As I said before, the reasons people start homeschooling are not necessarily the reasons they continue.
I consider the reasons I put in our story last week are the negative reasons – the pushes, if you like. These include:
– bullying, and subsequent problems with physical and emotional health of my children
– my children not fitting in with children at school for other reasons
– the school (or specific teachers) not being able to meet my children’s needs
– disappointment with the limits of the school system (particularly in Australia)
But these are not really the reasons we continue to homeschool. We homeschool because it is a flexible, responsive, completely customised way of educating our children. And we don’t need to talk about ‘enrichment’ in our homeschool, because enrichment activities are the ones we do all the time.
These are positive reasons – the pulls.
Even with a large family, homeschooling is so much more flexible than being part of a school and in the school system. We can focus on the same project for a whole week, or month or year, rather than being limited by a timetable. We can go on day trips whenever we like. We can go to the beach, or the city, or the museums, when they are quiet. If a friend tells us there is a special event happening tomorrow, we can go to it. If we are ill, we don’t have to do any work. If we are tired, we can stay in bed.
My children do YuuMii art classes led by another homeschooling mum, and her children come along to my Nurture Learning science classes. We are both completely free to cancel on each other if we need to – if someone is ill, or if we need a break, or if it’s a better day to go to the beach. We don’t do this all the time, but it’s great to have the option.
When things are working well, that’s great. If they aren’t working well, we can change them, straight away. We are not stuck with a curriculum for the rest of the year. If it’s clear that there is a mismatch between the way some material is taught, and the way my child learns best, we can look for something that better suits that child. Or even stop that subject completely and focus on another subject for a while.
Again, if a special event comes up, we can change plans to accommodate it. Earlier this year we went to see the Bell Shakespeare Theatre Co. in their final dress rehearsals before taking their new plays to schools. They offered this to homeschooling families about a week before the dress rehearsals. They had to limit the numbers because of the huge response. Clearly they did not realise how many families would be keen to come, and how easy it is for homeschoolers to shift things around a bit with such short notice.
My two older boys follow different maths courses. We changed curriculum several times before we found one that suited Pokemon Boy. Drama King followed it for a bit, but it became clear that he didn’t appreciate the incremental, mastery-based approach. He needs something that challenges him far more and gets him to think outside the box. I don’t feel I have quite tailored our approach to his needs, but we are getting there. No matter how much effort a teacher puts in to differentiating the work for children in their class, you can’t get anywhere as close to the customisation that you can with homeschooling.
Wide social network
Every week, my children interact with a wide range of people. They talk to people in shops, on public transport, at homeschooling meetups and at organised classes. I suspect they interact with a far wider cross-section of society than children at school.
This even applies to my rather introverted Pokemon Boy. If he wants to go to the library, buy himself some lunch, catch the ferry to see his friends or go to one of his classes, he just can’t avoid interacting with people on the way. Plus, his friends are not limited to those at the same grade level as him, or with one shared interest.
It’s perhaps not what people expect from homeschooling, due to the many myths that abound. But it’s true.
Time to follow their interests
I keep being asked if I am sending Pokemon Boy to high school. It is an option. Many parents send their children to school at some point, even if they homeschool the rest of the time. However, I keep thinking that if he went back to school, he would end up wasting a whole lot of time. Time that he could otherwise be spending on what he actually wants to do.
Pokemon Boy wants to be a computer game designer. He seems to be good at it, but who knows whether he will really do it as an adult, as his paid employment. However, if he’s going to do it, he certainly needs hours and hours of experience designing and testing games, to prove that he is up to the job.
If he went back to high school, he would have so many dead hours in the day – time when he is travelling to school, or in assembly, or moving from one class to another, or spending hours to cover something in a class situation that we could have covered far more quickly at home, one-to-one. And then on top of the five hours plus he would spend at school every day, they would expect him to do homework. If he had any organised extra-curricular activities, they would go on top of that. Add on eating and sleeping and when would he be able to develop his skills in computer game design?
I would far rather have him at home, working through the mandatory courses (which we have here in NSW) in the minimum time necessary, and spending the rest of the time working on what he really wants to do, and building up a portfolio for his future career.
If he decides, in the end, that he wants to do something else, that’s okay. Even if he never ends up being a computer game designer, he will have had the experience of following a dream. He will have worked through difficulties, and stuck with his project for a significant amount of time. Many of us did not have that experience until we left school. If he does this before he’s even 18, he will have a great base to build on.
Can incorporate new approaches to education
There are some exciting new developments in education, and theory of learning. There are plenty of news reports coming out about the benefits of meditation, of mindfulness, of exercise, of working outside, of project-based learning, of meaningful work with real-life applications, of work that connects with the community or the environment you live in, and so on.
It appears to take a long time for this to filter down into education legislation (if it does at all). Innovative, creative teachers who are up-to-date on methods may not find it easy to fit those new approaches into current systems.
If we want to try out new methods at home, we can. We can do it straight away. We don’t have to get permission from anyone. We can meditate and exercise every morning, if we want. (Some of us find this more motivating than others.) We can work at times when the children are more receptive to learning. The children can work on cross-curricular projects that they have chosen themselves. They can set up their own businesses and earn money for their talents. When there is a community project (like the Weaving Bridges project for the Guringai Festival here on the Northern Beaches) they can drop everything else and immerse themselves in that project.
It’s probably apparent from my comments above, and in other posts on this blog, that we engage in plenty of what schools call ‘enrichment’. We go on daytrips. We do hands-on activities at home, and in other classes. We watch films. We do projects – with priority given to the ones the children have chosen themselves.
I think this is the way my children learn best. By doing this, the subjects come alive for them. They can cover whatever syllabus the state wants them to cover, and achieve the outcomes, and it’s significantly more interesting and more likely to stick in their memory than working through workbooks.
We don’t call it ‘enrichment’. It’s just learning.