Homeschooling in the ’80s

I was homeschooled Back In The Day.

The days of the ‘80s and early ‘90s. When Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston ruled the charts, My Little Ponies were brand new, we pegged our acid wash jeans, even the manliest men wore short shorts and mesh crop tops, and the internet hadn’t been invented yet.

Photography Class

Neighborhood thugs, the lot of ’em. I was taking the photo with my trusty camera, the one that I had to buy a roll of 24 exposure film for, all by myself, because apparently one of our homeschool classes was Get A Job, Kid.

If I touched the film strip with my Pop Rock dusted fingertips, the whole roll was ruined. Each and every shot had to be painstakingly planned, then when the roll was finished I would rewind the film – making that whirring song I can still hear – and mail it off to Kodak with a check for $3.99. Then I waited, like, 4-6 weeks for them to send me my photos, half of which were terrible or blurry shots of my thumbs.


Nowadays, homeschoolers have the best of the best in curricula choices. Endless varieties to suit your style, your needs, your budgets, your religion, your every whim. Choices, so many choices beckoning the homeschool mom. It’s a little overwhelming.

Things are beautiful and sparkly and catch the eye. They come in boxed sets, delivered to your house, to be set up in a Pinterest worthy school room, where everything is labeled and laminated.

Back in the ’80s you had a Trapper Keeper and a Saxon math book, and maybe some of those pencils you begged your mom for: the plastic tube kind that had a dozen tiny pencil leads in little pink capsules that you lined up and could rotate around. Lose just one of those capsules (likely to be sucked up in Mom’s Rainbow vacuum) and you were screwed.


Research was hard in the ’80s homeschool world. If you wanted an answer to something you had to write an essay about you looked it up in the 1974 Worldbook Encyclopedia set that was missing the “N” volume. There was no google.

Seriously, homeschooling whippersnappers of today, respect your elders. We graduated without google.

The back side of that missing "N" volume


Homeschooling in 2018 you have tons of support and peer groups who are doing the same thing. It’s not weird at all anymore to homeschool, unschool, classically homeschool, interest-led homeschool, whathaveyou.

Homeschooling in the ’80s … well, let’s just say if you found another weirdo like you, you flew on angel’s wings to their side, where you embraced fervently, wept appropriately, and promised to be best friends forever (and you still are). Your Homeschool Club consisted of five kids, and four of them were your siblings.

If you were homeschooled in the 80s, your Homeschool Club consisted of five kids, and four of them were your siblings.

Here is my sister and I. It appears I am rocking some sort of pinafore. I really think the scrunchie brings out my eyes, don’t you?

I dig the mock turtle neck on my sister, and the vest was a bold choice. We were so freakin’ rad.

Homeschooling nowadays you have Homeschool Proms, Homeschool Winter Formals, Homeschool Yearbooks, Homeschool Sports Teams. Homeschooling in the ’80s you had no such things. We had … drum roll, puhleeze, the Annual Homeschool Talent Show.

Here I am, showing the world that ballerinas can totally dance hip hop!

Except we can’t. Not even a little. But in my head I was droppin’ a sick beat here to Paula Abdul’s Straight Up.

Oh my sweet chickens, you have not lived until you’ve experienced the mind-numbing awfulness of a Homeschool Talent Show.

Many a dad tried to leap to his sweet and welcome death out of the window of the church. Why church? Because church was always where they were held. Jesus instructed it to be so. It’s in the Gospels somewhere.

It was usually around hour four of the talent show that the fathers, whom until this night had been blissfully unaware of anything in their homeschooled offspring’s lives because their job was to go to work, began to get twitchy.

The piano playing, the violins, the ballet dances, the memorized poetry. So. Much. Poetry. Epic does not begin to describe the event.

I have to say, all modesty aside, the ballet duet I performed to the song Axel F has no parallel to this day.


When we weren’t hitting the books (mostly Nancy Drew), we were playing outside, an activity that homeschooled kids now don’t seem to do much of.

We had nature as our teacher, and weather didn’t factor into our nine hours a day in the great outdoors.

At the time I thought my mother was very into her children appreciating nature, in a free-range environment.

Now I’m wondering what she was doing with that time we were canvassing the ‘hood? Jazzercise? Soap operas while sipping Fanta? Was she having a sordid affair with the World Book Encyclopedia salesman?

Because if so, I want my “N” volume, buddy.

Anyway, the photo above is me with my sister riding our mighty steed. You should appreciate Cherokee’s palomino head blocking the sight of my father inexplicably wearing overalls with no shirt.

Pardon me while I go bleach my eyeballs.

Books by Melyssa Williams

Homeschooling these days no one even notices when kids run amuck in the subdivision or the grocery store during school hours. But homeschooling in the ’80s and ’90s? I cannot even tell you how many times I had to explain to some well-meaning stranger that I didn’t go to school. And it was legal. Yes, I was sure. No, they didn’t need to call my mom. No, I am not making this homeschooling thing up, I swear, ma’am. Please let go of me.

Art class, on a rare day when Mom let us back in the house. If you look closely you’ll notice some lovely ’80s artifacts: the Strawberry Shortcake glass we used for our paint water, the rotary phone that we weren’t allowed to use because everyone was long distance when you live in the country, the stack of phone books underneath, the homemade curtains (probably made during Sewing Class), and the wood paneling.

We had a lot of wood paneling. My childhood is gift wrapped in wood paneling. Oh, and is that the World Book set behind us? Why, yes, it is.

Homeschooling today the homeschoolers can take part in public school sports, or state wide testing, or go to school part-time for underwater basket weaving, or whathaveyou. Homeschooling back then they might let you in, but you had to sit with the other outskirts: the jock, the nerd, the cheerleader, and the goth.

No, wait. That’s The Breakfast Club. Pfft. Those posers wished they were as cool as we were.

Homeschool attire in the '80s


Molly Ringwald would have worn more prairie dresses if she had any style at all. Or at the very least, a vest made out of her grandmother’s couch, which I am sporting below. Let us take a moment to mourn the loss of high-waisted jeans and tights with weird sandals.

Life for a homeschooler in the Wild West days of the 1980s

Homeschooling today consists of personal laptops, pop-up online professors at your disposal, co-ops, and endless help from the community.

Homeschooling in my childhood meant if you needed help with something you went to Mom and if she didn’t know, you biked yourself to the library to borrow the “N” volume.

Sans helmet or cell phone, naturally, because safety just wasn’t a priority in the ’80s. You might get lost on the way, get hit by a truck, be kidnapped by a Hell’s Angel gang, or trip and fall off a cliff, and Mom wouldn’t have known about it until you didn’t come for dinner.

But we were always home for dinner. Mom was a good cook.

1980s Homeschoolers sitting around the dinner table

Evidently this was in my Dress Like A Pilgrim phase, which thankfully lasted … um, longer than it should have. I am comforted by the fact that my sister’s hat is possibly worse, and also my dad is fully clothed.

Despite the fact that was no google, homeschooling seemed easier back then somehow. Probably because I was on the other side of the pencil.


Homeschooling in the '80s