This is a guest post by Jamie McMillin. She has homeschooled her three kids for the past 15 years, and is the author of Legendary Learning: The Famous Homeschoolers’ Guide to Self-Directed Excellence, to be published in October 2011. For more information, check out her blog at www.JamieMcMillin.com. If you want to guest post on Daddy by Default, check out the guidelines here.
Homeschooling is booming. Research puts the number of U.S. homeschooling children in 2010 at approximately 2.04 million – up from 1.5 million in 2007. And the trend shows no signs of stopping. What’s the attraction? Why home school?
For some families, it’s a philosophical or religious decision. They believe that the early formative years of childhood are very important for building a strong, moral foundation and/or an understanding of religious doctrine. Public schools, of course, are not allowed to do this, and private religious schools can be very expensive. So homeschooling offers the perfect solution, allowing parents much more control over the curriculum. There’s also less worry over negative influences such as drugs, profanity, violence, and promiscuity.
For a growing number of families, homeschooling is a last-ditch effort to give their special-needs kids the attention that public schools cannot provide. More and more parents are finding that their kids need individualized instruction, for a variety of reasons, such as ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, learning disabilities, or sensitive medical conditions. School budgets are hard-pressed to meet these demands, so parents may decide to take over, becoming self-taught experts on how to help their own child.
For me, it was none of these reasons, but a belief that there had to be a better way to learn – and a better way to live. It all started with an article I read 19 years ago in Harrowsmith Magazine. On the cover was Rebecca Rupp and her three boys seated around a dining table covered with newspaper, painting a paper mache model of the Earth. Throughout the article were more pictures of the family reading books by the wood stove, taking a walk in the woods, looking through a microscope, and baking pizza together in the kitchen. I was enchanted.
Those photographs shifted my parenting paradigm. Up to that point, I hadn’t really given any thought to a family philosophy or vision. My son was just a toddler and my husband and I were both working. My immediate thoughts were how to get dinner made, pay the bills, and clean up the clutter. I had read a lot of baby books, but childhood seemed a long way off. Those pictures changed everything though. I now had a vision of what our family could be like.
Delusional Utopian fantasy? Perhaps. I think many beginning home-schoolers start out with some unrealistic expectations, but why not? A big vision is better than none at all; and the heart of my vision did come true, even as the details evolved.
The great truth of homeschooling is that kids get to spend more time with their family. Some exasperated parents might say, “Yes, exactly. That’s why I can’t wait to send them to school!!” It does take a lot of physical and emotional energy to take care of little kids. That’s why caretakers need all the help and support they can get. But as the kids get older and the habits of home take hold – that’s when the magic happens.
There is something truly wonderful about lying on a blanket under a tree reading aloud Dr. Doolittle. I’m so glad I was there to watch my kids learn to read, study a spider web, raise tadpoles, make cardboard forts, catch plankton, and grow giant sunflowers. We have played hundreds of games, read hundreds of books, and gone on countless adventures.
Homeschooling builds strong families. But it’s also a great way to learn. The student/teacher ratio is hard to beat and parents are able to customize curriculum based on the unique needs of every child. My oldest son wanted to try school in 1st grade, because he wanted to ride on the bus like the other kids, but it wasn’t what he expected. Being a rambunctious boy, he got in a lot of trouble with the teacher for wiggling, talking, and not staying in his seat. The school wanted to have him tested for ADHD, but I knew that wasn’t the problem because he was able to concentrate at home. So, after a few months, we withdrew him from school and he was free to make noise and squirm as much as he liked. In fact, he seemed to listen and learn more while he was moving, and he needed a LOT of exercise. Now, at age 19, he has a passion (and talent) for stage acting, singing, and martial arts, so it all came together.
There are many possible reasons to home-school: religious conviction, family bonding, one-on-one tutoring, the ability to customize learning, flexible scheduling, more free time, shelter from negative influences, and many others. If you want to find out more, a simple Google search or a trip to the library will give you plenty to ponder. There are many great books for getting started, but one book I always recommend to fathers is Family Matters: Why Homeschooling Makes Sense by David Guterson (affiliate link).
Just remember that homeschooling is not about doing school at home, it’s about living and learning deliberately. It’s about family. That is why it’s booming.
The homeschool issue always seems to spark debate about quality of education, and I’d love to get your thoughts and comments. Do you think homeschooling is better or worse than public school education?