My father-in-law, a retired high school science teacher, sat across from me in our living room at their last visit discussing all things education. If you’ve followed me for a while, you’ll know I love to talk homeschool. It was a fun and lively conversation, mostly about teaching science, when the topic of discussion turned to plans for my high schooler. At some point in the discussion he asked, “Don’t you think he would do things for another teacher that he wouldn’t do for you?”
My reply might suprise you as I am avid homeschooler. It was “Yes, I do.” I do think that he would do academic assignments for another teacher that he wouldn’t do for me. But the question missed an important aspect of homeschooling. Homeschooling is fundamentally different, not just from public schools, but private schools as well. It is so much more than school at home. In fact, it’s not school at home at all. Our focus can be slower, more intentional. It can include the child’s desire to learn and their interests. It is child-centered and learning-centered, but more than anything connection-centered.
Connection is one of the biggest reasons my family homeschools. I know that we have roughly 18 years with our children. I wanted to be the one that spends that time with them. I wanted to be the one to see them write their names or learn to read or have that epiphany regarding a challenging math concept finally understood. I wanted to share, explore, and watch them discover the world around them. Many of us long to place the soul of curiosity back into learning. We long to know our children, discover their passions, and chase those dreams with them. Homeschooling affords us the time to make these connections. I wanted the time with them.
I wanted the time with them not only for schooling. I wanted the time saved also outside of schooling though admittedly, it runs together some as homeschooling becomes not just school, but a lifestyle. The daily walks down to our swamp sampling to see what animals live there and researching to learn about those animals is not recorded in portfolios, though they could be. The hours that my oldest spends photographing, watching videos and researching drones, tinkering with electronics are not what he considers academics. And yet, even so they are constantly learning.
Without the burden of management, movement, and transitions from one classroom to another, the time that it takes to perform active directed schooling is cut. In the early elementary years the time saved can be significant, but even as they reach middle school and high school directed academics are still only around 2/3 to 3/4 of the time. The amount of time it takes to homeschool gradually increases over the years. My nine-year-old currently spends about two hours four days a week with directed instruction. This is increased from her 30 minutes that we spent in kindergarten. My oldest, a sophomore in high school, spends somewhere around 3 to 4 hours 4 to 5 days a week on “school.” That leaves time for true social activities with friends, for more field trips, and for pursuing personal passions. It’s been awe inspiring to watch my children take up a project of their own and work to make it happen.
Time isn’t the only difference. Another big difference for homeschooling is location. Homeschooling can happen anywhere. On our morning walk we can practice mental math. In the car we can listen to a book or music from the musician we are studying, or even a biology game of “Which Animal is It?” akin to 20 questions. Homeschooling happens snuggled up on the couch or even in the bed with a pile of books. It happens lying on the floor while coloring their piece of art. It happens on the kitchen table with a board game. Both of mine at different times in their childhood would take their reading material and climb a tree to read. In the milder months here we take our schooling outside on a picnic blanket or even in the middle of the wilderness after a long hike. Much of my youngest math is done on a chalk drawing of a number line on the sidewalk in our yard.
One of my most memorable locations for homeschooling was on the Southern Rim Trail of the Grand Canyon. My youngest was roughly 7 years old, and that trail is filled with geological educational outposts and a geological timeline along the walk. She would count by hundreds for me jumping from 100 to the next telling me the number as she went, until we came to the next millennium, and then we would read the geological information at that posting and look for that rock layer in the canyon.
Worksheets and tests, tools for assessing skills of a classroom of many children, are often not necessarily needed for homeschoolers, especially in the early years. Many of us don’t even grade our children. If you think about it, there isn’t really a reason to do so. Tests are a tool to access the retention and the understanding of material, and grades are used to communicate that with others. A homeschooling parent already knows what information their child has retained. They are having conversations or hearing narrations as part of school or having discussions at the dinner table of what material they covered that day. Often these discussions even move outside the family to extended family and friends, so the parent has no need of grades.
Once in a discussion about homeschool transcripts, someone asked how I went about grading my son. I said that with the classes that he takes with me, he receives an “A.” Some may think this is bias, but homeschooling parents are actually harder on their children in giving grades than most schools are. My logic for the “A” is this: If he doesn’t understand the material we are studying, we continue to study until he does. If he isn’t putting forth the effort on the material, then we continue until he does. It may take us a year and a half to get through high school algebra, but either way he has a good understanding of the material. The focus is on the child and on learning.
We also have the luxury to use different tools like narration, illustration, and just basic discussion. When teaching writing or even math we can take the time to write things down for a young child whose mind moves far faster than their little hands. We can use games to assess retention and memory recall as an instrument of learning. We can also cease our routine or regular curriculum and chase through those rabbit holes of individual interests.
So yes, I do think my son would probably do some academic assignments better for another teacher than for me, but luckily another huge difference about homeschooling is that we become facilitators, not just teachers. We don’t have to know everything or be their teacher for every subject. Our job is to facilitate learning experiences for our children; to teach our children to teach themselves. And academic experiences weren’t the only objective for my children when I chose to homeschool. Homeschooling is so much more.