Most people recognize that there are major problems with the education system we use today. Children are either showing signs of stress struggling to learn material or exhibiting a lack of interest in their learning entirely. Learning disabilities are on the rise and schools are doing nothing to get to the root of the problem. More and more children are being labeled ADHD and put on medications like Ritalin to keep them "focused" on what the system says they are expected to do. Some schools have introduced things like flexible seating to deal with the inability of the students to sit still throughout the school day.The fact is these quick fixes aren't solving anything, and labeling students puts the blame on the them instead of the system. If we actually dig deeper we can see that these are only symptoms of a bigger underlying problem in the education system itself. Since the school system has been reluctant to make real changes, many parents are looking to bypass the "experts" and solve the problems on their own by homeschooling their children.
Homeschooling is a topic that has been stigmatized in the past. Parents are often stereotyped as the country bumpkins who reject the importance of formal education, or the religious fanatics that want to control the curriculum and indoctrinate their children into their religious beliefs. But those stereotypes are changing and there is a new trend happening.
In an effort to provide a nurturing and successful learning environment, the average everyday parent is breaking away from traditional schools and choosing to home school their children instead. Parents have become disillusioned with the outdated educational system and are leading the change to providing a better, future-driven education for their children. Children are also doing their part by rejecting the existing teaching methods by simply not engaging in the learning and rejecting the workload they have been burdened with. Many of these children are being falsely labeled as ADD or ADHD, which really means that they have chosen not to pay attention. This is what happened to my son.
Ever since my son was little, he was an artist and began drawing with intense focus. As he got a little older, he was fascinated with Legos and building structures. In elementary school it progressed into technology and building elaborate cities in the computer game Minecraft. Initially my son loved preschool and even kindergarten. By 1st grade my bright focused son began to show signs of withdrawal and unhappiness with the system he was forced to be a part of. By 4th grade he had managed to completely detach from the system entirely and I was constantly being called in by teachers for missing or incomplete assignments, and overall lack of attention to the lessons plans. Even though all the teachers admitted that he was a kind, creative, and intelligent child. He was always respectful to his teachers and they were actually fond of him. The problem was not behavioral, it was that he wasn't following their agenda.
His 4th grade teacher spoke to me about the possibilities of ADHD. When I explained to her that he had perfect focus at home, she told me that that was one of the signs of ADHD. So I was thinking to myself, on one hand they are saying that these kids have an inability to focus, but then can focus intently on other things. Is it me, or does that sound completely irrational? Either you have the ability to focus or you don't! I was called in for a special meeting with an intervention team to address the problems with my son. I asked how often they had to do these types of meetings, and I was shocked when she said 2 to 3 a week. If a large portion of kids are having the same difficulties, then the problem wasn't them, it was the system, so I pulled my son out of school and began educating him at home.
What ended up happening is that I discovered a completely different child. Where previously he was quiet after school and he always had his head in his computer, I now experienced him talking and discussing various topics. He seemed calmer and more philosophical than I had ever realized. Everyone noticed how quickly he matured, so based on my experience, this is what I discovered about homeschooling my son:
1. You can't beat one-on-one tutoring - Even if I was a lousy teacher and the schools had award-winning teachers, on-on-one tutoring provides a far better education than a group environment. Period! The ability to go at the pace of your individual child's needs is incredible. If they understand it, you move on. If they don't, you spend as much time as necessary to instill the learning point giving the child the stepping stone for the next level of learning. Sal Khan of Khan Academy spoke about how math especially, needs to be understood thoroughly at each stage in order to understand subsequent lessons. He described it like this: Math is like building a house. You can rush the foundation but if it isn't done right, and you build the rest of the house, it will eventually collapse. I can't tell you how many people I know that will say they are just bad at math. This is because many adults experienced this in their educational environment as they were moved onto the next math level without thoroughly mastering the basics.
One-on-one also allows you to change gears based on your child's interests. Once I was going over world geography and discussing the main continents and oceans and my son politely asked "Can we change gears for a moment?". He then proceeded to ask me where the Titanic went down, so we spent some time researching the Titanic. I loved seeing him engaged in thoughtful conversation about a historical event.
2. Update the curriculum - Kids are still learning the same curriculum that has been in place since the Industrial Revolution. They are studying the same old people, places and things. News flash, kids now a days have access to detailed data at their fingertips. They no longer need to memorize facts and be tested on them. They need a general understanding of the past in order to problem solve issues in the future. They are still being taught outdated skills such as cursive! Hand written letters were a necessity in the past, since it was the only form of communication, but it is a completely irrelevant skill in the 21st century. I debated teaching my son how to at least sign his name in cursive but then I realized that in 5 years, everything will be thumb print id's or retina scans. I know the older generation disagrees with this philosophy but the reality is, these kids will probably never need that skill. Technology experts are saying that computer coding is considered a necessary skill for the future, and currently at the rate that we are teaching this in schools, there will be a shortage of people to fill these jobs. Most kids are not being taught this skill in school as aggressively as they should be.
Technology is moving quickly and we need to catch up. We need to focus on accessing data and using this data to solve real problems. STEM or even STEAM - science, technology, engineering, arts and math, is the wave of the future and our kids need to be prepared for it. My son got a lot of resistance from older family members and teachers about the amount of time he spends on his computer in Minecraft. I found myself explaining that major universities are now offering kids ages 10-13, college credit in classes using Minecraft. They recognize the importance of this application in coding and engineering. The future builders will be creating on computers not paper. It's time to update the curriculum to be more focused on technology so our children are prepared to work and live in the 21st century.
I personally created by own curriculum based on the general educational requirements, and then partnered it with subjects that I believe is the future of learning.
We cover the basics of reading, writing and math, and I alternate in science, geography, social studies and history. Currently so far, I have him read books everyday, books that he picked and enjoys in order to instill a love of reading. I vary the writing projects from writing about himself and his dreams to things like writing a family newspaper. He prefers writing on the computer and because of auto spell review, he sees and corrects his own mistakes instantaneously. For math we use some written books and computer apps. I like the Kumon books since they build a child's math skills slowly allowing them to acquire confidence before providing more advanced math topics. I threw out the common core and went back to the basics. Even though there will be little use for manual math calculations in the future, I do think it is important for kids to understand how to break down and work out problems. We use a calculator for real life math problems at the grocery store, with home improvement projects, etc. We use computer apps for all subjects as much as we can as he is drawn to doing his work through technology. He has now requested extra classes and assistance with more advanced technology so he is co-creating his learning experience knowing exactly what he needs.
I cover other topics such as science, history, and geography, in less detail and more overview, and use project-based or hands-on activities to drive the information home. The important thing is to have children actively use the information they are learning about. For example, to learn more about politics and government, I assigned him as president for the day. I presented him with real issues that a president would have to make decisions about and he has to decide what to do. Another project he has, is to learn about general business concepts. He will be responsible for starting and running his own Pizza Restaurant. This enables him to learn advanced subjects in a fun way. He has to learn about marketing, products and finance, all while using writing, math and problem solving skills. These types of hands-on projects automatically instill memorization because the learning has to be applied and used in a meaningful way. I have allowed his agenda to be flexible based on his needs and talents in certain subjects. So because he loves building and designing, next year, I will focus more intently on STEM projects.
Finland has some of the world's best schools based on standardized testing of elementary school performance, and they use project-based learning. Instead of teaching kids math, language arts and science, they incorporate all subjects into the project. If the objective was about clean renewable energy, then the project would be something like creating a clean energy source that the student needed to use math, science and writing skills to complete and share the data. I believe project-based learning will start to be incorporated more and more in the future. They also eliminated homework and provided time for more creative outdoor play. These kids performed better on standardized tests than kids in traditional school environments. Once again showing that to instill real learning, you have to let kids apply knowledge instead of just test them for knowledge.
3. Reduce the detail - I understand the importance of learning the basics of reading, writing and math, yet, I noticed the intensity that schools are placing on these subjects. They spend way too much time going into so much detail that students are completely bored and will probably never remember any of it past test day. Some of the writing assignments looked like they were for a college student majoring in writing. History is always too detailed in my opinion. Instead of focusing on details, since kids can access those in the blink of an eye, I focus on the big picture. For instance, instead of memorizing specific dates for history, we discuss the general timeline (1800's versus 1900's) the impact of the past event, and how to avoid problems they created for a better future. The details won't stick in their memories anyways, since the information won't be used on a regular basis, but the impact of the event will help shape the child's perception of the world and his place in it. Some of the "big picture thinking"I plan on incorporating will be things like holistic health, social skills, values and ethics, philosophy of life, social and economic equality and responsibilities, diversity and cultural tolerance, ecological and social interdependence, and environmental sustainability.
Children need the basics and then they need the opportunity to expand their interests in particular subjects. I took what subjects my child didn't like and partnered it with what he did like. He is not fond of math but he is fond of building structures, so I know for him, math will be important in the future. I purchased a Minecraft Math book that provides word problems, so instead of writing and solving repetitive equations, he has the opportunity to show me his ability to problem solve. He has to understand what math is required in each of the activities, and then how to use the math to solve the problem.
4. Don't worry about the socialization - This is probably the biggest stereotype out there that home schooled kids will be less socialized. Every person I told that I was going to be homeschooling cautioned me to provide plenty of social interaction time for him. Let me tell you the reality. My son has become more social since he became home schooled. He appreciates and seeks out neighbors and friends to play with more often than he did when he was in school. Let's face it, the reality is traditional schools have more dysfunctional socializing between popularity clicks and aggressive bullies, that many kids get traumatized from their social experiences in school. My son is also learning how to communicate with adults as well as kids. He has to go on errands with me, so he gets to talk to the cashier at the grocery store and the receptionist at the doctors office. He likes to jump in and bag groceries when they are short-handed at the store. He has mentioned wanting to get a job so he can earn money to purchase more building apps on his computer. I've noticed he has a very entrepreneurial spirit in him and he is constantly looking for creative ways to make money. He also has an old-man charm about him. He holds doors open for woman and politely says please and thank you. He doesn't do that at home! His socializing has extended past kid interactions and he is learning how to communicate effectively with others by being exposed more often to the day-to-day people and events in life. A lesson he is getting without me even realizing or planning for it.
I noticed that a lot of home schooling moms were planning social events and setting up unsolicited play dates. It doesn't work! Unless your child wants or asks for those social interactions. In my experience, every unrequested or unwanted play date that I set up for my son backfired. He had no connection to these kids and I watched him and them, look incredibly uncomfortable as they searched for conversation or things in common to play. I notice adults doing this as well - the idea that you can try to force friendships. You either connect with someone naturally or you don't and our children are no different.
I found that if I asked my son what he wanted in all cases of education or socialization, he would let me know what he wanted and why. It turned out that he was very insightful and intuitive about what he needs, and I discovered that when I listened to him, I was able to set up the right situation to enable the best learning and friendships for him. Listen to your children!
5. Allow for downtime - My son in particular needs lots of breaks and what we call in our house "downtime". Basically it's a time to relax and think without any outside influences or expectations. I realized that most kids these days don't have that luxury. They have school all day, where they're herded from activity to activity, and then they come home to 1-3 hours of homework, and then after that they have extracurricular activities. When do they have time to think? I think this is a fundamental problem that we as parents should address.
I noticed a huge difference in my son when I allowed him time to just be, without any expectations of what that looked like. We ended up incorporating that into the beginning of our school day. We call it contemplation time. He is able to think and play quietly with his toys of his choice for a half an hour or so. What ends up happening is, he comes out from this thinking time with random questions about life. It's like it allowed him time to process what he had taken in so far, and then enabled him to access it more clearly. It's no different than adults. Adults need time to relax and contemplate and should be taking that time for themselves. Many of us are encouraged to meditate, to clear the mind and de-stress the body. I learned something valuable from my friends 7 year old daughter when she said "Kids like to daydream because it helps us remember things. It's like our meditation."I flashed back to the comments on my son's report card that said he daydreamed a lot in class. He is very creative in his thinking and has been requiring more downtime for a while, and nobody was listening. Relaxation time helps all people access the right side of their brain which is the creative side. Einstein is famous for his quotes about school and the importance of imagination and creativity, since he himself had such a bad experience. His teachers said he was dull in math and he eventually got pulled and tutored at home. He famously said
"The sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination."
"It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge."
"The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education."
The right side of the brain is the creative imagination side and is the part that comes up with the ideas and inventions. The left side is the logical brain that executes the ideas. Einstein's brain was examined after he died to determine what made his brain so special. It turned out that he had more neural connections between the left and right hemispheres of his brain than the average person. We have a lot of children spending time learning memorization of data and execution, and not enough time allowing processing and imagination. These kids will be in charge of innovating the technology for the future. We don't need to teach them to follow direction, we need to allow them to find themselves and their unique contributions to society, so they can innovate and change the world for the better.
I remember reading an article written by a college professor about his opinion on home schooling. He was very honest and admitted that he looked down on the idea since parents most of the time were not educated enough to provide a proper education. He explained his experience when asking a home school mom what she knew about quadratic equations, and smiled smugly when she admitted that she knew nothing. His opinion ended up changing when he started to get more and more home schooled kids in his college classes. He said he always knew who they were; they were the kids that always sat up front, were engaged in the lesson, and asked the most insightful questions. He would glance back to the rest of the class and they were usually distracted and on their phones, disinterested, and appeared to have the attitude of wanting to just get through yet another class. Home schooled kids on the contrary, acted like they were the only ones in the room and that the professor was speaking only to them. They were also excited and curious about the topics. They had of course, been spared the dreads of the typical education that the other students were forced to endure. In the end, the home schooled kids were bright and intelligent, highly social and most importantly, enjoyed learning.
I think it's time for us as parents to get involved in the education of our children. It's important to look at the end result; Is your child thriving with the traditional education system or do they require alternative learning? Are they learning new skills that will truly help them in the future or are they spending countless hours focused on subjects of the past? If it's working, your children will be engaged in their learning and actively show interest in seeking out new information. The most important thing is that they will be happy, and you will have instilled a love of learning in them for the rest of their lives.