part of the room.  Children asked questions about how long they had to finish a task, whether they could or could not use a certain toy, and whether another child would eat lunch with them.  They almost never asked questions about anything they were studying or working on, most likely because they spent so much time doing activities with clear concrete goals (filling out a worksheet, solving a puzzle, completing a word test), almost always designed and set by the teacher.  In virtually all cases, any questions that were asked about the activity were asked by the teacher.[1]

In another study, two researchers who observed preschoolers in their homes and later in their classrooms, found that two- and three-year-olds asked an enormous range of questions while at home with their parents, who responded to these questions in a variety of ways, from clarifications to explanations and invitations for further speculation.  But when these same children started preschool, far fewer questions were asked[2].  It makes sense when you see it in the context of a teacher’s role of increasing the level of content knowledge in children.  The irony is that the very things teachers do to increase content knowledge stamp out the curiosity that would lead children to increase their knowledge by themselves.  

And the double irony is that parents, with no pedagogical training whatsoever, are better able to support that curiosity in their children than a teacher.


[1] Engel, S. (2006). Open Pandora’s box: Curiosity and education in the classroom.  Sarah Lawrence College Occasional Paper Series.  Retrieved from: https://www.sarahlawrence.edu/media/cdi/pdf/Occasional%20Papers/CDI_Occasional_Paper_2006_Engel.pdf

[2] Tizard, B., & Hughes, M. (1984). Young children learning. London: Fontana.

 

But what about socialization? I want my child to mix with people of all different types. How else will s/he learn the social skills s/he will need later in life?

I think this must be the most commonly asked question whenever I mention homeschooling.  And if you’re thinking about homeschooling by shutting your child in a closet then you probably should be concerned that your child will be under-socialized.  Otherwise – not so much.

There’s a LOT of research on this topic so I’ll summarize briefly the four main concerns that parents have when they think about socialization.

  1. School is a critical to a child’s personal development.

Personal development is usually tested through psychological tests of things like self-concept (the collection of beliefs that you hold about yourself) and self-esteem.  Research has shown that these facets of a child’s development are tightly linked with socialization: in other words, self-concept is a reflection of socialization.  One meta-analysis cites at least six studies finding homeschooled students have self-concepts at least as strong or stronger than their peers in public and private schools, and concludes that “home-based education appears at least as capable of nurturing self-concept as conventional schools.  It is distinctly possible that homeschoolers perform even better in this area than their peers do in traditional schools.”[1]

  1. School is where children learn how to make friends.

In the course of human development, confining children to a group of peers within a year of their own age is actually highly unusual.  While some children do indeed make good friends in high school, many children do not: meta-analysis of 80 studies found that approximately 15% of children are bullied online, and 35% are bullied in-person[2].

It is indeed likely that homeschooled students have fewer direct connections to people of precisely their own age than students educated in schools.  But is this a bad thing?  A homeschooling mom who also runs a homeschoolers’ group wrote a great (research-based!) paper on this topic (available here).  The up-shot of it is that homeschooled students experience a far greater range of social experiences, with many more types of people, than students in school experience. 

  1. The melting pot argument

When we think about schools, we might imagine all kinds of people coming together who might not otherwise have met in real life, becoming friends, and understanding how ‘the other’ lives.  The reality is somewhat different.

Meredith Maran, a journalist based in Berkeley, CA, wrote a book called “Class dismissed: A year in the life of an American high school, a glimpse into the heart of a nation.”  It turns out that Berkeley is a very diverse city: and if it were any other city that diversity would be divided up into different local schools; one in “the flats” for the minority children and another in “the hills” for the whites.  But in Berkeley, there is only one high school: Berkeley High.  It’s supposed to be a model of integration for the nation.

But at Berkeley High, just like other schools that children of different races attend, the students don't really mix across racial groups.  The white students hang out together and the black students hang out together and they might be peripherally aware of each other because they sit in the same classes, but they're not really integrated.

And when the UC Berkeley-sponsored Diversity Project visited Berkeley High, the supposedly ‘fully integrated’ school, it found patterns that mirror the national average: only 17% of black and 24% of Latino high school seniors were found to be proficient in reading.  Four percent of black students were rated proficient in math and science.  No black students and 1% of Latinos were rated as “advanced” in those studies.[3] As we can see, just integrating schools neither provides an optimal social or academic experience for minority students.

  1. School is a vital environment where children learn how to be engaged in the community

Research shows that homeschooled students are at least as engaged in the community, if not more so, than children who attend school.  This is because every homeschooled parent quickly finds out that s/he cannot teach the child everything they need to know, and looks to community resources to help fill these gaps.  Students use libraries, volunteer, take internships and hold jobs, all while homeschooled – they aren’t waiting to be ‘old enough.’

Robert Putnam’s book Bowling Alone[4] describes the erosion of social and democratic structures in America.  Since only 3.4% of school-age students are homeschooled, this great erosion of the social fabric of America has occurred despite the fact that the other 96.6% of students are educated in schools.  Is it not possible that our education system is partly responsible for this decline?  And is it possible that homeschoolers, who learn by making and using networks of people, by engaging in radical activities like volunteering and voting, could be part of the reconnection of our communities?

So, the research shows that (1) school is not an optimal environment for socializing our children and (2) homeschooled children can be perfectly adequately socialized if their parents help them to seek out opportunities and experiences in the community.


[1] Murphy, J. (2014). The social and educational outcomes of homeschooling.  Sociological Spectrum 34, 244-272.

[2] Modecki, K.L., Minchin, J., Harbaugh, A.G., & Runions, K. (2014). Bullying prevalence across contexts: A meta analysis measuring cyber and traditional bullying. Journal of Adolescent Health 55(5), 602-611

[3] Maran, M. (2000). Class dismissed: A year in the life of an American high school, a glimpse into the heart of a nation. New York: St. Martin’s.

[4] Putnam, R. (2001). Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American community.  New York: Touchstone.

 

Isn’t school kind of required for getting into college?

Actually, no!  People who remember endless hours of cramming to pass tests in school as well as the SAT, and juggling multiple Advanced Placement courses with all the extracurricular activities needed to make yourself ‘stand out’ from the crowd might be surprised to learn that none of that is required to get into college.  None of it is even necessarily part of a baseline admissions package.  Plenty of homeschoolers get into college by sending a parent-generated “high school transcript” and doing an interview, in which they reveal their love of learning and their maturity.  Some of them end up taking community college courses while still of high school age, and that transcript becomes part of their application.  Any more than that simply isn’t needed.

So: schools work well for some children.  Particularly those who are good at rote memorization (or seem like they have the potential for it).  For any child who looks (or sounds) just a little bit like a squeaky wheel, school is much less of a good fit.  Squeaky wheels include children who have trouble sitting still (that takes care of a lot of them…), children who can’t read by the time they leave kindergarten, and any child who isn’t white or Asian.  If your child has two of those three, the fit with school-based education is likely to be very poor.  And even children who don’t ‘squeak’ can struggle too – they just take longer to get found out.

How can I possibly homeschool? I have to work.

That’s what I thought as well.  Honestly, I’d never considered being a stay-at-home parent when I had my daughter – I would go absolutely crazing spending all day every day with a baby. 

But the thing about homeschooling is that you don’t have to teach your child everything they’re going to learn.  You might use libraries or tutors.  You might join (or start) a co-op group so each parent takes the children on one day and has the other four weekdays free.  Some communities have centers where children can go and learn (in a not-like-school environment) things they want to learn, which could give you mornings or potentially full days free to work. 

There’s no doubt that transitioning to homeschooling will be easier for stay-at-home parents.  But it is possible for any parent who is willing to reimagine what a “career” looks like and how it can incorporate both time spent supporting their children’s learning and working.

Professor Ama Mazama (one of our expert interviewees teaches at the university level and homeschools.  I interviewed two single parents who homeschool; one with a teenager and the other with an elementary schooler.  If they can do it, you can do it.

We have a whole module of content on “what to do about work” in the course and a long list of potential ways that working parents can homeschool. 

My best advice is to get started on planning this as early as possible, because (in general) the longer the runway you have to make this transition, the better.

So, you're thinking of homeschooling?

It’s a heck of a decision, isn’t it?

There are so many books to read, so many things to consider – and how can you ever know if you’ve made the right decision for your family?  How can you be sure your child will learn everything they need to know?  How will you even learn everything they need to know?  Will they be able to get into college at the other end?  How will you afford to homeschool?  Is it even legal?

These are some of the things I wondered when I first started thinking about homeschooling my daughter.

Have you started thinking about them too?

Does it feel overwhelming?

Jen and her daughter site seeing on a bridge.

The good news for you is that I’m a bit of a research nut.  When my daughter was young I read all the books on how to cope with a baby, and had that part all figured out.  Then she turned into a toddler with quite the mind of her own, and I realized I needed an entirely different skillset – and didn’t even know what were the tools I’d need.

So I went back to school to get a Master’s degree in Psychology with a focus on Child Development, and I started a podcast to share what I was learning with others.  I’ve talked with some of the top child development experts in the country, and asked them the questions that have been on my listeners’ minds (many of my episode topics are suggestions from listeners).

Check it out at www.yourparentingmojo.com.

About the course

This course contains everything you’ll need to assess whether and how homeschooling can fit into your family’s lifestyle – even if you could never imagine right now how it could be possible.

This course contains everything you’ll need to assess whether and how homeschooling can fit into your family’s lifestyle – even if you could never imagine right now how it could be possible.

You’ll learn:

  1. That schools actually weren’t designed to help students meet their educational goals, and because of this students’ motivation to learn declines rapidly after they enter school and never recovers
  2. Whether homeschooling is legal in your area
  3. How you’ll afford to homeschool, even if you work right now
  4. How your child will learn (and what you’ll need to know yourself to support that learning)
  5. How homeschooled children turn out (and whether they can get into college)

All this is delivered in ten modules of 2-13 lessons each.  Some lessons are material to read; others are audio interviews with homeschooling families or experts.  You could complete the reading parts of the course in an hour a day over a couple of weeks, and you can download the audio content to listen to while driving or walking the dog.  Because I know you are short of time!

Bonus: as part of the course, you gain access to a private support group of parents who are also making this decision for themselves to bounce ideas off and gain support from.

Extra bonus: I review over 25 books on homeschooling so you don’t waste your time if you want to dive deeper!

You could take somewhere between a week and a month to complete the material, depending on how much free time you have and how much thinking time you need.  The pace is self-guided; you gain access to the entire course as soon as you register, so you can work through it as fast or slowly as you like.

We all want what’s best for our kids, right?

When they’re tiny, we obsess over every decision – what’s the safest car seat?  The best toys to promote cognitive development?  The right way to introduce solid food?

But when they’re old enough we send them to school without a second thought – we just accept that school is the natural next step in a child’s life.

What is the purpose of a school?

Nominally, it is to educate our children – to give them the facts and skills they need to succeed in life, and to distribute those facts and skills in a way that reduces inequality between children: that helps children from poor families to achieve more than they otherwise would.

Administrators create a List of Facts that all children must know before they graduate, and then divide up The Facts into the number of years children are in school.  Then the teachers – many of whom are dedicated to making a difference in children’s lives, but some who can’t pass a basic competency test – attempt to teach The Facts to the children: whether or not the children are ready.

The Facts are otherwise known as the Common Core Standards; in most states, all publicly funded schools (and all private schools that receive any public funding at all) must adhere to the Common Core Standards.

Yet all the research I've read on the subject says that children are not programmed to learn on a timetable:

Common core standards require children to be reading in kindergarten, or they are officially “behind” learning targets.  But early reading creates no developmental advantage for children, and may even backfire as they become disillusioned with education.[1]

Children – like all people, really, perform a task more fully and effectively when they choose to perform it rather than when they are compelled to perform it.[2]  We establish a curriculum and compel children to learn it (education is compulsory, after all), and then wonder why children’s motivation to learn descends from an all-time high in preschool in an ever-deteriorating spiral the older they get.[3]

Some children respond well to school; they memorize the needed facts and graduate with high grades.  (I was one of those children.)  Others cannot sit still and focus unless they see the point in a project: a homeschooling father I interviewed (named Rob) had a poor school experience and was diagnosed with ADHD.  He sees the same traits in his son and knows his son will suffer in school as well.  Yet Rob has no problem at all concentrating on tasks that are important to him: he taught himself WordPress and runs a successful business designing websites - including this one!  Children who are disruptive in school are frequently medicated: 11% of children age 4-17 years (6.4 million) have ever been diagnosed with ADHD as of 2011.  While behavior therapy is considered a first-line treatment, 3/4 of children diagnosed with ADHD receive medication, and fewer than half received any form of psychological services.[4]  Medication is highly successful at making children compliant enough to return to the classroom.


[1] https://deyproject.files.wordpress.com/2015/01/readinginkindergarten_online-1.pdf

[2] Patall, E.A., Cooper, H., & Robinson, J.C. (2008). The effects of choice on intrinsic motivation and related outcomes: A meta-analysis of research findings. Psychological Bulletin 134(2), 170-300. DOI: 10.1037/0033-2909.134.2.270

[3] Lepper, M.R., & Hodell, M. (1989). Intrinsic motivation in the classroom. In C. Ames & R. Ames (Eds.), Research on Motivation in Education, Volume 3: Goals and cognitions (pp73-105). New York, NY: Academic Press.

[4] https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/data.html

We have the impression that children can’t possibly be learning unless it looks difficult.

We remember how hard we worked in school, and we think our children need to do something that looks like that too.  If they aren’t memorizing facts (state capitols, the causes of World War I, all of Algebra), then they aren’t really learning and they aren’t really preparing themselves for life.

Worse, we aren't preparing them for life.

Research has shown that there are two factors that determine whether a person can and will learn something.  They have to be motivated, and they have to be developmentally ready.

Simple as that.

Jen and her daughter coloring.

A person is motivated to learn when the task to be learned has some meaning to them.

Taking a trip cross-country? State capitals are suddenly important.

Want to convince someone that national strategic alliances can be dangerous, especially with a volatile leader at the helm? Knowing some history can help you to make your point.

Trying to buy a house? Algebra can tell you whether you can afford the payments.

Child exploring in a stream.

A student who wants to get into college needs to know math, so she learns it.  A homeschooler I interviewed, Eliza, set her own course of study at home from ninth grade onward.  She didn’t bother learning math because it didn’t interest her.  When she decided she wanted to get into college she bought a book on the math needed to pass the SAT, and learned it in a few weeks.  It wasn’t that hard because she was motivated – and developmentally ready.

The only reason it takes over a decade to teach basic math concepts...

...is because most children aren’t ready to learn them when the syllabus says they should be ready.  The founder of the Sudbury Valley School, a ‘school’ in name only, because the students don’t have to engage in any activity unless they want to, including classes – had a group of twelve children aged nine to twelve ask him to teach them arithmetic, a subject that takes six years to teach in regular schools.  The students convinced him to give them a half-hour lesson twice a week, and assign homework, which they did without fail.  They completed six years’ worth of work in twenty hours of teaching.[5]  The students were motivated, and they were developmentally ready.


[5] Greenberg, D. (1995). Free at last: The Sudbury Valley school. Sudbury, MA: Sudbury Valley School Press; this section freely available here: http://sudburyschool.com/content/free-last

There are about forty Sudbury Valley-model schools scattered around the U.S., and a smattering in Europe, Israel, and Japan.  But what options are there for those of us who don’t want to put our kids into the pressure cooker of school, but don’t live near a Sudbury school?

That's where homeschooling comes in.

"Homeschooling?" I hear you say.

I can’t homeschool.

I’m not qualified.

I don’t know everything my child even needs to know, never mind know how to teach it to her.

I can’t quit my job.

Besides, I don’t even know if it’s legal in my area.

Well, luckily for you there’s a course that can help you to decide whether homeschooling is right for your family.

This one!

At the end of this course, you will have the information and confidence you need to decide whether homeschooling is right for your family, choose an educational path, and go for it!

The course contains the following modules:

 

What’s so wrong with school anyway?

Where did we get the idea for this thing called "school"?

What assumptions underlie the functioning of schools and are these correct?

What are the outcomes for students who attend school? Are they prepared for work and for life?

 

What kind of people homeschool?

Are the stereotypes about homeschoolers true?

Why do families homeschool?

 

Is homeschooling legal in my area?

Overview of legal requirements for all 50 U.S. States and 13 Canadian Provinces, with information on where to find detailed requirements.

If you’re not from the U.S. or Canada, I’ll add the relevant information just for you.

 

What about work? How will we pay the bills?

What are some of the ways that families afford to homeschool, even if they live in expensive places?

 

Do I need to know everything my child needs to know before I can homeschool?

Yes! (Actually, no.)  We discuss why.

Extra sections on children with special needs, ‘gifted’ learners, and high school students.

Addresses the question “aren’t homeschooling parents experimenting on their children?” (Sneak preview of the answer: no more than schools are…)

 

Do I have to use a curriculum? If not, how does my child learn?

Before you choose a curriculum, you need an approach. We cover the major ones.

If you decide to use a curriculum, how should you choose one?

Deep dive into unschooling – learning without a curriculum.

 

What do homeschoolers’ days look like?

They’re all different – homeschoolers tell us about their days and their years.

 

How do homeschooled children turn out?

Can homeschooled students get into college?

Don’t they need a transcript from a school, and 300 Advanced Placement courses, and…?

How do homeschoolers do after college?

 

Decision time!

You’ve decided to homeschool! What are your next steps?

You’ve decided that homeschooling isn’t right for your family. What are some things you can do to encourage and support your child’s learning in a school-based environment?

How will you learn this information?

Through four kinds of content.

 

1. Written information supported by extensive references

Much of this information is presented in written format.  It’s extensively referenced so if you’re intrigued by a particular topic you can go and do more research on it yourself.

2. Activities

Several of the modules contain activities that you can do to deepen your own process of introspection on what defines a well-educated person, and coalesce your ideas.  After thinking these through for yourself, you’ll share your ideas in our private Facebook group, and will have the benefit of reading the ideas that others have shared as well.  It’s like your own personal decision-making support group!

3. Interviews of homeschooling families

But I know not everyone learns best through reading, and frankly I also wanted you to get the benefit of hearing from actual homeschoolers.  So I interviewed some.  More than twenty, actually.  Some are just a few months in to their homeschooling adventure; some are old-hands.  Some were homeschooled as children; others had a very traditional school-based education.  Some eventually put their children back into school; others were homeschooled from start to finish.  Some follow a curriculum to the T – others unschool and learn what they want to learn when they want to learn it.

There’s nothing like hearing what homeschooling is like than hearing it from people who are doing it right now.

But rather than make you slog through more than twenty interviews to get to the nuggets of wisdom, I edited them for you – I collected up the six or seven examples of what a homeschooler’s day looks like, for example, that show you the breadth of possibilities without overwhelming you with multiple examples that are much the same.  (But when I ask them to offer you advice, I give you all of it – because I want you to hear that).

4. Expert interviews

You’re not just getting all those modules of content and the interviews with homeschoolers.  I’ve also convened a panel of experts to share their wisdom on homeschooling.  These folks are the crème de la crème of homeschooling prowess: they’ve homeschooled themselves, they’ve thought about it, written about it, and lectured about it, and they’re here to share their wisdom with you.  They are:

Portrait of Cathy Duffy.

Cathy Duffy

Cathy Duffy literally wrote the book on homeschooling curricula.  Cathy has been reviewing homeschooling curricula since 1984 – she began by reviewing for all subjects and all grade levels, but as the curriculum universe grew to be too immense for most homeschoolers to navigate she shifted her focus from informing about curricula to helping parents whittle down their options and select the right one for their family.  Cathy wrote the book 102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum, and also maintains the website cathyduffyreviews.com, where a weekly e-newsletter alerts readers to her latest reviews.

Ben Hewitt

Ben wrote the article in Outside Magazine that first inspired me to consider homeschooling for my daughter.  He also wrote a book on unschooling, which is schooling without a curriculum.  Ben shares with us how he feels competent to be responsible for his sons’ education even though he doesn’t have a college degree, that no one person needs to know everything their child needs to know to succeed in life, and also that homeschooling isn’t just something that people who live on farms in Vermont can practice.

Portrait of Ben Hewitt.
Portrait of Pat Farenga.

Pat Farenga

If there’s a single person at the heart of the unschooling movement I’d say it’s Pat Farenga. Pat’s colleague and friend John Holt realized that children have a natural intrinsic motivation to learn that schools were stamping out rather than encouraging.  He started the newsletter Growing Without Schooling, which became a vital source of information for the nascent movement that was becoming known as “unschooling,” Pat was planning to become a teacher before he met John, but John convinced him to come and work on Growing Without Schooling instead and after John’s death Pat took over as publisher of the newsletter and became president of its parent company, Holt Associates.  Growing Without Schooling is no longer distributed, but Holt Associates is alive and well, and Pat remains an active writer, speaker, and advocate for homeschooling even though his three children are now out of the house.  Welcome, Pat – we’re so grateful you could join us.

Pam Larricchia

Pam Laricchia began unschooling her three children in 2002.  She started writing about her experience in 2004 and since then has published many articles and blog posts, has spoken at conferences and hosted The Toronto Unschooling Conference for six years, has written several books about unschooling and also hosts a podcast on the topic, all collected on her website.  I found Pam’s books to be an awesome blend of inspiration and practical advice, and she shares with us what the deschooling process (the time right after a child stops attending school) can be like, how to get comfortable with the idea that children can learn what they need to learn without directly being “taught,” and how to see the learning that occurs even when it looks like children are just playing.  Even playing video games!

Portrait of Pam Larricchia.
Portrait of Lexi Henegar.

Lexi Henegar

If adhering strictly to a curriculum doesn’t feel right to you but you can’t quite get your head around unschooling yet either, then Lexi Henegar has an approach that might fit you!  Lexi blogs about having been homeschooled, as well as about homeschooling her six children, using a mix-and-match approach pulling from a variety of different curricula while also allowing her children to follow their interests.  She also reminds us that homeschooling isn’t amazing all the time, and how to keep our eyes on the prize during the busy days.

Ama Mazama

The majority of homeschoolers are white, but the number of black homeschoolers is growing rapidly – and perhaps not for the reasons we’d like.  The School to Prison Pipeline unfortunately shuttles children – particularly boys – of color from the classroom and into special education services, suspensions, expulsions, and prison.  Ama Mazama is an Associate Professor and the Director of the Graduate Programs of the Department of African American Studies at Temple University.  Her main research focus is on philosophies of domination by one culture over another and methods of establishing an ethic of justice and equity, but she developed a professional interest in homeschooling because she has been homeschooling her own children for fourteen years now.

Portrait of Ama Mazama.
Portrait of Wes Carroll.

Wes Carroll

You weren't a math major. (Neither was I.) Picture yourself re-imagining what math is for, and helping your child to learn the math s/he needs. Picture yourself feeling confident with math.  I’m not kidding! Master Tutor Wes Carroll shows us the skills we need to help our children succeed in math – chances are, you already have them!

5. Bonus: Support Group Membership

You also get a membership to a private Facebook group for people who are looking to make this decision for their families.  Use it to share your hopes and your fears; bounce your ideas off them and watch yourself transform from uncertain newbie to a someone with a clear ambition and plan for their child’s lifelong learning.

 
6. Extra Bonus: How-To Book Reading List

Lots of people have written books on homeschooling; some more useful than others, and it can be particularly difficult to know before you get one whether it will fit with your religious beliefs (or lack thereof).  I give you a brief non-nonsense review of over 25 homeschooling guides, with a clear recommendation on whether each one is worth reading and if so, why.  This section alone will save you hours of time!

Not sure yet if this course is for you?

Would you like to sample the course content for free?  Click the button below to see the full course curriculum, along with previews of a typical “lecture,” an expert interview, and a series of interviews with homeschooling parents – just look for the ‘preview’ icon on the right to see the content that’s available.

About me

A portrait of Jen LumanlanHi, I’m Jen.

My first career was in sustainability consulting.  I got Bachelor’s degrees in Forestry and English from U.C. Berkeley and then a Master’s in Environmental Management from Yale, and spent nine years helping companies to reduce their environmental impacts.

Then I had my daughter.

I never saw myself as a mother.  I don’t really ‘do’ nurturing – at least not of things that have a lot of needs and can’t be reasoned with.  And yet here we are – by choice, and not by accident – and I find myself parenting a toddler.

I don’t have much in the way of parenting instinct but I make up for it with outstanding research skills.  I started a podcast called Your Parenting Mojo to share what I was learning during my master’s degree in Psychology with a focus on Child Development, and I kept it going because, honestly, I learn more from the average podcast episode than from the average paper for my degree (remember the whole importance of self-directed learning thing?).  The podcast is now one of the top-rated in Amazon’s Kids & Family section.

 

More...

I use principles of respectful parenting and scientific research to ground my approach to parenting.  When we needed to find daycare for our daughter I looked at all the available approaches, and visited Reggio Emilia, Italy, to see that particular approach in action.  It’s based on the idea that if you support children in making discoveries and learning things for themselves rather than trying to “teach” them something they’re not interested in, they’ll grow up with a love of learning and will also learn how to learn.  It really spoke to me so my daughter is in a Reggio-inspired daycare, which she can stay in until she’s five.  And then what?

Then she goes into kindergarten and school and curricula and standardized tests and rote memorization and – wait, why I am I spending all this time and money on a daycare that uses an approach designed to encourage self-directed learning if I’m just going to stick her in school at the other end?  And even if we live in a “good school district” and she’s likely to come out with decent grades simply because I’m an involved parent with two master’s degrees (both factors linked to good academic performance in school), is a good GPA the best measure of a child’s learning?

The more I read, the more I realized I fundamentally disagreed with the entire premise of compulsory education.  But what alternative did I have?

I couldn’t homeschool.

I’m not qualified.

I don’t know everything my child even needs to know, never mind know how to teach it to her.

I couldn’t quit my job.

Besides, I didn’t even know if it’s legal in my area.

Then I spent a year researching it and realized it is possible.

And then I realized that there are lots of resources out there to help parents who have already decided to homeschool, but very few to help parents make that decision in the first place.

So I created one.

Who should take this course?

  • If this is the first you’ve heard of homeschooling and need a primer on the most important issues – this course is for you.
  • If you’ve had it in the back of your mind for a while but haven’t had time to do the research – this course is for you.
  • If you’ve done some research but are overwhelmed by the amount of information out there and how to piece it all together into something that can actually help you to make an informed decision on whether homeschooling is right for your family – this course is for you.
Jen and her daughter watching sea life at an aquarium.
Jen and her daughter exploring bones at a museum.
  • If your child is still young (2, 3, 4) and you have some time to think about this decision – this course is for you.
  • If your child is already in school and struggling for some reason (educationally, socially) and you need to figure out quickly whether homeschooling is right for you then you’re going to need to read fast, but this course is for you.
  • If your child is totally happy in school – making good academic progress, has a good group of friends (no matter the size of the group – a small group is just fine for some children!), and is generally happy, then I’d probably say “why rock the boat?”. It’s possible that they could gain some additional benefit from homeschooling, but the benefits might not be worth the risk. Continue with what you're doing!

FAQ

My child is 1 (or 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 ,7…). When is the right time to take this course?

I’d advise taking it as early as possible, especially if it seems as though you’re going to have to go from a two-income family to a one-income family, or otherwise work around financial constraints.  If you do decide that homeschooling is right for you then a long runway will be very helpful in getting alternate systems set up.  But if you’re in a time crunch and need to make a decision more quickly then we can help you with that, too.

Where did you get the information for the course?

I have an academic background; a Master’s in Environmental Management from Yale and, more recently, a Master’s in Psychology focused on Child Development.  I value scientific research – but I’m not afraid to poke holes in it either. 

The fact of the matter is that homeschooling is very difficult to study because there’s no national registry of homeschooling families, so researchers can never be sure they’re getting a representative sample. 

I read over 50 books and over 150 scientific research papers to pull this course together.  I cite every source I use so you can go and do more reading yourself if a particular topic interests you.  I also point out methodological issues that might lend us to trust or not trust a particular source.  I also give you a brief review of the more how-to oriented books I read so you can figure out which ones might help you the most.

Will you tell me how to homeschool my child?

No.  The purpose of this course is to help you make the decision on whether homeschooling is right for your family.  What I realized when I was making the decision for myself is that the information about homeschooling is scattered far and wide, making it both hard to find and hard to assess its quality. 

I also realized that the vast majority of parents ask very similar questions when they’re going through this process.  They want to know if homeschooling is legal in their area, how they’re going to deal with a reduction in income, whether they need to know everything their child needs to know…  These are the kinds of questions I asked, and that other people ask me when I talk with them about homeschooling, so these are the kinds of questions we address in the course. 

And if you have a question that isn’t covered, no problem!  You can email me anytime and I’ll get back to you with an answer (and research sources, as appropriate).

How will I learn this material?

Much of the material is delivered through written lessons in an easy-to-use website.  This allows me to give you very detailed information, supported by research, and for you to read in as much depth as you like.  More interested in a topic?  Read closely.  Less interested in a topic?  Skim the headlines to make sure you’re not missing anything.

You’ll also receive prompts to complete exercises that will help you to evaluate how you think and feel about learning, which will guide you toward making this deeply personal decision.

In addition, you’ll hear four hours of material from the more than twenty homeschooling families I interviewed, edited so all the information on a particular topic is presented together, to make it easier for you. 

Plus: you’ll also hear six hours of interviews with the homeschooling experts. 

Why audio and not video?  Because I know you’re busy.  Download some interviews and head out to walk the dog, or go for a run, or listen in the car on the way to work. 

Is homeschooling always the best choice?

This is actually a bit of a complex question to answer (and we do it in much greater depth in the course).  The published research on homeschooling indicates that homeschooling produces academic outcomes for children that are at least as good as the academic outcomes for children in school.  Many homeschooled children dramatically outperform children who attend school on standardized tests, although the homeschooled children sampled in these studies tend to be those from highly religious families who adhere to a rigorous curriculum-based model of learning. 

Not surprisingly, children who are unschooled score the lowest on standardized tests – their parents (and maybe they too, when they get old enough) reject standardized tests as a measure of their child’s knowledge.  They have probably also not covered the breadth of material that would be required at any given grade level – but they might have deeper knowledge than an adult on topics that interest them, and they also know how to learn – they can find information themselves when they are interested in a topic, a lesson that many children never learn in school.

All this is to say that if performance on standardized tests is the primary way that you measure achievement, then homeschooling can be a good choice for you if you can get your child to follow a highly structured approach to learning (basically “school at home”).  Children may resist this approach, though, just like they resist school at school, which puts you in the awkward position of being the “learning police.”  Key to becoming more comfortable with homeschooling is to recognize learning in all its forms, not just those that look like school.

Research has also shown that homeschooled children may be more likely to use alcohol and engage in risky sexual practices than children who went to school, and that they reported receiving few or no messages about alcohol use or sexual practices from their parent.  Taking on homeschooling means that you also need to take on the responsibility for the kinds of things you might wish someone else would talk with your children about (but really, wouldn’t you rather they hear about it directly from you, so they can understand your values?).

One important factor that would cause homeschooling to not work out is actually not one that’s found in the research: homeschooling may not be good for you if you have a poor personality fit with your child.  Some parents and children like spending a lot of time together; others enjoy short bouts of focused time and then lots of time apart.  Homeschooling certainly doesn’t mean that you will spend 100% of your time with your child and you alone will teach them everything they need to know, but you will be around them for a decent chunk of most days and if you don’t get along in that kind of environment (as one homeschooling mother I interviewed found she did not get on with her daughter) then homeschooling may not be for you. 

You might also think very carefully about homeschooling if you are the type of person who gets very excited about something for a short period of time and then drop it a short time later, unless you’re very sure you can commit to this longer-term.  One of the homeschooling parents I interviewed does have this personality, and she had to be extra careful in her planning – as well as in convincing her partner – that this was the right choice for her family.

Otherwise, dive on in to the course to see if it really can be the right fit for your family!

Risk-free; 100% guaranteed

Enrolling in the course is risk-free: I guarantee you’ll get the information you need to decide whether homeschooling is right for you.

Read all the lessons, complete all the exercises, listen to the interviews, and if you still can’t figure out whether homeschooling is right for your family then I’ll get on the phone with you 1:1.  If I can’t help you to make a decision I’ll give you your money back.  Guaranteed.

What others are saying

Such a gift for parents!  Jen reviews the literature, synthesizes the findings, and shares with us what we need to know about key development milestones and major parental debates

Brian

I really appreciate your breaking down the research and the lovely summaries of what theorists say.  It’s nice to know the background of what we’re hearing and what is just commonly taken as truth.

Morgan

Love that she delivers information in a non-judgmental/non-condescending way.  Everything is research-based and credible!

Lauren

There are a million opinions on the internet (and from relatives, friends, and strangers in the real world) that are precisely that: opinions.  I appreciate hearing from someone who, like me, values evidence-based and proven practices in parenting.

Christina

She has a way about presenting her findings, and while she expresses her opinion (much appreciated) it doesn’t feel pressed.  And she always looks to find information presenting the opposite view.

Haylee