I have been asked many times throughout my adult years to recount my experience as a homeschooler. My opinions of my own home education has changed over time. At first I felt immensely thankful that I didn’t suffer through the stress of public school. Then I felt doubt about what I may have missed by not attending traditional school. And later, as I became aware of how public schools are failing our kids, my opinion of home education soared. Along with that, my confidence in my ability to guide my children through self-education at home was strengthened, as a realized that my husband and I want what is best for our kids beyond anyone else in this world, and that dedication and love can carry them further in their education than any off-the-shelf education career might offer.
What was Home Education for me?
Transitioning from home education to college education was a breeze. The last few years of my high school education at home was strikingly similar to college coursework. As a high schooler, I attended home-run classes led by parents in the home schooling group. Each class met a few times a week and I completed my coursework between classes. This allowed me to focus on my primary interests in between my required school work.
But I wasn’t always homeschooled. My parents decided to take me out of the public school system when I was in 3rd grade. I was failing in maths. I was often seated next to the class clown. As a teachers pet and model student, I was used as an example child or buffer between the rowdy kids and the teacher. I remember this being stressful for me, not knowing how to handle the out-of-control behavior of these kids. When I was educated at home, it was a relief not to have those stresses from public school and instead be free to learn and play without the distractions. As a child, I didn’t miss public school one bit.
I was homeschooled in a very traditional way. My sister and I had a list of coursework to complete each day, in all the major subjects, and when that was complete we could play and do as we pleased for the rest of the day. Our parents sometimes would teach us certain subjects like languages, spelling and grammar, and history. For some subjects, and as we were older, we read books and completed learning assignments on our own.
The Benefits of Home Education
There were many ways I benefited from home education. I avoided the stress of dealing with the behavior and social problems of my peers (and teachers at school). I was able to focus on required learning for a few hours a day so that I spend more time pursuing my interests and enjoy my childhood playing outside.
I was able to participate in organizations and volunteer opportunities that would be unavailable to a child attending school during the daytime. I made friends with kids in my homeschool coop who were older or younger than my exact age. When the neighbor kids returned home from their school day, I was able to play with those friends. Because we made our own schedule, my family was able to take vacations when it worked out best for us.
The Downsides to my Home Education experience
Reflecting on the downsides to my home education, they all stem from the style of home education: the traditional style. I disliked being required to learn a set of subjects and ideas. I forgot most of what I crammed in my head for the curriculum tests. I really disliked it when my parents would learn something ahead of my sister and me and then teach it to us in a “classroom” setting. I do recognize that my parents enjoyed learning or re-learning along side their children. That is something I also look forward to doing. Traditional home education does not actually learn along side the child, it often means the parent learns ahead of the child and imparts those facts to the child.
Why I love Unschooling
This is where Unschooling or Project-based education shines. Children have a natural desire to know things and discover, create, problem solve. Traditional schooling and public system education does a good job of squashing those natural curiosities. It prescribes every child with the same set of knowledge, learning at the same rate. Because children learn at different speeds, in different ways, and can be deeply interested in one thing for a period of time, the traditional method of education does not serve them well.
Unschooling allows children to learn in much the same way that we learn as adults, no longer in school. We can often become deeply interested in one thing, wanting to learn all we can about it, try to build it, go to experience it. Our interest consumes us and we are passionately interested in learning everything about it and every rabbit hole it may lead us down in the process. We may then move on to something else, or find a new interest through our previous obsession. Or we may decide that thing is definitely for us and continue absorbing information about the passion for many years. It may even turn into a career or avid hobby.
Along this path of passionate interest in something, we often learn new skills out of necessity. Math, science, reading, history, music, writing, interpersonal skills, art, and computer science, may all come into play to support the learning process of our interest. A family that unschools will aim to be their child’s guide and learning partner: providing the child with the resources to explore their interests and open doors to information that lies hidden along the path of their interest. The most difficult part of unschooling for many parents is letting go of being in control of both the progression and content of our child’s learning journey.
Please don’t home educate to shelter
Another aspect of my home education that I now disagree with was the degree to which I was sheltered. The religious reasons my parents chose home education were strong. However, I don’t think I was ever destined to be controlled by the threats and demands of religion, as my parents have attested that I was “always questioning everything.” I do recall studying other religions (from the perspective of the one I was indoctrinated) and not being satisfied with the answers my parents gave for why other religions have it wrong. Regardless, I know that my parents made decisions and acted out of love with the best of their ability given the information available to them at the time.
In so many words, I am so thankful that my parents decided to educate me at home. It gave me a chance, after the traditional education was done each day, to pursue my own interests, which is where my love of learning and self motivation really grew.