That is the single most common response I get when I tell people that I homeschool. It perplexes me. “Why?” I sometimes want to ask. What is that they think I am doing that feels impossible for them to do to? Of course, homeschooling is not for everyone. School choice is a very personal and complex decision, and homeschooling is not even an option for most people for various reasons. But I want to share my own experience since I find it frustrating to know that most people have a mistaken impression of what homeschoolers actually do.
When people ask me why I homeschool, I find myself giving a variety of answers. I mention the enormous percentage of our after-tax income that we would spend to send our kids to private school for thirteen years. Or my concerns about academics being pushed onto kids at earlier and earlier ages in the public schools. Or that my work is best done in the after school hours, so that if they went to school, I would feel torn between expanding my business and spending time with my kids. In fact, the decision was influenced by all of these things, but the whole answer is much more complicated.
I think a more honest answer probably boils down to two words – time and fun. With homeschooling, I have more of both. On dark winter mornings, I sometimes see the little girl next door hurrying down to the driveway to catch her school bus. Her back is weighed down by an improbably large backpack. She looks a little tired and serious. Meanwhile, the kids and I are still in our pajamas, and I am making pancakes and bacon. My six year old son is building with Legos in the next room. My eight year old daughter is practicing piano in the living room. Once we’ve eaten and cleared the breakfast dishes, we move to the couch where I read A Cricket in Times Square to them while finishing my coffee. They stop me as I’m reading to ask questions, or share their thoughts about the story. We take our time, reveling in the slow pace of this winter morning. We’re on no one’s schedule but our own.
That doesn’t mean that we are never rushing out the door to get someplace on time like our neighbors. We rush to the gym, trying to make it on time for our child care slot so that I can get to yoga. We rush to get to a clay class, a sewing class, a birthday party, a swimming lesson, an orchestra performance, a Lenape pow wow, our meals on wheels volunteer session, a science workshop at the Franklin Institute, softball practice, or a playdate with friends. Two days a week, I rush to get them to a drop off program for homeschoolers where they will spend the day with other adults and kids playing and exploring. These are my days to work and focus on my career. But this is our schedule that we made, and there are still plenty of slower-moving days.
I heard recently that American parents spend an average of just over five minutes per day talking to their children if you don’t include directives. While I have tell my children (usually multiple times) to pick up their clothes, clean their rooms, brush their teeth, feed the fish, and so on, I am grateful that our schedule also allows lots of time for leisurely conversation.
And fun? Since starting to homeschool, I have ice skated weekly in the winter, raised generations of monarch butterflies, explored microscopic life in local ponds, learned archery, dissected owl pellets, cooked food from ancient Sumeria, attended a Chinese New Year celebration, grown crystals, and unearthed trilobite fossils. I’ve spent hours in local museums, listened to countless audio books, spent the season’s first snowfall in the Wissahickon, and greatly improved my chess game. Best of all, I have met and become friends with many interesting, unique, thoughtful people. Playdates for the kids sometimes mean dropping them off or hosting a friend. Most often however, the other parents and I sit in the kitchen drinking tea and talking while the kids play. The other homeschooling parents I know are writers, professors, yoga teachers, web designers, psychologists, and lawyers. Many of the other homeschooling parents I have met have become my close friends.
I think these two ingredients of time and fun when combined together allow for a third very special thing – a sense of wonder. My kids have it. All kids do. But I have rediscovered my own. What a gift to have an excuse to be curious about everything from the life cycle of a lady bug to local history. Other homeschooling parents have written about this, the way that homeschooling changes your relationship to everything because the whole world becomes an object of wonder and curiosity, not just for your kids, but for you as well.
There it is. Time and fun.
In Part 2: But how, you might be wondering, do my kids learn?