Friday, December 12, 2014

Why We're Homeschooling

While I've spent so much time the past year or so researching and thinking about homeschooling, I haven't really sat down and made a concrete list of our reasons for doing this. So I'm laying it out here, trying to be as concise and non-rambly as possible.

Why homeschooling:

The biggest and simplest reason, really, is that I don't feel like traditional school is necessarily the best place to learn, or teaches in the best way for kids to learn. It's funny how we're so used to the idea of school that it seems like this immutable part of life, but compulsory public school has only been an entity for about 100 years or so. It's relatively new, historically speaking. And when you look at the research on how kids (and adults, everyone really) learn, most of the suggestions are very different from how teaching takes place in most schools. In truth, I think if we were to put the boys in traditional public school they'd probably do fine, but I feel like it would be in spite of that school structure and not because of it.

I don't want D to have to sit at a desk all day.

I don't want him to spend all day at school, then have to fight over doing homework when he gets home.

I don't want him to feel pressured into reading (or writing, or math, etc) before he's ready for it, or feel "lesser" for not being at the same level of other kids in his class.

Dividing information into defined subjects and setting arbitrary guidelines for when they need to be taught regardless of individual students' ability or interest makes little sense.

I want him to enjoy learning for the sake of finding out cool stuff and genuine curiosity about the world, vs focusing on grades above content.

I'm pretty ok with avoiding him picking up on the sorts of gender/racial/socioeconomic/etc stereotypes that tend to be perpetuated in school.

I want my kids to get to socialize with people of all ages, vs a specific group of kids their same age.

I don't want to spend my days shuttling kids to and from school and school activities.

And, frankly, money. Our first choice for D's elementary schooling was, ideally, to have him go to a montessori school (for all the same reasons stated above). However tuition is too expensive, and so not an option, and it was when we realized that that we started seriously considering homeschooling instead. However, even at his montessori preschool he wasn't always thrilled about school-- he would do the work, but complained about not liking it. He's been averse to reading chapter books with me, I think partially because he felt so bored listening to the chapter books his teachers read to them at school in the afternoons. So I wonder, even if montessori had been an option, if we still would have given homeschooling a try anyway.

Why unschooling:

The thing about not wanting to fight over homework? Same goes for a curriculum. I don't wanna have to force my kid to work on specific academic subjects when he isn't interested in them yet. That may sound like me being lazy or copping out, except that I also believe that there's no need to go along with a set schedule or curriculum, that he will learn things when he wants to or sees a need for it.

I look back at my time in school, and what I've done in the years since then. I honestly remember very little of what I learned in classrooms at school-- there is some that was impactful, but a lot that's been long forgotten. I learned a good deal from my Montessori training after college, although a LOT of that learning was from the reading I did, and hands-on practice with materials and "on the job" experience. I actually think our training would have been much better if we'd spent more time working with kids in a real classroom, and less time in lectures learning theory (which is important, but learning how to apply that theory is even more so). And now as a parent... this is easily the most important and most difficult job I have ever taken on, and ALL of the learning for this gig has been hands-on, and through my own reading and searching for advice and information and just living it.

Many people will freely admit that the most important learning you do is on-the-job as you begin your work. So it makes sense to let my kids learn that way, too-- in life, hands-on, searching for information as it becomes interesting or relevant or necessary to you. And there's a good bit of evidence supporting the ideas that having plenty of unstructured time to just play, and letting kids explore (with some, but not too much, guidance or direction), may actually be the best way to learn stuff in a way that is meaningful and lasting.

The world is changing rapidly, and much of what we were taught in schools is now obsolete or close to it. I feel like what matters most now, and my best guess for the future, is not necessarily knowing specific facts but knowing how to find things out-- how to identify what you need to learn for a particular goal, how to go about finding that information, and complete your goal. Whether that's figuring out how to build a lego transformer, how to beat a level on a new game, how to make a movie, whatever, I don't really care as long as he's learning and practicing how to figure shit out.

And lot of it comes down to how we want to live our lives. I like getting to spend time with my kids, and don't really want them away at school all day. I love hearing their questions and seeing them create things, wonder about things, come up with new stories and projects. I like getting to be a part of that. I don't want a school schedule to rule over our lives. I don't want to have to fight my kids every day-- I am fairly certain that if D were going to school we'd have to drag him there in the morning a decent amount of the time, and then hassle him about doing his homework when he got home. Life's too short for that, especially when I don't think that being at school or doing homework is even all that important. I hear so many parents talk about how busy they are, spending hours every day shuttling their kids to and from their various schools, seemingly hardly having time to breathe. We are making a conscious decision to live at a slower pace.

I don't say all this to condemn school or people who send their kids to school. Many homeschoolers seem convinced that public school is nothing more than a tool by the state to brainwash kids and that everyone who comes out of that system is forever flawed and broken. Frankly I feel that having a high-quality public education option is imperative to any society-- I do happen to think that should probably look very different from what our public school system does today, but I do feel strongly that one should exist. Not everyone is able to or even has any desire to homeschool their kids. There is no one-size-fits-all solution (or even one solution that is forever-- who knows how long we'll homeschool, or decide to do something different down the line). These are just some of our reasons for going this route.

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