Apr 25, 2011

Why do we homeschool?

There are as many reasons to homeschool your kids as there are kids who are homeschooled.

It is a contentious, natural, socially disruptive, socially uniting, easy, hard process to choose your child's educational path.

Just like planning and actually going through childbirth, only longer.

Here is a quick run down our path in the hope it will be useful to someone trying to make the agonising (awake in the middle of the night sweating) decision of what to do when your child is unhappy with their current education...or when you are trying to think it all through with "what to do?".

For the chilled "always knew we would" homeschoolers, I salute you! I really, really do...I wish I knew then what I know now and I'd be there with you chilling out, staying calm night after night knowing the answer and just getting on with it rather than agonising.

Our accumulated parental emotional baggage
As the teenage precursors of the parents we have become, Mike and I had vastly different experiences. Mike went to an exclusive, expensive, ridiculously well-resourced private high school. I went to the same local state high school that my parents taught at.

What was the same? Our academic achievements meant we had the pick of tertiary institutions, and we were both at times miserable and lonely, feeling like we didn't fit in.

Virtually every adult I have spoken to about their school experiences has talked about those feeling of being lost in the machine, trying to fit in, looking for challenges, feeling under pressure to look a certain way, act a certain way. And yet we naively consign our own precious kids into that same system. I know, because I did that too.

Welcome to the sausage factory
Schools are designed for the greater good, the smooth flow of kids in, young adults out.

Economically the school allows parents to work and contribute socially while their littlies are shaped into happy little sausages. Learn how to sit, how to respond to an adult that is not your parent, smooth your edges off against other little sausages as you proceed lock-step through the system. Age is the determinant of your progress (everywhere other than the most enlightened schools) rather than ability, temperament, achievement.

I can see how the sausage factory works, and can appreciate its efficiency (well, as a child care provider) and in some instances it is an opportunity for kids to make connections with wonderful learning mentors BUT what if your kids are not long, linked, smooth little objects?

The gifted factor
Our eldest, Miss November was an early everything baby and child - early talker, reader, writer. We negotiated for Early Entry and all went well for the first year in a multi-grade, multi-aged class.

But by the first term of Year 1 she apparently "looks like a dead fish" as her Literacy teacher explained to me (I helped out in the class one morning a week). November was sitting in class five days a week working on easy worksheets yet again, staring out the window wishing she was elsewhere.

Incredibly, that same teacher didn't think for a moment what measures she could take to re-engage our child in learning in her classroom.

More disappointments followed...an insistence that children had to stay 3 weeks on each level of peg spelling even if they got all the words right every time...suggestions that our daughter wasn't soooo bright as she didn't know all of her maths facts when drilled by the teacher as he wandered past in the playground (she was 5 years old and doing Year 2 maths without being taught)...and on and on infinitum. This was one little girl who wasn't complying with the local factory school principal's ideas.

As parents, we saw our bubbly, socially confident child get into the car every afternoon and cry tears of anger and frustration.

So we applied for the state-run Distance Education and were allowed to access it as the local school in actuality had no gifted program and in our state every child is entitled to an appropriate education...

Distance Education saves the day
This was a wonderful healing experience. By now, July also had trotted the same path, and also ended up at Distance Education. Great things happened - our kids were happy, extended, challenged, accelerated...

Moving on to independent homeschool
But there was a happy fly in the ointment. Set free of the rigours of the boring classroom by the Distance Ed teachers and shown how much fun learning really was, our girls started to get ambitious. As did Mike and I. We all hankered for the juiciness of the Big Bang, ancient history, foreign language, evolution, physics, music theory, circus, chess, hands-on science experiments, and philosphy...at our own speed.

Time to take responsibility ourselves
As parents, we had to grow up.

We had to move out of the tight restraints of the state curriculum and a "school knows best" mindset that we had learnt at our own childhood primary schools. We needed a more natural flow of learning that was consistent with our family's life - and to give our kids the education we now knew they needed and wanted.

We did it - became independent home educators - and you know what, I have learned more as a homeschooling parent in the last 2 years than all my time in my own old sausage factory. It is a lot more fun. And I have never seen that dead fish face - not once.

Great Article on Homeschool socialisation from Diane Flynn Keith

Need more food for thought? Watch this from Sir Ken Robinson...


Amber said...

What (smart) lucky-ducks you all are. xoxo

Tracey Mansted said...

Why, thankyou ma'am!

Ingi said...

What a fab story! We just took longer to get to the same point! You feel so brave, so different making the choice to independently homeschool, but now we are doing it (and loving it) it doesn't seem like such a big deal - except it is working in so many ways that the factory didn't!

Holly said...

Thanks for your honesty. I am (sorta) one of those "always knew we would" homeschooling moms, though now that my daughter just turned 3 and the "pressure" is on about preschool and such, I am beginning to doubt my decision - mostly out of fear that I will fail her. It's refreshing to see how your homeschooling approach evolved over the years. I guess I just have to take it one baby step at a time, and trust that I really do know what's best for my daughter, and not some bureaucrat in "the sausage factory." (LOVE that analogy, btw!)

Tracey Mansted said...

Thanks for your comment Holly.

Sausage factory thinking is very strong isn't it...that it causes us to doubt our own ability as parents to deliver "education".
I think that if you are worried about failing your daughter that proves that you won't!
All the best, Tracey

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