Why to homeschool a 4-year-old

Today I read one of the best articles about homeschooling I’ve encountered in a long time. In How to homeschool a 4-year-old, Amy Wright Glenn discusses why and how she and her spouse homeschool.

Reading it was like taking a short walk down memory lane. When Wright Glenn talked about her son’s engagement in physical activity and creative play, I remembered the long hours my own kids spent in similar pursuits. Just last night, at a family dinner with all four of my children, my now 31-year-old daughter and 28-year-old son were reminiscing about the awesomeness of the basketball hoop that was in our driveway, and the significant amount of time they spent using it. We lived across the street from a school, and my son recalled how a couple of the neighborhood kids, seeing him intently dribbling and shooting, would sneak away during recess to join him.

Wright Glenn also talks about networking with another family in order to free up her own time for creative and professional endeavors. Similarly, our family and many others I’ve known over the years have built solid, mutually beneficial relationships that provide both practical help and meaningful connection.

Her descriptions of volunteering at the local senior center with her kids reminded me of our venturing to Food Not Bombs with our young daughters, taking them to Mystic River clean-ups, and eliciting their help in working at various events in their community. As they grew older, they naturally extended these building blocks of civic involvement, and on their own volunteered for organizations as varied as local museums, wildlife centers, theater companies, hospitals, and political campaigns.

As a proponent of slow homeschooling, I appreciated that Wright Glenn makes a point of prioritizing play, and ensuring that her family has plenty of free time to fill as they choose. Although I realize that many homeschooling families consider screens to be an important part of their lives, Wright Glenn offers convincing reasons for limiting them, something we achieved by simply not owning a television.

Despite research that points to the benefits of free play and less structure, our society is pushing universal preschool, testing, and standards-based education for young children. Homeschooling can offer another way. Says Wright Glenn: “As parents, it behooves us to rethink commonly held assumptions regarding schooling, custodial care of children and work life.”

I couldn’t agree more.


Why I’m Cut Out for Homeschooling

For reasons I still fail to understand, every so often some clever mommy blogger decides to write about why she doesn’t homeschool. This time the culprit is Sarah Bregel, whose latest contribution to Babble, Disney’s online parenting magazine, is titled “10 Reasons I’m Probably Not Cut Out for Homeschooling.”

The listicle is supposed to be funny, but the first sentence just made me sad: “My daughter started kindergarten this year, which means our once peaceful evenings are now marked by the constant frustration that is elementary school homework.”

My eldest is 30, and for a myriad of reasons I started homeschooling her after she spent a year in kindergarten. Back then, although the classroom wasn’t as play-oriented as I would have liked, at least there was no homework.

“But this is early education,” says Bregel, “and we simply have to keep up.” Why, I wonder? Because my five-year-old needs to compete or they’ll never “make it” in the world? I thank my lucky stars I didn’t buy into that notion.

I guess I was just cut out for homeschooling. I recognize that not everyone is, and that is just fine. In fact, it’s as it should be. People should do–and should be able to do–what works for them.

Still, while reading Bregel’s list of why she’s not cut out for it, I had the same experience I’ve had reading similar articles in the past. Her reasons for not homeschooling are, for me, reasons to homeschool. So just for fun, I rewrote her list from my point of view, once upon a time when my kids were little.

  1. My kids (along with pretty much all kids) are awesome listeners.In fact, they’re super observant and astute, even when they can’t articulate just what they’re feeling. If I say “get dressed” and they start painting the cat, it usually means they’d rather be painting the cat than going wherever it is we’re about to go. Sometimes they have to get dressed and go anyway, but at least we can talk about it.
  2. I get my “me” time. Fortunately, my homeschooled kids are self-sufficient and independent. They really like to play, and they do it quite happily, which means I get to do my thing, too. We also have plenty of friends who homeschool, so if I absolutely need to be alone I can hit up another family for support.
  3. I can eat candy whenever I want. My kids might ask for a piece, and I’m happy to share, but they wouldn’t dream of telling me to stop.
  4. I get plenty of exercise. My slow homeschooling lifestyle includes a boatload of walking–in museums, parks, the woods, the apple orchard, and plenty of other places. We often bike to the library or the park, too. If I want to pull out one of my exercise videos, I simply do it while the kids are playing. Sometimes they even join me!
  5. I don’t have the patience of a saint. Dragging my kids out of bed every morning to make it to school on time, packing lunches, dealing with the fallout from stressful days at school, and making them do homework every night would send me over the edge.
  6. Distraction isn’t a problem. With everything in life being a learning opportunity, we can all follow up on whatever intrigues us.
  7. I don’t have to worry about teaching everything. In fact, all I have to do is supply a rich environment and they do most of the learning themselves. If they want or need help with something, like algebra or playing a musical instrument, and I can’t or don’t feel inclined to provide it, we can find a teacher.
  8. So much help. Dishes, cooking, cleaning, and the like? Many hands make light work. ‘Nuff said.
  9. Laundry is not a big deal. Guess what? Laundry ain’t rocket science. Kids can do their own from a very young age.
  10. All the hours in all the days. Time is one of the biggest reasons I do it. Time for them, time for me, time for us, because the biggest cliche in the world is absolutely true. Their childhoods go by fast. Really fast.


Homeschooling and pushouts

Last week I read about Anthony Ruelas, a middle schooler in Texas who was suspended after he lifted a girl in the throes of a horrible asthma attack and carried her to the nurse’s office.

Apparently the teacher had already e-mailed the nurse and was awaiting a response when Ruelas took matters into his own hands to help his suffering classmate. For his actions, Ruelas received a suspension, and guess what? His mom says he’s now going to be homeschooled.

Just the other day I read another story about pre-kindergarten and kindergarten suspensions in my home state of Massachusetts. Last year there were 603. Children six years old or younger apparently behaved so heinously that 603 times in a single year, they received what I remember from my own years in public school as the most serious form of punishment short of being expelled.

I field calls from new homeschoolers on a regular basis, and I’ve heard too many stories like this. I’ve heard from parents of chronically ill kids who’ve had the Department of Children and Families called on them for keeping their kid home from school too many days. I’ve heard from parents with anxious seven-year-olds that had the police called on their children for behavior the teachers deemed too threatening to deal with themselves. I’ve talked to parents whose special needs kids, rather than getting the help they needed, were targeted by school officials in one way or another.

These parents call me because they’re considering exiting a system lacking in common sense or compassion, never mind education. Homeschooling is something they never thought they’d consider, but they come to it out of desperation.

In some cases, it turns out great, and the family winds up grateful for having been “pushed out.” In others, it doesn’t work out so well, which isn’t surprising given that these families often feel forced into homeschooling.

What’s also troubling is the underbelly that too often drives these punitive approaches. The article on kindergarten suspensions in Massachusetts, for instance, points out that black kids are suspended almost four times as often as their white classmates. Institutionalized racism in schools is, in fact, driving more African-Americans to choose homeschooling.

I’m very glad that the option to homeschool exists for kids that are being bullied, oppressed, or otherwise mistreated in schools, whether it be at the hands of fellow students, or teachers and administrators, but we should all be concerned about the lack of sanity such situations exhibit, and the fact that they are clearly not anomalies.

Homeschooling is a valuable option for those who choose it, but no one should feel “pushed out” or otherwise forced into it.