Is Homeschooling Right For You?
by Krystal Cochran
It’s a typical Thursday morning at my house. After finishing our shared breakfast of sprouted wheat toast, two fresh apples, ground flaxseed and green tea, my 6-year-old son and I take up a game of checkers(something he recently mastered), and my 3-year-old daughter starts working on a wooden number puzzle. There’s probably music playing, but it’s just as likely to be a techno mix as it is to be Mozart. After I am beaten at checkers, we all climb on the couch to read picture books—recent favorites have been ancient Egypt, old steam trains, and the life of Gandhi. When we’re done my son might go get his sketchbook and start titling some of his drawings; he’ll ask for help if he’s not sure how to spell something. Meanwhile, my daughter is sculpting with a hunk of modeling beeswax, and they’ll probably help me chop veggies and fry tofu cutlets for lunch later. If you hadn’t guessed, we’re vegans, and we homeschool.
Why are more and more people choosing homeschooling for their kids? There are many pros, a few subjective cons, and a plethora of myths and misconceptions. Homeschooling is not nearly as time-consuming or difficult as many people imagine, it’s legal in all 50 states, and you don’t need a ton of money or materials to succeed. You just need to be flexible, open-minded, and dedicated to your family. My children are blossoming without schooling, and we’re having a great time together as well. Just like with veganism, it seems that the older my kids get the more people realize how strong and healthy and happy my kids seem to be.
There are some definite advantages to homeschooling, especially as a vegan. It’s a comfort to know that you never have to worry that your kids might be eating unhealthy or non-vegan foods at school. Also, there’s always the chance that the teacher or lessons are covertly undermining your values, either vegan, spiritual, or otherwise. At home, you can teach your child health and nutrition from a vegan perspective, instead of having to clumsily reconcile the way you eat at home with whatever the school teaches him. If your child has an allergy, you can rest easy knowing that her health isn’t being manhandled by a potentially careless or forgetful staff. If your child has special academic needs, you can be sure that he’s getting the individualized attention he deserves at home.
Another big advantage of homeschooling is the flexibility. We can travel or visit relatives on a moment’s notice, and with a minimum of planning we can often stop at a museum or nature trail along the way and call it a field trip. Also, there’s flexibility in learning–your kids actually get to learn about what they’re interested in! If your daughter is really interested in Greek mythology or environmentalism, you can dive right in with a unit study. If you no longer like the math program you bought last year, you can probably swap it at a local homeschooling group meeting, or even sell it on eBay. If you want to stay out late to catch a live theatre performance or a lunar eclipse, you can simply sleep late the next morning. My husband has a very unpredictable work schedule, and homeschooling allows us to spend a lot more time together as a family, which is wonderful for all of us.
“But what about socialization?” People seem to believe that kids who aren’t in school have trouble making friends or don’t get to play with other kids, but that’s a very shortsighted notion. In fact, I’ll assert that homeschooled kids are actually better socialized than their schooled peers are. School keeps kids separated by age and often gender, and any student who deviates from the social norm quickly learns to hide that fact to “fit in”. We must ask ourselves where else in society are people treated this way? When we go to work, we don’t work only with other 34-year-olds, and chances are if our co-workers relentlessly harassed us about what we eat or believe we would eventually find a new job! School isn’t the real world, and school socialization doesn’t mirror what is typical of the real world. I want my kids to feel confident and proud of who they are, and to be comfortable talking to elderly folks, teenagers, adults and toddlers alike. A big part of being vegan is learning to be tolerant of others, and school is generally a place where differences are shamed rather than celebrated. Real-world socialization involves all ages, races, genders, and creeds, and that’s what my kids experience every time we go to the store, to play-dates, on trips, to restaurants, or to get-togethers.
So you might ask what exactly do we do? For starters, we don’t try to re-create school. We don’t have a chalkboard in our living room or a mini-schoolhouse set up in the den. I don’t exhaust myself trying to document every scrap of work my kids do. We keep an online journal as our “formal record”, and I do a yearly write-up of our goals as a “lesson plan”. I don’t spend hours drawing up detailed daily schedules; rather, I focus on spending quality time with my kids and filling their daily lives with fun, interesting experiences. We make good use of the library and the Internet, which are both very accessible resources. My son plays educational online games, and we do a Google search whenever one of us has a burning question to answer (which happens a lot!). We check out armfuls of library books, audio books to listen to in the car, and videos of all sorts. I don’t test my kids, because I’m more than confident that they’re learning what they need to know. I am with my children every day, so I see what they are capable of and what they’re struggling with. For example, I knew my son could understand addition as effortlessly as when I realized that he had learned to walk.
Many parents feel like they’re not smart enough to homeschool their children. It makes me sad to hear moms and dads say that! You don’t need to know everything; you just need to be willing to learn alongside your children. I’m not a certified teacher–in fact, let me surprise some of you by saying that I haven’t even finished my Bachelor’s degree. Am I qualified to teach other people’s kids? Maybe. Am I qualified to teach my own? Absolutely. A degree isn’t infallible proof of knowledge anyway, and more importantly, I’m their mother. I’ve wanted the best for my children since before they were born. I’ve watched them learning about the world from the very beginnings of their lives. Who better to teach any child than his or her own loving, dedicated parent?
Homeschooling isn’t effortless, but it’s not really hard either, and it’s fun! I get to be with my kids all day, share things with them, watch them grow and discover things, and help them when they need help. Also, it’s worth noting that the more quality time your kids spend with you, the more likely they are to assimilate your values and priorities. If your kids see the effort you make to find them a “cool” pair of non-leather shoes, if they know you’ll stop the car to help a stranded turtle in the highway, your kids will see that you value compassion. That’s a lesson few schools can or will teach, and as we read this morning in the book about Gandhi, “Your life is your message, after all.”