Friday, October 15, 2010

Why Homeschool?

I keep my three year old son out of school and plan on homeschooling him, his brother and any future kids I have for as long as it works for our family, even the complete K-12 if we can manage it. Readers wanted to know why we intend to educate our children this way. I've touched on some of the benefits before, but hope to give a more clear and expansive answer today.

When informed about our homeschool plans, people have many questions, uppermost among them- "Why? What's wrong with school? Are the schools in your area particularly problematic?"
In short, the answer is that I've heard wonderful things about the local schools, and that schools, for the most part do a great job of educating the masses, but aren't as equiped to deal with kids on an individual basis as parents can be. In addition to all that, my family and children have specific needs that most likely won't be addressed in the schools here.

Homeschooling vs Regular Schooling

Take 20, 30, or 40 kids of the same age, stick them in a class together, and what do you think will happen? Without a good teacher, chaos will reign. Even with a superb teacher, a big chunk of every school day is spent dealing with disciplinary matters. When things are calm enough to actually teach, an effective teacher will try to impart his information in a way that is most absorbed by the greatest amount of students at the pace in which most students are comfortable learning.
It doesn't matter how great a teacher someone is, it is nearly impossible to teach every student in the way that best suits them at the pace that they need when you have so many children trying to learn simultaneously. A teacher has but one mouth and two hands and can't be in 20 places at one time.
Even if the teacher had the physical and mental capabilities to teach every child in the way in which they learn best at the pace in which they'd thrive, such a feat would be made even more difficult because it is hard to get to know every students' learning style. To make things even more complicated, many teachers don't have but 30 students a year; there are teachers that have 30-40 students each period and can be teaching as many as a few hundred students each year.

When homeschooling, the teacher to student ratio is significantly lower (unless you're a family like Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar), which affords you with a greater ability to teach according to each student's unique temperament and learning style. Having raised this child from infancy, you know their strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, and precisely what motivates them.
Because of this intimate knowledge you have of your child, you are able to tailor your educational methods to them, making their learning much more enjoyable and efficient, which can definitely help foster a love of learning and boost a child's self confidence.
For example, if you know that your child is an auditory learner, you can teach him something verbally instead of having him read the information, and if your child is a visual learner, visa versa. If, on the other hand, your child is a kinesthetic learner, you can make sure to incorporate teaching methods that are more tactile than simple reading or listening.
Whether your child is quicker to grasp information or a little slower on the intake, you can make sure that your child is neither bored from repetition once he's already mastered a subject. In a class, the child will often just sit there until the teacher moves on. At home, the second he has grasped the information, he can proceed, without twiddling his thumbs in boredom while waiting for the class to catch up. Conversely, if your child needs to review material a few more times before it sinks in, when home educating you can do so without the child feeling “dumb” for keeping the class waiting until he understands.

Asynchronous Development
Another drawback of schools is that in most schools, children are grouped with same aged kids, which doesn't take into consideration different abilities that children have in different areas. Very often, children can be at one level for math, another for reading comprehension, another for writing, another for logic and reasoning, another for art, and another for physical abilities... You get my drift.
By putting peers together merely because they have a common age, you end up pushing kids too far beyond their abilities in some areas, not challenging them at all in others, and finding the perfect level for them in yet other subjects.
When homeschooling your children, it doesn't matter if most 7 year olds are reading; whether your child is ready to read at age 4or at age 8 or 9, you can teach them things when they're ready for them, and not just because that's what everyone else is learning. By homeschooling, you can tailor a curriculum exactly for the level your child is at in each of many subjects.

Who's In Charge?
When your child is in school, you're handing over the vast majority of your child's education into the hands of others. While parental involvement is definitely beneficial and advisable when using regular schools, it is sometimes not appreciated by the teachers and administration because they find it bothersome when parents “meddle into the school's affairs”.
Even if not to quite this extreme, if a parent tries to get overly involved in how the teacher is teaching and the school is running, expecting the teachers and administration to do things as the parent sees fit, this would only serve to cause tension between the school and the parents. However, for parents like myself who have very specific ideas about how is best to educate their children, keeping their mouth shut and avoiding being seen as a meddlesome parent might be too hard to manage.
When you homeschool, you can do as you like when it comes to educational methods. If you're in love with Montessori, you can use that style of teaching. If you're a textbook lover, feel free to use those. If you're a radical unschooler, you can throw all forms of formal learning out the window and let your child self educate. For boistrous parents who have strong opinions regarding education about which they will not budge, homeschooling makes the school years so much more pleasant for all.

When you send your child to school, your child is exposed to information, concepts, and people to which you may not wish to expose your child at that stage in life. Your child will be spending the majority of his waking hours in school; you need to make sure that you agree with what they're teaching in school.
I'd like to shelter my children from certain harsh realities of life until I feel they are emotionally ready to handle that information. Sharing certain facts with your child before they are mature enough to process that information can definitely cause problems, but when you send your child to school, you basically give up your say in the matter. By homeschooling my children, I can have a greater likelihood of keeping my child “innocent” until they are ready to handle more.

By homeschooling my children, I have the final say in my child's education. Not the school.

But most importantly of all, when children are in school full time, I get to spend but a few waking hours a day with them, during which my child will also be doing homework, playing with friends, and getting ready for bed.
By homeschooling my children, I get to experience life with my children. With more time spent together, I get to bond with my children even better, get to know them very well, and can share my love of learning with them and bask in their enjoyment when they master something challenging. Of course, all this is also possible with a schooled child, but homeschooling makes it even easier.
Yes, I can send my children to school. But I see no reason to do so when there are so many more compelling reasons to keep them home with me.

Homeschooling the Penniless Children

I am pretty resolved about my decision to homeschool my children. While all the above are reasons enough to home educate, what drew me first into the idea of homeschooling was getting to know my children and their unique temperament and coming to terms that they'll have specific educational and emotional needs that may not be fully met in school.

My 3 year old Lee is an absolute doll. He is mature, sensitive, warm and kind. Anyone who spends time with him on a one on one basis can easily get to know his special and amazing nature.
But Lee, like both his parents, has sensory processing disorder.

In short, SPD means that the body interprets sensory input differently than it should, sometimes being oversensitive to certain stimuli, and othertimes being under-sensitive to stimuli, and sometimes you have a mix where a person is oversensitive to some things and under \-sensitive to others.
Sensory processing disorder can be mistaken for ADD or ADHD. Some children can sit in a classroom while the teacher is explaining a subject, but for a kid with sensory integration disorder, the noise of a fly buzzing around the room can overload the child's senses to the extent that he can't focus on the material. A twisted sock or clothing tag can drive the child batty to the extent that concentrating on anything but that is an astounding feat.
Because of his sensory issues, Lee likely could be mislabeled as having ADD and might very likely have a hard time learning in a regular classroom.

Another aspect of sensory processing disorder can be a difficulty functioning in bustly, noisy and crowded settings. Lee is a sweet child who doesn't usually make trouble, and is not generally an instigator. He's a “good kid”.
Put Lee in a playground with a decent amount of children, and Lee becomes a changed boy. His stance becomes defensive- shoulders tensed, hands curled into fists, and legs springy and ready to flee. It is very clear from seeing Lee in situations like that, that he feels immensely threatened and wants to be anywhere but there. His fight or flight response is turned on full steam. The words out of his mouth are nothing other than “Go away from me! Leave me alone!” It's almost as if Lee feels that the mere presence of many loud children will physically hurt him.

Lee really doesn't respond well to large groups. This doesn't spring from out of nowhere. My husband also cannot tolerate the hustle and bustle of noisy, large groups. My one trip to the open air market with Mike was an abysmal failure; the second we got there, he wanted to be anywhere but. His senses were overloaded by the sounds, smells, and the conglomeration of people, and after less than 2 minutes, we were gone. Mike really cannot handle loud crowds. Its no wonder that Lee is quite the same way.

Because of Lee's issues with crowds, I am afraid to send him to a preschool with many children. When large groups of children approach Lee once he has tensed up and aren't respectful of the fact that he wants to be left alone, Lee will do what he feels he must to get his personal space- he'll push them away, even hard, if that's the only way to achieve his goal. Yes, Lee will act out in crowds. Large groups turn Lee from the sweet angel he is to a nervous, tense, and misbehaving kid. Not because he is “bad”, but because he just needs his space.
I am cautious about sending Lee to school for this reason. He's likely to be labeled “troublemaker”, when the reality is that he has sensory processing disorder and feels threatened by large groups of children. I don't need my son growing up with such a label, especially since he really is such a disciplined and well behaved kid that even strangers notice and comment.
Sending Lee to a smaller school isn't an option, because even the "small" classes around here have "merely" 15 kids instead of 40.

In addition to the sensory issues, Lee also is advanced in certain academic areas. He's learning, for the most part, on the level of a kindergardener at the age of 3 years old. In preschool, the kids his age are learning basic colors and shapes, while Lee already knows two different alphabets (we're raising a bilingual kid) and is learning how to both write and string together letters to form words. School, most likely, will be a remarkable waste of time for Lee, as he won't be learning much there by way of academics. While this is less of an issue in preschool, once Lee reaches elementary school, this will likely cause even more problems.

Where I live, there aren't many choices of schools. The limited schooling options do firm my resolve to homeschool, as I'm not sure they're equipped to deal with all the wonderful quirks that make Lee be the special boy that he is.

~ ~ ~

I am not a militant homeschooler. I don't think homeschooling is suitable for every parent, every child, or every family. Homeschooling can bring great joy, but it can also be a lot of work. However, for those who are capable of homeschooling their child, it can be the experience of a lifetime that you wouldn't trade for anything else in the world.
School is not bad. It is merely limited, because someone teaching many children cannot have the same effectiveness as a mom teaching her natural student- her child.

If I see that homeschooling is causing problems for our children, or if our children request to go to school, my husband and I will do a thorough research and find which schools will be best for our children and send our kids on a trial basis. If it works, that's great. If not, then we'd homeschool again, at least until a better option came up.

Do you homeschool your children? If so, what are your reasons for homeschooling?
If you don't homeschool, can you see why homeschooling might be appealing to someone like me?

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