My children have been unschooling for five years now. In many ways, our experience has been quite different from those who take a more traditional homeschooling approach. But there’s one thing that homeschoolers of every sort have in common…
being misunderstood by the mainstream
From the age-old socialization question to worries about how our kids will ever make it “in the real world”, homeschoolers interact daily with people whose beliefs about homeschooling don’t line up with our own experiences. As an adult, I’ve made my peace with it. I’ve chosen this path, and I’m happy to explain it to others who are curious. But lately, my children have run up against the challenges that used to be mine alone. These days, it’s not uncommon for schoolchildren to make comments to my children about homeschooling – comments that sometimes leave my children bewildered, or worse, worried that by homeschooling they’ve somehow missed the educational boat.
I believe the questions and comments that come from children stem from two things. The first is simple curiosity: we all wonder about lifestyles that are different from our own. Of course kids who spend 180 days of their year in school must wonder what it’s like to spend no time at school whatsoever. Second, children often reflect the beliefs and attitudes of the adults around them. Many adults struggle to get a true picture of contemporary homeschooling; outdated research continues to be cited and long-disproved myths remain in circulation. Children piece together beliefs from their own imaginings and the bits and pieces they hear from other kids and adults. Probably not the best recipe for creating an accurate picture of what actually goes on in the lives of homeschooled children.
So, I’ve decided to write an open letter to kids who go to school. It’s a letter meant to dispel some of the most common myths I hear – not from adults, but from the kids themselves. It’s a letter meant to invite them to learn more, to form a truer picture by hearing from someone on this side of the proverbial fence. It’s a letter meant to help them see that homeschooled kids have more in common with them than they realize – because after all, kids are kids, no matter where they spend their weekdays.
Do you know a family that homeschools? I wouldn’t be surprised if you did, because there are a lot of us these days! Maybe it’s someone from your neighborhood, or church, or soccer team. Maybe it’s someone you know from girl scouts or swim team. Homeschoolers are all over the place, and chances are good that you’ve bumped into some. And when you did, I bet you had some questions. Homeschoolers get a lot of questions. Sometimes we get the same questions over and over again! That tells us many of you are wondering about the same kinds of things. So I thought I’d try to give you some answers to the questions my kids get most often.
Here we go…
Aren’t they lonely?
While you are at school, homeschooled kids are spending time together as a family. They are spending time with other homeschooled families. They are out and about, interacting with all kinds of people: the cashier at the grocery store, the docent at the museum, the elderly neighbor who needs some company, and many, many others. And when you come home from school, they also play with you! They may have lonely moments, just like we all do. But, no, homeschooled kids are not leading lonely lives.
Aren’t they missing out on a good education?
When school is an integral part of your life, it can be hard to imagine how someone can learn without spending six hours a day in a classroom. But it’s possible – really, it is! Some homeschooled kids do the same exact things at home that you’re doing at school. Others learn by doing, exploring, taking lots of field trips, joining community-based classes, and studying online. Still others do most of their learning through something you’d never expect: playing! However they’re doing it, they are getting an education. The grown ups in their lives see to that.
How will they get into college?
Grown ups have been looking in to this for a long time. There are lots of studies that show that homeschoolers not only get into college but do just fine when they get there. Will all homeschoolers go to college? ‘Course not. But then, not all school kids go to college, either, right? Besides, college isn’t the only path to living a happy life. Some people go to trade school to become plumbers, electricians, hair stylists…whatever interests them. Others take a few years to work “in the real world” before choosing to move on to college. Some travel the globe through work-exchange programs or start their own businesses. There are all kinds of options out there. And college is definitely an option for homeschoolers.
Here’s a couple of other things it might be good to know…
Quizzing homeschoolers on what you’re learning at school isn’t helpful.
For the most part, homeschooled kids are not learning the same things you’re learning at the same time you’re learning them. They might not know everything you know. That’s okay. You probably don’t know some of the things they know. Learning isn’t like building a block tower, where you must start at the bottom and work your way up. No, learning is more like a puzzle – people plug in the pieces in the ways that make sense to them. Some like to work from the edges in. Others work on one color at a time. There’s no one right way to approach a puzzle. When you look at it like that, it seems kind of silly to ask a homeschooler if they’ve already finished the sky part of their puzzle just because that’s where you started, doesn’t it? Maybe they’ve been busy working on the forest. Or maybe they don’t even have a sky in their puzzle. You see, there’s a twist: everybody’s puzzle is unique, and it will take a lifetime to complete it! Comparing doesn’t really help anyone.
Homeschooling can be tricky to understand, especially for us grown ups.
Most adults – even the ones who are homeschooling their kids – weren’t homeschooled themselves. Most of us went to school, just like you. Back when we were growing up, very few children were homeschooled. So a lot of today’s moms and dads have a hard time picturing what it’s like. Maybe you have trouble picturing it too. It’s okay to be curious – that’s how we find things out! Some homeschooled kids are happy to tell you all about what their days are like. Others aren’t so comfortable, and appreciate it when you respect their privacy. Homeschooling moms and dads are a great resource; we can tell you all about how homeschooling works in our families and answer your questions. If you’re wondering about something, feel free to ask us!
Homeschoolers really aren’t so different from you.
Homeschoolers love to play with their friends. They love all kinds of activities: gymnastics, chess, dancing, playing the piano, scouting…you know, the same stuff schoolkids do. Sometimes they get annoyed with their parents or their brothers and sisters. They feel happy, sad, lonely, bored, excited, curious, worried, confident…just like you. If you meet a homeschooler, I bet it won’t take you very long to find something you have in common. Because kids are kids, whether they go to school or not!