For Education, There’s Still No Place Like Home

Homeschooling is legal and thriving in all 50 states.  In Hawaii, any parent can homeschool and no permission is needed.  The parent is responsible for what to teach and how to measure progress.  We need only notify our school principal of our intent to homeschool and send in a report at the end of the year of what we did.  The Department of Education is  very supportive of this alternative, even referring families to us so they can find out more about what it involves.

How one goes about homeschooling depends upon one’s resources, philosophy, interests, and the learning style of the children involved.  Some families buy a ready-made curriculum and school their children at home on a set schedule.  Some use a curriculum but are more flexible about following it and about the hours.  Some develop their own curriculum and others allow life and their interests to provide the next learning experience.  Some parents do virtually all the teaching, some use tutors, some organize small classes in which parents take turns teaching.  Most families participate in community activities: drama, art and music classes, sports, festivals, and such.  This is one of the greatest appeals of homeschooling — you can do it in a way that suits your family.  Most will do a combination of approaches over the years.

Another advantage of homeschooling is the quality it provides — quality of education and quality of family time.  In a family setting, with few students and few distractions, children have time to read, learn math, do art, be outdoors, do hobbies, relax and all the rest and without rushing to bed at night or rushing to school in the morning.  The family works and lives as a unit and this gives the highest quality experiences in socialization, community responsibility and feelings of self-worth. Studies uniformly demonstrate the excellence of homeschooled children both academically and socially.

We homeschoolers find that the more we are with our children, the more we enjoy them.  Just as we thrilled to their first words and first steps, we now take joy in seeing them learning to read, learning more fully the skills of homelife,  and  growing in character traits.  And with their growing ability to help with the running of the family comes more free time for the family to spend enjoying each other and socializing with other homeschoolers.
If school isn’t  providing your child with the education or good influences you wish or if you feel that life might be less hectic and if you’d like more time to enjoy your children and your family life, contact one of these groups and find out how homeschooling might work for you.

Coping with Doubts

(The following was a letter sent to Growing Without Schooling Newsletter that I thought I would share with you.)
Dear GWS,
I truly believe, though, that it is the parent who sets the tone and that once the parent has handled his/her own doubts, the child’s dwindle.  My doubts tend to surface toward the end of the “school year” when I must admit that I never did get around to most of the wonderful projects and learning activities that I envisioned in September.  Then I wonder whether I am ruining my son’s life by not making sure he knows what he ought to know. These doubts surface other times of the year, too.  But because I’ve read and re-read John Holt, GWS and other supportive literature and I’ve discussed these issues alot with other “unschoolers”, my doubts are short-lived and I once again am confident.  This problem never becomes an issue for my son, though sometimes I am prompted to attempt some sort of schoolish pursuit for a while and my son bears with me on this for a short time before he helps set me back on course.

We weathered the storm of all my son’s friends going off to school and them telling him he should go to.  I arrived at a standard patter:  first I’d ask them if they liked school.  Only about 20% said yes, so I’d ask them which they like better, school or vacation.  I’m sure the answer to that one is obvious to GWS readers.  So my son saw that all the apparent enthusiasm for school was just hype.  We also played school–I’d make him a lunch, then I’d put on a hat and become the bus driver and would “drive him to school”  (I’d drive around the block).  Then I’d be the teacher and would call roll.  We’d do classes, have recess, and such. About 3 or 4 days of this at the beginning of his kindergarten and first grade years, and he’d feel he wasn’t missing anything and would bore of the game and we’d be back to living real life again.

As time went on, my son’s schooled peers became thoroughly indoctrinated into the idea that “you won’t learn anything and you’ll never get a job, if you don’t go to school”.  Some parents even tried to convince JP (my mom’s nickname for our son) of this.  But I just kept on top of it with my own “indoctrination” program–I’d point out to JP the things that he knew that the other kids didn’t know.  Then when he landed his first job at an antique store, sorting marbles for minimum wage, at the ripe old age of 9, he knew for sure that the job issue was hype, too.

Our society has a very extensive advertising campaign on the “importance” of school so I’ve also been very active at promoting homeschooling to my son and at pointing out ways in which he is lucky because he does it.  When we’re having a great time at the beach in the middle of the day, I’ll say “Gee, you could be in school right now”.  When there’s alot of kids at our house because their mothers don’t want the gang at their houses, I point out how lucky JP is that his mom loves having him around all the time. When we drive by a school and the kids are inside, I mention how lucky JP is that he isn’t cooped up in a classroom, sitting at a desk.  If the kids are on the playground, I make a comment about their “token” 20 minutes outside, probably spent teasing each other.  When he asks me some deeply felt question and we have a great conversation about it, I point out that he’d not have been allowed to ask that question in school.

Occasionally JP is put on the spot because he doesn’t really read yet.  Once a friend invited him to church, and we both thought it would be a good experience.  It turned out that they went to Sunday school and had to write essays.  Of course, JP was completely embarrassed by the fact that the teacher had to write everything for him, even though he’s theoretically in 4th grade.  This comes up at other times, too, and it is a difficult situation for JP to deal with.  But because I have no serious doubts about the path we’re on, I don’t get stuck in this problem.  After all, it’s tough for kids to deal with any ways in which they are different from the other kids.  If it weren’t homeschooling, it would be something else.  My confidence helps JP through these rough times even though he really doesn’t know how to handle other people’s questions.  For example, today he was concerned about going to a birthday party because he thought the adults might ask him what school he goes to.  Once they heard he was homeschooled, he thought they’d then ask him to read some words to see if homeschooling works.  Of course, that’s unlikely, but it is possible.  I made some suggestions: he could ignore them or ask them why they wanted to know, for example.  But he pointed out it’s not especially realistic to expect a kid to stand up to an adult like that.  I don’t have any answers for him except to tell him that he’ll run into things like this all his life, where he has to choose to stand up for his believes or figure out some way to avoid confrontation over them.  He seemed satisfied with this and went off to the party and had no problems.

I believe that we make problems for ourselves when we think we can come up with answers for our kids that will make everything ok for them.  If we look at our own selves, we can see that we have ALOT to learn yet.  I think that when we accept that about ourselves, we demonstrate to our kids that problems and difficulties don’t mean there’s anything wrong.  They just mean we have more to learn.  And when we let our children know that we trust them to come up with their own solutions, we teach them to trust their own inner voices.  Heck, I’ve often found that my son’s solutions are as good or better than mine. And when we take the viewpoint that we’re all learners and we can each learn from the other, the pressure is no longer on the parent to know and solve everything…and without the pressure, thankfully, we seem to know more and come up with better solutions.

I started a support group in my area and have developed a terrific group of friends for myself and my son as a result.  And the more he reads GWS, the more he’ll feel kinship with those who write in and the many others who subscribe.  There are many of us pulling for him!

He Doesn’t Want to Study

Dear Gail,
I wrote to you a few months ago with questions about homeschooling in Maui County.  I’m running into some issues, and I was wondering if you had some advice.

We homeschooled last spring semester, took a long break for summer and then started back the last 2 weeks.  After the “honeymoon” period was over last spring, my oldest son started running into some problems.  He’s very bright, a 2nd grader reading at 4th or 5th grade level.  He loves to learn, and I’ve watched him in both public and private classrooms, where he has thrived.  (We began homeschooling for more family time, and more quality one-on-one time, and educational opportunities.)  Instead of thriving now, he is miserable.  He takes 45 min. to do a simple language page, has a melt-down if I give him even slightly corrective feedback, complains and whines much of the school day.  This is totally out of character for him.  I am not that picky about his work, and constantly encouraging him.  He is normally (and the rest of the day is) a happy kid who loves others and behaves very well.  I have tried adding work to stimulate him, taking work away to take the pressure off.  I’ve tried positive and negative reinforcement (time-outs to stickers, etc.) when he behaves like this.  Now, I’m totally out of ideas.  We don’t have alot of options here, and this really needs to work, but this cannot go on.  My other son is normally the distracted one, and he has been an angel – working hard and excelling every day.

I’ve searched on-line for help and I have 5-6 books at home on homeschooling, and no real solutions.  Do you have any suggestions?

Thank you for your time,

Dear Meredith,

Gosh, I’d love to come meet your family and see for myself what’s happening!  But on the basis of what you’ve written, I’ll tell you what I think.  But what I think is based on my assumptions about kids and learning and I can appear pretty extreme in my views sometimes and if they are too out there, I hope they don’t offend.

First, I don’t believe in homeschooling in a hierarchical way.  When the parent has too much say about what is learned, when or how, then I feel the child has all the disadvantages of school (being controlled) and none of the advantages (lots of kids around).  So I am a believer in responding to the child and his call for knowledge.

I also don’t believe in grade levels.  Adults are all over the place in their knowledge and nobody worries about their grade levels.  A child might be reading books most adults couldn’t begin to comprehend (on computers, for example) and yet seem slow on other things….like math maybe.  The only two times grade levels were important to us were:

  1. when our son wanted to go to school and wanted to be placed at grade level.  Because he wanted to reach grade level, he ended up cracking the whip on me to work with him more!  He needed no coaxing from me.  When he took the tests, after about 3 months of study, he scored grade 12 +, and:
  2. when he got his GED, which is a high school diploma in Hawaii, he wanted to score in the “Elite 300 Club”  (it’s scored differently now so the numbers don’t have meanings but it’s the idea).   He could only miss one or two questions on each section to do that — an incredibly difficult goal.  He was fanatical about studying and spent like 8 hours a day at it.  I’d be trying to convince him to take breaks and he wouldn’t.  This from a kid who had only wanted to skate and bodyboard!  He scored 322.

Conclusion:  when it was important to him, he needed no external motivation.

Along these lines, there is a book, “Punished by Rewards.”  I haven’t read it myself but the title tells it all and I believe that, too.  I don’t believe there is any reason to study anything except if one wants to learn about that subject for ones own use.  Similarly, don’t the right thing.  I always told him we do this (be generous or kind or whatever) because it’s the right thing to do.  Not because of any gain we’d get for doing it or consequence from not doing it.

Your son might also enjoy the competition of a school setting.  Mine was like that.  He would ask for check lists so he could mark off what he’d done and feel he’d accomplished something.  But what went on the lists to do were his idea, not mine.  Our son didn’t (and still doesn’t) like to be taught or corrected.  When he asks me how to spell a word,  he just wants the spelling and gets really irritated if I try to give him a rule so he’ll do better the next time.  But his spelling has improved greatly doing it his way and is now near perfect.  And he’s a wonderful writer.

What I’d suggest is that you sit down with your son and ask him what he thinks is going on and what he thinks would work and what he wants to learn about and when and where he wants to study.  We mostly studied on days of no surf.  Or rainy days.  Sometimes outside in the woods.

I hope this helps.  At very least, it’ll be food for thought.