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.