A few weeks ago I had a friend ask me “Why do we do this again?” I knew she was half joking but the question came at a point when I was asking myself the same question. There are people who are what I think of as “hardcore” homeschoolers. These are people who usually can’t think of any circumstance where they would not homeschool. I sometimes think it would be easier to be one of those homeschoolers. But we’re not.
We have always said that we’ll homeschool as long as we think our kids are getting at least as good of an education as they would get elsewhere. We live in a school district where the public schools are routinely ranked among the best in the country, but there are still reasons that I think we provide a better education than they would get in the public schools. (How to define better is obviously a whole discussion in itself. Suffice to say that one of my concerns is the extreme focus on standardized testing.) We also have several close friends with kids in a small private Christian school. I know enough about their curriculum and goals and vision to know that if our kids went there they would get a fantastic education. The cost of private school isn’t small, but if we really thought that option was best for them we could make it happen.
So, if we could send them to a great private school with friends, why do we homeschool?
1) The days are long but the years are short. I have no idea who said that first, but I’ve heard it many times describing life with kids. It may be a cliche, but for a good reason: it’s absolutely true. A day with a cranky potty-training two year old can feel like an eternity but the time it takes that two year old to become a eight year old is like the blink of an eye. I realize that the time I have with my kids is limited. A friend of mine who has a freshman in high school recently told me that she realized that she only has 3 1/2 years left with her daughter. She knows that her daughter will always be hers, but that once she leaves home for college something will change irrevocably. I don’t want to be away from my kids more than I am with them. That’s why I don’t work full-time and that’s one reason why we homeschool.
2) Childhood is fleeting. I want my kids to have time to just be. To watch ants and have Nerf gun wars in the backyard. To swing from a trapeze and crunch leaves. To be bored and figure out what to do on their own. To play dress-up long after other kids their age think it’s “too babyish”. It’s hard to fit those things in when you are in school for much of the day. This week both boys discovered a Lego Technic set they’ve had for awhile. On Monday they started the day by building for a solid hour and pretty much every free moment this week found them creating new things.
3)I want to raise nerds. I want my kids to care very little about what their peers think is cool. I want them to find passions and interests and pursue them even if they are outside the box or uncool. I want them to be as excited about learning new things and having new experiences at sixteen as they are at six. I think those goals are much more possible homeschooling than not.
4) I want to create a culture of learning in our home. This is something a lot of homeschoolers say and mean. It goes hand in hand with another common statement about homeschooling: I want to develop lifelong learners. This is one of my main reasons for homeschooling but one that is hardest for me to carry out in reality. I’m a box checker and a list maker and it’s really easy for me to fall into the routine of checking off boxes to “get school done”.
One of the reasons we homeschool is that I don’t want education to be something limited to 8 hrs a day 9 months a year. However, I often end up trying to “get school done” by a certain time. Part of that is due to my working outside the home and our tight schedule. But in all honesty, part of it is that I sometimes value the checking off of goals more than the process it took us to reach those goals.
This week I resolved to get out of that mode. We only had three days of school this week since we took off Friday for a visit from grandparents and a double family birthday. (On Thursdays we always have co-op and do very little or nothing on our own.) There have been times that I’ve let the fact that we have a short week get me stressed about “finishing everything”. This week I took a different approach. We just did the next thing and I didn’t worry too much about what we accomplished. Even so, we did three solid days of spelling and grammar, three good days of math, a lot of reading aloud and a few chemistry experiments. There was also piano every day, a spontaneous day at the park, Tae Kwan Do and Art for David, a day at co-op for us all and a day playing at a friend’s house for John. The boys also planned, practiced and ultimately performed (for grandparents) a circus in our backyard. Not to mention all that Lego activity. So a good week.
5)Flexiblity I love that we can take an afternoon or a day off when we want. I love that our family vacations don’t have to be tied to the school calendar. I love that our curriculum isn’t tied to what someone thinks is important for an end of year test.
6)Fun I’m not a homeschooler who worries a lot about making everything fun. I try to make it interesting and I don’t want my kids to be unhappy. But there are some things that just have to get done, like spelling. Still, it is nice to be able to have fun together.This week I bought some special window markers and David did one of his phonics lessons reading words off the windows. John did his spelling on the window. It was fun. One morning we started the day with a game of Monopoly Deal which ended in much laughter as I finally broke my losing spell and won my first game ever. We did a chemistry experiment this week that involved baking soda, vinegar and soap bubbles. For 8, 5 and 2 yr olds that pretty much defined fun.
7) A culture of learning Yes, I did already say this. But this time I mean for me. Sometimes I think about what I’d be doing if I wasn’t homeschooling. I suppose I could be reading about Ninjas and sharpening my problem solving skills and learning about birds. But I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be doing any of that. I feel somewhat guilty now telling people I just can’t do certain projects or be on committees. I feel slightly guilty that we just increased our cleaning service from once a month to biweekly. But homeschooling gives me a weird freedom to put aside the time to self educate in a way that I wouldn’t feel that I had otherwise. If I didn’t homeschool I think I’d end up filling my time with other things, none of which would involve the history of ninjas.
8 ) I want home and family to be our center. I’m not a homeschooler that thinks socialization is a non issue. My kids are if anything overscheduled and overinvolved in outside activities. However, I want them to be most comfortable being at home. I want them to like being here, to like their parents, to like each other. I want them to enjoy spending time together and as a family. I can’t imagine that they would have the same relationship they do now if they were apart most of the day.
9) It’s just what we do. The most helpful thing for me to realize in thinking about this topic again was that there might be other choices that would be just as good for our kids’ education. But that’s not the road we are on right now. There are a lot of positive things about a lot of schools and one day we might choose a different road. But for now this one is working for us. That might seem like a simple observation but it was helpful to me to realize I don’t have to prove to myself that this choice is the number one best choice. It’s our choice. It’s working. And that’s enough of a reason right there.
*The box checking part of me really wanted to have 10 reasons to make a nice round number. But the more reasonable part said, ” Hey, you said what you wanted to say. Go to bed.”