Loving and Learning – The Homeschool Adventure

By Kris Bordessa

“Hey, Mom, look what I found!” shouted my oldest son Brad, 9, from outside. “I think it’s a Swallowtail caterpillar,” he said.

I asked, “What makes you think that?” knowing full well that he would have a response, and he did.

“Well, look at the head,” he said, opening the butterfly identification book. “It’s shaped like the ones in here, but I don’t see any that are the same color”.

As our conversation progressed and his search for the appropriate photo continued, we learned about the larval food of choice for Swallowtail butterflies and noted that Swallowtails of one variety or another can be found throughout the nation and even into Canada. This prompted a discussion about the difference between the Tiger Swallowtail and the Western Tiger Swallowtail. We had to wonder: if they look so similar and are best distinguished by geographic distribution, as our book says, how does a person tell them apart where the geographic boundaries overlap? Common sense seems to come easily to young people; apparently us grown ups have lost it somewhere along the way.

Just another Saturday afternoon? Actually, no. For us, it was Science 101. You see, my family is one of the many who have chosen to educate our children at home.

Those having no personal experience with home based learning have a tendency to view home education as a fringe movement practiced by religious fundamentalists and radical hippies. In truth, the cross-section of homeschooling families is becoming more mainstream as each school year passes. While many parents are homeschooling for religious reasons, parents choosing home education for their children cite a variety of other reasons as well. Safety, discontent with the public school system, family values and the freedom to choose the manner in which our children learn are all common reasons for taking the homeschool route.

As dissatisfaction with the education system continues to grow, many families are choosing to keep their children at home, joining the growing homeschool movement. And growing, it is. The U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Educational Statistics estimates that there were 850,000 children being educated at home in 1999 (up from 300,000 in 1988). The National Home Education Research Institute placed the number of children being homeschooled during the 1999-2000 school year between 1.3 and 1.7 million students

What does homeschooling look like? It’s different for each family. Some families prefer to structure their day, doing “school at home” with a specific time for each subject. Other families – like my own – focus on child-led learning. This method allows the students to follow their interest in a topic as long as they find it intriguing. With parental guidance, their current interest can encompass all of the skills that need to be mastered.

For instance, when my oldest son was in first grade, his passion was Ancient Egypt. He couldn’t get enough of the pyramids and the Kings. We read every book about Egypt in the children’s section at the library, as well as some of those for adults. We made Egyptian costumes and crafts. We learned about the history and size of the pyramids, debated how each block was moved and used a sledge to move some heavy objects (including me!). To this day, three years later, he can tell anyone the definition of a sarcophagus, a cartouche and a hieroglyph. Not common knowledge for someone his age, but since it is important to him, he retains it.

Kids are naturally curious beings. By allowing them the opportunity to explore topics that are interesting to them, we can instill a lifelong love of learning. Says Shelly, who homeschools her six year old son, “This approach works simply because it honors development, feelings, curiosity ... and this honor leads to further and deeper exploration and learning.”

Do our kids know the same stuff that children in the public school system know, and at the same time? Most likely, not. The traditional education system has, out of necessity, instituted a specific order in which subjects need to be learned. While this order makes sense for teaching large numbers of children, it is not really necessary when working with a small family group. Should I have told my son that he couldn’t study Ancient Egypt in first grade, because it’s not what he is “supposed” to learn? I’m thankful that I didn’t have to. And, in spite of the sometimes unordered days of homeschooled children, they fare well academically. In the book, The Homeschooling Revolution, author Isabel Lyman's research reveals that regardless of race or family income, homeschooled children consistently score higher on standardized tests than their public school counterparts

A frequently debated topic about homeschooling is socialization. By keeping our children out of school, aren’t we doing them a disservice? I suppose the answer would be yes, if homeschoolers really did keep their children at home all of the time, but I have yet to meet anyone who fits this bill. Field trips, classes, music lessons, community events, 4-H and Scouts, sports teams, homeschool co-ops and park days all mean that in reality, those of us that homeschool aren’t at home any more than our public school counterparts!

Homeschooled children do skip some kinds of social interaction, though. When a new child appears at a homeschool function, the child is easily accepted right into the group, with an invitation to play. There isn’t the tribal dance, the shunning of the new kid that often happens at school. There are no “cool” kids to determine whether or not this child can join in the fun, there is no peer pressure involved in inviting the child to play, or not.

And because there are no school mandated age barriers, homeschooled children have the opportunity to interact with children of all ages, as well as adults. The confidence with which homeschooled children converse with adults sometimes takes people aback, causing them to describe homeschooled children as “different”. I agree; homeschooled children are growing up as a part of society, rather than a part of the school system, which makes for a very different person in the end.

In spite of the many challenges, most home educators will emphatically agree that the choice to homeschool is the right one for them. “Homeschooling gives us the freedom and flexibility to be who we are, on our own schedule, with our own limits and expectations to fulfill, ” says Shelly.

Regardless of the reasons, regardless of the methods, it is clear that home based learning in one form or another is becoming an option that some parents can’t ignore. While making the final decision to “buck the system” is quite difficult, I - like the many other home educators I know – couldn’t be more pleased with the results. Even if it does mean being considered just a bit radical!

Kris Bordessa writes from her home where she also participates in her children's learning adventures. She is quite used to dead bugs and pretty rocks arriving at her door in the hands of excited little boys.

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