I haven’t posted for a few days, because of Easter, but also because I’ve spent a long time putting this particular post together. (This will probably be my longest post ever. You’ve been warned.) Most of the people who stumble upon this website are homeschooling. Why do you homeschool? Leave a comment and share away. And if you don’t officially homeschool, why not? We all have our own, unique reasons for how we educate our kids, and I think we can benefit from talking about all sides and colors of it.
When people ask me why we are homeschooling, I really struggle to give an answer, for two reasons.
First of all, there are so many, many reasons that it’s hard to know where to start or how to quickly sum it up. (And since everyone these days is always in such a hurry, we are forced to summarize instead of converse.) But secondly, and more importantly, I struggle because I don’t want to offend. Most of my dear friends send their kids to school. So I keep these reasons secret.
I am rarely asked why I homeschool by other homeschooling moms. Isn’t that interesting? Our conversations go more like this: “oh, you homeschool? So do I. How old are your kids? What math program are you using? How do you like it so far? Do you know of any good piano/violin/karate teachers?” We mostly talk about local resources, co-ops, library cards, museums and the like.
With everyone else, though, it’s a different story. “Oh, you homeschool? Why?” And then I can tell they are wondering if I’m a hippie or a religious fanatic. [I’m neither.] Once I was at my neighborhood park chatting with the only other adult there, while our kids all played together. Turned out he was the principal at the elementary school in our district. “Oh really, you’re homeschooling? Why?” What’s a mom to say? How do you sum it all up? Fortunately in that particular circumstance I had a long time to politely explain my basic positions, and fortunately my children were on their best behavior at the time!
And fortunately for me right now, this is a blog post and not a conversation. So once and for all, here’s my answer, unfiltered, politically incorrect, and as complete as I can. Am I being somewhat defensive? Sure I am. Parental rights are being chiseled away in this country, and I staunchly defend my right to parent my kids the way I want to.
If your own children are happily enrolled in school full-time I ask you to stop reading now or promise to not get defensive. 😉
- I love being with my kids, but that’s not the reason we homeschool. (It’s just a great bonus.) We homeschool because we think it’s the best option for our kids and for our family right now, not to satisfy this sentimental mother’s heartstrings. There are certainly situations where moms want to homeschool, but can’t because they have to work, or because the kids have gotten old enough that they need more than the parents think they can provide at home. (I know a single mother who cringes every time she sees me because she would rather be in my shoes. It happens.)
- I believe my children are physically more safe under my watch than away from me. School shootings and child abductions and abuse and bullying and getting run over by buses happens.
- We didn’t send our oldest child to kindergarten because we knew he’d be bored. Every year since then, we have thought about sending him, but we have decided not to. We know the option is always available; we’re reminded every time we pay our taxes. We’ve been using Montessori at home since our oldest child was 3, so “sending” him to school would be an abrupt change for us, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it…
- I have studied Montessori philosophy extensively and the schools where we live do not teach children with these respectful methods. I grew up bored in public school, hiding books under my desk because it wasn’t “reading” time… and I don’t want my kids to have to live like that, 8 hours a day. If they want to read a good book, then let them read a book. Good grief. I also disagree with the mentality of our public education system which says to the child – for 13 years – “Do what we say. We know what’s best for you. All of you must do the same things, at the same time, and the adults are in charge. If you get good grades, we will like you because you are smart and you will have a great life. If you don’t listen to us, you will be punished, and if you drop out of school you will have a miserable life. Just shut up, sit still, and do what we say.” I don’t think this attitude helps our citizens discover their talents, aptitudes, or interests. I don’t think this attitude recognizes that human beings have a huge variety of noble talents. Sir Ken Robinson writes convincingly on this point. Getting high scores on your SAT is not a guarantee that you will live a happy, productive life. I am not going to tell my children how to grow or how to live. I respect their autonomy and individuality. My husband and I will simply share with them what we think is true and right and worthy of their time and necessary for survival. I have long loved the quote, “Spread knowledge out in front of them and let them feast.” That’s what I do. We also include a LOT of music and art of all kinds in our curriculum without treating it like something optional or extra or supplemental. Forgive us for wanting our children to be happy and engaged.
- I don’t want my children to spend their time thinking about what other kids think of them. I also shudder to think what behaviors, immature opinions and manners of speaking my children would be learning from observing their classmates. There is such a thing as positive peer pressure, but at the elementary level I think most peer pressure is simply to conform. To wear the right clothes, to listen to the right music, to say the right things and sit by the right people. I want my kids to have the freedom to be themselves without being judged by immature bullies. I want them to have the freedom to spend their days without having to consider what other kids will think of them. My children have beautiful singing voices, for example, and sing freely. I think most children have beautiful singing voices, but you don’t hear them singing in school, do you? They would be made fun of by peers or told to be quiet by teachers. This isn’t to say that we isolate our children from other children; on the contrary, they often spend long afternoons with neighborhood children who have come home from school. These are voluntary friendships, not forced confinements. And I never have to say to my kids “no, you can’t play outside right now because you have homework to do.”
- I want my children to learn actual facts. The Core Knowledge school movement by E. D. Hirsch, Jr. is based on the belief that in order for our democracy here in the U.S. to survive, the citizens need to have a common basic understanding of core concepts. Hirsch quotes Thomas Jefferson:
Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every [adult] should receive those papers and be capable of [understanding] them.
It’s not that I think “kids today” aren’t smart. It’s just that they aren’t being taught to retain actual facts. Who were our first 3 presidents? When was WW2 fought? What does the Roman numeral L mean? Stop a teenager on the street and quiz them. My point is that I want MY kids to learn facts, and I don’t think they will be asked to memorize any in school. I know they would learn about things and how they feel about them, but it’s done in a way that lets the actual facts slide in one ear and go out the other. Classical Conversations is a program with a similar intent as Core Knowledge, except that it’s achieved with a 3-year-cycle that’s repeated, so I believe it’s even more effective. Go ahead and ask my 3rd grader when WW2 happened, and the names of our presidents, and what that L means. I quiz him all the time.
- I live my life as a Catholic Christian. My children are learning what and why I believe what I do. We begin our day with prayer, we study the bible and our catechism. We strive for specific morals. I will not begrudge my children if they do not choose to practice my religion when they are adults; if God entrusts His own children with freedom of choice, who am I to try to force any beliefs on my own children? I simply teach them what I believe and why, and they are home to observe me as I live out my faith in my daily life. Homeschooling permits us to do all this when and how I think it’s needed. There is a Catholic school in my city, but it’s a 20 min. drive one-way and begins at 7:30 a.m. and costs way more than my husband wants to spend on elementary eduction. (And my sons would still be bored. And it’s neither Montessori nor Core Knowledge.)
- I love that we are a family unit, almost always together. My 4 children are best friends. It’s not that they are perfectly behaved kids who never argue or get angry; it’s that they hardly ever have arguments, they know and love each other like best friends (despite their age differences), and they have learned how to quickly resolve their differences. Learning to state your issue AND listen to the other side state their issue AND work together to find a solution (seeking help from adults if needed) is a High Priority life skill in my book. Older kids help tie shoes and buckle car seat straps; younger kids admire artwork and always laugh at the jokes of the older kids. My kids are always asking for more siblings. Mixed age environments are priceless. Being together as a family is priceless to me. I know how quickly these days will pass.
- Most likely, my children will all live to grow up and move away. Possibly, though, one of them might not. When I was pregnant with my first child, I attended the funeral of my friend’s 13 month old son. I just cried and cried and it hit me like a ton of bricks, this realization that the child inside me was a child of God destined to go home to Him whenever He decided it was time. My husband recently attended the funeral of a 9 year old girl who was diagnosed with leukemia on a Tuesday and died within a week. This girl spent 9 1/2 years growing and enjoying great health before the cancer struck. It could have struck any child, my child, your child. What if you knew you only had 9 1/2 years to be with your child? How can we parent children in a way that both prepares them well for careers and adulthood, but also respects that every day is important in itself?
- I treasure these foundational years. I believe that a happy, wholesome early childhood is analogous to laying a solid foundation on a great building. If the foundation is strong and secure, then when the turbulent winds and storms appear, it survives. I am trying to provide my kids with a concrete experience of stability, healthy hard work, unconditional love, justice, peace, hope, and joy. I have a gut feeling that their futures will be full of global problems and challenges. Gas shortages. War. Christian persecution. (Global warming? If not that then something else perhaps.) Difficult choices will have to be made. I think my kids will be able to recognize injustice, disorder, deceit and all manner of immorality by simply knowing that home was not like this. At least, that is my hope.
- We spend less time in our van than almost any other family I know. My husband & I are seriously disturbed by the global dependence on disappearing oil reserves and the fact that most people choose to completely ignore this reality. All of my neighbors have to choose between driving 20 minutes into school twice a day, OR sending their kids on the bus, which adds an hour to their school-day. (Another hour of bored sitting and being away from home.) We also let our kids wake up in the mornings when they are done sleeping, and we let them eat when they are hungry. My boys are not often hungry when they first wake up, and prefer to read or play awhile before breakfast. They are often hungry again about an hour before lunch, so they might grab an apple or some peanuts to help them wait. They are growing up big and strong, and they maintain the blessed energy they need to keep on learning. The vast majority of what they eat is unprocessed food prepared from scratch, by me. They are learning to fix meals (even scrambled eggs) with ease and joy.
- I do not grade schoolwork except when asked. (Math & spelling they bring to me to grade, even though they know they have the option to check their own work.) Our focus is on learning and accuracy, not on having a grade. I remember laughing as I overheard a neighbor child explaining the A through F grading system to my kids and the way he understood it. The work is either right or it isn’t. The effort is either there or it isn’t. My duty is to observe and realize what needs to be re-taught. I believe if a child answers a question wrong, it’s because the teacher needs to teach the material better. Grades punish and humiliate and segregate kids.
- My children can sit still for long periods of time, if they choose to. They read LOTS of books, sometimes for hours without taking a break. However, I never require sitting. If they aren’t choosing “seat-work” then they are probably laying down on the floor or in motion. They are free to do their work wherever they want – on a clipboard outside, on the couch, on their bed while listening to music, during a car-ride, whatever. I think if they were in school they would be doing an awful lot of sitting. That’s not natural for little kids, and it’s not necessary. Montessori schools operate without desks. As a related issue, I do not think it is natural for little children to spend all day indoors. Homeschooling allows my children virtually unlimited outdoor time. You can call it recess, but I call it PE and nature study and practical life and peace education. As a family we are also free to schedule vacations, trips, doctor & dentist appointments, museum & zoo visits whenever we please.
- I can’t remember where, but once I read a study which showed how much time public school children spent waiting. Waiting in line to go to the bathroom or get a drink or get food in the cafeteria. Waiting for their turn to see something being passed around the class. Waiting in line to go outside for recess. The daily time spent just waiting was measured in hours, not minutes. My kids have to wait sometimes, too, and they have to take turns with materials, but we could measure waiting times here in seconds, not minutes. As an aside, our government spends billions of dollars every year on Headstart programs, but study after study has shown that when these children get to Kindergarten, the only difference between them and their peers who didn’t go to preschool is that those who did already know how to stand and walk in lines.
Still reading? I haven’t even gotten to one of my biggest reasons yet: I don’t think the clock on the wall should control our lives while our kids are little. I am not currently pregnant or nursing. (Which is why I have time to write now.) However, for 8 consecutive years I was pregnant or nursing. I’m a believer in “attachment” parenting methods and nursing-on-demand. These are very personal decisions, and I don’t criticize moms who embrace other philosophies of mothering. I know that many – perhaps most – moms send their older kids to school so that they can focus on their youngest children and the housekeeping during the day. On it’s face, it sounds like an obvious, simple solution to mother fatigue. For years, though, I have listened to my friends describe the difficulties involved in getting up early, waking up sleepy children, eating quick breakfasts, packing lunches, getting babies out into the car, buckling everyone in, rushing the 20-minute drive through traffic in rain or snow, saying goodbye’s to children who don’t want to go to school, baking endless batches of cookies for various functions, repeating the drive in the afternoon (which always seems to happen just as the toddlers are needing naps and falling asleep), and then the rush of trying to get dinner on the table, let the (boys especially) unwind by running around for a while, finish huge quantities of ridiculous homework, and then get into bed on time (even though daddy just got home from work and wants to hang out with the kids.) I hear about this daily routine all the time from my frazzled friends, and I listen sympathetically. I tell them that I’m too lazy to do all that. In truth, I just think that mothering shouldn’t be so draining and difficult. I have survived 4 difficult pregnancies by sleeping late when necessary, napping with toddlers after lunch if necessary, eating meals when I’m hungry, nursing while reading on the couch instead of driving around with a crying baby. I choose a slower-paced, more-relaxed lifestyle because I want to take care of myself and have a happy home for my hard-working husband to come home to in the evenings. If mama ain’t happy…
Well that mostly covers it. I’m sure I could come up with more personal reasons, but these are the main ones. Do you understand now why I have trouble answering the question, “Why do you homeschool?” Some day our children will be “sent.” I have other reasons for that. For now, though, this is our life, and I’m grateful to live in a country where it is my right to do this.