Don’t let it scare you, children are learning all the time.
I think homeschooling is getting a bad rap from the past 2 years.
Parents are pulling their hair out trying to teach their children at home and cursing “homeschooling” as a result. However, participating in daily classroom lessons sent from school to do at home is remote learning, not homeschooling. However, for most of the public, homeschooling is simply doing school at home and now that perception is further primed by our school’s need to supply conventional schoolwork through the internet.
This is why many homeschoolers use the word unschooling to describe what they do: Learning at home doesn’t have to occur only at home nor resemble learning in school. Experienced homeschoolers and those who study education alternatives know you don’t need to use grades, standardized test regimens, and school’s seat-time metrics to judge how well a child is learning. You know because the child can demonstrate knowledge and mastery of topics by performing and documenting their ability to do the science, history, math, and so on.
Children learn deeply from conversation, play, touch, feelings, animals, nature, their environment, and other people, young and old.
Homeschoolers see how reading, writing, science, and math are integrated and learned outside of school settings—often in the course of participating in the tasks of daily life (fixing things, cleaning, cooking, using the computer, and so on).
Children want to join us in our efforts to make things, do things, learn things, and we can invite them. If there are things children want to learn that parents can’t help with, they find school classes, outside help from friends or relatives, online courses, books, videos, or tutors to help them.
Duplicating the Problems of School at Home
When your children resist their schoolwork, they will probably ask why they have to learn something that you don’t remember from school and that you’re struggling to teach them. If you say, “Because it will teach you self-discipline” or “Because the school said so,” or some other excuse, that doesn’t truly answer their question. Children eventually get the message that though we adults don’t really believe this particular thing is important, we’re forcing them to do it “just because.”
Children can revolt from such treatment in school—silently through self-harm, openly with their parents and society, or through passive-aggressive tactics.
Learning at home doesn’t have to occur only at home nor resemble learning in school.
For example, Chinese students in 2020, learning the state curriculum at home, had to download and use an app called Dingtalk for all their schoolwork. The students organized a large-scale effort to post one-star reviews of Dingtalk to get it removed from the Apple App Store. This effort was copied by American students who targeted Zoom and Classroom apps.
The students made the news but lost the fights, but their fights are worth noting for their creativity and effort. What students present to us externally as compliance is not necessarily what’s happening inside them: Resentment, anger, humiliation, revenge for being made to do busywork. Those are likely the thoughts and emotions percolating inside in them.
We don’t have to teach nor structure schooling so it feels constraining to so many students, which is why I see homeschooling as a hopeful path for education. Homeschooling shows us the many possibilities that exist when children are reintegrated into the real world. In the words of George Bernard Shaw, “What we want to see is the child in pursuit of knowledge, and not knowledge in pursuit of the child.”
Since schooling seems stuck in the economic and social models of the 19th century—education as a factory where schools manufacture children into educated adults—shouldn’t we be updating our model?
Being Me and Also Us
The curriculum post-2019 cannot be ignored. It is forcing us to face how we live alone and together, how we can provide socialization and privacy at home and in the world. This is a difficult dynamic for homeschoolers in the best of times, but it could easily be mitigated with visits to friends, family, and events. Curtailed socialization can be disastrous for children’s learning far more than missing time in school. Children learn deeply from conversation, play, touch, feelings, animals, nature, their environment, and other people, young and old.
Children learn more from how they are treated by adults than by what they are taught by adults, and it’s refreshing to see parents who see the value of supporting their children’s self-directed learning and efforts.
Homeschooling shows us the many possibilities that exist when children are reintegrated into the real world.
In Teach Your Own, John Holt wrote:
“What is most important and valuable about the home as a base for children’s growth into the world is not that it is a better school than the schools but that it isn’t a school at all. It is not an artificial place, set up to make ‘learning’ happen and in which nothing but ‘learning’ ever happens.
It is a natural, organic, central, fundamental institution, one might easily say and rightly say the foundation of all other institutions. We can imagine and indeed we have had human societies without schools, without factories, without libraries, museums, hospitals, roads, legislatures, courts, or any of the institutions which seem so indispensable and a permanent part of modern life. We might someday even choose, or be obliged, to live once again without some or all of these. But we cannot even imagine a society without homes, even if these should be no more than tents, or mud huts, or holes in the ground. What I am trying to say, in short, is that our chief educational problem is not find a way to make homes more like school. If anything, it is to make schools less like school.”