At the moment, there is a lot of interest in homeschooling. The Covid-19 pandemic has created a set of challenges for public schools to operate normally, and many families are looking at other options for their family, including homeschooling for the first time. During the crisis schooling period, families discovered the classroom learning to be less than a parent’s ideal. We are 6 years into our homeschool journey, and the I find that I get asked the same questions over and over again about our experience. Here are five of my top things that I wish others knew about modern homeschooling.
#1 We don’t do School at home
The common idea of a public school classroom, with the teacher standing at the front of the room and announcing, “All right, class, it’s math time now, please turn to page 32 in your textbook and watch how I do the problem on the board…”, is not what you will see if you show up during our school time. We have three students in grades 1-5 in our family and we operate as a one room school house. Everyone is learning together and each understands and retains at their own level. We read books about history, science and poetry together and we discuss them afterward. Afterward, each child has a Math and Language Arts program at their own level, which they do independently.
#2 We usually finish before lunch
In our homeschool, our official school day is usually wrapping up before noon. By wrapping up, I mean all subjects for 3 students are completed, with no homework left over to do after dinner (or even after lunch!). Occasionally, there is a special project left for the afternoon, or perhaps a distracted child’s work will have overflowed, but it is rare. One realization I have seen many families come to during crisis schooling is the amount of “busy work” their child is assigned to complete. In our homeschool, there is no busy work: each assignment is intentional. Work does not need to be given for the purpose of filling time while the teacher is with another student or while the rest of the class finishes. In our homeschool, the child just moves to the next assignment for the day. School work can be surprisingly efficient when you aren’t waiting for 30 other kids to complete the same page.
Our learning is also not confined to school hours. One night, at dinner, the 7y asked what would happen if he used his spoon to hold an ice cube in his hot soup. Dad reminded him he was executing a science experiment, and he could find out right then! Another time, a game of Frisbee was interrupted to observe the hawk family that was flying above to build a nest. Watching and observing the bird inspired more research on birds of prey inside. Learning naturally through experiences will be remembered much better than simply reading textbook facts.
#3 Testing isn’t required
New homeschoolers often worry about teaching the right material, and worry their student will fall behind. However, statistics show that the opposite is more often true, and homeschooled students usually out-perform their public school peers. Testing can be done more effectively at the dinner table with conversation than with multiple choice bubbles.
When you are teaching your child a new life skill, we make them practice until they have mastered the skill. The same is true in a homeschool setting. With a high level of adult involvement it is easy to see when a child has mastered a lesson from a discussion or from the work they show. We watch for these moments to know when our child is ready to advance to the next level. We are also aware when extra help is needed to master an area, without administering a formal test.
There are some reasons that you might want to test: it is true that annual or periodic testing can be useful as a comparison to their peers and to practice “test-taking” skills for tests faced later in life. If desired, most formal curriculum options do offer placement tests for their material to see which level is best for your student. Additionally, there is a consideration of state laws, and the need for testing to meet state requirements can vary by state, as well as what other records you need to keep. I choose to keep a binder of samples of their work each year.
#4 Grade Levels aren’t necessary
Grade levels were created to group kids by the average ability and make it easier to teach a large group at once. But it’s measuring an average ability at a given age. If your student is ahead or behind that average middle, there’s nothing “wrong” with them any more than the fact that they may be taller or shorter than average, or may have lost their teeth earlier or later than others. It may simply mean that they don’t fit neatly in a grade level in every subject, and in homeschooling they don’t have to, because you are teaching an individual and not a group.
Our experience has been that each child falls into different grade levels based on their work as their strengths and weaknesses appear. A math minded child may accelerate through a level and get ahead of the expected grade level of work. This same child may simultaneously inch along with writing skills, because it doesn’t come as naturally. Nothing is wrong, because for both skills they are at the right level of challenge, even if it appears to be in different “levels” of work. As they mature, things will even out.
#5 We socialize with our community
Socialization is the question asked most of homeschoolers. The social circle of a homeschooler is different than what a a child experiences in a classroom, but that isn’t a bad thing. The peer circle of a homeschool student is more age diverse than a traditional student. They are interacting with a wider age of children in activities, and interacting with community members more often in daily life. The co-op classes we participate in span several grade levels in each class. And group picnics at the park include playmates from preschool through high school. This demands the older students to be inclusive of the younger children and the younger ones have role models to look up to.
The social skills we teach our kids have a long term view, to be successful in society as adults. We should not concentrate on teaching our children to be successful at childhood playground politics but to interact politely with all ages. Being in age diverse settings models this better than a room full of children learning social skills from each other and one adult.
It’s a way of life
When you educate at home, you can’t help but make it a way of life for your family. Discussion from your history reading will reappear at the dinner table, when someone asks a question they thought of while playing in the afternoon. A flower discovered on a walk will be counted as a science lesson, as you realize learning can happen at any time. It’s not confined to a set of tasks and school bells. Homeschoolers have discovered the secret to learning is to enjoy learning together as a family. We make the most of every moment as we teach our children with the goal to be successful adults.