A close family member was the director of a major scientific learning center in New England before retirement. When I told him we were going to begin homeschooling, he shared an unflattering opinion of homeschoolers from an educator’s perspective. Generally they are late, unreliable and often not well behaved. Ouch. That is one heck of a reputation to overcome. I swore that would never be me and my girls.
I am entering year four of homeschooling. I am no longer a novice homeschooling parent. I can easily rattle off a long list of the pros and cons of homeschooling. I can analyze this opinion of homeschooling, break it apart, and understand it.
I will say that there have been times when I have seen badly behaved homeschoolers. I have also been in the company of public schooled children who behave quite horrifically as well. Homeschooled children need to be taught group dynamics in a public setting. They have no experience raising hands and walking in line. When moderators and facilitators use behavior management tools effective in large groups of children who have been trained with them since the age of 5, homeschooled children look perplexed and wonder why in the world clapping would be used to get someone’s attention, think flicking lights on and off is stupid, and waiting to use the bathroom is absurd. This comes across as insolent, and when homeschooling parents do not feel that their children need to understand and adhere to these group dynamics, an awkward situation is created and the family probably should have stayed home.
In public school things start and end at prescribed times. Bells ring to guide you through your day. The school bus comes at a certain time, if you miss it you miss it. It does not come back for you. Homeschoolers have the luxury of not living according to a prescribed schedule. This is both a blessing and a curse. I love not having to wake the girls ahead of their natural circadian rhythms. But when we have to be at a class or a lecture or a tour at a certain time, I get their butts out of bed. If you are not willing to keep a commitment, don’t sign up for it in the first place. My girls are constantly taught the value of promptness. The train waits for no one. Dad leaves at the same time every single day. We have piano lessons and guitar lessons that we are never late for. I don’t think we have ever walked into church after mass has begun. I become neurotic and slightly unbearable about promptness. I would rather sit in the car for fifteen minutes and listen to our audio book than arrive somewhere fifteen minutes late. Those words of my relative still ring loudly in my ear and I cringe when people show up late to events. It is not fair to the organizer and to the facilitator.
Then there is the last comment, the unreliable one. This one is hard because it is true in my experience. It comes back to living a life free of obligatory scheduling. It is so easy to say, “Meggie is not feeling well, we will not be attending today”, or “We are running late, if we make it we make it and if we don’t we will catch you next time.”, or, “I just don’t feel like it today.” In my opinion the hardest part of homeschooling is organizing and maintaining activities and relationships.
We have all heard the knee-jerk reaction to homeschooling of “what about socialization?” I wrote about it here. I no longer think this comment refers to true socialization, but rather questions the ability to find and maintain friendships for your children. School is a self-contained bubble of opportunity. Play an instrument? There is a band for that. Like writing? There is a club for that. Are you a leader? There is a council for that. Play sports? There is a team for that. Like to act? There is a play for that. Easy peasy. No need to travel, to advertise, to schedule, to organize, to stress. It is all there. Just walk from one part of the school to the next to join others who are interested in the same thing. Meet the teacher. Show up, on time or be left behind (or worse yet, kicked out!).
This is not so for the homeschooling family (at least living here in CT). We do not have a large cohesive group of families but splinter groups that are organized around religious affiliation and homeschooling philosophy and rarely do the groups collaborate. My blog friends in the southern states belong to coops that have over one hundred families. Ours had about twenty. There are very few classes with paid teachers to choose from, and in my experience classes run by homeschooling parents is a recipe for disaster.
So I work my heiny off to organize activities that we enjoy. I have two art journaling groups and a writing group. Over the years, I have had families that just do not show up, show up late, and show up with kids who have no idea how to work will in a group. I don’t mind putting the effort in because I feel it is worth it, but I do get frustrated when I feel that other parents are not doing the same. I reflect back on words I heard from my relative four years ago.....
There are times I wonder if this huge negative aspect to homeschooling outweighs all the amazing positives. I am blessed that my girls have good friends. We have three homeschooling families with which we are very close and have been close for years. The girls have neighborhood friends that they see several times a week and together they are branching off to do more mature things like volunteer at the library and in church.
We have had families cycle in and out of our lives. I know this would happen in school too, every year brings class changes and new groupings of children, but it does not affect the entire family the way a change in a homeschool friendship can. I struggle with this more than my children do. I have asked them many times over the past year if they consider returning to school to have the convenience of after school activities, sports teams, band and orchestra, student council and school newspaper. They give me a resolute no. While they are disappointed with friendships fade away because a family moves on physically or moves on emotionally, they shake themselves off and find new friends, knowing that their core group of friends is there for them and has been for the past four years.
Those words said to me four years ago guide me as a homeschooling parent in more ways than I ever imagined. I have worked very hard to overcome this reputation and since it looks like we are homeschooling for the long haul, I will continue to work on it every day. I will continue to seek families interested in activities and possible friendships. I will mourn the loss of friendships, and I will offer a bit of myself to those I meet. I may not understand why things happen, but I will keep on keeping on.