The question of “What is homeschooling” is a hard one to answer. This is because there is no real answer to it—homeschooling looks different for everyone. That’s one of the joys of it. Homeschooling combines education with freedom. Freedom of belief, of expression, freedom to make your own schedule and priorities.
Of course, there’s guidelines. There has to be. There has to be some standard that is met, whether it’s created by the province or a homeschool authority or some other governing authority. There’s mandatory subjects and there’s progress reports to be filled out and submitted. But in this, there is the ability to learn, or in a parent’s case, learn and teach, in whichever way works best for you. That’s why homeschooling is ideal for kids who don’t check every box to be successful in the public school system.
My brother took years to learn how to read properly. When other kids his age were reading full length novels, he was still struggling through phonetic books. He didn’t understand it until my dad started reading us The Hobbit every night. My brother loved it. When we had finished the book, Caleb picked it up and read it from cover to cover, faster than he had read any book. After he finished The Hobbit, he picked up Lord of The Rings. He read the trilogy, and has read it twice since.
There is nothing wrong with the way my brother’s head works. He’s a smart kid. Ask him about tractors or snow machines or the engine on your truck and he won’t shut up for hours. He has more knowledge than your average adult. It just took longer for reading to click with him.
For my brother, homeschooling was a saving grace. He learned to read at his own pace, far away from a large classroom with kids who would tease him for the way he would stammer and flush when he stumbled over words. He learned at the speed he needed to and along the way he found a love for reading.
That’s not to say that it was easy. Teaching a kid who could hardly read was no easy task for either of my parents, and there were times they threw their hands in the air and gave up for the day. But they never gave up. Caleb’s struggle to read was a learning curve for my parents. They had taught two children before him with relative ease—reading was my favourite pasttime and I needed no prompting. My sister didn’t care for it, and struggled with certain words and had her own learning style (she would tilt the page or her head and read sideways), but after she had learned the basics she read perfectly. Caleb just couldn’t master the basics. He was learning phonics for the third time when the youngest two girls were just starting to read. My parents learned to teach each of us as individuals, and not to try and put any of us in a box. There’s no right or wrong way to learn, and that’s something you have to embrace when you homeschool.
So, what is homeschooling?
“Teaching your kids at home,” is the basic answer. It doesn’t do homeschooling justice. There are different ways of homeschooling and for every one of those ways there are countless variations.
There’s “Unschooling,” which only a small percentage of homeschoolers fully practice. Unschooling is a very loose and generic term. Most homeschool families practice unschooling to varying degrees, but in its purest form, unschooling is a completely learner-based education. There’s no curriculum, schedules, testing or grades. What a child wants to learn is completely up to them. The Globe and Mail has a wonderful article on unschooling, so if you’re curious you can look at it.
While many parents incorporate some aspects of unschooling (if you kid likes butterflies, let them learn about butterflies and don’t make them study whales that day), most people don’t embrace it fully. Overall, homeschooling is structured around a math or science curriculum. As I mentioned in my previous post, my family chose Math-U-See as our math. “Did you do your math today?” was the question posed to us when we asked if we could go play house outside instead of doing Spanish. As long as math got done everyday, there was freedom in how we did our other subjects. There were days that my sister and I would wake up early to do our math so that we could go and play with our toys as soon as we were done breakfast. We could play for hours on end. We had a world in our basements, forged through our imagination and built up by the freedom our parents allowed us to just be kids. Some days we would get so caught up in playing that we did no school. My mom would look at us playing and getting along, and make the choice not to put an end to the games and make us return to our discarded reports or science books. History could wait, it wasn’t going anywhere. We were learning just as much by relating to our siblings with respect and love as we would by reading about Columbus. Everything would get finished eventually, and there would be days when my mom would have to tell us that we didn’t have time to play until after our work was done, but my mom realized that education doesn’t just come from a book or a teaching DVD. Education can come in the form of a a town of model animals with names and houses and their own currency, or in “fishing” for algae in the ditch and hanging it up on trees to dry because we were orphaned children and the “fish” was our only source of substance.
Not everyone approaches homeschooling the way my family does. There’s varying levels of structure in every home, sometimes varying by student. My closest homeschooling friends growing up followed a stricter schedule than us. They did their subjects at certain times every day and they always made sure they were at the same level as their counterparts who attended “regular school.” Their way of homeschooling wasn’t wrong—it was just different than my family’s approach.
I still haven’t answered the question. What is homeschooling?
To me, homeschooling is raising your child in a family environment and teaching them in a way that suits your lifestyle and their learning habits. It looks different for everyone. There is no set “way” to homeschool. Whether you decide to use the provincial curriculum and work towards an official highschool diploma, whether you unschool or homeschool with strict schedule, whether you’re homeschooling one child or seven, there is no formula. That’s the beauty of it.
In homeschooling, there’s no failure. There are lessons, there are mistakes, but if everything is approached with a desire to learn and to teach, then there can be no failure. Things may not look the way you thought they would, but when you homeschool there’s room for adaptation.