How will you know if your homeschooling has been a success?


The following is a guest post by Jamie McMillin of Legendary Learning.

Every parent’s fondest hope is that his or her child will be successful in life. We don’t want to brag … but we really do. Right?

I suspect this urge is especially prevalent amongst homeschooling parents, because we have presumed to know better than the official public school system how our children should be educated.

What if we’re wrong? What if the whole thing was a big mistake? The stakes are high. Society is watching, so we really want to prove that we did a good job.

The problem is that the indicators society typically uses to measure accomplishment are not very useful for predicting true success in life. Things like grades, test scores, contests, and college admission are only useful for comparing students to standards picked by society.

But if you think about the people in this world who are truly happy, or who have made the greatest contributions to society, you’ll realize that those people did not do what everybody else expected them to do.

They were not conformists, but innovators.

Novelist and philanthropist Pearl Buck was way ahead of her time with her efforts to confront racism and the plight of impoverished Asian children.

Thomas Edison was notoriously headstrong and independent, as were Teddy Roosevelt, George Patton, Margaret Mead, Ben Franklin and many others.

Walt Whitman scandalized (and enthralled) the nation with his groundbreaking free verse poetry.

Louis Armstrong revolutionized jazz music.

John Muir saved Yosemite Valley from becoming a giant reservoir.

These people did things worth doing. They didn’t do what everyone else told them to do.

It takes a heap of hutzpah to shake off traditional expectations and follow one’s passion.

If no one else has done something, it’s too easy for critics to say it can’t be done, or too weird to be allowed. That’s why so many children get steered into nice, “normal” careers that offer financial stability, or groomed by competitive Super Moms who channel their own ambitions through their offspring.

There is nothing inherently wrong with these things … unless a child’s true potential has been squandered in the process.

It’s fine to listen to the advice of experienced educators and parents. It is good to do your research, ask questions, and pay attention. But no one else knows your child like you do, and there has never been, nor will there ever be, another child just like yours.

Alexander Graham Bell's Birthplace

Photo by pettifog gist
As a four year old, Alexander Graham Bell used to sit in a field to try to hear the wheat grow. He was fascinated by sound and voice. But his father wanted him to learn Latin and Greek so he could go to college and “be successful.” Where was the future in studying sound?

No one could have predicted that someday Alexander would invent the telephone. It had never been done. Fortunately, circumstances allowed Alexander to continue his studies and experiments until he earned the success that only authentic passion can achieve.

Our kids don’t have to invent amazing devices, cure cancer or become humanitarian heroes to be successful. I’ve used examples here of people you probably have heard of to make my point, but most of the great people in this world never have books written about them. They may only be recognized by the people who know and love them, or by the people they have helped.

Greatness doesn’t have to be flashy. It could be something very humble and simple.

For instance, naturalist John Burroughs spent most of his time outdoors, quietly observing, writing, and avoiding the limelight. But his books and essays gently influenced thousands of readers, raising awareness for nature conservation across the country.

The important thing is to allow our kids the freedom to explore their own interests, wherever it may lead. Don’t force them to fit into anyone else’s “scope and sequence,” even if that means they won’t score so well on the standardized tests. Better yet, don’t take the tests at all if you can avoid them.


Photo by Quinn Dombrowski

Henry David Thoreau expressed this idea well when he wrote in Walden:

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”

We all have different talents to bring to this world, and our best measure of success should be how well we developed and expressed those talents. Of course, we all need to know how to learn and live and get along, but it is no use struggling to meet other people’s expectations if we lose ourselves in the process.

So what should you do when you hear about other kids scoring 2400 on the SAT? Or winning the state science fair? Or graduating high school at age 14?

These things are great short-term achievements, but they do not necessarily indicate that the student has found his or her passion — or ever will. Keep that quote by Thoreau taped above your kitchen sink, and have patience.

Help your kids find the resources they need to feed their interests. Teach them to learn and live and get along, but give them free rein to be themselves.

Have faith that over time, their inner drive and curiosity will flourish and mature into something wonderful — and that will truly be something to brag about.

How will you know that homeschooling has been successful for your family?

About Jamie McMillin

Jamie McMillin homeschooled her two oldest children, now university honors students, from K-12 and her youngest from K-8. She is the author of Legendary Learning: The Famous Homeschoolers’ Guide to Self-Directed Excellence. For more info, please visit her blog Legendary Learning.


  1. Oh, I LOVE this! Great article! Finding their passions, knowing how to work hard, knowing what makes them happy…then we’ll know we were successful.
    Amy’s latest post: Unschool School – Bedtime Math

  2. I really love all of what you have to say here. (I’d add that Ben Franklin only had two years of schooling between the ages of 10 and 12 before becoming a world-renowned writer, inventor and peace-treatying statesman).
    It’s natural to want to evaluate our children within the mainstream system of education. But so many kids have talents and gifts that aren’t measurable in that system. It takes courage as parents to celebrate those qualities – a courage well worh cultivating!
    Rachel @ 6512 and growing’s latest post: Baby, I’m Amazed

  3. This was a timely post for me. I’ve had evaluations this week with both of my kiddos. I was left wondering if I was doing the right thing. I just wanted to say thank you.

    • My condolences on the evaluations . . . my daughter, who is now attending a public high school, has just had a solid month of testing: SAT, ACT, 3 AP tests, State testing and new experimental State testing. She has been a wreck! I just do my best to comfort her and assure her that these are not a big deal. Summer cannot come fast enough!
      Jamie McMillin’s latest post: All the Things We Learn in High School

  4. I can attest to this. I forced myself through a college program based on what others wanted and out of fear of financial survival. I found that the experience ripped away parts of me that I valued (creative thinking, artistic confidence, curiosity). It stole my personality and turned me into a person that looked at things in terms of monetary value and productivity. I am slowly coming back to myself. I should have listened to my heart and not what society said I should want.
    Mel’s latest post: Unplug & Play! 50 Games That Don’t Need Charging (Giveaway!)

    • I have often thought the same thing. There are so many books and blogs and programs these days to help us adults find our lost passions, and discover what it is we really we want to do with our lives. It is so sad that so many have forgotten, or never really had a chance, to be our true selves! I wish you the best of luck!
      Jamie McMillin’s latest post: All the Things We Learn in High School

  5. Very well written. I want my kiddos to be happy in what ever they do with their lives. Your education is only part of your life. We (meaning my family and I) laugh because I went to school for 12 years-after high school! And now-I stay at home and teach my kids. 🙂 So far, it is my favorite job and I love it! It definitely doesn’t pay well and it is far from low stress but it is worth every minute that I put in it.
    Sharon’s latest post: Homeschooling Newbies

  6. Thanks you. I especially needed this reminder today!

  7. Thank you. Just. Thank you.
    Tiffany’s latest post: Faith Builds Faith

  8. You are very welcome! I’m glad you liked it.
    Jamie McMillin’s latest post: All the Things We Learn in High School

  9. This is one of the best posts ever on this wonderful website. Thank you!

  10. Thank you, thank you.

  11. Wonderful and true. I heartily recommend Jamie’s book Legendary Learning. It’s inspiration you’ll return to over and over.
    Laura’s latest post: Recognizing Each Child’s Particular Genius

  12. Thank you so much! This article is great for helping me to focus on what is truly important as we prepare for the high-school years. It is easy to get caught up in the comparison game so your suggestion of posting a quote on the refrigerator is a good one.
    Victoria “Encourager Mom ” Carrington’s latest post: No More Child Abuse

  13. Oh man, I think about this all. the. time!!
    Great post! I’m going to print that quote from Thoreau and post it…somewhere.

  14. What a great post! Even if we are homeschoolers there is still a tendency to compare our kids with other kids. We let society dictate who or what they should be. I am one example who never knew my passion in life until I became a mom. I was swayed by others to be someone I never thought of becoming. It was just a job for me until i finally decided to enhance the skill God has given me.
    And now I pray that God allows me to see what my kids are really passionate about. What drives them to be the best for themselves, the world and for God. Thanks again!
    jude’s latest post: Training for Life

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