How We Weighed the Advantages of Homeschooling
The advantages and disadvantages I planned for, and the ones I actually found.
We did not set out to homeschool. In fact, once upon a time (not very long ago), I swore I would never ever homeschool. I’ve worked in classrooms for years, and I love teaching. I loved my job working at my kids’ private school. I worked with my best friends, my kids had teachers I respected and who loved them, and I loved being part of their school. But at some point, it stopped working. More specifically, it stopped working for me to be working. We have a lot of kids, and just running our household with all the small bodies in it made a full-time job in and of itself. I knew deep down, before I wanted to admit it, that something needed to change.
Staying home was an advantage, but also meant something would need to change for the kids’ schooling since we can’t exactly afford to put six kids through private school. I’m not a huge fan of our local public school system, and also didn’t love the idea of sending my kids to school all day with people I don’t know. Remember, in our old school, I was there all day, and if I wasn’t in the classroom with them, I at least knew the people who were.
In one conversation early on in the discussion, we jokingly said, “Maybe we should just homeschool the kids.” Haha. But of course, that would be ridiculous because we had said we would never do that. I had several objections to homeschooling, and a few major ones: 1) We will be at each other’s throats all day if we are left to ourselves here at home. 2) I have too many littles to be able to school the bigs effectively. 3) Our house is always going to be a gigantic mess if we are home all day. 4) What about the socialization question…won’t my children all turn into weird homeschool kids? Plus we’re going to miss our friends.
A few good friends, excellent websites, and inspiring books helped me resolve that we would be able to deal with those objections positively, so we jumped off the deep end. Months later, what I’m coming to find is that homeschooling is so much different than I thought it would be. It’s not just school at home. There’s definitely a paradigm shift that makes some of my questions and objections a little less weighty than they were initially.
We do miss our friends. Of all the things I was concerned about, this one is real. The kids have besties from school that they still see and play with regularly, but it’s not the same as seeing them everyday. However, my concerns about them having no friends are nowhere near realized. In fact, I’m finding myself saying no to more and more groups and activities just because there isn’t time enough to do them all. Homeschool communities are abundant, diverse, and everywhere, if you’re willing to take the time to find the right group to fit your family. (Disclaimer: we live in a relatively large suburban area, so maybe that would be less of the case if we were in a small town.) We were so blessed to quickly plug into a supportive, like-minded community of other homeschoolers, and the kids immediately began making friends that they love. Oh, and did I mention, there are six of them?? So even if we stay home one day from our full agenda of co-ops and classes, there are five other children in the house to play with, fight with, solve problems with, be creative with…you get the idea.
Our house is always a big gigantic mess now that we’re home. But mostly, it’s because of toddlers. Seriously though, the thing about homeschooling is that you aren’t just always teaching only math and history. There’s a lot of life skill learning that naturally and necessarily takes place when you’re home together all of the time. I’m finding that we are way better now at working on instilling responsible habits in our children. Back when we rushed to get everyone off to school in the mornings, the adult who stayed behind cleaned up the empty house. Now the kiddos are doing laundry and dishes every morning, tidying up routinely throughout the day, and learning to be more diligent about leaving spaces better than they found them. We’re slowly building habits like “clear your place before leaving the table” and “hang up your towel after your bath”. And the part of me that wants the towel hung just so is patiently surrendering to the part that wants the children to have the opportunity and discipline to learn to do it themselves. It’s still a work in progress, but today I feel like my children are becoming more responsible people, if my house isn’t always a cleaner place.
We do have a lot of little people in our house, and they do impact the way we do school for the big kids. But I quickly learned that there is no end to the resources, ideas, and information out there for how to solve this problem. In the end, it seems to really just be a matter of logistics and strategies, which could easily fill a whole series of other blog posts. Sarah Mackenzie and Cindy Rollins have written my two very favorite books on this topic, and regular re-readings of both help me remember that this challenging task can be done, and is so very worthwhile.
The last of my concerns, that we would be at each other’s throats all day if we were always at home together, never really materialized the way I thought it would. For one, it is actually super rare that we are home all day, between homeschool groups and extracurricular activities. But the other thing that I hadn’t taken into consideration was the tired-and-cranky factor. When we were at school all day, the kids that came home with me were worn out from a full day of learning, playing hard, and using up all of their self-control in the classroom. They didn’t have any left by the time they got to my house. They were tired, I was tired, and we spent the remaining hours of the day doing the least fun things we could possibly do together: chores, dinner, bath time, etc.
The tired-and-cranky children that I was unsure I wanted to spend all day with if we homeschooled are not the same kids that currently live at my house. Don’t get me wrong, we have tired days, and we have cranky days. And some days we have full-scale nuclear meltdowns. But this is the exception, not the norm. Instead of spending the last tired hours of each day together, I am getting the best hours of my kiddos’ days. Instead of only getting to push them through the least fun tasks of the day, I get to be part of the most fun – the discoveries, the creations, the laughs. These are the moments I looked forward to when I became a mom, and I love so much that homeschooling makes it possible for me to be a part of them.
JAMIN RESPONDS: That last one is the kicker for me – instead of getting the worst hours of the day, I get the best. That is awesome! Also, you can always change your mind later. Might as well try it for a while and just go back if it doesn’t work out. And change this into a mommy blog. It doesn’t have to be a homeschool blog too. Nothing is forever. There’s a season for everything.
JAMIN’S DISADVANTAGES AND ADVANTAGES:
tldr: The advantages of homeschooling don’t apply to everyone. Do whatever you think is best.
First, why I hate homeschooling – the disadvantages:
1) There is no break. It is easy to underestimate the impact of this disadvantage! When you homeschool, you are everything. You’re the teacher, the lunch lady, the hall monitor, the recess monitor, the principal, the transportation. You volunteer for every field trip. You PLAN every field trip. You’re the test proctor, the registrar, the nurse, the athletic director and the janitor. Oh – and you’re also the parent. And the spouse. And you are now in charge of replacing the social experiences your kids would have gotten if you wouldn’t have pulled them out of perhaps the single most significant workshop of their lives: constant, early education on how to win friends and influence people. You might be able to replace the facts the teachers were going to present, but good luck replacing the lessons of the playground. (On the other hand, maybe what you’ve seen on the school playground is a big part of why you’re considering pulling your kid out of that hell hole.)
2) Lack of influence from other authorities. I don’t attend soccer practice. Our sole income comes from the music lessons I teach, but I don’t teach my kids music. I want them to have good coaches and bad coaches. Cuddly mentors and prickly ones. They need to experience working under generous bosses and stingy ones. School is a great place to experience the gamut of authority figures.
3) Homeschoolers are weird. They talk to adults like they are peers. They don’t know how to strike up conversations with new people. They don’t have the shared experiences anyone else has: homecoming, P.E., homeroom, student council, study hall, or any classmates who took the same classes. The closest thing they have is other homeschoolers with whom they share the experience of not having shared experiences with anyone.
4) Another one of the disadvantages is that parents of homeschoolers are weird. They believe in weird things and try weird things. They don’t vaccinate, they hold hands when they pray, they use essential oils as if they work, and if you don’t watch out, they’ll probably try to sell them to you. Look, we’ve got 6 kids. We’re freaky enough as it is. Traditional schooling was our last thread of being somewhat normal. Take that away and we end up being the stereotype of what everyone in San Fransisco thinks everyone in Missouri is.
Why I Finally Gave In – The Advantages:
1) I hate parents. I don’t really hate the people, but I find it annoying to be obligated to interact with strangers just because of our physical proximity: at a cross-walk, a concert, or a subway (both the vehicle and the restaurant). We can be civil and kind, but standing near a person doesn’t make it more likely that our personalities will be complimentary. Fortunately I’m currently in a job where I get to pick only my favorite people to do business with, because I must be missing the gene that has patience for forced interactions with random strangers. And you apparently HAVE to interact while you’re waiting for your kids or at field trips or school functions or birthday parties.
If we were honest, each parent would say, “Look, I wouldn’t choose to talk to you in any other scenario, but my kid attends the same school as yours and I don’t want to wreck things for him in case he really likes your kid. But I don’t need you to find something about my kid that you can compliment. I’m not genuinely interested in your hobbies and I won’t find you more personable if you ask me about mine,” but Wendy has told me I’m not allowed to say that anymore.
Instead, I can stand there as the other parent apparently thinks, “It’s been silent for 3 seconds so I should think of something relate-able to say – I know! I’ll say something negative about one of our kids and talk about how it can sure suck to be a parent. Because we all feel that way, right?” and I’m just thinking, “It’s been a beautiful 3 seconds. I wonder how long he’s able to wait before putting his kid down again.”
People – I don’t hate being a dad and I don’t think my wife is dumb, but when talking with you forces me to choose between insulting my family to be polite or being honest about my family and making you feel awkward, I’m not gonna side with you. You kinda seem like a douche. If you’re feeling socially awkward for a couple seconds, why not point that out instead of pointing out your kid’s shortcomings – or your wife’s!?! The woman signed a legal document agreeing to put up with you until the sweet kiss of death frees her, so whatever you’re about to say about her, she’s still a saint in my book! But somehow in this scenario, honestly liking my family makes me the douche!?
And while we’re on the topic – to the fine ladies of Sports Clips Hair Cuts: I will gladly pay double if you just let me watch the game that you put on the TV. It’s hockey and I don’t really follow hockey or even know most of the rules, but I’d much rather stare at that than try to pretend like I’m convinced that you find my weekend plans fascinating. It won’t affect your tip.
You don’t really care and I’m good with that. That’s why I made up those plans I told you. I’m actually taking my 6 kids to Disneyland this week, but I told you I had to work overtime in hopes of being boring enough to stop our disingenuous conversation and get back to this ice soccer thing. But now I’m caught in a made up conversation with you about my a-hole boss who keeps calling me in to work in Sacramento even though I’m self-employed and will be in Anaheim with Mickey Mouse!
Please people: can we stop with the charades!?!? I have friends. They are not you. Not yet. I don’t hate you…but I don’t like you. Not yet. I do like most of the people I get to know, so we could likely be friends, but I don’t like being forced to find out at the moment. Plus, even if I wanted to find out at the moment, talking to you about the weather or how much I’m satisfied with the car I drive isn’t really going to help us find out if we will be friends anyway.
I thought one of the advantages of homeschooling would be a decrease in ridiculous, awkward, forced social situations. Unfortunately, homeschooling hasn’t really fixed the problem like I thought it would. Turns out, society is everywhere. The extroverts rule the world and define “polite” for the rest of us.
2) I can feel time with my kids escaping my grasp like sand through my fingers. This is the reason we had kids. If we can afford it, I want my young kids to have access to a parent. It’s not their fault that they exist in this world, and I don’t want them to pay the price for my mistakes, as much as possible. If I had so many kids and racked up so much debt that I have to abandon them while I go pay off my bad decisions, I will have a nagging feeling that I’m failing them. As long as it works, I want access to their firsts and their developments and I want to be the one (with my wife) to explain how the world works and shape their initial worldviews.
3) We can’t afford 6 kids in private school. And I haven’t seen a public school around here where I wouldn’t end up in a fist fight with a the faculty at some point. It’s not them; it’s me.
Okay. It’s kind of them too.
4) Wendy’s the perfect teacher. Homeschooling isn’t for everyone, but Wendy was made for this. She has the patience of a patient person and the calmness of a super calm chick. Wendy gives them so much more freedom than I would – it’s like she’s a person who just lets their kids be free to experiment. She’s one of the most creative, smart people I know, just like a really smart and creative person, and she’s as bad at micromanaging as I am at analogies. Bless you for that, m’lady.
5) Our work/school schedule wasn’t lining up. I wanted to do cool things with them, but the perfect time to teach piano lessons is right after school. Unfortunately, the perfect time for my kids to not be in school was also right after school. I missed them like crazy! We carved out a lot of time on weekends and I took them to school every morning, but my heart was breaking every afternoon while I spent quality one-on-one time with everyone’s kids but my own.
6) Common core seems slightly stupider than the old stupid system. People learn different ways! Almost nothing in the universe seems more obvious than this. Demanding that nation-wide, everyone reach the right answer by the same means is ludicrous! I haven’t looked into common core enough to have a strong opinion on it, but I didn’t even like the old system, where a person’s ‘smartness’ was judged by their natural propensity to sit still for long periods of time, shut up, and not cause the teacher to have to do any actual work.
I have enough friends who are parents, teachers and administrators to get the serious vibe that common core is a lot more of the one-size-fits-all, there-is-only-one-right-way-to-process-information style that makes me so insane. I don’t want my kids to only get to see me on the penitentiary’s Guest Days after I’ve rage-stabbed a 1st grade math teacher over the ‘right’ way to add 8 and 8.
7) School administrators are idiots and so are teachers. Sure, I’ve hinted at this, but it should be stated explicitly. As a disclaimer, my whole family is in education and they are great at it. The school they run is consistently a top performing school nationally and I would eagerly recommend it. There are good teachers and administrators out there. Plus, my wife was a kindergarten teacher when we married.
Plus, I was a full-time 5th/6th grade teacher when we married. I loved being in the classroom and I could totally see myself going back to it some day. There are tons of educators who are the supernatural gods and goddesses of inspiring curiosity and wonder in young people, spawning a determination and confidence in children who would have otherwise been overrun by adversity and boredom.
Those teachers and administrators put the actual angels to shame with their ability to selflessly serve the greater good with no expectations for anything in return.
That said, school administrators, as a group, above all other professions, seem to have an un-human knack for taking the most insane position on any topic. What causes a brain to break and, for example, create a zero-tolerance policy where a first grader who chews his Pop Tart into an “L” shape gets suspended for having a gun-shaped snack? Maybe it’s the low salary and unchecked power that attracts skill-less, brain-less people who have had all their dignity stripped away from them in every other arena in their life.
Or maybe it’s the awesome responsibility of caring for children coupled with the crippling threat of lawsuits if any crazy parent sees anything they don’t like. Maybe it’s just insecurity; the fear of everyone realizing that the job takes zero skill, since literally anyone can teach. Really – anyone.
Every one of my kids teaches younger ones how to do things. You know what teaching is? Doing something while someone else watches. Or saying something while someone else isn’t talking. I’m teaching you right now. Bam! I’m a teacher. You’re a teacher. No one in life has ever NOT been a teacher. Teachers are not great simply for being teachers any more than parents are great for having functioning gonads. (Note to self: ask Wendy if I can post honestly about single moms.) There are good teachers, just like there are good parents, but it doesn’t seem to be the majority.
Of course, this all coming from a piano teacher, one of the least respectable versions of a teacher out there. The only requirements for being a teacher is being able to scrape together $50 for a thrift store keyboard and not being homeless, and even that second requirement is a little flexible. At least school teachers get background checked and have some accountability to accomplish something. When someone tells me they are a piano teacher, I assume they are either retired from an actual career or that something must have gone terribly wrong in their life and I wonder who in the family has the real job that pays the bills.
8) Weird kids were probably going to be weird anyway. Granted: for the less socially gifted, pulling them out of society doesn’t help them develop that skill, but one nice thing about having a bunch of kids is that you get to see over and over that they were born ‘that way’. Some of them are outgoing and some are reserved. Some of them like to make friends and some of them prefer to play alone. Some of them like to chat it up with strangers and others feel murderous rage toward a sweet little Sports Clips stylist who is just trying to brighten someone’s day. So maybe homeschool families aren’t weird. Maybe weird families just like homeschooling. Maybe it’s not going to wreck us. Maybe it’s just a better fit for us for now. Or maybe we were already wrecked and just didn’t know it.
WENDY RESPONDS: Aww, you think I’m the perfect teacher? Thanks! (blush) You’re totally right on the no-break thing.
The pressure is real and constant. I think that’s probably the one disadvantage that I actually do struggle with. The rest of it I think we can (or have) overcome. At least for now. We’ll have to make a note to update this post a couple years from now 🙂