For the first in a new series of interviews with home ed families I had to ask my oldest friend, Angela McGill. We went to primary school together and although she moved away when we were still young, we’ve always kept in touch (the internet makes this a lot easier). Angela was the first person I knew who was home educating (she lives in the US now, so it’s “homeschooling” to her) and she always made it sound fascinating, plus she was very encouraging and reassuring when I was trying to make the decision to home educate myself (I mean my kids) (and also myself).
What made you decide to home educate?
My daughter, Charlotte, had been quite happy at elementary school and was looking forward to middle school, which promised increased independence and more interesting subjects. However, the reality was that middle school felt like prison and all the students were treated like convicts. Yes, the kids got to walk between classes, but the classrooms were placed right next door or opposite each other so the kids got to walk at least a whole 3 feet! At lunchtime the students had to line up and walk (march?) to the cafeteria in one long line. In silence. When they got there, they were assigned seats and had exactly 18 minutes to eat. If they made too much noise, they had to eat in silence. So much for making friends and getting chance to chat and unwind! Charlotte was miserable and lonely.
But at least the work was interesting and challenging, right? Well, that was the most disappointing part. Charlotte was placed into the “advanced” maths class where they worked through the exact same textbook that she had completed the year before! In English class they wasted most of each lesson re-learning basic grammar that these kids should have picked up in elementary school. Surely 11 and 12 yr olds should know what a noun is by now? Each class was the same old uninspired repetition of material that had been covered previously at the elementary level. Charlotte became so bored that she started to become passive-agressive in her homework assignments; she would hide the words “Help!” and “SOS!” in the middle of sentences that she knew the teacher would never get round to reading or correcting anyway. It was at that point that I started to think about homeschooling. I figured that we didn’t have much to lose.
A year later, we were having so much fun with homeschooling that I decided to take my (then 7 yr old) son out of school too. He was struggling at school but has since thrived in our homeschool environment.
What reaction did/do you get from friends and family?
They were surprisingly supportive. I have to say that I expected far more raised eyebrows than I actually got. There was only one friend who was really dead-set against it and tried her best to convince me that it would be a huge mistake. I remember thinking that if she were a true friend then she would have been supportive of my decision. The great thing is that when you start homeschooling you make lots of new friends who are on your side and you become part of a community, so it’s really easy to surround yourself with positive people.
What does an average homeschooling day look like?
We tend to do our academic work in the mornings and leave afternoons free for the fun stuff. A typical day starts at 9am with history where I read aloud to the kids for about 45 mins to an hour. We often stop for discussions or get side-tracked and end up looking up stuff online. Sometimes we get so far off topic that no one can remember how we got there, but it’s a fun and lively start to the day! Next, I work one-on-one with my 10 yr old son on a maths lesson, whilst his 15 yr old sister works alone on Latin or physics. After the maths lesson, I leave him to work through about 10-15 problems on his own. This is my free time where I get a bit of housework done! After maths, my son works on two pages of English worksheets followed by two pages of grammar or vocabulary. I am available to answer questions but he usually works through these on his own.
By lunchtime, my son has usually finished his work and my daughter is ready for a break so after lunch we attend various outside activities (more on this later). My daughter will often do more work later when we come back, and she’s also quite the night owl and can often be caught watching trigonometry youtube videos at 11pm!
I don’t directly teach my kids science since my daughter takes outside classes for this and my son is always reading or watching science-related material. He has a keen interest in natural history and is pretty much a little walking encyclopedia!
I’ve found people are most concerned about socialisation – how do you ensure your kids are “adequately socialised”?
We go out somewhere most days so we all get plenty of socializing time at friends’ houses, the park, or the various outside classes that we attend (eg. art, sewing, science, piano lessons and book club). My daughter is also in a homeschool Girl Scout troop that meets on Monday afternoons and she volunteers once a week at a horse riding stables. I feel that my kids experience a wide variety of interactions, with people of all ages, and not just kids their own age like they would at school.
What do you feel are the most positive aspects of home ed?
Definitely the quality time spent with your children! I feel blessed that I get to see my kids for 6 hours a day more than most parents. Also, the individualized, one-on-one education that they receive is so efficient. They learn so much more in a shorter time and retain far more than they ever did when they were at school.
Are there any negatives?
Sure, there are always going to be days when we’re fed up or feel like we’re stuck in a rut.
Sometimes the kids even say they miss some aspect of school (“I miss my science teacher, he was so much fun!” or “We used to play table tennis during PE. Can we play table tennis, Mum?”) It’s usually something random! Yet, upon further questioning, they always agree that they prefer being at home and that the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. Oh, and by the way, if either of them ever expresses a desire to return to school then I’ll be happy to send them. I’m not anti-school or anything, it’s just that for now, this seems to be what works best for us. If that ever changes then that’s fine too.
I’ve been reading about the importance of “grit” and determination recently. How do you make sure your kids learn the value of doing things they may not want to do? (Assuming you *do* think this is valuable. If not, why not?)
We have this battle every day! My son, like pretty much everyone actually, doesn’t like being forced to do things that he doesn’t enjoy. He’s not exactly thrilled at having to do maths, English, grammar and vocabulary, and if he had his way the only subjects he would study would be history and science. However, I feel it is my duty to give him a solid grounding in the three R’s so he has to do his work and that’s that.
Any home ed misconceptions you’d like to clear up?
Yes. I’d like to point out that we all do it differently. There really is no one stereotypical homeschooling family. Each one is completely unique just as each child is completely unique, so even if you think you know what a “homeschooler” looks like, you really don’t 🙂
Thanks so much, Ang!
If you’d like to be interviewed for this blog – or if you have a burning home ed question you’d like me to ask – either let me know in the comments or email me keris dot stainton at gmail dot com.