Posted in At Homeschool, Blog

Institutional School is Not the Default

We have this idea that institutional school is normative, and that homeschool is an aberration from that norm. We sometimes feel that to be successful homeschoolers, we must have our children sitting at the kitchen table doing seatwork all day, with regularly scheduled breaks. Perhaps even with a kitchen timer for a recess bell!

photo credit: chrisjtse via photopin cc

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with that timer, nor is there anything wrong with sitting at a desk or table for school. If that works for your homeschool, more power to you and your egg timer. 

Indeed, there is nothing wrong with raising our hands to speak, and wearing a school uniform.  But these things are part of classroom management, developed to assist a teacher in maintaining discipline and control over 25 same-aged charges. You have two or three (or four or five or more) students, of varying ages, and a baby or toddler or two thrown in, just to keep things interesting. There is no need to rigidly adhere to a formal way of doing school that was intended to help a teacher in a very different situation. You’re at home, after all. So make yourself at home.

Let’s stop homeschooling on the defensive, as if we have something to prove:

  1. some feel a need to prove how much like school we are;
  2. others feel a need to prove how much better than school we are; and
  3. still others are out to see how unlike school we can be!

The problem is that all of these are measuring their outcFinlay - HWT DLBBomes by the institutional yardstick, with the presupposition that school is normative.

What if we backed up a step or two? What if we started from the realization that there is nothing more normal than you, as a parent, educating your own child. After all, you teach your children to walk and talk, and to recognize their colours, letters and numbers. You don’t need send them to experts for that, do you?

Of course not. You are an expert walker and talker yourself. You know as many colours as the average adult needs to. You know the whole alphabet, and to top itDSCN0437 all off, you can even count. So why send your children to “experts” for preschool?

It is also completely natural to continue along that arc. Just as you are an expert in preschool skills, consider that you are an expert in childhood skills as well. You can add, subtract, multiply and divide. You can ride a bike, throw a ball. You can write, spell, and diagram a sentence with the best of them. (And, if you can’t, you can certainly read a lesson ahead of your child in any textbook.) As for history and science, if you don’t remember the material from your own school days, well, what does that say about the long-term success of institutional education? If you don’t remember it, let’s discover it together, parent and child, learning side by side.DSCN0306

Let’s put away the guilty feelings, that perhaps, in this busy season of diapers and breastfeeding, we aren’t doing it as well as that other homeschool mom, or even as well as we did last year, before the baby was born. Let’s put away the feelings of inadequacy, and just rediscover the joy of learning.

Step away from the paradigm, and find out how your family best does school. I guarantee you it won’t be the same as your neighbourhood institutional school — it won’t even be the same as  the homeschool family next door (or next blog over).

featured photo credit: chrisjtse via photopin cc



Christian wife and homeschooling mother of five children, ages 2 through 10 years. Recently diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos. Trusting in Jesus for His plan for my life, and for my family. He was gracious to save my husband and myself 6 and 7 years ago, respectively. And really, He saved me just in time. Because how could I ever have handled this illness without Him?

4 thoughts on “Institutional School is Not the Default

    1. Thanks so much! I am so glad to know that it was an encouragement to others. I know I fall into that comparison trap myself way too often!


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