One of the things I really like about the homeschool community is the diversity. Homeschoolers choose homeschool for a variety of reasons. I think most of us who stick with it, do it because it works better for us. I know in our case, we are a happier family because of homeschool. So why did our family start down this path?
The tipping point for me was when our then 1st grader was sitting at the table doing some school related busy work and said in the most genuine tone, “We never learn anything at school.” I tried to be encouraging and point out the progress he made in reading over the course of the year. He really did have a fabulous teacher. He looked at me with great sincerity and said, “I want to learn about science and animals like I did with you and Mrs. Jean (his preschool teacher). I want to learn math not just do timed tests.”
I felt his frustration. I understood it all too well. I also knew there was another option. My husband and I discussed homeschool when the kids were really young, but we also desired the social connections that come with school. I had planned to go back to work part-time once the kids were in school. The truth was – I missed the time we had together during the preschool years. I missed going to the library for stacks of books and learning right along with the boys about animals and ecosystems. I missed introducing them to new science topics and taking them on trips to museums and science centers.
We decided to give homeschool a try for a year. It’s been three years and we all love it. For us it works better than traditional school.
So what are the reasons we continue choosing homeschool?
1. Science is fun. – In the elementary years, science seems relegated to a position lower than art or music. At a time when children should be learning and exploring how the world works, science instruction seems extremely minimal. ( I’m sure the music instruction feels minimal to the future musician as well. )
While science is about facts, it is also an inherently creative pursuit. Kids need time to PLAY with science, be entertained by science, and make their own discoveries. There is so much to learn from exploring nature and doing science experiments. We have such great conversations about things we learn.
Because we homeschool, the boys have time to learn about coding and computing. While I sometimes feel guilty that we haven’t done even more in this area, I know it’s so much more than they would have time for if they were in school.
2. Reading needs to be personal– I feel passionately that kids should be able to read books they find personally interesting. If the book is slightly beyond their ability, we should take time to support the young reader. If the book is far beyond their reading ability, but within their interest, it can become a read aloud. Children should not be denied access to reading material BECAUSE of their reading ability.
One of our sons has dyslexia. That doesn’t mean he can’t read, it means reading is not automatic or easy for him. It takes him additional time to read most material.
In the homeschool environment our son has one on one reading support. He selects his own reading material and has individualized instruction to teach him to read the books he finds interesting. At the end of 3rd grade, he has read more than 40 books and had more than 25 books read to him this year. His exposure to literature includes books like A Wrinkle in Time and The Phantom Tollbooth along with many non-fiction books with scientific vocabulary he chooses to read on his own. We continue to work on decoding skills, phonics, and fluency. Because of individualized instruction I’m able to listen closely for “near-sound” pronunciations and make corrections. At school he could easily be buried under a pile of worksheets to be completed and assigned reading passages until there was no time or energy for reading books he enjoys. If you are only reading assigned material because it has been assigned, the motivation to keep going ceases to be intrinsic and may vanish altogether. It is far better to teach reading, and other subjects, in a way that preserves the internal motivation of the student.
3. An individualized pace enhances learning – In some areas both boys work well ahead of grade level. These are the subjects that are fun for them. In other subjects I’m sometimes concerned. But really, once the learning becomes individualized – the ahead or behind becomes irrelevant. The personal growth of each learner is the relevant measure of our success. Every child is an individual and homeschool allows them to learn in ways and at a pace that works for them.
4. Flexibility – If you reach long division on a day when your child isn’t feeling 100% you can postpone the introduction for a few days. If your child has play practice until late, you can make adjustments. Need extra time for reading? No problem. Want to check on your science experiment over the next couple of hours? Go ahead. Want to learn more about a topic? Do more research. Going on a great vacation with lots of learning opportunities? Count some of those hours as school.
5. Questions are encouraged. – One of the hardest things for me when I transitioned from school to work was adjusting to the open-ended nature of projects. No one was giving me a list of requirements or a word / page count. There was no answer key. An acquaintance, who happens to be a physicist, remarked that was the hardest part for her as well. Suddenly she was no longer even given the questions. It was up to her to figure out what questions management would have and answer those questions along with other questions she determined would be relevant.
I want to make sure the kids learn to ask their own questions and follow their own curiosity. This is perhaps more about me not squashing their natural impulse to ask questions. Too often children are told – “That’s not what we are studying now.” instead of “Great question. Let’s write that down and look it up once we’re done with this.”
When our learning starts with a question posed by one of the kids, it tends to go more in depth and be far more interesting than anything I select.
6. Failure should be an option. People are not failures, but sometimes projects are. I want to teach my kids how to pick themselves back up when things don’t go as planned and to persevere when things are hard.
Every science department on every campus has some research projects that were flops. When we ask new questions and try new things sometimes they don’t work, but that doesn’t mean those things weren’t worth trying. It doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good idea to try or the people who tried weren’t intelligent. It simply means they learned what didn’t work under the conditions they tested the idea.
My kids are big Mythbusters fans. I like when the show makes adjustments to their technique and revisits a myth. That is what scientists and engineers do, they learn from their failures and try again. One of my favorite saying from the show is, “Failure is always an option.”
7. Less stress and clutter – I might be completely alone on this one, but homeschooling greatly reduced the amount of clutter in my house. The boys brought home SO MUCH paperwork and so many trinkets from school. I’m pretty sure a few trees have been saved as the result of us homeschooling. Less clutter equals a more relaxed mom.
8. I enjoy seeing my kids developing accountability for their learning. It sounds sort of weird to me, saying that about kids who are 9 and 10, but they are really stepping up and telling me what paths they want to take. They ask to be enrolled in zoo classes. They requested help finding a way to learn how to program Minecraft mods. They tell me what things they think will be interesting to learn. The older one sets goals for completing his math workbooks. They are thinking about what career paths they want to follow, and directing their learning toward those areas. They are far from being completely independent, but they are developing a sense of responsibility for the path they take.
9. Relationships – Relationships are enhanced by shared experiences. Not only do we have more opportunities to go on field trips during the week, we also have more relaxed weekends and evenings to spend together. The boys are used to spending time together, so there isn’t a readjustment period needed to enjoy vacations and holidays together. Our relationships aren’t strained by homework or being in a rush.
10. Time is precious and limited. The boys and I fall more toward the introverted side of the personality spectrum. We enjoy people, but we also need time at home to recharge. They need their own creative space and play. Homeschool allows us time to focus on academic pursuits during the morning and early afternoon, followed by creative pursuits and play, and robotics or soccer practice in the evening. I’m no longer trying to multitask through dinner prep, homework supervision, and sorting through their “take home” folders. Having a well balanced schedule means everyone in the family operates in a better emotional state. It also means we have time to build relationships with each other. Our time with our children is limited – we want to make what time we have with them as long and as positive as possible.
What favorite subjects does homeschool allow you to pursue deeper? What are your favorite benefits?