5 Surprises From My First Year of Homeschooling

A Michigan mom candidly shares takeaways from her first year of homeschooling – namely, what she didn't expect about this nontraditional form of education.

First year of homeschooling

“Oh, I could never homeschool.”

It’s the most common response I’ve heard after telling people I’m homeschooling my son or daughter. At first, I’d sort of internally roll my eyes – of course any parent could educate their child at home if they needed to and had someone at home to do it.

Well, after my first year of homeschooling, I know a bit better.

It turns out I had idealized this form of education in a lot of ways, from thinking my kids would love it immediately to assuming I’d automatically be good at it.

Our homeschooling journey is different than some (we had done years of public school before this and enjoyed many parts of it), and I recognize every family’s experience is unique.

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But one year in, here are my top surprises about homeschooling.

1. School days aren’t always shorter

I loved the idea that my kids could be “done” with school work before lunch, or even have a four-day school week if we wanted.

We could keep taking long vacations in the winter without getting those truancy letters in the mail from the school district. We’d have more time for field trips and generally have all kinds of freedom.

But that didn’t turn out to be totally accurate. Once I divided up the curriculum we were using to make sure we’d be done for summer break by the time their public school friends were, we had pretty full days. Sometimes big projects or complicated math lessons mean their days take even longer than a public school day (and that’s without the “specials” and recesses).

It’s not a universal truth, of course. Some days we breeze through everything in a few hours – and our days are definitely more laid-back regardless of how many hours the work takes.

More established homeschooling parents would say to modify the curriculum myself so that we have more free time for field trips and hands-on learning, but I don’t feel confident at this point to change the curriculum on my own.

Then again, I’ve only reached my first year of homeschooling. Maybe one day.

2. Your kids might hate it

My own hang-ups about traditional school had me thinking my kids would be so grateful to be away from the public school environment that they’d adore homeschooling no matter what.

But I was wrong.

Some days they’re bored as heck and craving the interaction they got at school.

The activities we do outside the house – sports, art class, seeing friends and more – don’t always feel like enough to them. My own teaching abilities fall short sometimes, too, and I wonder if sometimes they’d prefer me to just be “mom.”

3. Not every parent is a natural homeschooler

And, maybe more importantly, sometimes your parenting style doesn’t match the type of homeschooling style your kid needs.

Mine need more structure than I’m naturally inclined to provide. I’m working on that, but it’ll always be somewhat of a struggle.

Then there’s the issue of the actual academics. Homeschooling friends told me that anyone with a degree should be able to homeschool and that the curriculum you choose will guide you.

But I have a bachelor’s and did well throughout my years of formal education – and I couldn’t tell you how to divide fractions or about the order of operations. I have to re-learn each and every math lesson myself before I can teach it.

Not exactly the best method – and we utilize tutors when needed – but it’s clear the curriculum and its online components aren’t always enough.

4. School offers a lot that I can’t

Some of this is just practical stuff. When we start on a project, like the papier-mache volcano we recently made or an ecosystem diorama, we need to get everything from scratch – there’s no supply closet.

We also don’t have 25 kids who can partner up to brainstorm ideas and collaborate. Not to mention the multitude of teachers with different styles and personalities to be a positive influence in their lives.

The solitary side of homeschooling is one of its downfalls. Yes, there are homeschooling co-ops and get-togethers, and we do all of those things. But there’s no denying that on a daily basis, the kids get much less social interaction than they would in school. Even a playdate after school every day wouldn’t mimic the social dynamics they face at recess and lunch and switching tables and working in groups with new people.

Homeschool advocates often say the real-life interaction kids get out in public – at the grocery store, library and so on – is better and more authentic than kids get in school. And for kids who are bullied or uncomfortable in the school setting for another reason, there’s no doubt it’s a better option.

But other kids will miss some of what school offers.

5. You’ll still worry – just about other things

The best benefit of homeschooling, in my opinion, is knowing your kids are safe at home. You don’t have to worry about the life-or-death situations that, however rare, are a painful and tragic reality of this country.

Things could happen anywhere, but homeschooling removes one risk. For many parents, it also means less time spent worrying about bullying, drugs or fights.

But in my first year of homeschooling, I’ve learned those concerns are replaced with others, of course. My worries now are much less dire but still important. Am I doing the right thing? Will my children be prepared for college? Will they resent these years of homeschooling?

Home education veterans tell me these questions will continue to weigh on my mind – that some days you’ll feel certain homeschooling is a mistake, and others you’ll be completely sure of your choice. This is the life of a parent, it seems, one way or another.

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