Monday, May 31, 2010

Home Schooling


I work with a lot of kids. And with kids come parents. And when parents find out that I was home schooled they always have a lot of questions for me. Many want my opinion on home schooling and if this is something they should do with their kids. In our city we have a lot of options for schools. Public, Catholic, Christian, Private, Charter, Home schooling. I think in each category there are pros and cons. I also don't think one type of school is the answer for the entire city, or even within a family. I have not experienced all these types of schools, so I can only speak to what I know.

First a little disclaimer. I love my parents. I believe they made the best choice for me based on the options laid out before them. Below I will share some opinions on home schooling, such as things to consider, and sometimes they can come across as negative, but this doesn't mean I don't think my parents considered these things. These are opinions I formed after I completed home schooling, with hindsight and a better understanding of who I am and had you asked me these questions when I was still in school I probably would have had different opinions and thoughts.


The very first thing I tell parents when they ask me if they should home school is to look at WHY they want to home school. If you're choosing to homeschool out of fear (such as "I fear my kids being exposed to drugs, alcohol and other destructive behaviours"), it's a bad idea. The truth is, no matter how hard you try, your kids will probably be exposed to these things. If nothing else, they will be exposed once they are of age and move out. Wouldn't it be better to have them exposed to these things when they are still under your protective wing of authority? I have seen so many home schooled kids graduate high school and regress to Jr. High type behaviours because they didn't "get them out of their system" when they were in Jr. High. Once they're out and on their own many have a hard time setting their own boundaries and making wise choices because they didn't have experiences when they were younger to teach them these things where they could talk them out with their parents. I personally think its better to have open conversations with your kids as these sort of things come up and offer them your guidance (and if needed authority!) to make wise choices. This will save them a lot of grief on the other end of life. I'm not saying that just because kids are home schooled you won't have these parenting opportunities, but I am saying that home schooling shouldn't be chosen solely out of fear of the unknown!

The second thing to consider is the child. Some personalities and learning styles work really well with home schooling, others will do just as well, and even better, in a traditional school system. What works for one child (even in the same family) may not work with another child. Are they a natural leader or a follower? Are they social and need people around them, or do they shy away from crowds? Do they need to be put into situations with other kids? Do they like structure or do they thrive in a less structured environment? Are they a self-starter or not?

For me personally, I was a social child. I attended public school for kindergarten and grade 1 and then I was home schooled throughout the rest of my school career. For 2 years when we first started home schooling I watched all the other kids every time they walked by my house on the way to school (4 times a day!) until I saw every single one of my friends. My mom would point out that most of them probably didn't remember my name, but for me it was a big deal. I'm also a self starter and very rule conscious. Would I have done well in traditional school? Absolutely. Was it terrible that I was home schooled? No.

I also like to learn. My mom allowed us to choose what we wanted to learn about. This was great in that I got to study things that other people didn't, but I discovered in college that some subjects that maybe didn't sound very interesting ended up being my favourite subjects. Had I not been exposed to them, I wouldn't have discovered some pretty amazing things. This is something to consider when choosing how your will home school. While you're at it, as your kids get older and are choosing careers, make sure that your curriculum will work with their choice. If your child wants to be a doctor, there are certain courses they actually have to take to get into university as a med student!

One of the biggest concerns (and rightly so) that people have with home schooling is the social aspect. This really is something to consider. There are many ways that you can socialize your child, but you have to actively seek them out. It can be very easy to live inside your own world and never leave your house, or allow your children to have friends. I don't think most parents try to keep their kids from having friends, but if you don't allow them places to form friendships, its not going to happen. So, let them roam the neighbourhood, sign them up for community sports groups, get together with other home schoolers. Church can be another place for them to make friends, but church can't be the only place they see these kids. Most church programs are not set up for kids to form lasting friendships. They can meet kids there, but set up a play date for during the week. Once a week for an hour, where they're fully engaged in other activities, especially with kids who have a lot of other friends from places like school, will not form lasting friendships unless you book some extra time with these kids!

There are a lot of pluses to home schooling. You have a lot of flexibility, your kids can make a lot of independent choices. You have a lot more say as a parent in what your kids are learning etc. But also consider what your kids (and you!) are giving up. There are some things that are part of the typical school experience that are "rights of passage" type events. Some kids won't care, others will. These are legitimate things to consider. I also know parents who have learned that they are better parents when they have that break from their kids each day. So look at yourself and how you interact with your kids.

So those are my initial thoughts. I'm sure there are more. But these are things to consider. Again, no one school situation is perfect for everyone, or even every family. This type of choice may be something that you have to come back to every few years or so. Some kids may need a mixture of school experiences.

Were you home schooled and have thoughts to add to this list? Are you considering, or are already home schooling and have some input? The comments are open for you to do so.

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