Friday, March 14, 2008

Homeschool Interview

My husband's aunt is a literature/writing teacher in a public high school. She occasionally sends me students who are working on a persuasive paper and choose the topic of homeschooling to do an e-mail interview. I just finished one of these and thought I'd share my answers here. It's interesting to see how much the questions vary from one student to the next - this partifcular student is, evidentally, already very pro-homeschooling and is writing a paper specifically on the "pros" of homeschooling. I've had questions from students about the downsides that, because I was only answering their particular questions, probably didn't talk them into homeschooling.

1) Do you feel that homeschooling helps your children learn faster than they would at a public school?

I think it can help my children learn faster. Because they only need to slow down when they have trouble with something (and can sometimes test out of chapters in something like a Math book) it certainly can be more efficient. Generally, for my kids, this has amounted to more time for other things rather than pushing ahead in a particular subject. They have extra time for reading, outdoor exploration, hobbies, outside activities with peers, service work, etc.

On the other hand, it might be interesting to consider that homeschooling also allows them to learn more slowly, which can sometimes be a good thing! A child who needs time to reflect on and absorb things before moving on will probably have a lot of things in school that they learn only for the test (if that!).

2) Do you think that homeschooled children lack any social interactions? Are there a lot of different ways to be involved in extra-curricular activities for these children?

No. Often it feels like there are too many choices, if anything. I like to have my children involved in activities with both homeschoolers and non-homeschoolers and these activities are not at all difficult to find (and can include things like sports, music or dance lessons, volunteer work of all sorts, academic classes, drama clubs, discussion/study groups, etc.).

On a related note, it's interesting to consider that children in a traditional school setting tend to do most of their socializing with people of the same age, ethnicity, economic background, etc. - the same children they study with at school all day. Homeschool parents tend to do a lot of driving around (instead of having everything conveniently and centrally located), but the diversity of activities and people with whom they interact is often very rich and rewarding!

3) Do these children have more time off, rather than having a seven-hour day of school everyday? (More relaxed schedule)

That depends on the interests of the particular familiy and the needs of their children. My children thrive on a relaxed schedule and, on the whole, love learning. Often they choose to learn in their free time - things like reading, exploring nature in their own backyard, blogging about books and learning, writing stories or coming up with projects that interest them. I'm a big believer in supporting self-initiative, and so I really try to encourage those things. Though I do certainly require some schooling from them and they don't always want to do it, there's something truly amazing and motivating about learning because you want to and I try to encourage that whenever/wherever possible.

4) Do you feel that by being homeschooled, the children become more responsible? (Because they don’t have teachers constantly reminding them to do something).

That's kind of hard to say and it would depend a bit on personality and maturity (and which students in school you might compare them to!). I do think that handing to children a certain degree of responsibility for their own education (within reason of course) is a positive thing that can help them develop a sense of responsibility. Also, avoiding certain bad habits that can be a common side-effect in traditional school (like learning something just for the test without long-term retention) can be a positive thing.

You may be interested in reading this article about homeschooled students and how they have fared at Stanford University. It speaks of a unique intellectual vitality and self-motivation that can be found among homeschoolers:

Stanford Magazine: In a Class By Themselves

5) Can they pick some of their own curriculum, for example, Spanish, or French or Latin? Or do the children all have to learn what you (the teacher) teach them.

I do tend to give my children a lot of freedom in things like what language they would like to learn, what direction we might take in a particular year of history or literature or science studies and things like that. The amount of freedom offered varies a lot from family to family.

6) Is it hard to give your child(ren), in particular, a bad grade?

That's not something I have a particularly hard time with, perhaps because I taught for a time and was homeschooled myself (just for high school). I have a strong sense of wanting to keep things "real" and sometimes I think I might lean too much in the opposite direction - expecting too much for a particular grade level. I find it helpful to keep in touch with those in the school system so that I have some sense of how things fit in (especially in terms of future college admissions and things like that). For example, we participate with a homeschool Latin club in an annual state Latin convention with many public school and private school students and teachers (in fact, ours has been the only homeschool group in the years we've attended). Things like getting the occasional glimpse of how my students perform with their peers from other schools and chatting with teachers about how much they accompilsh in a particular year have been very helpful.

7) Is it difficult to teach such a large overview of curriculum at different levels for all of your children?

It can be (especially since we have six children and some of them are young enough to be quite distracting at times!), though we try to learn many things as a family, which helps a lot. For example, instead of doing a more superficial overview of science every year in grade school, we often pick a particular area of study that would correspond to what even our high school student is learning. We're studying Geology this year. My 12 year old enjoys watching the DVD course along with his older sister. We have two grade school texts we draw from to study as a family and lots of non-fiction books on the subject and our own rock collection. We've visited geology exhibits and museums as a family and each child will learn from it at their own level. The family chit-chat on the particular subject will tend to be motivating for everyone.

We also take advantage of tools that aid individual study like audio books, DVD recordings and the Internet.

8) And finally, how do you manage your time teaching, and your time with your family?

Mostly by being flexible and not over-scheduling (in more than one way). If we try to do everything school-like on a very particular schedule, things tend to fall part for us. We do better with a relatively small amount of required subjects in the morning, more relaxed time in the afternoon and, often, a return to more formal learning at nighttime. My children thrive on learning math with their dad in the evening and, just last night, I was teaching my six year old how to read after she probably should have been in bed. You see, she came downstairs for a glass of water and started playing with the magnetic poetry on the fridge. She's been a bit reluctant in the reading department and I just bought these the day before to help get her more interested again. The results were almost instantaneous! She wanted to sit down on my lap with a piece of paper and have me write out words for her to read. All of a sudden everything clicked because she was relaxed, it was a great time for her (she is a bit of a nightowl!) and I was flexible enough to help that work. It was really a lot of fun!

I'd also like to mention that these aren't things we always do perfectly all of the time. These are things that work well for our family on the whole (and it's been an interesting thing to learn more about ourselves in the process) and that we strive for. Like many things, we often fall short and work to get back on track again. We also adjust things from year to year and we make mistakes and have to make adjustments. Sometimes we have to jump backwards for awhile in a particular subject before we can get moving again smoothly. Even in these things, though, our children are learning valuable life lessons about how to learn and live in the real world.

No comments: