As modern-day homesteaders, we believe from our heads to our hearts that we MUST reject a lot of what is taken for granted by the rest of our society. Not just on a whim, or a curious fluke in our personalities, but by the very real knowledge that our modern society is not well in many ways, and if we continue to immerse ourselves and our families in it, we will soon be ailing right along with it.
So we make the move from the city to the country, limit (or eliminate) electronic mind-killers like the TV and the Playstation, and boot those younguns outside to run wild and free without the fear of traffic, or kidnappers, or drive-by shootings.
They rise early in the morning to the sound of the rooster, the smell of the earth, and a breakfast of natural whole foods.
And then, they go… where?
If your children are between the ages of 5 and 16, they go to school, of course.
Here in the U.S. of A., we have a ginormous monstrosity called the Public School System. It’s a wonderful idea in theory, and the reality of it is that MOST of the time, in MOST of the places, it works reasonably well.
But, just like everything else, we as parents must do OUR homework regarding our local school(s), for, because our country is so big and so diverse, and because by the very nature of “federal control” things that are supposed to be standardized in a good way generally get standardized in a mediocre way, whether your family’s assigned public school is going to be a great one, an acceptable one, a miserable one, or an outright dangerous one is very much a crapshoot.
And here’s the funny part (if you are a fan of dark humor): WHERE the school is located does NOT dictate what your children’s experience will be. There are many, many inner-city schools populated by teachers and parents whose dedication to their children is amazing, and many, many schools in affluent communities whose children are routinely dying of drug overdoses while their parents are chasing the next monetary goal. The majority of public schools, like the majority of the rest of life, fall somewhere in that huge grey middle area.
Chapter One: Our Public School Experience
Oddly enough (for a homeschooler), I’ve had good public school experiences, both personally and with my children’s education.
I attended public schools back in the day of small classes, teachers who commonly came to dinner at the homes of the students, room mothers there almost daily to help with projects, and the ability to go to the bathroom without needing a key to get into it. Oh yeah, and there was no such thing as metal detectors at the front door or school security. Every door into the school was unlocked, all day every day. Up until my older boy was in high school, this remained generally unchanged—even in the dark days of the mid 70’s race problems in high schools, there was no lockdown, and if you moved in an already mixed group (like I did), there was no fear—only a sad confusion at the rest of the mess, but we felt that most of the time anyway.
My daughter tested into our local public school system’s Gifted and Talented Program. By that time we had moved out to the country but were still within the urban school system. The Gifted and Talented Program had been set up in, unarguably, the most inner of the inner-city schools, in a city of over 80,000 souls. They had set up the program so that 50% of the students were those who tested into it, and 50% were neighborhood children whose parents chose to have them attend their neighborhood school, rather than be bussed out of the neighborhood to the nearest “normal” school.
My 5-year-old’s bus ride every morning exceeded 45 minutes, and took her all over the area to pick up the other Lighthouse students, but because of where we were living, it would have taken her that long to get to the nearest “local” school anyway, with the bus stopping at every corner and farm.
Although my (then) husband was EXTREMELY skeptical of the wisdom behind bussing our child INTO the very city we worked so hard to get OUT of, and yea, verily, straight into the heart of the worst part of it, plus his concern that the lessons would have to be “dumbed down” to accommodate the “local” children, I felt that we needed to give it a try and see what happened.
What happened was remarkable.
Of course, our own child blossomed in an environment that was geared towards individual thought and learning. She’s a genius.
The remarkable part (at least to my husband), was watching what happened to the neighborhood kids—none of whom had tested into the Gifted and Talented Program via the pre-kindergarten testing process.
They not only blossomed, but they were also an explosive riot of veritable flowers.
When it was just assumed that ALL the children would be not only capable, but would thrive under the Gifted and Talented Instruction, without exception, they were, and did.
My daughter’s experience in the Lighthouse Program taught her at a very early age that people come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and backgrounds, and that it is a mistake to label anyone according to what is visible on their outsides.
My older son attended our “local” public school (although he’s also clearly a genius, little 5-year-old boys tend not to sit still and test as well as little 5-year-old girls). This school was brand new, built to service not only the rural families in the area, but all the new subdivisions sprouting up in what used to be fields like so many noxious weeds. Although the education he received was a good one (this school was touted as one of Wisconsin’s finest grade schools), the lack of social diversity in the students clearly colored his views (literally)—and as a young adult, he still exhibits some vestiges of that.
Although I’m aware that little boys tend to emulate their fathers and little girls tend to emulate their mothers, and there’s a very real difference in the way this particular set of parents viewed the world and the people in it, I’m convinced that being exposed only to little children of like backgrounds for his entire early-schooling years didn’t help.
Both of these children grew up healthy and literate and have gone on to successful college careers and (in the case of the elder one) successful professional careers, thereby proving that a lot of the time, public school works.
Where the Heck is the Stuff About Homeschooling??
Enter child number three, born to a different (half of it anyway) set of parents, in a different state, and at a different time of life for these parents.
This child was born at home, with a midwife, in a 100-plus-year-old house at the edge of a tiny town in Texas. I had a part-time job, meaning that Alec had to go to daycare several days a week and we found a wonderful one run by a wonderful woman—home-cooked meals, lots of outside playtime, lots of hands-on activities rather than sit-still-and-listen activities. Delia has an after-school-pickup section of her daycare, and in the spring before her little charges turn kindergarten age, they take a field trip to the school to get familiar with where they will be going in the fall.
We had already toyed with the idea of homeschooling since, by this time, my employment offered me the freedom to take my child with me to work if I wanted to, and with him being all of almost five, he could be taken without CONSTANT supervision, allowing me to actually, you know, WORK at work.
We went on the field trip to the school. Out of 12 families, only 2 parents attended, and I thought it was odd that I was one of them since we were thinking of NOT enrolling our child in this school. One would think that one would be interested in checking out one’s child’s school… Our local school is considered very good; it gets wonderful ratings by the Texas Education Association, and indeed, when we walked through the front doors, we were met with a cacophony of colors and sounds all touting the Fun of Learning, and our son was clearly psyched about it. Hyperactively so. His excitement was contagious, and I was tempted to be swept into it all along with him…
I looked up and saw The Banner.
Over the entry to the main corridor was a banner proclaiming this school one of Texas’ Finest, signed (supposedly) by the President of the United States of America, and boldly (even aggressively) stating:
“NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND.”
I know that this phrase is supposed to be uplifting, comforting, and encouraging, and in my former, younger, newer life as a parent, it probably would have been.
Since I am twenty years older, have been around life’s block a few times, and have now seen our government and society at work, it struck me like a slap across the face as being creepy and menacing.
And I knew at that moment, for sure and for certain, that THIS child would NOT be attending public school.
Chapter Two: The “Why” of Homeschooling for Homesteaders
Each family has their own personal reasons for homeschooling, but whether those reasons are religious, political, or having to do with the child’s needs not being met by the public school system, the gist of the matter is basically the same as why we homestead—we want to KNOW what’s going into our children’s heads is as pure and true as what we are so careful to put into their tummies and their lungs.
I feel compelled to add here that my initial thoughts about homeschooling were completely and absolutely self-serving. Ward goes to work at 8:30 a.m. I go to work after lunch. The local school starts promptly (a word I have trouble with on the BEST of days) at 7:45 a.m. I had a difficult time justifying hauling our 5-year-old to “work” well before the adults in the family had to be at theirs. Then, on the other end of it, Ward and I both get out of work at 6:00 p.m.—well AFTER the school lets out at 2:45. Of course, there’s Delia’s after-school care, but for a young child to spend eleven hours out of every day in the care of adults who are not their parents seems more than a little unnatural to us.
I understand and sympathize with parents who have no other choice than the above scenario—I spent several years as a single-working mother myself. We do the best we can with the options at our disposal. Depending on your employment, sometimes homeschooling can still be accomplished—if you are able to work “odd” shifts, childcare can sometimes be arranged for when you are working, and you will be with your child(ren) during the day to school them.
The fact that a large part of our society considers it normal and healthy to deposit their young into the care of “others” for a huge part of their waking hours, and from the time they are 6 weeks old, is, to our way of thinking, certainly a sign of the not-wellness of our culture.
At the present time, we are fortunate enough to have the freedom to both homeschool AND be gainfully employed, so we started looking at the all-children-should-go-to-public-school idea very closely.
And just like a platypus, the more closely we looked at public school, the odder it started looking.
Figures provided by the schools themselves admit that a mere 2 hours is spent in actual school-learnin’ for the average elementary schooler each day. The rest of the 8 hours or so is spent taking turns, waiting in line, recess, lunch, bathroom breaks, etc.
I called our local school to find out the average class size for kindergarten.
They have thirty 5-year-olds vs. ONE teacher.
I asked how many teacher’s aides were in each class and was laughed at.
I asked if they took advantage of room mothers to come in and provide extra hands, eyes, and hearts to this mass of young humanity and was told: “That’s NOT allowed.”
Wait a minute…
“NOT ALLOWED”?! I’M not allowed into my own child’s classroom during the day?!
Homeschool was looking better and better.
In fairness, the next school system over has a kindergartener-teacher ratio of 15-1, which would have been perfectly acceptable to me.
Then there’s the question of homework. Our neighbor’s boy is the same age as ours. He spends all day in public school and comes home with at least an hour’s worth of homework. In the SECOND GRADE. What in the world is there for a second-grader to learn that cannot be accomplished in 8 hours at school?
One of my best friends is an elementary school principal, and she was a teacher for years and years before that. She was understandably skeptical about our interest in homeschooling (since she’s known me for almost 30 years, I’m sure she saw right past all my “for public consumption” reasons and saw my inherent slothfulness shining through). From watching Cathy over the years, I know that the majority of teachers teach because they love their students. I know that they spend literally thousands of their own dollars purchasing materials for their kids to make up for the shortcomings of the materials they are given with which to teach. I know that they are frustrated by the fact that they must take a large portion of every school year “teaching to the test”—preparing their students for the standardized testing that will determine what their schools receive in the way of funding.
Our final analysis of public schools is that the public school system is aimed at educating the Average Student. Anyone who’s known even one child knows that not a single one is average, all are uniquely gifted and learn at different rates and in different ways.
To take all the knowledge that needs to be learned by all the children in the country and force it into a single mold is like asking a federal committee to construct a duck.
You get a platypus.
While agreeing with me in concept, Cathy challenged me, asking exactly HOW I was planning on carrying out something as important as my child’s education all by my lonesome, without any formal training.
It was an excellent question.
Chapter Three: The “How” of Homeschooling for Homesteaders
There are as many ways to homeschool as there are homeschooling families. And this is as it should be, because that’s the whole point. If you want your child to have an education exactly like he/she’d get in public school, you’ll save a whole lot of time and money if you just enroll him/her and be done with it. As stated before, they will most likely turn out just fine.
There are several general types of teaching styles used to homeschool and I’ll briefly touch on each one. A wise parent will change the style of teaching depending on the individual child’s needs. I know some homeschooling families who have all the styles going on at once with different children, and some who even have some in public school and some out—the main issue is not To Homeschool or Not to Homeschool, the main issue at all times should be, “Where/how will my child learn and grow the best at this particular time?”
Traditional homeschoolers have School at Home. There is usually a designated school area or room that’s set up with desks or study areas for each child. Lessons are taught basically the same as in “regular” schools.
Child Directed Learning is a little trickier. Using this style, the parent takes what the child is already interested in and turns it into school. Dinosaurs? This, of course, encompasses Science, but also history, reading, math (dino story problems, reading really, really big numbers BC), and art. Whole units are done up this way, and the materials you were going to teach anyway are cleverly disguised as your child’s own ideas.
There are many “boxed” curriculums designed in the above two styles. When we started our homeschooling adventure, we chose a curriculum that is modified Child Directed—there are pretty basic reading, math, and language presentations, along with a lot of emphasis on music, science, and art. One thing I really like about it is that it’s set up in weekly lessons rather than daily lessons, giving me the freedom to type up my daily schedule according to my own work needs for the week—some days we will do more school than others. I keep the typed schedules along with his finished workbooks for future reference as proof that we really are teaching him stuff.
As we’ve gotten more comfortable with teaching, we’ve picked up books to add to our curriculum—science books, history books, poetry books, books on spiritualism. We have lessons on our old upright piano. We purchased and very much like Rosetta Stone Spanish. With only one student, I can teach everything required from the curriculum AND our added materials in 4 mornings per week.
There are three 12-week quarters to the printed work, so we school September-November and take all of December off, school January-March and take all of April off, and school May-July and take all of August off. One of the many perks of this particular curriculum is that any time after the 4th grade, we may choose to go online with our schooling—he’ll be assigned a teacher who will be available to grade projects, give help, and provide transcripts. If he chooses to homeschool through high school, he will receive an accredited diploma and will be paired with a counselor in his senior year who will help him fill out college applications (if that’s where he wants to go), navigate through the SAT, and apply for scholarships. I’m a fan of all this extra help since I’m pretty sure he’ll surpass me intellectually somewhere in the next 5 years.
Un-schoolers’ style is to not have a style… Life Is School. This is generally too scary a concept for most new homeschoolers because you really need to take a Big Picture view of schooling and make really good notes of everything you do during the course of each day, then review at the end of the week/month/year to make sure you’ve introduced everything that was age-appropriate. Cooking together = Fractions and Chemistry. Grocery shopping = Budgeting and Math. Planting a garden = Biology and PhysEd.
Again, there are multitudinous variations of all of the above, including scary mutations on either end—the parent whose goal is to have their child enrolled in Harvard by the age of 12 and who pretty much spends that child’s childhood turning them into a miniature adult; the parent who is homeschooling to keep their child protected from the Evils of the World and whose child is terrified of anyone who smiles at them and says hello in the grocery store; the parent who believes that the child will learn what he/she needs to know just by living and sets no boundaries, no limits, gives no direction…. all crazy scary.
Chapter Four: What about Socialization?
This is the Battle Cry of the Public Schoolers. How, they ask, will a homeschooled child learn to get along with others? To share? To behave in society?
Let’s look at this for a moment.
In public school, children are segregated according to age. They spend all day in the company of their peers, and maybe a year or two older or younger during recess and lunchtime. And recess and lunchtime are the only times they will have for free play and interaction all day long. The rest of the time is spent sitting still and being quiet.
When else in all of life does this occur? In your own personal workplace, are workers separated by age? At church, in our neighborhoods, ANYWHERE else in society?
I’m not saying that the answer is to keep your homeschooled children to themselves—far from it.
I am lucky enough to be a member of a small, close-knit homeschool group. By lucky, I don’t mean that I was lucky enough to find A homeschool group, there are many groups out there in which to belong. By lucky, I mean that this particular group is wildly diverse. We have members who are homeschooling for all the reasons listed above, and here’s the cool part—it doesn’t matter to any of us WHY we are homeschooling—we are there to support each other.
Although most of our members are Christians, some attend huge urban churches, some tiny rural family churches. We have members who have children who are autistic and/or who have attention deficit disorder and would be put in the “special ed” classes at public school—these are not mentally challenged kids, mind you, they merely think differently and need to be taught in non-mainstream ways.
I am the token quasi-heathen-reincarnationist-Old-Hippiechick, and I am embraced along with everyone else. We have members with “blended” families, members who have bi-racial families. I love our group.
In any given week there will be a number of activities to partake in: field trips, classes, community service projects, 4-H group, and soccer league.
My son recently had his birthday party and I was struck yet again that it WAS simpler to have birthday parties for my public school kids—in school you know all kids in your class. Period. You don’t know their siblings or other family members. As homeschoolers, we know entire families. My eight-year-old son had children at his party from the age of 4 months to 12 years, girls and boys, moms and dads.
It was marvelous—not a gang of same-aged boys, but a huge extended family gathering.
My son can go anywhere, relate, and talk to anyone, of any age, anywhere. He can go to a real restaurant, read a menu, order for himself, and behave. He can go on a museum tour and ask intelligent questions. To me, this IS socialized—being comfortable and able to conduct himself in any segment of society at any given time and place.
We are so enjoying homeschooling, and it’s really been ideal for us in another way: my husband has faced some serious health challenges that have forced us to be away from home, more than not, for the last 9 months. Instead of worrying about how we will split up the family (do I leave our son with friends who will get him to school, or leave my husband alone in a hospital 5 hours from home?), we pack up the schoolwork with our clothes and hit the museums and sights in the Big City.
If at some point, our son expresses interest in enrolling in public school, and as long as our public school remains as safe and secure as a public school can be, off he’ll go—with the understanding that once enrolled, it’s a commitment, and he must stay in school at least till the end of that school year. Again, the bottom line is encouraging the child to grow into a responsible adult and learn at his/her own pace, in his/her own manner.
The very essence of homeschooling is that we keep our children out of public school not because they will learn too MUCH about life and the world there, but because a school building cannot possibly contain all the wonders of life and the world—for that must be gotten on the fly, in the fields, museums, parks, caves, theaters, restaurants, festivals, and planetariums. From the tiny organisms in the earth beneath our feet to as far as the eye can see, to Infinity and Beyond.
If my child grows up realizing that what he learns in “school” is not the sum of what he needs to know, but the foundation to learn all there is to discover… I will have succeeded as a parent and a teacher