First things first. We have a deep respect for the public school system and teachers in general. We have several friends and family members that are educators. This post is not a manifesto for why everyone should drop the public system and start homeschooling their children. In fact, it's not meant to sway you in one way or the other. It's simply a chronicle of the thought process that Lynn and I employed when making the final decision this year to give homeschool a shot.
Choosing to home school our children wasn't an easy or quick decision, which it shouldn't be. But we considered every option and weighed the pros vs the cons. We made our ultimate decision based on what is best for our children and our family.
Education is a critical part of every child's development. So it's no wonder that parents (and even non-parents) are so passionate about schooling.
We're no different.
Yet we've still been on the receiving end of the awkward glances and ill-worded reactions when we explain that we're taking education in-house. I get it. It's different. It's not in the mainstream, and that's OK.
So let me outline for you our 5 core reasons for traveling this path.
1. To Take Control of Their Education
I was lucky enough to see Salman Kahn (founder of the Khan Academy) speak a few years ago and he related education to building a house. You start with a foundation. But in this analogy, you only need to complete your foundation 70% before you can start constructing the house on top of it. And the first floor only needs to be 70% completed before you move on to building the 2nd, and so on. What you're left with is a dangerous mess that can crumble under a stiff wind.
Homeschooling our children allows us to make sure that they're understanding concepts fully before we move on to the next building block. And if they struggle, we can immediately recognize it and find creative ways to relate the material. We build the foundation to 100% and then we proceed upward.
It allows us to enrich their strengths, and supplement their weaknesses. It also gives them the ability to be creative and open minded with their education, rather than merely right and wrong.
This is a critical point for us. Teaching to the 'correct or incorrect' mind-set instills a general sense of polarity in how a child should view the world. Creativity and problem-solving are born in the gray space between black and white. To a child, all things are possible. Until, as a society, we systematically condition them out of that way of thinking.
Home schooling allows us to blaze an educational path that encourages detours and taking the 'scenic route' to get to our destination. And that concept leads me to our next reason.
2. To Let Them Learn in the Wild
Classrooms are isolated education laboratories that kids almost universally loathe. They count the hours until they're freed by the bell so that they can go home, be comfortable, and have fun.
But education shouldn't be an uncomfortable proposition. With home schooling, our classroom is at the core of our family, and it's mobile, just like the phone in your pocket. We can make any location in the world our classroom, and that gives us an extraordinary ability to inject relevance into their curriculum.
Using Relevance-Based Learning, we can easily relate concepts to familiar aspects of their lives. This has been shown in research to have a profound impact on a ability of the human brain to store information for the long term. If lessons are void of relevancy or emotional engagement, it's going to be an uphill battle to get them to learn everything the NEED to learn.
Think back to when you were in school growing up. How great were the field trips? You got to get out of the classroom and change up your drab, boring routine. It was exciting. And what you didn't realize is that all the while you were having fun, you were learning.
With the world as our classroom, every lesson has a chance to capture the wonder that the occasional field trip provided us. We just have the ability to do a lot more of them.
3. Extra extra curricular activities
Nights and weekends. That's the usual time parents have to cram in their kids' extra curricular activities. By homeschooling, we can actually break the day up and fit those activities in during 'normal' school hours. They're more energetic in those hours, way more enthusiastic about it, and their focus and retention are much higher.
And that also includes fun, non-developmental 'stuff' as well. We went on vacation in November of 2016, and we were able to pick a light week at Disney World because we didn't have to work around a school schedule. Pretty liberating, and it was AWESOME.
We just needed to plan to compensate for the two weeks they'd be away from their studies. Piece of cake.
3. To Keep Them Active
My first son was born a runner. Always has been, always will be. It's his outlet for all of the excess energy that his little nuclear reactor of a body produces around the clock.
Keep him still for too long and you'll see it. The enthusiasm drains from his eyes faster than water balloon landing on thumbtack, and with it goes the focus.
From that point on, a virtual steel curtain drops over his brain preventing him from accepting any new information, and stops any information from flowing out. He'll 'forget' basic things. Things he's known for years.
I know he hasn't actually forgotten anything, but it's a moot point trying to get him to learn anything in that time. In times like these, most parents would be inclined to be stern and reprimand him. We realize, though, that he just needs some time to clear his head, and his way of doing that is to be active. Because we don't have to get our work in before 'the bell', we can let him do just that. Stop working, let him right the capsized ship in his mind, and proceed later, full sail.
Extended play time is pretty critical to the young mind.
4. Hive Learning and Keeping Our Family Tight
One overarching principle that Lynn and I wanted to instill in our children is a deep sense of adoration between siblings. We encourage them to include each other, and to compromise when they don't see eye-to-eye. Getting them to calmly communicate when opinions differ can naturally be a challenge, but urging them to resolve disagreements in an amicable way is one of our life skill 'gems' that we promote in our house.
Part of encouraging a tight relationship bleeds into learning. Kids are naturally more likely to learn from each other. I don't have any scientific backing for that statement, just 5 years of observing these animals interact in their natural habitat.
Good or bad, they're going to mimic their older siblings with impressive consistency. Sure, they'll pick up habits and knowledge from their parents, but it takes much more work at times.
It's no different with education. Wherever Andrew is learning a new concept, Holly is right on his heels absorbing, almost as if through osmosis. And when Andrew has a handle on a concept, we use this mechanism as a two-for-one. He'll try his hand at teaching her. This solidifies the concept in his mind and she's more receptive to learning it herself, due to her inherent desire to be just like him. For us, at least, its shown an extraordinary amount of success in a short period of time.
5. To Provide Them with Adequate Sleep
Ah, Sleep. They old college buddy of mental performance. Adults can't function properly without enough and it's the same with kids. Wake them up at 6 AM everyday and watch how little of that patented energy they have. Let them sleep to a reasonable time, and they're bright-eyed and bushy tailed, ready to take on the world.
According to a study done by the Office Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, just 30 extra minutes of sleep for children helps to increase alertness and decrease impulsive behavior during school hours. Children that lost an hour of sleep showed the opposite effect.
With the non-rigid schedule that comes as a benefit of homeschooling, our children can sleep as long as their little bodies require, ensuring they perform optimally during school hours.
So that's our story. Hopefully it gives you some food for thought, and normalizes the homeschooling decision just a little bit more.