Haunted by the Ghost of Public School Past?

Written by Caitlin Curley of My Little Poppies

One of the most challenging parts of homeschooling, at least for me, is remembering to keep school and education separate.

I know this, but I also spent many years in school both as a student and an educator.

It can be tough to shake that public school mindset.

When we first started homeschooling, we attempted to recreate a school at home. That didn’t last long.

When things are going well, when I’m trusting my gut and my children, our homeschooling looks nothing like school.

It is only when the doubt creeps in that we struggle and start to second-guess… well… everything.

That’s when the Ghost of Public School Past starts to whisper in my ear:

“Shouldn’t you be…?”

“Don’t you need more…?”

“Is that really the best…?”

And always:

“Math! Math! Math!”

The Ghost of Public School Past makes me second-guess what I know to be true. It makes me push and when I push, the kids balk.

It never ends well.

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Here’s what I’ve learned to do when the Ghost of Public School Past comes knocking:

  1. Stop all the things, give myself a little minute, and have a good cry if the situation calls for it;
  2. Get everyone outside STAT;
  3. Play;
  4. Once everyone has settled down, read some Holt.

Trust me: Holt is magical. Holt is the Ghost of Public School Past’s kryptonite.

So that’s what I do on the hard days…

… but the truth is, there are far more good days than bad.

(Thank goodness!!)

Most days I simply cannot believe that I get to read fantastic books and play games all day.

(Some kids never grow up!)

The Ghost of Public School Past, homeschool, homeschooling, play, games, board games, literacy, books, play matters, childhood, elementary education

And that’s exactly what we do on those glorious good days when the Ghost of Public School Past is nowhere to be found.

Our homeschool routine is built upon carefully selected books and educational games.

The Ghost of Public School Past, homeschool, homeschooling, play, games, board games, literacy, books, play matters, childhood, elementary education

Over the past three years, I have witnessed incredible learning unfold with the help of books, play, and the conversations that happen in between. 

Our family’s favorite way to play is with board games. Your family may play differently, and that is okay. The most important thing is that you leave space for play, because play matters.

Play is learning.

As an educator, I understand the importance of play. It is through play that children learn to interact with the world around them and with each other.

Play allows children to explore, to test, to dabble, to create, to imagine, to practice, to fail, and to try again. It is an important part of a child’s social-emotional and cognitive development. Play helps the child discover his or her unique interests, likes, and dislikes.

These are discoveries that no one else can make for you.

The Ghost of Public School Past, homeschool, homeschooling, play, games, board games, literacy, books, play matters, childhood, elementary education

It is often said that play is the language of childhood, and we all know this to be true. And yet when the Ghost of Public School Past knocks at our door, we start to doubt what we know to be true.

Trust what works. Grant yourself permission to play.

Every single time the Ghost of Public School Past comes knocking at my door, I falter. I question, I second-guess, I tweak, I push.

And every single time it ends badly.

I always go back to what works and that is this: giving ourselves permission to play.

Sure, it may not resemble the school of our past, but it is learning. By giving ourselves permission to do what we know works, we decrease stress levels, increase learning, build relationships, and create memories in the process.

I think we should all give that Ghost of Public School Past some homework or something. Maybe a detention. Something to keep it busy and out of our hair for a while.

I am here to tell you that the Ghost of Public School Past is no fun at all.

I wish I could tell you that the Ghost of Public School Past has made its last visit here, but I know better. At some point, I know it will be back. It will whisper in my ear and start to chip at my resolve. I may buckle a bit, start to question and doubt, but I know I will come back to the truth and that is this:

Play matters.

Does the Ghost of Public School Past haunt you? How do you respond? Share here! Tell us in the comments- which obstacle do you find yourself most often getting hung up on?

About Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley

Cait is a school psychologist, mom to three amazing children, and an unexpected homeschooler. She loves nature, good books, board games, strong coffee, and dancing in her kitchen. You can read about all of these things and more at My Little Poppies. You can also find her hanging out with Kara at The Homeschool Sisters Podcast.


  1. I love your profile picture! Beautful! Okay, back on topic…reading John Holt books completely revolutionized the way we homeschool. Completely. You’re right. I just can’t read his books enough.
    Shelly’s latest post: 5 Reasons Why the Government Should Stay Out of Education

  2. I seem to get hung up on the idea my kids are somehow missing out on some public school milestone. It’s like I romanize my past public school experience when in reality, television and movies make school out to look like something from a catalog with perfect colors and fully funded art and music programs. It was never something I enjoyed and it was super hard when it came to family complications and not being able to take time off. And at the end of the day… we should be sending our kids to school to learn not to have a good ole time. I struggle with that quite a bit. Ugh… I watched “Kindergarten Cop” this past week and did it. Kindergarten was the best years 😉

  3. OH goodness yes. Even though I’ve been homeschooling for 13 years and have a graduate, it still sneaks up from time to time. I loved public school as a kid, although I loved homeschooling high school better, which I think makes it worse. I think it’s normal to have parental anxiety from time to time. Since we’re homeschooling, that’s how it shows itself, but other parents would fixate on some other perceived inadequacy.

  4. My children spent three years in the public schools–two in a little charter school and one final year in the “best” school in our area. That last year proved something to me: I would have to *work* HARD to teach them Less of any substance than they learned there. If they weren’t standing in line, having circle time, going to special assemblies (a magician! How FUN! How educational…errrr, not so much but who cares?), waiting for teachers to manage classrooms, they were staring, eyes glazed, at a computer screen to take a standardized test.

    I also learned that while the other students were always Very Nice, it wasn’t the sort of “nice” (i.e., only when adults are around) that I want for my children. We homeschool boldly, knowing that as long as we focus on Heart and Mind, our children will become the people God wants them to be.
    Rebecca Grabill’s latest post: The Grabill* Scale of Literary Tension

  5. I needed this post badly! As a former teacher and the mama to a struggling reader (who happens to excel at math, history, science, everything NOT reading), I completely get what you are saying here. I’ve got a stack of Holt books beside me as I type this and most days we try to keep things light and fun but every now and then I wake up with a wild hair absolutely bent on making that kid read…wwwhhhhyyyyy??? Because she’s brilliant, she has boundless curiousity, and I know that her whole world will change when she’s finally reading on her own…and because I have that public school ghost whispering in my ear, “You aren’t doing enough. She would be reading by now if she was in the public school.” But at what cost? We are homeschooling for a reason and I am thankful posts like this that help remind me of that. ❤️

  6. we never did “real school” so that probably helps, but sometimes I do find myself wondering if my relaxed state and the free flow of our day makes it not enough. But when I try to tighten things up or impose more “school” (I.e. Workbooks) things blow up and we all want to cry. But so much learning happens when I don’t worry! And the kids pursue reading Usbourne sciebce encyclopedia on their own…because it’s interesting. Go figure

  7. I love the thought that John Taylor Gatto is Public SChool Ghost’s kyrptonite! hah!! I totally agree.

    Also, I just clicked over and realized you’re the same person who does the HS Sisters Podcast with Kara! I have literally been saving that gameschooling episode for awhile now because I’m busy this week and last and wanted to SAVOR it, since this games are my thing! That list of games (rabbit trails…) you have on the blog is something I can’t wait to explore, too! Thanks for sharing.
    Sarah M
    Sarah M’s latest post: October Titles // 2016

  8. Such excellent reminders!! Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and your journey. I’m grateful for the encouragement on this day!
    Nissa’s latest post: Turn the Page

  9. Thank you for this – so needed it today. I’ve been fretting all week over hours and hours of Lego play, telling myself that if they were in school they’d be doing ‘work’. BUT, this reminded me that this IS their work… they’re learning a ton.

  10. Yes! This is definitely a recurring struggle in our house! We do so well for a while, and then I notice everyone is more grumpy than usual. Typically, that grumpiness has to do with me second-guessing our learning or pushing too hard. It is so hard not to get sucked into that mentality, but being on the lookout for it certainly helps!
    sarah’s latest post: 2016 gift guide for kids

  11. Except that at our house, the Ghost of Public School Past is named … Dad. We struggle our way through math and grammar and spelling for Dad’s peace of mind. The rest of it – we play with science and art, read obscene amounts of literature and history (literally hundreds of books a month), take theater classes, and go on field trips to everywhere. But maaaaaath. It’s a tough balance to strike when the Ghost is actually a real person with as much opinion and say as you have.

  12. Yep – The Ghost of Public School Past gets up in my face sometimes – even though I’ve been at this homeschooling thing for 13 years. Even though I’ve graduated one kid and she made it to college. Even though I see living evidence that letting go of public school thinking works best. You are so right about Holt – and pick up Charlotte Mason, too, and then share your struggle with other homeschoolers. It’s so great to have someone else say, ‘Me, too!’ I’ve made it my mission to remind younger homeschoolers that play is the most important part of homeschooling. Great post!

  13. Thank you so much for this post. I question if homeschooling my three daughters is the “right” thing at least once a week. I have an 8th grader, who’s work is getting VERY hard, who I think should be in public school because they will do a better job than I am. It is so comforting to read a post that tells us to shut the public school ghost down. I tell my daughters all the time that “hard things are worth doing”. I think I need to take my own advise and stay the course.

  14. I love your posts. Thank you for this encouragement to do it our way 🙂
    Jen|Practical by default’s latest post: Interview Feature with…Author, Blogger, and Homeschool Mom of 3!

  15. My son has always been especially creative and articulate. Now that his peers are starting kindergarten, however, I notice they’re writing and sounding out words, and I can’t help but stress that he doesn’t even have an interest in picking up a pencil. Which is normal. He’s not even 5 yet!

    Thanks for the reminder of what’s really important.
    Alice Christopherson’s latest post: Why healthy eating cannot be forced (and what to do instead)

  16. Jaime Scharf says:

    I think I need to copy this one and hang it around my house. It is haunted.

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