I was homeschooled in the ’90s—and here’s what it was like

I was homeschooled by my mother from the age of four until the age of 14, when I began taking classes at the community college as a “concurrent high school student.” So all of my grade school experiences were at home, and within the homeschool community that we belonged to. I was also the third child in a family of six kids, and we were all homeschooled together, by our mother alone.

Let me just get this out of the way: It’s weird. We were weird, and I’m still weird. But in a good way.

Did we work in television and film? Were we a military family? Nope. My mom just wanted to know everything that her kids were learning, and putting us in public school didn’t give her that option. So she became our full-time mother, principal, and teacher. I grew up hearing a lot of misconceptions about what being home schooled actually meant, and what we actually did. Some were funny, some were insulting, but all were derived from a genuine place of ignorance, not because people were jerks. They just didn’t know. So what was it like to be homeschooled? Here are a few answers.

No, you don’t actually get to go to school in your pajamas

Most kids didn’t realize that we still had to go to school, even if it was only downstairs. My mother made us make our beds, get dressed, and put shoes on even though our classroom was just a floor away. So no, I never did school in my pajamas. Except when I was sick. But the thing about being sick when you’re homeschooled is that it’s pretty hard to play hooky: According to my mom, if you’re well enough to watch TV, you’re well enough to do math problems.

Homeschooling isn’t necessarily religious

Our home was religious, but we knew plenty of secular home school families too. It’s not a requirement.

Your public school friends keep you in the know

Homeschooling doesn’t mean you’re a hermit, but sometimes it means that it’s harder to keep up with the newest kid trends. Jump rope rhymes, hand games like Cat’s Cradle and Slide, MASH, slap bracelets: all that knowledge came from my amazing best friend who went to public school, so I was never out of tune with pop culture.

You’re actually not home all that often

Being homeschooled  meant we had more time to participate in extracurricular activities. My mom kept all six of us involved with sports, dance, art classes, music classes, 4-H club, and theater groups. In all honesty, we probably spent more time in the car than we did at home, we were so busy.

You still get to go on field trips!

Because we weren’t stuck in a classroom every day, there was more time in the day to go out and see how the world worked. We did that through some good old-fashioned field trips! We were part of a home school support group, which was just a group of different home school families, and with them, we went to museums, factories, the Krispy Kreme donut shop, memorials, concerts, Shakespearean workshops. You name it, we did it. I can’t even remember half of the things we did, but I do remember that Krispy Kreme field trip. It was delicious.

You actually aren’t socially inept

It’s a common stereotype that homeschooled kids are cloistered and weird. But it’s not necessarily so. There are all kinds of homeschooled kids: introverts and extroverts, athletes and poets. In our theater classes, we were around people of all ages, all the time.

You have to get used to explaining what happens at home

“Does your mom teach you all together?” “Are there lectures?” “Do you take notes?”: Those were the kinds of questions I’d get asked almost daily. The truth is, every family was different, but the way we did it followed traditional schooling pretty closely. We all followed the typical American grade system (K-12), and each year we went up a grade, meaning we went up a year in curriculum as well. Every summer my mom attended a home school convention (they exist!) where she would gather new books and programs for each of us, dependent on our grade at the time, and then she would come up with lesson plans.

For the most part, we used workbooks and textbooks, but as the years went on and technology progressed, new programs were created where you could just pop in the VHS tape (yes, VHS tape!) and watch a lesson on Biology or Math or Spanish, and then complete the lesson in the workbook. These days, it’s all about the online classes and computer games. If only Google maps had existed when I was learning geography. Sigh.

The most common question people will ask me now is, “how did you like it?” And the honest answer is, I didn’t know any better! Did I hate it? No. Did I love it? I guess as much as any kid loves school! Would I home school my own kids? That’s hard to answer considering I don’t have kids.

I loved my childhood, and I loved my home school life. I don’t regret not going the public school route, because it just makes my own experience very different, very weird, yet very unique. And if there’s one thing homeschooling taught me, it was that: going against the norm is pretty great.

Leah Di Paola is a cheese-loving, vacuum enthusiast who is currently in a relationship with every show on BBC America. Her best friend is a dachshund mix named Pretzel, and she can be found singing in her car while sitting in LA traffic most of her days. She’s been taking one photo-a-day since 2010, and you can follow her daily revelations on Twitter and Instagram @leah_dipaola, or on her blog, leahdipaola.com

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