My article is in response to Jennifer Williams’ article 16 Important Reasons to Homeschool Your Children. Her article is very comprehensive, and I would encourage anyone who is considering home-schooling to read it. However, I’ve found that there seems to be this romantic glow that surrounds home-schooling. My own experience home-schooling three of my four children for five years did not completely match that of Ms. Williams. I wanted to post some of my own experiences from the dirty trenches, so that anyone investigating this possibility might know that home-schooling is not all the joys of learning and soaring with the eagles. It’s regular, consistent effort and hard work for everyone involved.
I am not doing this as a devil’s advocate. I am not a pro-public-school person, anti-home-schooling person. Public school works for some families and doesn’t work for others. Home-schooling works for some families and doesn’t work for others. I believe that parents should have more than one option for legitimate schooling, and I welcome the trend towards home-schooling, in all its legitimate forms. It should be known that home-schooling will not fit every family situation. I encourage those who can and would like to try it to try it, by all means. You as a parent’s are your child’s overall educational supervisor and you have to do whatever works for your family.
Following are some of the situations that can arise, under certain circumstances, that can make home-schooling difficult, if not impossible:
Some kids need other kids. You would never have been able to convince me of this before I had children. I grew up as a child in the public school system, and I hated every minute of it. My own personality had something to do with that though. I was tremendously introverted, and more self-motivated than other kids my age. I would have loved to home-school, but no such option existed for me at that time. I determined that when I had children, I would home-school them through high school and right into college.
My oldest son took to home-schooling and loved it, although I had to continually push him to do his assignments. My oldest daughter, however, threw me a genetic curve ball. She loves people, in a way that I don’t think I could ever truly understand. While I could be completely content curling up with a book, she has to be out and about, meeting and greeting. She was the little girl who made friends with all the other kids in the neighborhood and brought them home with her. When she had to be confined at home with no other kids around, she longed to be outside and talking to people. This caused us significant friction in our school plan.
I tried to appease her by meeting with kids in a weekly group, but she just pined to see her friends the rest of the week. When I put her in public school, she absolutely bloomed and blossomed being around all those people. Her extroverted nature I still don’t understand, but I’m glad to see her so happy. I haven’t let go of her entirely…I require her to be home at certain times, and I encourage her to bring her friends home. I try to keep communication open with her, and we talk about what’s going on with her friends at school. For her, going to public school has been a breath of fresh air, and not nearly as negative as I was afraid it would be.
There are sometimes curriculum problems. There can be too much of a good thing, and curriculum for home-schooling is a perfect example. There are SO MANY curriculum choices that it’s easy to get stuck, and wonder how in the world you’re going to make sense of it all. Curriculum doesn’t come cheap either, although you can almost invent your own curriculum these days if you un-school, but what are your kids learning then? I suppose the difference can be boiled down to record-keeping, but I found myself spending most of my time record-keeping and not much time teaching. Once you have many children to teach, the problem is compounded. How in the world do you give a “rigorous and varied education” to your gifted 9-year-old, your dyslexic 7-year-old, and your active 5-year-old? They can’t all learn the same things, so you end up teaching three separate curriculums for about an hour a day. That’s not what I call a rigorous education by any stretch of the imagination. If you’re home-schooling your child and serious about educating that child, prepare to put in at least four-six hours a day of instruction IF you teach them all the same topics, geared to their separate grade levels. That doesn’t include record-keeping, as well as planning what to teach them the next day, or week, or month, or readjusting your schedule for the inevitable curve balls that happen. You run out of day really fast when you get to three kids or more. Prepare to work it as a full-time job.
After-schooling may be a better option for some. After-schooling consists of giving your child extra tutoring in a subject, or providing a class after school, although you want to be careful not to overdo that as well. Right now my kids go to public school. I help them with their homework, and provide library materials or other learning materials as I come across them. I still keep my eyes open for learning opportunities.
This is supposed to be quality time? I personally had problems with being their teacher. Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love my children, and I wanted to give them the best I could, but the stress of trying to keep up with their studies, and planning for the next day’s studies, were anything but fun. My husband wanted the house to stay clean, which is extremely difficult to accomplish when you’re home-schooling. I also found that I had very little patience for the ABC’s and 123’s level of teaching. My patience often wore thin when the children showed less enthusiasm than I felt they should. We were spending quantity time together, but I couldn’t often call it quality time.
Teaching only what they’re interested in. This one may have been a personal failing of my own, but I just wasn’t interested in videogames. My oldest son developed a deep and abiding interest in videogames, probably from his dad. For a long time, that was the ONLY thing he was even the slightest bit interested in. We bought educational video programs, and he wrung them out to their fullest. I mean, hours and hours a day. Maybe he’ll be a computer engineer when he grows up…or maybe he’ll be some nerdy, pimply slob sitting in a dark corner of my basement playing video games all day. I’m afraid that I more often envision the latter. At least, sending him to school gets him away from the game console for a few hours a day. He spends at least a few minutes now on the way home from school, and during his homework, talking about what he did and what he learned, before he falls back on the video games after his homework is done.
Is “going at your own speed” a good thing? This concept didn’t work well for me either. My children preferred a snail’s pace, and complained at me almost daily about the amount of work I was requiring them to do. I required them to buckle down and be disciplined, but for some reason my kids didn’t want that from me.
It was very hard for me to switch between “mother” and “teacher”. My children had trouble with the transition as well. They didn’t want me to be their teacher. They wanted me to be their mother, and those two roles are very different. When they went to school, they had a “teacher” and then I was the “mother”, and immediately the kids just accepted those roles and there was no more stress or confusion. I can’t explain why it happened that way…it was just important to them.
Personal attention. This reason here is probably the very best reason ever for home-schooling. Something does happen with children who are home-schooled, that is somehow different for children who are always in school. My son’s public school teacher told me that she loved to get kids who were home-schooled, because they were better able to deal with adults and usually did a little better in school.
My kids did have a few adjustment bumps to hurdle when they entered public school (such as turning in homework), but now they’re all doing well, and are happy. I still work with them on their homework, but doing that is nowhere near the amount of work that a parent takes on when they decide to home-school. I talk with their teachers about how they’re doing and what they need. Just because my kids are in public school, doesn’t mean that I’ve handed them over to the professionals to do whatever they like. I am the one that’s going to be there when those kids graduate (and they will graduate, no matter what I have to do to get them there!) That, above all, is what any child needs, no matter what their school situation.
Flexible schedules translate to no schedules. I had wanted to home-school according to a more standard, classical tradition, and I ended up un-schooling because I couldn’t control the schedule. Make a point of putting together some kind of regular schedule if you home-school, and make it stick. That includes days for vacation and breaks. You will go mad if you don’t take regular breaks. If you can’t do this, then you’re not home-schooling, you’re vacationing.
Home-schooling as a safer environment? A lot has been said about home-schoolers wanting to keep their children safer by keeping them closer to home. If your local school system does not have a good track record for safety, then by all means you should consider home-schooling or transferring to a different school system if you’re able. Our school system was relatively safe, so that was not as much of a consideration for us.
Home-schooling as a flexible lifestyle. Home-schooling is extremely flexible, but children also need some kind of structure. Sometimes adults like myself also need structure. Whatever your life situation, you should strive to provide as much continuity in the children’s education as you can reasonably provide. Sometimes that means home-schooling, and sometimes public or private school fits the bill nicely.
Accommodating different learning styles. Again, this is much more difficult to do with multiple children. I found myself doubling and tripling lessons, and teaching the same lesson at three different levels in order to keep on top of my curriculum. If teaching isn’t a career you’ve chosen, you’ve chosen it by home-schooling, and you should learn everything you can. I found out that I was not at all interested in teaching children at grade school level.
What books to choose? There are some terrific resources to be found in home-schooling, and choices in curriculum are numerous. You don’t have to be home-schooling to have those resources in your home for your kids. However, there are other people in the world, with other worldviews than your own. Don’t be afraid of exposing your children to other people in the world. As long as you are talking to your children and letting them know what you believe, they will learn to make their own decisions. Of course, whether or not you feel they are ready for that kind of exposure is up to you. You are your children’s education superintendent. Whatever education they get is ultimately your choice. Make responsible choices.
Real-life experiences. If people who work jobs can learn from life experiences, then it is reasonable to expect that kids in school will learn from their life experiences. Involving the kids in life learning did not come naturally to me, and I must say that my experience of home-schooling raised my awareness of how much life learning there is to be had. Even now that my children are in public school, I try and incorporate as much of this as I possibly can, so that I stay as involved in their lives and in their education as I possibly can be. Don’t dump your kids in school and assume that they will get a good education without you. It can’t be done without you.
What are interesting subjects? I must mention something here, in the hopes that it will be of use to someone. Are you home-schooling for you, or for your kids? I say this because ultimately, that’s why I was doing it. My kids didn’t care, and some of them actually begged to be allowed to go to public school (that’s a big clue that what you’re doing isn’t working, by the way). I wanted to home-school ultimately because I wanted to work on my own education. If this is your reason, it will be much easier to work on your own education than on theirs. Take some classes on your own. Go to college, if you haven’t yet, or finish your college degree, and put your kids in public school. It sets an extremely good example for your children, and they will likely follow you.
If your children have strong interests in a certain field, by all means encourage them in any way you can, but don’t try to live (or re-live) through your children. It doesn’t work.
As far as interesting subjects, my son may like videogames, but he’s got to earn a living someday. If he wants to make videogames for a living, that means college, which means school. School may not always be wonderfully interesting, but neither is a job. For most, it’s a means to an end, which is what I consider education. I tell my children now that going to school is their “job”, just like their father goes to work. Home-schooling is like a small business, and your child’s level of motivation to do so is important. My children take school much more seriously than they ever did their studies at home.
Names and dates, drill and kill…they don’t even teach that way in the public schools anymore. I don’t know of anyone who does. Learning theories change over time. I feel that teaching to a test is not as exciting as letting your heart lead you, but learning can still occur when teaching to a test. I don’t feel that children’s imagination is stifled by structure. Structure provides something for children to work with, or against. Names and dates help to provide a framework for knowledge to be hung on. Games can help with math studies. Music or memory work is a good way to learn facts. What squelches the joy of learning is too much repetition, and variety can be provided in any circumstance. Be creative within whatever learning situation works for you, at home or at school.
Independent learning…is what happens when you do things together with your children, and then they branch out on their own as they grow. I believe that parents are the child’s first and best teacher, even when that child is older. I still learn things from my mother, even now. Setting that example of continuously learning, and asking questions, and finding answers…that is the essence of home-schooling WHEN IT WORKS. If home-schooling doesn’t produce that effect for you and your children, don’t feel guilty about looking at other options. I’m glad that we have multiple options today. Education is becoming more and more accessible to everyone. That’s what we want.
Now what about college? College is an option for your children if they prove to be highly motivated, no matter what situation they’re in. Our local school system, for example, allows summer school classes that apply towards graduation requirements. You can take your GED and opt out of your last two years of high school at age 16 if you choose. Our local community college caters to home-schooled students as well as students in the public school system.
It’s no big deal these days to see home-schoolers winning national spelling bees or gaining entrance to Ivy League schools. Again, options to get educated are expanding for everyone, and I welcome it. Again, check your child’s motivation level, and don’t push too hard. For me, there was no question of accelerating their schooling, because my children simply weren’t motivated enough to put in the kind of effort that was required, and I couldn’t be consistent enough to make an accelerated program work. I found myself barely able to keep my head up in all that I was required to do. Finally it was all just too much.
Ms. Williams’ caveat at the end of her article was very appropriate. It became my concern as well when things became overwhelming for me. The key to home-schooling is really record-keeping. Public schools will often take your children in without school records, but what kind of a school doesn’t keep records? At the very least, a regular journal entry of what was done should be kept. Pictures and video of lessons help. Colleges will take your children in, but they will require some kind of documentation. How will your child fill out scholarship applications or college entrance paperwork if you can’t remember what you’ve studied? Journals will provide some kind of documentation. What kind of documentation could be a topic in itself, but suffice it to say that that is a basic criteria of a home-school, whether or not the state requires it. If there’s no record-keeping of what your child is doing, there’s no schooling going on.
I hope I haven’t been too much of a downer about this. So many people are so passionate about home-schooling, and have achieved amazing results. When I realized that my children needed to go to public school, I agonized for months, feeling like a failure, when it was so needless. I could have had a bad experience, and had to pull them out of public school again. I’m just grateful that things have turned out well so far. If you’re investigating home-schooling, look at the potential pitfalls along with the good, and you’ll feel more confident that you’re going into this with your eyes open, or feel better about making a change if things aren’t working out. You’re in charge of your children’s education. Do whatever works.