This is a guest blog post written by Julie Brill.
Homeschoolers are ____________________.
Could you fill in the blank? The more homeschoolers I know, the less I’m able to generalize about them. Families homeschool for different reasons. The homeschooling movement includes everything from the religious right to unschoolers. There are kids who have never been to school, and ones who drop out to homeschool.
My girls are fifteen and eighteen, and until my older daughter started college last fall they both had been homeschooled their whole lives. My younger one will homeschool until she turns eighteen, and then likely enroll in a four year college. When I posted pictures recently of her being inducted into Phi Theta Kappa at the community college where she’s earning her associates degree, several friends messaged me to ask what curriculum I recommend. I was little help because we’ve never used one.
The longer we homeschool the more I understand the benefits. When my girls were little, homeschooling seemed like a natural extension of the fulltime parenting I was already doing. I wanted them to experience a non-academic kindergarten year, so we kept on doing projects and having lots of time for free play and being outdoors. First grade was easy; I wasn’t intimidated by early reading and math. We just kept going from there.
We were lucky that the homeschooling movement grew up around us. We knew lots of homeschoolers. Our rec department ran a homeschool gymnastics class and our library had a homeschool reading group. Parents on email lists organized day trips. My kids took homeschool nature walks, ceramic classes, performed plays. Homeschool parents joke about the socialization question we frequently get, because our kids are out in the world socializing all the time, and not just with kids their own age.
Along the way I saw the biggest gift homeschooling gives children is the time to follow their own passions, engage in creative play, be spontaneous, go on fieldtrips, hang out with family and friends, spend time alone. The job of childhood, well it’s a lifelong job really, is to figure out who you are, what you’re passionate about, why you’re here. Homeschoolers have the flexibility to learn the answers to these questions, and so can enter adulthood ready to get down to business. They know who they are, and how they learn. They’re passionate and curious.
My daughter dove into her freshman year at a highly selective New England college. She got permission to carry more credits than first year students are normally allowed. She chose classes, auditioned for dance performances, choir, and a play. She volunteered with Dance for Parkinson’s, and got to work self-designing a theater tech major. She made friends. She didn’t struggle with time management, laundry, or academics because she already had those skills. Her first semester she earned a 4.0 and was invited to a dinner with twenty-seven other freshmen. There were five tables, but my daughter has had enough adult social interaction to confidently sit next to the college president.
Homeschooling gives families the chance to be together and not just in the frantic mornings, or the tired, cranky time after school. When you homeschool you don’t give the best part of the day to someone else. Kids can learn at their own rate, and the secret of academics, especially in the early years, is they just don’t take that much time. Kids can do a day’s worth of academics in an hour in the morning, and be done with a year’s worth of math before the snow melts.
My daughter called me recently from college. Her education class assignment was to examine her own learning experiences, to study biases she might be bringing into the classroom as a teacher. Her professor suggested she call to discover what negative school experiences I had which led me to homeschool. How that question misses the mark. It assumes school is the educational norm, and only a negative experience could drive a parent from sending her children.
My own school years weren’t bad, but there was lots of wasted time. I brought books from home to read in some of those gaps. There was busy work and lots of lining up. We asked permission to go to the bathroom. I was praised for knowing the answer, and learned to judge myself against other kids in the class.
For most of human history parents enjoyed the pleasure and responsibility of educating our own children. Who is more invested in them being able to lead successful adult lives than us? I don’t homeschool in reaction to problems in schools, I told my daughter, though I was certainly happy to spare her from standardized tests, hours of sitting every day, wasted time, competition.
I choose homeschooling because of what’s possible when you free children from school. A day can be spent on an art project, a play, a trip to the museum, curled on the couch with a stack of library books. The first day that feels like spring you stay outdoors. Life isn’t divided into educational and free time because, as John Holt said, homeschoolers are learning all the time. The natural curiosity all kids have is protected and nourished.
If I had it to do again, I would spend even less time in the early years on formal academics, and more time building, creating, listening to stories, acting, baking. That’s what builds intelligence and creativity. Books are wonderful, but they aren’t the best place to learn about nature or problem solving. We kept goats and chickens and had a garden, and I would start that all sooner. We’d travel more. The future is uncertain. The best tools we can give our kids are the ability to think outside the box, to diversify, to communicate. A homeschool mom whose kids are grown said to me recently, homeschoolers know how to cook and build things, and how to make a funnel out of a piece of paper. They know how to learn, and that’s the most important skill of all.
Bio: Julie Brill sees education along a continuum and feels that she’s been homeschooling her daughters, who are now teens, since birth. Along the way her views of what children are capable of have expanded, and her own love of learning has deepened. She’s fascinated by different learning styles and how learning occurs.
Julie teaches childbirth education, newborn care, and breastfeeding, and trains childbirth educators and doulas at www.WellPregnancy.com. Her first book, Round the Circle: Experienced Doulas Share What They’ve Learned will be available this spring at www.RoundtheCircle.com.