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Seven Habits of Happy Homeschooling

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Seven Habits of Happy Homeschooling

 By Linda Dobson

Family_Fun_1 homeschooling What makes a homeschooling family happy and successful? Over the past twenty-some years I’ve had opportunity to converse with homeschoolers across the country and from around the world; some of them happy, some of them not-so-happy. I see that I used the word “converse” but, mostly, I’m a listener.

I listen well and, in so doing, I’ve heard that both the happy homeschoolers and the not-so-happy have oftentimes developed habits that ultimately help determine their satisfaction with the journey, whether positive or negative. Assuming you’d prefer to learn more about the former, let’s look at some of the habits that the happy, successful homeschoolers often hold in common.

Seven Habits of Happy Homeschooling

1.  Trust in yourself and your child. It sounds just as simple today as it did back in 1967 when John Holt shared the same thought in How Children Learn (Dell). This habit that helps countless families find happiness along the homeschooling path may sound simple, but it’s often the most difficult habit to acquire because, as John explained, “Most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted.”

When it comes to our children’s education we have to discard the habit of turning to educational experts, a habit that can separate us from the feelings, thoughts and choices unique to our children and families. Taking educational responsibility keeps successful homeschoolers in touch with those feelings, thoughts, and choices. This builds trust in self as well as children’s innate, natural human tendency to grow and learn. Trust is the heart of a happy learning lifestyle.

2. Define education for your own family. Take a little time to ponder and make notes on your definition of an educated person. What skills, traits, and knowledge set does this person have? Ponder it some more, then write yourself a succinct definition. Voila, you’ve got yourself a roadmap!

Utilizing some type of road map keeps homeschoolers happy because it helps keep them focused within the vast freedom of the practice of homeschooling. I’m not talking about “7 worksheet pages per week” focused. Rather, I’m speaking of families who don’t get educationally sidetracked. You know what I’m talking about. You’re having a great homeschooling time and you hear about something a neighbor is doing, or read about another homeschooler across the country and, suddenly, you think you need to do that, too! Before you know it, you’re like a leaf being blown about by every capricious wind as you chase down every cool educational opportunity you hear about. This approach can lead to stress and burn-out, not happiness.

3. Keep the joy of learning alive. It’s simple, really. It’s much easier to keep a fire going than it is to squelch one and try to restart it later. The same goes for the internal human “fires” of wonder, curiosity, and intellectual hunger with which we’re born.

The most direct route to making sure the fire doesn’t die is to keep the joy of learning alive in the first place. The all-too-common public school experience is that the act of learning is a drag. Use the educational freedom inherent in homeschooling to keep learning fun. This is a huge advantage on the road to becoming a lifelong learner, an advantage that will serve your child well throughout his life.

4. Focus on the learning, not the teaching. Learning is most joyful and fun when your family takes the most direct route towards it. What I mean is that “teaching” is often a hazardous boulder in the learning road. Institutional educators must, of necessity, focus on teaching, as they are evaluated – and, often, promoted –  by statistics that can be measured by the “keepers of the (schooling) system.”

“Children don’t need to be ‘taught’ as much as they need a rich environment with tools and opportunities to learn,” Lillian Jones ( shared in What the Rest of Us Can Learn from Homeschooling (Three Rivers Press, 2003). When you develop the habit of focusing on learning, supplying the tools and opportunities Lillian mentions, your child will provide proof that learning outside of the schooling system is a very different experience. It’s one fueled by intrinsic motivation to learn, not by extrinsic compulsion to receive something provided by a teacher.

5. Unlearn. Happy homeschoolers know they need to think about education differently in order to approach it differently, and that’s where unlearning comes in. A very important point to unlearn is the habit of thinking that schooling and education are the same thing.

Shay Seaborne, veteran homeschooling mom (, explained it simply in What the Rest of Us Can Learn from Homeschooling: “Rather than trying to bestow knowledge upon them,” says Shay, “my children strongly prefer that I simply share my interests and enthusiasm. It is when I am genuine, not consciously trying to instruct, that they are receptive to the experience.”

Schooling really can morph into education when the parent turns ideas about education upside down and inside out, which will quickly lead to cultivating the habit of sharing the world of knowledge with your child.

6. Jump in with both feet and see mistakes as learning opportunities. Happy homeschoolers are real families with real parents who have real responses to real children who sometimes won’t clean their rooms or eat their vegetables and who make real mistakes. If we’re all going to make mistakes, anyway, why not learn from them? After all, as William James once said, “Without mistakes, how would we know what we have to work on?”

Avoiding mistakes at all costs is, I believe, yet another vestige of years of programming that most of us received courtesy of our own schooling where mistakes were wrong, tallied and placed on our records and held against us and, far too often, ridiculed by peers.

Homeschooling is practiced in so many different ways, no one can say you’re doing it wrong – or right – except your family. When you recognize a mistake, you’re free to learn from it, quickly correct it, and move on in your habit of happy homeschooling.

7. Keep up with educational issues. While you may not like the idea of “doing homework,” happy, successful homeschooling parents often spend time keeping their fingers on the pulse of the greater education world. There are many reasons for this, but here are two important ones.

Because there are so many ways for your child to learn, staying aware of recent educational research may introduce you to ideas helpful to your child’s education. Conversely, awareness could also keep you from following the educational fads that constantly pop up, saving you and your family valuable time and money.

The second reason to keep up with educational issues at the local, state and federal levels is that rules, regulations, and laws are constantly introduced and sometimes adopted. At some point these issues could result in changes that may impact your ability to homeschool in freedom. You’ll be much happier if you know about them when there’s time to do something about their impact on you, rather than after they’re a fait accompli.

Homeschooling Happily

As a homeschooling parent, you’re going to develop habits based on activities repeated so long and so often that you’ll begin to do them without even thinking about it. So why not take a cue from some of the happiest homeschoolers I’ve ever met and borrow their habits? You’ve got nothing to lose and lots of fun, family learning time to gain.

Originally appeared as one of Linda’s “Road Less Traveled” columns in Home Education Magazine. For more of Linda’s writing on homeschooling, please visit Linda’s Books.

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