Interviewing and Surveying Homeschool Parents

User Research (Generative)


Category: Product & Design

I was one of the people lucky enough to be given a copy of Passion-Driven Education by Connor Boyack before it came out to prepare an Amazon review at its release. Having spent the two years prior innovating game-based language learning solutions I had a stance or two on education reform, but with regards to homeschooling nothing more than an interest. I have no homeschooling experience as a student, facilitator, or even an observer - I’ve never seen it in action. I just knew I hate factory model education. That book, though… Wow! My passion for education reform had effectively been hooked into the world of homeschooling. I read the book twice within two months. While attending Fullstack Academy in Manhattan I intend to build an app for homeschool parents designed around the Passion-Driven education methodology.

(Follow me on Facebook or on Medium to stay in the loop concerning developments of the free app.)

Having only assumptions about who home schools their children, why they do so, how they do it, and what challenges they face, I needed to do some generative research. Of all preparations made, nothing helped me more than the article, Never Ask What They Want - 3 Better Questions to Ask in User Interviews. It emphasizes asking these questions:

  1. What are you trying to get done? Why? Why? (Keep asking “Why?” until you get to the root.)
  2. Can you walk me through how you do it?
  3. Can you tell me about what’s frustrating you throughout the process?

5 Interviews

I immediately posted a sign up form in a few homeschooler Facebook groups: Passion-Driven Education Support Group, LDS Homeschooling, and Thomas Jefferson Education. I set up a half-day of 5 back-to-back hour-long interviews with extremely friendly mothers and went into these interviews with very broad questions to see where they would lead me. Here are my synthesized findings:

Were you homeschooled?

None of the 5 mothers were homeschooled.

How long have you homeschooled your children?

3-7 years.

How many children do you homeschool? What ages?

They had between 2 and 5 kids, babies through senior year of high school.

Why aren’t you sending your kids to public schools?

  • Greater flexibility (4/5)
  • Foster Strong Christians (3/5)
  • Classrooms do not meet their needs (2/5)
  • Foster stronger family relationships (2/5)
  • Mixed-age learning environments (1/5)
  • Independence and ability to think (1/5)

What are you trying to accomplish with homeschooling?

  • Passion/ love learning (4/5)
  • Leadership/ Independent Thinking (4/5)
  • Christian Values/ Righteousness/ Salvation (3/5)
  • Knowledge of God (2/5)
  • Higher achievements (2/5)
  • Charity/ Social Impact (1/5)
  • Self-sufficiency (1/5)
  • Stronger family relations (1/5)

How do you teach/ mentor your kids?

  • Traditional resources. (5/5)
  • Traditional semester-length curricula. (3/5)
  • Self-guided Education. (3/5)
  • Exposure/ non-traditional resources. Expose them to new things and a variety of resources. (3/5)
  • Clear and enforced daily to-dos. (3/5)
  • Passion-Driven Education. Start with what they are passionate about and then branch out from there. In other words, finding teaching opportunities within the activities their children are engaged in. (2/5)
  • Extrinsic rewards. (2/5)
  • Independent education. Teach them how to learn/ find the right resources, themselves. (2/5)
  • Age-mixed environments. (2/5)
  • Punishment. (1/5)
  • Socratic method. (1/5) Starting with questions and researching the answers, comparing and contrasting sources and points of view.
  • Stimulating environment. (1/5) Setting up the right home environment for them.
  • Community mentorship. (1/5) Ask other adults with expertise in areas they are not.
  • Relationship-driven teaching/ Sheppard Parenting. (1/5)

What challenges do you face in homeschooling?

  • Difficulty effectively hooking my kids’ passions into other fields of knowledge (4/5)
  • Adapting to every kids unique needs (3/5)
  • Difficulty inspiring children to guide their education themselves (3/5)
  • Few social opportunities (3/5)
  • Finding time just for myself or other duties (2/5)
  • I’m disorganized (goals, strategies, priorities, schedule, and resources) (1/5)
  • Kids spend too much time on games, social media, electronics, etc. (1/5)
  • Want to see quicker learning outcomes (1/5)

I still had little idea how representative my interviewees were of homeschoolers at large, but they got me to a much better point. They gave me mental parameters I could use to phrase questions that could effectively generate responses from a wider audience. This time, though, in addition to asking the same questions about the parents I wanted to include open-ended questions about the parents’ children.

67 Survey Responses

The survey was made and I got 67 responses from people in the following Facebook groups: Passion-Driven Education Support Group, West Chester Homeschoolers, Pennsylvania Homeschoolers, Porcupine Homeschoolers of NH, Libertarian Homeschool Network, Montessori Homeschooling, Conservative and Libertarian Homeschoolers, LDS Homeschooling, Thomas Jefferson Education, G.E.N.I.U.S. Group Thomas Jefferson Education

Questions About The Parents

The vast majority of homeschool parents were not homeschooled, themselves. (93%)

The top 5 reasons homeschool parents do not send their children to public schools full-time are:

  • Foster independent thought/ critical thinking (79%)
  • Foster stronger family relationships (70%)
  • Classroom environments are not the right environment for their children (52%)
  • Greater logistical and scheduling flexibility (42%)
  • Foster strong religious conviction (40%)

The top 5 things homeschool parents wish to achieve with their children are:

  • Passion/ love of learning (88%)
  • Leadership/ independent thinking (76%)
  • Self-sufficiency (73%)
  • Strong family relationships (63%)
  • Righteousness/ virtue (49%)

The top 5 challenges homeschool parents face are:

  • Finding time for themselves or their other duties (52%)
  • Inspiring passion/ self-driven learning (41%)
  • Limiting time spent on games, social media, electronics, toys, etc. (32%)
  • Adapting to each child’s unique needs (different personalities, interests, etc.) (30%)
  • Organization (goals, strategies, priorities, schedule, resources, get togethers, etc) (27%)

The top 5 most adopted teaching/mentorship strategies of homeschool parents are:

  • Using their children’s passions to hook them into other subject matter (59%)
  • Giving their children autonomy for self-guided education (53%)
  • Providing a stimulating environment to engage them (53%)
  • Exposure to a variety of non-traditional education resources (52%)
  • Enforcing daily to-dos (47%)

Questions About Their Children

What challenges do your children face in homeschooling?

  • Lack of social opportunities (14/45)
  • Lack of passion (13/45)
  • Other (8/45)
  • Lacking effective mentorship or administration (6/45 - 3 of which are for Math)
  • Lack of self-confidence (2/45)
  • Lack of organization (2/45)

(1) How do your children prefer to learn? (2) How do your children learn most effectively?

I snipped up the answers and grouped the phrases parents used into their respective themes. Amid the wide variety of responses these themes clearly stood out.

  • Experiential
    “Experiential”/ “hands on stuff”/ “observing”/ “experiments”/ “conversations”/ “discuss”/ “through interaction”/ “interaction”/ “through play”/ “seeing others do and try new things”/ “hands on activity or field trip or vacation”/ “watch videos and lectures”/ “hands on”/ “asking them questions as we go along”/ “hands on”/ “hands on learners”/ “learning by doing”/ “visually then hands on”/ “hands-on projects”/ “hands on learning”/ “doing something”/ “exploration as much as possible”/ “oral”/ “hands on”/ “hands on problems solving”/ “family discussions”/ “hands on education”/ “through mentorship”/ “kinesthetically”/ “through projects”

  • Passion-Driven
    “Resists demanding structure”/ “projects they choose”/ “research projects”/ “hands on, interactive, active, lots of questions, lots of creativity”/ “self guided”/ “for anything to be effective they have to want to learn and care about what they’re learning”/ “watching videos on their chosen topic”/ “reading books that hold their interest”/ “autonomously, based on passions”/ “what interests them”/ “activities geared to their interests”/ “I give them time to pursue their learning”/ “self guided”

  • Individualization
    “They are all different”/ “depends on child and subject”/ “they have all been different and different things have been more effective for each of them”/ “learn best in their preferred methods”/ “each child is different”/ “individualized learning”/ “they’re all different”/ “depends on the child”/ “they’re different”/ “each are different”

  • Flow
    “Short lessons”/ “breaks for physical activity and free play”/ “freely”/ “through gamification”/ “discovery based”/ “play”/ “games”/ “through play”

Insightful response:
“So far my girls (10, 15, 18) all prefer books, even traditional texts books/workbooks to projects… My boys (12, 20, 22) all preferred audio books, hands on projects, and desired mentorship from community members…”
So is there a relationship between gender and preferred methods of learning?

(1) Do your children enjoy homeschooling activities with their homeschooler peers? (2) Are group homeschool activities effective learning activities?

  • Yes and Yes (25/44)
  • Yes and Somewhat (4/44)
  • Somewhat and somewhat (4/44)
  • Yes and No (4/44)
  • No and No (3/44)
  • We don’t do group learning activities (3/44)
  • I haven’t tried (1/44)

Insightful responses:
“It depends on the child and the age group.”
Yes, this question desperately needs survey pool segmentation.

“We have in the past, but aren’t currently. My biggest issue was that in an environment where families approached learning in so many different ways, the default tended to be authoritarian, adult led, static teaching. My children disliked it, for the most part, though they liked the social opportunities.”
It sounds like at some point, group activities lose the whole point of homeschooling in the first place and are better thought of as social activities.