“Why Aren’t You in SCHOOL?”

To leave or not to leave — the house, that is, with your children during “school hours.” Many new homeschooling families wonder if they must cloister themselves at home until that magic hour when the public schools dismiss for the day — and only then could they dare to venture forth. If we truly see education as a non-stop enterprise, then we must also hold that education can and will occur in the marketplace as well as at the dining room table. But how should one respond to the nosy clerk or shopper who snidely asks, “Why aren’t you children in school?”

It has been my experience that a ready answer delivered with confidence will deter most busybodies, while uncertain hesitancy just provokes more questions. Therefore, we began our occasional daytime excursions prepared to deliver a carefully rehearsed response — “We have a half-day off today,” although I do not recall ever actually having to use that particular reply. Some people never asked why my children were not in school — evidently they saw nothing unusual, or they were already used to homeschoolers. The people who did ask us questions either stopped after our first response or continued to question, genuinely curious about homeschooling — which my children and I were only too happy to answer.

I remember reading once about a clerk who asked a child what school he went to. The student replied, “We HOMEschool!” The puzzled clerk repeated “Weehome School? Where’s that?” When my children were asked why they were not in school, they usually spoke up eagerly, proclaiming “WE homeschool!” and offering a further explanation: “This IS school — we’re comparing prices for math class!” Any time we shopped, value was a primary goal, so we were always comparing prices, sizes, and ingredients. We once were threatened by a zealous supermarket assistant manager, who felt our daughter’s in-depth, store-to-store comparison of brands and prices was going too far. My husband asked for the head manager, who then became uniquely interested in our project. We left the store after completing our price survey — with the manager’s apology and a $25 gift certificate, and he happily kept a photocopy of our research of his competitors.

Usually, my children boasted that they had already finished their work for the day and were therefore free to spend the remainder of the day in their choice of pursuits. It is not our fault that the public schools are such an inefficient form of education that it takes them seven hours to complete what we could accomplish in two hours. In our first year, I felt as if we must not be dedicating sufficient time to our lessons because we got them done so quickly. Then I realized that if we were to spend as many hours in session as the public schools did, we would complete our entire school year in only a few weeks or months. A brief analysis of the public school’s daily schedule reveals how much of their time is completely wasted: waiting for the teacher to take attendance and complete other daily records; waiting for quiet so the teacher can give instructions; waiting for the teacher to repeat the instructions to all those who were not listening or could not hear because of the noise made by the others who were not listening; waiting for the other students to complete the lesson so you can move on to the next one; waiting for the teacher to gain control over the discipline-challenged student in the back of the room; waiting for all the students to line up properly to move from Room A to Room B; waiting, waiting, waiting. The time they spend on actual lessons is comparable to our time spent on homeschool lessons.

After the first few years, we outgrew our timidity and began boldly going where no schoolchildren had gone before. I preferred making our trips to the grocery store or Wal-Mart during the day, because there were fewer customers during those hours, and we could do our shopping more efficiently. Our schoolwork could be done any time — we wanted to take advantage of the best hours for our shopping. We confidently marched forth, practically daring people to ask why we were not in school. I began to call those opportunities “speech class” — knowing my children would jump at the chance for on-the-spot experience in public speaking. They were not at all shy when it came to boasting about their homeschool accomplishments, and their confident grasp of language and vocabulary usually left their interviewers astonished and speechless.

Our city’s public library is normally a quiet haven during the afternoons, hosting only a few senior citizens in the reading room. We happened to be there one day when a busload of middle-school children came in, supposedly to work on research projects. The noise level increased so dramatically that my children and I could no longer hear each other without shouting, face to face. The public school students (the ones with all those well-publicized “socialization” skills) ran all over the multi-level building, chasing, teasing, shouting, and generally disrupting everything without doing any actual research. The sole teacher with the large group of students could only be in one area at a time, leaving the bulk of her group unsupervised to wreak havoc and drive off any other daytime patrons. We finally packed up our books and went home; I did not want my children to be accidentally considered part of that rowdy group, and it was no longer an enjoyable place to be. It was no wonder that the librarian in the children’s section was always happy to see my children — they knew how to behave.

A year ago, I drove my mother-in-law to her physical therapy appointment and sat in the waiting area until she was finished. While I was reading my book, a young boy came in with his mother for her appointment, obviously during school hours. He had an apple in one hand, his Bible in the other hand, quietly took a seat near me, and promptly began reading. I broke into a huge grin as I recognized the telltale signs of a homeschooler. No situation is disrupted by a well-mannered child.

Recess was an uncomfortable concept during our first year of homeschooling. I felt (silly me) that we should start by following the “school model” of regularly timed breaks with me present as the adult playground supervisor. I soon realized that this was HOMEschool, not SCHOOL at home. This was, after all, MY home, not a concentration camp. I still lived in America, the nation with the most freedom on the planet, and homeschooling was LEGAL. Public school teachers do not have to prepare the mid-day meal for their students; I did and needed extra time for it. Government schools also take their students on boondoggled field trips all the time, so we should enjoy the same freedom. (After we had left the public school system, I learned from both of my children that they had been on several trips away from the school grounds without my knowledge or permission. So much for parents’ rights.)

I loosened up and allowed my children to take their lunch break at the times that best worked into their schedules, sometimes varying with each day as they finished a subject early or needed a little extra time. I allowed them to play outdoors in our fenced backyard UNsupervised (gasp). I allowed them to take schoolwork outdoors on beautiful days to soak up some natural vitamin D and fresh air. I allowed them to ride their bicycles or rollerblades in front of the nearby middle school, even though the institution’s occupants became quite distracted at the sight. (After a heckling incident during the public school’s outdoor PE class, my son restricted his bicycling to during their classroom times. Years later, a boy began a conversation with my son by saying, “Hey, you’re that kid who used to ride your bike outside my school!”) We took walks together, whenever and wherever we wanted, knowing that even the simple act of walking around the block provided us with educational experiences in observing nature, architecture, or a street repair crew.

Time is the great healer — a little experience will give you the confidence to tackle anything during your homeschool days. Once you recognize that education happens wherever you are, whatever you are doing, you should have no qualms about leaving your home during “school hours.” Let the busybodies ask their questions — and give them more answers than they expected.

The Myth of Age-Mates

Have you heard the one about the homeschool Dad who was asked how his children would adapt to “life in the real world” after being kept out of public school? He replied that “life in the real world” does not consist of thirty people all the exact same age doing the exact same thing at the same time while one significantly older person stands at the front of the room giving them all instructions. Hence the Myth of Age-Mates.

Homeschooled children will have a much truer picture of reality than their government schooled counterparts, simply because the homeschooled students have not been restricted to an artificial environment. You and I know that our day-to-day activities are seldom routine and seldom identical day after day. As much as we struggle to wrangle our homeschooling lessons into a manageable schedule, we know deep in our hearts that no two days will ever be quite the same. We may attempt to do our subjects in somewhat the same order each day, or in nearly the same time frame, but we are not caught completely off guard when some minor crisis occurs which lets the timetable sneak out the back door unobserved.

Homeschooling families also realize that aside from twins, triplets, or other multiple births their children will be surrounded by siblings of greatly varying ages. Government schools seem to come with a built-in (although unwritten) taboo on playing with children from other grade levels. If a child should seek out playmates from an older class, he is often called a “baby” and sent away to find others his own age. When the same child attempts to play with younger children, he is once again ridiculed as being babyish for wanting to consort with those younger than himself. Ah, the cruel and endless cycle of peer pressure. How I do not miss it!

Children who grow up in a homeschooling environment will see nothing extraordinary about associating with people from a wide range of ages. They will be able to communicate with adults and older students, as well as be able to draw on the patience and compassion required for dealing with much younger siblings, neighbors, and friends. Homeschool support groups and co-op networks provide a ready age spread for those families who have few children of their own.

The co-op classes we participated in were often grouped to include several grade levels, simply for the convenience of forming a group of children with similar interests. We held twice-a-month gatherings with classes loosely divided into early elementary, older elementary, and secondary (based on reading abilities and technical understanding), open fellowship times (sack lunches eaten with friends), and recreational periods segregated by physical ability (strictly for the protection of the little people). The children’s ages often varied greatly within any given “class,” but we did not experience any significant problems because of it. Instead, the children were given the opportunity to work with other students of similar interest and ability even though their ages often differed. The various re-groupings throughout the day allowed each student to alternate from being one of the oldest in one group to being one of the youngest in another group — and to find himself accepted in every situation.

Our well-meaning friends and relatives worry needlessly that homeschooled children will be secluded from “other children their own age.” In truth, our homeschooled children are skipping over the age-segregation period of life known so well to government schoolers; our children also get to skip the reintroduction-to-all-ages phase that follows the end of formal schooling. Homeschooled children are fully integrated with all ages at all times, and do not “suffer” because of it. Instead, it gives them a great boost in life and in their ability to interact with all people.

[For more on this topic, see the articles linked below.]
Socialization and Why You Don’t Need It (The Socialization Myth, Part 1)

The Socialization Code

Homeschool Beginnings — A Child’s Point of View

(This article was written by Jenny: homeschool graduate, Guilt-Free intern, and computer whiz.)

To homeschool or not to homeschool — parents often have a hard time making this decision. I want to provide you with the view of a homeschool graduate, giving you an idea of how a child might react to the proposal to homeschool.

I have now graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in business administration, but how I was able to make it to this point is the real story. I started out in public school, where I was educated until the summer before fifth grade when my parents made the decision to educate me at home. The deciding factors in the situation were all issues that I agreed with them on completely, but it was the idea of homeschooling that I was not as in agreement with. In fact, I was against being homeschooled from the beginning.

My objections were numerous, I had no idea how my parents thought they were going to teach me — after all, what could they possibly know? Secondly, I was objecting to the loss of all my friends from school. Another qualm that I had was merely a fear of the unknown, I had friends who were being homeschooled, and although they seemed normal and happy enough, I knew very little about homeschooling. Overall, I really did not think homeschooling was the education for me, though I knew how much I hated the public school system.

In the summer before we started homeschooling, I was upset and scared. I had an attitude typical of children in public school — I thought my parents were not smart, and I did not have confidence in them to trust them with my social life or education because I did not think they really understood me — or could ever understand me. This common misconception was dispelled soon enough, but it did take some time.

The fear I had decreased after I talked to a good friend who had been homeschooled for his entire education. He encouraged me to try homeschooling, and explained to me a little bit about how homeschooling would work, and the many benefits I would have because of homeschooling. After this conversation, I was more willing to be homeschooled, but I still doubted that my parents were capable of such a task.

The first few weeks of schooling were certainly a testing period. Mom was unsure of her capability as a teacher, and I was just as unsure. At first it was like play, we did workbooks and educational exercises, and it was like pretend school — it was kind of fun. The reality set in later that this was school, and as that reality dawned, so did the reality that homeschooling was actually school, and it was a great alternative to the public school system I had been in.

I was also enjoying the benefits of homeschooling. I liked being able to take a break for a snack or bathroom break anytime. I did not have to watch the clock pass time away as I sat and did nothing because I was ahead of the other students. I also did not have to work hard later in the evening to catch up on the homework that I was slower on than the other students. Strangely enough, mom could also teach math so much better than the teachers that I had in public school. We also were able to watch the Andy Griffith show during lunch, providing a pleasant break and laugh as well as some family time between subjects. My favorite aspect of homeschooling throughout the experience was that homeschooling took so much less time than the 7 or so hours that we had been held captive at public school.

By Christmas of the first year, I was thoroughly enjoying my homeschooling experience. I realized that mom was a LOT smarter than my friends had convinced me that parents were. I also liked being able to hold it over my friends that homeschooling took little time, and that I actually was enjoying the assignments that I had. I could listen to whatever music that I wanted to, in my own room, and start school at any time. For a while, I got up at 6am and did my work before anyone else was up, so I could play by 10am. At other times, I would sleep in and start my work later in the day. My puppy could sit by me while I worked or in my lap if I could manage it.

Socialization was not a problem either. I soon realized that the children I had considered friends at public school were hardly people that I wanted to spend time with, and the few that I did like to be around I remained friends with through outside activities. I still had all my friends from church and clubs, and I was able to do many “social” activities with mom, like going to the store during the day. Our family also joined a couple of homeschool groups, with which we could do group activities like field trips and coop classes.

By high school, the benefits were great: I could do my work at my own discretion and was able to get ahead by an entire year. I took college classes during my senior year, and was able to be acclimated to that culture in advance (another good “socialization” opportunity that I had because I was homeschooled). I got along well with the teachers, and even was commended by them several times for the wonderful education I entered college with. Many of my teachers were amazed at how well I could grasp the topics they were teaching, or even that I could write full sentences with some semblance of grammar.

Today I am fully convinced that I got the best education at home. Beyond that, I was able to avoid many of the downfalls of the public school system and benefited from advantages of school at home. Our family has become quite close through homeschooling, a result that I doubt we would have gotten if my brother and I had gone through the public school system where peer pressure encourages children to disregard their siblings and parents as stupid and useless appendages. I intend to homeschool my children as well when I have a family, and I trust they will have as successful of an experience as I have had.

I encourage everyone to try homeschooling. I believe that once you give it a chance the benefits will outweigh and overrule your doubts.

The Socialization Myth, Part 2

All of you who have been asked why you chose homeschooling over Christian school raise your hands. Aha! I see tentative fingers wiggling all over the blogoshpere! The hopefully well-meaning friend or family member posing the question probably assumed that Christian schools are a desirable place to obtain an education. But ignorance can be fixed. (My apologies to the wonderful, dedicated Christian schools that must be out there somewhere.)

When we were first investigating the alternatives to government school, we checked into our local Christian schools. I was as innocent as the next moron and also assumed that the private schools were brimming with shiny-faced cherubs as eager to learn about Jesus as they were to learn to multiply and divide. I had never stopped to consider what happens to the thugs, bullies, and would-be drug pushers who manage to get themselves expelled from the government institutions — they get put into Christian schools! Their parents (often, parent — singular) consider themselves incapable of dealing with Scarface-Junior and want to “leave it to the professionals.” Must I be the one to remind them that “parent” is also a verb? (This is not to imply that single parents are destined to raise “behavior challenged” children. It does, however, mean that the houligans who get expelled from public school and plunked into Christian school usually have not been raised with two active parents present in the home. — Join me in a round of applause for all the dedicated, single parents who are finding ways to homeschool!)

Time for another show of hands. You have heard: “Without proper socialization, your homeschooled kids will grow up in a bubble and never know what the real world is like.” Wow, no hesitancy that time! Let’s compare environments. Scene 1: Thirty children all approximately the same age, herded together in a crowded room, all doing exactly the same assignment at exactly the same time to exactly the same instructions, day after day, year after year. Scene 2: A handful of children of assorted ages, spread out all over the house and yard, doing independent assignments as they are capable, each lesson tailored to each student’s interests and abilities, with the routine broken frequently for running errands with Mom or attending to family celebrations and/or emergencies. If Scene 1 appears to you to be more of a sterile “bubble” environment and Scene 2 appears to be different every day, every month, every year, then we agree. Homeschooled kids are the ones who truly live in the real world; public schoolers hear about the real world, but do not really experience it until they leave the institution.

Face it — no one can love my child, care for my child, understand my child, or teach my child better than I can. Homeschooling adapts to the idiosyncrasies of life in a way no institution possibly can.

Finally, I will quote from my favorite homeschool T-shirts: “When you’re homeschooled, there’s no telling where you’ll end up,” picturing Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, with the noble faces of Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln faithfully watching over the horizon of this nation. “Mt. Rushmore: The National Monument to Homeschooling” — ’nuff said. (I haven’t seen this t-shirt in years, and online searches don’t find it either. Sad.)

[For more on this topic, see the articles linked below.]
Socialization and Why You Don’t Need It (The Socialization Myth, Part 1)
The Socialization Code
The Myth of Age-Mates

Socialization and Why You Don’t Need It

Socialization is what I refer to as “The ‘S’ Word”. It scares off potential homeschoolers, paralyzing their families with fear, and causing their friends and neighbors to look at them with suspicion that they must belong to some political-fringe militia.

In reality, everyone has a socialization problem. Public schools are prime examples of bad socialization. When we took our children out of the government education system, we left behind only the people our children did not like playing with anyway. “Friends” we felt were bad influences could easily be forgotten about. The friends who remained were the ones my children saw most often anyway: church friends, neighborhood friends, soccer teammates, etc.

For the first few years, my daughter got together with her favorite public school girlfriends once or twice a year. That was as often as they all desired to get together, and it was more than enough to show each one how the three of them were drifting apart in their interests. As the girls matured through middle-school age, the public-schooled girls became increasingly “boy crazy” and focused on self-image. My own daughter developed new interests based on her homeschool experiences: reading historical Christian fiction and working with her collection of antique clothing buttons. As we met other homeschooling families, the old friends were gradually replaced with new friends with values similar to ours. It became increasingly obvious to our daughter and to us as parents that we held Family in much higher esteem than did many of our acquaintances. Sibling relationships were considered sacred to us and nothing or no one was allowed to interfere with them — an opposite attitude from the one held by most former-friends’ families. Friends can be highly over-rated; siblings will still be here long after friends move away.

My husband has handled many “socialization” questions from co-workers. Once, when asked, “What do you do about socialization?” he began by simply asking the person if they were referring to “good” socialization or “bad” socialization. That was all he needed to say. The co-worker took that ball and ran with it, saying, “Oh, I know what you mean! My own kid came home the other day, and he told me about what was going on at his school…” The question had been answered, and the distinction had been clearly made in his own mind: there are two types of socialization, and we have control over which type we subject ourselves to.

[For more on this topic, see the articles linked below.]
The Socialization Myth, Part 2
The Socialization Code
The Myth of Age-mates