I have many friends and family who are curious about why we keep our children out of school and how we manage to stay sane while providing them an education. Many times, a lack of experience with homeschooling leads to some misconceptions and odd notions about us and homeschooling in general. In this post, I speak only for our family, and I list these only to help foster an understanding of what we really do, and why. I am not advocating homeschooling as the only right way, and certainly not trying to offend or talk down to people who send their children to school.
1. Homeschooling shelters kids from the “real world” and doesn’t allow for socialization.
This is the most common idea I find among those unfamiliar with homeschooling, and also the most dangerous. It is dangerous because it can become true in certain cases. However, it would be extremely difficult and would require absolute control over a child’s life. I have found that in 99.999% of homeschooling families, the opposite is true. In our family, our girls are engaged in countless outside activities, classes, and groups. Also, since they are still young they are not allowed to stay home alone, which means that wherever I go, they go. This amounts to an array of experiences in the “real world” including some I probably would rather them not have.
For an example, I will give you a typical week in our life. In one week during the school year, we would:
- go grocery shopping (usually to 2-3 stores, using coupons and following sales)
- do our weekly cleaning at the church
- go to Awana bible club Wed night
- go to swimming class, art class, and/or free gym time at homeschool group
- go to the library 2 times a week, and family book discussion once a month
- go to doctor appointments, run errands, visit neighbors, play with neighbor children, visit the nursing home, go to church, etc.
You get the idea. I have found that the hardest part about homeschooling is actually staying home and spending time together as a family! Plus, all the volunteer work and errand running we do puts the girls in real community situations, and not a fabricated society built around a certain age/grade group. They love to interact with people of all ages and races, and find it easy to relate to people outside their own social class, because they must in order to work and play in their community.
Some amount of sheltering does occur. We do monitor what media, toys, people, and technology goes into and out of our home, decided upon the age and maturity of the girls. I would say that every parent has a boundary when it comes to what they allow in their home, and for different reasons. Exposure to certain media and social situations in not healthy for young children, and can have adverse affects on their emotional and social well-being.
2. Homeschooling is School At Home
Another common idea I find is that many people imagine homeschooling as a mini school at home. While this is true for some families, most homeschoolers focus more on the home in the word homeschooling. Our family, though we have tried the store-bought curriculum with workbooks and teacher manuals, has never really been structured. Even when I tried to schedule subjects and lessons, we found that the pressure to finish was too daunting, and not a lot of learning occurred. In order to make the school at home model work, I would have to shut down the rest of our life for hours at a time. The model that learning only occurs in structured time blocks with textbooks was one of the reasons we decided to homeschool in the first place, so this model in not something you will see in our house!
Right now in our home, the only indication you will find that we homeschool is our shelves lined with books, and the fact that our kids always seem to be at the door when the post man or UPS man brings a package. We do have a few textbooks lying around as useful references, but you will find no desks, no chalkboard, no flag, no school room, and definitely no red grading pens!
3. Unschoolers are lazy parents that don’t make their kids do anything. They just let their kids to whatever they want and don’t teach them discipline/work ethics/etc.
We have just recently entered the world of unschooling, as I was just as naive and unsure about it as the next person not too long ago. The first thing I learned about unschooling is that there are as many definitions for it as there are people that do it. There are also some very vehement rants and warnings against Christians using unschooling methods. All that I can do is explain what unschooling in our family means. Unschooling to us is not child-led learning per se. We will allow our kids to pursue interests and experiences, but that does not mean we will not be involved in our children’s learning. It does not mean we will never teach our children anything. It does not mean we will not ever use a textbook, workbook, class, teacher, or curriculum.
6:4 Listen, Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! 6:5 You must love the Lord your God with your whole mind, your whole being, and all your strength. 6:6 These words I am commanding you today must be kept in mind, 6:7 and you must teach them to your children and speak of them as you sit in your house, as you walk along the road, as you lie down, and as you get up. -Deuteronomy 6:4-7
This is the best way to explain our unschooling journey. It is based on a model set forth by God in the days of Moses. In the passage above, the people of Israel are instructed to teach their children. They are not told to set up classes and subjects, but to teach their children the commands and decrees in the law as they lived their lives. I know this passage is primarily speaking of the things of God, but I see a connection to other learning. Education of any type can be accomplished in real time, with real experience. It does not have to occur during a set time frame with set curriculum and lessons. Separating a concept learned from the process of learning actually creates an absence of application. You create an intellectual knowledge of a subject without an applicable knowledge to be used in real situations.
So to answer the topic of unschooling parents being lazy or not teaching anything, I would say that it a possibility in some cases. For our family, we are trying to focus primarily on learning while living our lives. We create an environment and situations for learning in real time, through real experiences. As a family, we explore the necessary skills and knowledge to function in this world and understand the Lord we serve. As individuals, our children are free to explore and understand the direction God has prepared for them in this life. I guess a better term for our style would be God-directed, family schooling.
In my next post, I will try to tackle more of the misconceptions I have come across in our years of homeschooling.