Podcast: When You Worry About Public School Standards
I heard from a mom who wanted to know how to shed the fear that her children won’t be ready to enter the school system one day. She wanted to be able to put her kids in school at any given moment—next semester, next year, maybe high school, definitely college.
So, let’s talk about the difference between being educated and schooled, being a learner and being a student.
Are you worried that you may “ruin” your kids? They may love learning but they will have serious academic gaffes if you keep your kids home. Or perhaps you worry they won’t be socialized or will miss out on school traditions like sports, marching band, prom, and Spanish club.
- Do you wonder how a child “catches up” if behind in a particular subject area?
- What happens to the child who wants to enter school but never kept up with math or skipped over science?
- What if your child is entering high school without ever having studied a foreign language?
- And finally, how can you tell if you are doing a good enough job at preparing your child for tests, lockers, or self-management in a classroom?
The underlying belief that I hear behind this fear is: To be successful in school, you have to go to school for years without interruption. Is that really the case?
Homeschoolers have proven for decades that they can enter the school system at any point in time and be successful. We know that in theory, but there’s always the feeling that your child may be the exception. So let’s take this topic one piece at a time and put that fear to rest.
Listen to the podcast
What is a good student?
Being a good student has to do with self-management in the classroom, following instructions for homework conducted away from school, participation in class, and preparing for in-class tests, oral reports, and group projects. Despite being in a classroom, children experience a kind of autonomy at school away from their parents. To be a good student means that you perform in a way that the school values. To be a poor student means you don’t cooperate as well with those goals and standards. A good student is someone who retains the material for tests, turns in homework on time, participates in class by asking questions respectfully. A poor student misses deadlines, doesn’t study, forgets to turn in homework, is disruptive in class.
Grades are awarded to help parents know how well the child is managing self in the school environment.
What is a good learner?
Learning and being schooled/educated are not identical. Learning implies personal possession—what you retain and use. Being well-schooled could mean passing a class and not remembering the content a year later.
Homeschooled kids usually remember the books they read. They are self-selected, they are discussed over dinner, they are enjoyed for their own sake—not wrung dry of meaning by over-analysis and paper writing.
To overcome anxiety about keeping up with school requires a fundamental shift in what we hope to accomplish at home—learning for its value to the child, not just for administrators or educators.
What if my child falls behind?
The danger, of course, is that parents remember school and they associate a collection of skills with various grade levels. So if your child isn’t reading by age 7 or 8, it’s easy to worry. The feeling is that the homeschooled child is behind and will be somehow handicapped going forward with education.
What makes homeschooling a great choice is that a child can give more mental energy to a different aspect of their schooling while they mature a little more for the subject that feels too demanding or difficult. Not only that, but a child who is home educated is also learning more than a school subject. Learners are learning how to learn—what it takes for the subject to click inside the child. Without grades, there is no other measurement: The child either knows times tables or doesn’t; the child knows how to read or doesn’t; the child read the book or she didn’t. With grades, you can slide by with a B or C, sort of knowing, passed along to the next level without confidence that the child has fully internalized the skill.
For kids who appear to be behind because they are homeschooled, if they go to school at that point, they are often quicker to teach themselves what they have missed because they know what it feels like to learn—to do what it takes to know more, to understand better, to not rest until they are confident.
Raising a learner means you are teaching intrinsic motivation, not just performance.
One of the biggest challenges of transitioning to school from home is not being behind in skills (though that is possible and happens). It’s the feeling of moving at the pace of the general student in class. If you are behind, that feels like pressure. If you’re ahead, it feels like tedium.
Homeschoolers who choose to do public school are dedicated to catching up in the areas where they feel lacking. They have the energy to do that extra work because they aren’t burned out on school, and they have the self-awareness to know when they need extra support from a teacher. They aren’t afraid to ask for that help either since the goal was learning, not performing.
The last aspect of this is what to do about the classroom experience. How do you train a child to remember homework, to use a locker, to plan ahead? The good news is: even those skills have some leeway. If your child fails a test because they’ve never seen a scantron before, teach them how to do it and ask to redo the test. Because homeschoolers know how to teach themselves and are motivated, they perform better than students who are normally behind.
The thing about homeschool is this: Your kids can learn what they need at home. They can go to school and learn new skills and catch up or surpass their peers. None of it is a sentence or indictment.
Sometimes, what you are going to discover with homeschooled kids in a traditional classroom environment is that they are not suited for schooling, but they are perfectly suited for learning. For those of you who are afraid that your kids aren’t learning to be good schooled students, you may actually be saving them from a life sentence of torture where they’re trying to conform themselves to a system that does not allow them to have the learning experience they deserve.
Being a student means somebody else is creating the system for you that will move you through the material at a systematic pace that prepares you for the next part of that phase: college. Learners are not necessarily wedded to a system, and while their learning looks more chaotic and less guided, they are still learning the internal drive to master any subject they want.
If you want to be a person who makes what you’re learning your own, in or out of a school environment, the best thing you can do is to start learning how to learn without pressure and developing a system that helps you be an effective learner in any environment. That is what homeschooling offers for your children.
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