You know the saying, "Rules are made to be broken"? Although that might not be the best motto by which to plan your life, when it comes to homeschooling, it's right on target. Breaking the traditional school rules when it comes to your kids' schooling can be one of the best things you ever did to give your child the most effective, individualized education possible.
If you like to break the rules, then homeschooling just might be for you.
We homeschoolers are rogues.
That’s right, we are notorious for branching out, for opting out, for doing things differently – for breaking the traditional school rules. Conformity is definitely not our modus operandi, and “homeschooling”, as a concept, is so unique and different from family to family that at times it can be difficult to put home education into any specific category.
Those of us who homeschool think that’s a good thing.
If you’re new to homeschooling, you’re going to have to think differently. Yes, you’re going to have to be willing to break the unwritten “rules of school” and forge your own, often uncharted, path. And although this can be nerve-wracking and downright terrifying at first, it is the key to an effective, individualized, fulfilling homeschool experience.
Sometimes you have to break the rules in order to play the game right.
What rules, you ask?
The rules that may not actually be written down in black-and-white, but that every traditionally-schooled kid knows. The ones written by default when large numbers of students do the same thing. The ones that cater to the largest common denominator rather than the individual – because it’s the only way large-scale, public education can happen. Yes, rules have their place, and school rules have certainly facilitated opportunities for the masses to receive an education.
But when you home educate, and especially when you homeschool a child who has spent time in school, you’ve got to learn the value of breaking some of those rules. A good way to start is by deschooling, which helps you to learn to break the rules that school needs, but home education doesn't.
School rule #1 - School must happen 7-8 hours per day.
If you’re going to break the school rules, this is one of the best places to start!
Academics shouldn’t be done on a timetable, in home education, as much as they should be done according to each child’s individual needs. Some children are able to accomplish their work effectively (and maintain the scope and sequence you determine is appropriate for their abilities) in just a couple of hours.
Younger children should spend less time than older ones in focused academic work, and the lack of down time for things such as changing classes or announcements means that more work can be accomplished in less time. Kids don’t need to spend 15 minutes doing extra problems if they already understand the concept, and they don’t have to wait around while the teacher works with others.
The bottom line? Don’t let time rule your home school – let the needs of your children rule the time. And, once you find a schedule that works for you, use that extra time in the day to do something fulfilling or fun, such as extra-curricular activities, service to others, or exercise. More academics done in less time means more opportunities for developing the unique abilities of your child!
School rule #2 - There is an official school curriculum that must be used for every subject, every student.
Um….no. In fact, I would challenge you to find two homeschooling families who use exactly the same curriculum in exactly the same way for every child. Break this school rule and walk out into curricular freedom!
There are no rules in homeschooling when it comes to homeschool curriculum – use whatever you want, for whatever subject. Multiple children can even work in completely different resources for every subject!
Breaking this school rule means that homeschoolers can tailor their materials to the precise needs of each child in each learning area. If you love BJUP for Science, but your child really responds well to Saxon Math rather than the BJUP, no problem! Maybe you love the ease of using a multi-subject publisher such as Sonlight for the majority of your academics, but are impressed with the thoroughness of Shurley English – use both! Or perhaps you like the hands-on approach of lapbooks such as Homeschool in the Woods for History, but want more traditional book work for Reading and Math... do whatever works for you!
Breaking the “one curriculum” school rule may be one of the best acts of defiance you’ve ever done, and it may be just the think to transform your child’s academic experience.
School rule #3 - Kids learn best by sitting at desks, with a teacher teaching in front of them.
I, ooof….Uh, excuse me as I step over my daughter, who is doing her Math on the floor.
Yeah, this rule is for the birds. Or, more accurately, for public school teachers who must maintain some semblance of order in classrooms with large numbers of children. But we homeschoolers don’t have to live by this one at all.
Do school wherever it works best for you and your kids. Sure, some of it might be done at the kitchen table with pencils and kids sitting in chairs. But then it can be accomplished just as effectively (even, GASP, more effectively for some kids) on the comfy couch, lying on the floor, or propped up in bed. When you’ve become a true homeschooling maverick, you might even let your kids do their work while swinging on the swing set (awesome for reviewing memorized information or getting hyperactive kids to listen to literature), relaxing on a picnic blanket in the yard, or even while climbing a tree (multiplication fact review, anyone?).
Many active children work better while standing and moving, and sometimes working with headphones on while listening to music can calm attention-wandering minds. My favorite, most effective way of doing literature is lying in bed, snuggled up with my kids under the blankets. Breaking the “must sit at the desk” rule can be one of the best things you ever do to help your kids actually start learning.
School rule #4 - Teachers have to be experts in their subjects for kids to learn effectively.
This is one of the biggest detriments to parents homeschooling – the feeling that they don’t have enough knowledge to adequately teach their kids. Hogwash. Kids’ learning is dependent upon so many different factors, including their ability to attend, their maturity, their intellectual capability, their interest level, their learning environment, their discipline, their learning style, the materials they are using, etc. etc. etc. Even if parents are not experts in certain academic areas, they can put into place so many of the other factors that help kids learn – which, in many cases, far outweighs the acumen of the teacher in helping the child actually retain the information! And for those subjects (especially higher level high school ones) that are truly beyond parents’ ability to teach, there are online courses, community college classes, and homeschool co-ops with plenty of experts!
One of the greatest joys of homeschooling is the ability to learn new things right alongside your child – to grow in knowledge and discovery together. Dedicated homeschooling parents put together the necessary elements for kids to learn effectively (curricula, co-ops, online classes, environment, learning style, etc.), regardless of their own expertise, and they add in many elements that school-based "experts" are not able to provide!
Learning is a journey, not a destination. There is no better environment for a child to learn than with the people he loves the most, who are dedicated to making sure he succeeds.
School rule #5 - School must follow the traditional calendar, with summers off.
Welcome to the blessed flexibility of the homeschooling calendar, where there are no rules! Homeschoolers can follow the traditional September-May calendar, or they can deviate however they like. Many families homeschool year-round, so that kids don’t lose what they have learned over the summer. Doing so offers them the flexibility of taking breaks whenever it is convenient for them to do so – and take advantage of off-season prices for vacations!
Spreading out academic work throughout the year offers homeschooling families less pressure in needing to “get it all done” within a certain time-frame. When illness, vacations, or spring fever hit, home educators can take time off from school without worrying that they are sacrificing essential teaching time over the long haul.
Even those homeschoolers who tend to adhere to the traditional school calendar can modify their summer to include academically-oriented activities such as field trips or academic camps, so that learning doesn’t completely cease. Again, the moral of the homeschooling story is make the rules bend to your needs!
School rule #6 - Kids are best socialized by being around same-aged peers.
Have to say, there might not be a rule that makes me happier to break than this one.
I can’t ever quite figure out how this became an unofficial rule, anyway. I mean, even those who follow it tend to bemoan the vices that accompany it - bullying and student violence and drug use and sexting and disrespect toward adults and…well, it does make one wonder why we think 13-year-olds make the best social exposure for other 13-year-olds.
Homeschoolers know the value of children spending the majority of their time around adults – responsible elders who love them and have their best interests at heart. Just as we would not leave our kids’ academic learning to their peers (because same-age friends do not have the wisdom or maturity to give each other what they need to be successful academically), homeschoolers do not believe same-age peers are capable of providing what our kids need to be socially competent. And, judging from the myriad social ills in every public school in existence, it’s pretty clear that many peers provide exactly the opposite – an education no parent wants their child to have.
Many home educators gleefully break this school rule because they understand that providing children with the opportunity to engage with those of different ages, life stations, and backgrounds is tremendously beneficial for generating young adults who can interact effectively with the world around them – a world that is decidedly not, outside of a traditional school environment, comprised of people just like they are.
Intentional efforts to surround young people with individuals from all walks of life, and to teach them how to engage effectively with them, provide the opportunity for students to learn respect for those more mature than they, tenderness for those younger than they, and the skills they need to function in a the real world - one that goes far beyond age segregation.
School rule #7 - Students need to progress at approximately the same pace in each subject, and stay on grade level.
To be honest, even though it's an unwritten school rule, very few public school students live by it in actuality, either. I mean, come on. Who in this world is actually at the same place in every academic subject at any given time?
The reality is that students progress at different paces in different subjects, because each person is better at some things than others. In a public school setting, where large groups of kids must be taught together, it is not possible to individualize each subject for each child. However, in homeschooling - kids can be free to be wherever they are! If they are whizzes at Math, they can work two grades "ahead", if that's where they need to be academically. Yet if they struggle with, say, reading, there is no "behind"; they simply progress at whatever pace necessary for them to learn effectively.
Grade levels do not mean much in homeschooling; students move forward in each subject however slowly or quickly they need to. Many a homeschooling student is in different "grades" in multiple subjects! Violating this school rule means that learning will happen not according to a prescribed sequence for the masses, but according to the individual needs of each unique student.
School rule #8 - Kids need testing in order to determine how they are doing academically.
Testing is a bit of a craze in public school - so much so that many question the degree to which actual learning is being sacrificed for the process of putting a number on kids' "knowledge". Unfortunately, this proliferation of testing has not improved kids' education. Although homeschoolers all handle this issue differently, many don't test at all, beyond the standardized testing required by state law in order to be able to continue to homeschool (and in some states evaluations are an approved alternative for proof of progress).
Because parents work one-on-one with their children, they intimately know each child's academic strengths and weaknesses. Quizzes and chapter tests can provide good practice for students' future academic career (especially if they will be attending college), but the information obtained from them can be just as easily determined from close monitoring of daily work, and periodic cumulative review.
Homeschoolers tend to take the "less time testing is more time learning" approach. Research papers or essays, narration, science projects, and portfolios are other ways that homeschoolers track academic progress without the standard multiple choice, objective testing format. Although traditional tests have their place, homeschoolers understand that education is a holistic process that is much larger than simply the score on a fill-in-the-bubble exam.
Kids' intellectual performance is tied to factors that tests often do not measure effectively, such as self-discipline, creativity, emotional acuity, and motivation. Break this school rule of testing, and you might just discover that you gain a much more intimate knowledge of your child's progress!
I know it's scary. I know you're afraid of the potential consequences. I know it's hard to imagine a world in which the school rules don't reign supreme.
But, know this – many have gone before you in their delinquency, and have been so very glad they did. So don your rebel hat, take a deep breath, and just do it. Thumb your nose at the school rules, and go your own way – the way that is specifically tailored to your unique student.
In the end, you might just find that by doing so, you end up in a place of academic freedom – a place where your child not only receives an excellent education, but ends up loving learning along the way!