Many of us have wrapped up formal school for the summer, but a lot of us are already looking toward this coming fall. That means that your family might be considering homeschooling for the first time or might be sitting down to discuss how it’s going to work for you another year.
As you’re having that discussion, I’d like to suggest that you consider your reasons carefully.
I’m a homeschool graduate, married to a homeschool graduate, and have finished the eleventh year of homeschooling my own children. Just wanted to establish my credentials before I make this bold assertion: when it comes to homeschooling, not every reason is a good reason.
Here are four such reasons. They have good points, but I try to avoid making them my primary motivation:
1. To keep kids pure from “bad influences”
I knew a mom who not only homeschooled her children but even went so far as to restrict them from almost any kids’ activities where they were not held to the same standards of behavior…even Sunday school. She was also nervous about moving into a neighborhood because she never knew what kind of influences her children would meet in their own front yard. I thought, “So what happens when your kids start influencing each other?”
We can’t avoid the moral, emotional, and mental challenges of raising children by removing all “bad influences.” Anger, unkindness, overindulgence—it’s all wrapped up in being human. Part of the maturing process is learning to understand other people’s viewpoints and navigating through toxic situations.
What homeschooling can do is give children a safe environment to grow, develop their interests, and pick themselves up after they fail. It can give your children a haven to return to if they do encounter bad influences—even in your own front yard.
2. To do education the “easy” way
A lot of people have this idea that homeschoolers get a curriculum and then coast through school in their PJs. Experienced homeschooling parents and educators know it’s not that easy.
Giving your children a good education is very hard work. In our household, Darren and I share the teaching load, plus take advantage of outside resources (check out HSLDA.org for information about your state’s laws, help for special needs students, homeschooling through high school, finding a support group, and many other resources). Granted, our school day is much shorter than a traditional classroom setting; and yes, the kids can do school in PJs. But the tradeoff is that we’re responsible to provide our children with a foundation for a good future. It’s a right and responsibility that I’m grateful for.
3. Since I am their parent, I have to educate them all myself
“Directing my child’s education” isn’t synonymous with “doing it all myself.” I’m a big proponent of building a community that you turn to for support and help. We can’t give our kids a science lab, teach them Spanish, or run them through basketball drills—so we utilize Christian school classes, a tutor, and a co-op to fill in what we can’t do. Outside accountability is a helpful motivator (“You have to finish your vocabulary words before co-op on Wednesday!”), and sharing the journey with others keeps you going on the hard days.
4. Because it’s what we, the parents, want to do.
Obviously parents have the primary interest and right to direct their children’s education (I’m picking my way carefully among the landmines here). Obviously a homeschool isn’t going to thrive unless the parents are fully invested in the process. Obviously parents make decisions for the good of their children. However, I’ve seen some parents lose sight of a very important, and equally obvious, fact: a child’s education is for his or her benefit, not for the parents’ benefit.
Darren and I like homeschooling; we don’t want to be part of a big, impersonal system with curriculum imposed on us from outside. We like how we can weave our faith throughout the kids’ lessons. But. Our primary focus is not on what we want, but what our kids need. At the beginning of each school year, Darren sits down with each child and asks, “What did you enjoy doing in school last year? What didn’t work for you?” When I picked up Bookgirl from her last biology lab, I asked, “What do you think about a school like this? Is it something that appeals to you?” If she’d said Yes, then Darren and I would have seriously considered how to incorporate it into her experience. But she said that, no, she was fine with occasionally visiting for a class. Which I knew, since after all I do know my children very well. But it didn’t hurt to ask.
Everyone’s homeschooling style will be different, and their reasons will vary as well. My own motivations have changed throughout the years. As we all plan for this coming year, let’s never lose sight of the fact that we can provide a safe haven, not take the easy way out, build a community, and always make our children’s needs our first priority.
Photo Credit: Graphic design by Michael Farris, Jr., Second photo courtesy of Sara Jones