Even though Aly recently left college (see Aly Graduates!) I still think a lot about homeschooling, unschooling in particular. A while back I wrote a rather long piece about finding time to homeschool, a major concern for many parents considering taking a more active role in their child’s education. It offers a simple test to see how much time you really need to match most public education.
If you’re considering homeschooling your children, but worry about how to fit supervision into your schedule, try a simple experiment: Tell your child’s school that she will likely need to stay home from school for a month. Tell them this will happen in two weeks, and request a list of school work so that your child won’t fall behind during the absence.
Most schools will provide this information in short order. Once you receive it, look the work over, and generously estimate how much time it might take to complete. When you’ve arrived at a figure, ask the teachers for their best time estimate for the tasks.
What you learn by doing this will likely surprise you. Almost without fail, the time estimates will amount to very little—an hour per weekday at most, usually only two or three hours a week!
A major weakness of institutionalized learning is its need to accommodate so many students. The problem centers around two major issues, each directly affecting the other: different learning abilities, and discipline.
Each lesson must adapt to a variety of learning abilities to be effective, requiring extra time. Even in small classrooms the differing needs of individuals slows the learning process for the group. Learning can only proceed at the comprehension rate of the slowest learners.
As this happens, discipline becomes a factor. Notice that the biggest troublemakers in class are often the brightest students. They grasp the lessons so quickly, they become bored waiting for the class to catch up, so they act out to entertain themselves. Conversely, students who realize that they are not learning fast enough to keep up with the class are likely to create discipline problems to compensate. Whatever the source, the need to discipline further slows the learning process.
When a student learns individually, only one learning style need be considered. Even if multiple children homeschool, far fewer styles must be considered than in a classroom. Related students are also likely to have similar learning styles and needs. This makes homeschooling far less time-consuming than institutional learning.
Add the unavoidable fact that schools keep children safe and occupied (relatively) while working parents are away from home. A typical school day fills as much of the average work day as possible to accommodate society’s needs.
This, then, is the secret of homeschooling: a full day of classroom learning can be condensed into an hour or less! Most homeschoolers spend far less time completing curriculum than they would in school.
This is why so many homeschoolers go to college before they’re 18. They completed prep school in a fraction of the time it takes to accomplish within the school system.
Homeschooling works well with conflicting schedules because the process of taking responsibility for one’s own education is educational in itself. One of the most valuable skills any successful homeschooler will learn is how to develop the self-discipline to complete homeschool lessons, and the ability to schedule their own activities. Even the youngest homeschoolers can take important steps toward these skills from the very beginning. As they develop, the needs of the curriculum will have a diminishing effect on family work schedules.
The care with which you choose your homeschooling curriculum will help diminish or remove scheduling conflicts. If you plan to use a packaged curriculum, review the sample materials critically. Look for time-filling activities that may be designed not so much to educate, but to occupy students. These activities are less common in homeschool curricula, but they do exist. If you find a curriculum you particularly like, but see too many such activities, talk to the company. Find out how flexible they are, whether activities can be omitted without jeopardizing grades or other evaluation criteria. Many curriculum providers will work with you to ensure that their products suit your needs.
Human beings are self-educating creatures. We cannot stop learning! It is a natural, lifelong process. Properly nurtured and allowed freer reign, each child’s instinct to teach herself will lead to a far better education than is likely to be earned sitting in an overcrowded classroom, competing with other students who are so numbed by institutionalized learning that they can’t help but interfere with their peers’ efforts to better themselves.
The question becomes not “will homeschooling my child affect my work schedule,” but “does my child deserve anything less?”