Earlier this year (before coronavirus and social distancing) I took my sons to the park on an unusually warm day. It had just rained, and there were puddles all over the sidewalks. My oldest son Mason ran to a puddle and proceeded to jump and splash around. I saw his shoes and jeans getting soaked, and my first impulse was to pull him away and redirect him to a less messy activity. But I squashed that impulse, thinking isn’t this exactly the kind of thing kids are supposed to do? As I let him have his muddy puddle day, I noticed other moms walking by, tightly gripping their children’s hands and firmly telling them that there would be no puddle jumping that day. While I don’t judge those moms (I know realistically that every day can’t be a muddy puddle day) I have this lingering sense that we’ve lost some of the magic of childhood. I feel like our society is so obsessed with comparison, and meeting milestones and achievement now, that we put a lot of pressure on children rather than letting them develop naturally and at their own pace. That also creates a lot of pressure for parents, and may give children less opportunity to explore their environment and interests.
My disenchantment extends to education. Let me preface this by saying that I know there are many great public and private schools around the country. Educators have some of the most important and undervalued jobs in our society. I also come from a family of educators and people who work within the public school system. My mom is a licensed school counselor and former counseling director, and my stepdad is a superintendent for a city in Hampton Roads. They feel passionate about public schools and work to make them better. But I have some concerns about whether or not public school will be the best fit for my boys, and the more research that I do the more I think it may not be a good fit. And now that so many people are being forced to consider their options because of the pandemic, homeschooling has suddenly been thrust into the spotlight.
Here are my concerns with traditional schooling and why I think homeschool may be a better fit for my family:
- I’m not a fan of the grading system as a whole. I think grades are one of many ways in which kids are separated into groups of good and bad. We give opportunities to high achieving students and make low achieving students feel as if they are deserving of less, and sometimes this is done without diagnosing why students aren’t performing well. It’s also unfortunately true that African American boys are more likely to be mislabeled as bad because of cultural differences and educator biases. And as someone with three black boys, that’s not something that I take lightly. With homeschooling, I can ensure that their learning environment is highly supportive and collaborative, and that it fosters confidence. I can work with them on their weaker subject areas and push them in their areas of strength without the reward/punishment system that grading creates.
- Teachers in a traditional classroom aren’t given enough time or freedom to teach in a way that works with every student’s individual learning style. I believe Mason and Myles have a visual learning style. Mason also has some sensory processing issues and gets overstimulated very easily. I can already foresee that a traditional classroom environment may be challenging for him. If I homeschool my children, I can create a low stimulation environment that focuses on their individual learning styles. I can also have the freedom to include subjects that I believe should be on a standard curriculum, and include whatever supplemental materials, outside activities, and field trips that I want to include. Homeschooling is not bound to a set schedule or confined to the walls of a traditional classroom.
- And my final concern is that our reliance on checklists and standardized testing sometimes forces students to move on before they’ve really mastered a subject. With homeschooling I can take my time if the kids struggle in any area before moving on, to build a stronger foundation. Kids are allowed more freedom to grasp ideas without the pressure of standardized testing.
That being said, I know there are many benefits to traditional schooling and what’s best for your family will vary by the individual. Of course homeschooling isn’t a solution for everyone. For some it may not seem financially feasible or work with their schedules. Many people do not want to be at home with their kids all day and that’s okay too. And many value the social and academic structure of a traditional school. However I know there are also many people who have an interest in homeschooling but find the idea of it daunting. The number one concern that most people seem to have is that their children won’t get enough social interaction if they are homeschooled. Many homeschool families participate in local homeschool groups and co-ops, use group tutors, place their children in sports and extracurricular activities, attend church etc. We plan to supplement their education with these types of activities outside of the home, and encourage group collaboration within our home.
Another big concern seems to be parents feeling like they’re not up to the task of teaching all day and providing all of the support that a child needs. One important point to note is that homeschooling does not require teaching for eight hours a day, and for younger kids it shouldn’t span more than a few hours. Parents also have the freedom to be as involved in the curriculum as they want. You can create your own, go with a very structured curriculum that requires little planning, or combine things that you like from different curriculums. Parents can also use tutors or co-ops for difficult subjects, and seek outside resources and referrals for help with developmental issues.
If you’re interested in homeschooling or having some additional resources to supplement distance learning for the upcoming school year, there are a lot of great curriculums out there to consider. I already have a few favorites, and I’m looking for more. These are made by Christian companies, but if you’re not interested in that I think it’s possible to tailor them into a more secular curriculum. I’ve heard great things about Masterbooks. I’m also very intrigued by The Good and the Beautiful (a very structured curriculum that makes homeschooling multiple children easier by teaching two subjects family style) and Gather Round (which focuses on unit studies and teaches all subjects family style except math). I also highly recommend the book The Brave Learner; it’s a great resource for parents who want to lean into their children’s education and enhance some of the magic of childhood.
How do you feel about homeschooling? If you have school aged children, what are your plans for the upcoming school year? Let me know your thoughts.