Homeschooling not working?
I’m a member of several homeschooling groups and email loops, and the most common questions are all related to, “It’s a battle to get my child to do her work. I thought homeschooling would be better for my child, but it’s all tears and yelling. For both of us. I may have to put her back in school.”
The specifics vary, but many parents new to homeschooling are trying to recreate a public school environment in their home and finding that it doesn’t work. It’s not their fault. Most of us went to public school; it’s what we know. We’re taught that this is the only way to get an education. That children won’t learn if we don’t tell them what to learn and force them do so. We shouldn’t be surprised when we find homeschooling not working under these circumstances.
The truth is humans come into this world curious and craving new experiences and knowledge. If you doubt that, spend twenty minutes with your favorite three-year-old, and count how many questions he asks. (Okay, you can stop counting at 100.) At the age of forty, I still love to learn, but I always felt that school was getting in the way of my education. (Apparently Mark Twain agreed with me.) I made excellent grades in school, because my learning style and memory happened to align with the way public school functions. Not everyone is so fortunate. Many parents realize this and bring their children home for homeschooling.
But what do these parents do once they get home? The same things that didn’t work in the school. Sitting at the kitchen table with text books, pencils, and paper spread everywhere. Or maybe they even go all out and set up a school room. A cute desk or two, a white board, posters, and a bookshelf or twenty. (Because all homeschoolers seem to have an unerring sense for finding every educational book or textbook that comes within ten miles of their home.)
But there are other ways to learn. In fact, it’s pretty hard to not learn. It may not look like the learning you did in school, but they’re learning. Really, though, how much of what we “learned” in school did we really learn? There’s a reason that people don’t seem to be “smarter than a fifth-grader.” We don’t remember any of that. However, do you remember how you felt when you ran across a topic in a class that truly interested you? That little rush of excitement? The disappointment when the teacher moved on to another topic? Or maybe it was a class you loved. Either because of the subject, or maybe just because the teacher found a way to make the class engaging. I’d bet you remember more from that class or topic than most of the rest of your school career.
You’ll read or hear that learning should be fun. I would go out on a limb and say that learning is fun. Because if you don’t care, you’re just memorizing most of the information so you can get though the test. You don’t learn unless you’re actually interested in a topic.
So why do we expect our kids to do something we hated? Because we must teach them to miserable to prepare them for the rest of their lives? If you’re teaching your children that they can expect nothing more from life than to be miserable, then you are doing them a great disservice. Why not show them that the world is full of more knowledge than any one person can ever absorb, and they can start now and spend the rest of their lives trying to soak it up. If they know how to learn, and if they enjoy learning new things, that will serve them always. And will enable them to learn what they need to find employment that doesn’t make them miserable.
You may be thinking that sounds like a fine idea, but how do we do this in real life? Am I one of those who advocate letting kids play video games all day, every day? I’m not, but, depending on your child, that’s not the end of the world, because truthfully, the likelihood of your child never leaving the house is pretty low. Which, of course, means that playing video games isn’t actually the only thing they do. Incidentally, my kids have learned vocabulary even I didn’t know (no, not that kind of vocabulary) from video games, and I’m a writer, editor, and avid reader. We’ve also had the most amazing discussions stemming from games, and my kids look up all kinds of things because their curiosity was piqued by something on a video game. But that’s not where I’m going with this.
Even if you’ve completely banned video games, you have an endless supply of learning material around you. The whole world. I know that’s a little overwhelming, so I’ll narrow it down a little for you.
One day, our “school day” consisted of a board game and a documentary. At the seven-year-old’s insistence, we played The Presidential Game, which is a board game in which you try to get the most “votes” so you can win the Electoral College votes and become president. We covered Geography, Social Studies, and Math. There would have been even more math if we had used the paper score cards rather than the provided website. We recently watched the series How the States Got Their Shapes, so we talked about some of the things we learned from that while we played.
Then the boys (I also have a thirteen-year-old) picked Dinofish for our daily documentary. The show was about the coelacanth, a rare fish thought to have gone extinct with the dinosaurs, but discovered alive in 1938. We talked about deep-sea diving, dinosaurs, and fish. So that was Science.
All of this was in response to questions they asked. The only time I initiated was if I thought of something I thought they would find interesting. You don’t have to force everything into a “school” mode. Just be and the engagement and learning come naturally.
The boys have recently decided they want a pet sloth. (It’s never boring at my house.) So, they’ve been learning all about sloths. They’ve been reading websites and watching YouTube videos. Apparently the sloth documentaries on PBS.org are in my future.
The seven-year-old’s bedtime reading (his choice) for the past couple of months has been library books from a dinosaur encyclopedia set. (That’s an encyclopedia about dinosaurs, not an old encyclopedia.) Right now, we’re reading the volume on ornithopods.
Those are just some things we do without even leaving the house. Other options include the zoo, the local nature center, the library, classes set up by other homeschool parents (led by a parent or a professional, depending on the subject matter), and field trips (which don’t have to be expensive).
Learning is fun. Think outside the textbook and let your child explore a little. You may even find something that you want to learn more about, and you can enjoy being not miserable together.