by Kathy Kuhl
Do schools know best? Should we do it their way? Some of us experience homeschool burnout–and wonder if our children might be better off in school, even if we don’t like to say that out loud.
Every family needs to choose how to educate their children, and I want to help them consider the options wisely. I know families committed to homeschooling who have put children in school because of extreme circumstances, but if you are merely discouraged about your homeschool, it is easy to idealize the alternatives. I have, and that is a mistake.
Leaving It to the Pros
The first way we can idealize schools is to think that professional educators must teach better than we do. Especially if we are struggling, it is easy to assume that a teacher would do a better job.
But even if you live near a great school with wonderful teachers—and not all of us do—it won’t be trouble-free. As deeply as the teachers may care for your child’s success and as experienced as they may be, they have limited options and resources. They have many other children to help. In January, they may not be able to change curriculum as homeschoolers can. They cannot let the wiggly girl chew gum to help her focus or put the distractible boy to work in a quiet room by himself. They cannot let the child do math under the dining-room table as I did one year. They can’t build a unit around your child’s special interest.
Teachers have lots to do: prepare students for standardized tests, attend meetings, complete paperwork, prepare lessons, grade papers—and teach! Society keeps thinking of more for the schools to do, leaving less time for reading and the arts. Though every teacher I know puts in extra hours, they can- not give your child much time one-on-one. And being in a special class is no panacea. A homeschooler who had been a special- education teacher thought that teaching was tougher in school than at home. “In a special- education classroom,” she wrote, “there may be up to twelve students with different strengths and weaknesses. What works for two might not work for all twelve.”
When children are shy or slow to pick up social cues, their parents may think that spending the day with many people will lead to more friendships and improved social skills. It might for some children. But crowds can be lonely places. Several families I interviewed said that having to work on social skills and academic skills simultaneously in a classroom made school much harder.
Feeling burned out? Putting your child in school won’t free you of responsibility for your child’s education. You will spend hours communicating with the school. And if your child has special needs, it’s even harder. You will attend meetings and learn laws, acronyms, and policies. You may struggle to get your child the help he or she needs. And after school, you’ll tutor your child when you both are tired. Don’t think enrolling a child in school will make everything easy. Some parents told me they homeschool to avoid the stress of dealing with school.
Practicing School at Home
A second way we idealize schools is to let them be the standard for our homeschools. Anxious new homeschoolers in Virginia may buy school desks or ring a bell at the start of the day. While a child-size chair and a writing surface at the right height for your child are great ideas, you can homeschool anywhere and any way that suits you and your child.
It is easy to forget the freedom we have when we homeschool. We may adopt methods our teachers used. The danger is in adopting approaches without thinking about whether they serve our children and us well. Schools have lectures, bells, and textbooks because that is the most efficient way to teach a large group of students, not because it is the best way to teach every child. As one mother of a struggling learner told me, “When you are trying to duplicate the school environment in a home, keep in mind that it didn’t work in school; that’s why he’s at home!”
Veteran homeschoolers can slip back into the “school mentality” as the years go by. If your homeschool is in a rut, have you been unconsciously assuming that the ways you were taught are the only ways to teach? There are new methods and resources to explore.
Kathy Kuhl is a writer and speaker who helps parents assist children with learning challenges. Visit her at https://learndifferently.com. This article is adapted from Kathy’s book Homeschooling Your Struggling Learner.
This article was originally published in the 2012 summer edition of the Virginia Home Educator.