Monday, December 21, 2015

Is Homeschooling Changing?


Many people are concerned about the changes that the Common Core standards are bringing to the public schools. The emphasis on testing is changing educational practices. Children are spending less and less of their school day in play, hands-on activities, and creative pursuits because of the time required to prepare for high-stakes tests. It’s sad to see playtime and recess taken away from even Kindergarteners. I’m seeing families become interested in homeschooling as they look for educational alternatives that are more age appropriate.

I’m wondering, though, if some of the same things are happening within the homeschool community. Many of the homeschooling pioneers a generation ago rejected the whole concept of traditional schools. Innovators like Raymond Moore and John Holt suggested that formal education shouldn’t even begin until children were 8 or older. They believed that children learned best when they had a lot of time to follow their own interests and that the best education came from reading quality books and from hands-on experiences instead of workbooks and standardized texts. When I began homeschooling 20 years ago, it seemed that many homeschoolers were influenced by these ideas, even if they didn’t embrace an unschooling philosophy. I’m sure that part of  the issue was that, in the 80’s, you couldn’t just go out and buy a “full curriculum,” and many publishers wouldn’t sell to homeschoolers! This left parents piecing together curriculum based on what their children needed, as well as using the library heavily.

Homeschooling has become more mainstream in recent years, but I am seeing an increase in parents who are not really committed to homeschooling or may not even have a desire to teach their children at home. Some are just escaping a negative public school situation and their goal is to find the easiest way to “do school.” Others are invested in their children’s education, but don’t realize that there is any other way to learn than to work through a stack of public school textbooks each year. They are so worried about “gaps,” that they try to exactly replicate what the public schools are doing, sometimes adding a Christian focus. The fact that homeschoolers often take standardized tests also adds to the pressure to keep up.

Certainly, whatever the method of homeschooling, there is an advantage to individual tutoring and to working at the child’s own pace. There is certainly nothing wrong with textbooks or traditional education, but there are so many  more possibilities. Snuggling on the couch with a stack of great books, rather than spending hours filling out workbook pages, encouraging children to explore and create, to act out history lessons, and to experiment with science concepts will create students who love to learn and who know how to teach themselves. These activities may (or may not) demand more of the parents’ time and can lead to doubts about whether you are “doing enough,” but I think the lower stress environment and the more enjoyable school time can lead to a much greater love of learning.  And maybe some children really aren’t ready to learn to read until they are 7 or 8 or 9.

I wonder if the fact that homeschooling is so mainstream and “easy” now with the plethora of curricula choices available has made us think we have to choose the “right” curriculum and work though it without really considering how our children learn.

I wonder if imitating the public schools rather than questioning their methods and searching for a better way is really best for our children.

What do you think?

1 comment:

  1. I do sense a strange split shift in thinking. On the one hand is the "homeschooling is better than traditional school and anything I use will work so give me the easiest thing out there" thinking that I see bounced against the "I need to not mess up my kids" panic on the other.

    ...here's what I'm coming to at the moment having read stats that show it does not matter what curriculum you use while also pointing to the fact that you make the difference in your child's education: It all comes down to the learning environment and how our kids are encouraged to learn. Are schools the ideal way to learn? No, but is there one "ideal"? No. Our children are complex individuals so there's no system that's going to automatically work.

    This is where you come in... and the very natural fear of failing our children. If it's riding on you, is there any hope? And this is where the beauty of homeschooling shines: Yes! Yes, there is tons of hope because homeschooling gives you the time and flexibility to learn about your student and with your student. You can tweak things to match their level -- ahead or behind, depending on the subject -- and can offer them tremendous opportunities that kids stuck in a more ridged system can't have. If someone is off, tweak it so your kids are back on track. No big deal. What an opportunity!

    ...hmm... I sense a longer blog post brewing. This is important stuff. Thanks for sharing!

    ~Luke

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