A Glossary of School Terms for Homeschoolers (and the People Who Love Them)

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I remember one time one of my kids asked me what a co-op was. Because we’d never done co-ops, they had no idea, and it never occurred to me to explain it.

I think there are a lot of school terms like that, too. Some terms homeschooled kids might not understand include hall pass, car rider, and IEP. Or, you know, alarm clock and single-file line.

As I am wont to do, I decided to help out all those poor little unsocialized homeschoolers – with a little dose of humor because humor is my favorite.

– A –

Alarm clock – An alarm clock is a time-telling device that allows you to set the alarm (usually an incessant buzzing or beeping noise) that will begin at the time you wish to awaken from sleep. Kids in traditional school settings use it to wake them up so that they can arrive at school on time. You may have a similar device on your smartphone under “clock.”

– B –

Bell – A bell is used in public and private school settings (usually in middle school and high school) to notify students that it is time for classes to start and end. There are usually one or two bells in the morning to signify the beginning of school, on at the end of the day, and one at the end of each period or block (i.e., class) and the beginning of the next.

Birthday – The celebration of one’s date of birth. Unless they were born in the summer or around a typical school break, most kids have to attend school on their birthday. Most kids’ birthdays are not school holidays. {Please take all the time you need to recover from this shock.}

Bully – A person at school who picks on another either physically, mentally, or both. {Yes, it is similar to a sibling, but not the same.}

– C –

Car rider – A student whose parents pick him or her up in the family automobile at the end of each school day. The term car rider differentiates these students from those who ride a bus.

Car rider line – The line of cars that wrap around a school building each afternoon to pick up the car riders. The car rider line is often the place where a parent realizes that he or she should not have consumed that last cup of tea or coffee before driving to pick up his or her student.

Clothes – Clothes are items worn to cover the body, most often with the intent of going out in public. Most people put on actual clothes – the kind you’d wear to go somewhere (not PJs) – every day. Yes, really.

– D –

Dawn – Dawn is the time of day when light from the sun is just appearing in the sky – the time just before sunrise. It is the time that most traditionally-schooled kids get up to get ready for school. Alternately, it is the time that signals to many students that they are now running late to school.

Doctor’s excuse – A note a student must have from his doctor, dentist, or orthodontist stating that he did, in fact, have an appointment and it therefore allowed to make up any missed schoolwork. {You don’t need one because your school administrator is most likely the person who drove you to the doctor.}

– E –

Exams – Tests that students must take to show their mastery of a given subject matter. There are:

  • quizzes (short tests that don’t affect a grade as heavily as a test)
  • pop quizzes (surprise quizzes that strike fear into the hearts of students everywhere)
  • chapter tests (at the end of each chapter)
  • unit tests (at the end of each unit)
  • and finals (comprehensive exams at the end of a semester or school year)

Excused absence – An absence from school for which a student is not penalized (unless there are too many) and is allowed to make up missed work. An excused absence may include a sick day, a doctor visit, or a death in the family. An excused absence does not include a family vacation during the off-season, an unseasonably warm day in the middle of winter, or student birthdays.

– F –

Friends – Friends, or classmates, are just like the people you know from co-op, church, or your neighborhood except they’re likely all born within the same 365-day period as you.

– G –

Grades – Grades are typically a letter or number (percentage) used to indicate a student’s mastery of a topic or performance on a test or assignment. There are letter grades such as A, B, C, D, and F or S (satisfactory) or U (unsatisfactory) and number grades that are a percentage of 100.

In a traditional school setting, students are assigned a grade, and the class moves on with struggling students getting help from a teacher, tutor, or parent, unlike in a homeschool setting where your parent makes you correct all the incorrect answers and demonstrate that you understand them before moving on.

– H –

Homework – The work kids do on their own after they leave school. You may have homework if you attend a homeschool co-op. If not, you may opt to think of all of your work or none of it as homework.

Hall pass – A piece of paper (or other creative marker made of wood, plastic, or other material) indicating that you have a teacher’s permission to be out of class and walking in the hallway. A bathroom pass is similar, giving a student permission to go to the bathroom and return to class. {Yes you need permission.}

– I –

IEP – An IEP is an Individualized Education Plan. This plan is used for students who may have special needs or learning differences. It indicates the types of classroom modifications that a student can expect to have. These are modifications that your parent probably already does – without the hassle of multiple meetings.

Intercom – A loudspeaker system in each classroom that school administrators use to make announcements and request that a student or teacher come to the office. Your mom (or dad) probably just yells through the house.

– L –

Line – A line is the (usually) organized fashion in which a group of students moves from one location to another. When someone says, “Get in a single-file line,” they mean to stand with your front facing the back of the person in front of you. Field trip destinations are very befuddled when homeschoolers don’t know how to do this, so try practicing with a few friends or siblings.

Line leader – The person at the front of the line who gets to determine the course for everyone behind him. It is a highly coveted position sought after by cries of, “I want to be the line leader! It’s my turn to be the line leader!”

– M –

Maps – You know what a map is because you likely have them all over your dining room wall and lining your hallway. What’s important for homeschoolers to know is that most people don’t decorate with those. I mean, some people do frame antique, decorative maps, but most people don’t have them all over their homes.

– N –

Nerds – Nerds are basically kids who are super-excited about their interests without regard for whether or not anyone else is interested. The term is generally considered an insult in most school settings, but they’re actually pretty cool kids. Nerds are different from geeks in that nerds are presumed to have fewer social skills and geeks tend to obsess about sci-fi-related topics.

– P –

Picture Day – This is the day in which a photographer comes to the school to take pictures of all the students. Children are usually expected to dress up and must keep their hair, clothes, and makeup (if applicable) free from blemishes until after they’ve had their pictures taken. Woe to the kids who have their pictures taken after lunch or P.E.

Principal – The administrator and chief disciplinarian at a school. Sometimes homeschool dads are referred to as the principal of the school. It’s rather unusual for most principals to kiss the teachers. If you go to a traditional school and see the principal and a teacher making out, you should probably tell an adult.

PTO Meeting – PTO stands for parent-teacher organization. A PTO meeting is a regular monthly or quarterly meeting in which parents and teachers get together to discuss school-related news, issues, and concerns. At your house, you probably call this family dinner.

– R –

Resource officer – A resource officer, or school resource officer (SRO), is a police officer who works at a school to prevent crime and keep students safe. Unless your mom or dad is a police officer – or you have a really big dog – your homeschool probably doesn’t have a resource officer.

Recess – Recess is when traditionally-schooled students are allowed to play outside. Some kids don’t get recess if they are in trouble and haven’t completed all their school work. Most homeschool parents value their sanity too much to take away recess (outside play time) as punishment.

– S –

Summer break – Summer break refers to the time when traditionally-schooled kids are off of school from late-May or early-June to mid- or late-August. You probably know it as the time you avoid public playgrounds, museums, zoos, and other kid-friendly places because they’re so stinking crowded.

Silent lunch – Unfortunately, many schools have instituted silent lunches so that children will have time to eat. That means that they are not allowed to talk in the cafeteria during lunch. Your mom (or dad) might sometimes call for silent lunch when they’ve had one of those days.

– T –

Teacher’s Pet – A teacher’s pet is the kid who is the teacher’s favorite. The teacher may dote on this student and allow special privileges. {Again, this may sound a lot like a sibling, but it’s not the same.}

Tardy – Tardy means late. Excessive tardies may get students in trouble. They may have to serve detention (staying after school as punishment). For a homeschooled kid, this may look a lot like your parent saying, “For the last time, get out of bed and get your schoolwork started!!”

– U –

Uniforms – Uniforms are the clothes that kids must wear to school. Some schools don’t require uniforms, but others require students to wear a particular color and type of pants and shirts. No, not pajamas. No, not your favorite homeschool t-shirt. Like, dress pants and a button-down shirt.

– V –

Valedictorian – A valedictorian is the student who graduates high school with the highest grade point average of all the students in the graduating class. If you homeschool, it’s probably you – unless you’re one of a set of twins, triplets, etc. In that case, check with your mom or dad.

– W –

Wrapping paper – Wrapping paper is that stuff that you buy for a few dollars a roll to wrap gifts for special occasions such as Christmas or birthday – unless you’re in public school. Then, wrapping paper is that stuff that you sell to neighbor’s and relatives for lots of dollars a (small) roll to raise money for your school to purchase needed supplies and equipment.

I hope this glossary helps your homeschooled kids to understand these school-related terms

What school-related concepts have you had to explain to your homeschooled kids?

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Kris Bales is a newly-retired homeschool mom and the quirky, Christ-following, painfully honest founder (and former owner) of Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers. She has a pretty serious addiction to sweet tea and Words with Friends. Kris and her husband of over 30 years are parents to three amazing homeschool grads. They share their home with three dogs, two cats, a ball python, a bearded dragon, and seven birds.

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  1. PTO Meeting – this is when I lock myself in the bathroom with chocolate or coffee and talk to myself saying, “You’re crazy! But you can do this! Only eight years left until the last one is graduated! You can make it!”

      1. My daughter now the mother of 4 young boys, commented that now she understands why I always took so long in the bathroom… (reading room) 😉

    1. My kids hate when I go to the bathroom… especially if I happen to bring my coffee and phone with me… because they know I’ll be in there for a long time! Hahaha

  2. Super article! Here’s one more:
    Desk: A place where school children sit in the classroom to do their work and listen to the teacher. For homeschoolers, this is equivalent to your dining room table, your kitchen counter, your beanbag chair, the picnic table in the backyard, and your bed.

  3. Hands…. yes, they are the appendages on your arms. In schools, you use the arms to raise your hand to ask for permission to ask or answer a question… including ‘May I go to the Bathroom’. Yes, you need permission for that.

  4. We put our boys in public school this year and have had to explain many of these things. 😉
    Your list could have come in handy.

  5. Our 10 year old asked this week what a hall pass was because she saw a picture of one. Then her (public school educated) cousin explained it and also about asking permission to go to the bathroom.

    “I just go to the bathroom whenever I need to,” my homeschooled from birth child pointed out. #winning

  6. P.E.

    Accelerated Reader

    Teacher Workday

    Honor Roll

    Trading Lunch Items – and the economics lessons learned in the process (i.e., the value of real Oreos vs. sandwich cookies)

  7. Fabulous! I’m totally laughing here.

    My dear friend sent her first child off to college. When he came home, he explained to his younger brothers, “When you’re sitting in the front row, and the teacher hands you a stack of papers, that means you’re supposed to take one and pass the rest of them to the person behind you.”


  8. School wrapping paper is the best. It’s thick and doesn’t tear easily so your kid can’t “oops, I barely touched it and it ripped” excuse. It is usually only deemed worthy to use on your mother in laws gifts so she will think you splurged (which you did).

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