Back to School? 4 Reasons We Might Homeschool Instead
The boys are the ripe old age of 11 months, and I’m already thinking about school. Why? It’s back-to-school for Duval county today and my Facebook news feed is packed with kids starting kindergarten, or 3rd grade, or high school. It makes me nostalgic from when Ophelia and Dakota were in school. The excitement of seeing them running up the steps of their elementary school, with their new backpack, freshly cut hair, and smiles on their faces.
It also makes me think of my own schooling. I adored school, and abhorred summer. To me, school was a place where I could excel. I loved the discipline, my friends, the learning. Those first few weeks of school were always a tonic to me – fresh, clean and potent with possibility.
But my rosy school experience is not everyone’s. People choose to homeschool for a wide variety of reasons - religious reasons, unhappiness with the current school system, having a child with special needs, and more. Today, some 1.5 million children are being educated outside of traditional school, and it's growing every year. (Source: National Center for Education Statistics, 2009)
Even though I had a great school experience, we are considering homeschooling our boys, and it's really for a variety of reasons. I reserve the right to change my mind, but here’s why I’m considering it, at least while they’re young.
1. We want to travel the country.
The thing about school is, you’re suddenly on the school’s schedule, instead of your own. Steph and I love to travel, and do so quite frequently. We have dreams of taking the boys to all the national parks, one by one. Of taking cross-country road trips to visit historical sites. We just found out that because August has Down syndrome, he – and up to 4 car passengers – all get a FREE LIFETIME PASS to all of our national parks. I’m pretty obsessed with our national park system, so we will be all over that one. And, I’d prefer to do that traveling in off-seasons, when most of the country is in school.
2. We want to “learn in context” as much as possible.
When I went to school, a lot of my learning occurred in the context of a book. Let’s take history, for example. When we were learning about the paleolithic period of human history, we read about what that meant in chapter 7, and then took a quiz to see what we remembered. The problem is, I remember none of that now. I actually just had to Google it to see if paleolithic dealt with the history of the earth’s development, or of human development. I’d rather our learning be experiential and “real-life.” To learn about geothermal pools in Yellowstone, and about the erosion that caused the Great Canyon to occur. To learn about geometry because we want to build a new playset in our backyard, and need to pay attention to angles.
3. We want the boys to grow up with a healthy sense of self-directed learning.
My caveat is that I know a lot of schools aren’t like what I’m about to describe, but many are. Teachers have to teach to a standardized curriculum and a test of basic skills. In Florida, it’s called the FCAT. When I was in school it was the CTBS. My older kids have been out of the public school setting for a while, but I know there’s a huge debate going on and that a lot of teachers are incredibly unhappy, because they can’t focus on learning what their students find interesting – they have to teach to the test. To me, that’s bullshit. I realize there has to be some accountability and standardization, but we have created a system where not only has a child’s self-directed learning been abnegated, but the teachers’ have, too. It makes me cringe.
4. I have a son with special needs.
August has Down syndrome. His twin brother Liam does not. Most classrooms are still not integrated with children who have special needs and more typically-developing children. I would like for both of them to learn in a mixed environment, where each can help the other.
Where to start?
Home-schooling philosophies – like much in life – run the gamut from radical unschooling (where there is no curriculum, and a child has 100% autonomy in deciding what he/she wants to learn) to a “school-at-home” approach, complete with a desk, workbooks, quizzes and tests.
Where do you even start? Here are a few quick resources:
1. A super quick explanation of the main forms of homeschooling.
2. Something that goes a little more in-depth on the homeschool philosophies. Lots of links here.
3. A really, REALLY good article on why the hell someone would consider homeschooling in the first place.
4. National organization of homeschoolers, which publishes research.
Honestly, I don’t know yet which path we’ll go down. It’s really not a decision to be made lightly, and thankfully, we’ve got time to do some solid research and soul-searching. My guess is that we’ll err on the side of unschooling, but with direction, and accountability. I’m also pretty intrigued by Waldorf.
Some homeschoolers can be a touch militant, and are staunchly anti-school. That’s not me. I think that different settings work best for different children. And, I think there’s more than one way to get an education.
Who knows – we might make a different decision when the boys are older. But for now, I’m dreaming of owning our own schedules, of the boys growing up with a sense of personal responsibility for their education, and of traveling the country to learn about things “in real life” as much as possible.
What are your thoughts on homeschooling?