Do you know that feeling you get when you find the perfect gift and you just know it is the right one? How about when you're five minutes into a conversation with a person you just met and you know they're going to become a good friend? Think about redecorating a room and finding just the right color for the walls - a color you know will make you happy every time you enter the room. My husband and I have a shorthand phrase we use for that feeling of finding a perfect fit. We say, "It speaks to us."
That is how I feel about the idea of homeschooling. It speaks to me. It calls to me. It just feels right. At a fundamental level, I just know I want to do it. I need to do it. I would regret it if I didn't at least try it.
I have two inquisitive, enthusiastic, bright, cheerful, interactive preschool-aged children. They are only a little over a year apart in age, get along extremely well, and genuinely enjoy each other's company. I am certified to teach Pre-K through 8th grade and I am a certified Speech-Language Pathologist. Because we knew I wanted to stay home with the children when they were babies, we bought our house and structured our budget with a single income in mind. I have also fallen into personally rewarding and professionally stimulating side work managing and writing this blog and creating therapy materials here from home. It is as if the stars are aligning in favor of homeschooling.
I can be more analytical about it. There are many specific, concrete reasons I like the idea of teaching my children at home: (in no particular order)
- Flexibility: I get to set our daily, weekly, monthly, and annual schedule. If it isn't working, we can try something new. As the children grow and their rhythms and needs change, our schedule can change with them. We can visit family as we desire within seasons and to take advantage of special events (like weddings) without worrying about missing school.
- Customization: I can teach to the skills and learning styles of my children. If Michael is ready to do math at a two lesson per day pace, but needs to take handwriting slowly we can do that. If he's getting frustrated and self-critical about a certain skill we can take a break altogether and revisit it in 6-8 weeks when a little more maturity, fine-motor, and cognitive skills have kicked in. We can easily take a topic and do a curriculum lesson with it, an art project, watch a related television program, look up related resources online, take a "field trip" to observe it in "real-life", etc. If they particularly like a topic, we can linger on it and study it in-depth spending a couple of extra weeks on it.
- Efficiency: Working in small groups eliminates the time necessary in large group management. We don't have to wait for lines to form. We don't have to walk to another room and wait for 25 children to get settled to begin a new lesson. We are only dealing with behavior management for two children (and hopefully not too much of that). Behavior and large-group management can eat up a lot of instruction time in schools. Inattention and distraction during instructional time eat up more. At home, we don't lose the get ready for school time, the travel to and from school time, the communicate effectively with the teacher time, or the school administration tasks(filling out forms, records, etc.) time necessary in traditional schooling. We don't have to do homework that is too hard or too easy for the children (which is inevitable in schools because typically assignments are assigned to a whole class). I can cover content in four hours here at home that would take twice that in a school setting.
- Avoiding the Testing: The current climate in schools involves a heavy emphasis on accountability and testing. Without going into this rather controversial topic, let's just say that I look forward to not having days and days of their instructional time taken up with learning how to take standardized tests and then taking those tests.
- Maintaining and Strengthening Family Bonds: Family is lifelong. Parents and siblings are with you as children, adolescents, young adults, when you become parents yourselves, and beyond. You lean on family, laugh with family, learn with family, and give love and companionship to family through your entire lifespan. Strong bonds with family are a gift to be treasured. I feel like keeping my children at home will provide a unique opportunity to maintain and strengthen the strong bonds we've already formed through the transition from early-childhood to childhood.
- Breadth: Homeschooling can encompass the traditional subjects taught in school. I am looking forward to reading, writing, math, science, social studies, and history (core subjects) as well as the enrichment areas such as art, music, and physical education (extra-curriculars) typically offered in the schools. However, teaching at home allows me to also focus on non-traditional subjects as part of our homeschooling. I want to teach the children age-appropriate information about nutrition, meal-planning, and cooking. I want to teach them about all of the tasks necessary to keeping a household running. I want to teach fundamental personal finance skills, again, age-appropriately. I want to think of ways to fold development of some core character traits into our homeschooling. Things like persistence and tenacity, kindness and generosity, conflict resolution, attention to detail, and pride in a job well done are so important.
- School/Life Balance: Even now, when the children have a school day that is only 2.5 hours long, we are prevented from doing other things from when we wake up all the way through 11:30 am when I get home from picking them up from school. Once they are in school for a full day, they would not be home until more like 3-4pm. Then we would need to do dinner, homework, and a bath. Where, in that schedule, is there substantive, uninterrupted time for play, spending time with family, music or dance lessons, or just quiet moments to read or snuggle with a family pet?
- Individualism/Avoiding Peer Pressure: Right from the beginning, children are such unique individuals - each so different from the other. I observed it in early childhood classrooms, while doing speech therapy, and in my own two, very different from each other, children. As they get older, both from my own experience growing up and from my observations of children as they reach upper-grade school and middle school, there is such pressure to conform and not stand out as different or noticeable in any way. In my opinion, children in large-group settings offer opportunities for both positive and negative socialization experiences. I believe homeschooling offers the opportunity to avoid the negative experiences so common in traditional schooling (peer-pressure to conform, teasing, learning negative behaviors, etc.) while still offering the opportunity through networking with other families in our neighborhood and in the homeschooling community to have positive and meaningful social relationships.
- Protecting Childhood: Just as I was not worried that my children would still be waking me up 4 times a night when they are in high school, and I was not worried that they will still be potty-training in high school, I am also not worried that they will be socially immature in high school. I think children naturally, and due to environmental factors (like the television programs they watch, or language they hear at home), mature at different rates. In a classroom setting, children often gravitate towards the children that are doing something slightly taboo - using words that are "grown-up" words, or mimicking "grown-up behavior. It is natural that in a large-group setting the entire group will move along the scale from innocent childhood to "experienced" teenager more quickly than children who aren't. I feel like keeping my children at home will allow them to be children a little longer and I believe that is a good thing. They'll grow up soon enough. I want to let them enjoy the simplicity and innocence of just being their age as long as possible.
These are just my own, deeply personal reasons for homeschooling. My feelings on these issues are just that - my feelings. They are right for my life and my family. I do not believe that what is right, and possible, for my family should necessarily be right for anyone else's family. I feel like it is important to say that explicitly because my decision to homeschool in no way implies that I believe people who send their children to school are making a lesser decision in any way.
There are two main disadvantages for me. First, I am wholly, completely, and fundamentally an introvert. I have great interpersonal skills, love my children wholeheartedly, and thoroughly enjoy teaching; however, I need a not-insignificant amount of quiet recharge time during the day to stay happy and fully functional. I will have to find a way to build that quiet recharge time into our daily and weekly routines in order to make this work.
Second, I am choosing a course, that if it goes well, will last many wonderful years - years that I will be unable to return to working at my chosen profession outside of the home. I love doing therapy with children. While I also love working on the blog and helping parents and therapists with my words and materials, it isn't the same as working directly with children who need me. I will miss that. However, I hope that once we get into the swing of homeschooling and the children get a little older and more independent, that I may be able to pick up some private clients. Doing even a little therapy would satisfy my desire to work directly with children (other than my own) in a professional capacity and keep my skills fresh at the same time.
Wow. Somehow this has turned into a huge post. If you're still reading down here at the bottom, I'll assume it is because you found following along with my thoughts at least somewhat interesting. I find writing things out to be helpful in organizing and clarifying my own thoughts. I also wanted to share it with all of you because you'll probably be reading more posts on homeschooling over the coming days and months and at least now you'll know why.
Optional supplementary reading: A dad explains one reason his family decided to homeschool their daughter. It is beautifully and eloquently written.