My family began homeschooling in November of 1994. We had a 6th grader, a 4th grader, a 1st grader and 4 year old twins. Since we pulled the older three out of school during the school year, our main goal that first year was just to learn how to be around each other 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I had read that it is often good to de-school for a time to allow your kids an adjustment period. We had a park day once a week with other homeschoolers and we went to the library once a week. I used the library time to look at the school district’s textbooks to see what was being taught at each grade level. One thing that I noticed was how the same concepts were being taught each year with just a little more difficulty added at each level. I felt like this was such a repetitive long drawn out way to teach kids. No wonder our society was creating such delinquents, forcing them to be cooped up in buildings for 6 to 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, 9 months a year, being spoon fed a little here and a little there for 13 years, 17 if they went to college and more if they wanted to become a doctor or lawyer or professor. Our kids were getting burned out at a young age because their curiosity was not being nurtured and they weren’t being allowed to learn at their own natural pace. Alright, I may not have felt all of that immediately, but I do remember feeling that way too much time was spent on teaching academics instead of giving kids the free time to just be kids and play. Schools were cutting back on recess time. Families were over scheduling their kids’ after school time. Kids were losing their childhood to school and organized sports and music lessons and dance class and experiencing more and more stress at younger and younger ages.
I knew our kids were smart. I knew they were bright. I knew they were well behaved. I would love for them to go to college some day if that was what they wanted. We did not choose homeschooling for religious reasons. We did not choose to homeschool because we were trying to create little geniuses who went off to college at the age of 15. Our main reason we began homeschooling was because our first grader was having a difficult time being away from home for so many hours a day, 5 days a week. He was experiencing a lot of stress and we weren’t even one of those families who overscheduled.
So, we pulled our kids out of school. The remainder of that first year was spent de-schooling, free time, play time, lots of reading, going to parks, museums, libraries, creative art projects. The next school year would officially start our schooling at home. My 4 yr. old twins wanted to go to preschool so I signed them up at the local elementary for the pre-k program. It was from 8 to 11:30. Everything I read indicated that homeschoolers could accomplish as much in a few hours as schools could in a day, so I decided that our homeschool hours would be from 8:30 to 11:30. That would give me time to focus on the three older boys while the little ones were away. I had spent a lot of time the previous year finding the textbooks we would use and labeling them with how much work I wanted each child to complete each week. I would allow them to schedule their week’s work themselves. They could get it all out of the way the first day, space it out or let it pile up and work on it late in the week. I wanted them to have the freedom to set their own pace. It was interesting to see the different personalities of the kids in how they managed their time. I don’t remember the exact rules we had, but we did have some sort of rule about not getting to invite friends over if they hadn’t worked on their school work that day.
I also don’t remember exactly when our schooling at home began evolving into a more relaxed environment. I could see that the three hour a day class time was not working well for us and I also realized that we really didn’t need textbooks for every subject. We liked having more flexibility. Our third year of homeschooling was less rigid than the previous year. I forgot to mention that our preschoolers had dropped out of pre-k that first year, one during the Thanksgiving holidays and the other at Christmas break. Even preschool 5 days a week was too much for my kids!
At some point, we realized that what we were doing was more like unschooling. We weren’t forcing learning on our kids whether in school or at home. We had textbooks and other books, magazines and newspapers and videos available for them. We went on field trips and excursions. We read aloud and had discussions. We spent time with our kids. They had time to play, sleep, read and eat when they wanted to do those things. My husband worked on mini-bikes, go-karts and motorcycles with them. They’d go to auto salvage yards and find parts to build a mini-bike from scratch. He’d take them to work with him on occasion and they saw me volunteering my time to help mothers and babies breastfeed successfully. We watched televised political debates and voted. I took them to to the grocery store and discussed spending, costs comparison between items of different brands and sizes, weighed produce, taught them how to count change. It’s a pet peeve of mine when cashiers have to rely on the register to tell them how much change to give.
My kids did their fair share of watching tv and playing video games, but with 5 kids, they at least had to take turns. They used to play games until they used up their lives or energy, but when the older ones got so good and could play for hours at a time without using up their allotted lives or energy a new approach was needed for a more equitable distribution of gaming time. We set up a sign in sheet, clip board, pen on a string and all. They had to sign up for a time slot and when your time was up, you had to relinquish the controller. This showed them how much time they were spending in front of that box. It also gave them the freedom to go outside and play and not feel like they had to keep an eye on the player to know when their lives were used up and they weren’t getting an extra game started.
When my oldest two were 16 and 14, they had their own power-washing business. Their entrepreneurial spirit began at an even younger age but that would be good material for another post. Suffice it to say, that I believe our unschooling allowed our kids the freedom from stress that is so prevalent today. I know that there are many families whose kids do well in public school and there are many families who homeschool in as strict an environment as public schools, maybe even stricter. What I think is wonderful is having options. Our kids knew that they could attend school if they wanted to. In fact our youngest son always said he wanted to try public school at some point. He first asked about going to the second grade. I took him up to the local school and showed him around pointing out all the negative things I could find. Look how the kids have to wait in line to get a drink of water and go to the bathroom. They only get to play outside for 20 minutes a day. They have to ask permission to go to the bathroom. These things may not seem like negatives to you, but to a kid who has the freedom to eat when he’s hungry, go to the bathroom without asking permission, play outside anytime of the day, sleep late if he feels like it and go on more than one field trip a year, they are important aspects of attending school. He didn’t ask again until the summer between 4th and 5th grades. We made another trip to the school to inquire in the principal’s office what might be required of him if he decided to go to school. I didn’t waste time pointing out negatives, I’d done that before. I think I wrote in an earlier post about how he had the wisdom to point out to me that he did plan on experiencing public school at some point and that 5th grade would still be elementary school and if I didn’t want him to go yet that was fine, but beyond 5th grade would be middle school. I quickly agreed that he could go to 5th grade if he so desired.
Now, remember when I said that we didn’t homeschool for academic reasons? This son who is smart as all get out had not learned to read until the age of 8 ½ . Wait, I take that back, I was not aware that he could read until he was 8 ½. His twin sister had been asking about letters and the sounds they make off and on from the age of 3. At 4 she carried around a book, Downy Duck, as I recall, pretending she could read. She was reading a little at 5 and I believe was grade level appropriate at 6 and above. My son, had little to no interest about letters and the sounds they make. He would listen in to the lessons I gave her but lose interest quickly. Yet he did love to be read to. I always tried to read books to him that were above the grade level he would be in if he was in school. Because of this he had a great vocabulary. He also had great retention of what I read to him. He also listened to the books I read aloud to my daughter and his older brothers. One time when he was 8 ½ I was busy at the computer typing an email. He came and asked me to read a chapter in The Sword of Shanara. I said that now wasn’t a good time but later when I was done with my emails I would. A while passed and I was still busy at the computer when he approached again and made the same request. Thinking I was outsmarting him, I told him that if he could read the paragraph I had just typed then I would drop everything and read him a chapter. Lo and behold, he read me the whole paragraph! I was amazed that without spending time sitting down and having daily lessons this child had picked up enough here and there to learn to read. I had read that some boys do not learn to read until around the age of 10 so I hadn’t been worried that he couldn’t read, but he could read!
Ok, fast forward to him getting signed up for 5th grade. We went to meet the teacher the day before school started. I wanted to be sure that they had a chance to meet and I could explain a little of our situation. I wanted her to know that if he was behind on anything it was probably because he had not yet been exposed to it, that he was smart and a fast learner and to please not label him as slow if he at first seemed behind the other students. For example in math, I had not taught him how to multiply three digit numbers by three digit numbers. He made a poor grade on his first quiz because he had not learned that particular math skill. Within a week of being taught it, he was making hundreds on his test. He was very excited when during the first few weeks of school he tested on a 7th grade reading level and beamed when he said he might have tested higher, but that was the highest level they tested at. The excitement of school quickly wore off, but he had committed himself to the 5th grade and he stayed the full year. This year long homeschooling/public schooling experiment was a great success. He learned several skills which I had not yet taught him, but I’m sure he would have picked up eventually. He learned that he could make decisions about his own education. He learned how to get along with a room full of kids the same age as himself. I learned that our relaxed homeschooling environment was not damaging our kids even if they hadn’t learned exactly what public schoolers were learning at that age. (Can you honestly tell me that all public schoolers were actually learning what was being taught to them?) In fact, what we saw was lots of kids who had been in school for 5 years already and they were not grasping what they had been exposed to over and over each year at a slightly more difficult level each year. Many of them already felt dumb and thought they couldn’t learn the material or new skills. My son came in, learned what was in front of him and left with the knowledge that he could handle any classroom environment if he so desired.
An interesting side note; at one point my son was having a hard time with the daily writing of stories sometimes based on their readings sometimes based on a picture. He would have a mental block when he was asked to write a paragraph, three to five sentences long. He was not supposed to bring the task home, but he would because at home he was more comfortable coming up with things to write about. One time he showed me his work. He was worried because he only had two sentences. I read his two sentences which were long descriptive sentences. I explained to him that these two sentences were plenty, they were great, they told everything there was to tell about the picture he was describing. “But Mom,” he said “she said it has to be 3 to 5 sentences and I only have 2. I need 1 more.” I told him that she had said that because many students will write very short non-descript sentences, one noun, one verb, one adjective and to fully describe the picture, they would need to write at least 3 to 5 of those short sentences. “The wagon is red. It has four wheels. It can go fast.” I showed him how his two sentences could be broken down to about 5 or 6 short sentences, but that his long sentences flowed much better than so many short ones. “The red wagon has four wheels and a long, black handle. It goes really fast down the steep hill.” I don’t remember his sentences, these are just my examples.
I told him that I would not let him continue going to school if he began dumbing down his work in order to fit what the teacher was telling the students to do. I also walked into class with him the next day and told his teacher the same thing that I would pull him out of school if I felt he was lowering his standards just to fit in the parameters given. She wholeheartedly agreed with me and told him not to worry about how many sentences a paragraph needed to be, that he needed to listen to me when I told him something that differed from his teacher.
Wow, this has got to be my longest post. I doubt many of you stayed to the end, but if you did, thank you.
I do not mean to be down on schools. I just hate that most of the students are only there because they have to be. They are not actively participating in their education. They are not getting the most out of their education. Some do and some even excel, but the ones who fall through the cracks, the ones who don’t get the extra time and encouragement they need because the teachers have way too much red tape to sort through, it’s just so sad that they get burned out at such a young age and don’t get the education that would benefit them the most. It would be nice if more students had the opportunity to stay home in the early years and learn the basics at home and then go to school for the more difficult subjects in their teen years. And if the schools were set up more in the way of colleges, where the student could choose their courses and direct their education along their areas of interests I think there would be fewer dropouts.
Ok, I’ll sign off for now. Let me know how you would change schools to better fit your child’s needs.