What About Public School?

I know this is a homeschooling website, and I’m a homeschooling mom, but that free education option down the street looks awfully tempting sometimes.

I homeschooled my first two children all the way though high school graduation, but that last little bugger–she just HAD to go to public school.

Can homeschooling and public school education happily co-exist?

Here are some things to consider before you sign up:

1. Your Child’s Interests

Many school districts allow homeschoolers to choose classes. In 6th grade, Melissa took band and learned how to play the clarinet. Peter and Meg joined the high school choir. Call your school principal to learn their policies.

Be sure the public school will truly enhance your child’s education. Taking just one class every day puts your life on their schedule and restricts your freedom to do other things.

2. Your Child’s Age

If you are considering full-time public school, it makes most sense to start as a freshman because only high school courses and transcripts matter to colleges. Why put your child through school stress sooner than necessary?

But of course you can complete high school and create a transcript at home–you don’t need public school just for that.

3. Your Child’s Learning Style

If your child is good at taking tests and “doing the work” asked of him, he will probably succeed in public school. If your child is creative and artsy, he will probably not like school very much. If your child loves to dive deeply into a subject, public school will most likely frustrate him.

Hopefully, you can mix and match homeschooling and public school classes to get the best of both worlds. Public school classes can simply be one of your homeschool classes that you “farm out” to another teacher, just as if he were taking a class at the homeschool co-op.

And the best part? If a class isn’t working for your child, he can drop it.

4. Your Child’s Emotional Maturity

On the whole, teachers want your child to learn and be safe. It’s the other kids who are jostling for position, creating and maintaining the caste system of the school.

Can your child handle it? Will she be a leader or a follower? What is the crime rate at the potential school? Are you comfortable with the environment?

5. Your Willingness to Watch Closely and Stay Involved

Whenever your child takes classes away from home, don’t lose touch. Ask a lot of questions, help with homework and talk through things. Ask what she learned that day and continue to be a homeschool mom, finding resources and experts to help.

Our youngest, Melissa, has been a full-time public schooler for two years now, and she comes home for lunch everyday. It’s a great way to “touch base” and decompress a little. When she had to miss three days of school for a play production, I videotaped a particularly difficult class for her. She told me later that I was a big hit with the other kids. I like to think I was the coolest mom in the Sophomore class.

One Last Bit of Advice

You might want to join the Homeschool Legal Defense Association before you start mixing with the public school system. They give excellent advice and offer free legal services if you run into over-zealous school officials.

Our Story

We live in a rural town in Central Illinois. There is only one small private Christian school and one public high school. That’s it. If we lived in a big city, we would probably find an active homeschool group and many schooling options.

Melissa wanted to be on a sports team. In 8th grade she joined a hockey team at an ice rink (an hour away), but she didn’t like that enough to keep her out of the school system. She wanted to play basketball and join the track team. And because of state rules about high school athletes, she had to take a full load at the public school if she wanted to be eligible.

After a lot of discussion, we decided that yes, she could go to public school. And so far, so good. She is about to start her Junior year with all A’s and B’s, and she is on the basketball team, the cross country team, and the track team.

I believed she had a firm foundation in her love of learning, and she had the emotional maturity to handle the other kids and recognize “the game.” I told her that school was less about education and more about learning how to play the game: follow the rules, stay out of trouble, and you’ll get the grades you need to move on to the next level.

She knows she can choose not to play the game any time she wants. During final exams last year, she was moaning and groaning. I said, “Hey, that’s great! You don’t have to take finals! Come back to homeschool!” Nope. Didn’t work. But it got her to study.

I used to think the two could not coexist and I admit, it’s not easy. But after two years, we’re both getting used to it.

What do you think about the role of the public school in a homeschooler’s life?

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. We also homeschooled our first child all the way through. The second one wanted to play sports and take Honors Physics. We agreed to let him go to public school. It was only for his senior year. He knew a great deal of the kids (small town) and adapted well. They both dually enrolled in a local community college also. Now our baby is in third grade and I grapple with the public school option at least daily. I don’t want him to feel like an outsider like I know the other kids felt at times, but I want to choose based on HIS best interest. So for now we’re continuing to homeschool. Each parent must choose what is best for their child.
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  2. Jena – As always your posts are so informative and helpful. This is really timely to me with something we have been pondering. Thank you! 🙂
    Misha@ beautyandjoy’s latest post: An Evening At Home

  3. Jena, I love your calm, balanced approach to things. Thank you!
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  4. Thank-you for sharing your story. it’s wonderful to hear about how other families make it work.
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  5. I’m not at all impressed with our local public school offerings. We did have an awesome private school but it folded last year so my “Plan-B” is no longer… I find it rather discouraging as most of our fellow homeschoolers do end up with some sort of blended schedule for many of the reasons you’ve listed above but I’m not sure what we’ll do…
    Truthfully, most of my friends seem to be adding in public school to relieve some of the pressure (burden) and it quickly acclimates their children to the public school attitude. I don’t want that.
    With our eldest now a seventh grader, I’m watching these options more closely. Thank you for your positive perspective!
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    • Have you considered online schooling? My son just finished his Freshman year of high school after nine years of homeschooling (K-8). I pondered deeply about my choices going forward. Public school was out…what about private and parochial schools? Curriculum, staffing, and money soon ruled those out. Then I turned to online and found an excellent online school that meets our needs. My son has the advantage of working on his schedule yet still is accountable to other teachers, yet has many friends (most of them world-wide) to connect with.

  6. We are homeschooling our third grader this year, but left our first grader in public school. I think it very much depends on the child. My son easily navigates the academic and social demands of the public school system. My daughter did not. For now, I think we are giving both of them what they need. I am a part-time public school teacher and I can verify that most teachers want what’s best for every child – but in this current political and economic climate, it’s becoming more and more difficult to do what’s best for kids. It makes my heart sick.
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  7. Really enjoyed reading your experiences Jena. We don’t consider PS an option for our younger children, they are just too vulnerable and still being established in the firm foundation of our family’s values. But, PS is an option for when they are older and are (as you said) mature enough to handle the “system” (if they so choose). Where we live HS students can access any public school offering, including sports, which I am very thankful for.

  8. Great information! Thanks!

  9. I really enjoyed reading this article because I have struggled with this myself. I homeschooled my 3 girls from the get-go. Four years in, my husband took a job in another city. For a lot of reasons (living next door to a primarily Spanish speaking elementary school being one of them), we decided to try out public school last year.
    I am not sorry we did it.
    I am on the PTA board and spend loads of time in my kids’ classrooms. I know my kids’ teachers, their friends and their friends’ parents. Many of the moms have asked me about homeschooling their kids because they are interested in doing it at some point too. Just from observing my kids!
    The biggest compliment came from my daughter’s 2nd grade teacher. She said, you spent all that time with her at home. And it shows! We will probably spend one more year in P.S., and go back to homeschooling through the middle school years. I do not think that P.S. and homeschooling must be mutually exclusive.
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  10. This is well known that money makes people free. But how to act when someone doesn’t have cash? The one way is to try to get the loans and just collateral loan.

  11. I have to ask–how are those of you who consider your children “too vulnerable” to be in public school expect them to cope in the working world? It doesn’t change.

  12. Jay–good question! Just like a gardener doesn’t put his seedlings out into the garden until they are strong, we wait for our children to develop strong roots, enabling them withstand anything that comes their way.

  13. I have a wee one at home, and homeschooling is an option that I have been thinking about for some time. I am an elementary school teacher, but the idea of homeschooling appeals to me in many ways. I don’t know what direction we are going to take yet, but I so appreciate hearing about the balance you struck with your children and their needs and interests. Your reminder that homeschooling doesn’t need to be all-or-nothing from K to 12 was refreshing and takes the pressure off our decision. However, I struggle with your comments “school was less about education and more about learning how to play the game: follow the rules, stay out of trouble, and you’ll get the grades you need to move on to the next level.” I don’t quite know what the state of affairs must be in schools where you live (or in the US in general) to make that true. We plan to make our decision re: homeschooling vs. public based on How they will receive their education, not Whether they will receive it. As far as I can tell from my exploration their are advantages and disadvantages to both.

  14. I have a 6 year old and a 3 year old. We’ve always had it on our radar to home school but since the school in our district is a primary school (meaning it starts in kindergarten and ends at 2nd grade).

    So we thought…what could go wrong, it’s a cute, little, tiny school with a coy pond in the lobby and is bright and clean and I could see our little girl becoming a big girl as she walked down those halls to her little classes once the school year started. I could almost hear her little voice amongst the noise in the cafeteria after she’d gone through the little lunch line, made her lunch choice and headed to join her friends at the table with her little tray in hand.

    SKREECH (then the music stopped)

    What we found was all of the above plus, teachers not knowing your child but passing judgement on them. Our little girl is very compassionate (like her father) and in speaking up for a friend on day on the playground, to another friend; her teacher told her that she was being critical. This crushed my kid so much that she was still hurt by it 2 days later when she finally told me about it(in tears), It was just a case of her teacher not knowing her or why she’d said what she’d said to the other kid on the playground.

    Also this child receives the highest grades in the class along with another little boy, yet the labels started from the teacher. She expressed concern with how my daughter processes instruction. I’m thinking yeah she is a little different but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that something is “wrong” with her. She started reading at 4, writing at 3 and adding and subtracting and other things all before preschool. The long and short of it is this:

    We’ve found public school to be a place where you send your kid everyday in order for others (teachers and administrators) to tell him or her who he or she is and not a place where they can go to learn and grow and discover.

    Sure they learn some things that are good but what they learn there, they can get at home and still become who God intended for them to be rather then who teachers are telling them that they are. Makes sense?

    • Rachael Dalton says:

      Very well said. I think some teachers forget why they chose to be a teacher in the first place. When in the PS I feel that they are schooled, not educated. My husband & I decided to start on this journey 4 years ago, our children are now in 5th & 7th grade, and they can be who they are, without criticism. At first my hubby had reservations but agreed to give it a try, he couldn’t be happier now with the choice. Thanks for your take on this.

  15. Stephy – I am so sorry that your daughter had such a bad experience at your local public school.

    I am not a home schooler, my oldest son attends our local public school and loves it. I was apprehensive to begin with, but my son was very shy and a wise home schooling mother of 4 advised me to not be afraid and to give school a try. My son has had two fabulous teachers who have loved him and nurtured him, and I don’t think he’s ever heard a critical word from either. He is very creative, loves to write and draw and is being encouraged in that at home and at school (He was sent to read chapter 1 “The Dragon”, of a story he wrote and illustrated, to the principal who made a big fuss about him, photocopied it, and gave him a certificate and a pin. He was so proud!). His teacher remarked yesterday that Isaiah marches to the beat of a different drum, and is so much fun to teach, she doesn’t know how she will let him go to second grade (“though he is totally ready”). My shy guy speaks out for those who cannot speak for themselves and prays every morning for a little boy who cannot ‘control his body’. I send him to school for an education which he is getting in all standard classes plus art and music appreciation, cultures from around the world (“That looks like Chile’s flag, Mom, except the blue is on the top”), and the solar system (these last thanks to the passion of his teacher). But he is also receiving things I could not possibly give him at home.

    I intend to do the reverse of most home schoolers and take each of my boys out of public school for 6th grade (when they move up to the high school building in our district), to do some one-on-one home schooling with my husband and I, so we can assess his strengths and those of his schooling, and then to allow the each boy to decide how to proceed. But we are flexible, already we are thinking of sending out third son to a different school to try to counteract the third (or youngest child) doldrums that seem to strike many families. If we get to a place where this is no longer working, we will act accordingly.

    • This is so cool to see another family heading into homeschooling the way I am looking at it for our kids. I was homeschooled K-12, but right now the plan is for our 3 to start out in public school (my oldest is starting kindergarten this fall) and then after a couple of years, we’ll take it a year at a time, and possibly look into homeschooling for the older grades so we can study to their interests and set them on career paths that they are gifted for\excited about. Our main reason for public school when they are young is for language. I am an anglophone living in QC, and trying to learn a second language as an adult is super difficult. If my kids aren’t fluently bilingual, they won’t be able to find a job very easily where we live, so my first concern in educating them at this age is to get them in an environment where they will be surrounded by the french language, and when they have a good basic speaking base, maybe I will continue their education at home with Rosetta Stone and other tools.

  16. We have home schooled 20 years and graduated four daughters with some college dual enrollment. My fifth is a junior in public school (her 2nd year there). I started this year with the younger five (1st-9th grade) in home school co-op, but now my three youngest are in public elementary. My 3rd and 5th graders made quick adjustments and are doing well. My 1st grader loves public school and is learning a lot, but is a late bloomer and behind her classmates academically. I may bring her back home for next year. I will also have two middle school and probably one high school student home next year I am really not thrilled about public middle school and I love to teach that age anyway – so many good books! But public school has been a Godsend for our family this year since we are dealing with a lot right now. We have found the teachers to be competent and caring, and the structure has been very good for them.

    I wrote a blog post in 2010 when our daughter started public school: http://finishwellhomeschool.blogspot.com/2010/09/making-transition-into-public-high.html

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  17. My daughter is just 2, so we haven’t even decided what direction we are going to go with her, but i just wanted to say that taking the child’s preferences into consideration is important. I was fortunate enough to go to private school my entire life.. However, for as long as I can remember, my parents were focused on whether I was happy. There was one point where I was not happy in a school, so my parents helped me look at schools. We considered the local public school, and some private schools. I ended up switching schools part way through the year, even though my parents had to pay the rest of the year at the school I was leaving.

    My preferences were important throughout the journey. Even in selecting a kindergarten, my parents took me to visit a few, and let me choose which one I preferred.

    Because I was the one who made the choice, I couldn’t blame my parents when I had piles of homework, or anything like that. Every year, I chose to go back to the school I was attending, even though for high school, I was regularly having 6+ hours of homework per night. I chose that, and looking back, I’m so glad I did. That choice was essential to me.

  18. Elizabeth Collins says:

    I live in Central Illinois now myself. We just relocated from Charleston, SC. I am desperately trying to find activities for my homeschooled 8th grade daughter to participate in with other young teens. Not much luck thus far however. If you have any suggestions I would greatly appreciate hearing them. Also, I have a 6th grade daughter who attends public school by her adamant choosing. They are different children and learn best in different ways. It is working for all of us at the moment, but we reasses often and she knows that, if she chooses, she may be homeschooled as well. We simply take it year by year. Sometimes month by month. Thank you for your insight and for your time and assistance.

    • Hi, we have a daughter who started out in public school from preschool to four grade. Our daughter has senory issues with clothing, sensitive to noises and being touched, bumped into, etc. She is also a very bright. We pulled her out of public school at the end of fourth grade. We have been homeschooling her and now she is finishing up eighth grade.

      Michigan schools are not prepared or somewhat educated for our child with her special needs. She has been dianostic wiith Asperger. She is very litteral, direct and a rhyming sense of humor. She believes in no labeling, and we don’t her, yet remind our selves that we react differently. She loves to hang out in her pjs most of the time, be a teenager who loves to go no where but home.

      We have homeschooled her so she could mature in her timely matter, try to understand what the principles did not understand our concerns, yet thought our child was lazy. I could go on about how the school system did not understand how our child could not cope with over load noises, bullying, prinicples pulling our daughter’s hair, etc.

      My daughter has mature a little bit. She has asked, if she could go to public school in highschool. Our daughter not knowing there was highschool homeschool. Deep down inside, I believe she is not ready for 9th. grade public school. Her willing not to get up early, length of classes, and the school day. She is very eager to try. I want to prepare her not crush her. I want her join some co-op classes first. I know I have final say. I would like to put her on a routine as if she was going to school and see if she really is up for the challenge, stress, sensitive emotions, etc. I don’t want other kids filling her sensitive character into a no buddy.
      Ineed help on how I can tell my child she is nit ready for 9 grade public school. Not to crush her dreams, yet to fulfill them in a different way at home or with classes. Need some ideas. Please

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