Ok, here I go. You know me by now, so you know I’m a little iffy on the whole home school issue. Not critical, just knowledge seeking, from an entirely different perspective — teacher for over 23 years, just retired. So anyway, it looks like about 3 1/2 hours of school time? Also, while independence is wonderful ( truly WONDERFUL), when is there real, in-depth instruction, conversation with peers, modeling, exploration of topics ( even topics not as “catchy” as pond study or Greek Olympics). Where do you find the depth of information that the children need? Who will teach algebra and calc and psychology and plate tectonics and Spanish and greek and biology and genetics? And, again, I appreciate your letting me pick your brain. the “school environment” is touchy right now, and with 4 grandchildren, the oldest being just 4, this topic comes up a lot in conversation….
This was a comment left on my blog last week. Rather than a quick and essentially unsatisfying answer in the comments section, I offered to expand my thoughts in a post. These are simply my thoughts. Whilst I am passionate about home-schooling, I do not believe it is the answer to every problem a child may get. I also do not see it through rose-tinted glasses. I understand that when one choice is made another is not. There are many advantages to home schooling, just as there are many disadvantages. Where my children gain in some areas, they lose out in another. I’m okay with that. It reflects the adult life they will eventually live. At no point can we have it all. At no point can we do it all. And I am certain at no point will we know it all. Educated, uneducated, home schooled or schooled, this is true for every man.
Right, onto the questions, which I will try to reply to one at a time.
The first part of the question seems to be asking about school time. I am making a (maybe unfair) assumption that 3 1/2 hours is considered here to be inadequate. However, I’m not sure education can be measured in hours and minutes. Yes, my children have sit-down, ‘formal’ schooling for around 4 hours each day. But their learning isn’t confined to these times, only their schooling . ‘Surely this is semantics?’ I hear you cry. Maybe, maybe not. I would suggest it depends upon the environment the child is exposed to for his other 20 hours.
Home-schooling by its very nature means that I am with the children all day long, and if I am not then their father is. We walk alongside them, talking with them; we work alongside them, talking with them and we sit and eat with them every night, talking with them. Ultimately, this means in-depth discussions and instructions can happen at any time.
Schooling-wise I do put some time aside for more in-depth instruction. During their quiet time, I read aloud to the older ones for about half an hour. These tend to be the books they might struggle with on their own – Dante, Beowulf, Homer and the like. At the moment we are ploughing through Marco Polo’s autobiography of his travels. Written in the middle ages, the language is sometimes challenging even for me. We chat about what we are reading, so I know they have understood. In addition the children have 1 hour of more in-depth instruction in the afternoon, when Gary takes out the younger ones.
CONVERSATION WITH PEERS
This, for me, would be one of the disadvantages of home-schooling. I loved school, everything about it in fact, but especially the many friends I saw everyday. You see it is in the seeing and talking with people on a daily basis that deep friendships are made. My guys attend a few outside of home activities and have both schooled and home schooled friends. But they see them maybe once or twice a week. Deep friendships are thus not made. But, as Maria from the Sound of Music said (yes, I apologise, I am indeed quoting from the Sound of Music!!), ‘when one door shuts a window is sure to be opened’ or something like that. And so it is. My children may not spend quantity time with their peers. Our school choice makes that impossible. They do, though, spend everyday with each other and are far closer than they would be if they attended school. It is one of my biggest joys, watching their friendships develop.
EXPLORATION OF TOPICS
This part of the question surprised me the most. I would have thought, on reading my blog, that anyone could see my children are explorers extraordinaire! They have a mother who enjoys depth of study over breadth of study. This is why it has taken us four years to reach the Middle Ages in our studies, and why after six months of anatomy study we have only learnt about our body’s cells, bones and muscles, but in huge detail. No, in-depth exploration of topics, any topic, is not a problem in our school.
DEPTH OF INFORMATION
Again, given their ages, I believe we go into subject in great depth. For any given subject or era of study, I utilise a varied bank of resources, all of which overlap, integrate and reinforce the concepts I wish the children to know. I am blessed with avid readers, with an adult reading level, which naturally leads to books of greater depth being read and understood. To the books I add videos, board games (occasionally), field trips and many, many hands on activities. In addition, the children are given two hours of play time a day, which they inevitably use to explore the topics further, usually in the form of pretend play.
BREADTH OF SUBJECTS
I was asked specifically about algebra, calculus, psychology, plate tectonics, Spanish and greek and biology and genetics? I had to giggle (primarily at myself) as I mentally ticked off at least half of those as being studied. Could I pat myself on the back then, knowing I had a good few years left to cover the rest of the topics? No. I understand that the topics chosen were simply pulled out of the air as examples. The bigger question (I think) is: Am I going to be able to meet all their educational needs in terms of the variety of subjects they traditionally would be taught at school? The answer is undoubtedly a resounding no! This possibly bothers me less than it should.
And I believe it is here we meet the crux of the home-school/traditional school issue. There is a discrepancy in the meaning of education for different people. Those coming from a more traditional back ground point out that examinations are important, so a child needs to cover certain information in order to pass these exams. Home schoolers tend to have a different take on education, and their takes are many and varied. It is not my business to judge who is right or who is wrong. My business is solely that of bringing up my children in the best possible way I am capable, using all of the skills and talents I have been given and utilising others with the resources I have been blessed with. And most importantly, doing all this in keeping with the goals of our family.
OUR FAMILY GOALS
The goals I refer to here are solely the educational ones. For our family, the purpose of education is not knowledge. Knowledge is merely the by-product. Our purpose is to produce independent, life long learners, capable of seeking out any additional information we have not provided. In addition, it is very important to us that we help the children learn to think for themselves; to be confident in their thoughts and opinions, yet to enjoy listening to those of others. In this day and age, when media plays such a huge role in what is deemed acceptable and not acceptable, thinking adults are essential to prevent the lemming syndrome of following the lead of others, whether beneficial to the individual or not.
In conclusion, my thoughts are that education is a life long journey and one that begins at home. I believe it is my job to teach my children to be able to step forward on their own; to be confident enough, hard-working enough to press onwards against adversity and eventually reach the pinnacle of their goals for their life. I am responsible for the first few miles, they are responsible for the rest.