Tuesday, July 8, 2014

"Aren't You Afraid They'll Be Weirdos?" and other questions about homeschooling

We are a homeschooling family.  If you've been here before, you probably know this.  If not, hi, hello, we are a homeschooling family.  As we were nearing the end of last year's school time, my husband and I started perusing curriculum options for the next year.  Ultimately, we made our choices and decided to continue 'schoolwork' through the summer.  Our oldest is working at a second grade level and our youngest is now considered (by me) a pre pre-schooler (by which I mean she is mature enough to participate in almost all school activities, but lacks the ability to sit still for a full lesson so she flits in and out of the room, alternating between coloring in her journal and putting her pretend pigs to sleep in a book.)

Reading picnic.

This will be our third year homeschooling big brother and little sister has been tagging along all the way.  In three years, we have fielded many questions, speculations, criticisms, and admirations from all manner of people.  We have had strangers at pharmacies and restaurants give us their opinions as well as suggestions and support from family.  We've navigated explaining homeschooling to acquaintances and co-workers, as well as the cashier at the grocery store.  As a family, we've been lucky enough to have friends that love us for homeschooling, and to have connected with families who share our love of it and our children have made invaluable friends. Unfortunately, we've also endured our fair share of snide remarks and heard plenty of conversation about how horribly detrimental homeschooling is for a child's intelligence, development, mental health, sociability, and overall well-being.  If you are a homeschooler, homeschoolee, teacher, parent, student, or prospective homeschooling family, I have compiled a list of five questions you will most likely be expected (albeit, at times, by someone whom you owe absolutely no explanation at all) to answer and answer well because the world's opinion of homeschooling depends on it!! (Not really, it will mostly be an elderly couple you've met once or maybe a gum-smacking store clerk who is a proud product of 'regular' school.)  But I digress.  On with the list.

1. "Aren't you afraid they'll be weirdos?" 
Making careboxes for the elderly.
This, in our experience, is probably the most popular of the anti-homeschooling arguments.  My husband actually had a co-worker rail him during a discussion at work on whether or not it was "good for kids" to be homeschooled. This father adamantly stated that his son would be going to public school because he "didn't want him to be a weirdo."  Apparently, this father had the notion that learning academic lessons as well as moral, social, and emotional lessons at home was going to turn our son into someone on par with the character of Renfield in Bram Stoker's Dracula, and that one day, we would inevitably find our small son talking to the moon out of his window whilst he dined on flies he caught in traps of his own invention.  Rather than use that illustration of the ludicrousness of the co-worker's argument, my husband politely explained that obviously, homeschooling is not for everyone, but it was the best choice for our family and we enjoyed the extra time spent together and familial involvement in all aspects of our son's (and daughter's) development.

2.  "But when will they have a chance to socialize?  Aren't you afraid they'll have no friends?" 
Attending an indoor children's concert at the library.
In discussing this questions with our homeschooling friends, the consensus has been that our homeschooled children have absolutely no trouble at all making/keeping friends and that they actually seem MORE capable at social interaction with children and adults of all ages.  They aren't taught that 'kittygarteners are babies' or that 'adults are only there to make rules and get you in trouble.'  In our experience, they generally lack pre-conceived notions about age, race, and gender.  They play together, they accept new friends, and they interact well with babies and the elderly.  (I know, sounds awful right? *sarcasm*)  Still worried about socialization?  Then just read this list of 'extracurricular' activities any one of the children in our homeschool playgroup attend weekly:  church, churh camp, softball, soccer, 4-H, Awanas, library programs, playdates, HIPPY, parents as teachers... shall I go on?  Socialization does not have to be done in a school environment.  In fact, as a former public school student and teacher I will say, it's sometimes best NOT done in a school environment.

3.  "Oh I could NEVER do that!"
It's this comment (that almost always comes from parents), and more than any other, makes me question what people think homeschooling really involves.  Homeschooling, for our family, looks almost nothing like "real" school. We read, we sing songs, we color, we paint, we build things, we read, we write, we study art,
Helping Daddy plant a garden.
we listen to music, we create, we think, we imagine, we read...  Of course, all those things can happen in a formal school setting.  Of course they can, and do.  However, our family greatly loves being able to sit around the table having "book club" and discussing the latest chapter of the book we are all reading together.  One of my son's favorite activities is to do "geography" with his dad. (This includes looking up places on the map and using google maps to find streetviews of them.)  They discuss what the climate is like there, what animals they might have, and whether or not Daddy's ever talked to someone from there at work.)  For us, homeschooling does not simply involve sitting down to work three or four hours a day.  It means learning where the fruit at the store comes from, how many hours it is until dinner time, how to be safe when walking in a parking lot, and how to treat everyone with kindness and compassion.  There are always going to be days when you feel you haven't done enough or are simply overwhelmed with planning lessons on top of household duties and the stress of life and parenting in general...but as a family, we are far less stressed knowing that we are in it together and continually support one another in the entire journey of life.

4.  "At least you have a teaching degree." 
Baking bread doesn't take a teaching degree.
I hold a bachelor of science degree in elementary education, grades K-6.  I know another homeschooling mom who holds a master's degree in teaching.  I know another mom who has no degree at all.  Are any of us "better" at it?  Nope.  We all have different styles.  Our family's style is an ecclectic blend of classical education, Charlotte Mason philosophy, free-play, and books I love and want my children to learn to love too.  Other parents I know use boxed curriculum because they enjoy the fact it is aligned with their religious beliefs and has pre-planned lessons and tests.  One mom I know likes to use a Montessori approach when teaching her toddler.  Some of us do school in our living rooms, kitchens, playrooms, outside. My teaching degree has helped me in homeschooling about 2% of the time.  In college, my student advisor and beloved professor told us over and over:  The parent is the expert on their child. Never, ever forget it.  Parents, you know your child.  You know their interests, likes, dislikes, and what they are capable of.  Who knows better how they learn than you? Your children are unique individuals who deserve recognition and validation for being such.  Do I need a teaching degree to acknowledge that fact and subsequently teach them in a way they understand?  Absolutely, irrevocably, NOT.

5.  "I envy you." 
Splatter painting.
I'm a stay-at-home mom.  Our family homeschools our two wonderful, lively, and rambunctious children.  My son is advanced for his age with all the attitude and liveliness of a six-year-old.  My daughter is a beautiful soul with the face of an angel and the destructive capabilities of an F5 tornado, along with some special needs that must be accounted for in every aspect of her daily life.  Is it easy?  Should everyone do it?  No and NO.  As a family, we've made many sacrifices to homeschool.  I respect other family's decisions not to homeschool, to choose private school, public school, to work full-time/part-time, go to college, use daycare.  Whatever works for your family; DO IT.  Two parents working full-time did NOT work for us.  It was the most dismal time in our nearly ten years of marriage.  We LOVE homeschooling and how we live now.  A homeschooling lifestyle comes with many challenges, as does any other way of living.  I get rubbed the wrong way when someone says they envy my job.  Because it's often followed by statements such as, "If we didn't have a mortgage payment..." or "I SO wish I didn't have to work..." or the worst I've heard yet, a comment directed toward a good friend whose family recently made the decision (and financial sacrificies necessary) for her to stay at home with their special needs child: "Spoiled!"   Our family doesn't judge or envy parents who choose public school or private school or montessori or daycare, who work or don't work, etc.  We don't get jealous of families with nicer cars or newer homes than ours.  And if you're really that envious, perhaps it's time to make a change.

Even pretend zombie families like to go camping.

Homeschooling may or may not be for you.  Homeschooling is for us.  It's for our kids.  It's for my husband and myself.  And in our experience, those 'things' your family gives up are repaid a thousand fold to get to be an active participant in all aspects of our children's growth and life.  So, if you see me in the park on a Tuesday morning, notebooking about the insect life under an oak tree; respect what our family has done to get there, rather than envy my lack of hours on the clock.  When you see my kids romping with ten other kids of all ages, worry not for their socialization; admire their flexibility, creativity, and acceptance of one another.  In line behind me at the store, when my sensory girl is running circles around me and hanging from the cart handle; instead of asking how do I DO it every day, smile at her and remind yourself that you don't know her story.  Rather than be annoyed when my son insists on paying for his own toy, admire the fact that he could count out his money on his own.  If you truly want to know more about homeschooling, ask us.  I know fifteen people who would love to talk your ear off about it.  Just ask us thoughtfully, respectfully, and kindly.  We'd do the same for you.

**The views presented on this blog are my personal opinions and are by no means intended to represent the feelings of all homeschooling families.**