When I was children’s librarian at a public library, I wanted nothing more than to be a school librarian. See, the kids I worked with at the library were great, and I felt like I was reaching them, but I only saw most groups once a week, and I wanted to have a bigger impact. I imagined that working in a school would give me greater access to the minds of these wonderful locals and a better chance to broaden their horizons. So I went back to school to get my teaching certificate (in my state, one has to have both a librarian And a teaching certificate to be a school librarian), and left my post at the library to aid and assist at the local elementary school. Part of that included substitute teaching when needed.
I had no idea what a turn my life would take once I got into the public school system. See, my beautiful husband had been talking about homeschooling our Littles since before Middle started kindergarten, but I hadn’t really been taking it seriously. I had a career, and I was working in the school that my Littles attended, so I could keep an eye on them. Also, I graduated from public school and I turned out all right. Big graduated from public school and was attending college. And even though I had seen evidence at the library of just how wonderfully homeschooled kids could turn out, I didn’t think it was something I could Really Do.
Until I had a year at the school under my belt. And I had substituted for every grade from K-6. And I had worked in the school library. And I saw the flaws inherent in the system. One of the things that struck me right away was the exorbitant amount of time I spent putting the children into a quiet line. I mean, a good quarter of every day was spent just getting them to line up at the classroom door. They were instructed to walk with their hands in their pockets, or if they didn’t have pockets they were to clasp their hands behind their backs. They were to keep their heads down, eyes on the floor, and not speak. Now, I get it. If you have just two classes in the hallways at the same time, that’s roughly 60 kids passing each other, and you can’t have them high-fiving or calling out to each other and disrupting the classes in session. But I didn’t like it. I felt so sorry for those little kids, who were being taught on an hourly basis to walk in a defeatist position. Seriously, when you see an adult walking down the street with his head down and his hands in his pockets, you automatically assume he either has no confidence whatsoever or he’s a serial killer. But our children were being Taught to walk like that as a matter of course.
The second thing that struck me was that these kids were only really learning for about 3 hours a day. The rest of the day was spent in line, in the bathroom, at recess, or lunch. I was shocked to see that my Littles were taking a 2-hour bus ride to go to school for 8 hours and only learning anything at all for less than 1/3 of their time away from home. Shocked and a little angry. Then there was the hard evidence of what I suspected when Big was in elementary school. They weren’t learning to think. They weren’t being prepared to set forth in the world and make this country a better place. They were being taught to memorize the answers that might show up on standardized tests. Where once I had been proud that my kids attended a 4-star school, now I saw the reality. A 4-star school gets that distinction because of its test scores. Not because it’s a good school. The focus on those test scores frightened me. The teachers were frantic about it. On A Daily Basis. From the beginning of the school year till the end. And because they were frantic about it, many of them hated their jobs. Then there was the constantly-changing Common Core requirements, learning to teach both reading and math differently than it had ever been done–these teachers looked about to weep at every moment of the day. They were tired. They were harried. Those who hadn’t already lost that gleam and drive that makes a good teacher were rubbing their foreheads as it slowly leaked out of them. I spent two whole weeks subbing for every grade because the entire school was involved in Common Core meetings. Every class had substitutes during that period. I was appalled. In fact, most of the subbing I did was not for ill teachers but for teachers who had some sort of administrative meeting or conference that had to be attended. In short, I learned that every class in that elementary school had a substitute at least once a week so the teacher could attend a meeting. What kind of stability does that provide?
The final thing that bugged me–and I can’t really explain why this struck me so hard–was that these kids Were Not Allowed to talk during lunch. Here you’ve gathered half of the school in a big room where they can relax and take a break from all that line-walking and there is literally a system set up to keep them from engaging with one another. In this school, there was a replica of a stoplight hung on the wall. When the kids were quiet, the light stayed on green. If a low humming from whispered voices began, the light turned yellow. If the voices rose to normal level, the light turned red. When the light turned red, the kids had to drop their food and put their heads down on the table for 30 seconds. Then the light would turn green again and it would all start over. It was terrible. Whenever I worked the lunchroom I felt like I was abusing a whole mass of little kids. And I never saw anyone actually operate the light. I think it had a built-in sensor. So these poor kids would try to sit quietly and eat their lunches while wanting nothing more than to talk to their friends and blow off a little steam. I remembered the freedom of my own elementary school lunches, and how great it had felt to be out from under the teacher’s nose and get to really talk to my friends (and, in my alma mater, they actually played great music during lunch. I have fond memories of doing the YMCA dance at my lunch table), and I shuddered every time I saw these poor kids putting their heads down on the table like something out of Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Ugh. How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat?
Those are the reasons I started listening to my husband and eventually pulled my Littles out of public school. But they aren’t the reasons I homeschool. Those are many and varied and I am proud of the decisions I have made because of them. So I’ve come up with a list of reasons why you should homeschool if you don’t already. The first is, of course,
1. Dissatisfaction with the Public School System–We hear so many stories about how our education system is failing our kids. I’ve read tons of tales written by teachers who quit to find another profession after 10, 15, 20 years because they have known for a while that they aren’t really teaching anything of value and their hands are tied by all the monitoring and demands of the bureaucracy, and they have been leaving children behind or holding children back to maintain the status quo and they just can’t do it anymore. The spark has left them. All the reasons they wanted to be a teacher no longer apply. Stop and think about that. All of the good teachers are being forced out by their own growing sense of disillusionment. What’s left are the people like a teacher I met once at a little league baseball game. She told me she had taught both 2nd and 4th grade. I asked which was her favorite. She said, “Well, the 2nd graders are always coming to school with snot all over their faces and whines in their voices, and the 4th graders all think I’m their second mother and want me to hug on them all the time and show them approval. So neither, really.” I was appalled. You should be, too. This is the type of person who might be teaching your kids in a public school setting. As far as I know, she is still teaching somewhere in our county. She should be strung up. Who says something that awful to a complete stranger?
There are other ways of being dissatisfied with the public school system, the main one being the lack of true education being offered. When a school takes out art, music, and gym, and replaces them with a computer class so the kids can learn to take their standardized tests online… Well, obviously our kids have to learn computers in this day and age. But when they are replacing creativity and activity with computer testing, it makes you wonder what the ultimate goal really is. Fat, lazy kids who can’t think for themselves, anyone?
Homeschooling allows me to teach my Littles computers for the sake of computers. Of course, they have already learned the ins and outs of finding files, using the internet, and the like, but as I’ve mentioned before, this summer we are taking a wonderful course together to learn how to write code. So that Middle can actually start programming all the games he’s invented on paper. Because that’s what he wants to do with his life, and this is a skill he can Actually Use when he grows up.
2. Concern About the Environment of Public Schools I promise to get off my soapbox in just a minute, but the truth is my experience in the public school system was so shocking it was emotionally scarring. When kids are given books not to expand their minds but to keep them quiet for a few minutes, it kind of changes the meaning of encouraging your kids to read, doesn’t it? That’s not the message I want my kids to get about reading. Beyond that, there are the dangers of bullying and harassment, the pressure to fit in and be someone other than who you are, and–worse beyond imagining–the threat of school shootings and other acts of terrorism. One of the things that really cements my decision to Never send my Littles back to public school is that they are safe here. I have the means to protect them and am one of the two people in the world who would actually take a bullet for them, so I don’t have to worry about some random act of violence from an unknown quantity.
One of the miraculous qualities of homeschool is that my kids get to be themselves every minute of every day. They don’t worry if they have the right clothes. They don’t have to wonder if they are saying the right thing when they give and answer or contribute to a discussion. They know no one here is going to laugh at or judge them. They are confident when they speak because there is no one to make them feel otherwise. When they are in a group of other homeschooled kids, they all treat each other with the same respect. There is no race to be better or more attractive, they are simply children learning or playing together. Even Middle, at almost 13, doesn’t care if he is wearing designer clothes or the right kind of shoes. He’s too busy learning how to be a responsible, compassionate, well-read, educated adult. And that is awesome. It takes so much pressure off them. Also, I don’t have to worry that someone will introduce drugs or alcohol or tobacco to my kids. I get to monitor who they interact with every minute of the day, so they are only learning how to be productive, not how to hide in a haze. In love with that. Totally crushing on it.
3. Individualized Educations Let’s get to it. The Real Reasons I heart homeschooling. This is a biggie. Each of my Littles has different interests and different learning levels. Even though we do a lot of our classes together, I am still able to make the lessons interesting and engaging for each child as an individual. Because there are only two of them and we have all day to do the lessons. So Middle can do his reading and visual learning and Littlest can get his hands-on, tactile learning in. Plus, they always help me decide on their curriculum for the year and even the order in which we’ll do classes. So they are as invested in their education as I am, which makes them even more interested.
Letting your children learn at their own level is one of the most important aspects of homeschooling. It means your child does not get left behind so that 20 average students can stay on course. It means your child is not held back from true learning by the slow pace of 20 average kids. It means that your average kid can learn at whatever pace is average for him. It means your child Really Gets To Learn. She is not dictated by the needs of others, but only by her own needs.
4. Time Well Spent When the Littles were in public school they were gone from me for 10 hours a day. They had to wake up at 6 a.m., catch a bus and ride for an hour to school. Then they had to ride the bus for an hour to get home. Now, not all bus rides are that long. But even 15 or 20 minutes each way takes up valuable family time. Anyone in a rural community can tell you that somehow the bus ride is an hour for all the kids. It is a strange, time-warpy, twilight-zoney thing, but it is a thing. Now, instead of being away from home, away from my influence and line of sight, for 10 hours, they are home with me. Or on a field trip with me. Or visiting homeschooling friends with me. The point is that our time is not only well-spent now, but it is spent with Each Other. No one is raising my Littles but me. It is extremely gratifying. I know my kids very well, I can spot when they start having some problem–be it social, emotional, educational, or productivity-related–and help them solve it. I’m not going to find out in 3 months that Middle has learned the ins and outs of sex in the boys’ locker room or that Littlest’s friend at school is smoking cigarettes and brought some in to show him. I know what is happening in their lives.
The other really awesome thing is how close we have all become as a family. When you aren’t separated for more than half of your waking hours, you can’t help but draw closer together. Before we started this journey, I had never really thought about how much school separates families and gives kids a chance to learn habits and values that are entirely different from those they learn at home. Sometimes learning about other lifestyles and choices is healthy, but I sure don’t want my kids learning to generalize people based on race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual preference (or even how they dress), and I don’t want them learning Anything about drug or gang culture (except how to help end it), so I am glad they are under my supervision when it comes to socializing and habit-forming. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the social police. I just enjoy knowing that if I don’t want them influenced by someone I can remove them from the situation. Mostly I love that I get to spend their entire childhoods with them, not missing a moment of firsts. Waking with them every morning, learning with them, having meals with them, playing with them, getting to be in their presence All Day… That is joy beyond measure.
Another big bonus is that my kids have no doubt how much I love them. They know what I sacrifice each day in order to be their teacher, because I pound it into their heads with loquacious speeches and lots of hand-flapping. Just kidding. But they do know that their education is my job right now and that I find it to be the most important and fulfilling job I’ve ever had. They know I am never going to fob them off on someone else or expect someone else to teach them about life. I think it contributes to our closeness, this knowledge they have that nothing is more important to me than they are.
Also, the Littles are the best of friends. No one tells Middle he shouldn’t put up with his younger brother and no one tells Littlest he’s too young to hang out with Middle. They still hug each other, say I Love You to each other, and count on each other to be a constant playmate. Oh, they bicker (in fact, they are bickering right now), but there is an unspoken agreement that it never goes too far. And since my siblings are two of the people on this planet I know I can count on, I want my boys to always know they will be there for each other. No matter what. Sometimes even they’re super mad at each other. They would have already separated into different cliques by now if they were in a traditional school setting, so this another homeschooling bonus for my family.
5. Freedom of Setting Homeschool chucks the old ‘sit in a desk all day’ mentality of public school. Sometimes we sit at the desks in our classroom. Sometimes we push the desks aside and sit in the floor. Sometimes we sit at the kitchen table. Sometimes we sit on a blanket outside. Sometimes we walk through the woods. Sometimes we take off on spur-of-the-moment field trips. Sometimes we wear our pajamas. Sometimes we get dressed up. Sometimes we wear costumes. Sometimes we read and write. Sometimes we do experiments and make crafts or art projects. Getting the picture? Homeschool allows you to do school in whatever fun way you can make up. It is so much more fun for kids to learn outside the box. Remember in school when you would be listening to your teacher drone on as you sat at your desk and stared out the window and thought about what you were going to do when you Finally got out of school? That doesn’t happen in homeschool. If you do it right, your kids are way too engaged to get bored. It rocks.
6. Flexible scheduling We homeschool from roughly 8 till noon every day, sometimes later, sometimes earlier, as long as all the work is done. If you’ve been reading me for a while you know I’m a stickler for schedule and routine and I panic if we are not accomplishing everything I planned for the day. But here’s the thing. We don’t Have To school from 8 to 12. That’s just my preference. We could school from noon to 4 or 4 to 8. We could school 4 days a week. We can school year-round like we do now, or we could take a more traditional approach. As long as your children are learning, both academically and sociologically (in other words, how to be productive in the real world), the schedule is entirely up to you. It means if you have to work, either part- or full-time, you can still homeschool your kids. It means if you have to take a week off to care for ailing family member, you can do so without too much rigamarole. No one can call the truant officer on you. No one can give your child a failing grade for having a life outside the school system. You’re in charge.
7. Learning for the Sake of Learning I love rabbit trails. We follow them often in our school. Our discussions quite often turn political and we might spend an hour learning about some new current event just so we can compare it to something we’ve learned in history, even though it is Completely Unrelated to whatever subject we’re studying. Because we are not going to be taking any standardized tests. And we do not care if the government thinks we’re below or above average. We are learning for the only true reason–to learn. To know. My husband will tell you, I am constantly saying that I want to know everything. If my brain could hold it all (or I could access just a tiny bit more of it), I would probably know most things by now by sheer effort of will. I want to instill that love of knowledge into my kids. I want their minds to be as expanded as they can and to stay ever-expanding. They are universes in and of themselves and they can contain whatever they desire to contain. So I teach them that learning is a key. A Key to Everything. Not just a key to a score. A Key to a Universe.
Homeschool can foster creativity in a way that public schools just aren’t allowed to anymore. We have an art class every year. Sometimes hands-on art and sometimes art theory. We study music and foreign language. They may not grow up to be great artists or musicians, but they will have learned how to think creatively and work with their hands. There is something to be said for reading poetry just for the sake of enjoying beautiful words and images. It helps our brains think differently. And we don’t want to raise a bunch of sheep. Rather, we want to raise productive people who hold the keys to the universe.
8. Homeschool Kids Excel Academically It doesn’t take much investment on your part to ensure your littles are excelling. See Number 7 for the first rule to follow, and Number 3 for the next. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice or even help. Make their education the most important in your life for the duration. You are creating the type of critical-thinking, articulate, responsible student for which colleges are now actively looking. The paradox of the public school system is that good colleges are tired of the cookie-cutter student it turns out and instead are starting to look at their alternatively-educated applicants more seriously. They actually Want homeschooled kids to apply to and attend their universities. Such an exciting time to be part of the homeschooling community. Beyond that, because most of us are also teaching the life skills that have been winnowed out of public schools in the last couple of decades, our kids are better prepared to handle college life. Studies show that homeschooled kids, on average, are anywhere from 1 to 7 years ahead of their publicly-educated peers academically. That means they can graduate early if they want to. It means they are learning real knowledge at their own pace. Excelling. Excellent.
9. Saving Money Homeschooling ain’t cheap. But you can bargain shop for books instead of paying hundreds of dollars a year to rent books for the ‘free’ education of public school. You can spend $200 a year or you can $900 a year, but you’re still not having to pay for uniforms, unhealthy lunches, special shoes for different activities, fundraisers, unnecessary or noneducational field trips, and all the various sudden expenses of public schools. One year, our local school asked for donations to pay the gym teacher through the year. They couldn’t have gym if the parents didn’t pitch in and pay for the salary. Um, don’t I already pay taxes? What about that new basketball court in the playground? How much did that cost again?
Homeschooling costs me next to nothing, and I only spend my money on things that We need or want. The gym teacher gets paid in smiles and giggles. Our basketball goal did cost more than my salary, but only because no one sees fit to pay me for this job.
10. Stability When you homeschool, your kids have the same teacher, every day, every year. They are not suddenly going to have to learn a whole different approach to education, and they’re certainly not going to have to learn one every year. You already know your children’s strengths and weaknesses. You don’t have to learn them anew every year. So your kids are getting right down to the nitty gritty from the first day of class and you’re already prepared to handle them. Imagine what a difference that makes in their learning process.
Also, wow, my Littles have not had a serious illness in the five years we’ve been homeschooling. Not being surrounded by hundreds of other kids every day has sure nullified their chances of catching an awful bug or flu. I can’t remember us ever taking a sick day that wasn’t a mental health day.
There are many, many excellent reasons to go for homeschooling. The most important and heartfelt reason for me is Getting to See My Littles Flourish Right Before My Eyes. Getting to be with them, to learn with them, to guide them into being the kinds of individuals that can right wrongs and help promote a bright future. To hear their laughter and calm their fears. To be everything to them while they still need me to be everything. And, as Middle so succinctly put it this morning, “Reasons to homeschool? One, public school sucks.” Way to use that amazing vocabulary, kiddo. Someone is teaching you well.