Science Questions with Surprising Answers
Answers provided by
Dr. Christopher S. Baird

Our Experience with Homeschooling

Chris and Ellen Baird, Updated Dec. 2019

Several people have asked us about our experience with homeschooling. In response, we decided to collect our thoughts in one place. We have homeschooled each of our six children. Although homeschooling has had its challenges, we have generally loved it and would recommend it to others. We will address homeschooling's benefits, misconceptions, and challenges; as well as relate our family's approach to homeschooling.

I. Benefits of Homeschooling

Benefit 1: Homeschooled children can pursue their own interests.
In institutionalized schools, children have to follow a set curriculum. In contrast, we have found that homeschooling allows children to personalize their education and explore their unique interests. They come to love learning because they are able to explore the topics that intrigue them. Children that love learning are happy, self-confident, and diligent.

Benefit 2: Homeschooling is efficient.
We have discovered that homeschooled children can complete the same amount of schoolwork as children in an institutionalized school in much less time. This is because they waste less time on transportation and waiting in line. This is also because children who love learning tend to stay on task and work more efficiently. Homeschooled children can then use the extra time each day to get ahead in their schoolwork. For instance, our oldest son was accepted to his top choice university on full scholarship at age 16. In addition, homeschooled children can use the extra time each day to further develop their talents.

Benefit 3: Homeschooling enables a Christ-centered, service-oriented educational approach.
Through homeschooling, we have discovered that we can teach our children faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, service and Christian doctrine along with fractions, nouns, and planets. We believe that an important part of a Christ-centered education is service. For instance, songs that our children learned in choir were sung to the elderly in nursing homes. Quilts that they made in a crafts class were given to a homeless shelter. Through this approach, their education has an immediate impact on the world. Additionally, service-oriented education gives purpose to their learning, further motivating the children to work hard.

Benefit 4: Homeschooled children can control their own daily schedule.
Homeschooled children do not have to wait for a teacher to tell them it is time to start learning. They can start learning the moment they wake up. Some of our children feel empowered by this freedom and wake up early in order to complete a significant chunk of their schoolwork before breakfast. Being in control of their own schedule promotes self-confidence, independence, and diligence. At the same time, letting children control their own schedules does not mean that we let them do as little as they want. In our family, our children cannot have free time until they have completed their schoolwork for the day, which involves completing a certain minimum amount of work. If they stall because they do not want to do their schoolwork, they quickly discover that their approach makes them miss out on play time.

Benefit 5: Homeschooling allows a flexible curriculum.
We have found that we can try one workbook, and then if we do not like it, we can switch to a different one a few months later. The flexibility of homeschooling has allowed us to try many different workbooks, curricula, and teaching approaches; enabling us to determine those that work best with each of our children. In addition, the flexibility of homeschooling means that the children's education is less impacted by the distractions of life. For instance, our son had to unexpectedly spend the whole day at the doctor's office, but was able to take his math test at night rather than fall behind.

Benefit 6: Homeschooled children can work at their own pace.
Children experience a lot of frustration when forced to work at an unnatural pace. When a particular subject is easy for a child, he can move on rather than be bored by repetitive reviews and extra pages of practice. At the same time, this also means that a child can go slower in the subjects that challenge him. In our family, letting children work at their natural pace is not the same as letting children work at any pace they want. We have found that telling a child to go as slow as he wants sometimes results in him doing no work at all. Instead, we set a minimum pace for each child in each subject, and then occasionally adjust the minimum pace according to his abilities.

Benefit 7: Homeschooling protects children from immorality.
By their nature, institutionalized schools place a large number of children in an environment with few adults, increasing the probability of exposure to sexual immorality, violence, and drug abuse. Furthermore, the increasingly secular nature of institutionalized schooling means that the teachers themselves are forced to present immorality as acceptable. For instance, a friend of ours who taught at a high school lost his job because he refused to teach that sexual immorality is healthy. In contrast, a home-based education built on traditional values can protect children from immorality. When we first started homeschooling our children, we worried that it would protect our children too much, making them fragile and ignorant. However, we have found that homeschooled children have plenty of opportunity to be exposed to physical challenges, diverse cultures, and differing worldviews through activities such as field trips, athletics, service projects, community events, and neighborhood friends.

Benefit 8: Homeschooling promotes family unity.
We have found that learning together and working together has helped our family grow closer together. Homeschooling gives our family the chance to have more quality time together. Furthermore, we are better able to personalize the learning experience to the particular personality of each child because we know each child so well. When handled the right way, school is fun! Through homeschooling, we as parents are able to take part in the fun along with our children.

II. Misconceptions about Homeschooling

Misconception 1: Homeschooled children have less opportunity for extra-curricular activities.
We worried about this misconception when we first started homeschooling. We have found that homeschooled children can have just as many opportunities for extra-curricular activities as other children. In fact, the efficiency of homeschooling grants children more time each day to pursue extra-curricular activities. At the same time, the flexibility of homeschooling allows children to pursue activities that occur at odd hours. To give you some idea, our children participated this year in the following structured activities outside the home:

Our point is not to boast but to demonstrate that the efficiency and flexibility of homeschooling allows children to enjoy many extra-curricular activities. The title "homeschooling" can be misleading because it gives the impression that homeschooled children sit at home all day. A more accurate title would be "parent-supervised schooling."

Misconception 2: Homeschooled children have insufficient social interaction.
As the previous section should have made clear, homeschooled children have plenty of opportunities to be social with other children. Furthermore, we do not believe that the "healthy socialization of a child" is the same as "a child sitting all day in a room full of children his age." A socially healthy adult interacts productively with people from many different backgrounds, of many different ages, in many different settings. Therefore, the healthy socialization of a child should involve all of these elements. Service-oriented homeschooling excels at providing a variety of real-world socialization opportunities.

Misconception 3: Homeschooling does not provide enough structure.
While there is the danger of this happening, parents can make their homeschool as structured as they want. One extreme approach to homeschooling is to avoid all workbooks, prepared lectures, and set schedules; and to just let children explore the world by following their whims. We have found that while this approach may make a child skilled in the practical aspects of life, it will fail miserably in enabling mastery of subjects such as calculus, grammar, and neurobiology. Fortunately, the unstructured approach to homeschooling is rare. We have discovered that a child needs a mixture of structure and freedom to explore. For the core technical subjects of phonics, spelling, grammar, mathematics, and high-school level sciences, we follow a set curriculum. For all other subjects, the topics are decided by everyone along the way and the content comes from a variety of books, videos, and co-op classes.

Misconception 4: The successful homeschooling parent has to be an expert in every field.
We have discovered that one of the virtues of homeschooling is that the children mostly teach themselves with the help of high-quality resources. The role of the parents is to inspire their children to learn, keep them on task, acquire the curriculum, and set up extra-curricular activities; but the actual learning comes mostly from books, exercises, activities, lecture videos, and outside mentors. For instance, our math curriculum comes with lecture videos, an instructional textbook, a workbook, a test book, and answer keys. With this curriculum, the parents do not have to be math experts. They just have to encourage their children to re-watch the lecture videos and re-read the textbook if they have difficulty. For advanced technical subjects, we have discovered that children need expert mentors. However, the experts do not have to be the parents. We have been able to arrange for our children to learn from expert mentors through avenues such as homeschooling co-ops, private lessons, community colleges, and online classes.

Misconception 5: Homeschooling parents never have a break from their children.
While this can be a potential problem, the truth is that homeschooling parents can indeed have breaks from their children. As we mentioned above, homeschooled children are largely self-taught, meaning that they do a lot of their work off by themselves or with expert mentors outside the home. It is true that homeschooling parents see their children a lot more than other parents, but that's a good thing! We enjoy being with our children and having control over their education.

Misconception 6: Homeschooling costs a lot of money.
From our experience, the main resources that a homeschooled child needs are pencils, paper, books, and a handful of expert mentors. Expensive lab equipment, extensive curriculum packages, and paid private tutors are mostly unnecessary. Furthermore, many of the books that are useful in a child's education can be borrowed from the local library, borrowed from friends, handed down from child to child, and purchased inexpensively at used book sales. Some extra-curricular activities, such as private music lessons, can indeed get expensive. However, this situation is no different from that of children in institutionalized schools. Excluding private music lessons and sports, the amount of money we spend on homeschooling is about $300 per child per year, which includes co-op classes. Sending a child to an institutionalized school is usually more expensive; hundreds to thousands of dollars per year in fees for public schools and tens of thousands of dollars in tuition for private schools.

Misconception 7: Homeschooling requires the parents to do nightly lesson preps.
As should have been made clear previously, homeschooled children are largely self-taught using a purchased curriculum, library books, and expert mentors. For those subjects that we as parents teach to our children without a set curriculum (such as elementary-school science), the learning is more effective when we explore and learn along with our children, rather than recite a previously-prepared lesson plan. For instance, this year we focused on entomology. The children captured dragonflies, butterflies, praying mantises, and other insects in a nearby canyon, brought them home, and then used library books to write reports on them. There was zero preparation for all of this besides acquiring the bug net and the library books.

III. Challenges of Homeschooling

Challenge 1: Homeschooling requires a significant amount of time from the parents.
To make homeschooling work, we have found that the parents have to be willing to dedicate large portions of their time to the effort. This does not mean that homeschooling parents have to give academic lectures for eight hours straight or stay up late every night doing lesson preps. However, it does take a lot of time for us as parents to taxi our children to their various activities, run group activities, and give occasional explanations. I (Ellen) am a stay-at-home mom and spend most of my time between 8:30 am and 4:00 pm each weekday homeschooling. Additionally, I (Chris) spend a few hours a week tutoring the children in phonics, mathematics, and high-school science. While we have found this lifestyle to be manageable, it has required that we as parents sacrifice time that otherwise could be spent on household chores, shopping, entertainment, and hobbies. To get the chores done without interfering with school time, we require everyone to help. Our children do most of the laundry, dishes, and meal preparation. If both parents were working full-time outside the home, it would probably be very difficult to make homeschooling successful.

Challenge 2: Homeschooling is emotionally demanding.
Even the best children are occasionally whiny, unmotivated, and unkind, which takes an emotional toll on the homeschooling parents. Trying to take care of the needs of infants while running the homeschool increases the emotional demands. There is no magic solution to make all the emotional demands go away. To some extent, we have accepted that being faced with emotional demands is the price we pay to homeschool. However, we have found that taking breaks and being involved with other homeschooling families helps deal with this challenge. For instance, sometimes when I (Ellen) am burned out and need a nap, I postpone school time and send the children to the backyard to play for an hour. Having the support of my husband has been an emotional relief. On the days when I am burned out, my husband can take over all the household and homeschooling responsibilities when he comes home from work, allowing me to retreat alone to my room or go on a walk.

Challenge 3: Homeschooling requires more planning.
In an institutionalized school, the tasks of choosing textbooks, planning field trips, arranging class schedules, and organizing supplies are usually not handled by the parents. In contrast, we have found as homeschooling parents that we have to research, plan, and arrange all of these elements ourselves. This planning happens mostly before the beginning of each school year. This planning was especially challenging when we first started homeschooling because we did not know where to start. Fortunately, there are many resources available to help homeschooling parents. Additionally, other experienced homeschooling parents are always eager to give guidance.

IV. Our Approach to Homeschooling

Below, we break down our approach to homeschooling into two areas: A. Our Principles of Education, and B. Our Curriculum. Every family is unique and will approach homeschooling differently. With this in mind, our comments below are given as examples of what homeschooling families should consider.

A. Our Principles of Education
Our approach to homeschooling is a blend of the principles from the book "A Thomas Jefferson Education" by Oliver DeMille and the book "The Well-Trained Mind" by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise. The approach of "A Thomas Jefferson Education" leans toward less structure, while the approach of "The Well-Trained Mind" leans toward more structure. As mentioned previously, we use a mixture of structure and flexibility. The main principles from these books that guide our homeschooling efforts are:

  1. "Parts to whole." This principle means that the best way to learn a complicated subject is to first learn all of the small parts of the subject before trying to learn the subject as a whole. For instance, it is more effective to teach children to read by having them systematically memorize and practice the phonics rules than by just exposing them to many books and hoping they magically guess the phonics rules. For the core subjects of phonics, spelling, grammar, mathematics, and high-school science, we apply the parts-to-whole principle by using a set curriculum with regularly-occurring work problems.
  2. "Inspire, not require." This principle means that we try to inspire our children to learn instead of forcing them to learn. We inspire them by exposing them to the wonders of the world, by asking deep questions, and by being inspired to learn as parents. If the parents are genuinely excited to learn about a subject, this excitement becomes contagious. We have found that certain daily minimum requirements must be set to keep some children progressing, but we still try as much as possible to motivate our children by inspiring them. While the acquired knowledge itself should be the reward that inspires diligence, we have found that younger children often need tangible rewards such as stickers, toys, and ice cream trips.
  3. "Structure time, not content." This principle means that for non-technical subjects, it is most effective to structure a certain amount of time spent on each subject rather than work from a previously-prepared lesson plan. The freedom to follow their curiosity further inspires children to learn. This approach is best suited to the subjects of history, art, classic reading, scripture study, cooking, and elementary school science. For example, our children who can read are required to spend a certain amount of time each day reading a classic book, but they are free to choose the book, as long as it is a classic.
  4. "Learn with your children." This principle means that when the parents are actively learning and reading classic books on their own time, then they are better able to teach and inspire their children. Learning becomes an exciting way of life for the whole family.
  5. "Read the classics." This principle means that the best sources of knowledge are books written by the greatest authors over 50 years ago. For instance, it is better to get an introduction to Special Relativity by reading the original book written by Einstein himself rather than by reading a third-hand, poorly-written, dumbed-down account written last year by a no-name author. It is better to learn about American slavery by reading a classic autobiography written by a slave than by reading a sterilized, condensed, biased chapter in a textbook. It is better for children to read Shakespeare, as hard as that sometimes is, then to read a modern book about Shakespeare. For technical subjects such as grammar, foreign languages, mathematics, and high-school sciences, we believe that classic books should supplement textbooks, and not replace them. This is because effective textbooks in these areas are properly organized to teach technical information in a parts-to-whole fashion and in a logical order.

B. Our Curriculum

  1. Mathematics. We have discovered that the Math-U-See curriculum is excellent and complete. The curriculum spans the whole range from kindergarten math to calculus. Each grade in the curriculum comes with a workbook, a test book, an instruction textbook, homework and test solutions, and a DVD containing lecture videos. We consider the Math-U-See curriculum to be so effective because it is complete, all encompassing, well written, and because it takes a parts-to-whole approach. We require our children to complete every problem in the workbooks and take every test so that they master the material.
  2. Phonics. We have found the book "Phonics Pathways" by Dolores G. Hiskes to be excellent and all that is needed to teach a child to read. This book systematically goes through every phonics rule in the English language, teaching the rule and providing a page or two of practice words and phrases using that rule. We have found that slowly and systematically leading a child through every rule in the book and making him carefully read every word in the book, twice, springboards a child three to five years ahead of his peers in reading ability.
  3. Spelling. We have been pleased with the spelling flashcard sets from All About Spelling. The flashcards are grouped according to spelling rules and the rules progress methodically with increasing difficulty. We have previously used spelling workbooks. However, we found that children who struggle with handwriting are so distracted and frustrated with the writing aspect of the workbooks that they make very slow progress in learning to spell. In contrast, the flashcard approach involves no handwriting and is more effective.
  4. Handwriting. We use the Zaner-Bloser series of handwriting workbooks and are very pleased with them.
  5. Grammar. We use a mixture of a few grammar textbooks.
  6. High School Sciences. For high-school aged children, we use standard university-level science textbooks. The child either teaches himself the material by reading the textbook, is taught by a parent using the textbook, is taught by an expert at a homeschooling co-op, or is taught by online lecture videos; according to the needs and desires of the child. We have found that The Great Courses provides excellent high-school level online lecture videos.
  7. Classic Reading. We require each child to read the scriptures and a classic book for a set amount of time each day. The classic book must be pre-approved by a parent to count as a classic. In our approach, classic books include books like "Little House on the Prairie," "Little Women," "Frog and Toad," "Magic Tree House," "The Chronicles of Narnia," and "A Tale of Two Cities." They do not include books like the Goosebumps series, the Babysitter's Club series, fantasy books or comic books. Children are free to read these types of books, but they do not count as classics. Additionally, we have a certain classic book each month that the older children must read and write an essay about.
  8. Other Subjects. For history classes, lower-level science classes, art classes, physical education classes, and cooking classes, we do not use a set curriculum at home. Instead, we either have our children read through library books and work on projects according to their interests, or have them take a class through a homeschooling co-op.