And what I learned from educating my sons.
I know that homeschooling parents get a bad rap. I heard a lot about it over the years that I chose to teach my sons. “You’re just trying to make your kids smarter than everyone else’s!” “Only religious nuts homeschool.” “Your kids aren’t going to get enough socialization if they’re only hanging out with you.”
As it turns out, people are very opinionated about stuff they may not know anything about. Most of the criticisms came from people who had never actually looked into alternate education choices. I know that I hadn’t researched homeschooling— until I needed to, and it all started with my older son.
My older son had a wonderful kindergarten experience. He came home bright and shiny and excited every single day. I didn’t worry about him at all. What’s more, I’d planned for him to continue in public school so that I could focus on giving my younger son more one on one attention.
Then my son moved into first grade. I wasn’t exactly impressed with his teacher. We were having a conversation and in the middle of my sentence, she walked away from me to talk to a parent and child who was starting fourth grade and wasn’t even in her classroom. Since I wasn’t done asking questions, I waited, watched, and overheard everything. When the teacher finally returned, she seemed almost surprised that I’d waited around. I took the opportunity to ask her what kinds of things she’d be teaching my son in her class.
“I’ve seen your son’s test scores, and if they’re even accurate, I have nothing to teach him.”
My son hadn’t started school yet, and his new teacher seemed to think that his testing was made up and that she had nothing to offer him as an educator. I admit that this discussion planted the first seeds of doubt that I had in his public education.
The week after my son began school, his teacher sent an angry letter to me for not purchasing him a calculator to do math with. I informed her that unless he already knew how to do math, he shouldn’t be using a calculator. We agreed to disagree, and she said she’d “loan” him one in class, over my protests.
Unfortunately for my son, it didn’t get better. I watched him slink on and off the bus in the months to come, and it took a good hour after he got home for him to warm up and return to his animated happy self. That first parent teacher conference, S.S. and I were told that our son was quick to get his work done and then helped all the other kids out. The second conference (because there were only two), she told us that he spent all his time chatting with his fellow students because he got his school work done “too fast.” Then she informed us that he was sent out to other “special” classes — math, science, language arts, history — every day. He was getting double the work, and it was obvious to me that he was burning out fast on it.
Near the end of the year, all of the children were tested again. My son’s scores were beyond second grade in everything. I was worried that the trend of overwork and “extra” classes would continue, and that his next teacher would be as “unable” to teach him anything as the first one did. I could see that he was a victim of the misguided academic idea that gifted children needed more to do.
I called the school and talked to multiple people to see if there was a way for him to do coursework more appropriate for his learning level instead of doing double the work. There was nothing set up for that. I asked about moving him up a grade so that he’d at least start in a place where he could learn something new. They told me that they had a policy to never “skip” children forward.
I’m a firm believer that there is always a work-around for any problem. That if I examine the situation long enough, there is always another answer beyond the binary “yes” and “no” solutions.
I made quick work of searching the internet, discovering homeschooling, unschooling, and a whole host of other ways to teach my child. I sat my six year old down and asked him if he wanted to continue at his elementary school, or to stay home and learn with me. It was his life and education, too, though I wasn’t completely surprised that he wanted to stay home from there on out. It had been a rough year.
I went to the local school district office, got everything I needed to register him to stay home, and proceeded from there. The internet teems with modules, curricula, games, devices, and other learning materials available. There is such a wealth of information that it is extremely overwhelming in all of its personalization. And because I didn’t have a college degree at that time and only remembered my own successful early schooling, I went with a preset curriculum. I added in books that I’d found to supplement his education, too. The box arrived, and I hurriedly searched through and mapped out his schedule for the next year.
In the process of setting up school for my older son, I asked myself what I would do with his little brother, who was three years younger than his sibling. I’d been told my younger son couldn’t start school until he was six (he missed an arbitrary calendar birth date cut off), and that was a huge problem. He was already showing some of the same lusts for learning that his brother had, plus he could add and subtract. (His sibling was the one who taught him how to add and subtract.) By the time his brother was done that year with the second and third grade curricula that I’d taught, my younger son could also do fractions.
He was years ahead in math, and I shuddered to think how bad it could be for him learning at his brother’s side to then move into public school where they had no way to keep his interest. I could see the damage done to his brother. After a year in a bad class, my older son had firmly decided that he only needed to do the bare minimum. Nothing I said, did, or offered could change that. He was perfectly happy to rush through his workbooks and be finished. His joy of learning had been sufficiently quashed by overdoing it.
When I finally started teaching my younger son, I discovered another good reason to keep him at home. He had the attention span of a squirrel — often only half doing workbook pages, not realizing that he hadn’t finished them. It required a lot of patience to sit him back down to do it all. It wasn’t that he didn’t know how, it’s that he wasn’t capable of focusing on something for enough time to complete it. That would have been a nightmare in public school.
As for the “socialization” that everyone on the internet seemed to worry about, I brought my kids out everywhere. They participated in swim lessons and karate. Unlike other kids their age, they were able to play outdoors most of the day when they were done with their books.
In that respect, my children lived fully. They had more time to play, exercise, and be creative. They could choose what they wanted to learn and when. By the time I sent them to middle school for the sixth grade, they were accomplished at making good use of their time.
The thing that I regret the most was that I wasn’t more creative in how I taught them to learn. My focus was too academically based, so they went searching in encyclopedias and other places if they had different interests. I believe both of my sons still love to learn, but I’m not sure that I taught them that they get what they put into classes — that if a class is boring, they need to find ways to make it engaging for themselves.
I don’t regret homeschooling my boys for one moment. I got to spend more time with my kids than I’d imagined that I could do as a parent. For better or worse, I shaped their minds more than their peers had a chance to when they were little. I was able to instill values and morals and teach them how to question the status quo. They learned to question opinions and facts and to search for depth in everything.
I hadn’t wanted to homeschool my kids, but I am very glad that I did. I think that the one thing that everyone should know going into homeschooling is that it is time intensive and requires a huge investment in your kids’ lives beyond what is considered “normal.” It’s hard to separate from them after spending that much time with them, too, but it’s good for them to have those experiences and to learn how to choose for themselves without a parent constantly helicoptering around them.
The truth is that we parents homeschool our kids all of the time — because our children are little learning sponges. Public education is a formality that attempts to give everyone the same starting base of information to expand on. As long as kids learn to learn and love to learn, we’ve done our jobs as parents. Public education or not.
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