Tuesday, May 22, 2012

How Do You Define Homeschooling?

As I was chatting with the dental hygienist last week while she was cleaning my son's teeth, she asked me which school the boys attend.   I still brace myself before replying to this type of question, assuming there is a strong potential the other person will have a critical opinion of homeschooling.  Once again I was surprised by the positive response, and especially by how lit up her face became as she exclaimed "That's so great! My sister homeschooled her kids -- I wish I had homeschooled my daughter."  I've lost track of how many times I've been met with this type of acceptance and support, and always appreciate it (guess it's time to start expecting it!).  But her comment about wishing she had made this choice for her daughter stuck with me all throughout the weekend.

I think the reason I kept mentally replaying the conversation is that I'm uncomfortable with limiting the idea of homeschooling to "doing school at home."  Yes, my boys and I sit at the kitchen table most days and do math problems and spelling exercises, so in that respect they have gone from one type of classroom to another. However, we actually spend only about 2-3 hours per day doing this traditional type of schoolwork, and I honestly think this is the least-productive learning my kids do.  For example, I taught my older son about decimals and percentages at the kitchen table earlier this year, and he did many worksheets and word problems where he was calculating percentages (correctly!).  He seemed to have grasped the idea.  So, imagine my surprise when we went out to dinner one night and I asked him to calculate the tip for our dinner bill, and he was at a complete loss -- no idea what to do or even where to begin! I realized that learning in context is key, and now he is responsible for figuring out the tip every time we go out, in addition to calculating change, taxes, and service charges.

I strongly believe that parents can teach their kids anywhere, any time, and probably even more effectively than in the classroom.  This is actually homeschooling, even if it doesn't occur in a school building during normal school hours. I am concerned when I meet parents who seem to feel disconnected from their kids' education, thinking it is best left to the "experts" at school -- this is not ideal!  Even for children who attend the best schools with fantastic teachers, the classroom environment is limited (and limiting), and any parent with the interest and energy can and should homeschool through family projects and "applied learning" opportunities.

As for us, some recent examples of homeschooling activities include supporting the boys in starting a business, tracking their swimming times and gymnastics scores, predicting weather temperatures and conditions, and producing movies about subjects they choose. And here's the best part: I'm having a great time and learning a lot, too!

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