Should we homeschool?

Should we homeschool?

The other day, I was in a playground place with my two kids. It was a lovely morning, we were surrounded by Nature and things were good. Their energy was keeping me going even though I hadn’t slept much.

After a while, two women showed up with several kids. They were clearly caregivers. The children were playing but there was a dense cloud around them. No one was smiling and they were surprisingly silent for a group of kids out in Nature.

A boy had a running nose and things were getting quite messy on his face; he was uncomfortable. One of the women approached him from behind, while he was swinging on a springing activity and rubbed his face roughly with a paper tissue. It felt cold and inconsiderate, I remember noting.

Another kid came to play with him and they interact for a bit. Then my eldest approaches him to play together. This woman says “no” while walking in their direction but it was unclear to me, and apparently to the kids, who she was talking to. They continued and the woman started yelling at my son. She tried to push him but fortunately, he moved away on time. He was then frozen looking at her. I was appaled. Of course, I intervened and protected both my kids from her. Hopefully, they felt their mom was there for them and realised it was not OK to treat others like that.

But what about the other kids?

Every now and then I see unhappy faces taking care of children; I hear scolding comments, impatient remarks. The kids often hear “no” and “you must/must not be like that” while exploring the world around them. And I shriek.

We all have bad days and tired moments but, as parents, we march on and do the best we can. We parent and love these children with everything we have to give. But that’s not how we always behave in our jobs. It is certainly not like I always worked, no matter how dedicated and passionate I was. And I can’t expect any different from other caregivers, who are also working. My children are not their children.

No one can love and nurture them as well as their father and I.

Kids go to school to learn academic knowledge, social and societal rules and norms. And so they go. By default, we always assumed our kids would also go to school. And maybe they will.

But is that the best decision? Let’s see:

Who will they be with, if they homeschool?

Even if it is just a few hours per day, they will still be under the care and influence of their teacher, peers and other school staff members for a significant part of their time awake.

To some extent, we can get to know the teacher and see if their way of seeing children is aligned with ours. But to what extent can we be picking teachers? And where do we set the bar for good enough? And do we even want to be thinking in terms of “good enough” when it comes to our kids? Would swapping classes or schools be good for the kids? Or even possible?

When it comes to peers and other school staff, our influence or visibility is even smaller. We can’t choose.

Now, one can argue “welcome to real life”, where we can’t choose who is around us. Sure, I get that. But what’s the point of potentially exposing our children at such young ages to an ongoing negative set of influences if we can avoid it?

Here, kids start going to school when they are 4 years old. Why toughen them up? In the words of L.R.Knost, “It’s not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.” Naive? Maybe, but that can also be good.

If they homeschool, they will be with their family, with friends and people we love and who care about us. We’ll be able to go to places where we feel they can have experiences that will fuel their curiosities and personalities. It will be possible to choose and adapt.

What will they learn at home?

If they go to school they will learn a standard set of knowledge that has been considered useful to all children. This is partially reassuring. They will have access to tested materials, provided by trained professionals on topics that are considered relevant for their development.

Having said that – and apologies for the cliche – the world is changing, and it’s changing really quickly. Is the curriculum adjusting fast enough to our needs?

And there’s this struggle that one can see in kids throughout their time in school: do I really need to learn all of these different things, right now, in this order, even though I’m incredibly interested in this one other topic at the moment?

Did you feel this too? If a kid is in a phase when all he can think about is pyramids, can’t we simply embrace it? Show him the math, the physics, the culture, the art, the geology associated with this topic?

If they study at home, they can do this and discover more about what they are interested in. They can be more in touch with their likes and dislikes. I am trying to find if there’s any research supporting this idea but I wouldn’t be surprised if homeschool children have more self-awareness and potentially self confidence.

But, no, if you are at school, you are out of luck: this week we are talking about the French revolution, the different parts of a leaf and studying some poetry from the last decade. Hmm.

The current set up is designed for mass teaching – one to many. This is very convenient for the teacher and cost-effective to the education system but not necessarily the best for the child. And it’s hard to make it any other way. Surely there are many efforts in place trying to find better solutions. At this point, however, this is pretty much what we get.

Which takes me to the next topic…

How will they learn?

Kids love movement, connection, independence and autonomy. Sitting in a classroom “well behaved” having small bursts of time when they are allowed to move seems highly at odds with these needs.

I still remember going out for class breaks and trying to pump my legs and think about what to do, use the restrooms, and then it was already time to go back. Often I would only notice that it was hot or raining at this point. It sometimes felt like real life was out there and we kept going in and out of a bubble. I loved to learn so I was happy to go to school – but it always felt like a trade-off.

Does it have to be a trade-off?

Montessori schools come as a possible alternative. They are very child-centred, provide plenty of freedom within a solid structure. These schools also incorporate movement as a part of the ongoing experience and exploration rather than a separate thing to do.

Montessori schools are not abundant, though, and are rather expensive. Having both kids going to a Montessori school would be a very significant financial investment. Not to be discarded but something to take into consideration. And either way, would they be better off than at home?

What about socializing?

While this seems to be one of the main concerns when it comes to homeschool, my kids are already socializing and being exposed to other kids on a regular basis. Between Playgroups, playgrounds and music classes, there are plenty of opportunities for them at the moment.

And, of course, they have each other. Being of slightly different ages provides them with a combination of being able to experiment with different roles (learning and teaching, copying and distinguishing) but also to really bond with plenty of time to be together.

As they grow older, more things can be adjusted, according to their wishes and needs.

Currently, our eldest kid goes to a Playgroup. He goes for two reasons: he wanted to play with children whenever he found a group outdoors, and; to learn the local language. For now, this seems to be more than enough and I end up being with him most of the time anyway.

Besides, being in a classroom with only kids of your own age (and again, often not being able to interact because you are supposed to sit and listen to the adult in the room) seems rather artificial. Going to places, talking to the elderly neighbours, buying a cup of tea at the cafe, chatting with passengers on a train seems to provide them with plenty of very useful and authentic interactions to practice their social skills.

What if they want to go to school later?

Will homeschool close any doors if later on they want or need to go to school? This is an area to research more on. Assuming you are learning at home, it shouldn’t be an issue but we’ll need to find out much more about the local requirements.

The world will be too different very soon to make decisions on the ability to join a regular university, for example. Will they exist? Are they still going to be useful or valuable? It might simply be that our kids wont want to study there.

However, a more immediate entry point seems to be important to evaluate: could they join the elementary school at any point? Or high school? From a cursory look at the internet, it seems like doors would be open but we need to find out more.

As with anything else (dietary preferences, religion, etc.), they should be free to choose, so this is a critical point.

Language skills and homeschool

We speak three languages at home. None of them is the local language. I’ve always felt that it is necessary to speak the language of the community we live in. However, that is currently not the case. Not only I don’t speak the language I am not finding the time or energy to learn it properly. My husband can speak it much better than I but none of us does it at home.

Our kids will need to learn it and, if we homeschool them, we won’t be able to properly teach them. This would need to be enabled in some other way. One option would be to have a tutor or maximize the socializing experiences to be exposed to the language enough to assimilate it.

We are planning on staying here for the long run so eventually this will, most likely, become their main language.

Can we do it?

Yes. The details are still unclear but surely we can do it. We both have experience teaching and training, we both love to learn and we are always humbled and in awe witnessing our children grow.

What about all the things we don’t know? We can lear\n together, and that is a wonderful part of the experience: to go out there and try to find the answers together.

And at the end of the day the most important thing we can work on, together with our children, is learning how to learn, explore and improve.

On a more practical level, I am already with the kids all day, so we know this format works for our family – daddy is working and mommy is at home with children.

Do we want to do it?

I won’t lie to you: there have been days that go down so roughly and exhaustingly that the thought has crossed my mind: eventually, these fellows will be in kindergarten and I’ll reclaim some of my life again.

Except that is not true. This is our life, we are parents. There’s nothing to reclaim. If we need more time, more energy, then that is something else; something we can try – and probably should – do something about.

I do miss having more time to spend with my interests, many of them solitary ones: taking photos, writing, reading… and of course, to travel like I used to. Homeschool will mean that I won’t get to do more of any of it; maybe not for a few more years, maybe not ever. I’ll need to find ways to do some of these things together, as we all grow older.

This is an essential part of the discussion. While we love our kids and they are so important to us, we also need to be well and happy in our personal spheres. Only then can we also provide them with a happy and healthy environment.

Will I/we become resentful or tired along the road? If so, would be able to change course? It goes by to the question of being able to bring to school if needed or desired.

So, should we homeschool?

It seems like Homeschool could be a great solution for our family but there are a few very important areas to explore deeper: the possibility to change our minds and bring them to school and, do I really want to be with the kids full time for the foreseable future?

We’ll be updating this as we find out more.

Would this work for your family?