I remember the moment, during a random play-date where we were meeting new kids and parents, that someone said something like “Texas is a great state to home-school. We moved here for that reason; there is a lot of freedom to teach your children at home.” I think I filed that in the back of my mind, as my kids were probably about 1 and 3 at the time. I had not really even entertained the idea of homeschooling as I was still adjusting to being a stay-at-home mom after working professionally for about 8 years (in social work, insurance marketing and copy editing).
I am not a “kid” person. I don’t love and adore all children, and I didn’t always know I wanted to be a mom like a lot of women do. I was intimidated from the get-go of playing with my own children and keeping them busy throughout the day. I sort of envied my working friends because they didn’t have the pressures to find things for their young children to do all day. I was looking forward to the time when public school would swoop down and rescue me from my children and their need to know things. We even moved around this time to be in a “better” school district so the kids would have access to higher-ranking schools.
During those 2 years (from when my oldest son was 3 to when he was 5), something gradually changed in me. My desire to be with my children and maintain an important place in their lives started to outweigh the challenges of keeping them busy or teaching them myself. Putting my 5-year-old into a building far away from me for 8 hours a day was frightening. He seemed so young to just drop off at a place with, essentially, strangers. And what would he be learning? His ABCs? His colors? His numbers? I could teach him all those… I pretty much already had. So what would be my reasoning for sending him? Just to get him out of my hair? Although nice, that didn’t seem like a good enough reason for me. So I kept him home.
Although there has been chaos and challenge with 3 young children, for the most part, I have enjoyed knowing what they experience all day, and I enjoy talking with them about it. I like doing things as a family and getting closer through life experiences and trips. My children, while in my eyes are extremely bright, are probably not that different from other children, and without my drilling them or even going out of my way to instruct them, they learn all the basic things, including telling time, identifying coins, basic addition and subtraction, numbers and colors, and even greater concepts like parts and wholes, history (the past), the list went on. I grasped that children come here eager to learn, and if we stay out of their way and answer their questions, there is nothing they won’t teach themselves with a little guidance and support.
I read a lot of information, talked with lots of people, put lots of pressure on myself, and tried to reach a happy medium. Right now, I have sons ages 9, 7 and 5. We have thusfar essentially UNSCHOOLED them. Gasp! That means I have not sat down with them – even for 1 day – to force or make them do something school-related. I have not required that they sit in place for hours at a time, I have not made them raise their hands to answer a question, and I have not made them fill out worksheets or tables. Now, don’t get me wrong, they have done worksheets (my oldest loves them), and we have gone over parts of a structured curriculum – but it wasn’t forced, we covered what made sense to us, and we had fun with it.
I used to think that homeschooling meant having school at home. That’s what the name implies, right? For all practical purposes, replicating a school environment at your house. Well, if you think about that, isn’t it silly? If I am going to try and replicate the environment they would have in school, why wouldn’t I just send them to school? I really have no issue with what schools cover as far as material is concerned. I’m sure they review most things I would want my children to know anyway. It’s just that there are so many kids there, that they HAVE to raise hands, they have to have lots of rules or it’s chaos. They HAVE to stand in lines because there are so many kids that if they didn’t require it, it would be madness. Having to sit down for hours at a time, having to stand in lines, having to raise their hands are the results of having so many darn kids in one class. If I am only having to deal with 3, it would be silly of me to require they go through all that to learn. It would be thoughtless and irresponsible of me not to recognize their individual learning styles and needs.
BECAUSE I am schooling them at home means I SHOULD allow them freedoms that schools cannot give them. This, to me is the number one advantage of homeschooling. When I hear critical people say (and I have), “But how will your child know how to sit down and raise his hand if he doesn’t go to school?” – is that not the most pointless question you’ve ever heard? How many grown men have you ever met that couldn’t physically follow a simple command, and I bet it didn’t take 12 years of school for them to learn it. There are things we push young children to know before they are ready at the risk of frustration on our part and the child’s – when, in reality, if we just waited until a time when they were ready to learn it, they would probably only need to hear it once.
Are there disadvantages? Oh, sure. I am with my children ALL THE TIME. Seriously, there really is not a moment of any day that we aren’t together. The times I get away are few and far between, so I have to find ways to have time by myself, and I have to have a helpful spouse (and trust me, he is).
As the boys get older, I will probably introduce more structure, just for my own confidence. Unschooling isn’t a hands-off method, necessarily, it is child-led learning, which means you have to stay on your toes, and you have to anticipate what your child might want to learn and be ready to soak up. I can assure you that when my son is interested in something, like money, it really just takes him about a minute to absorb the answers I have to all of his questions, and then he’s mastered it, and it’s time to play with the money. It is incredible to sit back and watch a child learn and grow. I recommend it to any parent.
In an effort to illustrate (and not necessarily to brag), we went strawberry picking yesterday at a local farm, and the woman calculating our amount due told us we owed $30.25. I gave her $40, and she looked over at my 9-year-old. “How much change do I owe your mom?” My son looked at her and without missing a beat said “$9.75.” It was a simple subtraction problem, but he did it so quickly because he grasps what is taking place. It isn’t an abstract concept… He sees the practical application in our daily lives. All my sons do. They get to buy their snacks every week at the grocery store on their own, and their budget is $20. They are very aware how much things cost, how far they can stretch their dollars and how change is made. My 5-year-old (who would only be attending kindergarten in the fall) counted me out 50 cents today from a myriad of dimes, nickels and pennies.
Incidentally, I am not implying – by any means – that children attending public or private school do not understand these concepts. What I am relating is just what I am observing about my own children – regardless of how they are educated. I am just trying to get across that they are learning despite our non-traditional environment.
The most common comment I receive in regards to homeschooling my 3 boys is, “I don’t see how you do it.” And quite frankly, some days, I don’t either. There are great days full of learning and exploring, and there are days that I imagine myself and my husband like Frodo and Sam at the end of Return of the King, when they are on the mountain, laying in an exhausted and tremulous heap, ready to give up on their very important journey. With dry mouths and disheveled hair, they have a vacant, wild-eyed look. But then, they think back to their beloved home, a happy memory, and that gives them the will to forge ahead. When I think about how close we will be, the 5 of us, as they grow, and I think about how much I love them and how precious this time I have with them is, I get back up and continue the journey. It is a journey well worth making, and I am honored to be on it with my pretty incredible children.