Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Homeschooling envy

On a homeschooling message board, we were invited to post a general overview of our homeschooling. I wrote about what my kids do, what the rhythms of their days and weeks is like. I was reminded again that when we post the notable aspects of our homeschooling, we give a warped view. We don't post about hours spent in the minivan doing nothing, or about our kids playing interminable computer games, or about the weeks and months our teens seem to spend doing little besides sitting on the couch with the laptop. We don't post about the things we can't do, the things our kids are uninterested in, the kids they're not very good at. Instead, when I post I mention all the music, the community activities, our garden, our friends' farm animals, the math programs the kids enjoy, a favourite science resource. I talk about what's in our lives, rather than what's not. And that can provoke a certain amount of homeschooling envy I guess, if the reader doesn't recognize that this is the notable 5% in lives that are 95% ordinary and unimpressive.

So here's a paragraph about the other 95%, the stuff that's boring, or doesn't happen even though it should, or happens even though it shouldn't, or is worthy and vaguely interesting but no one cares enough about to make happen, or just can't happen because we don't have the resources. We don't have zoos, swimming pools, a recreation centre, a science centre, ethnic restaurants, children's museums, a nature centre, a symphony orchestra, a ball park, public transit or even a public library. My kids can't do gymnastics, children's choir, science fairs, dance, park days, art classes or T-ball, they can't attend swim lessons or be part of a science co-op or church group or 4H or scouting or any of that. In our bilingual country they have no ready access to French instruction or native speakers. My kids don't like to do the things I suggest for the most part, so I've all but given up suggesting. They're difficult to 'teach', even when they ask for help. They often burst into tears at the first suggestion of difficulty. They spend way too much time on the computer, playing games that are too violent for my liking. They spend private time surfing through shallow pop culture sites for reasons that aren't clear. Most of them can't manage a cursive signature, let alone handwriting a simple story.

But it's really all in your perception. Not too long ago on the discussion board of our unschooling-friendly, outside-the-box DL program a mom piped up and said "I figure almost anything is worth reporting on as a learning experience, except maybe a trip to the mall, LOL." And coincidentally I had just reported the week before on my middle kids' first eye-opening experience at an upscale shopping mall during a trip to Calgary, and how their eyes had been as big as saucers and we'd got involved in a huge discussion about consumerism, environmental considerations, cultural values, rurality, personal space and so on. So I described this, and then pointed out that there's no way I would report on my kids collecting the eggs and feeding the hens as a notable learning experience, because to them it's really no more notable than brushing their teeth or putting their dirty clothes in the laundry hamper. Whereas for her kids, tending and collecting eggs from a small organic chicken flock would probably have been a highlight of their learning week.

So yeah, it's important to remember that any time you read about another family's homeschooling life you'll tend to be struck by the things they are doing that you're not. You'll be envious of the opportunities, skills and inclinations they have. But it can just as easily go the other way ... the aspects of your own life that seem ordinary, unremarkable and banal can strike others as amazing and impressive. It's important to recognize that while others families can inspire, there's absolutely no reason why we should aspire to, or measure ourselves against, any other family's example. That's the best thing about homeschooling -- it can look like whatever we want, and whatever that is, is just fine.


  1. Thank you for this.

  2. Flagdonna9:29 pm

    I have been reading your blog this past year as I have been homeschooling my very bright and sensitive 13 year old...I also want to say "thanks for this" Well said!!

  3. Great post, Miranda. Such a good reminder!

  4.'ll tend to be struck by the things they are doing that you're not.

    Very true.

  5. Amen! I couldn't agree more.

  6. Right. Comparing ourselves to others is hard to resist and leads to pride or insecurity. The individuality of each family, of each child, is wonderful. We just need eyes to see it.

  7. THAT is exactly what I needed right now!~

  8. Anonymous8:20 pm

    Wise words...and very true. I think that's why it is so hard to describe unschooling to people: it is different for everybody.

  9. Thank you thank you thank you!!
    ive been an avid reader of unschooling blogs for a while and im just at the beginning of unschooling our life. i loved reading this because i have had doubts if i can offer my son all of those things ive been reading. but it turns out, i dont have to... :o)

  10. Thank you Miranda! I too really needed to hear this at the moment. I've been following your blog since we started homeschooling 6 years ago and have always found your thoughts and resources inspiring! With your permission, I'd like to post this blog post on my homeschool group SHiNE (Society for the Homeschool Network of Edmonton)private forum for others to read. Let me know if that's ok?



  11. Sure Lisa, I'm flattered. Just include a link to my blog when you post. Thanks for asking!

  12. Anonymous7:43 am

    Thank you, more than I can say. My daughter and I are at the end of a very tough year of school, in one of the biggest, most crowded and polluted cities in the world - Shanghai, China. We have decided not to send her back to school next year, and I'm terrified. We moved here from the US, small city in Colorado where having chickens would have been possible.. Looking at your photos and reading your blogs I'm struck with a deep longing to be back "home" (anywhere outside a city!) but when I read this entry, I do remember the reality, and everything we do have here... "zoos, swimming pools, a recreation centre, a science centre, ethnic restaurants, children's museums, a nature centre, a symphony orchestra, a ball park, public transit or even a public library" - except no public English library..

    I can see the beauty in both worlds. This is a fabulous site - a resource I will return to over and over in the weeks and years to come.

  13. Anonymous4:38 pm

    Just to say, I love reading your blog - it's really well written.

    I grew up in a very small rural community too, also with limited resources - but beaches, fields, forests and nature. I think things run their course. I always wanted to travel and see things - and as soon as I was legally able to travel on my own/with friends I did. For seven years or so I went to cities and saw musuems, art galleries, science centres, big bookshops (I still have a thing for bookshops), zoos, aquariums and so on. I had an amazing time and learnt a lot!

    The last few years or so... I've been getting more into appreciating national parks, and beautiful places and outdoor activities. I've just come back from a trip where I spent most of the time camping, hiking, kayaking and mucking about on beaches and other beautiful places. I had an amazing time - and learnt a lot (plus remembered all those things that were stored away and I don't use any more like identifying trees and birds and flowers and cloud types and so on).

    So you can grow up with limited resources and I think the difference it made was it made me quite self sufficient in seeking out opportunities to get what I wanted - getting into science contest finals because it would get me a free weekend trip to the national science museum, figuring out how to travel by myself, living away from home alone for six weeks when I was seventeen to do a science lab placement. It also meant that when I started university it was like "Wow! I can go to a big cinema!", or "I can take kayak lessons", "There's a science society!", "I can volunteer with scouts/guides" and I had a ball.


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