Before children, I was a high school English teacher. I left the classroom once we had kids, but I had every intention of sending them to school. I knew and admired several homeschooling moms but I wasn’t the teach-my-own-kid type. When it was time, we sent our oldest off to kindergarten.
That’s when I became the teach-my-own-kid type.
My professional qualifications fooled me. I thought I knew everything about educational best practices. I was wrong. And I’ve learned a lot.
I learned that best practices are artificial constructs.
They are put in place to manage large groups of students. As a homeschooling mom, all the techniques I had amassed over the years were useless because a) I didn’t have a large group that needed managing and b) my procedures and routines were sucking the joy out of learning. By our second week in, best practices were out. The incredibly advanced technique of listening to my children replaced them.
I learned that education is more than sitting at a desk.
Kids need purposeful movement and activity. It doesn’t matter if they’re bouncing on an educational trend. It’s still a classroom, and benchmarks, safety regulations, crowd control and administrative expectations can make learning devoid of authentic experience. Homeschooling affords daily opportunities for experiential learning reserved for special days or field trips in traditional schools. We can spend the morning at a nearby creek, doing an in-depth study of freshwater ecosystems. We can go to the grocery store with a math scavenger hunt in hand, practicing multiplication, division, estimation and fraction skills in a real world setting. We can sit outside and recite Lewis Carroll, then have a tea party homage to Alice in Wonderland. We are involved in real, experiential learning.
I learned that authentic differentiation works best when students have tailored curriculum choices.
Effective teachers should employ a variety of strategies to reach all learning styles and cognitive levels. This sounds great in theory, but in practice, it’s tricky. I know because I spent ten years trying to reach a number of different students in three separate ability levels, from the ninth grader reading below a fourth grade level to the prodigy ready to enter university at 15. Yes, they were opposite ends of the spectrum, and no, they weren’t in the same classroom. But how do you engage all twenty five students in a single lesson when it is highly likely that a more moderate variance will exist within a group?
I see the difference clearly in my own children. What would have happened to B in a school setting if she hadn’t been reading by April? What would have happened to G if her sensory difficulties had made her inelligible for GT center programs? Because of homeschooling, my kids can learn in the way most effective for them, not the classroom status quo.
I learned that teachers are facilitators, not directors.
Many teachers fall back on old patterns, turning students into passive learners in an instructor-directed environment (primarily through the use of lecture or PowerPoint). Why? Because it is a less exhausting way of transmitting information while being overburdened with bureaucratic record keeping in a data-driven culture.
When I made my transition from classroom teacher to homeschool mom, I saw pretty quickly that my children responded better to self-directed inquiry. My children take ownership of their learning and benefit far more than if I pedantically present the material.
And finally, I learned that my children are really cool people.
People I wouldn’t get to know as well if they were in school eight hours a day. I’ve watched my girls become best friends. I’ve watched them care for their baby brother with ferocity. I’ve listened to B sing songs composed while investigating a scientific theory of her own choosing. I’ve looked through an intimate, artistic window to glimpse G’s imaginary world. I don’t believe I would have had such access to my children’s interior lives if they were away from me every day, all day. Homeschooling lets me get to know my children, the little people I’m supposed to be getting to know.
Mainstream education isn’t for everyone, no matter how much we try to assure ourselves of that assertion. My transition from traditional to homeschool taught me more about educational practices than all my years of training and experience combined. I have the utmost respect for teachers. I’ve been where they are and I know the struggles they face. But I also know how much homeschooling has benefited my children, and I can’t imagine it any other way.