Monday, August 16, 2010

"Should I Homeschool?"

Most families that homeschool at one time or another will get a question from a non-homeschooling family about whether they should educate their own children at home. My normal response is that I don't know whether it's the right thing for them to do. It's worked for our children for quite a while and I wouldn't dream of sending them off to school. But just because it has worked out for our family does not necessarily mean that it will work for someone else. Every family is different and each couple has to decide whether they are both willing and able to undertake the homeschooling journey.

An op-ed in the Denver Post by an expectant father raises some good questions about homeschooling. Since I am always happy to share our experiences with someone who is curious about homeschooling, I thought I would take this opportunity to address some of the author's concerns.

He starts out by saying that he's pretty sure that he and his wife couldn't homeschool. I don't know either one of them personally but I'm willing to bet their probably selling themselves short. To the uninitiated, the idea of homeschooling a child may seem a bit staggering. Many of the succesful homeschool families we know (ourselves included) wrestle with feelings of inadequacy. This is a perfectly normal feeling to have and by itself shouldn't be an inhibitor to considering homeschooling your children.

Another common fallacy among non-homeschoolers is that in order to be successful you have to operate your homeschool on the same type of schedule that public schools operate on. By this I mean that a lot of families think they need to devote six or seven or more hours of classroom time a day to get all of the work done. My wife was a schoolteacher when we first met and she has told me many times that there is much time wasted in a typical public school day. While everyone's experiences are different, we've found that we can usually accomplish what needs to be done in about four hours a day and sometimes less time than that. The reason for this is simple: with fewer students (we only have two daughters) it's easier to focus on their needs and maximize the instruction time with them.

The author also brings up the typical concern about socialization. Our kids are involved in a lot of stuff that dovetails into their school experience that gives them an opportunity to meet other kids and learn to deal with relating to them. Sure, it is a concern, but most homeschool parents will tell you that their kids don't lack for opportunities to socialize with other kids.

Homeschooling does take sacrifice. There are extra costs involved that you wouldn't have to pay if you send your kids to public school. It requires a lot of time and a lot of work. By choosing to homeschool you are potentially setting yourself up for ridicule by neighbors, friends and parents who don't understand why you're doing this to your children.

But let me offer some other things to be considered. The rewards of homeschooling (at least in our experience) far outweigh those costs. Remember, too, that homeschooling is not for everyone.

First, before you decide to take the plunge and homeschool, talk with other families that are currently homeschooling. You'll find a wide range of experiences from these families and each can give you their own unique reasons for deciding to homeschool.

Second, don't feel like you have to make a lifetime commitment. Homeschooling is best taken one year at a time. When we started, we were only signing on for a year. In fact, we started because our oldest daughter had missed the cutoff for public school by one day. At five years old, however, she was already starting to read on her own. We figured we had nothing to lose by homeschooling her that first year since she couldn't go to public school until after she turned six. We haven't looked back since. However, we've known several families that have homeschooled for a few years and then returned their kids to public school. Every family's choice will be different. You need to not be afraid to make the choice that will work best for you.

Third, remember that you are never alone. It's important to seek out support from other homeschooling families (likely the same families you talked to when you were deliberating about whether to start). Other families and co-op groups can help fill in the gaps especially in the high school years as subjects become increasingly complex. You also will need to have people around you that you can discuss your frustrations with when you've had a particularly tough day (and it's inevitable you'll have some of those along the way).

Fourth, flexibility is your friend. If something isn't working you can change it. This is especially true when it comes to selecting curriculum as there are numerous options out there and no one program will fit every child's needs. You will also discover that learning is not only confined to the classroom or to your school time. Instead, life becomes your classroom and opportunities to learn will present themselves at every turn.

Finally, homeschooling will offer your child the opportunity to learn far more than he or she can in a public school setting. The reason that homeschool students typically perform better on those standardized tests is that they are getting a broader education that is more tailored to their needs and their learning style than a public school ever can be.

There's no doubt that homeschooling is more difficult than sending your child to public school. But in our experience it is a far more rewarding choice.

If you'd like to discuss homeschooling further or have questions about our homeschooling journey, please feel free to e-mail me at tomshelley at comcast dot net.

1 comment:

whosethatlady said...

I admire people who choose to homeschool, those who are capable of teaching their children what they need to know that is. I work so time is my issue but I still prefer private schools.