Home Schooling, Nine Months On

By Shannon

We’re coming up on the end of S’s first year of home school now, so it’s time for a little summary of our experience.

The short summary is that if I had it all to do over again, I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment.

Now for the long version. . .

The Socialization Fear

Parents’ greatest fear about home schooling seems to be that their child will not have enough social opportunities to develop normally. I too had this fear, especially for my daughter, who has never really socialized the way her peers do. For five years we sent her to school with the belief that if she were just immersed long enough in a typical elementary school, she’d eventually grow into a gregarious, happy kid. She spent many of those five years trying to convince us that she was not happy and that she would fare better with home school.

To our great surprise, she was right. At home, where she could read or draw as much as she wanted to without being stared at, where she could be as quiet as she pleased without being labeled “the shy girl,” and where she could finish her work as quickly or as carefully as she liked, she was finally happy.

Given the permission to be her authentic self, and given a secure and loving home base, she grew tremendously in confidence. She actually became more outgoing and more willing to take social risks! She learned to look adults in the eye and to smile at them (although, granted, she doesn’t do this consistently quite yet—we’re still working on it). She learned to attend dance or tennis classes without using her little sister or me as a security blanket. And she made more friends and learned what it was like to laugh (hard!) with them.

Home school has ended up being more socially beneficial to our daughter than traditional school ever was.

Time Requirements

I figured that when I started home schooling my daughter, I was finished with my own career. And although it’s true that it did require some significant time in the beginning, here at the end of the year I’m spending only about an hour a day correcting assessments, making sure she has the materials she needs, and seeking out opportunities for enrichment. She does the rest.

Having more spare time than I expected, I’ve been able to continue freelancing at little, manage our rental house, and even start an online group fitness certification course.

S, by contrast, spends a lot of time on home school. This surprised me—many home school families report that their kids finish their schoolwork by around noon or 1:00 each day. But S works from the time her siblings leave for school until the time they return home. However, her school day includes not only her coursework but also things like piano practice, conversation exchange with a Spanish neighbor who is learning English, writing novels, responding to emails from her cousins, making lunch, doing chores, and drawing.

One of S's recent comics.

On the few days that S was just not in the mood to do her schoolwork, she spent more time on these sorts of activities. Even with that, she finished most of her courses weeks before the end of the school year.

Curricula and Resources

There is an astounding, mind-boggling, completely overwhelming amount of resources available to educate your child. With all of these resources, the average child can have the tutor-based style of education formerly available only to the aristocrats of previous generations . . . but on steroids. Have you recently checked out the free learning resources available at

http://khanacademy.org

or

https://www.coursera.org/

or

https://www.duolingo.com/

or

BrainPop.com

or even YouTube or Pinterest? Yes? Great, then you’ve scratched the surface.

Rather than piece together my curriculum from this overwhelming array for my first year of home schooling, I chose to use a full-package fifth-grade curriculum (with teacher support included) called

K-12 iCademy

. In that, I think S got a better education than she would have gotten at our local private school.

With K-12 iCademy, the Spanish and history courses were awesome. Language arts and math were fine. Science and art sucked. Overall I think it was a good curriculum to start with because it took a lot of the stress out of home schooling—it was U.S. accredited, I didn’t have to put much energy into gathering materials, and I had the feedback of certified teachers to help me along.

If I home school next year, I might try

Calvert Education

(they also have a dyslexia home school if you're interested), or I might gather a curriculum from various sources, using recommendations from some home school Facebook groups that I follow.

Why It Worked for Us

I believe that some kids are more suited to home schooling than others—or at minimum, some are easier to home school than others. The kids that seem to do well at self-directed learning (which is my kind of home schooling) share some characteristics:

· Introversion

· Curiosity

· Long attention span

· Well-developed ability to delay gratification

· Responsibility

(Come to think of it, these characteristics are likely the same ones that make a kid a great student in most contexts.) So, S was just an easy kid to start this with. Plus, she was motivated because she knew I was making a sacrifice to do it, and this was also something she had wanted for years.

Another reason home school worked well especially for S is that she is a prototypical humanities student. So even though her science course sucked this year, I didn’t sweat it too much. This girl is going to make her living in publishing or illustrating. All she’s going to need is a respectable foundation in science and math, and she’s good.

My son, however, is a different story, and that’s one reason why I hesitate to home school him. In general, home schoolers tend to be weakest in math and science, which are both critical subjects for a kid who wants to grow up to be an engineer. To support him in his interests, I’m planning to keep him in a traditional school so he can be taught by teachers who are actually (hopefully) passionate about science and math.

If I felt that a traditional school were not adequately serving his needs, I would consider home schooling him. But I’d go about it differently. H fights any unpleasant activity that is not part of a routine, so strict and predictable scheduling would be paramount for him. Also critical would be regular and fulfilling social time with friends after school.

One aspect of home school that would be very beneficial for H would be a huge reduction in distractions (see

this TED talk

for the pitfalls of overcollaboration). If I were able to balance things just right, home school could be good for him academically (except maybe in science; math we could do).

I am less hesitant to home school my daughter G. However, I'd prefer to wait until fourth or fifth grade with her because I am NOT the sort of person who is good at (or interested in) crafty, hands-on, manipulative kinds of activities. At her age, much of the education seems to focus on these things, and so far she has had teachers who are fabulous at it. S, by contrast, is a super book learner, so educating her is much more my speed.

Siblings Attending Traditional School

I’ve had a few people ask me how I dealt with home schooling one child while the others attended traditional school. In the beginning S’s siblings were upset that they wouldn’t be home schooled too. We dealt with that by addressing their underlying assumptions about home school. After assuring them that S would not be allowed “entertainment” screen time during school and that she would be expected to help out more with house work during the day, the other kids didn’t think home school sounded quite so appealing anymore.

Drawbacks and How We Coped

One of the drawbacks of home school is that your kid doesn’t interact with peers as much as other kids do. So, maybe they don’t pickup on the meaning of certain body language or verbal expressions as quickly as their peers. For me this isn’t a deal breaker, but I still feel compelled to mitigate the deficit.

Going into home school, we told S that we would expect her to be more proactive about making friends. We approached socialization as part of her coursework. For example, we required her to spend at least thirty minutes at the playground several times a week. Sometimes she spent this time loafing around and staring at all of the playing children. But occasionally she managed to integrate into a game of tag or soccer or tree climbing. Generally she found it easiest to get involved when one of her siblings was around. She also did better when other kids were on her own turf. During play dates at our house, she learned to really open up and ultimately made a handful of great friends whom she genuinely enjoys. Victory.

Another drawback, at least for us, was that S’s schooling required her to be at the computer almost all day long—researching, completing assessments, doing online lessons, etc. After the school day was over, she felt entitled to noneducational screen time as well. We responded by taking a hard line and outlawing all noneducational screen time during the week and allowing only one hour of it on weekend days and holidays (with occasional exceptions for family movies). So far, I’m still pretty proud of that rule.

Benefits

This year of home schooling my daughter has completely transformed our relationship. She herself will tell you that she didn’t like me before, and she admits that she was “really mean” to me. I’m guessing that her behavior was due in part to the stress of being forced to go to school every day (I was the warden of that effort) and in part to the fact that in her mind I was failing to give her the instruction and tools she felt she needed to measure up to perceived expectations.

Spending all day, every day, with my daughter changed the way I parent. I think I’ve become a better nurturer, and I know I’ve become a better teacher. I certainly have more time for those things than I’ve had with her in previous school years. When we eat lunch together, we talk about things like growing up, economics, history, science, our family, jobs she’d like to do as a teenager, and ideas for her next comic strip. It’s awesome.

In my observation, the kids I meet who are well-rounded and impressive are those whose parents spend lots and lots of time with them. Home school obviously affords you lots and lots of time with your kids. And although by the end of summer vacation that sounds like a terrible idea, somehow spending lots and lots of time with S during the school year wasn't quite the same for me. Maybe it was because of the routine or the fact that we were always working toward well-defined objectives and goals.

For her part, S has become much more helpful around the house, having recognized all the work I do during the day. And she knows how to study—something that not many fifth graders (or eleventh or twelfth graders, for that matter) grasp.

A year ago I was really afraid of how we'd manage the teenage years with a relationship like S and I had. Today we're in a much different place. If home school had provided no other benefit than improving my relationship with my eleven-year-old, it would have been worth it.

Okay, so if you have managed to read all of the foregoing text, you have a reason for it, so let's see your questions and comments below so we can have a good discussion together.