Are Homeschooled Kids Smart Enough?

What's the difference between school smart and real world smart? As it turns out, quite a bit!

Last summer at a family reunion, as I sat talking with a distant relative about homeschooling, she asked me a series of questions that were a bit difficult to answer. 

I don’t want to insinuate that she asked with any malice; she was genuinely interested and simply had never been exposed to a homeschooling family before. However, several of her inquiries threw me for a loop- one in particular:

How do you know if your kids are smart enough?

What's the difference between school smart and homeschool smart?

I honestly can’t remember how I responded- shamefully, I may have mumbled something about standardized test scores. To my defense, I was so surprised to be asked that question that I had never thought about it before.

As it turns out, hindsight really does work wonders, and after having PLENTY of time to ponder this question, I finally have the answer.

Are Homeschooled Kids Smart Enough?

In order to answer this, I first had to realize that there is a difference between what the common populace thinks of as smart, (or what I like to call “school smart”) and real world smart, (or “homeschool smart”).

Let’s start with school smart.

The type of kids who are generally considered to be good students, or smart, in a traditional school setting are those who:

  • perform well on tests
  • are good at memorizing
  • can parrot information
  • complete their work on time
  • can sit still for long lengths of time
  • are quiet and obedient

Sound about right? That sure does leave out a lot of kids, though, doesn’t it?

On the other end we have homeschool smart.

Although there are many, many homeschooling families who tend to recreate school at home, no matter what approach is used, homeschoolers tend to look at the issue of intelligence in a completely different light.

You see, the problem with the school definition of smart is that it doesn’t take into account that there are many kinds of “smart.” The children who can fulfill the school expectations of them are only one example of the many forms that true intelligence can take. And to be perfectly frank, I don’t think any of the above mentioned traits have anything at all to do with intelligence and have everything to do with personality and obedience.

But that’s a post for a different day.

Which brings us to the homeschool definition of smart.

The vast majority of homeschooling parents recognize that true intellect does not come from being able to spew forth memorized trivia and other unrelated information, but in the ability to:

  • research any needed information
  • question those things that need to be questioned, which are often the same things that are considered untouchable in a school setting
  • know where to find resources
  • apply those skills learned in a real world setting

You can’t get much more different between the two meanings, can you?

Additionally, where traditional schools fail to recognize the accomplishments of many, many out-of-the-box thinkers, homeschoolers tend to embrace them.

My Perfect Little Anecdote

As an example, let me tell you a story about my 17 year old son. Several years ago, he decided to go back to school for one year in middle school. Since he has ADHD, he was given an IEP and learning support.

So far, so good…or so I thought.

Soon after the school year began, I noticed he was bringing home 5th grade worksheets even though he was in 7th grade. Having homeschooled him for several years before that, I knew what he was capable of. Thus, despite the fact that I’m not one to get hung up on grade levels, I knew exactly what they were doing-

Since he didn’t fit the ideal school model, he was being kept busy while being pushed aside.

Thankfully, I pulled him out after that exasperating year, because homeschooling has allowed him to learn in a way that works for him without making him feel like he isn’t good enough or smart enough.

I honestly don’t know what his teachers saw in him, but I suspect it was anything but intelligent. Oddly enough, I am able to see him as one of the brightest kids I know because he is no longer being crushed into conforming to standards that were never meant for kids like him.

Does he like to read? Nope.

Does he like to write? No way.

What about math? Well, let’s put it this way. He has his own way of doing it. He gets the right answers, but he’d never do it the way they wanted him to in school. And that’s okay with me.

The thing is, it’s not any of those skills that schools seem to give the most weight to that he cares about. What he cares about is nature. He cares about reptiles, amphibians, arachnids, and everything in between. This kid who was pushed aside during his time in school is one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever met when it comes to identifying these creatures he’s so enamored with. Not only can he tell you what they are, but where they’re found, what they eat, and whether or not they’re venomous/poisonous.

And despite the fact that schools, including colleges, will tell you that kids need to learn this and that to have a “well-rounded education,” it’s simply not the case.

My son wants a career in the wildlife field, be it a photographer, a biologist, or a naturalist. The skills he has the time to pursue at home are those skills that will equip him. Not reading Shakespeare, diagramming sentences, or factoring polynomials.

This is where school gets it wrong.

Intelligence isn’t something that can be poured into a student. It’s something they need to be given the opportunity to obtain for themselves.

So, yes, homeschooled kids are smart enough- the kind of “smart” that counts in the real world, not only in a classroom.

Has anyone ever asked you this question? What was your response? And don’t forget to join my FB group!


Author: Shelly Sangrey

I'm Shelly, a Christ-following, homeschooling Mom of eleven children ( okay, not ALL children. My oldest is 23.) I met my husband right after graduation, and we've been together ever since. Though my life can be hectic at times... okay, ALL the time, I wouldn't change it for anything.

29 thoughts on “Are Homeschooled Kids Smart Enough?”

  1. The term “smart enough” is a loaded term. First, it presumes a goal. Smart enough for what? To be homeschooled? Or to measure up to peers in high school? Or to survive and even prosper in the real world ?
    It also presumes some measuring stick of “smartness” that applies equally to all, and which does not exist.
    It presumes a definitive set of parameters, a set of boxes to check, to prove ones worth, ones worthiness of respect. This also is a fiction.
    Finally, it presumes that smartness, or intelligence,(perhaps measured on an IQ or standardized test) is a gauge, or bell curve charting human value, and that only those above a certain notch can be considered successful. This is a form of ableism, and very dangerous indeed, as well as being disproven daily by real people.
    My answer is, it is my right to homeschool my children, regardless of how “smart” they are on any scale, and that there is no minimum score to attend public school (anymore) so why should homeschoolers be interrogated on this point?
    I think the underlying question is actually, crassly worded, “what makes you think you’re smart enough to homeschool your child?”

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Re: “Bell-curve charting human value”. I had been trying to think of the root of the problem with this question, and I think you got it. Basing a person’s value on their utility is only a few steps away from eugenics.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Wonderful!!!! There’s an awesome book out there by Kathy Koch, “How Am I Smart?” So, so helpful when trying to help a kid who thinks they aren’t.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Excellent! I have my kids in school this year and I’m looking forward to pulling them back in. The school and the teachers have both been great, but my kids are starting to lose that interest in learning, reading, and exploring.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I loved your article and can relate to it on so many levels as I see a lot of similarities between your son and mine who is a 1st grader with a mild ADHD. However, he is a brilliant kid with a lot of out of box intelligence. One of my worries with public schools has been that they will bring down his current level of learning, instead of focusing on the core issue on hand- in his case it is only attention aspect. He can read and do math perfectly for his age, but will he sit down and do it himself? In most cases not and does need a strong push from me. But he is an avid learner and if something grabs his attention, in his case, his love of nature, like your son, he would sit and focus for a longer time. A lot of kids out there with attention problems but exceptional intelligence, and those kids need to be supported and elevated without downplaying their learning abilities in view of their weaknesses.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Both your account and Shelly’s remind me of the youngest child on The Durrells in Corfu recently on PBS. A child immersed in nature hating the straightjacket of traditional schooling. Very funny for parents to watch but maybe a bit risqué for the little ones. Good luck to both of you!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Well, I don’t know. I think homeschooled children can be just as smart as brick and mortar schooled children. And, some may not be. Same as brick and mortar schooled kids can also be as “smart” as homeschooled children. I know a homeschooling mom who has a child (she’s 12) and she’s doing pretty advanced algebra. As I was saying, it depends on the child, as well as it does a brick and mortar schooled child.


    1. I would let him choose his own books to read – don’t worry about assigning any, and try incorporating math into everyday life, such as learning fractions with baking, multiplication with Yahtzee, etc. Look into what living math is. My kids also love You can start him on the grade level that he is at now. Don’t worry so much about that. Grade levels are completely arbitrary and don’t take into account the individual child. They are honestly only there to help schools group the kids according to age. Just try to keep things fun, laid back, and don’t let him see you get stressed over it. ❤ Chances are, one of these days he'll take a giant leap in his learning.


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