Social Support for Homeschooling (Part 1: Asking the Questions)

The other day I asked my FB crew (welcome, folks!) to vote on whether I should tell my parents “about my homeschooling blog.”  They pretty much unanimously answered ‘no’, but I get the feeling that most of them said this because they thought my parents were opposed to our homeschooling.  Wonderfully, my parents are super SUPPORTIVE of our homeschooling, asking what we are doing, and asking how they can participate!

I honestly forget, living in such a homeschool-friendly community, just how little some folks know about homeschooling. Seems like everyone I meet knows someone who homeschools, and I rarely meet someone who disagrees with it on principle.  When I do run into someone who is hesitant about homeschooling, either ours or in general, they seem to want answers to some of the following questions:

Are you qualified to teach?  I can’t think of many adults who are capable parents who *aren’t* capable of teaching their own children.  All it takes are basic literacy skills, access to a library, a willingness to really observe and interact with one’s children, and an openness to being flexible so one can change what isn’t working until it is.  That said, I DO have a degree in education, and a number of years in a public school classroom under my belt.  I am offended on behalf of my fellow homeschooling parents who think that this somehow makes me more qualified than they are, but yeah, I’ll admit to mentioning this to critics when I just want them to knock it off.  (Mea culpa.)

What about socialization and dealing with The Real World ™?  THE question, which I swear is genetically hardwired so as to be reflexive.  Sorry folks, but a classroom with two adults and twenty age-mates is going to be far denser with potty-mouthed, gendered, commercialized, and sexualized content than is our home.  And don’t even get me started on how my kids consider homeschooling as a kind of learning play one does with Mom and Dad, rather than as something other, let alone as something negative!  Our kids interact with each other, and with our broader (diverse) community.  Homeschooling just means that we are based out of our home instead of out of a school; we go on FAR more field trips than any school class does!

Are you teaching them what they need to know?  I happen to use the Common Core Standards as my foundation, but we speed up in some spots, and slow down in others.  As a guideline for what students can/should be exposed to K-12, I think it is a decent document, but time will tell how closely we stick to it. 

I sometimes also get asked about lab sciences, and how one can possibly replicate that experience in a home setting.  A) some states, like Vermont, allow students to take up to 40% of their classes at their local public schools.  Other states, like Colorado, have the OPTIONS program (thanks, Angela!), a public program run exclusively for homeschooling students, where they can take such courses.  Alternately, some students take such courses at local community colleges, in parent run coops with other homeschoolers, or even just go for it in their kitchens and workshops. 

What about that ‘unschooling’ thing, where parents don’t actually TEACH their kids anything at all?  Unschooling is a term used in a lot of different ways, but I take it to mean learning that is spontaneous, unplanned, and student directed.  My daughter decided to write a book the other day, and did, then bound it.  Another day my girls will pull our pan balance, and just play with the masses, and weigh their toys.  (I put all such investigations under the Unschooly Goodness category here on Turkeydoodles, if you want more examples.)  They learn a LOT this way, and when they are cooking on a project I just leave them to it; telling them to stop what their minds are actively thinking about to do something *I* think they should be doing instead just seems silly to me.  YMMV.  😉 

Usually, when I hear this question, the person asking it knows, or has heard about, kids who play video games or read anime all day, which they perceive as a cop-out.  A) there is actually a lot that can be learned from such endeavors, be it physics, computer science, or Japanese mythology, B) just because that is what is doing with one’s hands doesn’t mean that that is what one is doing with one’s MIND,  (I planned out this series while playing Antilles on my daughters’ Webkinz account,)  and C) there are twenty-four hours in a day, do you REALLY know how these kids are spending their time?  Saying that someone plays computer games all day is sensationalist, and that sells; they may be studying for several hours a day, and then play for the rest.  Homeschooling, without the homerooms, lunch and study periods, and passing times that functioning in a school requires, can condense a full day’s learning into just a few hour’s time.  Also?  Homeschooling doesn’t work for all kids and families any more than public/private schooling works for all kids and families.  Not a happy fact, but a fact nonetheless.

What if your kids have special needs that you are not noticing?  Here in Vermont, each student’s progress is evaluated by the state at the end of the year, either through standardized testing, a portfolio review, or an in-person assessment with a certified and approved teacher.  Each state has their own procedure, but each child’s progress IS tracked, and most homeschooled children encounter numerous adults in their daily lives, so major issues are not likely to go overlooked for long.  I figure that as long as a student is making the necessary academic progress, why worry about it?  If something comes up, parents can get special education services through their district as needed/wanted. 

What about the kids who get left behind in public school without the funding and parent involvement your family would bring to the school?  Perhaps surprisingly, homeschooling families tend to be active advocates for educational reform in their local schools, and fight budget and program cuts right along with the other parents in their communities.  My take on this is that all of our kids exist in the same community, schooled or otherwise, and a town or district that values educational opportunity *creates* more opportunity for ALL students, schooled or otherwise.  Homeschooled kids don’t live in a vacuum; they can and do interact with schooled kids, so making sure that ALL children have access to quality programming and pedagogy benefits everyone.  Also, I’ve noted that nearly half of the parents at some of our homeschool gatherings are former (or even current!) public and private school teachers.  Just because we don’t choose to send our kids to schools doesn’t mean we don’t care or know what happens in them. 

What about teams and performance groups?  What about prom?  I’ve personally never been asked this last one, which is good, since I likely would have laughed in the face of the person asking me!  As for teams and performance groups though, many states allow homeschoolers to participate in extracurricular activities with their local school districts, but, where homeschoolers are numerous enough, like here in Vermont, we put on our *own* plays, and form our *own* teams.  And yes, homeschoolers have even been known to host their own proms. 

How will your kids get into college without grades or a diploma? I’ve heard that every Ivy League college has accepted homeschoolers, but it really isn’t all that hard to pick out the best and the brightest even without a transcript to look over.  Ergo, I think this question is more relevent to the non-academic all-star, looking to go to a more middle of the road program.  First of all, parents and students can write-up a transcript of what has been studied, they can take CLEP tests for college credit or take intro classes at a community college to prove readiness for the work, and they can get testimonial letters from mentors and adults they have worked with in the community.  No, there isn’t a guidance office handling all of this paperwork for the homeschooled student, but at least one knows that the folks writing the documentation of what has been learned and accomplished actually *know* the student! 

Last but not least, what if your kids WANT to go to school?  Most of the answers I’ve given here so far could be easily repeated by any homeschooler in America, but for this question you are likely to hear a wide range of answers, depending on *why* the family chose homeschooling to begin with.  Some homeschool for religious reasons, some medical.  Some families travel a lot or live abroad, some ideologically believe that homeschooling is the best, and some just believe that homeschooling is the best for their family or child.  Our answer is that we don’t know if we are going to homeschool all the way through high school or not; it will depend on what is right for our family and our kids, and we will decide anew each year, and see how it goes.  Right now, this IS what is right for us, so we keep at it!

* * *

When they have answers to these questions, I find that most folks do something with their eyebrows; either furrow them, like they can’t find a reason to object, even though they want one, or raise them, surprised to find out that homeschooling isn’t what they thought it was.  My parents, thankfully, did the latter.  🙂 

For my readers: are there questions that you either have, or have heard, that I have not answered?  I’d love to hear them so I can include them!  Thank you!

This is part one of a three-part series on social support and homeschooling.  The second part will look at how relationships between the extended community and homeschoolers can be mutually beneficial, and the third part will look at how homeschoolers support one another.
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2 Responses to Social Support for Homeschooling (Part 1: Asking the Questions)

  1. You pretty much hit all the questions I’ve had or heard. Except one: what about those parents who pull their unruley kids out of school and say they are homeschooling but really don’t. i.e. Those parent who can’t get along with teachers and neither can the kids. So they end up not getting an education altogether.

    I’m a proponent of homeschooling but this is one point I’ve often heard. As a matter of fact, just today by my office mate!

    What’s a good response?

  2. Siggi says:

    Nice to have you here, Bon! Thanks for the comment! 🙂

    Unschooling can be a wonderful educational experience. Like I said, even playing computer games all day teaches things, but the trick is recognizing and thinking about one is learning, otherwise transfering those skills of the PS3 gets kind of tricky. 😉

    My big question in the case you ask about is this: why are the kids and parents from that family “unruly”? Whose judgement IS this? Families with non-mainstream priorities or background may have a really hard time in their larger communities. If so, pulling them out of institutional school might be a good call; Maslow’s hierarchy includes feeling understood and valued!

    Not all kids in public/private school ‘get’ an education, no matter how hard staff try. A child working at home, even with little formal work being done, is at least *building* an education for themselves. One has to work really hard to avoid learning *anything*.

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