It’s true: a whole bunch of my friends are homeschoolers.
Not all. I have plenty of friends whose kids go to public school, too. I respect that that’s what’s right for their families, and they respect that homeschooling is what’s right for mine. No big deal.
It isn’t the public school students that are driving me crazy right now. No, it’s the homeschoolers. And I really, honestly mean this with all love and respect: homeschooling is not “school at home.”
Why the School-At-Home Room Drives Me Crazy
Let me explain.
A lot of people, when they first start homeschooling (especially if they went to public school, and have very little experience with homeschooling, or education in general from the ‘teaching’ side of things), try to re-create public school at home. It’s what they know.
So, they set up the “school room” with their desks and tables, classroom posters and maps, themed boards, art supplies, etc. They make it look just like a public school classroom. They buy curriculum that includes lots of paperwork — math, writing practice, spelling words, reading, and so on. They create routines that center around changing from subject to subject at different times of day (however loosely). They have “school time” each day, where they physically sit down in their school area, teach lessons, and do work. This work then gets graded by mom, discussed with the student, and they keep working at it until the test.
I see pictures of this in my newsfeed constantly.
The child who is sitting at the desk, doing lots of different kinds of paperwork.
The child holding up the mom-graded test with a gold star.
This? This is just “school at home,” and isn’t all that different from public school! I mean, sure — you don’t have to go somewhere else in the morning, you can school for fewer hours (sometimes), and you can take more field trips. But the core educational theory is effectively the same: that studying, worksheets, and tests = learning.
It Doesn’t Have to Be Like That
I honestly believe that a lot of people who are educating this way are doing so because it’s what they know. It’s what they’ve always done, how they have pictured “education.” It is what we have all been taught — literally — is the right way to learn. They don’t want to mess up and leave their kids with gaps in their knowledge and place them at a disadvantage.
I get that.
But please understand. The flexibility in homeschooling comes not only from the freedom to choose your materials, your schedule, take field trips, etc. but to actually explore different learning philosophies.
Learning doesn’t require desks and paperwork. It truly doesn’t. And it makes me sad for the children who are required to sit at desks at home and do parent-assigned work everyday. It makes me sad for the parents, too — I hear from so many who are struggling! “He won’t do his work. He cries and whines and we fight constantly. I’m so exhausted. I don’t know what to do.”
Don’t do it.
Your child will not slip behind because you get rid of something that isn’t working for him. If he learns math by building with sets of Legos, good. If she learns math by shopping, good. If he learns to read by watching Super Why, good. If she learns to read by writing her own stories, good. (Actual examples from things my kids have done, by the way.)
And yes. If your family works best with a curriculum, then choose one. But don’t waste time on the parts that aren’t working for you, or helping your child learn. If she already knows a skill, no sense in doing more busy work practicing it. Figure out what exactly works for your children and do that. Don’t do something just because “that’s what school is.”
As an adult — if you want to learn something new, do you buy yourself a curriculum, set yourself up an “area,” and sit down to do paperwork? Probably not. Instead, you might look up information online. You might find a quality book with good information and lots of pictures. You might contact a friend who already knows how, to teach you in a hands-on way (think someone showing you how to knit). You might watch a Youtube video about it. You might spend hours practicing the skill itself, until you feel competent in it. You probably do all of these things.
Kids can learn the same way. They do learn the same way. They ask questions, they seek answers from as many sources as you’ll provide them. My daughter is fond of asking me whatever’s on her mind when we are driving. If I don’t know the answer, she asks me to look it up when we get home. She plays board games with my husband (he loves games). We go to the library together to find books on various topics, including ones she just thinks are fun to read. We watch videos. We go to parks and we hike and find trees, plants, animals, insects to name and explore.
This is just as much learning — if not more — than sitting at a desk.
Change Your View on Learning
Homeschoolers: please don’t let the whole “school at home” idea box you in.
You do not need a formal curriculum, especially for little kids. Some families are buying curriculum for preschool, kindergarten, the first couple years of elementary school. Don’t. (At least, don’t buy a full, multi-subject, curriculum-in-a-box and follow it to the letter. Really, you won’t need it all.) All they need is exposure to lots of games, books, and everyday activities. (Save the curriculum for when they’re older and specifically want to study something. Most kids reach that point between 10 and 12 years old.)
Explore the world with your child. Answer those questions. (They say the average 4-year-old asks 437 a day. I’ve had ones who asked fewer, and ones who asked many more…ha!)
Remember that they’re always learning. Always. If some of that happens at a desk, with papers and a pencil…fine. Some children prefer to learn that way! If some or most of it happens “on the go,” then fine. Many children benefit from this style of learning.
(This is not a tirade against all formal education ever. This is an encouragement to approach your child’s education by really assessing what he needs, and not allow yourself to fall into the trap of thinking that “public school at home” is the only or necessarily best way.)
Here’s something to ponder. Formal schooling will prepare your child to have a “formal” adult life — that is, to work a 9-to-5 job and listen to a boss. What it won’t do is teach creativity, critical thinking, exploration of unique subjects, etc. Allowing your child to work at his/her own pace will actually teach both. Yes, children who learn at their own pace do learn how to work a job in adulthood and follow leaders where necessary. But they also learn to become leaders, to ask questions, to think outside the box much more effectively.
If you want to know more, Peter Gray, Ph.D., has done some fascinating research on this subject. Here’s one of his pieces.
So please, mamas. When you’re excited about homeschooling, don’t start out thinking it just means “school at home.” There is so much more to homeschooling than that. There is so much flexibility to truly pick what does and doesn’t work for your family. It does not have to mean doing paperwork at a desk everyday. It can be, if you/your child gravitates towards that, but it is not the only option.
When you are new to homeschooling, please take some time to talk to more experienced homeschooling mamas about their journey. Learn what they tried first, what they’d do at the beginning if they could do it over. Read about different educational styles and approaches. Get a feel for all the possibilities out there. Try some things! Don’t be afraid to change course if what you tried at first didn’t work well, for you or your child. This is a constant adjustment and there’s not “one right way” about it.
If you homeschool, do you have a school-at-home room or are you more flexible?
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