Recently a friend, who is nearing the end of her homeschooling years, shared that she taught her sons with no co-ops, no lesson plans, and no professional teachers or courses of study.  Just three boys and their books doing their daily school work at the kitchen table.  

At IAHE, we often receive requests from new homeschoolers asking how to get involved in a co-op.  We want families to understand that co-ops are not necessary.  Home education’s positive results are due to parents teaching their own at home.  The intensive time spent teaching their own children is what has paid big dividends and resulted in a top notch education for many home educated students.

Here’s Susan’s story:

As I am approaching the close of my homeschooling career which began in 1996 and will end in May 2017, I recently received some good news. My youngest, as a first semester junior, received his ACT score. His composite score was 33. He had taken the PSAT as a sophomore, and did well, but we chose to forego the PSAT as a junior, and instead focus on the ACT, to minimize the number of tests so that he could maximize his time on other activities.

One reason we decided to forego the PSAT as a junior was because we were not interested in the work it takes to become a Finalist, if he did score well enough to compete for that honor. Again, we were considering the cost of time, and the busy-ness to come: applying to colleges and writing essays, traveling for college visits, completing scholarship applications, and keeping up with his Civil Air Patrol duties and Tae Kwon Do training and teaching. Also, my oldest had taken the PSAT and earned a “Commended” ranking. In the end, it didn’t matter; his roommate in college was a Finalist, and there was no significant difference in the scholarship money awarded to him and my son. My middle son’s PSAT test was lost. So, instead, my youngest prepared for the ACT.

My older two did well on the ACT, scoring 33 and 32. They did well on the SAT, too. My oldest scored 800 on reading, 740 on writing and 680 on math. I cannot locate my second son’s SAT scores, but they were near that. None of the boys enrolled in test prep classes. For the older two, I bought the current year’s test study book and they plowed through that as part of their daily school work. For my youngest, I bought nothing. He prepared by using the ACT website’s study guides.

How did my boys’ achieve their success? Did they have expert teachers? Attend local homeschool co-ops? Find online classes and tutors to nurture them along? No. They each worked hard, at the kitchen table, on their own. Homeschooling, without co-ops, online classes, or tutors produces independent learners who can achieve academic success and earn scholarships.

Since I was homeschooling, I didn’t think it necessary to write lessons plans… that was something done at public and private schools, I thought. Instead, my plan was to follow the old paths and to stand on the wise shoulders of those who came before: I highly recommend to you my friends Harvey and Laurie Bluedorn of triviumpursuit.com. Theirs was the first homeschool seminar I attended in 1996 when beginning the journey that is now nearing completion.   IAHE-button-cropped

What gave our homeschool the foundation for future success was Trivium Pursuit’s article, “Ten Things to do with Your Child Before Age Ten”. These ten things establish the foundation on which the later years build. These ten (reading, writing, narration, obedience, service, etc.) helped to establish discipline and order. Teaching to read and write was time intensive and training in obedience is a labor of love, but the rewards are rich in the years to follow. When expectations are laid out and established early, they become a habit and a routine which provides the momentum to continue. Another recommendation of Laurie’s that I put into practice was little to no television. As a substitute, we did a couple of hours of reading aloud each day. As I look back, this was all of our favorite part of homeschooling. I think that we would have never done this, had we participated in co-ops or online or outside classes. Along with no television, until their high school years which required hours of online research, I did not choose computer learning, except for typing. I believe the less screen time, the better.

One item NOT on the list to do before age ten is formal math. I did not start textbook math with my younger two boys until they were almost 10. We then started Saxon 54 and both boys completed 54, 65, and 76, in two years. I had read about the value of delaying formal math
from Trivium Pursuit. It saves time and difficulties because the brain is more developed and able to handle abstract concepts (which is why there are so many manipulative type elementary math curriculae) and it goes into the proper location in the brain and is more easily retrieved. For further information, I recommend this article I read years ago. If you do a search for “math” on the triviumpursuit.com website, you will find more recent posts.

Initially, in addition to learning Latin along with the older two, I would read aloud to them their daily history, science and math lessons. But when the youngest needed to be taught to read and write, I did not have time to do this and all my other duties, so the older two were then on their own. My middle son once complained that he thought he could learn better if he could just listen to his lessons instead of reading them. I apologized to him, and let him know that listening is a good way to learn, but reading is, too. Though he may have preferred to be an auditory learner, he transitioned successfully to learning visually. Eventually, both have to be mastered. In that regard, our schooling was more traditional. It was done at a desk or at the kitchen table. I did allow quiet play and art work during our read aloud times, but for traditional subjects, I don’t agree with kinesthetic learning. In the past 5 or 6 years, I read an article in the WSJ reporting on a study that gave little value to learning styles which confirmed my practice. The most memorable line from that review was that eventually, you cannot learn algebra by dancing.

One subject that I wish I had started earlier in my boys education and that I might add to the list of “Ten things before age ten,” was learning to play an instrument. The beauty of music learning to play an instrument, or study music, is that it involves all three learning pathways. However, there was only so much time in the day, and my days, and theirs, were full. I am thankful that today music is a rich part of their lives.

Later, during our high school years, there were times it would have been helpful to have a tutor or for the boys to be in a class. When the boys encountered problems they could not understand and were beyond my ability, I recommended emailing the publishers. That often worked. But I don’t think my youngest ever took my advice. I think he was too stubborn and persevered by re-working the problem until he got it. It was my requirement that each wrong answer be corrected to corrected, and by their junior/senior years, I allowed them to grade their own work, except for essays.

Despite the bumps along the way, my oldest scored well enough in math on the ACT that he tested out of it for college; however, since he was in the Honor’s Program, Calculus was required. He got an A and even tutored other students the next year. My middle son, when he took calculus in college as part of the Honors Program, said that math was not so difficult when someone explained it to you. In this regard, his high school math was harder than his college Calculus. One time, when in class, his professor said that he had prepared a visual answer to one of the problems but he liked the diagram a student did, better, and up went Eddie’s answer for the class to see.

Math had its rough spots, but writing was tough, too, though I very much liked our curriculum, Put That In Writing. Grading essays was my least favorite task. Once when my oldest was in college he called home and asked how I was doing and I said I was crabby because I was grading an essay. He said, “Don’t be crabby, just be mean.” Being tough with your grades is helpful in the long term.

Chemistry was another subject that gave me trouble, but not the boys. Instead of grading their work with all those confusing significant figures, I let them grade their work themselves. There was dinner to fix, and laundry to do and dogs to walk, and not enough time to get everything done, so that was my solution to my chemistry dilemma.

Other subjects my boys studied on their own were Latin, Greek and Logic. Though we did not participate in co-ops, my boys all were active participants in our local homeschool speech and debate club. Going to tournaments was one of the highlights of their secondary school
years. They made friends quickly while learning valuable life skills and were successful as partners with each other and with others. Non-academic activities they participated in, included tae kwon do, hunting, fishing, trapping, shooting, gardening (selling produce) and work.

With only one year to go with my last son, there are few things I would have done differently. To do all that we did, including reading nearly 500 books aloud before the oldest went to college, going on vacation on our schedule, participating heavily in speech and debate, while at the same time spending money only on books and supplies (and speech and debate), would have made participating in a co-op or online class schedules difficult, though I know many do, and with resulting test scores comparable to my sons. But there are a couple of differences. Besides the low cost and the scheduling freedom, there is the proof that homeschooling can be successfully done completely in the home, without professionals. It doesn’t really take a village; it takes a family. There is also no doubt that learning independently can be difficult… but not without its rewards: Hebrews 12:1 says: “No discipline seem pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Similarly, the discipline of learning on your own, produces a harvest of good character and that good character has its rewards. Yet none of this would have been possible were it not for those who went before. I stand on their shoulders and reap the harvest of their work, whether it was winning legal battle or writing curriculum or paving the path for others to follow. May our homeschooling veterans be blessed.


Susan Hoffmann is a homeshooling mother and that has been her favorite job, ever. She graduated from Valparaiso University with Distinction and Senior Honors with a BS in Home Economics. She did her dietetic internship at The Christ Hospital (Cincinnati) and worked as a staff dietitian B.C. (before children). Being a stay at home mom and looking ahead to schooling options with despair, she rejoiced when she first heard about homeschooling on Focus on the Family. From then on, she wanted to homeschool, all the way through, not “one year at a time”. Now that two are graduated and one nearly there, she fills my hours with as many miles on my bike as time and weather allow. Other than that, she has never written to be published and consider it one of her weaker skills. 

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