By Shira Boss
Zero Cost Kids
I’m intrigued by homeschooling. Like home birth, it’s a trend, and an interesting one. (I’m glad I learned about home births – our sons were born at home and it was fabulous!)
There’s a lot to consider in choosing how to educate our children. So we’ll continue to explore all of the options and see what feels right at each stage.
Here are some reasons why we like the idea of homeschooling – then why we probably still won’t do it.
Homeschooling: The Pluses and Minuses
Plus: We want all the time we can get with our boys before they’re grown up and gone, and we also like the idea of the brothers being together. Supposedly children are influenced more by their siblings than their parents, and we would love to nurture a very close bond that we hope endures for life.
Minus: Too much togetherness? We already live in 2 rooms, and plan to stay. Even though homeschooling doesn’t mean being at home – especially here in Manhattan, with so much to take advantage of – not going to school might deny the boys a whole layer of having a place of their own, in many respects (physical school and classroom, other adult role models, etc.).
This is something I learned already with preschool, which we were going to skip. I wanted to do a playgroup instead – so many fun things to do in NYC! But our son kept asking for school. I realized he wanted not just a group of friends to play with but a classroom, teachers – a place just for him.
Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to educate a child
Plus: Wow do I love school, and learning, and projects. Figuring things out. No wonder I became a journalist – it’s like being a student for life. So I see homeschooling as a huge, involved and thrilling undertaking. So much to learn, so much to figure out, so much to do. Furthermore, its not now or later – we only have our kids once and when they’re grown up, the opportunity has passed.
Minus: Teachers are experts. Hopefully they’ve answered a calling to go into teaching, and they have specific education, training and experience. I have none of those things, and while I’m willing to learn, it might be a shame not to take advantage of what teachers have to offer.
Plus: No sitting in a chair all day! I know it’s not all day. But in homeschooling, the kids have way more freedom to move around as needed. We could be really active, and tailor the flow of the day to energy needs.
If you have sons (as we do), you should read The Minds of Boys by Michael Gurian, which emphasizes that boys especially need more physical movement before being able to focus. No wonder they have a reputation for fidgeting, tapping their pencils, and getting distracted in classes.
Unfortunately, schools’ recess and gym time have generally been shrinking rather than expanding.
Minus: I hope if I sent my boys for a quick run before homeschool, they’d actually come back! No really, usually we have quite a bit of trouble getting our 3 year old to pay attention to what we’re saying let alone do it. They might buckle down in a school setting better than at home.
Also, my sister who’s a first-grade teacher told me I have “an old fashioned view of school” and that there’s much less sitting at desks facing the chalkboard now. That’s good news!
I did see pictures of 4th graders at a NYC school working with worksheets spread on the floor, the kids stretched out working while propped on their elbows. That looked great. The more freedom to move around the better, and I sure hope that trend in schools continues.
Plus: A homeschooling parent can focus on the specific needs and interests of the children, and spend copious amounts of time working one on one. Teachers are experienced, but they do have to divide their time and attention among 20-30 students, and often, I hear, must cater to the needs of the slowest learners.
Minus: A lot of work and life is about group participation, and kids learn a lot from one another and from working in groups. So while I personally have always hated group projects and am still a lone wolf who prefers to do everything myself, I don’t want to push that on my kids. (Even though I know homeschool kids do get a lot of interaction with both kids and adults.)
No Set Schedule
This one is huge. No set schedule and school calendar opens up enormous opportunities and benefits.
A more natural sleep schedule. I’m fanatical about sleep. That’s when our minds process and our bodies repair and grow. Sleep is so important to health and development. Little kids wake up early, so getting to school shouldn’t be disruptive to them, although an afternoon rest could be missed. Teenagers are almost always dragging out of bed when they need – need – more sleep. In my ideal world, nobody would wake up because an alarm clock is blaring.
Enjoying off-peak hours. Especially because we live in New York City and there are just so many fabulous places to visit and things to do – it would be so nice to go places when “everyone else” is at work or in school! (I hate crowds. See above: lone wolf!)
Traveling off-peak. Same with travel. Friday to Sunday travel is a traffic jam nightmare. Following a school calendar means only having time to travel when everyone else is, too. With homeschooling, we could continue to do what we’ve always done and go against the grain with mid-week and off-season trips.
Minuses: Not many I can figure out. Although, teachers are skilled at pacing lessons throughout the year. I could learn that, but maybe with too much freedom we wouldn’t get through as much. I’m really not sure. The freedom argument for me is pretty favorable in favor of homeschooling. But it’s just one consideration.
Plus: I’ve read some research that says kids being with two dozen kids their own age for the bulk of the day is not ideal for social and emotional development (e.g. see the book Hold On to Your Kids).
Peer interaction is important, but as kids are growing up, they should be primarily guided by adults. Also, some people point out that homeschoolers interact more with many different ages and kinds of people throughout their week, vs. mainly kids their own age and teachers. That seems like a bonus.
Minus: Like I pointed out in the family togetherness section above, it’s probably healthy for kids to have a home-away-from-home at school. Our older son, especially, is a joiner. He sees a group of kids and can’t wait to get in on whatever’s going on. So we suspect he would thrive in a school setting.
Plus: In a word, nature. That’s a priority for us. Fresh air, exercise, experiencing – more deeply than dashing to and from school – the weather, the seasons, the cycles and habits and wonder of the natural world.
Schools let kids out for a recess that is generally less than half an hour. And while there are field trips and maybe outdoor projects and what not, and the school day does end in the afternoon, it’s still not the same as having the freedom to take the whole day outside – even days at a time – whenever we wanted.
In addition, Bob’s and my ultimate dream is to get a bit of land in the Catskills and build a cabin with the boys. We could take a lot more advantage of time – and lessons! – there if we weren’t hemmed in by the school schedule.
Minus: Can’t really come up with anything here. If the boys go to traditional school, we would just be sure to give them lots of outside time after school and would still try to get them the cabin-in-the-woods experience when school’s out.
Plus: Now we’re getting to the nitty gritty. This is related to the above. Natural light is the healthiest – we see better, we learn better, and we feel better.
I was researching the best NYC schools and came to one that sounded pretty good – in fact the top grade school in the city according to some rankings. Then I read that it is in a windowless building. Whoa. Is that even legal? I don’t care how good artificial lighting is, to be walled off from even a view of the outside world cannot be healthy on any level. Even prisoners have a bit of a window.
In addition, I learned in The Minds of Boys that boys don’t see as well and good lighting is especially important to their learning.
Minus: There’s no minus to having control over good lighting, but I’m sure there are fabulous, windowed and well-lit schools where this would not be an issue.
Learning by doing
Plus: We really value life skills, starting with cooking and housework, and as the boys get older, extending to building that cabin in the woods. Homeschooling would give us more time and freedom to spend tending to the hearth and learning about and from nature by actually being there.
In addition, there are all sorts of hands-on projects and experiences we could do that wouldn’t be feasible for an entire class of kids to do. Again, this kind of hands-on learning is particularly well-suited to the typical boy.
Minus: A lot of schools are on board with experiential learning and I’m sure have pretty neat things the kids do. Plus they have experience, resources and infrastructure we don’t have at home.
Why we probably won’t homeschool
We probably won’t be homeschooling. I was entirely enthusiastic about it until we sent our older boy to a toddler program twice a week for two hours. He loved it. Over the summer, I thought he’d forget about it, but at the end of the summer he started asking, “When does my school open again?”
When I told him that was for little kids, he asked, “Where is the school for 4 year olds?”
As much as I tried to drum up enthusiasm for all the great things we’d do together, he explicitly pined for school, and even told me, “I want to go to a school where you leave.” Got it!
I started to be haunted by the thought that homeschooling would be pursuing my own ideals rather than doing what’s best for my specific child.
Consequently, after feeling smug last year avoiding preschool applications as other families were plodding through the arduous process (open houses, tours, interviews, applications with numerous essay questions…), at the end of the summer I realized I’d made a mistake. And as my favorite Turkish saying goes, “No matter how far you’ve gone on the wrong road, turn back.”
While other families were enjoying the end of summer, I jumped into researching preschools – what programs are near us, who has space, who might miraculously still have financial aid available – and was lucky to find a wonderful church program that our 3 year old now attends 3 mornings a week.
It’s a well-lit, Reggio Emilia-inspired class led by five artistic women. They have a gym, a roof garden and an art studio. He loves going there and, to be honest, we don’t mind at all having someone else take over for a few hours a week.
Maybe I’m a lone wolf who can join the village after all.
Your thoughts and experiences on schooling are welcome in the comments below.