My wife Kimberley and I decided to homeschool our children. There’s only one reason: we think they learn better this way. Since people are curious about homeschooling, I’d like tell you how it works.
Homeschooling is a personal preference. My intention here is not to change anyone’s mind or win anyone over, but simply to explain myself. I am not hoping to change the world or the educational system, but only to give my children the education that will be best for them. But I do hope my explanation causes you to question the tacit assumptions you have made, if you’ve never considered anything but a traditional education.
Homeschooling parents choose this option for a very diverse set of reasons — this is not a homogenous community. But they share one thing:
[tweetthis twitter_handles=”@jbernoff”]Homeschooling families believe they can help their children learn better than they would in school.[/tweetthis]
Homeschooling philosophy and experience
To understand our philosophy, refer to the diagram. For every child, in the center, there are the things they have already learned. Around that and built upon it are the things they are ready to learn. And outside of that are the things they’re not yet prepared to learn.
For example, a math student who has a firm grounding in arithmetic, fractions, ratios, and other math concepts is ready to learn algebra. But that child is not yet ready to learn calculus.
With school, the challenge is that each child’s bullseye is different. The teacher must aim for the average level of the class. This means that lots of students are learning stuff they already know and are bored, while others are learning stuff they’re not ready for and are confused. If only the teacher could challenge each student with the concepts that are just within their reach, then each student would constantly grow and move ahead. That’s just what the homeschooling teacher — often the parent — does.
Teaching this way is much more time efficient for both the student and the teacher, because it eliminates waste.
How we started homeschooling
Here’s how this worked in my house.
When my kids were small, my wife and I both taught them. (If you have small children, you already do this. Who taught your child to eat with a fork, to recognize the alphabet, to count, to sing? We all homeschool up to kindergarten, but for homeschoolers that process continues throughout childhood.)
When they were “school age,” my wife did most of the teaching. With so many museums and books available in Boston, we exposed the children to every possible source of knowledge available, including, of course, the Internet. As they got older, she organized classes for our children and others; they also went to classes at other people’s houses. For example, Kimberley was a scout leader and ran classes on history, geography, and physical science, complete with experiments. I had a full-time job and helped in specific areas, but her full-time job was to homeschool the kids. There was plenty of social interaction; homeschool kids spend lots of time with their fellow students in both schooling and social interactions. There are hundreds of homeschooling families in the Boston area who became our children’s social community.
When my children became high-school age, they took different paths. The paths they took reveal how homeschooling creates different experiences based on the needs of the students.
Homeschooling a facile learner
My older son Ray is very bright with a quick and agile mind. He learned to read very early and then devoured everything from a science encyclopedia to Harry Potter. A child like this learns rapidly with just a little guidance — and would be bored into a stupor in school. When Ray turned 13, he took his first community college class. He continued with classes at community college and Harvard Extension in Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Astronomy, Photography, Philosophy, History, French, German, and Statistics. I taught him algebra (he mostly taught himself) and writing, in a non-fiction writing class with five other teenagers. We helped him prepare college applications for six schools. It’s a lot more work to prepare college applications for homeschoolers, but Ray got accepted at five of the six schools and chose Tufts University, where he is a successful sophomore now.
Ray’s experience with college classes and with adult students prepared him well for school, and his transition was easier than it is for many students. It also helped that he entered a year later than most kids his age, a choice we all supported because it was right for him.
Homeschooling a diligent learner
Isaac, who is three years younger than Ray, turned out to be a very diligent student, but is also dyslexic. When Isaac didn’t learn to read by osmosis, as Ray did, we knew we needed a different approach. Kimberley, who has a masters degree in special education, took a weeklong training class in the Orton-Gillingham method, which is the standard method for teaching dyslexic students to read. Orton-Gillingham emphasizes helping students attain mastery in specific skills before going on to other skills, just as my diagram above indicates, and she used it to teach Isaac to read.
At high school age, Isaac was not ready for college courses. We turned instead to Minuteman Tech, our local vocational high school, where Isaac took academic classes in English, History, Algebra, Biology, and all the usual subjects along with training in programming and web design.
Not having been programmed into passivity like the other students, Isaac was highly dedicated to his studies and earned all A’s, moving up from first year college prep level to honors classes in sophomore year. But although the teachers were excellent, Isaac and we became increasingly frustrated with the busy work and test-score focus of all the classes. At the start of junior year, we took stock and decided to go back to homeschooling.
Now I am teaching Isaac algebra and writing , and Kimberley is teaching world geography. Isaac is also taking a literature class at someone else’s house with other homeschoolers. My algebra class focuses attaining skills and mastering them, along with review to keep skills solid. My writing class — in contrast to the high school’s — involves progressively more difficult weekly assignments, lots of feedback and rewriting, and the principles in this blog. (In school, Isaac had been getting frustrated with the overwriting and rigidity that teachers reward, which conflicted with my focus on writing that is short, direct, and matched to the piece’s purpose.) I’ve been pleased with Isaac’s rapid progress in writing. While not the fastest writer, Isaac has become an excellent and passionate essayist through practice and feedback.
Having matured a lot in the last two years, Isaac is now ready for college classes and is already taking (and loving) a graphic design class at a local college. I have no doubt that when it’s time to enroll in college, Isaac will get into a school of his choice and eventually, become a successful web designer.
What this means for you
I don’t expect or want you to homeschool your children.It’s a lot of work for parents. If you are a single parent or if both parents in your family work, then you shouldn’t homeschool. But regardless of what you choose, think about this.
The objective of education should be to help children learn, not to get them to pass tests and get on some preordained path to success.
Life is full of unexpected decisions and opportunities. Students who learn how to learn and make their own decisions are well prepared for life.
Children love to learn. Just about the only thing that can extinguish that is the traditional schooling experience.
When you help children learn, you form a relationship with them that is based on trust and collaboration, not just love. That’s a good thing to have as they enter their teenage years.
The Internet is filled with resources for learners. So is your community. If you think education is about school, you’ve got blinders on.