This is our 5th official year of homeschooling, having started right from the get-go with Kindergarten. Granted, you could even say this is our sixth year, if you count my son’s preschool year when we started out with Rod & Staff’s ABC series. In those 5/6 years, we have tried more curriculum than I can count, and we have dabbled in elements of pretty well all the major educational philosophies.
Why did I, why do we – for I am certainly not the only one, switch back and forth so much? Try so many different things? Why did I give up on things that were actually working? Why did I wait so long to give up on things that clearly weren’t?
The answer to that is confidence, or a lack thereof. Homeschooling has a huge learning curve, and while it is the fastest growing educational choice in North America, you’re still considered (and feel) something of a maverick when you embark on this journey. I think anytime someone steps out onto the road less traveled, there is an almost instant amount of doubt and uncertainty that tags along for the ride.
Now, I’m going to digress for a moment and point out that we weren’t always so unsure of ourselves. Once upon a time, not all that long ago, in the 1800s and beyond, homeschooling was the norm. Schools had been started yes, but not everyone had access to them. And of course before the advent of schools, “homeschooling”, was the only option available.
I find it interesting just how quickly we went from homeschooling being the accepted normal, to being an abnormal decision. How we went from having the confidence to personally educate and raise successful people like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Graham Bell, Abe Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, Joseph Priestly, C.S. Lewis, Florence Nightingale, Frank Lloyd Wright, Pearl Buck, and Albert Einstein (just to name a few who were educated at home) without any support and minimal materials, to being so unsure of ourselves that we need support groups, guides, manuals, and generally, a lot of hand holding.
I blame part of the doubt we feel as homeschoolers today on the government having trained us to be this way – once public education became more accessible, and then of course later mandated, we were told to leave the education of our children to professionals, and homeschooling became a thing of the past. We have spent the last 100 years being made to believe that they can do it better.
However, the other reason I think we have so much doubt today, is thanks to living in the age of information. For starters, education has become a widely researched subject, with many different “experts” chiming in with different theories and approaches, and of course trying to prove why their way, is the “right” way. And for every one of those “right ways” that exist, the retail world has eagerly joined in, offering dozens, hundreds of curriculum and material choices to help you educate your child(ren) in this “right” way.
Today we have more information available at the tip of our finger in mere seconds, than any previous generations could ever have dreamed of. There are books and articles galore written on the the various approaches to education in general, and also on how to apply these philosophies and theories to homeschool. Today, there are hundreds, if not thousands of support groups available online where women and men discuss the joys and challenges of homeschooling, but especially, talk “shop”, which translates into comparing curriculum. We are constantly bombarded with other ideas and options.
And it is all this information, that helps contribute to the doubt we feel. It’s the negative power of too many choices. Today in the world of abundant information, theories, philosophies and ideals abound. And as I wrote in my blog, “Is It Essential?“, it is easy to get caught up in all of it – in these ideals which really, “were just one person’s ideals. One individual person’s idea of what constituted the “ideal” education, one person’s ideas of what were important topics to learn and how to learn them.”
We can become so overwhelmed by choices, by doubt, that sometimes we end up clinging to a theory or an ideal like a drowning man might cling to a rock; afraid to let go, even a little, even when something better, more secure, is within reach. Other times, we fall prey to the “grass is greener” belief, and jump around from program to program, philosophy to philosophy, always thinking that surely, their way, must be the right way.
And this, is what I, like many others, have spent the first several years of our homeschool, doing – alternating between clinging to ideals and jumping around, lured by the idea that there is a single, right way. I was always torn between the ideals that I started out with and the other philosophies and ideas I read about, and then of course I had to slowly come to grips with the reality of what actually worked.
I started out on our homeschooling journey, wanting the complete opposite of brick and mortar schools – no textbooks, no workbooks, no quizzes and tests. I wanted relaxed, hands-on, experiential learning, crafts and activities galore. After all, it was my privilege as a homeschooler to be able to break free of that horrid mold, and I was going to make the most of it.
And so, clinging to that, I admittedly was dismayed when I discovered my son actually liked workbooks and thrived with them. I ultimately rebelled, trying to push on through our Waldorf approach. I let the “experts” tell me that workbooks were the easy way out, that they could never help him develop into a scholar with any amount of critical and creative thinking skills.
Eventually I let go of Waldorf, and decided to try more of an interest-led unit study approach, while continuing to read about other philosophies. In reading, I was then told by Charlotte Mason that unit studies were wrong, too. By using unit studies, I was impeding my son’s ability to learn how to make his own connections. And so, we left those behind, and dove head first into Charlotte Mason – whose approach is heavy on auditory input, and also, anti-workbook/textbook. Did I mention that my son is an extremely visual learner, who doesn’t do well with auditory input, and who loves workbooks?
You get the idea of how the first years have gone.
Thankfully, over the last year or so, I have been learning to start letting go of some of my preconceived ideals, the ideals of others, and also the fallacy that one educational philosophy is inherently better than another. Instead, I’m learning to follow the words of Sarah MacKenzie in her blog post about over thinking curriculum and philosophies: “We ought to do what works for us, fits our temperaments, and helps us achieve the goals we are working toward.” It’s the same old adage that everyone loves to say, but few truly accept or believe: every child is different. Taking it further, that means that every child has a different temperament, interests, needs, goals, struggles and learning styles. So how could anyone possibly think that one style of learning would work for every child?
Taking it further yet again, why would we think that every element of one style of learning would work for every need for our child(ren)? Maybe parts of Waldorf really speak to you, and your children enjoy block schedules, main lesson books instead of workbooks, learning math through story telling and songs and rhymes etc… but they really need a more traditional parts to whole phonics curriculum. Maybe Montessori math works beautifully for your child, but their approach to grammar leaves them in tears. Maybe your child likes workbooks and textbooks for some subjects but prefers the Charlotte Mason approach of living books for others, or maybe you like to formally approach the 3Rs but then pursue unschooling or child-directed learning for the rest.
What I have learned is that our real privilege as homeschoolers, is not that we can eschew the public school model just to follow some other person’s idea of what the “right way” is, but rather, that we can choose to homeschool our child in any way that we want. We can follow a traditional school-at-home approach, follow the philosophies of Waldorf, Charlotte Mason, Maria Montessori, we can do unit studies, we can be relaxed, or we can completely unschool. Or, as we’re turning out to be, we can be an eclectic mix of all of the above.
The privilege of homeschooling is that we can finally learn that there is no single “right way” to educate a child. Instead, we have the opportunity to learn the truth that the right way to educate a child, is your way – your own personal mix of beliefs, philosophies, interests, goals, needs and abilities. If the curriculum, the educational philosophy that you’re using is helping you to attain your goals for your children, in a way that is enjoyable and blessing your lives, then don’t worry if it isn’t strictly adhering to someone else’s ideals. Be confident in your decision. After all, your way, is the right way.