by Jane E. Cody
Across the Inland Northwest, families are doing some variation of what they are calling homeschooling—i.e. teaching their children at home. However, what most of these novice at home educators are doing is administering a distance learning version of curriculum that was designed for the “average student” in a classroom. As someone who worked in distance education for nearly five years, and who successfully homeschooled two kids as a working single mother, I can assure you these are very different.
The make-shift distance learning model that was implemented in the wake of COVID-19 restriction puts parents in the role of supervising and motivating kids to complete material that was designed for a completely different world. It features material that is focused on preparing students to pass standardized tests, segments that are clearly missing important teacher input, or lessons that present basic Math or Reading concepts in ways that are foreign to the way parents were taught. Families are experiencing all the challenges of homeschooling with few of the advantages.
What, you may ask, are the advantages? Why should parents seriously consider giving homeschool a permanent place in their lives?
ONE: Homeschooling allows you to match the pace of instruction to your child’s learning. It doesn’t make sense to march onto Lesson 2 if your student did not understand Lesson 1. A child who didn’t grasp place value is sure to be lost in multiple digit multiplication and long division. Yet, that’s exactly what happens in a school classroom. If most kids have passed a test on the topic, the class moves on, leaving those who didn’t in the dust, with little recourse short of announcing to all their peers, “I don’t know this; I must be stupid.”
TWO: Homeschooling allows you to change the curriculum if the current one is not working. My son did not understand place value without a LOT of visual support, support not provided by most math curriculums. He needed to count out ten “ones” cubes and trade them for a “tens” bar in order to see the difference between a one in the unit column and a one in the tens column. Later, he favored “lattice” multiplication, a system his brother considered a massive waste of time. By the way, I became a BIG fan of math manipulatives when we used them to demonstrate how to factor polynomials in Algebra. If I had a time machine, I would send that as a gift to my ninth grade self.
THREE: Homeschooling also allows you to adjust the lesson plans to harness your child’s current burning passion. Once my son begged for a book called The Cosmos, a huge, in-depth look at astronomy with lots of images and even more facts. For six weeks, all he could think about was the contents of that book. I changed my science plan to Astronomy. One year, the lesson plan called for Ancient History, with units on Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece and Rome. Little did I know that the history of the ancient Britons would be a major fascination. Bonus: everybody was motivated to read Beowulf for literature. Extra bonus: you get to learn cool new things with your kids! It’s like Choose Your Own Adventure in learning!
FOUR: Homeschooling allows your student(s) to learn at multiple grade levels at the same time. My sixth grade son’s struggles with math and writing (he failed fifth grade Reading) earned him the label “slow,” but he was not sufficiently behind to receive Special Ed intervention. At the same time, he was fascinated by the periodic table of elements, European history, and was reading Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw, all topics presented at higher grade levels. Question: how could a child fail fifth grade reading and read Shaw at the same time? Answer: He struggled with writing his thoughts and couldn’t copy accurately. But, he could give a robust oral book report!
FIVE: Homeschooling allows you to adapt lessons to suit your student’s learning style. I had one child who was a voracious reader, and another who hated books. After reading from a textbook, he could answer questions on the material—for a few hours. By the next day, the information was wiped clean, not an effective learning strategy. He was an auditory-kinesthetic learner. If he heard the information, especially while moving, he would remember it in detail, and was able to give a 45 minute dissertation on the subject weeks later. Much of his high school studies consisted of listening to academic lectures while working with his hands.
Both of my sons have grown up to become amazing young men who excel in college. They continue to enthusiastically pursue independent learning on a wide variety of subjects.