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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Myth Busted: Homeschool Kids Don’t Just Teach Themselves

Maybe you’ve read those homeschool blog posts or magazine articles that say your high school aged kids will teach themselves.  They will hit this magical age where you will just hand them a book and they will acquire the knowledge it contains through careful study and meticulous work ethic. 

And then they’ll turn around and teach your younger children.  It’ll be so beautiful! 

myth busted: homeschool kids don't teach themselves at Homeschooling Hearts & MindsAnd when your oldest reaches high school age, you’ll be able to put up your feet and start reading murder mysteries again.  They’ll also cook dinner (canapes and other fancy stuff) and even clean the house.  It’ll be like having your own personal house servants. 

Now, I have no doubt that maybe this actually is the case in some homeschooling households.  Possibly?  Ist it?  (I don’t know any homeschool families like this, but surely they are out there, right?)

It certainly is not the case in mine.

It’s true some kids will teach themselves, even from an early age.  They are so driven to acquire knowledge that you can just hand them the book and off they go.  And even if you don’t hand them a book, they will seek it out on their own.

But I wouldn’t say that’s the norm.  Or if it is, my own children are far from normal.  Will my kids learn stuff on their own?  For sure…but not algebra, nope, never algebra.  Their passions, yes, but not the things that must be learned.  In fact, it wasn’t until fairly recently that I was able to stop sitting by my teen’s elbow to keep him from having a math meltdown. 

While he does work largely independently as a 10th grader, it’s not because I just hand him a stack of books and off he goes.  It’s because I work with him to formulate a plan to conquer whatever subject he is working on and then I check in with him (frequently) throughout the day, week, year to see how he is progressing.  He works hard and he checks in with me. 

We’re a good team. 

When he  hits a wall, whether it be due to a lack of understanding of a mathematical concept or an awkward structure for a history paper, I work with him to  help him climb his way over that wall.

What happens when I don’t scaffold my son in this way?  I let him down. 

It’s not an issue of not wanting to see him struggle or never fail (struggle is good for building character, and we all have to fail sometimes), but of withholding tools he needs to succeed.  He just isn’t academically self-sufficient, yet.  He’s getting there.  And I’m sure that there are plenty of other 16-year-olds that are there already, but I’m not educating them---I’m educating my 16-year-old and he still needs some hand-holding.

If he were in school, chances are that his teachers would give nightly assignments and check in on things like paper drafts and such.  Surely the homeschool mom can at least give that much, right?  And so I give him what he needs to succeed.  Then I sit back and watch him do his work.  He’s still the one using the brain power and putting in the effort, I just help him keep on track and give him the positive reinforcement he needs.

I praise him (he deserves it).  I look at his drawings and take interest in his personal interests.  Because this is a big part of the reason I homeschool---to be in-tune with my child.

There are a lot of reasons why our family homeschools, and depending upon who asks me and what the circumstances are, I generally talk about one or two of the most pertinent ones at the time.  But here’s a little confession.  One of the things that convinced me that I should do this thing, that I should dedicate my days to educating my children and not to doing something else was connection.

You see, when my oldest was in school (David attended a Catholic school for grades pre-k through 1st), one of the things that bothered me most was the fact that I didn’t know what he was doing all day.

Let me talk about that a bit, because it sounds stalkerish.

I’m not talking about control here.  I didn’t want to be in control of my son’s day.  It’s not even that I wanted t know all the minute details.

I just didn’t want to be in the dark.

Because that’s what I felt at the time, that I was in the dark.  Sure, he could tell me about his day…actually, he couldn’t, if I asked about his day, he’d say “I dunno,” but kids, right?  But that’s not really what I mean, knowing what he did all day.  It was more about knowing him.  I was losing track of my son, his dreams and his reality.  I felt weirdly disconnected from him.  I felt like our relationship was suffering.

I can honestly say that I now have a great relationship with my teenaged son. 

It’s not like we always see eye-to-eye.  But we are honest with each other and respect each other.  I don’t know that I can attribute that to homeschooling, but I suspect that we are closer to each other than we would be if we weren’t homeschooling.  We know each other better.  Maybe that makes us weird. Winking smile

So, getting back to my main point…what was that?  Oh yes!

Does my son teach himself?  Sometimes (especially if it’s about building hovercrafts or learning javascript).  All my kids teach themselves lots of things.  Not algebra, though, never algebra.

Do the older children teach the younger children?  Sometimes, but not their regularly scheduled lessons. 

The other day, Peter was teaching Emma the difference between proper nouns and commons nouns.  Because Mad Libs.  So it is true that younger children will learn from older children, for sure.  That is not the basis of their education, but it does add some depth and helps to strengthen their relationships with each other.

Do my children do all the household chores?  No, but they do contribute to the household, for sure.  They do need frequent reminding and sometimes I feel like a nag.

So, do my kids homeschool themselves?  Nope, not even the 7-year-old.  Your mileage may vary.

If you are thinking about getting into this homeschooling thing because you think your personal outlay (whether it be emotional, spiritual, intellectual, whatever) will be minimal, don’t do it!  Do it if you are willing to give it all you’ve got…and then be relieved when it requires a little less of you for this or that season in life.

If you’re just starting out and you’re feeling like…ugh, this can’t be right, my kid needs me all the time.  It’s ok…sometimes that’s what it takes.  Over time they will need you less.  And then more.  It’s a continuum.  You can do it.

Have you got a self-teaching prodigy on your hands?

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