Since we became a homeschooling/unschooling family – or rather, since we decided not to send our children to school– I have heard a lot of myths about educating children at home. Thankfully I have not had to defend our decision very much as we have a supportive family and live in a generally open-minded community, but I still hear a lot of misconceptions about unschooling and homeschooling. I’d like to take some time to dispel these myths, if I may.
Myth #1 – Unschooled Kids Don’t Get ‘Socialised’ enough.
This is one of the main sticking points when somebody is trying to defend their decision to unschool or homeschool. For some reason, many people believe that the only One True Way to ‘socialise’ a child is to put them into large groups of other children who are the same age for extended periods of time. This simply isn’t necessary to develop a child’s social skills, and can indeed hamper those developing skills. Some children seem to thrive in the hustle and bustle of a busy pre-school or primary school, whereas others – like my son – do not. By forcing him to interact with many other children in this way, when he is clearly not comfortable with it, is not going to help his confidence in the long term. In fact, I cannot think of much worse than being forced into a social situation that you’re not comfortable in.
And besides, being social is something that is not limited to school. Being social is a part of our everyday lives. Going to the shops, visiting friends, taking the kids to baby and toddler groups and catching up with family – all of these things provide opportunities for my children to learn social skills in a realistic setting. In real life, we are expected to interact with a variety of people – not just people our own age.
I would even go so far as to say that school does not promote socialisation with other children. What’s sociable about being told to sit quietly and speak when spoken to, or when you are permitted to? Kind of off-topic, but my personal belief is that school is very good at preparing children to enter the system and be good little worker bees, doing what they’re told – and not so great at helping their minds develop to their full potential.
Myth #2 – You Have To Be a Qualified Teacher in Order to Homeschool
Not true. If you are unschooling, your child is their own ‘teacher’. You are simply their guide. They choose what they want to learn and you help facilitate it. Obviously knowledge of the things they want to know about is necessary, so get some books and start reading – or even better, read them with your kids!
If you make the decision to homeschool in a more structured manner, get a hold of the up-to-date teaching curriculum for your child’s age and use that as a baseline. To be honest, for the first few years of schooling at least, there is nothing they can learn there that they can’t learn at home. After that, you can just see how you go. With homeschooling nothing is set in stone – if you (or your child) feel that they should attend school at any point, that’s ok.
From a legal standpoint, it differs. In some US states, your homeschooled kids are required by law to take the standard tests that they would if they were attending school. But as far as I’m aware, there is no law anywhere that says you must be qualified as a teacher in order to teach your kids at home.
Myth #3 – Kids need structure and discipline – homeschooling doesn’t give it to them.
Firstly, discipline does NOT automatically equal punishments and rewards, which is frequently the disciplinary method doled out in schools. There are many methods of discipline and to be honest, I think that the punishment and reward techniques leave a lot to be desired. Additionally, I’m sure there are plenty of homeschooled kids who run riot and have no sense of self-discipline – but I’m damn certain that there are plenty of kids like that in the school system, too.
As for lack of structure… well, your life can be as structured as you like! If a structure to your day is important to you, have one! If not, don’t be guilt-tripped into feeling like you need one. Children do thrive on routine, but a routine and a structure are two very different things. All of us have routines – I get up in the morning, have a coffee and two weetabix and check my emails and blog comments. Then I get the boys up and dressed, and give them their breakfast. Then it’s time for Monkey to play, Squish to nurse and the day begins. However, we don’t do all of these things by the clock, and that’s okay. The joy of homeschooling is that you and your kids call the shots!
Myth #4 – Homeschooled kids won’t learn to cope in life without their parents.
Again, I’m sure this is true of some homeschooled kids. But generally, homeschooling parents make a point of helping their kids learn to function in the world without them. It is important that children spend age-appropriate amounts of time away from their parents in social situations so that they can learn to negotiate life on their own steam – to me, though, spending 6 hours a day, 5 days a week away from your parents at the tender age of 4 is too much – and that’s why we homeschool. As parents, we know our children (and what they can handle) best.
There are plenty of things that a homeschooled child can do to have a life away from the home – dance classes, brownies/cubs/scouts, martial arts, sports teams, art classes, summer camps….
Myth #5 – Parents homeschool their kids because they want to shelter them from real life.
There are so many things wrong with this statement I barely know where to begin.
I cannot speak for every single homeschooling family on the planet, and I’m sure there are plenty of them who have chosen to homeschool because they want to shelter their children. However, we made the choice because we believe that it is what’s best for our children. Our oldest son is a very sensitive young man, and I don’t believe that thrusting him into a school environment is going to nurture his empathetic and gentle nature. I am aware that the world is a tough place for him to be sometimes. I know that, although tempting sometimes, sheltering him from experiences that make him uncomfortable is not going to help him in the long run. He would happily stay in his comfort zone forever if I let him, and he would never experience all of the wonderful things that the world has to offer. So I feel it is important for us to experience these things together, and for him to broaden his horizons without being coerced or forced into it.
As a child, I was socially anxious. Outwardly I was very confident, but inside I was terrified most of the time. Some of my most uncomfortable memories are from primary school, when we had to participate in activities such as PE (physical education). I have always been on the chunky side, and sports have never been my forte. I am a slow runner and not very agile. So when we were all forced to run the length of the playground and back (one by one), or scramble across a makeshift assault course in front of everybody, or do gymnastics wearing just our vests and knickers in the cold sports hall it made me feel like I could literally crawl inside myself and disappear.
I hated it, every humiliating minute of it.
The one-size-fits-all approach to education did not suit me. For the sensitive child, being forced into uncomfortable situations does not help – and this assumes that sensitivity is a problem that needs to be fixed! It’s not. My son is who he is, and I want him to learn about the world in a way that respects him as an individual. Yes, I will always encourage him to get out of his comfort zone, but he will never be forced.
And that, my friends, is why we homeschool. And it’s not simply because I had a bad experience at school. My husband had a wonderful time at school as a young ‘un, and yet is a passionate advocate for homeschooling. It’s the right choice for our family.
I would never dream of judging anybody else for their choices when it comes to sending their kids to school. I know for some it is essential. Although I do have to work, I am lucky enough to be able to work in the evenings only, so I am home with my kids the rest of the time. My boys may attend school when they are older, but for now we are sticking with homeschooling and seeing where it takes us. Look out for a post on why we love homeschooling, coming soon.