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Tuesday, 21 January 2014

A note to those who do not homeschool

We home school.

*Pause for people to have shocked reactions* "Why would anyone do that?" "Really? You seemed so normal"

I often get the same questions over and over again when I mention that we home school, so I thought it might be a good idea to address some of these questions and clear away a few stereotypes. Of course, gentle readers, this post is about my family, why we home school and what it means for us. Although I think many of my answers to common questions will be true across the board there will be many families with different feelings about why they chose the path they did.
My happy home schooled kids

First, let's clarify: 

I enjoyed school as a kid
Many people assume that I must have hated going to school as a child when actually the opposite is true. I was very lucky in that I did well academically, never had an issue with bullies and had generally positive experiences with teachers, principals and support staff.  I was active in grade schools and high schools participating in many groups and clubs over the years

I am not anti-school, anti-teacher nor do I believe the government is using our public schools to brainwash our children
Because Walter was attending a public school at the time that we decided to home school people think that I must have had an issue with his school or teacher.  Not at all true.  Walter had a great teacher and Early Childhood Educator in his classroom.  They were very nurturing women who seemed to enjoy their jobs and were good at them. I have no conspiracy theories about public schools, I know far too many public school teachers- I know some of their hearts very well and they would never be out to hurt a child. I know what teachers go through on a day to day basis and even on a year over year basis. They put themselves into their work because they want to be of service to our children, our families and our communities.

We are a "normal" family
Although we do attend church, say our prayers and teach our children the virtues of having a servants heart we are a typical average family.  We do not home school for the purpose of instilling stronger religious values, but of course we are free to say prayer before lunch here at home.   People jump to the conclusion that we must by "hyper- religious", wear prairie dresses and be preparing our children to follow the path of some obscure religious cult; none of that is true.

Some Q & A:
These are some of the most commonly asked questions I hear about home school and the answers that are true to our family.

"Aren't you worried about socialization?"
Ready for this? The answer is a huge resounding "NO!!"  No one who has met my children would ever consider them to be "under socialized". For every person who asks me this I have a few questions to ask you so that you can better reflect on your own question...
1. How many times in school do teachers have to say  "Class time is not for socializing! Talk to your friends after school. School is for learning"?
2. How many hours a day of "socialization" would be enough for you to consider them socialized?
3. Define "socialization".
The idea that we, that our children, can only learn socialization from 30 people in the same birth year and selected randomly by a school board to be together is flat out silly. Socialization is the ability to comfortably interact with fellow members of society. Since when is society only made up of people in our birth year? So why do we believe that segregation in this way is the only way to appropriately interact? When our kids pay the cashier at the grocery store, deposit money at the bank, visit the seniors center, play with my day care children, attend swimming lessons, Sunday school or birthday parties they are getting a much larger sampling of people in our community than if they did the majority of their "socializing" within their public school classroom walls.  There is nothing wrong with the socialization that happens inside a public school, but it certainly does not make my very widely socialized children somehow less for not doing the same.

"They will be socially awkward"
Growing up I knew nothing of home school. I attended public school, as did my sisters, all our friends went to various public schools. All my cousins, my parents before me and all my aunts and uncles were all publicly schooled kids.  So it is entirely true for me to say that 100% of the socially awkward kids I knew growing up went to public school. So why are some home schooled kids shy, or have other social discomforts? Because they are them. Because some people, in general, struggle socially.  Not just home schooled children.  So let's just all stop saying that- its a very narrow minded statement.

"How will they ever make friends?"
Have you ever made a friend through work? Through a mutual friend? At an interest activity? In your neighbourhood? Or are every single one of your friends exclusively those you were in the same classroom with in the first grade?  Likely you can see where I am going with this.  Although people can have beautiful, meaningful, lasting friendships with those they met in school it is outrageous to claim it is the only way to form friendships.  So, "how will they make friends?" Exactly like every other kid out there.

"What do you mean you don't use the curriculum? You must!"
Actually in Ontario there is no requirement for me to utilize the government curriculum.  I did purchase a set of graded workbooks that were formatted to be in line with the curriculum but we do not follow them in any particular way.  Although Walters math and reading skills are in the second grade level his spelling is on par with his age peers in kindergarten. He has progressed in his Science work to late grade two/early grade three but the social studies are still grade one materials.
When we first started out I saw myself "teaching" Walter in a routine very similar to the public schools.  But that just hasn't been how it's worked out.  I have given up trying to battle him into learning with worksheets and spelling reviews and instead let him learn about things because... well learning is awesome. Sometimes we will spend four days in a row learning about bees and then three days straight on subtraction because, for whatever reason, he is fascinated by subtraction.
When we took our kids to the local Lego museum Walter saw a Lego version of the Great Pyramids. He was super interested in them - for about two hours. Then he was done. Why on earth would I insist on spending three weeks on it with him when he is already busy asking about magnetism?

"If you allow him to be a self directed or delight driven learner now how can you expect him to adjust to the requirements of job performance when he is older?"
Firstly, there is a difference between being an adult and being a child. As a child we need to understand that learning is fun, we need to learn how to ask questions and that its okay not to know every answer. In our childhood we need to learn how we learn.
As an adult we need to understand and live with responsibility. We might not like learning how to operate the new computer software (especially when we had no issues with the old software) but we have a responsibility to learn it and use it in order to better perform our job related tasks.
It's not as though on the day my children turn 12 I will suddenly proclaim "You are too old for delight driven learning, you now must use a daily imposed schedule of activities and jobs to be completed".
Right from toddler hood we teach our children about responsibility and that even if you don't like something doesn't mean you don't have to do it.  They must tidy their toys, make their own beds and sweep the floors. They may not like these chores but they do them because they enjoy living in a clean harmonious home and those tasks are required for the desired end result.
Someone might love being a nurse but not love the patient charting that is required. Even a delight driven learner would see that the small inconvenience of charting is required for the delight of nursing. It is necessary for the safety of patients and to assist other health care professionals.
Delight driven learning is not even remotely close to the same thing as entitlement.

"If you're not a certified teacher why do you think you're qualified to home school?"
Let me answer that question with a question... who taught your kids to walk? Talk? The alphabet song? The names of the colours and animals? If you didn't need a teaching degree to set those most important foundations why do you suddenly need one when they are three years old and headed off to junior kindergarten? I  bet not a single one of you, gentle readers, honestly believe the the junior kindergarten curriculum is beyond your academic reach. Nor senior kindergarten. Nor grade one ect.
I admit when we first started out on our journey I was freaked out trying to remember the rules for multiplying and dividing fractions.   Typically I calm myself down in these moments by saying "You only have to be one day ahead".
But the truth is Walter has already come to me with questions I cannot answer.
Real Life Example:
Walter- "Mommy, the cheetah is the fastest animal in the world"
Me- "I don't think that's the case, bud"
Walter- "Well, then what animal is the fastest?"
Me- "well....I feel like it's a falcon or an eagle or something but I'm not sure. Let's go look it up"
(Indeed it was the falcon during a flight dive) We sat down and learned this together.  And Walter thought no less of me for it. I learned something new and most importantly he learned that it's okay not to know, but its really fun to find out.

"You don't want them to go to university?"
I want them to do whatever they want, as long as it does no harm. Do they need a university education to become an acrobat? Nope. Do they need one to become a surgeon? Yup. I want them to go to university if it is a real stepping stone to fulfilling their dreams, not because it has become a societal expectation.
Many (many) people I know who are doing jobs they really love did not go to university to pursue those jobs.  Either they did not attend university at all and opted for co-op or other work immersed options or they attended a specific school or program designed to teach them what they would need for the job in question or they are working at a job that has nothing at all to do with the degree(s) they completed at a post secondary education facility.  I am not saying there is no value in post secondary education.  Nor am I saying I do not want my kids to attend.   I AM saying that more thought needs to go into it than "Of course my child will go to university- everyone should".  As for how to apply for a post secondary education when one is home schooled and has no transcript- well that depends greatly on the school in question.  But, yes, colleges and universities most certainly accept home schooled students.

"How can you fit home schooling into your day along with running a home daycare?"
It really isn't as hard as it sounds. Nor does it take up nearly as much time in a day as going to public school. When I think about Walters Junior Kindergarten teacher and 32 kids I cannot imagine how she got done as much in a day as she did.  Just going out for recces is a process. When 32 kids need to put on snow gear, tie up boots and are struggling to zip zippers with mittened hands there is no possible way to get it all done in less than the 20 allotted minutes for recess. Which means the children understandably start getting ready for outside well before the recess bell rings -they have no choice but to use "class time" for this.  And that same time commitment has to be given when they all come back inside- wet from snow angels and rosy cheeked as they disrobe from their outdoor clothes.
Of course we go outside to play but I have seven kids to get ready, not 32. And when I have something that needs saying I can just say it- I don't have to wait for 32 bodies and voices to settle down first.
We spend roughly 40 minutes a day right now on "school work".  Right after breakfast Walter does his writing. When they daycare children are napping we tackle about half an hour of schooling that requires instructional guidance. At bed time he gets a min of 20 minutes reading time.   The rest of the time, the questions and teachable moments just become part of our day. The daycare children want to know what animal is the fastest too.  They also want to act out a poem or watch a movie about submarines. It's just part of the day.

"You know you're paying for it anyway, right?"
Yes I do.  I also know that my taxes pay for clearing, cleaning and maintaining roads- even though I don't drive.  They even pay to maintain roads my husband has never driven on. And you know what? Doesn't bother me at all.  Much like my children doing chores because it helps our happy home run I pay taxes because it helps my community/ city/ province/ country run, not just because I will directly benefit.

"If you don't do standardized testing how do you know if your children have learned the material?"
Kids sometimes surprise you with what they know. Rarely do they surprise you with what they do not know. When you were teaching your kids the alphabet song did you ever think "I'm pretty sure they have got this... but I should have them write an exam just to be sure"? Of course not! You know if they know it because you are right there with them, listening to them sing it. Hearing them point out letters as they come across them in day to day life.   Same idea here.  If we cover a topic or an idea through home school I know if the kids know it by how they do (or don't) apply it in their lives.  If I think Walter gets fractions but then cant figure out a half cup of flour when baking with me then I know he hasn't grasped it yet.  And that's fine. I don't have to tell him he "failed" in order to have him learn it. We just keep plugging away every time its relevant.

"What if your children decide they want to go to public school once they are a bit older?"
I would talk to them about why they want to go.  If it's because Joe down the street teased him for not going to public school then there is no real need to alter what we are doing.  If its a question of an experience he would like to have then That Guy and I would talk it over and very likely enroll him in the local public school. We would monitor his personal growth and academic performance while he attended (as any parent would) and take it one step at a time.

As an important post script:

No one thinks my kids are strange. That is, until they learn they are home schooled.  Up until they find out everyone sees Walter and Audrey as 100% normal kids.  Sure, sometimes they are loud, or shy, or silly.  Sometimes Walter misreads a word or makes a spelling error. Sometimes Audrey mixes up blue and indigo. But everyone figures that's because Walter is five years old and Audrey is two. But once someone learns they are home schooled suddenly Walter is loud because he is "under socialized" or Audrey mixed up her colours because I never went to teachers college.  It is just as unfair to pin these things on our home schooling as it would be for me to whisper meanly to another parent "That kid doesn't know how to skate very well. But you know... his dad is a dentist so I guess that's why."

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