Homeschooling, Responsibility, and Educational “Gaps”

An excellent post, “What If,” showed up in my Facebook news feed today. It’s about the “what if” questions that “interest led” homeschoolers typically get asked and it reminded me of a discussion I had many years ago – almost a decade now, actually – when my oldest was a baby.

I happened to tell a woman at the local La Leche League meeting that we were planning to homeschool because I had been homeschooled myself and had loved it. In response she told me that she didn’t think she would be able to handle shouldering ALL the responsibility for her children’s education and that she would be too worried about ensuring that there weren’t any “gaps” in their education since she, being only one person, couldn’t possibly know everything that her children might potentially need to know.

She asked me how I thought I could handle that immense amount of pressure.

I thought for a few moments before responding because these weren’t issues I had considered before. In the spirit of the other article and before giving you my responses, I’ll put her statements into the “what if” format.

*What if you fail to teach them everything they need to learn? <- which is also assuming that all the educational responsibility is on the homeschooling parent.

I told her that, first of all, my children’s education wouldn’t all be on me…. because homeschoolers, in my experience, are often encouraged to go out and find mentors or classes in the community to help them pursue their specific interests if the parents cannot teach them adequately or to a more advanced level in that area.

In my own homeschooling life, by middle school I was primarily interested in music and music education so I took piano lessons and was allowed to attend band classes at the local public middle and high schools. By high school, I was well on my way to learning multiple band instruments. By my sophomore year I was attending five separate band classes as well as assisting the high school band director in multiple ways – sorting sheet music, cataloging the music library, tutoring other students, and generally trying to be helpful.

All of that extra music focus was in addition to the usual school subjects that I continued doing through high school. Attending the music classes was also my own idea to start with, helped along by the ample encouragement I received from my parents. I had attended a piano teacher training course and was teaching my own young piano students by the time I was 16 years old.

My parents, on their own, could not have helped me advance as far in instrumental music and music education as I eventually advanced, and yet I managed to advance that far by finding an adult mentor (my band director, whom I still see fairly often on Facebook) and well over a hundred peer mentors and mentees (fellow band geeks, unite!) as well as eventually choosing to major in Music Education at an excellent college.

In my children’s lives right now, finding mentors/classes involves them attending ballet classes and roller skating lessons – which are interests that are also beyond the scope of most public/private schools. We’ve been involved in co-ops in the past for subjects as diverse as art and science. As they find more and different interests that I don’t know enough about to assist them in learning, we will help and/or encourage them to find classes or mentors for those interests as well. Naturally, their musical interests have been well covered by my own knowledge and experiences so far 🙂

*What if your children have significant gaps in their educations because you yourself can’t possibly know everything they need to know?

In response to that part, I simply asked that person I was talking to if she thought her (public school) education had been without gaps and she seemed to suddenly understand. Oh, NO education is without gaps. Right. In fact, she told me that the gaps in her education were part of the reason she was concerned about having the responsibility for her children’s potential educational gaps, which is completely understandable.

We talked a bit more about how there really isn’t any way of ensuring that there won’t be educational “gaps” because even if someone is taught everything in the world in the most effective way possible, they aren’t going to be able to remember every single thing. There will still be gaps no matter how rigorous the curriculum is or how well-trained the teacher is.

I explained so many years ago that the most important thing to me then, as well as now, is that I help to set my children up for a life full of learning. I will do everything in my power to help them learn the basics so that they have a good foundation. I will facilitate and encourage them in everything they want or need to learn. Ultimately, though, I will consider their early learning to be a success if they retain and build upon their innate love for learning and knowledge of how to learn because then they will be able to fill in those inevitable “gaps” as they want or need to do.

My parents, especially my father, modeled a love of learning to me throughout my life that has carried me through numerous interests and jobs. They cultivated my love of learning and I cannot think of a single day when I haven’t learned something new and enjoyed the process. I have easily been able to fill my educational gaps every time it has become clear that there was a gap that needed to be filled. That ability has been priceless to me.

That is what I want for my children.

Disclaimer: I do not speak for all homeschoolers, only for myself. There are many different reasons out there for homeschooling and many other types of homeschoolers that may or may not fit within the scope of this post.


“Better than Co-op”

So, it would appear that my children prefer being unschooled in a kind of Charlotte Mason-y way to belonging to a co-op. Even a fun co-op with their friends. They had been pretty upset about not being able to be in co-op this year and I was worried about how they’d do once the school year started more officially for other children, but my fears were apparently unfounded.

We were at the park last week, learning about leaves, when one of my daughters piped up, “This is better than co-op!” I said, “Really?” Apparently co-op had been “too much like school.” Upon further questioning more things just tumbled out of all three girls, things like, “We only got five minutes of break to play.” and “They didn’t let you teach enough and we loved it when you taught music!” (unexpected ego boost there!) and finally: “We didn’t get to choose what we learned. The teachers got to choose and that’s not fair!”

Oh. Well. They have a good point there. After all, I have always encouraged my children to find what they’re interested in and then I help facilitate that learning by making sure they have the resources available to learn about whatever it is. I read to them, we watch documentaries, they read, explore, create, and play-act things out.

When there are things that I believe are important enough for them to really need to learn, it’s part of my job to make that topic interesting and exciting to my children. I love to read so transferring that love to them hasn’t been very difficult. We found a math curriculum that I love, so again, they love it (I’ve questioned them several times about it). I found a history curriculum that I enjoy reading to them, so they enjoy hearing it (in moderation – not every day).

To my mind, if it’s worth learning, it’s worth being excited about. People don’t tend to retain information that isn’t relevant or exciting or interesting to them in some way. It’s often more of a challenge to help a child find a passion for a topic than to simply feed them information they aren’t interested in, but it’s infinitely more rewarding in the long run because they are much more likely to actually retain the information.

We’ve been so much more relaxed this year without having to worry about getting to co-op on time and trying to teach something that the other parents don’t seem to appreciate (or care to help their children appreciate). It’s been much nicer since my children have been able to take turns choosing the topics of interest that we’re currently studying and if a topic ends up *not* being interesting for whatever reason, we can just switch topics as easily as not.

We’re just over a quarter of the way through the school year and I’m greatly looking forward to whatever the next three quarters bring us!

Currently we are studying: Vincent VanGogh, John Philip Sousa, Alfred Lord Tennyson, and Leaves in addition to Life of Fred math, Story of the World history (in moderation), cooking, painting, computer programming, and whatever else we fancy to learn more about.

Small Houses: Our Story Part One

Small houses have always held an appeal for me. During my childhood, my family seemed to move into larger and larger homes as I got older – we’d get more stuff and need more space to store it all. My husband and I have managed to avoid that so far. We have moved from tiny to large to medium to large and back to small/tiny, then we repeated the pattern once again, staying with various friends and family for a few weeks sometimes between actual spaces of our own. We’ve acquired things and gotten rid of things and try to continually reevaluate what we have and what purpose it serves – this is vital when living in a smaller than average sized space and it’s not something that comes easily or naturally to me at all.

While the average square footage per person in America was 832 in 2009, our own home comes in at 200 square feet per person. That’s including a home office in our third bedroom, which is largely unusable space during the daytime when my husband is working. We sometimes joke that most of his 200 square feet come out of the office space. We also homeschool all our children so, many days, all six of us are home all day long.

On the other hand, this 1200 square foot space is far from the smallest home we have lived in. Our first home, after we got married, was around 300 or 350 square feet, but only two of us and the dog lived there. Over the living room it also had a sleeping loft that wasn’t counted in the square footage. That house was more than big enough! We had a futon couch, a coffee table, a desk, a bookshelf, our bed was up in the loft, and we had a small kitchen table with two chairs that fit just perfectly into our kitchen. The stove was half-sized (and gas!) and we had a clothes closet and clawfoot bathtub in our rather spacious, for the size of the house, bathroom. We had guests over frequently and always made extra food for friends or homeless folks who would stop by for dinner with little or no notice sometimes.

Our little house was located in the middle of downtown San Luis Obispo, CA in a little courtyard with other small cottages as neighbors. We could both easily walk to our jobs and pretty much anywhere else in town or near Cal Poly we wanted to go. Our car didn’t work when we lived there so friends would sometimes give us a ride to Trader Joe’s or the tiny little natural foods co-op we were members of. We could walk to the co-op, and often did, when we needed something small or just a few things. We also lived less than a block away from a large park with a playground, an adult playground (with stationary exercise “equipment”), a giant field, and a community garden. We would walk there in the middle of the night to let our dog run around the field and to exercise on the adult playground. Then we would walk leisurely through the beautiful community garden before heading back to our perfect little house.

Alas, we had only lived there for 7 months when the retirement home that owned our house decided to kick out all their tenants and demolish all the little cottages, including our own, in order to expand their facility. It was a sad day. We could easily and happily have stayed there for much longer and had at least one baby in that space, given the opportunity.

Our next house wasn’t small at all. It was huge! We moved to my in-laws’ 1400 square foot double-wide manufactured home in Washington State after my father-in-law got remarried. Our first baby was born there, but it was odd living in such a large space after our cozy little home. We acquired a great many more material possessions while living there and when we moved into a one-bedroom 700 square foot apartment with our new baby and all that stuff stuff, it looked  just like an episode of hoarders with boxes stacked quite high.

We never really unpacked in that space because we literally couldn’t. There just wasn’t enough room for all our stuff and, with the new baby, I just never got around to decluttering everything. I’d never been taught how to declutter by my parents so the next few years in our next few houses were spent learning on my own, with the help of decluttering books like Sandra Felton’s Messies books and Don Aslett’s Clutter’s Last Stand, how to get rid of things and decide whether something should be kept or not.

Our next place, an 800 square foot studio downstairs duplex, achieved the status of being a home; not just a storage facility with a kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom like our apartment had been. We unpacked our many boxes, decluttered to the best of our abilities, and contributed a ton of things to the local annual Rotary Auction and Rummage Sale. We also acquired more things from the Rotary Rummage Sale, but these were mainly things that we either needed, like a couch, or things that helped us organize the house, like bookshelves for our extremely large collection of books.

We adopted a cat while in the downstairs duplex and lived there until our oldest was around 18 months old and I was 2 months away from having our second child. Then we moved just upstairs into the 1200 square foot duplex above us. It was huge after the apartment and downstairs duplex! We had our second baby there and moved to a 500 square foot house when she was only 5 months old because of heating and cooling issues with the space.

That 550 square foot home was a standalone house, which was absolutely wonderful after the apartment and duplexes. We had an enclosed carport, a covered front porch that was at least 150 square feet, and a detached laundry room that doubled as an office for my husband, which all helped quite a bit with the small space. The yard was lovely and our next door neighbors, whom we shared a driveway with, had chickens, ducks, rabbits, and a large garden that they let us have space in so that we were able to grow some of our own veggies in addition to offering us some of their excess produce. They had apple trees that they shared freely from as well.

We had two children, a dog, and a cat in that space along with a piano and thousands of books. We managed to make food from scratch every single day in the tiny kitchen and even have friends over sometimes. It was quite a nice place, other than how expensive it was and some mold issues, which eventually got to be quite a problem so we seriously began planning to move three thousand miles away to the Georgia/South Carolina border where the cost of living was more reasonable.

At the time of our cross-country move, we had been married for five years and now we’ve been married for ten so I’ll conclude this part of the story now and pick up again soon with the second half 🙂

%d bloggers like this: