I don't think schools are the best place for people to learn. Some schools are better than others, and some people believe they have no alternative, but for us, our own lives offer so much more than a school could ever offer that it makes no sense to send our kids to school.
First of all, I don't think grouping kids in rooms full of kids the same age is a good thing. People learn from watching each other, and if everyone they can watch is at the same stage they are- what are they going to learn? Some schools have older kids work with younger kids, and I think that's great- but why should it be a special event?
I believe that people learn best, and perhaps only, when they have control over what they learn, when and how they learn it, and what they do with the information. I know that when I was in school, I studied many things, and remembered them long enough to pass a test- but remember none of it now. There is a huge difference between memorizing and learning. Things that are really learned stay with you. Think about your hobbies, how much you know about them. Did anyone tell you exactly how to learn about them? Did you have to write a paper on why you chose that hobby? Did someone come along in the middle of your birdwatching, or whatever, and say "sorry, you have to stop this and go do math now."? Or were you self motivated because it's what you love?
I see no separation between living and learning. Life *is* learning. Babies are born with an insatiable desire for learning. No one has to teach them how to walk or how to talk, both of which are very complicated things. They learn because they want and need to. People can learn anything they want the exact same way. They don't need someone to come in and teach them things, although some people may choose that method at times. There is no special place where learning takes place, it happens everywhere. It's the internal motivation to learn something that fuels the search for and acquisition of knowledge, not someone or something external.
The best part of homeschooling is that it isn't just the kids. It's the whole family. We all are learning all the time, from ourselves, from each other, and from the world. Maybe even from you.
Many people have a problem with the idea of people doing "what they want". Why is that? Is it because they think that left to their own desires, people would do unspeakably horrible things? That they'd run wild and be destructive? That kids would always eat candy and watch TV and refuse to do any 'work'? Or is it primarily jealousy- "I never got to do what I wanted, so no one else should, either."? That seems to be a sad view of the world to my eyes.
Around here, doing what we want generally means using the computer, or reading, going outside, climbing trees, gardening, writing to friends, playing games together, telling stories, building things (either with blocks or lego, or things like bookshelves), fixing things, drawing, web-surfing, watching TV, creating puppet shows, working with paper in an endless variety of ways, and talking, talking, talking about everything we do and see and learn.
"But what about math?" you may be thinking. Or maybe your concern is history or grammar or foreign language or whatever you feel is important but 'left out'. The world as I see it is full of math. It's full of everything. Everything we do uses information from a broad range of sources. 'Subjects' are only separated out in school, not in the real world. Everything leads to everything else, and there is no end to learning.
- What about socialization?
- A common misperception of homeschooling is that it takes place in the home, and that children are isolated. Children who learn on their own learn everywhere, and are able to associate with people other than those who are only their same age. They tend to be far more comfortable relating to people of all different ages than are schooled children. Also, most socialization- if you mean learning how to behave appropriately- is learned from adults, not other children. Think "Lord of the Flies". I don't want my children to learn behavior through peer pressure. Don't forget, there is socialization within the family, as well. It is only relatively recently that people socialized more outside their familes than within.
- I could never do that, all those lesson plans and everything. It's way too stressful.
- Our family does not use lesson plans. We don't have "school time' separate from anything else. We don't have classes, schoolwork, tests, or grades. What we do is not based on the school model, of adults teaching children, or children being the recipient of such teaching. What we do is sometimes called "unschooling". I don't find it stressful, as far as the learning goes.
- What is "unschooling"?
- Unschooling has commonly come to mean homeschooling that is not like school. Some people call it "child-led learning" or "interest-led learning" or "natural learning". What it means in our lives is that we live our lives without separation between when we're learning and when we're not. We do the things we're interested in, and learn from them. We each have our own interests and learning styles and timetables, and we learn to be flexible and live with each other. Often we'll find that some interests overlap, and we'll do things together, other times, someone may be off working on something alone. I don't "teach" the kids, unless they ask for information. My job is as a facilitator- I find the materials and supplies to run the household. This includes things that people might call "educational", because many of our favorite activites are often "taught" elsewhere. The main difference between what we do and what schools do, is that here, people decide what they want to do or not do.
- If everyone does "what they want", how do your kids learn to do things they don't want to do? Everyone has to do things they don't want to do at some point. What about meeting deadlines? Or learning self-discipline?
- First of all, self-discipline, by definition, is learned from within, not imposed from without. It is largely learned through modeling- watching people older than you to learn how they deal with things, and then internalizing that information. It also comes from a strong sense of self, of feeling right and good and worthwhile. People learn to meet deadlines by having deadlines. Self-imposed deadlines are as real as any your boss gives you. Some deadlines are like "I need to finish this computer project in an hour because my brother will get his turn then." Some might be like "I have to get this table cleaned off in time for dinner.". When there is a reason for the deadline, the desire to meet the deadline is there, too. The same is true of anything people have to do that they "don't want to do". Often, it is the goal that is more important than the specific task, and the desire to reach the goal overcomes the lack of desire for the immediate task. For example, I don't like to do dishes. If they are dirty, I don't want to wash them. However, if I want to eat off clean dishes, the dishes need to be washed. So I do that, even though I "don't want to". Another example is someone being in a job they don't like. If the desire for the paycheck is greater than the dislike for the job, they'll stay in it. There are always choices, no one ever *must* do any one particular thing- but clearly, some choices are more desirable than others at any given time. How this relates to kids learning to do things they don't want to do is many-fold. They see adults modeling doing things they don't enjoy, in order to reach a goal. They learn to discriminate between the immediate and long term goal of something. There are many things in life that are self-limiting (if I don't clean off my bed, I sleep in a lumpy uncomfortable spot until I do.).
- Why not just send them to a good school?
- Without getting too far into the problems in the schools, I'll say there are many things about the concept of school that I don't agree with. I don't agree with same-age grouping. I don't agree with all the busywork that is necessary for classroom management. I don't believe in education that is tailored to the "common denominator" instead of to the individual. I don't believe an environment where the person does not control either the topic, the amount of time devoted to it, the method of exploration of it, or even whether or not they have to be there, is the best way for *anyone* to learn. People learn best when they are interested, motivated, and in control. They retain far more information about a subject that they are passionate about than anyone could ever teach them about anything else. Think about your own hobbies and interests- how did you learn about them? By choice? In your own way and time? I also believe that it is important to learn cooperation, teamwork, creative problem solving, and working towards the common good. Schools often call these things "cheating", and encourage competition, not cooperation. Yes, some schools try to teach these things- but only in certain circumstances.
- How do your kids learn things that you yourself don't know about?
- There are many ways for kids to learn about things I don't know about. They do it every day! They're always surprising me with what they know. For example, it's my 9 year old son who knows how to make web pages, without his help, I'd have to spend a lot more time trying to figure it out on my own. Life isn't a solitary thing. We all learn from each other, and we all learn independently, too. My kids learn from books, from TV, from their own personal experiences and thoughts, from other people around them, and from everything they come in contact with in the world. If they have an interest I don't share (and they do!), they pursue it on their own. If they run out of resources before they run out of interest, they may ask me to help them find more. Or they may ask someone else.
- How can you tell if they're really learning?
- That's easy- they tell me. We talk about lots of things, they tell me what they're interested in, I share what I'm doing, and we all have some idea of what the others know. I know which kid to ask for help with my web pages, they know which family member to ask for what they need. There aren't 30 people here to try to keep track of. It's just the 5 of us. Conversation goes a long way.
- What if they want to go to school- or college?
- If that time comes, I trust that they will be able to assess all available options, and make appropriate choices for themselves. I don't expect my kids to want to go to public school, but a time may come that they have an interest that might be pursued in college, or they might want a job requiring a certain degree. If that happens, they can find out from whatever college they'd like to attend what the requirements are, and meet them. There are placement and college admissions tests available. Many colleges are becoming more interested in homeschooled kids because they tend to be very highly motivated. Also, my kids live in a home with adults who are reasonably happy, productive, people who have no more than a 2 year college degree. Most of what we do, most of what we know, we've learned on our own rather than in school. Sometimes it is what you know rather than what pieces of paper you have that count.