You seem so normal — why are you homeschooling your kids?
Well, first of all I resent the implication that I’m normal. You barely know me. However, I am relatively run of the mill in parenting terms, and yes, I homeschool. It’s hard to explain why, largely because there are so many good reasons that it’s tough to keep it brief. But I’ll try.
The primary reason was that our children weren’t happy at school. They got stressed at night thinking about school, they cried in the mornings getting ready, and they didn’t want to go. My older child refused to get dropped off in carpool, and cried until I walked her in. My middle child told me that during circle time she imagined there was a golden escalator hidden in the cubby area that led to a beautiful field, and she would go there in her head and wait until school was over. Sure, they often enjoyed school, and made friends and did cool things, but it bothered us that we were choosing to make them unhappy for a really dumb reason, namely, because everybody else did it. We had been miserable in school, everyone had been miserable in school, ergo, let’s make our own kids miserable in school.
We put down the kool aid and asked ourselves: Why are we all doing this?
Were our kids learning important things? Not really. Go online and google Educational Standards for your State. You will be amazed – and not in a good way — at how little we expect of our K-4 graders. It gets a little more interesting in 4th grade, but not very much. We’re really selling them short, and stressing them out about it at the same time.
Were they observing happy adults doing work they enjoyed and found fulfilling? On the contrary, they were seeing teachers who were underpaid and overworked, who spent most of their time trying to control the class of kids, and who seemed to teach a variety of arbitrary things for no apparent reason. There was no time to sit and talk with the teacher, so it’s not even like they knew them well as people.
Were they learning stuff we didn’t want them to learn? Oh, hell yeah. What is good behavior? Being quiet. What does a good child do? What they’re told. Whose opinion matters most? A random adult they don’t know and their peers. And they were learning emotions we didn’t want them to experience, at least not as children: Anxiety. Shame. Insecurity. Homesickness. Pressure to not be a baby. To be tough. To suck it up. To comply.
And we said, wait a cotton-picking minute.
We don’t want our five year old to toughen up, we want her to stay open. We don’t want to prepare her for the adult world. We want to protect her from it, and preserve her childhood. We don’t want her to be judged on her appearance, or realize that the way she looks matters more than what she thinks and says. We don’t want her to be quiet. Polite, yes, quiet no.
Ok, Ok, keep your hair on. But what about socialization?
People always ask homeschoolers about ‘socialization’ — as if children removed from school will suddenly forget how to speak in sentences, or start peeing in the corner. But think about your own school experience — was it always positive? We can all remember bullying, teasing, peer pressure, and feeling overwhelmed and lonely. These days you can add cyber-bullying, guns in school, and the possibility of being outed on YouTube. Being a little kid is hard, being pubescent is even harder, but that’s exactly when we throw them in with a roiling pack of peers and hope they make it out alive. Then we complain when teenagers don’t listen to us – why should they, when they spend so much more of their time with their friends, both real and virtual? And even though we know that it’s entirely possible our 12 year old will get bullied, made fun of, or just made to feel less cool than someone else, we send them into the crucible and then weep that they grow up so fast.
In conclusion, when people say, oh, but what about socialization, I usually reply, I know, my point exactly.
OK, but HOW do you do it, exactly?
Well, generally speaking, we do it with help. Neither myself nor my husband felt we would make good teachers, and both of us needed to work. Luckily for me, I only work (most of the time) in the mornings. My husband works varying hours, and unpredictably. We decided, therefore, to hire a teacher to come Monday to Friday, 8.30 to 12.30, to teach the two older children. The younger one is in pre-school. The teacher arrives, one of us takes the little one to preschool, I pick her up at 12 when her preschool ends, and go home. Once the teacher has said good bye at 12.30, I have all three to myself all afternoon.
The teacher covers the state standards of California, the state we live in, and additional topics or content that my husband and I choose (like Art, or Music, or Gardening). It’s easy to find the state standards for each grade, I’ve put links in the Resources section. I simply read and then print out the standards for English, Math, Social Studies and Science for the grades my kids were in, and put them in a binder. We chose to not use a prebaked curriculum, although there are many, and lots of homeschoolers use them. We hired a great teacher and she works out how to teach what they need. It’s not rocket science. Well, not unless we add that to the curriculum.
We also signed them up for homeschooling classes offered by local museums or community colleges. These are getting more and more common, which is great. We’re lucky to live in a big city, but I expect there’s good stuff everywhere if you hunt for it. And if all else fails, there’s always the Internet.
The kids take frequent outings and field trips, they have two big breaks each morning, and they work outdoors whenever the weather permits. And yet, even with all that time ‘off’, they cover about four times as much as they would in the same period at a traditional school. Plus, the teacher tailors everything to the child in front of her, so they get one on one help all the time. I know exactly how they’re doing, and what they’re learning, and we can support it as we go along.
The best part is that we get the afternoons to do nothing at all. We hang out, they play games, they argue with each other, they invent things to do, they play the piano, they read or draw. One afternoon a week all three have a piano lesson. One afternoon a week one kid has a ballet class and one has soccer practice. One evening a week one has a drawing class. One afternoon we try and go out and do something in nature, or go to a museum, or the library. Apart from that we’re really unambitious. We just hang out together, and it’s totally awesome and unhurried and ever so slightly boring.
That’s all very well, but what happens next?
I have no idea. We’ll have to wait and see. We have no plans to send them to school until after middle school, and at that point they’ll take part in the decision. Unless they’ve staged a coup and we’re no longer in charge. Entirely possible.
And wait a second, who are you again?
We’re just a regular family with three little kids. We’re not lawyers, teachers, or professional educators of any kind. We’re just parents. So rest assured we barely know what we’re doing and mess it all up on a day to day basis.