My Experiences With Homeschooling

April 15th, 2020

I was homeschooled growing up. And not just for a few early years, I was homeschooled for the whole thing. I never went to a normal school until I headed off to take community college classes at sixteen. Until then, the closest I got was going into high schools to take the necessary standardized tests. Obviously this is a different experience than most people have, and when folks find out that I was homeschooled my whole life, they tend to have a couple of questions.

The most common ones are along the lines of "why were you homeschooled?" or "how did you like homeschool?" And then there are the people more seriously considering homeschooling their kids, who have questions about the social side of things. I usually give a short answer to these sorts of questions because I don't really feel like going into a deep analysis of my childhood with someone I'm talking to. But especially given the increased interest and necessity for homeschooling during COVID-19, I figure I should write down a few answers to these questions in case it helps anyone.

Why was I homeschooled?

There is a common concern when homeschooling comes up about the reasons for homeschooling. There is a not insignificant portion of parents who choose to homeschool their kids for religious reasons. I have been to homeschool conferences with a surprising number of creationist and bible study lectures. Some of these parents are trying to keep their kid away from anti-christian science study and give them a more conservative education. That wasn't at all the case for my parents.

There were a couple of main reasons why they took this path for me and my siblings.

First of all, my mom believed that the public school system was far too rigid in how it taught. For children who excelled in some areas but weren't quite as strong in others there was very little adaptation to allow them to lean in to their strengths and be given the space needed to find footing on their weaknesses. Plus, in many schools the teachers are essentially required to teach to the tests, which severely limits the amount of creativity and exploration that can take place in the classroom.

By taking hold of education within the home it was possible to adapt the curriculum to our individual needs, give us room to explore, and allow the space needed to excel and find our strengths.

The second main reason is that we were a Coast Guard family when I was growing up. That meant that even if we could find a good school in our local area, we would inevitably be pulled out of it, moved across the country, and have to figure out a new school in a new location every 2-4 years. And the odds of being able to find great schools for all three of us kids everywhere we went were slim to none.

Also, I should say, we were never forced to be homeschooled, it was always our choice. My brother tried out high school for a year and decided to come back, and my sister did a few years when she was younger and then went back to do the entirety of high school in the actual school system because we were, at that point, in a place with great schools for what she wanted.

Homeschooling gave us the option to take control of our education and have more consistency in our otherwise regularly changing lives.

How did I feel about homeschooling?

For the most part I really liked it! I got a great and well rounded education, grew closer to my family, and had lots of opportunities available that kids in school may not have had.

As far as the education, although it was a quite different structure than it would have been in school, my mom did her research and built a curriculum that covered almost all the bases. I was able to move quickly through math and other more comfortable subjects, and independently make progress through the books and resources. And for the things I was less comfortable with, that was where Mom could spend her time, helping me more with writing, and generally giving a more guided education with history and social studies.

And again, as was her goal, it was a very adaptable approach, when I was twelve I developed an interest in programming, and I had the freedom to spend time studying and practicing that every day. And that is just one example of the sort of educational adaptations that we were able to make. Reading is another great one. Many students in school grow to somewhat despise reading because they are assigned books, given a timeline, and told to write a book review at the end. Alternatively, for me and my siblings, we all picked up reading relatively quickly and developed a love for books because we got to select at least some of what we read, and we were read aloud to regularly as well (something I highly recommend homeschool parents try to do, it's really great bonding time!).

Outside of the curriculum-based learning, there was also more tangential learning in the form of field trips. This is something that really benefits from being homeschooled. My understanding of school trips is that you are bussed there and have a couple of stressed out adults guiding a mass of students around a zoo or museum. It ends up being chaos, and the focus is more on the kids socializing and the adults pretending there is learning happening than anything else. When homeschooling, there were just a few of us, we got input on where we wanted to go, we could go at whatever time was most convenient and would allow us to skip the crowds, and we got to go through at our own pace and spend more time enjoying the things we liked. We went to many science museums (gotta love the hands-on activities), zoos, and aquariums growing up because of this. I suspect we got a much better experience than we would have in a large class.

Now, it certainly wasn't all sunshine and roses. Even outside of the social side there were things that we missed out on.

The biggest is extra-curriculars. Although we did have sports and other classes we would go to in the afternoons, there were some of those that just weren't available to us since we weren't in the school. And we didn't necessarily have access to the same shared resources and larger spaces that are available to school students. I'm not sure there was too much we missed in that regard, but it is something to consider.

There was also a difference in academic emphasis between what we got and what students in school got. I still feel like I got a relatively solid history and social studies, but probably not as much emphasis as they give in high school for example, so there are at least a couple of topics that come up every now and then that I don't have the same context on. Again, not a terrible thing, especially since I don't believe the academic emphasis from schools is all that well designed, but this at least goes to show that it is hard to design a fully comprehensive curriculum.

And there is one more slightly odd thing that I think impacted me more than my siblings, but I have noticed it more and more as I have gotten older. My handwriting is super slow! There are a couple of reasons why I think this is. First of all, we learned italic cursive rather than looped, which prioritizes legibility over speed. Secondly, I was allowed to start typing many of my writing assignments as early as, like, eleven years old when I started getting into computers, so although I can type quickly I never focused on the handwriting skill set. And finally, I am cross dominant. So although I learned to write and do many other things with my right hand, as I have grown older I have found that my left hand is stronger in some ways. So not entirely the fault of homeschooling, but definitely a skill weaker for me due to lack of practice, and it has made it hard for me to pick up a physical journaling habit as an adult.

The Social Question

This is probably the most common concern when it comes to homeschooling. There is a picture of homeschoolers as awkward and socially inept, lacking in decent quantities of social interaction to train them. I won't say that this stereotype is entirely invalid, and I may not be the greatest counterpoint myself, but there are a lot of contributing factors here and it isn't like homeschooling is a social death sentence.

The thing about homeschooling is that there actually are plenty of ways to socialize. There are homeschool groups, they can still join sports, and depending on location there may be an active group of kids right in the neighborhood. The difference with homeschooling, is that socializing needs to be more actively pursued, rather than passively happening due to the environment.

And I will say, there are plenty of perfectly well adjusted homeschoolers that I met growing up. They may still have been slightly out of the ordinary in a variety of different ways (a definite side effect of not going through a standardized system), but the majority of them were quite outgoing, friendly, and easy to get along with.

One thing worth considering are the external factors that might impact social life. For myself, although there were a number of benefits to homeschooling as a military kid, it definitely made things harder basically needing to reset every 2-4 years. Especially since as an introvert I have always had a tougher time meeting people, the fact that I was also forced to reset so frequently and didn't necessarily have an automatic group of people to spend time with certainly made it more difficult to find friends, especially as I got older. But again, there were several other factors that contributed to my situation, the homeschooling was just one part of it.

Should you homeschool your kids?

I'm hoping I have given a little more insight into both the good and the bad of actual homeschooling. Given the current COVID-19 situation, there may be a number of you reading this currently going through stay-indoors-at-homeschooling. I want to tell you that that experience isn't what normal homeschooling is like. With traditional homeschooling you would have time to prepare a curriculum. You are able to plan fun activities and excursions. You can leave the house and get outdoors and send the kids off for an hour of two at a class with somebody else taking care of them. “Normal” homeschooling isn't easy, and it isn't without its flaws, and it certainly isn't even an option available for everyone, but if you can make it work, and if the tradeoffs sound worth it, it can be a really great thing.

One last thing.

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