I was homeschooled for eight years, from age 11 through to college, before it was a novel way for tiger parents to show off their dynamic commitment to their children’s education. Now, if millions of parents and families are suddenly going to be homeschooling their kids for the coming weeks (and, let’s be honest, quite likely beyond), it’s worth trying to think about how to do this in a manner as smooth, healthy and wise as possible.
Learning at home is quite different from learning at school.
It requires us to reorient how we think about learning in general, and how we approach the process with our children – maybe even with ourselves, too. Historically, education has been the province of parents. But the question of how kids spend their time, and learn, and grow, is one to which society as a whole should pay more substantive attention, instead of leaving it to the professional advocates and their tired debates about charter schools, unions, and uniforms.
Homeschooling is at once traditional, radical, empowering, frustrating, revealing, and, most importantly, not quite any of the above. That’s because it is, by its nature, highly dependent on the individuals involved.
Spending very long stretches of time with my parents (I’m an only child) was both the most trying and also the most positively formative part of being homeschooled.
Finding my own motivations to overcome setbacks was the most difficult. Browsing whatever ideas and subjects piqued my curiosity was the most rewarding. For this and other reasons, try not to compete with all your friends (online and off) about how much your child is hitting the proverbial books.
Not only is it morally and intellectually detrimental – it teaches kids the wrong lessons about what’s important – but homeschooling is one of the best opportunities you’ll get to indulge in more substantive and important comparisons in the first place. Try to use this opportunity for something genuinely alternative.
There are four essential points that all those currently experimenting with homeschooling should bear in mind.
First, it takes time to find your rhythm.
This might sound obvious, but the first (overly ambitious) schedule, or the second (pared-down) one, or even the third that you come up with, is unlikely to be a smooth fit. And you’ll realize this only thanks to all the frustrations, failures, and annoyances that you and your kids encounter.
Learning what works very often requires first finding out what doesn’t, and then adapting. Because we’re all human, change is almost always hard. Don’t simply impose your ideal schedule on your kids, and then get frustrated when they (and you) can’t live up to it. I found mathematics hard, so for months, I avoided it. Then, in order to get it done, I made it the first thing I did each morning – and my fear lessened and my understanding of it improved. I still spent way too much time getting through trigonometry. It will take not only time but multiple failures and slip-ups to work out how to arrange it all satisfactorily. Expect to experiment, make mistakes, and reorder your priorities – several times.
Second, talk to your kids about what they want, and what works for them.
(Yes, they want more television; no, that’s not what I mean.) Many educational systems fall into disrepute because of how poor they are at soliciting, engaging, and stimulating student interest. Students are often discouraged from participating in their education.
After all, how many of them get to choose the books they read, or what science they pursue?
Ask your kids what interests them, and be sure to do so repeatedly, since their answers will change the more that they learn. Maybe they simply want to sleep later (which research shows would be good for their physical, emotional, and intellectual health in every way). Perhaps they’re bored with geometry and trigonometry, which, honestly, often get taught as though they’re numbing agents. (Algebra is usually more interesting before it also becomes too rote in high school.)