by Mary & Michael Leppert
More Home Than School
Today’s homeschooling is far more about “home” than “school.” Few Americans today have the close-knit family life that so many Americans once had—before compulsory education pulled the children from their parents’ responsibility, beginning in 1852 in Massachusetts.
Children who attend school are raised by strangers more than by their parents. Family circles are more loose and ephemeral than ever before. In the past 150 years, schools have gained an increasing stranglehold on culture while families have lost more and more influence over their children. Is this a coincidence?
Many modern families consider eating a meal together unusual. And more often than not, they spend their “together” time watching television or a movie rather than looking at each other while discussing and listening to what other family members have to say. Compared to Americans of the early 1800s, modern families in general are strangers to each other.
Regaining Traditional Values
Homeschooling affords the families who value this traditional child-parent relationship a way to regain their own family culture and closeness. Teaching your own children academic subjects as well as your religious, spiritual, cultural, moral, and ethical beliefs is the heart and soul of homeschooling today. Watching a movie or television show is a passive function in which observers view a “third party” rather than relating to one another.
You Are Homeschooling Already
You already know how to homeschool. You knew what your child needed and how he or she should progress before your child was 6 years old. Nothing has changed. If you are talking, seeing, hearing, or playing with your child, you are doing a simplified version of home “schooling.”
Now, add to this interaction a planned activity, such as “playing” with simple addition/subtraction facts using sticks, blocks, or coins; “playing” with the phonetic sounds of English (as the precursor to learning to read); or “playing” with crayons or pencils to develop the early fine-motor skill necessary for much later handwriting. You are now home “schooling” your very young child in the “three R’s,” that foundation of academic knowledge that early Americans learned at home, before mandatory schooling. All you need to do is develop a sense of connectedness with your own past and continue parenting.
Homeschooling is simply a matter of finding out what your “school-age” child (over age 6) needs and then becoming resourceful. This information is readily obtainable in today’s world, due to the growth of homeschooling, the widespread existence of good educational stores, and the phenomenon of the Internet. In most U.S. towns and cities, you can find a series of workbooks for math, reading, and other academic subjects in many large grocery and discount stores. We are not saying that this is the sum total of academics in homeschooling, but it could be that easy.
If you have read this far, you either are interested in “bringing your children home” for any of a variety of reasons or have already done so. You are taking the first step to regaining traditional values in your life. Whether you are a single parent with one child, or married with six or more children, or somewhere in between, homeschooling is the way to make your family circle closer, more authentic, and valuable to all of you. You’ll find that “academic education” is a relatively small part of the entire picture. Often families come to homeschooling because of a negative experience at “school,” only to find that homeschooling affords them not just a wonderful education, but closer relationships, less peer dependency, deeper spiritual or religious values, and a resurgence of their family uniqueness.
Homeschooling Is the Traditional Way of Educating
Homeschooling today is actually a return to the truly traditional method of children being instructed by their parents. In the 1700s and 1800s, members of our society were less diverse than we are today. Most held relatively similar Judeo-Christian religious beliefs and shared more or less the same value system. It was understood that one’s children studied the Bible and learned their basic moral and ethical values at home, along with the elementary subjects necessary for further education. The expected and anticipated way of life was that all elementary aspects of life were taught by the parents. Children had to learn the three R’s before they were accepted into school. Times have changed; we think maybe people have not.
Thirty-year veteran Manhattan junior high school teacher, the late John Taylor Gatto, states in his book Dumbing Us Down, that it takes an average of 120 hours to teach a child to read. He goes on to say that the elongation of this process in America came about as a result of some teachers’ organizations wishing to create job security. Instead of teachers exclusively continuing in their role of imparting higher forms of information, the imparting of the basic information became “complicated,” requiring “specialists” and “experts” trained to do so over a long period of time. Slowly, over a many-year span, each bit of information became smaller and more repetitive.
If Homeschooling Is for Your Family, Then What?
Now that we have hopefully, established that you are “qualified” to teach your own child the academic subjects at the elementary level—and beyond—what next? You have to ascertain whether it is right for your family and yourself. Parents whose children are or have been in a school setting, whether public, private, or parochial, will have different considerations from those whose children have not yet attended school. Let us discuss the decision-making process for each one separately. An effective method frequently recommended for decision-making in general is to list pros and cons of the possible change. Since the whole family is involved, it’s important to consider the pluses and minuses for your child, you and your spouse and your family lifestyle.
If Your Child Is in School
We suggest that you begin thinking about how you and your child feel about his or her school experience. You are probably dissatisfied, or you would not be considering a change to homeschooling. First, track your dissatisfaction to its source(s) before you make any decision, homeschooling or otherwise. The simplest way to sort out your family’s feelings and thoughts on this issue is to take a sheet of notebook paper, draw a line vertically down the center and write “Pros” as the left column heading and “Cons” on the right.
Place the subheading “Child” on the next line and list, as honestly as you can, the positive and negative aspects of school from your child’s standpoint. Don’t omit anything. Include sports programs, music programs, anything that has importance to him and his development. Take into consideration who she is and what sort of person you would like to help her grow up to be (from moral, ethical, and personality points of view). If you don’t know how your child feels about school, ask! The process of homeschooling entails lots of talking and listening between parents and child. Just as with all other skills in life, “practice makes perfect” applies to communicating, too.
You and Your Spouse
Next, start a new page using the same format and headings, but make the subheading for the two of you. List positive and negative elements of school from your viewpoints. If your child’s school is rife with drug use, violence, lackadaisical teachers, less-than-acceptable performance on standardized tests, and so forth, the cons list will fill rapidly. If your child’s school experience includes a highly-skilled favorite teacher, a large budget for materials and special programs, and so on, the pros list will contain these. Your good/bad lists may well be equal in length.
Your Family Lifestyle
Next, consider the pros and cons of school in terms of your lifestyle issues. What will life be like if you and your child are home together all day? Think carefully about this, especially if you have been working outside the home for a few years and are now contemplating becoming a stay-at-home parent. Some of the lifestyle changes that happen when you begin homeschooling may be very welcome; others may not be. Now is the time to think carefully about it. As above, list the positive and negative changes that you think will occur if you change your child’s education situation from school to home.
Remember that teaching your child at home, one-on-one, takes only about two to three hours per day—not the six to eight s/he is used to in school. There are many studies showing that up to 80 percent of school time is nonacademic. You can teach children in grades 1 to 8 all they need in only about three hours per day, supplementing here and there for extra subjects you want to delve into, perhaps art history, drawing, or pottery. If you have an unusual work schedule, you can skip two weekdays and teach Saturday and Sunday or teach extra hours for a few days and then reduce the time to two to three hours per day again. It is wonderful to discover how flexible and fun life can be when you’re removed from the constraints of a rigid timetable!
After you’ve listed the positive and negative effects that discontinuing schooling will have on your lifestyle, do the same for your child’s lifestyle. If you and your mate are both working full time outside the home, one of you may have to alter your work schedule or even change jobs to homeschool. If you work days and your mate works second or third shift, homeschooling can easily be accommodated within this schedule. In many instances, the second income is used mostly to finance expenses relating to that extra job and the child’s school attendance, and many expenses can be erased when one parent and the child remain at home.
Although it’s more commonly the mother who stays home, fathers can teach as well as mothers! Also, a professional mom may make substantially more than the dad, or the father may simply welcome the opportunity to stay home with his child for a change. Dads often miss out on enjoyable aspects of child rearing because they are usually the breadwinners throughout the child’s life. In the American colonial period, fathers taught their sons from about the age of 10 or 11 in the ways of the world and commerce as they taught them farming, smithing, or other family business — no matter what the boy eventually chose for an occupation. While modern-day fathers often think of teaching the children as “woman’s work,” that concept did not exist prior to the 1900s.
If your mate is vitally involved in decisions of this type, have him or her create a separate list of pros and cons—without input from you. Then compare and discuss your separate lists. It’s best that you “sleep” on your lists for a few days and talk again. If time is of the essence, however, you may have to make a tough decision quickly.
Let us assume that each of you filled about two pages with pros and cons from every point of view in your family. Take a good, long look at what is listed before you and answer these questions:
- Is homeschooling necessary in my life?
- For all concerned?
- You & your Spouse?
- Your child?At this point, the decision has been made. By the time you distill the emotions and logistics down to these bare bones—two or three pages of black and white—you can see the writing on the wall. If your decision is to homeschool, what remains is implementing the necessary changes. If your decision is not to homeschool, then you will proceed to finding the best educational solution for you—private school, different public school, changes within the current school. Sometime in the future you may again consider taking the teaching reins.
If Your Child Has Never Attended School
The situation is completely different for the child and parent who have not yet been involved in school. As we demonstrated above, you have actually begun homeschooling without realizing it. Games you play to keep your baby or toddler content are beginning homeschooling exercises. Counting games, shape-and-color games, and sound games followed by word games build the foundation to what homeschoolers do on a “larger” scale in “grades” 1 to 12. Families who have never been involved with school, seldom think in grade (or age) terminology; they view each child as unique. For example, your child may be a “first-grade reader” but a “third-grade mathematician” and should be taught accordingly.
If your child has never attended school, you have by far, the easier route to take in continuity and adjustment. If you have been at home all during this time, you probably know your child so well by the time s/he is five or six that your home-educating experience is likely to be a seamless transition. You won’t have to quit a job, find another, or work from home. You’ll have no need to adjust to a sun-time day to replace some time-clock world. You won’t have to deal with negative social “issues” often born of schooling, and your child won’t need to take time off from academic work to adjust to the change.
If your child has been cared for by someone else while you were working, you can begin really getting to know her now. Observe her more closely than you had time to before. Interact with your young child and see how she moves from one interesting thing to another all day long. Unless someone stops this flow of curiosity, it will continue on its own. You can take the time to read to her now, play “math” games, and just be involved with her. Try to train yourself to remain interested for long periods of time. Prepare yourself mentally to enjoy your child’s company, and both of you will benefit. [TO BE CONTINUED]