Keeping Up with the Joneses in School
One of the challenges of homeschooling is that most of us never were. We grew up in schools. We have the voices of a dozen administrators and teachers whispering in our heads as we teach our children. They ask us if our kids are doing enough “school work,” if they are “grade appropriate,” if they could survive if they were ever put in school.
Sometimes even our spouses or parents add volume to these voices with specific questions:
“Did you do anything today?”
“Why doesn’t Katie know her times tables like her cousin?”
I know that for me, these voices get loudest when I’ve been distracted and not attentive to my kids. If a week goes by where I’ve had two dental appointments, a trip to the vet, lots of business and a flooded basement, the routine of activities that reassures me that my kids are getting a better education (or at least, a different one) than their schooled peers is sidelined. When that happens, I doubt my effectiveness as a home educator and all those whispers become shouts.
A personal philosophy of home education
is critical to resisting the voices.
I’ve noticed that today’s new homeschoolers often start right out with curricula and skip what I consider the most important step in the homeschooling journey: developing a philosophy of education. Brave Writer, for instance, isn’t a system or schedule or curricula as much as it is a philosophy of language arts and writing that then gets executed very differently from what is done in school. The process and results don’t match well with 3rd grade language arts or 5th grade creative writing. The only way to embrace the difference is to believe in and be reassured by the philosophy (and documented evidence of its effectiveness) when you wander down this very different path to your children’s education.
So what should be done to develop that philosophy of education and what good is it at the end of the year when your kids have to take standardized tests (as they do in some states)?
Let’s look at each piece:
Home education is deliberately not “school.” The home education movement removes children from buildings, teachers and curricula to bring them home to spend the day with parents. Parents’ reasons for this non-traditional educational path have ranged from religious conviction to special needs support to accelerated learning to real life learning (as opposed to learning from a canned curricula). Each one of us must spend time identifying our reasons for homeschooling. It helps to read books, to join email lists, to chat online in homeschool discussion groups, to meet monthly with a local support group. These are the places where you cultivate your convictions about why home education is the right choice for your family.
Remember: there is no perfect educational model that will yield better results in every category, in every condition. You can’t expect kids educated at home who aren’t being drilled to death for standardized tests to do as well as kids whose teachers spend half the year preparing their kids to take those same tests. That some of our kids do better than the kids in school without all that preparation is even more remarkable! If you are a home educator, standardized testing is one good reason to keep your kids out of the system so that all they have to do is take the tests, not be enslaved to them for half a school year. Additionally, no one is going to make your child “go to school” for a low score. Find out what the minimum score is that your state requires to show advancement and then shoot for that. You are educating a whole person, not a test taker.
When you’ve determined your philosophy of home education and have developed it to include why you see it as a better choice than the alternative, it’s time to think about how to carry out your philosophy. Here’s the trick, though. The practice is nothing like what you remember from school. That means (pay attention here) the results will look different than what you get in school. Some of what you accomplish will be light years better in an obvious way (snuggling on the couch, great discussions about a book you are reading aloud, trips to the zoo, kitchen science experiments that are bubbly and dramatic, nature walks that lead to blackberry bushes, learning to read at one’s own pace, math facts learned without ever studying them). Other results will seem inferior (not as advanced in math or spelling or writing as age mates in school, timidity in your child, no cool projects to hang on the wall, standardized test scores not as high as you imagined).
Even some schooled kids have low test scores, don’t learn their times tables well, are poor writers and readers, and find it difficult to sustain friendships in the school setting.
Read that last sentence again. For some reason, when we compare our kids to schooled kids, we tend to compare our normal kids to the top of the class in school. We just assume that the norm in school is higher than what our kids are producing, but that is patently false. Think back to your own school career and the friends you had. Some of you excelled at everything, but many of you are painfully aware of your own gaps as an adult. You remember friends who fell through the cracks, or who had to repeat a grade.
Home education is not about scores, proving oneself in the arena of “A” students or even meeting the demands of school scopes and sequences. Home education is about nurturing your children’s love of learning so that as they encounter new and interesting aspects of the world around them (the sciences, history, literature, art, music, poetry, theater, nature, astronomy, movies, writing, crafts, gardening, cooking, cleaning up after one’s self, driving a car, making a friend, redecorating a bedroom…), they feel inspired and competent to learn all they need to about the subject at hand.
We are attempting to create a rich educational environment
that is not out of a box or canned curricula,
but that invites participation!
We homeschool because we want to catalyze a love of learning. We homeschool because we value each child’s unique pace in acquiring what he or she needs for a successful, satisfying, meaningful place in the adult world.
So standardized tests? Don’t stress about them. Evaluate your home education by your philosophy and practice, not by how school measures it.