Tuesday, June 7, 2011

To Homeschool or not to Homeschool

We are often asked if we are going to homeschool our children. I suppose it is our lifestyle that prompts this question as most people in our situation (somewhat educated people who have chosen to live on a piece of land in the countryside and grow and/or sell food ‘organically’. We’ve been labeled hippies and alternative, ‘those people who recycle’, radical…

My husband and I have had many discussions about whether or not homeschooling would be a good option for our children. Which side of the fence we land on is ever shifting. People give very excellent reasons for wanting to put their children in school or educate them at home. Our decision seems to move with the tides of the best reasons we’ve heard to date.

Here are some of the top reasons that I’ve heard about why people choose homeschooling:
1. To avoid bullying, premature sexual encounters, or emotional abuse for children who appear different in some way.
2. Wanting to ensure certain religious values have been instilled (apparently the bible says that parents should teach their children and not teachers).
3. To be more efficient with time allotted for learning – instead of having your child spend the vast majority of the 6 hour school day being part of the disciplining and organizing of a group of students.
4. Children having difficulty academically at school, possibly due to behavioural issues.
5. To spend energy on loyalty to the family unit (as opposed to investment in peers or the ‘system’).
6. To have more variety in what is being learned including more focus on music, dance, theatre, painting and other arts, nature, practical skills (building things, sewing, knitting, growing food, butchering animals etc.), interacting with society outside of an institution and more time to learn these things during the day rather than around homework commitments in the evening.
7. For socialization (yes, you read that right). To learn how to communicate with the elderly, with siblings and other family members and a wider scope of individuals in public rather than just their peers.
8. To avoid the assembly line system so often used in schools. Each teacher must move the program along regardless of varying levels of knowledge or skills in the students.
9. To avoid confirming the values of peers including consumer desires, money, status, fashion, musical influences…
10. To seek a more natural order to the day, in touch with the rhythms of the season, life with family at home (or on a farm). To spend time teaching things that can be applied throughout life.

Here are some examples of reasons why people choose not homeschool (this is not meant to be a comprehensive list of reasons to send your child to school though):
1. Parents do not feel qualified (or patient enough) to teach their children.
2. Parents don’t have time because they are earning two incomes or have other commitments.
3. Parents need time away from being a parent.
4. Concern over the lack of socialization or fitting into society if child isn’t in school.
5. Concern that the child is being sheltered from reality of the world if child is not in school.
6. Most other kids are in school during the day, therefore, less interaction with peers and less in common with most children.
7. Keeping intelligent, conscientious children away from the school system does not solve the problem of a faulty system. It is best to work within the system to instill positive change.
8. Your child will be too clever and won’t fit in or will not be learning the standard, government curricula and therefore, will fall behind if ever they enter the system.
9. “Pet” projects that parents would like to teach their children can be taught on weekends, during the evenings or in summer.
10. There are good schools available (alternative, public or private) that are suitable for the child’s particular needs.

As in all things that are important and matter greatly in people’s lives, I have learned that decisions surrounding schooling inspire passion in people. There is a lot of guilt, defensiveness and personal experiences at work when it comes to choosing what is best for our children (and ourselves!) when it comes to educating our kids and it can be awfully tricky to find ground that we are comfortable with and are willing to stand up for. When the decisions are only for our own individual selves, it is easier to make big commitments but as soon as there will be more than just us affected, the pressure is on!

The point is that when the stakes are this high the decision is not just a practical one. With education we could be talking about influencing our child’s ability to interact with other human beings, know how the world works, acquire a set of useful skills, function in complicated situations, compile knowledge, feel secure and confidant, apply creative thinking and the endless other things we might hope that our children will get from their schooling experience. Making a decision around educating your child is emotional, related to our value systems, dependent on logistics and available resources (time and money). Choosing how to educate our children is not as easy as 1-2-3.

My personal fears related to home schooling are that I’m afraid I won’t have the patience to be my children’s educator. I’m afraid I won’t be able to teach them what they need to know. That I am not a very good example. That I need time to myself more than I’m able to admit and having them around me all day will drive me bonkers.

I do worry that my children will not know how to interact in groups of other children if I sequester them away at home. I want my children to feel like they belong to the world. I don’t necessarily need them attached to my apron strings until the day they move out to marry but I also want to make sure they feel grounded from their upbringing at home.

If we do choose to send them to a school away from home, I want to be ready and able to respond to any situation that isn’t working out for them. Perhaps they aren’t able to keep up. Perhaps they are coming home and acting distant. Perhaps some kid said something crude and disturbing to them and they are afraid to go back the next day. Perhaps they have trouble learning certain things or they get bored easily and act out. All of these things may be the impetus to taking my kid out of school for a period.

But if I can focus on what I do believe I have to offer as a teacher at home, it is a lifestyle that provides the opportunity to learn true life-skills. Around here on any given day we build things, grow things, process things, feed things, find things, solve problems, work together with others, manage resources, interact with the public, express ideas, figure out creative ways of doing things. I can’t imagine a better list of things to offer a child exposure to! And in executing these, there is always math and reading and writing and physical activity and creativity. I would hope to include music lessons, dance, free play, nature exploration, visiting the elderly in homes or hospitals, playing games, making up games, teaching our new elderly friends our games.

I have never been a teacher. But I have taught myself many of the things that I know. Even in university I rarely attended classes (don’t tell my kids this) and had to go home and learn the material on my own time, my own way. I taught myself to play guitar and sing and write songs. I taught myself to grow, cook and process food (even my ‘farmer’ husband couldn’t get a word in edgewise). I taught myself to become strong enough to run long distances, lift heavy things and hike tall mountains. I don’t think what I have to offer is superior to the teachers available in schools today – that is for certain. But in my own family, in our own home, with the two people I am blessed to have a part of my life, I do envision offering a coherent approach to life that blends family life with learning.

I believe that educators today are some of the most dedicated and well-armed people to be teaching our children (at least many of the ones I know). Unfortunately the system is bigger than all of our greatness put together. And like many well-meaning government teams (last year I was part of one), it is very difficult to change the wheels on a moving vehicle. And I don’t know if that means we should jump out of the vehicle and walk or stay in it and try to change within the system.

I also keep bumping up against the fact that I really enjoy time to myself. When my children were younger, I held my breathe for a very long time because there was so little time alone. Yet raising newborn babies is so incredibly magical that even the staunchest of hermits couldn’t resist spending their every waking moment with one of them. And being a part of children growing and learning is a gift. I am not going to miss out on this special time. But sometimes, I tell you, I really need a minute to myself, you know?

I really don’t know what will happen next. In the fall my daughter is slated to start kindergarten at a French school up the road. Things are complicated further by the fact that we are Anglophones in a French-speaking province. I need my children to learn French. And everything I know about learning languages is that it facilitates expansion in the brain and provides a greater ability to learn other things when the mind is exercised in this way. I don’t know if I can teach French. But I could try!

Right now I imagine keeping my two children home together somewhere between Grades 2 and 6. That's my latest thought - but things will change. My husband is still all ears for the evolving ideas.

I welcome any and all feedback on this issue. I am not sold to either side and the discussion is still very wide open. It is true that many folks living our lifestyle choose to homeschool their children. But as always, we’re not all ‘many folks’ are we? We’re our own cases. And that deserves some attention as well, I figure.


  1. Reasons to homeschool, 6 and 9 above, for sure. Reason number 3 to send them to school, yes. Crap, that might be selfish though. I feel ya.

    I almost sort of want my daughter to experience school, with all the other kids being rough and crude sometimes. We have to learn to deal with those situations all the time.

    I want to keep her home because the most important lessons I have ever learned in my life have less to do with algebra and more to do with the seasons, nature, cooking, giving to others and yes, balancing a checkbook.

  2. It is such a hard decision. I kept my son home when he was slated to start JK...we had a few wonderful months, but I also had 2 year old and a newborn, and the bickering etc. drove me to near-insanity. I asked him if he thought he might like to try school. He said "Yes"...a few days later, he climbed right on the bus without a backwards glance! He LOVED it. He mostly talked about the friends he was meeting. Now he's in MY class (I'm a kindergarten teacher). I do have some anxiety about next year, as he'll be gone from me 5 days a week. It feels like too much. But in order to give our children this rural life on a farm experience, we have to pay a good-sized mortgage which means I have to work. As much as I romanticise it, being home with my kids all day every day would make me nuts. I'm fortunate to teach in a lovely little school (only 100 kids!) where the children are mostly very kind to and supportive of each other. I'd pull him out in an instant if I thought he was being bullied. I'm going on and on.
    To sum up: I was schooled. I am creative, a problem solver, have strong social skills with young and old. I had good teachers and rotten teachers. I dealt with mean kids on the schoolyard. It was all just part of growing up. I was never systematically bullied, of course. I'm just doing what I always do: trusting that the strong love and support of a family will ensure that my children thrive, whether or not they LOVE school...and that the lessons we learn together during our home time will have more weight than what they learn at school. I have so much more to say on this topic!! Maybe I'll email you...

  3. Teach your children caution and wisdom, but don't teach them fear. This is their planet; send them out to become part of it; give them the message that they are empowered and have all your confidence and help to face whatever comes their way. We did Montessori and then public schools with one year spent in a very multi-cultural high school to learn that the world isn't white, clean and fair. Turned out extremely well...my little human is fearless with all the skills and grace needed to face a future I can't foresee. (whew! it was hard! I was scared, but I never showed that to her.)

  4. Oh! forgot the coolest part of public schooling....having conversation about what the two of you did while apart, afterschool time, talking about the other kids and how they do things, what there was for lunch, the mean old bus driver, the really nice teacher-and the really icky teacher, what you did all day while the light of your life was in school and so on. And how good it is to come home/how good it is to go to school the next day. Think you need a life of your own? So do they.

  5. I read your post a few days ago and had wanted to respond at the time but had to go feed chickens!
    I have done both, so I guess I have seen the best and worst of each side of the issue.
    I homeschooled ( which is a misnomer, very little " schooling " went on in the house- rather I was the facilitator and it took us all over the place day to day) until my first two children hit grade 8.They both started in public school then and continued through highschool and beyond. My two youngest started school in grade 4 and grade one. I had ended my marriage at this juncture and had to work full time as their father quit his job and has never provided any financial support since. It was a very difficult transition, needless to say on many levels.
    I loved being with the kids day to day. It is very much like a muscle, the more you work it the stronger you get and easier it gets.As they grow older you do get lots of time to yourself, although I became a parent early and had not had years of
    " alone" time prior so didn't miss it.
    I started a homeschool group ( at one point close to 30 families) that met weekly to take part in group activities, trips, seasonal parties etc. This very much became their social group, the kids they invited to birthdays , had sleepovers with etc. At 20 and 22 my two eldests best friends are still of this group! The parents of these children I count amongst some of my best friends to this day. Like an extended family really. What made it unique is that we all homeschooled or unschooled for a variety of reasons yet we made a point of supporting each other in doing something alittle against the grain.I supplemented the childrens days with soccer, swimming lessons, violin, choir, rock climbing,brownies, sparks, beavers, cubs. alot of the after school activities that I think overschedule in-school kids can take on a different more relaxed tone for those homeschooled.
    I am a nurse, I see first hand how humans mothers have always been their off -springs first and best teacher.I don't mean in any way to offend those who have spent a great deal of time to make education their career ( my mother and all her five siblings are teachers)but we have over - complicated the task and segragated it away from day to day living as we have so many other aspects of our society. Infants in daycare " with the experts", children age segragated in schools, and the elderly tucked away from sight in nursing homes. It makes it difficult to understand the needs of each stage of the journey when you only travel along with those who are in the same stage as you are.
    Formalized schooling brought me some peace of mind that my children were safe when I had to return to full time employment to feed and house them. I missed them, being able to travel along their often meandering path of exploration . If that took two hours ( or two days) so be it. No bells rung, no shuffle to the next activity.
    If you asked my youngest who has spent the most time in school she would say she values the frinds she has made. I am glad for her. But if I could wave a magic wand, I would give anything to have had more time with her and know her better. To have let her have the time to know HERSELF better.
    But that again is just my two cents worth. If I have learned anything over my 22 plus years of parenting it is that each family is different, each child is different, and sometimes we just have to do what we have to do.

  6. Wow! When I reached out for food for thought - I ended up with a buffet of nutritious, delicious and beautiful ideas. I am so grateful for these excellent perspectives. Thank you so much (and feel free to keep it all coming!) For now, I do lean on public schooling with a VERY GOOD EYE AND EAR and the possibly of pulling out if it isn't working. It will mean a shift for all of us and an adjustment from the regular breaks we give each other in a week, but we gotta do what we gotta do and I want to be ready and go in to any decision with my eyes wide open. I love that nobody is judging anyone else's decisions either. Thank you so much for taking the time to share.


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