There is a spotlight on homeschooling right now, as many parents explore alternatives to public school in the age of coronavirus. Our family is entering into our third year of homeschooling this fall, with a rising fourth grader and first grader. Since we first began to think about homeschooling, I have spent countless hours reading up on various approaches, making mistakes, and learning from others. Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way, summed up by five myths that many people initially believe about homeschooling.
Myth #1. You need a curriculum.
If you are transitioning from public school to homeschooling, a curriculum can feel like a nice safety measure akin to training wheels. You get to experience a bike ride, but you have some supports in place to prevent you from falling. While training wheels do provide a structure that prevents you from toppling as you learn a new skill, any experienced bike rider knows that training wheels quickly become overly restrictive and hold you back from doing what you really want to do on a bike – experience a thrill, explore new territory, or use your skills for practical purposes like transportation. The same is true for educational experiences. If you want to push yourself to go fast, explore what life has to offer, or put your newfound skills to use in the real world, chances are slim that you will achieve that by marching lockstep with a curriculum. Of course, there is nothing wrong with using a curriculum as one item in your toolbox. Sometimes a little support is exactly what you need to help you find your balance or maintain a little bit of structure in some aspect of learning. Other times, you may find it holding you back when you are ready to fly.
Myth #2. You have to cover every subject.
Those in the planning stages of homeschooling often ask questions like, “what are you doing for history and spelling?” This makes me tempted to add, “what are you doing for anthropology and entrepreneurship?” The world has much more to offer than a dozen or so topics. We do our kids a real disservice if we focus narrowly on the small slice of subjects that are taught in traditional schools.
My 9 year old is currently fascinated by farming practices, sustainability, and bushcraft skills like building shelters, fires, carving with knives, and making rope from plants. My 6 year old loves fantasy and mythology creatures and anything to do with design. Having the opportunity to explore these interests makes them excited about learning, which is an experience I rarely had as a student. My experience with learning was largely about going through the motions, not about pursuing passions.
This doesn’t mean that history and spelling are unimportant. I certainly want to raise kids who grow up to have a deep understanding of history and the ability to communicate well in writing using correct spelling. I also believe this can be done without devoting large pockets of each day to single subjects. Make your biggest focus the topics and activities that make your kid light up. If you find that your kid needs a little spelling practice down the road, there are plenty of spelling games and books out there to make that happen. If you focus on spelling first, it’s harder to spark those passions that will keep the fires of learning burning bright.
Myth #3. You need a daily schedule.
Many families are attempting to replace school with homeschooling, so a logical first step is often to try to recreate the school day at home. We have all seen ambitious, color-coded schedules from brand new homeschoolers, with time each day blocked off for reading, math, history, science, music, outdoor time, etc. I’ve noticed that this type of rigid structure is less common among more experienced homeschoolers. They are more likely to have settled into a loose routine like doing science experiments on Tuesdays, poetry teatime on Fridays, or doing 10 minutes of daily phonics practice with a 7 year old. Penciling in a few things to look forward to doing together each week is a wonderful thing. Trying to account for each hour of your school week is probably going to create more stress than structure.
Although most kids will thrive on a loose routine, parents who are juggling paid work with childcare responsibilities may find a “parent on duty” schedule helpful. For some families, splitting the workday hours in half may be the best solution. For others, having one parent stay up late to work while the other takes over morning duties may be a better option. For single parents, your superhero cape should be arriving any day now.
Myth #4. A homeschool day takes as long as a school day.
Along with ditching the schedule, I recommend ditching the idea that you have to spend as much time on formal education as kids do in schools. During a regular school day, time is spent on morning announcements, explaining assignment instructions to a large group, lining up for recess, waiting in the lunch line, and more. Although I do not think this time is always completely wasted – learning how to be part of a group can be a valuable lesson in itself – homeschoolers also need to recognize that we are overdoing it if we try to create an 8am to 3pm day devoted entirely to academics. In fact, to recreate the amount of formal academic instruction that takes place in elementary school classrooms, you can homeschool in less than two hours a day.
Myth #5. You have to teach them everything yourself.
No parent is an expert at everything, but you don’t have to be. As Albert Einstein famously said, “I never teach my pupils. I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.” This has long been our approach to homeschooling. We try to provide a rich environment filled with access to books, documentaries, games, and other learning materials with two goals in mind: first, to introduce ideas and topics to the kids so that they will have a broad knowledge base to build on, and second, to provide access to information that will allow them to dig deep when they find something that sparks their interest.
Consider the difference between the following scenarios:
- You listen to someone drone on about a subject you have little or no interest in.
- You seek out a podcast, book, or expert to learn more about a topic you love.
In my experience, I learn next to nothing from the first scenario but an incredible amount from the second one. The same is true for our kids. The goal of homeschooling isn’t for us to download information from our brains into theirs. It’s to start them on their journey as lifelong learners.
Experienced homeschoolers, I would love to hear from you. What have you learned since you first started homeschooling?