Homeschool lessons learned at public school


Written by Shawna Wingert of Not the Former Things.

In what can only be described as a surreal moment, I found myself signing documents to enroll my son in public school last month.

I love homeschooling.

My sons love homeschooling.

I write all about how much homeschooling has made a tremendous impact on my sons’ education, despite their learning differences. The longer we homeschool, the more I can imagine us continuing to do it all the way through high school.

So it took a lot to sign those documents. But it was worth it.


The school program was through the hospital my son had been admitted to only a week prior, for serious medical complications. Because he required ongoing care and evaluation, this program was an excellent option. Nursing staff, therapists and teachers alike provided ongoing care each day.

My son was officially in public school for two weeks.

And I learned so very much.

Granted, this classroom scenario deviated dramatically from a “typical class.” It functioned more like a self-contained, special education classroom. And the truth is, many of the children in this class likely qualified for special education through their local schools.

It was a great experience for my son and for me, to get a little taste of what a classroom might be like for him. It was great to see what he enjoyed and excelled in. It was helpful to see where he struggled.

Mostly, what amazed me was how similar this program was to what we have already been doing at home.

You read that right – there were more similarities than there were differences.


Here’s what I learned from the two weeks my son spent in a public special education classroom:

Adult-to-student ratio matters

In this classroom there were many adults, from different specialties, all working together to help the children learn in the best way possible. The ratio was actually close to 1:1 if you counted all the nurses, therapists, and aides.

The children had individualized attention and it seemed to work very well. In fact, some of the other children, not accustomed to having someone to help them through transitions or difficult subjects, said they would like to just go to school at the hospital from now on.

I was impressed, and also more conscious of how much the individualized attention our children receive at home every single day, makes a difference in their levels of anxiety, understanding and overall learning.

It ALL counts

My son was technically in the hospital school program from 7:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. each day. I was hesitant about this at first, as the time I designate to schooling at home is not seven hours, even accounting for lunch and breaks.

Then, I saw the schedule.

It included two 45 minute outdoor time-frames each day for “Recreational Therapy.” There was “Occupational Therapy” for an hour and a half each day. This included activities like making candles, creating dioramas, sewing pillows, and stamping leather.

Each week, there was an hour devoted to “art therapy” and another hour for “cooking.”

After breaks, daily morning time, and lunch, the time devoted to actual sitting at a desk and completing academic work was about 2.5 hours spread out over the course of the day.

Sound familiar? It does to me. That’s almost exactly what I would report for each activity on average in our home.


Socialization cannot be prescribed

This is the area that surprised me the most, although I am not sure why. My son was the only homeschooled child in this classroom. The assumption on the part of the teachers and therapists, and if I am being honest, me, was that he might struggle a bit with the social requirements of being in the classroom.

The exact opposite was true. Despite having a couple of diagnoses that actually make social interactions stressful and confusing for my son, he was clearly the one most capable socially.

He got along well with all the children, tried to help another little boy when he struggled, interacted well with the adults, showed his great sense of humor, made a close friend, and was easily able to follow all the rules for classroom structure.

A lack of socialization is a pervasive myth, I think, about homeschooling. But having a child diagnosed with social differences, means an increased need for me to answer questions about how my child will ever be able to interact well with others.

I am asked to account for this in doctor and therapist appointments all the time. It was incredibly encouraging to see that our efforts at home are making a difference in his social ability.

Teachers often support homeschooling too

The staff that worked directly with my son had nothing but great things to say about our decision to homeschool. They too, could see the benefits for my son. They too, saw the differences in him, even in a classroom setting (the unquestioned standard for childhood socialization).

There was, however, a meeting I attended at the very end of my son’s time in the program, with a doctor who did not interact much with my son. As I sat across from him, he looked through the stack of medical and educational reports in my son’s case file. Smiling, he looked up and said,

“It looks like your son is doing very well, despite being homeschooled.”

I felt a flood of emotion. Part of me understood that he meant it as a compliment, and I wanted to take it as such. But I couldn’t. “Despite being homeschooled???” I thought.  I took a breath, and then carefully responded:

“I would say it’s possible that he is doing very well because he is homeschooled.”


I’m so grateful I had the chance to glimpse the other side.

And if you are homeschooling a child, especially one with learning differences and special needs, take heart. I want to encourage you that what we are doing at home, is no different than what the experts believe to be best for our children:

  • One on one attention
  • Time outside to exercise and play
  • Art, hands-on activities, and real life skills

We do this at home, and feel guilty that it isn’t a math worksheet. Teachers do it, and it is respected as in integral part of education.

Maybe, like me, you question if you are doing enough, if your child’s needs trump your own intuition about homeschooling being the right choice, or if the “experts” might be better equipped to help.

Maybe, like me, you fear you are missing something important.

Maybe, like me, you need to hear that your hard work will pay off.

And maybe, just maybe, your child is doing well, “despite” (because of!) being homeschooled.

Do you ever wonder how your homeschool day would compare to a public school classroom?

About Shawna Wingert

Shawna Wingert is the creator of Not The Former Things, a blog dedicated to homeschooling children with learning differences and special needs. She loves finding out-of-the-box ways for out-of-the-box learners to thrive. She is the author of two books, Special Education at Home and Everyday Autism. You can follow Shawna and Not The Former Things on Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram.


  1. Insightful, interesting article, may God continue to bless your work with your family and the homeschooling community.

  2. This is a very nice article. As a public school teacher and as a someone interested in homeschooling (wrote my dissertation of “why parents choose homeschooling over public school”), I somewhat understand the doctor’s ill-perceived perspective toward homeschooling. There are many parents that do a wonderful job providing a great homeschool education experience for their child. However, there are many that abuse the auspices of homeschooling and fail their child daily by not adequately providing a quality homeschool education, which causes a negative impact on the child in a plethora of ways.

    • I really appreciate your thoughtful approach to this topic.I will say that it can be tough for homeschoolers that are working very hard to provide the best for their children, to be lumped into the same category as the ones you describe. It must feel the same way to work in a great school, and then be lumped into the same category as all the “public schools.” Thank you for your open mind and conversation!
      Shawna Wingert’s latest post: What We Learned From Two Weeks In Public School

  3. Sandy Anker says:

    Thank you so much for this. Our youngest of five has special needs and I find myself second-guessing our decision to homeschool her. Your post gave me some much-needed peace and perspective.

  4. Such an insightful article. How special and blessed you are to have been given this opportunity to see the actual comparison here. Looks like it was a learning experience for all and mostly confirmation of your desires. Thank you for sharing!
    P.S. Perfect response to the Doctor’s comment!

  5. I love you so much right now, Shawna! This came at just the time I needed to read it. At my daughters psych appointment yesterday the therapist was asking all kinds of questions about our homeschooling. I felt like a failure all day!! This puts me right back on track and gets me through the doubt. Thank you!

  6. Becky Thomas says:

    I have 2 boys with special needs. Wouldn’t it be nice if all Special Ed classrooms were just like this? My oldest was in one, but it wasn’t that nice. The socialization issue just drives me nuts. We don’t send kids to school to be socialized.

  7. What a lovely post. I hope your son is doing well!
    Shelly’s latest post: 5 Days of Christmas Lists- 25 Simple and Creative Christmas Crafts

  8. Love, love, love this post! It speaks directly from your heart to mine. Thank you for putting your experience so wonderfully into words 🙂

  9. Lovely post. I myself was in a special education problem b/c of learning disability. And it all depends on the special program the school has. My parents looked at all three Special Ed program before I was put in the right setting. The other two classroom that my parents looked at was that they were not like a home setting. It was a very big classroom and wasn’t cozy at all. Then my parent looked at another classroom. This is the right fit. It was so cozy and it felt like home. And I had a great connection with my teacher. It was one on one and they really care about you. I’m so happy that my parents picked the right one. And now I graduated from two colleges. Getting my associates and my bachelors. If you put your mind into education, you could get that diploma and feel proud of yourself.

  10. Thank you for writing this.

  11. This was great to read, thank you so much. I greatly admire your ability to take a deep breath before responding to comments of the “despite” being homeschooled. It can be so hard! I agree that there are teachers that support homeschooling. I took my son to get him registered for school, it was the teacher who told me to homeschool, in spite of my protests of “never going to homeschool” 10 years pass and here I am. Thank you for sharing what you learned from your experience in public school.
    Jen|Practical by default’s latest post: Coffee, Robots, Ebooks and Links!

  12. It sounds like the program at this hospital was well thought out for the needs of the children who would be using it.
    It’s good to know that these exist – not all medically challenged children have this type of opportunity, and I wish more such programs were available.

    In fact, I wish they were available – in the public schools themselves.
    I homeschooled 3 kids for 17 years – the oldest was in public school for a few years, the middle child tried it once, the youngest was homeschooled through 8th grade and had always sworn he would never switch – until he learned of a program at the local high school that changed his mind. He spent his high school years in one of the better public school districts in my state, and it was the right choice for him.

    But none of our experiences with public schools looked anything like this program.
    The program you describe bears little resemblance to education practices, or even special education, in the majority of public schools.
    I’m glad this was available for your son, but if you really want to compare your experiences homeschooling to public school – you’d have to enroll your son in a regular public school.

    Now – for some that is a positive experience.
    But – it would look nothing like your homeschooling journey or ours 🙂

    • Thanks for your comment, Kit. My oldest son was in public school for three years so I completely understand what you are saying! My goal in sharing this was not to highlight the school program itself, but all the ways that homeschooling actually meets and even exceeds what the best possible public school (and special education) programs have to offer.
      Shawna Wingert’s latest post: What We Learned From Two Weeks In Public School

  13. Very good post. Thank you.

    I’m surprised as to what the doctor said. He must have limited experience with public special education schools. Most doctors would not respond that way if they new a child would be in a different level setting.

    • I wish I can say I was surprised – the truth is, many doctors and therapists just don’t have an understanding of the benefits of homeschooling a child with special needs. I have been defending our choice since both of my boys received their diagnoses, and imagine I will continue to do so until they graduate. They see so many kids who are struggling in school, need IEP support, and require ongoing aid to make it in school – I think it is difficult to switch gears for many of them.
      Shawna Wingert’s latest post: What We Learned From Two Weeks In Public School

  14. I am also a home school mom. I work in public ed., and I don’t like what I see happening to kids at the hands of bullies and the pressure to fit in. I like that my child is who he is because he isn’t influenced by what other kids make him think he should be. What I like about home schooling is that my son gets many hours of 1:1 instruction. If he struggles with a concept, we work on it until he gets it before moving on. He isn’t “behind” in any academic area, and he actually likes learning. I was nervous about going the home school route- but it has been great. I would be offended by the “despite being home schooled” comment. The public school system isn’t right for every kid.

  15. You have a gift with words, very well articulated. Loved reading your perspective as well as the replies to comments. Thank you for sharing, it has helped me tremendously.

  16. Fantastic encourage shared here- thank you for doing so!

  17. I love this, Shawna. (And good for you for correcting the doc!)
    Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley’s latest post: Bring Books to Life with Ivy Kids

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