The key difference in home education versus school: the word “home.” Home makes all the difference. If we are at home, with family, living a lifestyle of learning, how we educate will be different than what happens in a school building. We may also have a different set of goals or expectations for home learning.
For instance, how can Algebra 2 foster close family relationships?
Algebra 2 only fosters close family relationships if
1. the child has bought into the idea that Algebra 2 is a necessary part of his or her future success, and
2. the parents are willing to help a child who finds it challenging by working side-by-side, trying new curricula, or hiring outside help to enable the student to develop competence without debilitating frustration, tedium, and failure.
On the flip side, in a family where Algebra 2 is an expectation and not a goal the child has owned for himself, where the curriculum is tedious or difficult, where frustration attends the daily schoolwork, family relationships will suffer as the child resists learning the subject matter and finds ways to subvert the learning process leaving the homeschooling parent exasperated and discouraged.
But what about testing and courses of serious, rigorous study. Moms want to know: are these only to be done at school? Can they be a meaningful part of home education? And if so, will tests and sequential courses of study snuff the joy out of our homes that we carefully cultivated particularly in the early years? How do we prepare kids for college if we’re leading a relaxed homeschool lifestyle?
Let’s look at one particular homeschool subject I know well: writing. There are two aspects of writing: the mechanics and the inspiration. Traditional academic settings tend to focus first on mechanics and then on creation, inspiration. But what if we reversed that order and started with inspiration?
We create a context for writing to spring to life for the child first, through
• reading quality literature,
• jotting down a child’s thoughts
• sharing a child’s stories with an interested audience,
• nursery rhymes and poetry,
• word play,
• celebrating a child’s attempts to write without help even while the writing is not legible or has mechanical errors.
Home is a great place for inspiration to occur. Parents make natural cheerleaders. They seek connections that are personally tailored to the child, they offer time and commitment to a child’s interests and use those as a means to enliven a subject area like writing.
The mechanics follow. Reading, holding a pencil, handwriting, spelling, punctuating, incorporating literary elements, and revising will follow naturally once a child discovers the joy of writing because those are what make it possible to participate in the joy of writing. They can be accomplished in ways that inspire
• poetry teatimes,
• reading novels,
• reading non-fiction,
• funneling a topic,
• learning the components of an essay and trying them out,
• keeping an online journal,
• writing a screenplay for a favorite story, and so on.
Home becomes a place where skills are married to joyful acquisition, not to painful subjection. Over time, new challenges in writing offer a child not only the opportunity to develop new skills, but to explore uncharted territory, to have a fresh adventure. Perhaps some kids will write fiction, others will create online journals, and others will write essays and speeches for debate class. Still others will seek publication. The point is that writing is not a subject to be endured because mom says I have to do it. Writing becomes a means to an end, that end being, the purposeful use of writing in the child’s real life.
For kids who find that writing is not their passion, they may still discover its uses in their lives in a home that celebrates writing as relevant and approachable. Perhaps those kids will also see writing as a means to an end: an effective tool for academic pursuits. If that is the case, the child who has been taught writing through inspiration followed by perspiration (the joy followed by the mechanics) will have more success in studying the essay format and preparing for an essay exam than a child who has only learned to hate writing or who has had minimal success to that point.
Writing can be taught to a student for whom it has a utilitarian function. Not all of us have to love every subject equally. Still, the key then is tailoring the kind of writing instruction and opportunities to the objectives of the child. A student who is preparing for college will approach writing differently than a child who is planning to go into a trade (like auto mechanics or culinary school or cosmetology).
Does relaxed schooling mean that a child never feels strained or that a big effort is not required of him or her? Not at all. If any of you have kids who love console games or play sports at a high level, you know that putting in big effort is key to their success. You also know that they don’t mind working hard when the objective is meaningful to them.
So here’s the trick of home education: parents are responsible to facilitate their children’s goals
using whatever tools create the most conducive environment for joyful learning.
Julie Bogart homeschooled her five children for seventeen years. Now she runs Brave Writer, the online writing and language arts program for families, and is the founder of The Homeschool Alliance and Poetry Teatime.