Back to School, Homeschool-Style

As homeschoolers, we don’t really go “back” to school—in fact, we never left—but we often end up getting caught up in the back-to-school excitement anyway. In recognition of this shared excitement, I’m blogging a series of posts related to homeschooling this week.

Today’s is an encore post from March 2011, in which I outline some of the reasons we homeschool and address some of the perennial doubts that I face. My own reasons and doubts have shifted a bit since writing this in response to the changes that have occurred in my family and in my children over the last year and a half, but this post is still a largely accurate reflection of my thinking today.

While I think that many of my fellow homeschooling parents share at least some of these basic reasons and doubts, I don’t presume to write for any other homeschooling family; I can—and do—speak only for my family and our unique situation.

This being said, if this post speaks to you, please leave a comment. I love when my monologue turns into a dialogue!

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Reaping Confidence from Seeds of Doubt

English: Source: http://historyproject.ucdavis...

English: Source: http://historyproject.ucdavis.edu/khapp.php?SlideNum=1963 Public Domain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A friend posted on Facebook asking people to tell about their plans for schooling their children and how they came to those decisions. She already knew that we’d decided to homeschool and many of the reasons we chose this path, but she seemed interested in opening a discussion, so I put my opinion out there.

Some of our reasons to homeschool:

  • It’s more academically rigorous and doesn’t have the negative social bits my friends with public school kids have to deal with (bullying, cliques, advertising, etc).
  • It suits my daughter’s temperament better. She’s socially anxious and she’s introverted, so she needs a lot of time to decompress after social interactions. I worry that an entire day surrounded by kids with no alone time would leave her too drained to learn well.
  • Homeschooling gives us flexibility, both in academics (choice of curriculum to match her learning style, moving at her pace rather than pacing to the other 35 kids in her class) and in time (she loves to play her flute; homeschooling gives her the time to go to her lessons and to practice).
  • Her social interactions are in smaller groups in close proximity to me or another trusted adult, allowing her to practice her social skills in a safe environment with parental backup, if necessary, to help her figure out how to deal with a confusing or intense situation.
  • She gets to have more intimate relationships with both her peers and adults besides her parents.

One of the replies to my friend’s query included this, which I felt was directed at me since I was the only homeschooler who’d given my reasons for going the homeschool route:

I think there is somewhat of a danger in catering your child’s social environment to what makes them feel comfortable. As we all know, when you hit the real world it doesn’t change for you, you need to have developed the skills to adapt to it.

I buck the norm on a daily basis and have for years, but that doesn’t mean I always feel confident about it. When I read this, I got a little tingle of fear in my chest: Am I messing my daughter up socially by homeschooling her? She’s anxious and uncomfortable in situations where there are lots of people—maybe I would serve her better by making her deal with these situations from an early age?

I talked it over with my husband.

“There are those people who think that if you attend to your child’s every need from infancy, they’ll grow up needing to be coddled all the time,” he said. “Then there are people who think that if you attend to your child’s needs quickly and consistently, you’re programming them to expect that the world will provide for their needs. As a result, these kids experience the world as a safe place, and they’re more likely to be bold and independent later on. I think it’s the same thing with social interactions in school. If you’ve got a kid who’s anxious in social situations, you could argue that frequent exposure to uncomfortable situations will make them better at dealing with them. But you could also argue, that if their only social interactions are fraught with anxiety and confusion and feelings of inadequacy, they might choose to avoid social situations in the future.”

“And with meeting infant needs, at least, the research supports just what you’re saying,” I commented. “I don’t know about the school-aged social stuff.”

“You know what I think?” asked my scientist husband. “I don’t really care what the research says. I want to do what feels right for our kids.”

Have I mentioned that I love this guy?

We went on to talk about how, so far, our methods seem to be benefitting our daughter. She’s always wanted us near her. Until she was three years old, I don’t think she spent more than a couple of minutes at a stretch playing by herself. She needed us to play with her all of the time. My husband reminded me about a woman at our church in California who was really concerned about how “clingy” our daughter appeared to be, and how we were nervous but continued providing for her needs in the way that felt right to us.

And things gradually shifted. Now she’s my kid who acts out stories for hours at a time by herself. She’s confident in herself and her abilities. We let her tell us when she was ready for us to back off. And she knows that we’re here for her when she needs us because we showed her that through our actions from the moment she was born.

We also talked about how I’ve always been timid and anxious in social situations, and how rather than helping me learn to adapt and become more comfortable socially, if anything, a childhood spent in public school made me less enthusiastic about socializing. For me, at least, school was not the place to learn about healthy social interactions. As an adult, I’ve done a lot of de-programming that’s helped me learn new social skills, but I get all uptight even just considering a “moms’ night out” with my friends. Actually doing it leaves me exhausted. If it weren’t for a fear of appearing antisocial and a desire for connection, I doubt I’d go out at all.

Yes, as an adult in the “real world,” the rules don’t change for me. But being tossed into the intensity of public school from a very young age didn’t teach me how to deal with world as it is. It just gave me more reason to fear it. It took me years to figure out that what happens in school is not a good indicator of what the “real world” is like.

We want to try a different path for our daughter and see if easing her in helps her feel more socially confident and happy.

When my husband and I finished our conversation, my confidence was renewed. We know our kids. We know our options. We do our research. And we’re making the best choices for our unique family situation.

11 comments

  1. everydayjen · September 11, 2012

    Wonderful post! I can identify with so much of it. As a new to homeschooling family it is so helpful to have blogs like yours to come to.

    Like

    • CJ · September 11, 2012

      Thank you for your comment, everydayjen. I’m so pleased that the post spoke to you! I don’t always write about homeschooling, but even my non-homeschool posts end up being about my kids and family in some way, just because that’s the filter through which I’m seeing the world at this stage in my life.

      Like

  2. Pingback: The Hidden Gifts of Homeschooling « Imperfect Happiness
  3. Mom Venture · August 28, 2012

    I have to say that I totally agree. I’ve thought about this many times with my 3 boys. When my youngest was a baby I was basically told that I held him too much. Now before I had kids I was all for the cry it out, not coddling them too much and so on,, but after trial and error with our first, I decided that those ideas were not the way to go. I ended up ditching the cry it out method, I realized that attending to him as soon as possible before he started to really cry made it so that he didn’t feel like he had to full out cry and scream to get my attention. I fed on demand and co slept. Now we are firm on discipline with our kids, but I think that it is much better for them to know that you will be there for them when ever they need you.

    All 3 of our boys are fairly independent now, even though we homeschool and they are very capable of interacting socially with other kids. They may fight with each other, but when it comes to playing with other kids, they are all very caring and sharing yet confident.

    I think it’s best that they are around thier parents more than thier peers all day when they are young, so they can learn good social skills from mom and dad (hopefully) instead of learning social skills from other kids thier age that are still trying to learn. It makes sense to me that they should learn this, just like other things, in a more controlled environment.

    I too was very shy when I was younger, and still deal with that, though it’s not so bad now. But public school did nothing to improve that. I think It actually helped a lot when I went to private school for 3 years. The classes were much smaller and there were more strict morals enforced, and I was more confident I think going back to public in 8th grade, and not so prone to being a “follower”.

    So I don’t buy into the whole “lack of socializing” in homeschooling 🙂

    Like

    • CJ · August 29, 2012

      Thank you for your comment, Mom Venture!

      I will say that, in the past 18 months or so since I first posted this, my daughter has really blossomed. She’s so confident and outgoing. We were at the playground the other day meeting a new mom and her son for a first time. My daughter not only played with the little boy we’d come to meet, she went and introduced herself to practically every other child on the playground (okay, maybe just two, but since I as an adult would be unlikely to introduce myself to anyone, I found it remarkable). The mom we were with didn’t believe me that my daughter was introverted. I had to clarify that I didn’t mean in the colloquial, synonymous-with-“shy” way but in the sense that she gets her energy from being alone. She likes being with people, she just needs to recharge with alone time. And sure enough, she spent the whole afternoon after the park date reading by herself in her room.

      I read a really great book about “socializing” and homeschooling a couple of years ago. It’s The Well-Adjusted Child: The Social Benefits of Homeschooling by Rachel Gathercole. She talks about learning social skills from parents rather than from kids (as you mention), among other benefits of the homeschooling model. I like, too, that she takes care not to bad-mouth public schools even while she’s talking up homeschooling. Actually, I think I might like to read it again, now that I think about it!

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  4. Ellery Davies · August 28, 2012

    Of all our neighbors and friends, CJ, your family is one of only two that home school. And so, when I met you (last year, when you moved to New England), I had the same questions about homeschooling that I now realize you have asked yourself all along.

    The questions that I asked were not for my own child. We are fully vested in the public route. But because I am intrigued by differences, I wanted to know the thinking process. What research; What personal struggles; How do you evaluate an intangible with such high stakes?

    Your Blog post demonstrates a continuing assessment of what is best for your children. Your decision is well-informed and tempered with a persistent open mind.

    Let’s take a moment to peek at the other side…

    My wife is a public school teacher. I can assure you that school rooms do not typically have “35 other kids”. But I tale your point! A class of 18-23 children (typical of New England public schools) is certainly more than 2. At first blush, it is difficult to see how a child could get individual attention, move between subjects at will (or at a personally-tailored schedule), and how they could avoid the constant pressure of social interaction, even if it never involves bullying.

    Despite some limitations and compromises, our family believes in “the system”. That is, a formal education by non-family professionals within a large environment of peer-group interaction (both inside and outside individual classrooms). A public school framework certainly requires children to adapt to group settings and a structure that accommodates peers. But, in our opinion, with solid parent teacher communication, it also accommodates an introverted child, without disturbing the unique and special qualities of that child. They just adapt a bit differently. Perhaps most important (again, you also point to this), it foreshadows the social reality of the “real world”.

    I know you and respect your decision. Judging from your happy, well adjusted, very bright children, home schooling has certainly has worked for you. But more importantly, I sense that you are not avoiding the public route from a fear or closed minded upbringing. Instead, you are asking yourself all the right questions, doing your own homework, and occasionally reassessing.

    Someday, you will make the decision to integrate your children into a larger academic environment if only to prepare them for college or independent travel. Another friend of mine is at that stage now (three teenage children). The process of transferring to a large, academic & social environment is proceeding in a surprisingly smooth fashion. His boys are flourishing.

    Observation of their travails is yet another reason that I don’t fear for your family. I admire your independent zeal and I know that you will see continued success.

    – Ellery
    http://awildduck.com

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    • CJ · August 28, 2012

      Thanks, as always, for your thoughtful comments, Ellery! We’ve had the homeschool discussion several times in person, but I don’t think either of us has spoken at this much length about it.

      Two things have helped me feel more comfortable with homeschooling: One is just watching how my children thrive and how excited they are to wake up in the morning and see what we’re going to learn for the day. The other is talking with other homeschoolers who’ve been at it longer. There is such variety in the homeschooling world, from people who use set curricula or go with a homeschooling charter school (as is an option in CA), to people who are entirely committed to child-led learning, to people in the middle, like my family. There are people who’ve never enrolled their kids in school, people who’ve enrolled their children for a year or more and then taken them out, people who homeschooled from the beginning and then enrolled their kids in school in middle school or high school, people whose kids were homeschooled from the beginning and then took college courses for upper-level science and math during their teen years, and then people whose kids have gone in and out of the system multiple times. We even have friends who are homeschooling their children on their sailboat as the sail around the world!

      Seeing all of these options and how happy and well-educated the children are regardless of the homeschooling path has helped me feel more confident as a homeschooling parent.

      -CJ

      Like

  5. Debbie · August 28, 2012

    We have a similar social experience to you. Keith was the one who had a very hard time in school, being introverted and shy. He finally came out of it by college, but he’s still not into big social situations (he hides behind his iPhone).

    As far as the academic rigor goes, I like the fact that homeschooling doesn’t have to be rigorous. I don’t think the public schools provide rigor per se, but they do provide many, many hours of … how should I say this? … repetitious time-fillers. I for one am so glad I don’t have to provide the rigor that schools think is developmentally appropriate. For example, my son hates arithmetic but loves mathematical thinking. So that’s what we do. I know he’ll memorize his facts eventually, and if he doesn’t, that’s what a calculator is for. School would have made him feel stupid by now, when in reality, he can do beginning algebra at age 7.

    He also doesn’t thrive on regular schedules, as many kids do. I have to sneak in learning and disguise it as fun (which is what learning should be anyway). He loves stories and is an auditory learner, so reading aloud to him while he builds things with LEGO is a big part of our day.

    So I would rather say I like the freedom to be as rigorous as my son directs, because I want him to take ownership of his learning and become a lifelong learner. I was extremely book smart in school, but I skated by with my photographic memory and ended up with zero study skills as a college student. This won’t happen to my son and I love that.

    Homeschooling is all about freedom for our family, and while the public schools may breed excellent employees, I have a feeling who will be running the companies. 🙂

    Like

    • CJ · August 28, 2012

      “I don’t think the public schools provide rigor per se, but they do provide many, many hours of … how should I say this? … repetitious time-fillers.”

      I absolutely agree. When I say “academic rigor,” I mean encouraging a love of learning and a healthy skepticism for, well, everything. I mean teaching children how to go to original sources and how to understand the information they find there. Reading classics or scientific studies isn’t something that just comes naturally, but it’s something that can mean the difference between a sheep-like populace that just takes in whatever is on offer and one that can think for itself and come to its own conclusions.

      This is not something that I got in my pre-college public school education, and it’s not something my husband got in his pre-college private school education, but this is the type of academic rigor I want to provide.

      Like

  6. Lori · August 28, 2012

    As a socially anxious person myself I do not believe in the concept of throwing them in and letting them swim. I believe in the slow building of confidence until they are ready for whatever they feel ready. I believe equally, as you proved, that by catering to all the needs of our children we only show them to trust that we’re always there. That’s all they’re looking for, isn’t it? I don’t know. Parenting is so complex and individual children’s needs are so different. No black and white here.

    Like

    • CJ · August 28, 2012

      Parenting is complicated. There are no “right” answers and we come into this job with so much of our own baggage to get past. The best we can do is the best we can do.

      Like

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