Things I Can’t Get Homeschoolers to Admit: Life Skills

This is Part 4 in a possibly never-ending series of observations on things about which many homeschoolers seem to have blind spots. I do this because I really am very poorly socialized and just don’t know when to shut up.

Homeschoolers have an amazing capacity for finding lessons in day-to-day chores. Baking a pie is a perfect lesson for a kindergartener: measuring, counting, fractions, science, and nutrition, all in one tasty pan. Building a tree-house can become a pretty thorough geometry lesson with just a little added thought. And science lessons are right outside the back door, just waiting for us to take advantage of them.

I am constantly amazed at the ways homeschoolers fit lessons into their lifestyles, and I try to emulate my betters (that would be, um, all of you) in this regard. You people are awesome. The line between school and life is often seamless for experienced homeschoolers, and I think that is a fantastic way to live. Learning is life, and life is learning.


We seem to have something of a philosophical disagreement when it comes to housework. Even my husband fails to see my point here, but I, stubborn soul that I am, maintain that we (you) homeschoolers have a big blind spot where daily chores are concerned.

Admit it, homeschoolers: Chores are not schoolwork.

Now, don’t work yourselves into a frenzy in my comments section just yet. I’ve already heard just how much kids can learn about life while cleaning their rooms. I know the drill about responsibility and self-discipline. I insist that my children do their fair share around the house, too. I just don’t think that’s homeschooling. What that is, is parenting. Period. We homeschoolers don’t have a corner on that market.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a tweet or read a blog post about how someone is putting the books away for a “life-skills” day.  I do that pretty often myself, but with a difference. I’m not calling it school. It’s not. It’s routine maintenance of the home, which they’d be doing whether I was homeschooling them or not. In states where recording attendance isn’t required, there’s no reason to even give the distinction a second thought. If your state is blessed with such freedom, school is whatever you say it is, and that’s the end of the question. Where I come from though, I’d feel just a tad dishonest marking down a housekeeping day as one of my requisite 180.


Not School

Maybe I’m missing something here, but isn’t brushing your teeth a life skill? If so, mark this down as a school day, Ma, I just brushed my teeth! I don’t know very many parents, homeschooling or not, who don’t teach their children to make their beds, clean their rooms, and feed the dog. Furthermore, I don’t often see non-homeschooling parents yanking their kids out of school because the closets just have to be cleaned today. Hey, they get credit! They’re learning! Tell that to the principal when you write the note explaining little Jimmy’s absence and see what he thinks of it.

Just a little heads-up homeschoolers: they’re onto us. We sometimes need a day off to get the house back in shape. That’s great. I encourage cleanliness! But I’ll bet it makes non-homeschooling families just a little bit crazy when we pretend that our life-skills days are any different from their weekend clean-ups and then have the audacity to give ourselves school credit for it.

Part 1 is here.

Part 2 is here.

Part 3 is here.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Tiffany May 24, 2011, 10:12 pm

    Too funny! Uh, yeah, and I don’t see how grocery shopping is “school” either. When my kids were in public school we still bought groceries and I didn’t let them stay home for it. But I can’t say much. My state doesn’t require any documentation. Maybe if they did, and I had only little ones, I’d work in some “life skills” days too.

    • Homeschooling Housewife April 7, 2012, 8:33 am

      Grocery Shopping is not “school” if you just go shopping, however it certainly can be if the kids are learning about unit pricing, price comarisons, adding up purchases, figuring taxes and percentages on sales. Looking at weird foods and bringing them home to try and looking them up to see where they come from .

      It depends on if you just shop or involve the kids in all the wonderful opportunities a store has to offer :)

  • Kimberly
    Twitter: Homeschool_zoo
    May 24, 2011, 10:22 pm

    I can’t say I’ve ever considered basic, everyday chores as schoolwork. That’s just life. We usually just pick up the house when school is done. However, if someone desperately wanted to, I could see a case for “Home Ec” sometimes. I vividly recall being graded for ironing a shirt, stitching on buttons, making my own sweat shirt and making cookies that came out the same size in public school High School Home Ec class! (and doing the dishes thereafter)

  • Tina May 24, 2011, 11:39 pm

    Cindy, You are spot on here, dear. I have heard it said many times that school didn’t happen but child training did (as opposed t chores). Discipline, I do believe, can happen by insisting school work is completed. It doesn’t have to be character or education. It can be both.

  • Eryn
    Twitter: leighbra
    May 25, 2011, 1:01 am

    I guess I hadn’t run into this. I’m sure I’ll see it around, now that you’ve mentioned it.

    My daughter did chores when she was in public school, she still does chores now that she’s homeschooled.

    Like you said: Parenting.

  • Amanda May 25, 2011, 7:14 am

    Hi Cindy,

    I recently stumbled upon your blog through another and I have enjoyed your refreshing posts. Although my husband and I are praying for children, we do not yet have them. In my community I am in the minority because we are more than likely not going to homeschool and many of our family and friends homeschool. I do want to do teach my children many things before they go to kindergarten and I really appreciate how valuable my homeschooling friends and family are when it comes to their knowledge and insight. I respect their decision to homeschool. I do feel I have received some judgment from a family member in the past when I shared that my desire was not to homeschool yet another homeschooling family member supported me. It’s not an even an issue anymore. I just wanted to say that I appreciated the post where you discussed that homeschooling is not for everyone because I feel like one of those people and I have my own personal reasons (meaning reasons that I don’t feel like the best homeschool mom/teacher) and I wanted to thank you for some reassurance for that.

    What a wonderful blog you have!


  • Sheila Gregoire
    Twitter: sheilagregoire
    May 25, 2011, 7:59 am

    So, so very true! Well said!

    That makes me a little crazy, too. I also know people who run a business, and they don’t “school” their kids at all. They just use their children in their business.

    This one does bear more resemblance to school, since it’s kind of like a co-op, and they are learning about the real world. But at some point you still do need to learn how to write a decent paragraph or a memo, and you do need to learn how to multiply fractions. What if your child doesn’t end up wanting to take over the family business? What if they always wanted to be a nurse, or a graphic designer, or something totally different?

    I firmly believe in immersing kids in the real world, but if we are going to homeschool them, then we should school them. They need to learn the 3 R’s. Absolutely. And I think it’s sad when parents miss that opportunity to teach our kids well!

    Sheila from To Love, Honor and Vacuum.

  • Brandy aka Lil'Momma May 25, 2011, 12:11 pm

    I could not agree more!!!! Kids that are in public school/private school are asked to do the same things that our homeschool kids are asked to do, w/ chores usually. So why would it be considered schooling? If a parent chose to take on a “home ec” course and teach it to their child that would be a whole other story, where there was things that had to be followed and test at the end but not just do the laundry and make dinner and we will call that home ec lesson for the day. Love your post I am going to go back and read the other 3 post. OH I found your blog on the Ultimate Homeschool Blog Roll. :^)

    Lil’ Momma
    Living with a hard working husband, 2 preschoolers and 1 middle schooler who are Five in Training for HIM

  • Katie
    Twitter: class413
    May 25, 2011, 12:33 pm

    I’m not n a “frenzy” lol, but I will disagree in part. I remember learning “life skills” in school. We students were responsible for picking up after ourselves and cleaning our work area. We even on occasion cleaned the black boards or emptied trash. As a part of a civic group in high school we picked up litter, swept hallways, and more.

    I have no issue with calling similar tasks a part of our school day, but maybe that’s just me.

  • republicanmother May 25, 2011, 12:53 pm

    I never thought of calling chores “life skills” and trying to play them up into schoolwork. But this year I am going to put Home Econ on my daughter’s grade sheet as she has cooked about half the meals this past school year and gone above and beyond with cleaning. In high school home ec. you carry around that flour baby and make biscuits – but she has been carrying around a real baby and baking bread -so ha!
    My state doesn’t require extensive documentation -thank goodness. My kids do take SATs through our umbrella school and if it looks good on there (meaning it would look good to an outside official) I don’t worry about it. I judge progress by “are we reading?” ” do we know all our multiplication facts by the end of 3rd grade?”, etc.
    For some of us, it takes more than a day to get the house in shape:)

  • Annie Kate May 26, 2011, 10:32 pm

    What’s schooling depends on the ages and stages of your kids. Matching socks is a learning skill for little ones. Reading a recipe and doubling it is a learning experience for my 8 year old; it’s a confidence booster as well. Calculating the volume of wet sand that will weigh half a ton is a reasonable math problem. Measuring how deep to plant seeds, planning garden rotation, or deciding how to transition from puppy food to adult dog food requires a lot of high level reasoning skills, depending on the maturity of the child involved.

    I suppose the point one must consider is that the first time, or dozen times, something can be a learning experience. After that it becomes a chore, and is no longer eligible to be counted as schoolwork.

    Annie Kate

  • Mary May 27, 2011, 8:04 am

    This post is hilarious and I mostly agree. When it comes to high school, things like cooking, cleaning, sewing, gardening, building shelves, grocery shopping (requires planning and budgeting) can all be done for Home Ec credit. It could also be called life skills. I agree that taking the day off from “real” learning to do those things is silly and it wouldn’t make for a school day.

  • Sonita @
    Twitter: therubynotebook
    May 31, 2011, 9:39 pm

    Well I’ll throw in my 2 cents 😀 *waves*

    I think it can be a dishonest thing for homeschoolers to count some things as school, but on the other hand…PS teaches things like waiting in line and crowd control much better than we homeschoolers can and it counts as ‘school’, as do pep rallys, fire/torando drills (I don’t see many homeschoolers counting that as school).

    I think the fact that PS has such long hours and so much homework to done in the hours after school, that many PS kids do lack real life skills, such as grocery shopping and how to do chores.

    I see too many teenagers graduate high school and not know how to do simple, real life things. Things that a well educated young adult should know, like how to balance a checkbook, how to plan a menu, follow a recipe and how to do comparison shopping to get the best deal for your dollar on your groceries. Those are real skills. Useful skills. And probably used much more often by the majority of society than grammar rules. (Not that I have anything against learning grammar, just sayin’)

    I remember my 8th grade home ec class. We had to do this cross stitch thing, when we then used as the center for a pillow that we had to sew and stuff ourselves. We made hot chocolate from scratch, and learned to sew on a button. 14 year olds!! This was the majority of the basis for our grade for 12 weeks!!

    My 7 year old can make hot chocolate from scratch and I doubt it would take 10 weeks to teach him how to sew a button, cross stitch and sew/stuff a pillow!

    So I say if homeschoolers want to take a day to do chores and baking projects and spring cleaning and teach their children how to function in the real world, how to maintain a home, how to pitch in and help out for the good for the whole (family), then more power to them! Many PS kids would probably benefit greatly from such lessons.

    I agree making a 16 year old wash a sink full of dishes isn’t a learning lesson. But teaching a 7 year old ADHD boy how to wash dishes IS a learning lesson! He must learn how to pay attention to detail, to wash the entire dish, inside and out, wash every nook and cranny of it-it is a very important life lesson. He must learn how much soap to put in the water, why it is important to rinse well, how to place dishes in the drainer so they actually drain to dry, how to stack dishes in the drainer so they all fit and don’t fall out, etc. This are very simple things to me and you, but are a good stepping stone for learning for a young child…

  • Tara @ Feels Like Home
    Twitter: TaraZiegmont
    June 5, 2011, 8:24 am

    I like this series a lot, Cindy. I think some of the commenters made good points, too. There is value in tasks that encourage learning, and learning life skills is as important as learning math. But for the most part, I agree with you. Picking up your room, setting the table, cleaning your clothes… not school.

  • Amy @ Raising Arrows
    Twitter: raising_arrows
    June 21, 2011, 1:05 am

    You are cracking me up, Cindy! Great series, by the way.

  • sep June 21, 2011, 10:51 am

    i mostly agree with you. if this type of ‘school’ is a pattern, that is not good. however, i used to teach ps and i cannot tell you how many housekeeping days we had at the end of the year. especially now with the standardized testing being at the end of may. the last two weeks were spent cleaning the room, turning in books, listening to audio cds, etc… endless award ceremonies, extra long recess, etc… and those were all part of the 180.

    so, although the ps is not my measuring stick, i do not feel any guilt in taking a day to tackle some much needed projects. homeschool is what I decide it is because I am the parent. I’m educating my children as I see fit, not the government. if i think teaching them to care for the home is a priority, then I can make it as much or as little of our day as I wish. personally, i am fairly strict with my time spent schooling and this is not the habit of our lives, but I really do not fault others who do, if they are taking great care to ‘educate’ their children as they see fit, not just being lazy bums who make their kids clean up for them. :)

    not to be disagreeable. :)

  • Happy Elf Mom June 21, 2011, 1:03 pm

    Hello! Stopping in from the Carnival. I have to agree with what sep said; if it is a pattern, it really isn’t “school.” But certainly baking a cake or doing the laundry can certainly be counted toward home ed. hours if one is reasonable. Having a child tag along while I throw things in the cart and pay for them is different than that.

    • Cindy June 21, 2011, 4:53 pm

      Yes, it is very different! I can’t count how many times I’ve heard moms say “Well, we went shopping and that includes math, health, and social studies!”

      Um, really? Every time you go you get something different out of that? NO! LOL. Thanks for dropping by!

  • Angie June 21, 2011, 3:53 pm

    You make a good point. It always seemed like hubris to insist that cleaning, which unfortunately is more necessary when you’re home all day with children, is part of schooling! If anything, cleaning is part of the monkey on your back that makes managing homeschooling more difficult. Thank you for calling a spade a spade.

  • Katie June 21, 2011, 8:05 pm

    School is life. Life is school. I don’t care if some people like to make a distinction. I don’t. :) I just play the little portfolio game the state wants me to, and other than that we do what needs to be done.

    And no, my house isn’t clean. There was a zoo to go to…

  • Melissa June 22, 2011, 5:11 pm

    This topic is actually one I address in a Squidoo lens I wrote called Homeschooling? Six Things You Should Know.

    On the one hand, I believe there is more to education than bookwork. “Book learning is important and should not be neglected. However, our children will also require a variety of skills throughout life, and doing chores is the perfect way to learn those skills. This type of learning should be a part of all childrens’ education and you should never feel guilty for requiring it of yours.”

    But on the other hand, I am not one to neglect the scholastic side of education and it really does bug me when homeschoolers try count EVERYTHING as part of their school time. “It’s true that all of life is educational, but that’s true even for those who DON’T homeschool. It’s OK for your children to experience some things as nothing more than a normal part of family life.” I think, for the most part, it is an attempt to relieve feelings of guilt (that shouldn’t be there in the first place) because they are trying to make their homeschool be what everyone else thinks it should be, rather than what their children need it to be.

  • Bethany June 23, 2011, 2:47 pm

    I would have to say it is all in how the “living skill” is approached.

    There is a definitely a difference in driving the car (you know the one at the front of the cart) through the grocery store and doing the budgeting and meal planning for the week, comparison pricing, and couponing. The later I would classify as home economics or consumer math. An abuse of a living skill would be considering driving the car as driver’s education. :)

    Honestly, life seems to be WAY different for us homeschoolers. I remember a time we went to the zoo with a non-homeschooling family. They would blow passed all of the plaques and displays about the animals, glance at the animal, and hurry off to the next. My daughter and I spent time reading about the animals and for at least 20 minutes we watched the gorillas. Both our family and the family that was with us went to the zoo, but we were homeschooling while we were there.

    Just because families “do” the same things that homeschool families “do,” doesn’t mean that homeschoolers are not homeschooling.

  • Nicole
    Twitter: simplelilhome
    November 8, 2011, 10:25 pm

    So, um, I know I’m a little late to this, but I have a perpetual tardiness problem. Forgive me? 😉

    I mostly agree with this… But (come on, you knew there had to be one of those.)

    In my state, you’re required to document 4.5 hours per day and 180 days per year starting in KINDERGARTEN. Seriously? I can (generally) get through *2* solid days’ worth of curriculum – Phonics, Math-U-See, Handwriting, History, Geography, Bible – in about two hours.We attain total mastery about 90% of the time, and if we DON’T have total mastery, we repeat it every day until we DO.

    So… what the heck am I supposed to tell the state I did for the other 2.5 hours of ‘school’? He’s 5, for goodness sake!

    So, we cook the books. It is what it is, and I make no apologies. We’ve completely covered our stuff – and he gets it. If I have to throw in some cooking for Math, and some coloring while I pay bills ‘Art’, and call nagging my son for 45 minutes to eat his eggs in the name of Health/Nutrition ‘school’, then that’s what I’m going to do. At the end of the day, we’re doing this because we want the best education for our kids that they can get – and no one entities’ specific guideline of hours and days will ensure that. Only *I* can.

    I know that, eventually, those ‘extra’ hours will be legitimately used with school time. But right now, my 5 year old is excelling with half of that. I guess it just comes down to judgement calls.

    On that note, I love your blog (which I just found tonight). I’ll definitely be back. :-)

  • Anne March 16, 2012, 1:27 am

    This is a good discussion and I’m glad I stumbled upon it. I confess…I’m one who counts everything as school. To me schooling is about training and discipleship…being a mentor to my children. We do plenty of book work..but the real learning happens when we talk, pray, and read together. Some days we spend more time on character issues than on anything else. We learn while we are driving our car, at church, practicing hospitality…whatever. We learn by reading together, cooking together, playing music and even cleaning together.
    I guess if I compared our homeschool to public school all of this would not count…but at our house it all counts and I keep a journal to record our progress…our struggles and what we are studying. Homeschooling is about living out life together at home or on the road…7 days a week.
    Thanks so much for your wonderful and helpful site.

    • Cindy March 16, 2012, 5:47 am

      Shhhhh! Don’t tell anybody, but I count everything as learning, too. It’s just that our state has some logging requirements, and the spirit of that particular law doesn’t really include life skills. LOL. Thanks for dropping by! I hope you’ll come back soon!

  • Anne March 20, 2012, 1:09 am

    Thanks Cindy. I’ve got ya bookmarked…so I’ll try to visit again.
    Blessings to you! Anne

  • Katie April 10, 2013, 1:43 pm

    But, if you think about it, there are plenty of days in a public school setting where the children have to clean out their desks, and help clean up the classroom. They also have to clean up after themselves when they do center time or things like that. It’s not all the time, but it’s definitely incorporated into the educational day. While I agree that a full day of cleaning shouldn’t necessarily count – I do think that bits of it interspersed throughout the daily routine IS absolutely educational for them and appropriate to be counted within the parameters of homeschooling time. The heavy stuff should be saved for Saturday, imo. :)