I recently read an essay by someone who temporarily homeschooled her kids. It didn’t work for her. While the author and I differ on our experiences with homeschooling, I do relate to her list of things that she wants for her kids. In her mind, homeschooling was an obstacle to those ends. In my experience, it was just the opposite. Homeschooling did fulfill that wish list. Here’s how.
A community of others The author called this “Outside Authority” but I changed it to match my perception. In my experience, children naturally look to others, whether adults or older children and teenagers, for guidance and clues on everything from practical skills to social behavior. The author implies that her children had little contact with other adults, but my homeschooling world was quite different from that. We were out in the community on a regular basis, interacting with people of all ages in a variety of settings. Some of the vehicles homeschoolers use so their kids can interact with adults other than their parents include: homeschooling support groups; intergenerational activities (we sang in a chorus and performed in intergenerational theater productions); groups led by adults in the community such as book clubs or science fairs; community programs in athletics, arts, environmentalism, or other areas of interest. Just being regulars at the local library gives kids a chance to develop a mentoring relationship with some of the most important people in their community–their librarians.
Listening Skills The author found that her kids were so busy testing boundaries that they didn’t want to “listen” to their parents’ instructions when it came to schooling. Because we unschooled, we didn’t really have those kinds of interactions. Whether or not families unschool, they can follow what I consider to be one of the most important rules of parenting–avoid a power struggle. To do so, respect kids’ interests, individuality, and point of view. Practice listening to them. When bumps in the road do arise, use discussion and negotiation.
Time apart As homeschooling parents, we thoroughly enjoyed the large amounts of time we spent with our kids. That was never at odds with our goal of raising them to become happy, confident, competent, resilient, and yes, independent, people. How did our family, and so many others, avoid feeling like we wanted “a break from one another”? Even when we were together, the kids always maintained a level of independence. At the park, they went off with their friends, enjoying the kind of unstructured free play with other children that research is showing to be incredibly valuable for brain development, creativity, and learning to interact with others. When we were at home, we weren’t necessarily spending every moment together. As often as we were cuddled up together on the couch reading library books, or baking cookies together in the kitchen, we were each of us in our own spaces doing our own thing. The kids might have been reading on their own, or drawing pictures, or making up an elaborate puppet show, or swinging on the tire swing in the backyard, or playing with our ducks. We worked and played side by side, which meant time apart could happen even when we were together. Most importantly, while we parents acted as guides, the kids were in charge of their own learning. The independence and autonomy they enjoyed as children allowed them to really bloom as teenagers, enjoying community college classes, volunteer jobs, membership in adult community groups, and more.
Character Building The author believes that trained teachers are necessary to build character in our children. I don’t, but that doesn’t mean character building wasn’t important to me. I do agree with this: “…a great teacher has the ability to influence your child’s life and experiences in a very profound way.” I have a broader view of “teacher,” though, one that is explained here. Learning happens all the time, so anyone can be a teacher. Sometimes the teacher isn’t even aware of their influence. While these relationships and experiences can be formative and life-changing, they’re not the only factor in character building. How do we, as parents, focus on character building? Definitely not by being didactic or moralistic about it. Number one tool is modeling. Be aware that you are a model for your child. Be mindful of other models in your children’s world. Be patient. Be kind. Be tolerant. Be helpful. Be compassionate. Most important of all, talk to your kids.