She got me thinking. My friend, who, for the first time, was questioning some of the values, methods, and efficacy of public school and began investigating the idea of home education for her family. By asking me questions about this whole "homeschooling thing" that we do, she brought to my attention something with which we homeschoolers ourselves struggle. My friend didn't even realize it, but with her questions about what we did and why we did it, she displayed what is a very common misconception about homeschooling: that homeschooling is some kind of a microcosm of the public school classroom, transported to the home environment. As I thought about it, I realized that many of us homeschoolers struggle against the very same misconception.
It's not just those who do not homeschool that carry around the assumption that home educators must somehow replicate the public school classroom to effectively teach their children. Many of us homeschooling parents, particularly those who grew up in the public schools, feel the same pressure, whether we realize it or not. It's a pressure that keeps many families from even investigating home education as an option – "How could I possibly teach my children the way 5 or 6 different teachers of different subjects could teach them?"
The good news is, you don't have to.
Home education is not public school at home. It is a completely different way of thinking about education, and a completely different way of approaching education. It is teaching tailored specifically to individual children rather than according to a standardized set of guidelines or curriculum for the masses. And because of this individualization, home education is effective by virtue of the fact that it does not have to look like the public school classroom. How is it different? Here are just a few of the ways:
- Standardized "periods" of learning (45 minutes, 90 minutes, etc.) based on organized schedules for managing large numbers of students can be exchanged for flexible periods of learning based on the individual student's needs. For example, if Johnny is ADHD and cannot sit for long periods of time, Reading is done in 3 minute increments, with activity-based breaks in between. Subjects that may be laborious, such as Grammar, may be interspersed with more kinesthetic subjects such as Science. If the student is a Math whiz, Math may only take 15 minutes, whereas History might take 45 minutes.
- Sitting at desks can be exchanged for lying on the floor, working on a picnic blanket outside, saying Math facts while jumping on the trampoline, or writing on a lap desk in bed. Students who have trouble staying still have the freedom to move as they need to, and those who enjoy a more relaxed learning environment can do their work in whatever setting works for them.
- Educational milestones do not have to follow the prescribed public school standards of learning for each level. Education is seen as a long-term project, with the understanding that students progress differently in different subjects and at different rates. A child may be ahead in one subject according to "end of grade" public school requirements, but be behind those guidelines in another subject; there is more focus on holistic educational attainment over the long haul than on episodic progress according to a particular path of progression.
- Learning tends to be more collaborative rather than didactic. In other words, rather than students "learning from an expert", children and parents participate together in investigating new information and ideas. Interaction, questioning, analyzing and debate usually predominate over simply listening or taking notes; critical thinking is often stressed over memorization or fact recall.
- Non-academic skills are often taught alongside academic ones; the ability to repair household items, cook meals, manage money and demonstrate basic entrepreneurship are often deemed just as important as English, Math, History, and Science. Academic skills can be demonstrated practically throughout the flow of household life in order to enhance practical skill application.
- Rigid guidelines for scope and sequence of learning can be exchanged for flexibility and spontaneity in order to make learning fun. If a certain topic in Science sparks particular interest, rather than continuing on in order to "get the book finished", or keep a particular pace, students can do a unit study on that particular area, or go into depth doing additional research on their subject of interest.
- A fairly standard classroom setting, with an individual teacher, can be exchanged for a variety of different learning environments. Co-ops, cooperative learning among homeschooling families, distance education programs via computer, internet programs and iPad applications, library education classes, local community college courses, apprenticeships and mentoring programs are all common options for homeschool students – in addition to working with their own parents.
- One curriculum for each subject, to which each student needs to "fit", can be exchanged for multiple resources according to each student's individual needs and learning styles. In contrast to every student in a class working on the same materials, different children in the same family can work through completely different curricula for any given subject to ensure that each one uses materials that best meet his/her specific needs.
And those are just a few of the differences. Homeschool parents, you don't have to make your homeschool into a public school classroom. To do so would be to miss out on the wonderful benefits of home education…the individualization, the flexibility, the holistic approach, the collaborative learning, the focus on developing personhood. It is precisely the fact that homeschooling is different from public school that makes it a unique and wonderful option for many families. Public school is there for those who want it. Homeschoolers, make your home education what you want it to be - as unique and special as your own family.