When our son was very little, we discussed schooling options. The state of Alaska has lots of schooling options from traditional public and private school classrooms, homeschool programs where parents choose the curriculum, full public school curriculum for use at home, and a number of combinations in between. One thing we looked into early that is very important if considering either homeschooling or private schools: wait lists for admissions. The issue became important one fall. Our son was 4 and not normally considered old enough for public school, yet he already knew a lot of the traditional kindergarten material before fall. When I approached the school district about early entry, I was told he would just have to wait and should go play for a year. He wanted to go to school and was asking (begging at times) when he could start kindergarten. I ordered materials and we started at home 2 weeks later.
Why do we homeschool? Let me count the reasons. (in no particular order)
1. We like to travel and didn’t want to enroll the kids in school just to have to pull them out to travel. Homeschooling seemed the perfect compromise: we could take the materials with us without interruption. They wouldn’t have the switch curriculum or anything.
2. My husband grew up in bush Alaska (a little community 150 miles from Fairbanks and over 80 miles from the nearest road that goes anywhere). He was homeschooled until high school when his family moved into Fairbanks so the kids could have better opportunities for high school and college. He and his sisters had a very positive homeschool experience growing up. Alaska is also very supportive of homeschoolers due to its vast size. Even in the large (by Alaskan standards anyway) cities of Fairbanks and Anchorage there are many homeschool families and programs. So there are many options available for us compared to other families in the “lower 48” who wish to homeschool.
3. We have several friends who are homeschooling. Their kids do much better on standardized tests and are more well mannered and adjusted than friends who public school.
4. We can control what the kids do and do not learn. The flexibility of homeschool is enormous. Don’t be fooled into believing you must purchase an all encompassing curriculum, although for some families this may be helpful. While it is obvious that we control what the kids will learn through our choice of curriculum and materials, it is less obvious that we also control what they are not learning. By choosing items to leave out because either they seem unimportant or contradict our beliefs, we are teaching them what we feel is the most important. If after trying a book or materials, we find it doesn’t work for us, we are free to get something different. This freedom of choice doesn’t exist in public schools. You’re stuck with what the school board decides is best.
5. Our son was 4 and not considered old enough for public school, yet he already knew a lot of the traditional kindergarten material before fall. When I approached the school district about early entry, I was told he would just have to wait and should go play for a year. He wanted to go to school and was asking (begging at times) when he could start kindergarten. I ordered materials and we started at home 2 weeks later. He likes learning and we are not pushing him. For him it is fun (on most days anyway). Our daughter seems to be following in his ideas. She could count to 4 before she was yet 2 years old.
6. Flexibility of time. This goes along with #1 and #4 in a lot of ways. While I did a stint as a student teacher back in the late ‘90’s at a public school, I saw the classroom was paced to the mid-level learners. Even if a student was very interested in a subject, the class had to move on. The teacher could suggest extra credit or out of class activities but then move on. The same if a student was slow or having difficulty. Unless the class as a whole had difficulty, when most students seemed competent it was time to move on. A tutor might be suggested for slower students, but often they were left to struggle with the hope they would pick it up as they moved along. As a homeschool, we can spend as little or as much time on a subject as needed. For example, in kindergarten, we breezed through the first 6 lessons of math but later spent almost 2 weeks on just lesson 11, until I was sure he understood and was ready to move on. We also can decide each day how much time to spend on a subject. Some days we don’t do every subject so we can spend extra time on one. There is no set amount of time needed for mastery of a subject. I also don’t worry too much about missing a day. We have often done school on weekends and missed weekdays. Not only the amount of time, but the time of day are flexible with homeschool. We have done school just about all times of day from early in the morning, afternoon, evening, even putting off bedtime occasionally because he wants to do school and is alert enough still to pay attention.
7. Public schools are partially a babysitter. This goes along with #4 and #6. However, in addition to those, public schools have a lot of empty or wasted time. Some schools use this for socialization and group activities. While there is no set time needed for mastery of a subject, I generally spend less than 2 hours a day on the days we do school. Granted, once he gets into higher grades and our daughter begins book learning, that number will go up, but it still is no where near the average 5-6 hours kids spend each day in public schools. Don’t take this to mean that our kids are not socialized. Quite the opposite, when we go out they are often complimented on their good manners and social skills. They have friends and do activities just like their public school peers. The idea public schools are vital for socialization just doesn’t make sense. Sure they learn to play but not always playing nicely.
8. The kids learn our morals, manners, and life skills. These seem to be lost subjects in most public schools today. It is thought this is not appropriate for public school and should be taught at home or church. Plus everyone has a different idea as to what is/isn’t good manners and morals, so that it would be hard not to offend someone; that above all else seems to be the guiding role for public schools: non-offensive neutrality to the point where anything goes short of bringing a weapon to school. I’m not talking about some radical church values that oppose someone else’s church values here. I’m saying that most teachers just don’t have time to teach please, thank you, and other simple courtesies along with math and reading. We think these are important not just for sometimes, but for all day, everyday.
9. This may seem silly, but flexibility of dress. If we want to do school in our pajamas (and often we do), who cares? Its another way to make learning relaxed and fun that doesn’t happen in public schools.
10. We control what and how much they eat. While we do not eat the ideal diet, it is generally better than the highly processed school lunch available at most public schools. (See www.feingold.org to be scared/grossed out about processed foods and additives, including sweeteners. They also have some positive/motivating articles about the benefits of healthier eating. They have an entire section related to school food: http://www.feingold.org/school-pg.html).Our kids love salads, veggies, cheese, yogurt and by their choice do not like many meats or processed foods. Our son for his first 3 years didn’t like ice cream or other processed sweets but has since developed a bit of a sweet tooth, however he only takes very small portions of them. I have a bread machine and like to make our own breads using whole wheat flour, oats, and other yummy seeds and grains. We take advantage of Alaska’s bounty with fruits and berries made into jams, jellies, and cakes. Chips and sodas are a treat around our house rather than a staple, usually reserved for special occasions or illness (Coke and crackers does wonders for sick stomach).
11. Exercise and wiggle time can be whenever we want. Sometimes kids just need a 5-10 minute wiggle and run break to get them back on track. Our kids love to run, tumble, and play. They are very energetic. To confine them to a desk with only limited wiggle breaks when the teacher says the class is ready would not work for us very well. We also control what games and activities they do for exercise. We recently joined the Fairbanks Alaska Club where we can go as a family to exercise especially when it is cold. They have a great play area for young kids.
12. The outdoors is often our playground and classroom. This goes along with #4 and 11. As we explore the woods and trails around Fairbanks, along with regular subjects, we are teaching them traditional Alaskan outdoor activities such as dog mushing, cross country skiing (our son got his first skiis when he was 5), hiking, tracking, swimming, and berry picking. When we are on our boat they also learn navigation and using a compass, swimming, marine life and other world cultures. These activities fit in very well with regular subjects and should not be just weekend activities. Ie: how many berries in a cup?, how many kid steps are so many adult?, what colors/shapes/type are the fish? Which direction are we going? Find us on a map.
13. I read in the back-to-school edition of the local paper that kindergarten students are only bussed one way (morning kindergarten students ride to school and afternoon students ride home). Parents are supposed to bring them the other direction. I understand in a large district that the cost of bussing is an issue, but it is inconvenient for parents to take up to extra hour to pickup or drop off their kids at the school each day. Or they can go to daycare, which is expensive.
14. School is un-natural socialization. Where in life other than school do you spend you the majority of your entire days for years at a time surrounded only by people exactly your same age and one older adult? Is it any wonder most kids today don’t know how to interact with adults when they are only around other kids all day?
Wow! The list is much longer than I initially thought it would be. If you are considering homeschooling, you may want to make a list like this and then a list of reasons to have kids in public schools. That way you can compare and better decide which choice is best for you. Do not be overly influenced by any one reason or person. What works well for one family may not work so well for another.