A couple months ago, while my kids and I were at a playdate, I got a barrage texts from a fellow homeschooling mom:

What do you do with your homeschool paperwork?

Are they getting a GED or will they graduate from homeschooling?

What do you think I have accomplished by keeping my kids at home? I’m making a list.

Knowing that my friend is usually strong in her convictions about homeschooling, I wondered what happened. I called her after the playdate to see what was going on.

It turns out that she was visiting with extended family; and during her visit, all the aunts, uncles, cousin, in-laws were very concerned about homeschooling. For one, they were worried that her children, ages 9 and 6, were “behind” on reading. And in their worldview, if a child isn’t reading by age 7, there is something seriously wrong, reinforcements are called in beyond school, and efforts are doubled-down to correct this problem. She was needing some articles, resources…something to back her up.

I empathized with my friend. When we travel and visit people outside of our homeschooling bubble, I can sense the crushing pressures of expectations, especially in metropolitan areas.

There is Kumon, soccer practice, Russian math school, piano lessons, gymnastics, Chinese school, Lego Robotics, and on and on. Within this escalating arms race is every parent’s hope that their child will burst forth after eighteen years in full battle gear and sprint across the finish line called prestigious college.

But relaxed homeschoolers have a different philosophy. We have a set of beliefs and values that are completely foreign, because our definition of “success” is not the same.

Earlier is not better.

More is not better.

Children will learn the material much faster when they’re ready.

College might not be the best option.

There is also tremendous pressure on the homeschooling parent to prove that it is “working”.

Knowing all this, I put together a list of my favorite resources and sent it to my friend. I don’t share this to convert anyone, because, quite frankly, I don’t care to persuade anyone who is adamant about their position. Live and let live.

Instead, this is for the homeschooling parent who wants to take a relaxed approach, who believes in natural learning, but just needs a little encouragement, a little reinforcement. If you’re that person, read on.

Early Academics

How Early Academic Training Retards Intellectual Development

“It is generally a waste of time, and often harmful, to teach academic skills to children who have not yet developed the requisite motivational and intellectual foundations.  Children who haven’t acquired a reason to read or a sense of its value will have little motivation to learn the academic skills associated with reading and little understanding of those skills.  Similarly, children who haven’t acquired an understanding of numbers and how they are useful may learn the procedure for, say, addition, but that procedure will have little or no meaning to them.”

Who Needs School? (This article was written by a Waldorf teacher)

“Zephyr showed up in September, cheerful, intelligent, and game. She moved, with great equanimity, at her own pace. She agreed that she was ignorant in science and math, and set out to correct this deficiency. She had read most of the books in our curriculum, so she would sit in a corner while the other students were reading, say, Moby Dick, and study geometry. She found geometry easy, and decided to catch up in algebra and other topics in order to join her class in calculus. It took her about a month [emphasis mine].

“I used to say, somewhat tongue in cheek, that no one should start school until the age of 16 or 18. I guessed that you could learn what you need to know—reading, writing, math—more quickly as a more mature person than you would if you were forced to inhale it, like dust, slowly, year by year by year from the age of 6 or so on.”

Reading and literacy

Better Late Than Early

“The Moores’ 1975 book Better Late Than Early summarizes research supporting their contention that children are not psychologically ready for formal learning until age eight to ten. They suggest that waiting allows children to gain the maturity and logical skills necessary for formal work and prevents them from becoming frustrated and discouraged by attempts to handle material they are simply not yet ready to understand.” 

The Reading Wars: Why Natural Learning Fails in Classrooms, by Peter Gray, Ph.D

“…(1) Children in [unschool/homeschool] settings learn to read at a wide variety of ages; (2) at whatever age they learn, they learn quite quickly when they are truly motivated to do so; (3) attempts by parents to teach reading to unmotivated children generally fail and often seem to delay the child’s interest in reading; and (4) being read to and engaging in meaningful ways with literary material with skilled readers (older children or adults) facilitates learning.”

Children Teach Themselves to Read

“As long as kids grow up in a literate society, surrounded by people who read, they will learn to read. They may ask some questions along the way and get a few pointers from others who already know how to read, but they will take the initiative in all of this and orchestrate the entire process themselves.” 


Kids Learn Math Easily When They Control Their Own Learning

“And so, dear parents, please stop worrying about your kids’ learning of math. If they are free to play, they are likely to play with math and learn to enjoy its patterns. If they live real lives that involve calculations, they will learn, in their own unique ways, precisely the calculations that they need to live those lives. If they choose to go to college, they can learn quickly–from a test preparation book, program, or tutorial–the specific math tricks necessary to do well enough on college admissions math. If they choose some career that involves math, they will eagerly find ways to learn the specific kinds of math that they need for that career….”

When Less Is More: The Case for Teaching Less Math in School

“In sum, Benezet showed that kids who received just one year of arithmetic, in sixth grade, performed at least as well on standard calculations and much better on story problems than kids who had received several years of arithmetic training.” 

John Bennett – Why Math Instruction Is Unnecessary (TEDx video)

John Bennett is a math teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area and a home-schooling father of four. An outspoken advocate of education reform, he has presented lectures and workshops throughout California. He offers a radical-sounding proposal: that we cease to require math instruction in middle and high school.

Unschooling and Math, by Pam Sorooshian (Audio)

Pam Sarooshian is an adjunct professor of economics at Cypress College in California and a mother to three grown unschooled daughters. In her talk, she observes that math education in school tends to produce less ability to think and more mental confusion among incoming college students.

One important caveat

There’s a saying that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.

If you try to share articles like the ones above with someone who has no interest in understanding you, someone who is fully entrenched in tiger parenting, or lacks personal boundaries, you won’t get the compassion and understanding you’re looking for.

I don’t have a whole lot of advice on handling skeptics or haters.

The only thing you can do as a homeschooling parent is to learn together with your children. Foster deep and knowing relationship with them, find out what makes them tick, what lights up their eyes. Bring interesting things to them, watch how they learn, what skills they pursue. Write it down in a journal so you don’t forget their learning.

Hopefully, over time, you will gain confidence.


4 Replies to “Reassurance for relaxed homeschoolers

  1. Great compilation of information supporting relaxed homeschooling! Isn’t it sad how often we have to defend the position to not partake in the earlier-is-better educational madness, even to ourselves? Over time, my own worries about it have diminished markedly, but there are still occasionally those little moments of doubt, especially with the teen years looming just a few months away.

    But then if I take time to really look deeply, I see that what is developing is more valuable and precious than being able to spout off rote facts, meet grade levels, and pass standardized tests. We’re charged with educating and supporting the development of great souls, not worker bees. 🙂

    1. True, Sarah. There are days when I still have my doubts. Thank goodness for the homeschool families who have come before us, and of course for each other.

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