Shaking Off the Shoulds of Public School

a black backpack hangs from an open school locker

It used to be that the first question I’d get after someone found out I homeschooled was, “What curriculum do you use?” It’s probably the only thing most people know to ask that doesn’t come across as judgmental. Heck, I asked it back before I signed my son out of public school for good.

Over the last year, though, the questions have shifted. What used to be polite queries have turned into interested, informed, almost intense interrogations about how they could possibly homeschool, as well. Where once my acquaintances would smile and move on, now they pounce at having someone on the inside, someone who can give them the rundown, someone who can tell them not just what it’s really like, but how they can do it, too.

My friends don’t just want my experience, they want a road map. They’re interested, but intimidated, and want to know just how to leap over that self-doubt and take their child’s education into their shaking—but capable—hands.

My son and I aren’t what I’d call seasoned homeschool veterans, but we’re not total newbs, either. We’ve been homeschooling for two years now, after two and a half years spent in public school, and we’ve found a good groove. We’re out of the honeymoon phase and just through the freak-out phase—the time when the glow of the new adventure has worn off and the reality sinks in that you really are solely and wholly responsible for your child's education.

This point is where the shoulds sneak in.

What Are the Shoulds?

The shoulds are the doubt, the guilt, the uncertainty—maybe even the remorse—that threaten your happy little homeschool days when you start to think about public school.  

  • “I don’t have all of those brightly-colored posters that his classroom used to have.”
  • “We’re done with school before 3 p.m.! Am I really doing enough?”
  • “Those field day pictures sure make it seem like she’s missing out on some great memories.”
  • “Math was really tough today. Maybe he’d be better off with someone who was trained to do this.”

The shoulds operate by comparing your homeschool to what you think public school is like. The shoulds tell you that you’re not doing enough school work, that the work isn’t vigorous enough, that it isn’t engaging enough, creative enough.

You imagine standards by starting where you fall short, then condemn yourself for not measuring up. The shoulds romanticize public school and make it seem like your child has left a perfectly-run, memory-making, citadel of study that you will never measure up to.

The shoulds find the cracks in your confidence and whisper:

  • “You should have a real classroom if you want him to learn anything.”
  • “You should be doing more worksheets if you want her to remember this.”
  • “You should be doing formal lessons.”
  • “You should be doing longer lessons.”
  • “You should be on a firm schedule.”
  • “You should have a backup plan.”
  • “You should be seeing more improvement than this.”
  • “You should be doing everything his school does.”
  • “You should be doing what you see those other homeschool families doing.”
  • “You should have the hang of this by now.”

The shoulds compare constantly but only to show you where you’re not where you (supposedly) should be.

So how do you combat the shoulds?

How do you, the insecure and freshly-minted homeschool parent quiet the voice of doubt that seemingly carries the weight of hundred of years of education experts and experience?

How to Shake Off the Shoulds

Shaking Off the Shoulds of Public SchoolThe beauty of homeschooling, as often declared, is the freedom. Homeschooling is flexible, moldable, adaptable, fluid. Shoulds are static, immovable, invariable, fixed. 

Shoulds tell you that there is only one way to do things. Nothing could be further from the truth! Homeschooling holds no place for should, and instead embraces can.

You can have a real classroom if you want. Or you can have school on the couch, on the porch, in a car, in a tent, or sitting on a table at the laundromat.

You can be doing more worksheets if you want. Or you can do no worksheets. You can show work on a chalkboard, a glass window with dry erase markers, a roll of butcher paper, a crumpled napkin, or, yes, even on a worksheet.

You can be doing formal lessons. Or you can just read together for hours.

You can be doing longer lessons. Or you can get everything done in half of the time because there are fewer interruptions, less transition time between subjects, and there aren’t 25 other people vying for your attention. Goodness, you can even take a day off when you need it!

You can be on a firm schedule. You can have a backup plan. You can be doing what you see those other homeschool families doing. But you can also do absolutely anything you want.

You should have the hang of this by now...


Every single day that you homeschool will bring something you’ve never done before. If you find yourself with a program you’re not melding with, you can switch to another. If you find that a topic is causing struggles or tears, you can take all the time you need to come at it from all the angles you want.

Every single day that you homeschool will bring something you’ve never done before.

The only way to combat the shoulds is to kick them in the CAN.

Remember what you can do. Remember that for every immovable should, there are almost infinite cans. Homeschooling is possibilities, not a prison. When you begin to doubt yourself, when you find yourself feeling insecure, when you start to wonder if this is something you should do, tell yourself that you absolutely can.

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About the Author

Jennifer VailJennifer Vail proudly lives in the great state of Texas with her very handsome husband and three very funny children. All three kids are educated in three very different ways according to their very different needs, which is exhausting but fulfilling. Jen's hobbies include naps, 90's pop culture, Netflix binges, buying books with the best of intentions to read them all, photography, and extroverting. She holds a degree in counseling but has found her calling by writing for and spending time with families of differently-wired, outlier kids—the square pegs of the round world.

She stays up way too late and drinks way too much caffeine, but has no intention of changing either. She is the community manager and contributing author at Raising Lifelong Learners where she writes about homeschooling gifted, anxious, and otherwise different kiddos, but also rambles at This Undeserved Life from time to time. She feels compelled to mention that she still very much loves the Backstreet Boys and rarely folds her laundry.