What to do with homeschool doubt

what to do with homeschool doubt ~SimpleHomeschool
Written by contributor Jena Borah of Yarns of the Heart

Traditional schooling revs up next month and it’s tempting to jump on board, send your kids off to school and give up on this homeschooling idea. Maybe last year wasn’t as great as you had hoped, or maybe you are considering homeschooling for the first time and are starting to get cold feet.

Take a deep breath and let me tell you my story…why I am glad we stuck with homeschooling even through those days of doubt.

My first child missed the first day of kindergarten in 1994. I felt ecstatically rebellious and thankful…rebellious because I wasn’t doing what everyone else was doing, but following what I knew was right. Thankful because he wasn’t jumping on the treadmill that would consume his life for the next 12 years. Instead, we happily continued our life of endless summer.

But that first little guy, Peter, was extremely hungry for knowledge and exceptionally smart (at least his mom thought so!) and I often doubted myself.

I wondered if I was giving him enough, if he would reach his potential or be held back because of homeschooling. This doubt hit its peak just before 8th grade. High school was right around the corner and then the ACT and SAT, and what college would take a homeschooler? I felt the weight of his future on my shoulders.

Peter in 8th grade

Peter in 8th grade

Even though we’d spent all of elementary school in a free-form way, letting him follow his interests and become an expert at everything, I began to panic.

I found a private high school that looked like a good fit and started him on a traditional 8th grade curriculum. He took the entrance exam, got in, and spent his freshman year wearing a uniform to school and getting straight A’s.

But it didn’t last long. My husband’s job changed and we had to move to a small town with very little choice of schools, so we decided to go back to homeschooling. He was allowed to join the choir at the local high school, participated in community theater, took a couple classes at the community college, and read a lot.

The ACT and SAT were easy for him because he was used to reading difficult passages and figuring things out on his own. He became a National Merit Scholar and got a full ride scholarship to the University of Chicago, all with a homeschool diploma.

Fast forward to graduating from UChicago (with honors, I might add). He was happy to get back to studying what interested him, free from being told what to read and what to write. School just cramped his style. He took a job to pay for his apartment in Chicago, but on the side, he started teaching himself software development.

He has told me several times that homeschooling gives him the edge because he knows how to learn. He didn’t spend his life being taught, passively taking it all in, memorizing it, then forgetting it. He actually learned how to learn, how to start with a question and find answers on his own.

After a year of learning on his own and volunteering at a start-up company for experience, he just accepted a software development job in downtown Chicago with a great salary. He is thrilled and can’t wait to start.

peter grad with girls 575
Meg, Peter, & Melissa

His two younger sisters have equally encouraging stories. Meg struggled with reading until 5th grade, which means public school would have labeled her from the beginning. But today she is a confident, successful college student. She even braved living in India on her own for nine months, teaching English to children from the slums.

My youngest, Melissa, homeschooled up to 8th grade and went to public high school for the sports, but plans to homeschool her own kids. I have several “homeschool meets public school” stories about her on my blog.

So hang in there! Everyone doubts the wisdom of homeschooling. That’s a good thing. It means you care, that you want the very best for your child.

Remember to keep the big picture in mind. When a day or a month or a year doesn’t go the way you think it should, remind yourself of the goal–to raise emotionally healthy, naturally curious human beings who love to learn.

And they just don’t teach that in the public schools.

What gets you through the days of doubt?

cobra 120

About Jena Borah

Jena Borah homeschooled her three children all the way to college. She blogs about her homeschooling years and her interest-led philosophy at Yarns of the Heart.


  1. What has always helped me on those days that I doubted, we would go outside and just spend time enjoying God’s world. It made all the difference in the world for me when my kids would name things and tell me important things about the life outside that they learned while we studied. It made me see that they were learning and to just hang in there. It has made all the difference in the world.
    Jennifer Sikora’s latest post: What To Do If Your Pet Gets Lost

  2. Thanks for sharing! This is so timely. My partner and I, for the first time will be homeschooling our son. My son attended kindergarten at a public school and while I really liked the school and loved his teacher, homeschooling is something I’ve wanted to do for a while now, but previously thought that due to my full-time working schedule and my boyfriend thinking he wasn’t capable, we couldn’t do it. Now, we are ready to dive in. However, at the same time, I get overwhelmed because I don’t have a curriculum to follow (do I even need a curriculum?!) I also feel so unorganized at times and waver between, “we can do this” and “can we really do it?”. I’m reducing my working hours in September to accommodate homeschooling and we will see how it goes. Again, thanks for your story.

  3. Thank you for sharing this with us.

  4. Thank you , thank you, thank you! You have NO idea how badly needed this was for me this morning :). Second yr officially hsing my two older ones (2nd and 4th). What gets me through and gets me excited? Not to seem too arrogant… There are surely some truly amazing teachers, classrooms and principals out there… However, “I’ve seen the village and the system and I do not want them raising my child(ren)”. This coming from a public school teacher with 13+ yrs experience. I don’t want my kiddos on the assembly line of PS and to be turned into any m

    • Oops got knocked off earlier ;). I was trying to say that I am glad they are hopefully not succumbing to and becoming one of the “sheeple” and stuck with a “goldfish” mentality and way of seeing, participating, and contributing to the world. I hope that no matter how poorly or well we’ve done with our academics, they at least retain and recharge with open hearts and open, active minds fueled by curiosity , care ad compassion. Here’s to another year with fingers and toes crossed!

      • Yes! That’s exactly it. No matter how badly we think we are doing with the school thing, they aren’t being shoved into a mold. You said it perfectly. 🙂

  5. I always love to hear from Jena! This is beautiful, and I especially love this, “Everyone doubts the wisdom of homeschooling. That’s a good thing. It means you care, that you want the very best for your child.” Yes! Homeschooling parents worry so much about doing a good job but really they are the most motivated rocking it out people!
    Kelly’s latest post: Peaceful Parenting: Working Sideways

  6. Thank you for your words this morning Jena, they always speak to my heart. I love reading about your experiences, your beautiful! children, and I like that you are so positive. I am the potential newbie with cold feet. Considering pulling my 9 year old out (of the best elem school, in a great county system, in MD, which is a great state system). My biggest worry is removing her from her group of just lovely little girl friends…I don’t want her to be lonely or left out, left behind as those friendships develop over the years. On the other hand, she is really bright, but bored at school, and at the same time somewhat overwhelmed by the need to be “on” & engaged with people all day, the noise, everything, she has a strong introvert streak, despite being a leader academically. Combine that with the schools intense focus on reading & math, (focus for kids who need more help than my daughter, and pre-testing time intensity for all, to the point where kids we know don’t sleep, sob hysterically, start wetting the bed again), I think she could learn more at home. Lately I have been hearing “well kids need to to learn work & get along with all types…etc” as the argument to stay in school. But I wonder how susccessful they are at learning that without any guidance. Does it sounds like I am trying to talk myself into it?

    • Erica,
      How does your daughter feel about homeschooling? If it’s the friends you are concerned about, nothing will change, really. She can see them after school, on weekends, at school events, over the summer. At school, kids aren’t supposed to socialize anyway. They get in trouble for talking and having fun. And actually, she will probably keep her friends longer if she homeschools. Middle school usually tears friends apart because of all the drama. So if she’s not in the drama, she could keep her friends the rest of her life!

      If a lot of her time is testing things she already knows, (and waiting for the slower kids to catch up) I think she’d really enjoy being home. While her friends are focused on instruction aimed at the middle and trying to follow crowd control rules, she can be learning and ready to hang out with them later, even helping them with their homework! I bet her friends will wish they could homeschool.

      And about the argument that kids need to learn how to work and socialize…well, we have to ask ourselves if the current system is the best way to do that. Is it right to stress kids so much that they can’t sleep and wet the bed? Isn’t there another way?

      Being home doesn’t mean being left on her own. You will have your house rules, your expectations of behavior, and she will engage in the outside world. Homeschooling does not mean you become a hermit! Abraham Lincoln lived in the middle of no where and had to walk miles just to borrow a book when he was growing up, and yet he turned out OK. We are humans and we learn these things no matter our environment. I just shake my head at those who think public school is the only way to raise intelligent, well-rounded children.
      Jena’s latest post: The Parent’s Role in Interest-Led Learning

      • Erica L says:

        Thank you so much Jena, for your thoughtful reply. I reread it this morning. You’re insight is so helpful. We are heading out this am to a meet-n-greet with a local co-op, one more step down the HS path! Feeling excited about that! Thanks again.

  7. Jena- your posts and ones like it always help. Just to see others who have made it through and whose kids are enjoying their life and thriving is what keeps me going. Of course, having summer vacation to look forward too during stressful times helps too 🙂 Thanks!
    Cheri’s latest post: Tale of the ears

  8. …you just saved our homeschool…period….it can be everything I want and they need ..thank you.

  9. I am in the middle of another season of doubt. My oldest will be going into 6th grade, my youngest into 2nd. She’s not the one I worry about (though she has vision issues that require therapy and home exercises.) My son is somewhere in the gifted spectrum, possibly 2e, and I know he isn’t getting the challenge and proper stimulation he needs. We hs through a parent partnership program, so we have some classes we can attend but also have more accountability from the state. We made this choice to have a network and so that I (an introvert) didn’t have to carry the whole weight of my extrovert son’s social life. I had some mental health issues last spring, and am feeling that anxiety come out again as I contemplate planning for next year. So the doubt springs up daily. But what helps is that we, too have seen the system, and for my son I am positive it is not an option. I just wish there were another option that I could see to help us with our challenges. I also see how we can turn to nature when we need it, can monitor the amount of stimulation we get, and how the kids are around other adults and children. I am really pleased with our family life and how my kids behave, and their spiritual growth. It helps me to focus on these positive things and trust that the academics will work themselves out in time.
    Jennifer’s latest post: Thunder Creek Trail Hike and Camping at Newhalem

    • Jennifer,
      Sounds you are doing everything right. And I had to laugh when you said you didn’t want to “carry the whole weight of my extrovert son’s social life. ” That was me and Meg. Her first words in the morning were, “What are we doing today, Mommy?” And I’d sink inside and say, “laundry.” She always wanted to be going and doing and it was hard on me, but I didn’t let it show and told her that after she got her list done (chores, school stuff), she could go visit another homeschool friend or we’d go to the store or something. When she got older she got involved in community theater and that was a life saver! It’s good that you have outlets for your son, but don’t put too much pressure on yourself. I used to remind myself that even if they weren’t doing exciting things every minute of the day, at least they weren’t being bullied or losing their sense of self. I valued what they WEREN’T getting because they were home just as much as what they WERE getting.
      Jena’s latest post: The Parent’s Role in Interest-Led Learning

  10. Oh, thank you for this, Jena (and Jamie for having Jena guest blog!)!! I always LOVE hearing what you have to share here and on your blog! I really needed this post right now, too! My husband and I are embarking on a new journey this year, where we are both running our own, new, home businesses as well as homeschooling our 7-year-old daughter (whom I’ve been homeschooling part-time along the way; she was going two days a week to a Montessori school until this January, when we became full-time homeschoolers) and our 4-year-old son (who has two mornings a week at Montessori and home with us the rest of the time). My doubt comes mostly because I’m trying to figure out how to manage time so everyone gets what they need. My husband and I both really believe in homeschooling (he’s a trained/former middle school teacher, and his business is now training teachers around the country; I’m a former university teacher, and my business is an online education/lifestyle site for women). We’re both classic “overachievers” who learned exactly how to “excel” in school, but honestly at the detriment of really enjoying the learning process in school. So, we want to do this, but the logistics seem hard to figure out. I just keep going back to our core values, and our faith in this path we’re taking, and trying to tell myself that our kids really will be given the opportunity to do exactly what you said — learn how to truly learn, enjoy the process, and avoid becoming burned out and trained mostly to ace tests and follow someone else’s directions to get “good grades”! I already see it in them, their natural joy of learning flowing freely; I just have those days of doubts when we have deadlines and divided attention — though it’s still probably more attention than they would get in a class of 32 at the school down the street, right?! I’m always inspired by your stories, your perspective and your kids, so thank you for sharing them with us! Peace and Hugs to you.

    • Hi Megan,
      Sounds like you have a great homeschool! What I just said above to Jennifer is what I’d say to you too. You have to remember that half of the wisdom of homeschooling is what your kids are NOT getting–the school mindset. So on days when they watch PBS all morning while you try to get organized in your business, just relax. Not every day is full of on-task, amazing, obvious intellectual growth. It’s the climate of your home, your respect for your kids and their potential is what really matters. They are soaking it in when you’re not looking, and that puts them miles ahead of any child stuck in the machine.
      Jena’s latest post: The Parent’s Role in Interest-Led Learning

  11. Kari Patterson says:

    So grateful for moms like you who go before us and encourage us while we’re in the trenches of early homeschool years. Thank you!!

  12. I meant to share this link as well … it may be encouraging to all you homeschool mamas!! http://www.karipatterson.com/2013/07/17/because-everything-else-really-can-wait/
    Kari Patterson’s latest post: Because everything else really can wait …

  13. You nailed it. I have doubt all the time, and I think there are times of the year that make it hard to stay the course…for me the school supply shopping thing is hard. I have fond memories of the beginning of school and fresh supplies and new classrooms. I suspect that Christmas time will also be tough – class plays and all that jazz. Doing the right thing is definitely not always easy.
    Jen’s latest post: Homeschool or online school at home?

  14. Jen,
    Yes! I know what you mean, but those are your memories, not theirs, so make new traditions for them. Go ahead and buy school supplies or new clothes for them, and at Christmas, maybe other homeschoolers or your church would put on a play. At Thanksgiving, make those construction turkeys out of their traced hands. The idea is to make memories for them and realize that they don’t know anything about school traditions, so make your own.
    Jena’s latest post: The Parent’s Role in Interest-Led Learning

  15. Michelle says:

    Thank you SO much for sharing this!! I have been homeschooling my 7 year old son for two years now, he has autism and would not cope at a primary school. Some days are great, some not so. BUT it’s a LOT better than the bullying and pressure he would have to suffer with at school, I’m sure.
    My neighbor made an uninformed comment to me yesterday, that my son “will need an education soon……” as in I’m not providing him with one. I don’t think there was any malice intended, just a comment from someone who has no idea, BUT it really knocked my already fragile confidence to do what’s best for my son. I wish people would just shut up sometimes!
    So thanks again for a great post at a well timed time. xxx

    • Wow. It’s amazing how freely people give unwanted advice on a topic they know nothing about. When I faced this sort of thing, I would tell the person all the things the kids were doing, in school-speak. For example, “They are really enjoying their studies in world history. Just yesterday we were giving oral reports on Magellan’s voyages.” This could just be reading aloud or watching a video on the subject, then discussing it. Or it could be your child telling you about his latest interest. That’s research and an oral report.

      You are educating your child, you just have to communicate in their school-biased language. Then maybe they’ll leave you alone. Maybe.

      I’m so glad you are homeschooling your son in a loving, low stress environment!
      Jena’s latest post: The Parent’s Role in Interest-Led Learning

  16. I have days of doubt and I haven’t even officially started homeschooling. My oldest is 3 and we know we’re going to homeschool but some days I am overwhelmed by the thought that I am going to be educating my children at home. If the days are this hard without structured learning thrown into the mix, how are the days going to be when we officially start?

    I do love your ‘keep the big picture in mind advice.’ It is a bit silly to be doubting my abilities to homeschool when we’re still 2 years away from kindergarten. Thank you for being a seasoned homeschool mama who is pouring words of wisdom and encouragement into new homeschooling families!

  17. Your message is so timely to me, today. Just last night, I was up late with my teenage daughter as we openly discussed our insecurities about homeschooling and what should we do going forward. Last year we made the decision together to home school through high school, and skip the ridiculously competitive high school admissions process. (Chicago – arrgh!) However, keeping up the confidence for me is challenging. I love your stories and encouragement. Thank you.
    Dominique’s latest post: Oncoming Storm

  18. Jennifer Campbell says:

    *sigh* I find this post a bit depressing. My husband and I have unofficially made the decision to send our boys to private school. I myself was homeschooled (and admittedly, hated every minute of it), but I ended up decising homeschooling didn\’t have to be miserable or the way my mother did it, so I gave it a go… for two years. Ever since Kindergarten with my oldest child, one terrible thing after another has happened, the worst being the loss of four babies in those two years. I\’ve struggled with depression and pulling myself together, so school just hasn\’t… happened. Now my 7-year-old can barely read. It wouldn\’t be a be big deal, since all the seasoned homeschool moms I know assure me he will catch on, and everything will be alright— but then there\’s my husband. He\’s constantly comparing our son to other kids his age, demanding to know why he\’s behind. Finally, I\’ve grown tired of it. If he thinks this private school\’s academics are so great, then our kids need to go there. There are other reasons I am ready to send them to school- many of which you would have to know the dynamics of our family to understand. Now my husband is putting on the brakes, worried about how our kids will turn out if we \”send them out into the world\”. I could use some advice here. How does one cope with transitioning from homeschool to sending your kids to school? The thought is scary, but yet, I\’m at the end of my rope, with no help or support from my husband or family in order to keep homeschooling. I don\’t want to end up one of \”those\” crazy homeschool moms.

    • Without support, it’s not healthy for you – and therefore, for the kids. I’m in the same boat, and realize that for my (literal) mental health and for the health of my body, my marriage, we will try the schools for a while. Good thing is, we know what to do if the schools don’t work out, right? 🙂 Go for school and see if it’s a good fit! Just like any job search, it’s ok to figure out what works for your own children and for you. Good luck!

  19. Hi there, so are you in Illinois then? I am so I was wondering, what is a homeschool diploma exactly? Is there a test they need to take to ‘graduate’ or is it just the ACT/SAT like every other high school student? thank you

  20. Thankyou so much for writing this!! I cried. A lot LOL I just started homeschooling my little guy for kindergarten. The doubt has been creeping in ALOT lately. Am I doing enough? Teaching enough? Patient enough? Thanks for your encouraging testimony. I’ll have to check out your daughters blog.

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