Breaking with Tradition: Traditional Schools Versus Homeschooling

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RoShamBo Homeschooling author's son reading a book

I wasn’t homeschooled as a child. I honestly don’t know many people who were homeschooled as children. So for us traditionally-schooled adults, we sometimes struggle to get out of the mindset of “this is what school is supposed to look like” in order to think out of the box about how we homeschool.

Homeschooling offers so many advantages. We have the power to customize our curriculum and schedules until homeschool is a perfect for a kiddo.

“Homeschooling is NOT just school at home.”

Here’s some inspiration on how to customize your homeschool classroom to fit your kid’s needs!

“What school’s supposed to be like” versus “homeschool possibilities”

Traditional School:

There should be a specific time window assigned to each class. The time windows should all be the same length. For example, math class is from 8-9, English is from 9-10, and then science is from 10-11.

Homeschool Possibilities:

A kid’s mood and ability to focus is unpredictable. One day a kid might be able to do a tracing activity for an hour and a half, and the next day that kid might be bouncing off the walls after 10 minutes of trying to focus on an activity. Let’s go with the flow and not push against a brick wall trying to force our kid to learn according to a given schedule or time slot. Our family does have a general homeschool schedule that we follow each day. (Routines are really important for kiddos.) But it’s NOT organized into time windows based on subject.

RoShamBo Homeschooling sample homeschool schedule
A sample of our typical homeschool schedule. ‘Academic learning activities’ include core subjects like math, language arts, science, and Spanish. ‘Less focused learning activities’ include more easy going projects like art and sensory play. My son is alert and focused in the mornings… not so much in the afternoons.

For example, we work on Academic Learning Activities from 9-11:30 every day. But for those 2.5 hours, I don’t care what order the subjects go in or how long we spend on each one.

Suppose that today we start with a beginning sounds game. My son loves it and wants to play it for a full hour. When he starts getting restless, I switch to something else. Maybe working on Spanish numbers. Yesterday he learned Spanish for a long time, so today he says he’s bored with that after only 5 minutes. No worries! Let’s sing our days of the week song and a few rhyming songs while talking about rhymes and end sounds. He loves singing, so even though we just do a few songs, he wants to sing them several times, and the whole “class” takes 15 minutes. Then maybe we go on a nature walk and continue talking about the different seasons and weather. Maybe he loves discussing every flower and pine cone we see, and our walk lasts an hour. Maybe he gets too hot or tired after 20 minutes and wants to go home. It’s not a big deal!

We mostly follow the unschooling philosophy, so I design learning activities around what HE’S interested in and how HE feels that day. I don’t try to force him to learn something if he’s not into it. He’ll get there eventually!

Traditional School:

A syllabus and year schedule should be created at the beginning of each school year. We should follow what the syllabus says we’re supposed to do each week and month.

Homeschool Possibilities:

The best laid plans… What if you wrote in your year schedule to spend 1 week on each letter, but your kiddo is a GENIUS and picked up the whole alphabet in 1 month? What if you wanted to do one color per week, but your kiddo is struggling to learn even one or two colors and can’t keep up with the pace?

We’re not designing curriculum for a class of 30 where we have to do what’s best for the greatest number of students. (Or where we have to do what’s most convenient in terms of scheduling.) You have ONE student (or a small handful), who you know better than anyone. You can track their learning progress and adapt your schedule to meet their individual needs.

How does this actually work for me? Do I spend every night furiously trying to write a whole new curriculum because my expectations for my son’s progress didn’t match the reality? No way!

At the start of each week, I spend 1-2 hours coming up with a list of activities I want to do that week. The list is always longer than what I think we can actually accomplish in a week because, like I said in the last point, sometimes he’ll get bored of an activity after 5 minutes and we’ll have to switch to something else.

I make sure that I pick activities that we already have all the materials for, and I print out anything else I need for the week all in that Sunday night planning session. If I think of a great activity that we don’t have the materials for, I write in on the page for next week so I don’t forget and order whatever I need on Amazon. (No running to the store 3 extra times per week because we ran out of glue for making slime or specific colors of pompoms for a counting activity!)

On an actual homeschool day, everything is prepped, so I just pull from the list.

We don’t do every subject in a given day, but we have a great mix overall for the entire week. Maybe Monday we work on a pompom counting activity, a gross motor activity, some coloring, and an easy science experiment. Oops! He doesn’t feel like coloring today, so I just pick another choice from the list!

This is the most efficient way to save time, and it’s easy for me to find activities based on his PRECISE needs/interests at the moment because I’m doing it once a week rather than trying to plan the whole month or the whole year in advance.

Looking for a cute day planner to help you map out your homeschool activities like this? This one is free and super easy to use.

Traditional School:

Worksheets, textbooks, and lectures are the best ways for students to learn.

Homeschool Possibilites:

Your child has a unique learning style.

I’m a very visual learner. I do learn very well through reading a textbook. But I struggle learning anything through auditory methods. In college, I had so many fascinating professors who were excellent lecturers, but I would walk away from class thinking, “That was really profound, but I don’t remember anything.”

Other learners are very auditory. I’ve had students who read a textbook chapter 10 times and then tell me that none of it is sinking in. My first suggestion is always to record themselves reading their notes or describing the chapter… and then play it back to themselves several times. While driving, while running, while doing the dishes, whatever. For these learners, they have to hear something in order to understand and memorize it. It’s so important to know your particular learning style. And it’s even more important to figure out your child’s learning style and design your homeschool curriculum around how they best learn!

RoShamBo Homeschooling author's son painting a picture with his entire body covered in paint

Young children rarely learn well from worksheets, textbooks, and lectures. They learn best through play! Why do a worksheet with 50 addition problems on it when you can learn addition by playing with toy cars? Why spend time merely naming colors to your kid and hoping it sinks in when you can learn colors with a fun and active ball game or with a cute animal theme printable?

Note: Sometimes there’s some confusion about the difference between a ‘worksheet’ and what homeschoolers call a ‘printable.’ Here’s what I look at when deciding if something is a homeschool printable or just a standard, boring worksheet:

  • Does it involve rote memorization instead of fun or meaningful learning? (Worksheet)
  • Is it so long and dry that young kids get bored with it? Does learning start to feel like a chore? (Worksheet)
  • Would I get really bored doing it? (Worksheet)
  • Does it feel like play? (Printable)
  • Is it artistic in a way that gets kids actively involved in learning the material and feels just like having fun with markers? (Printable)
  • Does it have a cute theme that I know my child is obsessed with, e.g. transportation or farm animals? (Printable)
  • Is it fun? Does it make learning feel enjoyable and interesting? (Printable)

Overall, finding out your child’s learning style and finding FUN activities to learn is all about making sure kids love learning rather than dread it. We want to raise lifelong learners who are fascinated by new knowledge, not kids who just want to hurry and be done with school once and for all.

Traditional Schools:

We should teach the subjects that have always been taught.

Homeschool Possibilities

Did you leave high school fully prepared for adulthood? What things did your traditional school neglect to teach you that would have made your transition to adulthood much smoother?

  • How to build a high credit score?
  • How to come up with a budget?
  • How to avoid going into debt (both personal debt and student loan debt)?
  • How student loans even work?
  • How “follow your dreams” in college is not the whole story? (I nearly double majored in Philosophy. I finished almost all of the classes—and took out additional student loans to pay for all of them. But I loved Philosophy! Those were some of my favorite classes in college! And college is all about following your heart and exploring all these fun, new ideas, right? Well, now that my student loan debt for undergraduate and graduate school combined is what it is, I wish someone had given me better advice! What about taking a few philosophy classes for elective credit… and then auditing the rest for fun to save money? What about all the students who major in things like Communication and Business, only to find that today, those don’t necessarily lead to jobs? Why don’t more young people know about trade schools? Instead of an art lover majoring in art history, why not welding, where they can still craft incredible things, but also be sure to get a great job right after graduation? I could honestly rant about this all day!)
  • How to fight racism and sexism?
  • How to have kind and loving discussions with others about oppression in ways that open hearts to new ideas rather than close minds even tighter than before?
  • How to protect the environment?
  • How to understand health insurance?
  • How to respect boundaries and actively make others feel loved beyond just saying ‘I love you’?
  • How to someday buy a house (and how to save for that day)?
  • How to invest and save for retirement?
  • How to have media literacy and deconstruct toxic messages in TV shows?

I could list a thousand more things that I wish I knew before my eighteenth birthday that traditional schools just don’t teach. Math, English, science, and history just aren’t enough.

My homeschool curriculum also includes a Social and Emotional Learning class that my son and I call “Love Class.” We also actively talk about social justice (and yes, even though he’s not even 3 yet). As he gets older, I also plan on having a Personal Finance class. I want to start that as early as possible too. We already talk a bit about saving money. But a 6- or 7-year-old is fully capable of starting to intentionally save money and learn basic concepts about budgeting money. I’m always thinking of new things I wish I had learned at a younger age. My reaction? Add it to the curriculum!

Traditional School:

Children must meet certain benchmarks at the “appropriate” or age-expected time.

Homeschool Possibilities:

All of our kids are so unique and have wildly different strengths. Of course they’re going to meet benchmarks at different times! And if your homeschooled child is ahead or below in a certain area? No big deal! You don’t have to feel the pressure of teaching to a class of 30 and moving things along to fit MOST students.

My son’s language skills are through the roof. He picked up the entire alphabet shortly before he turned 2. He learning beginning sounds super fast too. He’s not even 3, and he can have long discussions about really complicated and abstract things. (And he loves that!)

On the other hand, he’s never been great at spatial reasoning. He still gets easily frustrated with toddler puzzles he’s used since he was 1. I’ve tried so many different methods to help him get better at puzzles, but it just doesn’t make sense to his brain the way it does for so many other kids his age (or younger). He also had severe torticollis as a baby and had to go through physical therapy for how it impacted his ability to use both sides of his body. So he really struggles sometimes with certain gross motor activities. He can’t always get both sides of his body to work symmetrically. This often frustrates him so much that he wants to give up.

Child making a tower out of colorful blocks
ChPhoto by Markus Spiske on

If I were teaching 30 kids, we’d have to go through the ABCs really slowly because most kids don’t have all the sounds down until age 5 (or older! There’s so much variation). My son would be bored out of his mind! And many of the skills he struggles with would just be brushed past because he’s “behind” according to age expectations. He’d be left in the dust. Ultimately, he’d just end up falling further and further behind.

Not with homeschool! We’re working on phonics and digraphs now (I know… it’s crazy to me too and not at all what I expected). We’ll do a variety of gross motor activities and repeat the ones he struggles with, slowing down so I can teach him the motor plan. I take extra time to research ways to build up strength in, say, his left arm because it’s hard for him to throw big balls with the difference in muscle tone. And we’ll keep plugging away at different spatial reasoning activities until he catches up. Most importantly, I DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT OR COMPARE HIM TO OTHERS. Kids will get where they need to get in their own time. Oftentimes, the pressure to meet a deadline just gets in the way!

Dream Bigger than Traditional Schools

Whether you’re homeschooling as long as possible or just homeschooling until there’s an effective vaccine, homeschooling is NOT just traditional school at home. You can customize everything to perfectly meet the needs of your children. Let’s raise kids who love learning!


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