When my husband and I made the decision to homeschool our son there were mixed responses from our friends, family, and the stranger at the grocery store. Thankfully none of the questions I have received so far have been, in my opinion, judgmental or even condescending. In our overly offended culture, when every question and comment can be seen as a judgment, I prefer to assume the best, even when the comments sound… harsh.
Some questions and comments are out of concern, but the majority of questions we receive are simply out of curiosity. I don’t mind talking about it. When the topic comes up, I actually enjoy it. Most people want to know how, or why we do it. What we didn’t like about school or how we ensure he keeps up. Even after I explain our side there seems to be something lacking. There is always another question or a confused expression. It wasn’t until recently I realized what was keeping certain people from understanding homeschooling or why someone would choose that form of education.
Like many of us, my perception of what education had to look like was formed by our culture. I attempted to create something of a school setting at home and spent the first few months of homeschooling believing I needed the right curriculum. Bookwork time for one to two hours a day. I had schedules and break times. Binders and a designated “homeschool” shelf. Everything was perfect. Until we started. Isn’t that how it goes? Everything looks better on paper.
Within a short few months, I had to admit my perfect plan just wasn’t working for us. Our days weren’t as enjoyable as before, and if I’m honest with myself, my son was learning more when we were not “doing” school. Though I might have been learning… or at least practicing patience. The tension that was beginning to form every morning when we would sit down to do our book work was NOT worth it. My son loved to learn! So what was the problem?
Then it hit me.
Homeschooling is not school.
And it doesn’t need to look like school. This, I believe, is where many people get stuck, including me. Those who haven’t experienced homeschooling, can’t get “school” out of their head so of course, it is hard to imagine how a regular person, such as myself, with no formal education in teaching, could homeschool their children.
Even I, being homeschooled as a child, desperately needed a change in perspective. So with the freedom that homeschooling offered, we took a break. I read and researched homeschooling and unschooling until I came to a term I had never heard before, “deschooling”. It originally refers to the adjustment period when a child leaves a school setting to a homeschool setting. For me, however, I was able to use the idea to get rid of the preconceived ideas I had of what school, or more accurately, education needed to look like. Somehow in our culture, we came to believe that every child needs to be in a classroom setting, at a desk, learning by grade and only what the teacher has deemed appropriate.
When I began homeschooling, I truly believed I didn’t have any of those ideas but they came out in my methods anyway. So, I went through a period of “deschooling” myself. I began following other homeschool moms on facebook and through blogs. I talked to trusted friends and family. And finally, I let go of what I thought school should look like and turned it into something that works best for our family and my boys. Simply put, I changed my perspective.
Now homeschooling to us looks a little more like this:
Taking SUN days, instead of snow days.
Education that occurs at the park, the beach, the library, or museum.
A car, a grocery store, the grandparents home or our backyard.
The living room or the kitchen.
A new city, province, or even a different country.
Choosing a “curriculum” that includes things like Netflix, Google, or Youtube.
Reading numerous books from science to fairytales.
Going on nature walks and playing Lego.
Baking cookies and even doing chores.
It is real life socialization with grandparents, aunts and uncles, and friends and family of all ages.
Meeting new people at church, the playground, or even out at the grocery store.
Life preparation over test preparation.
It is allowing our kids to develop their passion through interest-based learning instead of grade-based learning.
It is character over curriculum.
It’s experiencing a love of learning right along side my children.
I’m glad we experienced those first few difficult months of homeschooling, and I’m even more thankful that I had experienced homeschool moms around to tell me, it was okay to make a change. And through those changes, I learned something about myself. My goal for my boys isn’t that they would learn math (that will happen anyway), or pass a test. No, my goal and my hope for them has always been to see them hold on to their spark; that innate curiosity and love of learning they are born with. I want to see their eyes light up over new discoveries at the park, or a new game they invented by themselves. I want to witness the excitement for newfound passion, or finally solving a problem. If they can just hold onto that spark, they can go anywhere.
True learning for a child doesn’t require a classroom. A start and an end. A spring break, or a summer break. It is happening all the time. All we need to do is create an environment that fosters their curiosity and fuels their passions. Children are not passive learners. I don’t need to teach them what to learn as much as I need to show them how to learn. This is why, as parents, we are already capable teachers, with or without formal training. Sure our days might look more like play than school, but that’s okay, because it’s not school. And yet, it’s education all the same.