Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Homeschoolers: What You Didn't Know About Those Weirdos Next Door

Co-op day with the Sorensen's. Engraving ancient Sumerian cuniform writing on our clay tablets.

As we approach a new school year, many of us will be making varied educational choices for our children. Our family has experienced it all through the years: mom-led preschools, public schools, co-ops, homeschool full time/part time, private school, charter schools, university. There are so many options available now to families. It's my belief that families deserve the right to find the best educational fit for their children.

I've been asked countless times to tell some of our reasons for homeschooling and about how this experience has been for our family. Gary wrote this paper in his 10th grade high school English class and I think he says it all. An interesting look from the perspective of a former home schooled teenager. (Who's now a young adult and still feels the same now as he did then.)

As I was involved in a conversation, a friend walked by and overheard the topic of homeschool. "Homeschooling?" she asked, "Are you arguing for or against it?" I answered, "I was homeschooled. I'm for." A look came over her face as if she had just swallowed a bit of sour milk, and she replied, "I’m not a big fan of homeschooling," followed by a pat on the back and a compassionate, "but you turned out all right." Excuse me? I felt as if I were a sheet cake being baked by a five year old, but, thank goodness, tasted not so bad in the end.

I have had this conversation in one form or the other time and again. When many people think of homeschool they picture a weird, socially deprived, introverted family in which the kids stay home all day in their pajamas and do easy "school work," not learning very much. Homeschooling parents are often met with reactions like the following. "Why would you want to do that to your kids? Why do you want to cut them off from their social lives and take their education into your own hands? Your kids will grow up not having any friends and not knowing how to interact with other people. Do you really think that you will be able to give them a better experience than a traditional school?" Many people believe that children who have been homeschooled turn out to be social oddities, not knowing how to work within the real academic world. Although homeschooling is not for everyone and there are some unsuccessful cases, most homeschooled students are very capable of socializing and turn out to have a superb educational experience.

By saying that my family has had great success with homeschool, I do not mean to say that everyone who homeschools is going to do a good job of it. Homeschool is not an easy task and isn't the best option for all families. My mom once jokingly asked, "What parents in their right minds would want their kids home with them all day, every day?"

Jane's natural wool dying experiment as part of our family's 4-H club. This was a fun, as well as worthwhile experience.

Taking your children's education into your own hands requires an enormous amount of dedication, love, and patience. There are, as with anything, cases where the result is not success. Some parents don’t take the responsibility they should with their children’s education which unfortunately results in a bad reputation for homeschool. However, if loving parents make a commitment and work hard then the result can be a very successful homeschool.

Gary is ready to spin some wool.

Eliza's Utah studies poster collage.

Family vacations and travel were a big part of our homeschool.

Isaac is practicing his cutting skills.

Eliza is independently working on her math lesson in our "library".
 One of the most useful methods families use to increase sociability is co-ops. A co-op is a group where several families can meet together, maybe two or three times a week, to learn more about their school subjects. At the co-op, usually held in a family's house, parents teach classes such as art, history, or science and do the things that would be better done in a group, like collective discussions and projects. These co-ops provide homeschoolers with a sense of belonging and with the opportunity to socialize on an educational level. While I was homeschooled, I had plenty of friends whom I saw and interacted with often.

Although my social skills were aided by activities outside the home, they grew the most as a result of the experiences inside the home. Here there is a loving atmosphere where the children learn how to get along with each other and how to help each other in the learning process. Instead of being in a large class with children of the same age, in homeschool the students are usually interacting with siblings of different ages. The older kids learn how to help the younger ones, and the younger kids learn how to work alongside older siblings. This valuable experience can show children how to teach and be taught by their peers. Montessori says, "The younger ones see what the older ones are doing and ask for explanations. These are readily given, and the instruction is really valuable, for the mind of a five year old is so much nearer than [an adult’s] to the mind of a child of three, that the little one learns easily what [an adult] should find it hard to impart" (226).

Wherever my family goes, whether moving to a new neighborhood, on a vacation, or to a social event, my parents always get compliments on their "well-mannered" children. I've observed that homeschoolers in general are those friendly, well-behaved, polite kids who are enjoyable to be around. This says something about social skills in a homeschooling family. By homeschooling, it has been easier for my parents to instill in me and my siblings good social values including kindness, high standards, respect, and friendship. In my opinion, those make for an excellent social foundation.

Because every child is different with varying needs and learning styles, some children don't always do well going through the conveyor belt of the public school system. Many teachers find it hard to accommodate the wide variety of students and tend to stick with a single teaching approach. For students to have a successful learning experience, they must have access to a flexible array of teaching styles (Hood). Because parents only have to be concerned with their own child, this problem is solved and homeschoolers get to have their education custom made and tailor fit to their needs.

I, for example, was able to learn at a very fast pace and was not held back by having to stay behind with the rest of the class. By homeschooling, my mom was able to provide me with advanced opportunities and curricula. In fifth grade I was able to do eighth grade level math, and as a third grader I wasn't restrained from whizzing through books like Robin Hood, Black Beauty, and Treasure Island. I like to compare that to when I was in kindergarten at a public school and was prohibited by the librarian from checking out books that were supposedly above my reading level. No longer enclosed by the bounds of a standardized curriculum, I was allowed to reach my fullest potential and stretch my abilities. Research shows that increased academic success tends to be a common result of homeschooling. The National Home Education Research Institute found that on national standardized testing, homeschooled students consistently scored significantly above public school averages.

As far as my educational experience goes, I was able to gain one of excellent quality through homeschooling. It gave me an undying love to learn and a deep care for my education. I had wonderful experiences and learning opportunities that would not have been available to me in public schools. When it came to subjects like history and science, the whole family would be learning the same concepts at the same time. Learning became more than school because our studies were incorporated into family life. We would discuss the day's lessons over the dinner table and on family vacations and outings we would visit places that related to what we were learning.

Subjects like English, history, science and geography were incorporated into each other. For English, we would write an African fable during our ancient Africa unit. This magnified the effects of the learning process. Also, the hands-on learning in homeschool was fascinating. I'll never forget dissecting sheep hearts, cow eyes, and crawfish on the kitchen table or dressing in Middle Eastern garb and sitting on the floor for a candle-lit dinner of couscous, lamb, and figs. The things I learned in homeschool literally came to life.

My homeschool experience was exciting, challenging, and very rewarding. Now that both my sister and I have moved on to traditional schools, we have excelled and our teachers always comment on our great education. I have many very good friends and am perfectly capable of socializing. When I made the transition into a traditional school, my homeschool preparation was so extraordinary that I was able to skip a grade. Now I have been able to do exceptionally well in an advanced, early college high school, starting university level courses at the age of 14 and I continue to be at the top of all my classes. I credit my outstanding education and my advanced current academic position to my homeschooling foundation.

So next time you encounter some homeschoolers, don’t tell that that they "turned out all right." Ask them about their experiences and give homeschool a chance.

Works Cited "Home Education Research Fact Sheet." National Home Education Research Institute. 2001. 3 Dec. 2007 http://www.nheri.org/content/view/177/54/.
Hood, Karen. "Exploring Learning Styles and Instruction." 2000.
University of Georgia, Department of Mathematics Education. 3 Dec.2007 http://jwilson.coe.uga.edu/emt705/EMT705.Hood.html>.
Montessori, Maria. The Absorbent Mind. New York: Henry Holt and Company, LLC, 1995.



    Love it, love it, love it!

  2. I agree with Maria :)

  3. Wonderful words. Just what I needed to read today.

  4. Thanks for this! It was incredibly encouraging!