Saturday, January 14, 2012

When You Shouldn't Homeschool

Yesterday, I read an article on The Pioneer Woman written by Heather Sanders about 3 reasons NOT to homeschool. I've really enjoyed Ms. Sanders' writing in general because her children are older than mine and she often writes things I find really helpful. She also happens to live near us, so sometimes I can pick up helpful field trip and travel tips.

This article in particular really hit home with me though. She states that you should not homeschool if your spouse is not in agreement, if your kid doesn't want to do it or just because all your friends are doing it. Obviously, she expounds on each point and I found myself nodding my head and mumbling "uh huh!" all the way through.

Like Ms. Sanders, I do not think homeschooling is best for every family or even every child within a single family. I'll preface what I have to say by clarifying up front that I am not a fan of "radical unschooling". Education can be highly individualized and an older child can have a lot of say in what they study and how they study it, but I feel like it closes off pathways to certain opportunities when unschooling is taken to the extreme, especially with young children.

In addition to Ms. Sanders' original three points, I would like to add a few of my own

If you're not willing to put in the time

I spend a lot of time homeschooling. At this stage (with a 2nd grader, a pre-schooler and an infant), each child has limited "seat work", but they need my one on one attention quite a bit. I spend about 3 hours each day actively sitting with one child or another and teaching a lesson, helping with a worksheet or directing an activity. There is another 30 minutes or so of grading worksheets, filing away things I feel I need to keep and updating records. On the weekends, I spend another 2 to 3 hours organizing the coming weeks' lessons so I can "grab and go". It's not an unreasonable amount of time at all, but it is time that needs to be set aside in addition to the regular stay-at-home-mom duties of making lunches, changing diapers, taking trips to the library, running errands and cleaning up. Aside from the daily time, there is time spent looking through books and resources to decide the next year's curriculum and sometimes creating worksheets and tests when I haven't been able to find ones I like. Last week I spent an hour writing a music theory test for Sierra that took her 10 minutes to complete.

If you think it's all sunshine and rainbows

There are many different reasons people choose to homeschool. A lot of them seem to have some reason public or private school would not work for their child. Chances are, that same reason will cause you at least a little bit of grief at home too. Simply bringing the child home doesn't magically erase whatever the issue is. You may very well be better equipped to handle the issue at home, but you will still have to handle it. Also? Can I tell you a secret? Teaching, even your own kids, isn't always rewarding. As much as I love to read, I absolutely hate teaching kids to read. It takes every ounce of patience I have to sit through a small child sounding out every single letter and then stringing a word together. It's only slightly more bearable when they have their phonics down, but you still have to spend hours listening to them read aloud while they work on their fluency (using the right inflection based on the punctuation and context). I can't stand it. But I do it every day. And I have to muster the patience to do it with a happy face. Maybe you don't like math, or science, or history. There will be something you'll have to stare down for a considerable amount of time for the sake of giving your kid a good foundation. The moments when it "clicks", when your child proclaims you a great teacher, when your child delves further into a subject of their own volition and you have the time to let them, those are great moments. But make no mistake, there are also moments when you find yourself yelling, "just go outside and play!" and wishing for 5 o'clock so you can hand them all over to someone else and escape for a while.

If you can't grow a thick skin

People talk about you when you homeschool. Usually behind your back, not that that keeps the gossip from getting back to you. Other people talk about "those people" before they realize that one of "those people" is in their midst. There are a lot of assumptions made about homeschoolers: what their beliefs are, why they homeschool, what they teach, how they teach, how their children interact (or don't) with others. I'm still working on my thick skin and find that I often want to defend our choice and my ability as a teacher, which can really eat you up if you aren't careful and that insecurity and stress will be taken out on your children. There are a fair number of homeschoolers that will judge you as well. Some believe they have found the answer as to how to properly educate every child. Which is, of course, patently absurd. See that? Me, homeschooler, being judge-y. It comes up, just like in any other group. Homeschoolers have their disagreements over the right and wrong way to do things and while there are plenty of kind, genuine people who will answer questions and share experiences without passing judgment, there are also those that ridicule and vehemently disagree. It's part of life, but it gets a little daunting on those days it seems to be coming from all directions.

I get a little nervous when one of my friends wants to ask me about homeschooling. It has been great for us so far, but I feel a burden to share with them what it realistically entails and I always worry a bit about how clearly I make my point. How your children will be educated is not a decision you should make lightly. It's a decision that needs be thought over and re-evaluated regularly for the family as a whole as well as for each individual child. I think that's true whether you choose public, private or homeschool.


Elaine said...

When my first was getting close to school age we started kicking around our options. She, at four, was adamant she was going to school.
"Do you even know what school is all about, hon?" I asked.
"Yes. It's a place with other kids, teachers and not you. I want to go there."
I have a great relationship with my daughter so tried not to take it personally. And for us, finding a great Charter School was the best choice for all involved. She and her younger sister are thriving there.

I love that you are willing to accept that I am not making the wrong choice just because it's different than yours. You'd be shocked at how many people don't get that.

Thank you for this.

The Hills said...

That was one of the points Ms. Sanders' explained thoroughly...that while they may not have the final say, what the kid thinks should matter and should factor into your decision. I was rather shocked to see some of the comments on her post emphatically claim that children are children and do not get a say. I couldn't disagree more. Children are people too, and deserving of respect. I think this comes up most often when a parent considers pulling an older child out of school, but it goes the other way too. If one of my children comes to me in the future and expresses a desire to stop homeschooling, we will definitely have a serious conversation about that and explore options.

I think my current stance on things like this comes from my experience as a lactation consultant and a childbirth educator who has worked with a wide range of people. I've eaten my fair share of humble pie and learned first hand that what is best for MY family has very little bearing on what's best for another family. There are so many factors at play in these situations that there is no definite right and wrong.

Even in our own situation, I have one child that is obviously very well suited to homeschooling and would probably have a difficult time in another environment. The other child would probably do just as well either at home or in school. We just have to figure it out as we go and do the best we can for each kid!


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