Days are passing fast and furious, and I’m watching my boys grow up at a tremendous speed. My youngest son’s baby cheeks have completely vanished in the last few months. He’s so tall that he’s wearing the shirts his brother (who is three years older) wore last year. My eldest is becoming a young man too. When I listen to him play Chopin on the piano, it’s easy to wonder if this kid is really a twenty-year-old in disguise. But when he begins playing war games with his brother, I’m reminded that he’s only ten. Thank goodness.
They are growing fast, but when I plan lessons, I feel we’re slowly creeping toward the educational goals I have for them. We steadily work through each lesson and subject that I think the boys need right now, but there’s so much to cover that I don’t do everything everyday. Some subjects we touch on once a week. (Just yesterday I finally finished reading the young adult novel that I began reading to them in September!) It would be easy for me to panic a little, if I felt we had to finish everything by the end of this school year, but for me, an education isn’t carved up into years. It is ongoing like a meandering river. I think that the boys are greatly benefitting from going slowly.
This isn’t to say that I never push us forward or that we’re not progressing. We are. And it’s such a wonderful privilege to have a front seat view to my boys’ progress. But it’s a completely different kind of education from the one kids are getting in public school these days. Those kids are on a schedule. They have to learn X,Y,Z by a certain date so that they can get high scores on a test or pass to the next grade. Test scores reflect not so much on the kids as it does on the teachers and the school. In the end, it’s not really about the individual student, although I know that the teachers care a lot about those students. Teachers aren’t the problem, although I do think some of them are blinded by their own education. They think if a kid isn’t doing something by a certain age, then something is wrong. In my mind, I’m thinking, “As long as they know this by the time they graduate.” Or, by the time they need it in order to reach their personal goals or my (the teacher’s) goal (though my goals are based on my child’s readiness and not by someone else’s guidelines). When you think like this, it removes a lot of pressure, yet it also lends a structure because we focus on certain areas until we reach a level of mastery.
I have met teachers who seem very skeptical at the idea of homeschooling. I guess I can’t blame them when I’ve seen examples of bad homeschooling, but I think bad homeschooling is rare (though the media likes to focus on it). This is because the parent is paying attention to his or her child’s needs. A child is in the best place when she is with people who support, love and want what is best for her. Sure, parents can make mistakes, but I think public schools make a lot of mistakes too.
The thing about homeschooling is that the homeschooled student can look very different from their traditionally-schooled counterparts, so people who are not familiar with homeschooling don’t realize that this is a good thing. Homeschooled students may not be given reading lessons until they turn eight. Or I’ve even read about a kid who didn’t learn to read until the age of eleven, but she did learn, and later she had no problem getting into college. I’m sure that if the local teachers had met her before the age of eleven, they would have shook their heads and considered that a homeschooling disaster. But it wasn’t. The girl had a very good mother who homeschooled three children who went on to college. Her mother gave her more time to learn how to read so that the girl wouldn’t learn to hate reading.
Another difference about homeschooled kids is that they don’t always understand the latest “fad” that is spreading through the hallways of public schools. (Although, homeschoolers sure know a lot about Minecraft. They probably have more time during the day to play it.) Homeschoolers and traditionally-schooled kids don’t always think the same kinds of things are “cool.” For example, when I was growing up, I thought classical music was boring. But now I have a 10-year-old who thinks classical music is cool, and he doesn’t care for pop music at all. Now, I’m an avid classical music listener. He’s taught me well, don’t you think?
Homeschoolers don’t get the attitudes or unwillingness to learn that you see in many kids. As a college professor, my husband has said that some of his best students were homeschooled students. They would actually participate in his class discussions instead of trying to hide in the back of the room. Another friend of mine who is married to a professor has said her husband has noticed the same thing.
Why are homeschooling students like this? First, I think it’s because working hard is so much easier when you also have plenty of downtime. My kids don’t have to go to school all day and then come home and labor over homework. They get all their lessons done in about two hours, and then they get to work hard on the things that they care about. And second, there is nobody around here telling them that what they love is not cool. Young people who have to spend all day/everyday together tend to aspire to the lowest common denominator, and those who don’t are usually made fun of. At least, it was this way when I was in school. Has it really changed that much? I know there are schools where this doesn’t happen, and surely there are other exceptions, but I don’t think that the “herd mentality” is always a positive thing for our young people.
Third, it may be because by being at home all day, the kids see first hand why we have to work. My kids know how much home repairs and groceries cost. They meet a lot of people working a variety of jobs, and they are smart enough to realize which jobs they would rather work at someday. Critics of homeschooling say that homeschoolers won’t learn about the “real world,” but I think it’s the opposite. I think being locked inside a school building all day with people the same age keeps kids away from the real world. How many times have you heard older people complain about the younger generation’s work ethic?
Okay, I will come down from my soapbox. I didn’t actually mean to write a tirade — I meant to write a mid-year report on our homeschool! (I’ll still do that. I promise.)
I’ll just end by saying again that I love watching my boys grow and learn in a slow, yet meaningful and thorough, way. I follow my boys’ interests, and I follow mine too. I also think about the major topics they would be learning in a traditional school, and I try to incorporate those in an interesting way — in a way that suits these boys.
This is a slow, different kind of education. We are not racing to the end of a curriculum. Instead, we are absorbing interesting topics, learning useful skills, and building a more purposeful curriculum that meets the needs of our individual students. Personally, I think it’s pretty awesome, and I don’t understand why more parents aren’t homeschooling. But that’s their prerogative, and I will always say that a parent knows what is best for his/her child.
Please share how your homeschooled student differs from his/her traditionally schooled peers?