Sunday, February 10, 2013

10 frequently asked questions about homeschooling

 OK I finally settled on one quote from my new favorite book The Unschooling handbook;

"Unschooling is founded on the principle that children learn best when they pursue their own natural curiosities and interests. Without  bells, schedules, and rules about what to do and when, the knowledge they gain through mindful living and exploration is absorbed more easily and enthusiastically.  Learning is a natural, inborn impulse, and the world is rich with lessons to be learned and puzzles to be solved."  I just love it!

Let me repeat that last part... Learning is a natural, inborn impulse.  

Anyone with a baby or toddler knows that's true.

 If we know our youngest children seek out learning, why then wouldn't older children?

Some of them have come to rely on extrinsic rewards like grades and praise and no longer seek out answers just to seek them out, but if left to pursue what they are interested in they will seek out learning, perhaps without even realizing it.

Many people feel that if we, as adults, don't challenge children then they won't challenge themselves.

But ask yourself this, do you think learning to walk was easy? Or learning to talk?

Both are complex, difficult skills that were met with setbacks and hardships (falling, mispronunciations, miscommunication, etc.) and yet children keep trying until they've mastered these skills as best they can.  Why wouldn't they feel the same way about reading, writing, math, etc?  The amazing answer is they do!

Children want to learn to read, write, compute and make sense of the world around them.  Just give them the time and they'll discover all of these joys for themselves.

That said I'm not ashamed to admit that homeschooling (especially unschooling) can be hard.

Not because I constantly worry if I'm doing the right thing (though I do), and not because I can't always see how much they are growing and learning (though I can't), and not because my children can get on my nerves (though they can), but because I constantly feel the need to defend my decision.

Even well meaning, supportive family members ask questions.   Heck, even my husband asks questions!  Innocent questions not meant to criticize, but they often make me have a moment or two of worry.  

Strangers question me often, and I can't tell you how many times we get looks from complete strangers when we're out and about during the day when the kids "should be in school."

Luckily, I'm not one of those people who are easily intimidated or who are afraid to speak their minds.

I know what we're doing is, first and foremost, LEGAL.  I know I have my children's best interests at heart and I know most people ask us questions because they are genuinely curious about us and our lifestyle.  

Though homeschooling is more popular than ever it's not the norm and many people don't know much about it.   Sure, I bet there are some people out there who are openly critical of homeschooling but I'm thankful I have yet to run into them.

What kind of ?'s do people ask... here are the top 10:

1.  What about socialization?  Aren't you afraid they won't make friends if they don't go to school?  I hate to say it but this is the number one question I'm asked and it's the one that makes me laugh the most.  First of all how many times do you remember hearing "we aren't here to socialize!" when you were in school?  Constantly, right?  I know I did.  I was always a talker and always in trouble for talking during class.  Schools really aren't set up to allow children to socialize.  Even those times they are allowed to socialize they usually only talk to kids their own age and often times only with those kids in their own class.

My kids have such a huge range of friends; they have friends they did meet through school that they keep in contact with, they have a lot of cousins and my friends' kids that they play with, they have friends we meet at homeschool groups, classes, lessons, sporting teams, etc, seriously the list goes on and on.

Another bonus, my kids can socialize easily with any age from toddlers to adults.  When asked questions about homeschooling my kids are just as likely to speak up as I am.  They'll speak up and ask questions or ask for help.  They help out younger children and willingly approach older children without fear.

 We learn early on that the world is made up of all kinds of people and you need to treat them all fairly and kindly.  My youngest son was painfully shy as we started on this journey and I am astounded by how much he's come out of his shell in just under a year.

His confidence has grown by leaps and bounds and I think that's mainly due to the fact that he knows I'm almost always within arms reach.  I encourage him to try new things at his own pace, talk to new people when he's ready and feels comfortable, and to never let his fear stop him from trying.   If anything, homeschooling has made them all more social and I'm so glad. 

new friends are made almost weekly!

2.  Do you have school in your Pajamas?  Aren't you afraid your kids won't learn how to get up and be ready on time when they're older and have to go to work?   OK, I'll admit, I've never been asked that exact question but I'm asked similar ones all the time so I kind of meshed them all into one.

Yes, my kids can choose to have school in their Pajamas as long as we have no where to go that day.  I wear my sweats or yoga pants since I'd rather be comfortable all day so why shouldn't they?  I don't think it inhibits learning at all.

They can sleep as late as they want, usually that's 6/ 6:30 in the morning since we're notoriously early risers around here but I never wake the kids up unless we have to be somewhere.  I have been asked, (or told by my own husband) that this isn't preparing kids for the "real world."

My arguments are numerous on this one.  First of all they're 5, 7, and 8; the "real world" is many years away!

My second argument is that my kids can be up, dressed and ready to go surprisingly early (and quickly!) when it's something that matters to them-- as I hope their family, job, adult life, etc. will one day too.

Thirdly, I think of college; we all look at college as a time when kids are finally on their own, getting ready for the real world and yet I can't tell you how empty my morning classes were as most college kids tended to pack their schedules with late classes so they didn't have to wake up early, if they did have morning classes, many showed up in their pajamas (often hung over from the night's parties).. Yet, we don't worry about these kids learning they can't do that when they go to work so why would my kids be any different?

 Perhaps my boys will work from home, work second or third shift, perhaps they'll own their own business; bottom line is I have no idea what my children will do for work they are adults so I don't know what they're schedule will be.  I don't know what clothes they'll be required to wear; suits, work clothes, a uniform... who knows?

When the time comes for them to be "adults" I'm sure they'll be smart enough and responsible enough to be there on time and dressed appropriately. 

3.  How do you know they're learning what they're supposed to?  Does the town provide you with a curriculum?  No, luckily the town does not tell me what I have to teach my kids or when.  My argument is this: who decides what kids are supposed to know and when? 

When did we all decide as a nation that all kids need to read by age 5, that all kids need to know addition facts by age 6 and multiplication facts by age 9.  If a child learns to read at age 8 or 9 does that mean they'll never read as well?

Of course not!

When kids are ready to learn or are intrinsically motivated to learn they can pick up skills rather quickly.  Schools are set up that way in an effort to make things easier for teachers and parents.  I can tell you for certain that schools don't manage to meet these age guidelines with every student either.  They try, but not all children are ready for these subjects at the same time and that's why many schools have added programs for extra help.

One HUGE reason many people choose to homeschool is because children are individuals and they all learn at their own pace, in their own time.

I try very hard not to worry about what the peers of my children are learning and focus instead on what we are learning and on fostering a love of learning.  It's hard and something I struggle with almost daily, but in the end I know the best thing I can teach my kids is that they'll never know it all; learning never stops,  keep reading, keep exploring, keep asking questions and seek out answers.

4.   If you don't test them how do you know they're learning?  This is the easiest to answer, while many homeschooling families do use tests I don't.  I evaluate their learning by watching and listening. 

I observe my kids at play and hear them when they're voicing their thoughts out loud.  I have learned to tune into my kids, after all I am with them for more than ninety percent of the day.  I listen to the questions they ask, I hear the answers they give each other when trying to figure out problems.  I ask questions too.  Not usually to check for comprehension, but to get an idea of what they're thinking at the time.

I have become so fascinated with how their minds work.

Usually, their thinking is more advanced than I would have thought and I'm blown away by the remarks I hear them making.

I know they're learning because I see what they can do and how their skills change.  I know they're learning because they stop asking me simple questions as they start to understand and start asking much more difficult questions.  I've even watched them start to answer their own questions by looking them up in books or on websites. 

5.  How long do you homeschool each day/ What do you do all day?  This was one of my biggest questions when I started homeschooling and I find it's one I'm asked the most by new homeschooling families or those families thinking of homeschooling.

There is a rule of thumb for this one; a half hour per grade level is a general guideline.  So that means if you're homeschooling a first grader you need about an hour a day for schoolwork.  

What?!  You think that can't be right?

I didn't either until I started to really think about it... during the course of the school day an average class spends well  over 30 minutes just lining up.  Lining up to go to lunch, to go to recess, to go to special, to go to the bathroom, to come back from special, etc takes a long time for many classes because teachers are waiting for quiet, strait, lines (no talking or socializing!).

Going to the bathroom is a 15- 20 minutes process in a class of 20- 30 students.  Then they have lunch, recess, special, fire drills, lock down drills, assemblies, field trips, etc.

IF you really go through and think about the school day, it is not focused solely on direct instruction.

When we were homeschooling and I was teaching lessons I spent no more than 15- 20 minutes of my time on direct instruction each day and that was broken up between different subjects.  The rest of the time I left them to explore and practice new concepts on their own.   In a typical morning from 8-12 we'd cover reading, writing, math, science, art and one other subject (usually geography or history) and really we only did that to keep us busy!

But since we've become unschoolers I could say we don't spend any time each day on lessons (I'm sure some of you are gasping out there so I'll continue...), but more accurately we spend every moment of every day learning.

Life is learning.

As long as my kids are awake, out of bed and doing something they're learning.  We talk, we discuss, we reason, we PLAY!  We read books, play board games, play card games, play with play d-oh, Lego's, toys, shaving cream, water, building blocks... you name it we probably play with it!  We explore the natural world, go to the grocery store, the bank, the library (often!), the museum, the zoo, the dentist, the doctor, the park, the beach, etc.

We live our lives, talk, question, sing, dance, etc.  To outsiders I often think our lives probably look like one long family vacation, and you know what, sometimes (not all the time but sometimes) it feels that way too! 

6.  What happened?  Why did you pull them out of school?  Most people assume something horrible had to have happened that caused me to pull my children out of school.  But that wasn't the case.

My children were doing well in school and had wonderful teachers.  That said our public schools do struggle to meet the needs of all the students and so I guess I could honestly say it was many little things lead up to our decision to homeschool.

Every family is different and every family that chooses to homeschool does it for different reasons.

For me it was more a matter of not liking how stressed out my children were looking, how unchallenged my middle son seemed, how unhappy we were as a family and I kept thinking there's go to be a better way.

 I was lucky enough to be home with my boys since birth and perhaps partly for me I was having a hard time adjusting to not knowing what was going on in their lives.  Stories they came home telling me about school often didn't make sense and we'd get frustrated with each other just trying to talk about their day.  They were frustrated when I didn't understand what they were saying and I was frustrated that I knew nothing about their day.

 I didn't feel a part of their lives and they didn't seem very happy.    

Homework was a daily battle that usually lead to tears, threats and frustration.  The push in the morning of getting ready and out the door on time with everything they needed for their day led to much yelling and frustration on all our parts.

I picked up a book on homeschooling (at the suggestion of my sister) and thought it sounded way to good to be true.  My oldest son had been asking me for years to homeschool them so we finally decided we'd give it a try and see how it goes.  Now we love it and I honestly hope and pray that we're able to do this for many years to come. 

7.  If you lived in a different town with better school systems you'd put them back in school right?  NO!  Absolutely not.

I may have thought that myself too in the beginning but the more we get into homeschooling and unschooling I don't want anything else for my boys.

We love homeschooling and perhaps someday my kids will want to go back to school (many homeschoolers do) and if that is their choice then I'm sure that we'd support them and they'd be very successful at it, but ultimately I'm realizing my frustration was not so much with the school itself as it was the institution of school. 

Homeschooling as caused me to look critically about all I learned in school.  I was great in school.  A strait A student.  I knew how to memorize things for tests and word papers correctly to the point I learned to skate through college with doing little to no work.  I also retained little.

Looking back on my experiences I don't want that for my kids.  I want more for them and I think homeschooling is the way to do that.  Perhaps I won't always feel this way but I do right now.  Would we have turned to homeschooling if we lived in a fancy rich town with a wonderful school that didn't struggle with things like budget, class size, extra curricular activities??  I don't know, but I'm glad we have. 

8.  But they'll have to go to high school, right? I mean you can't teach them EVERYTHING!  Firstly, high school is a long way away for my little guys and I'm trying real hard not to worry about the future and live in the moment.  At this point we take our lives one day at a time, or at most year by year.

We constantly evaluate what we're doing and what is and isn't working for us.  I don't know if my kids will go to high school or not but they don't have to go to high school.

Colleges are very willing to accept homeschoolers into their midst.  Each college varies as to what they want; SAT/ Test scores, transcripts/ diploma, etc, but we'll cross that bridge when we get to it.

People have been homeschooling for many, many years and we've met homeschoolers who have gone to (or are now in) college and doing quite well.

People may argue that the curriculum for high school is advanced and how do you teach that.  Well, part of homeschooling is teaching kids to be independent learners.  Many parents just find the books and materials and the children teach themselves.  Other parents find tutors, programs, or professionals, in the field of study, that are willing to work with their children.  Many homeschoolers have talked about their kids having internships when they were in their early teens, trying out jobs and learning in the field.

I'm confident I can teach my kids everything and I'm more than willing to do so, unless they want the high school experience.  Part of homeschooling/ unschooling is learning to trust your kids to make the best decisions for their own lives with lots of discussions and explorations of choices. 

9.  You're lucky you don't have to work because I bet it's expensive and time consuming, right? 
Hmm.. I admit I may not be the best one to answer this question.

I never really worked outside the home full- time since my boys were born so my paycheck isn't really missed.

My understanding is that homeschooling can be as cheap or as expensive as you choose to make it.  Many families spend lots of money on curriculum books, memberships to all sorts of museums and zoos, fancy toys, learning kits, etc.  Some families only use basic supplies like books from the library, paper, pencils, crayons, and other common household items, going on free family outings.

 I have yet to buy any fancy curriculum materials and have come to realize we probably never will.

We do pay for memberships here and there and classes the kids ask to participate in, but I don't think we've bought extra toys or gadgets either.   It has changed what we buy our kids for birthday's and Christmas, just as homeschooling as caused us to change the way we parent a bit, but overall I don't think homeschooling has cost us a lot of money.

I spend lots of time pouring through books and searching for fun projects because it's something I enjoy doing.

Homeschooling can't be all consuming though since I have met homeschooling families where both parents work (usually opposite shifts- or slightly overlapping shifts and have a caregiver who fills in),

I have even heard of homeschooling single parents!  I have met homeschooling families with more than 5 kids and some who only have 1.

There is no set cost or set hours or set way to go about it.  It's not a job it's more of a lifestyle.  It's another dimension of parenting and like most things if it becomes important to you, you somehow find a way to fit in into your life and afford it or at least we did.   

9.  Don't you have to be super organized and creative and love planning in order to be able to homeschool? Okay, this is another one of those questions that no one has ever really asked me, but people do say to me on a regular basis things like, “I could never homeschool because I am not as organized (or creative, or smart, or as good at planning) as you.

The answer is definitely, “No” — you don’t have to be “like me”  to homeschool.  It’s true that homeschooling isn’t for everyone.   BUT, every homeschool family I've met is different; they teach differently, have different strengths and different needs.

Kids will learn, no matter what method you use to teach as long as you are talking with them and trying to teach them something.  There are so many different homeschooling methods and materials (in fact I'd argue that there are as many different methods as there are families that homeschool!)  that everyone is bound to find one that works well for them. 

10.  IS that even Legal?  I'll admit it, I have never come across this question either (I'm such a liar aren't I?!)  but I have met many other homeschooling families that have.

 Yes, homeschooling is legal in all 50 states.  Each state has different laws about homeschooling, but all states allow it.

It is estimated that 2- 3 million children are now homeschooling within the United States.  We're lucky that, as of right now, our state doesn't have many laws or guidelines about homeschooling.

At first I found this frightening that all I had to do was write a letter telling the town I was homeschooling the boys and then I was on my own.  Now I find it freeing and refreshing.

After all, who knows my kids better; the board of ed/ superintendent or myself and my husband.  We, more than anyone else, want our kids to be successful contributing members of society and we're going to do everything we can to make sure that happens. 

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  1. This is all so interesting. You managed to sum up very important things about homeschooling! Great article.

  2. Love, love, LOVE this post! And you made my life WAY easy this week, because it was an easy choice for my feature over at #FridayFrivolity! I especially loved #4 (hey - how do we know that toddlers can WALK or TALK, if we don't give them a test??) and #5 (I have said this ever since allllllll those years ago when *I* was in school: SO MUCH time is wasted there during the day!)

    1. Thank you! I'm so glad you liked it so much!!