In recent months (especially since people found out I’m expecting another baby), I’ve been asked a particular question by several different people. It seems possible that others have wondered the same thing, too, so I thought I’d post the answer here. The answer is, “No.”
Okay, seriously, the question. A couple of friends have asked whether, given the amount of time required by Wonderboy’s various medical issues and Early Intervention, we are going to have to think about putting the girls in school. How can we go on juggling PT, OT, speech/hearing therapy, bunches of doctor appointments and keep writing books and keep homeschooling the girls?
It’s a fair question, coming from friends who love us dearly but don’t live nearby. If you hang out with us in person a lot, then you probably already see why “Heavens no!” is the answer to the question. It’s a question that springs from the perfectly understandable assumption that homeschooling takes a lot of time. Which is to say, it’s an assumption born of educational experiences which involve establishing long, set periods of time each day for the study of seven to ten different subjects. If you’re supposing that we must sit the girls down at the table every day and teach math, teach writing, teach history, teach science, etc etc etc—at three different grade levels—then I can absolutely see why such an arrangement would seem difficult under our current circumstances.
But homeschooling doesn’t have to be anything like that. It can be; I have many homeschooling friends who do make use of traditional school methods and schedules at home. But for us (and for many thousands of other families), homeschooling is something entirely different from school. It isn’t a section of our day devoted to learning by traditional methods (or more accurately, teaching by traditional methods)—it’s a lifestyle, it’s a way of learning as you live and living as you learn. It’s discussing Shostakovich over breakfast and solving complicated math problems in your head for fun on the way to the grocery store. It’s snuggling up with your 4-year-old several times a day, a few minutes here and there, to listen to her read a Bob Book. It’s being 8 years old and falling so in love with Liberty’s Kids on PBS that you spend six whole months writing letters to your mother in the character of a Revolutionary War-era British girl living in Philadelphia, fully expecting your mother to keep up her side of the correspondence. It’s reading a book of Greek myths until it quite literally falls apart, and deciding (at the determined age of six) that you need to learn to read Ancient Greek. It means giving your mother no peace (determined 6-year-old that you are) until she manages to track down a child’s Greek primer for you.
It means that when you discover your little brother is hard of hearing and—talk about surprises!—spent the first ten months of his life unable to hear much of the chatter going on around him, you immediately dive into the study of sign language. Your mother ditches the family German lessons because the little brother kind of needs to learn English first. Sign language becomes a family passion. By the time you’re ten, you have completed a college-level ASL intro course online and are hungry for more.
Learning permeates the day, every day. There are no summer breaks because there is nothing to break FROM—who ever stops learning? It would be like taking a vacation from eating.
Neighbors often say to me, “I could never homeschool because it takes so much time.” I joke that I couldn’t send my kids to school because that takes so much time. You have to get everybody up at the crack of dawn and rush around getting dressed and packing lunches and stuffing backpacks. You have school clothes and play clothes, twice the laundry. You have to figure out when to fit in doctor and dentist appointments. You have to schedule time for parent/teacher conferences, school fundraisers, checking reading logs, helping with homework, volunteering in the classroom, and on and on. And if you have several kids, you have to juggle those things for all of them. I know this is true because I have lots and lots of friends with kids in school, and these are the challenges they discuss. Being an involved, committed school parent takes a great investment of time.
The school kids around here probably spend more time on homework than my kids do on table work in the course of a day. When you’re learning one on one, it can happen more quickly. There isn’t any reason to have extra work for practice at home, because you already are home and your parents know whether you understand a concept or not. If you’re having trouble multiplying fractions, your mom can suggest you triple a cookie recipe. It’s amazing how quickly you master a skill when you get to eat it afterward.
We have loads of reasons for homeschooling, definite and serious and passionate reasons. But if I were to set all of them aside and address the question purely as a practical, time-management matter, I’d say we’d be nuts to give up the freedom and flexibility this lifestyle affords us. The appointment-juggling would become more complicated if I had school and bus schedules constraining us. Plus I’d be sending Wonderboy’s greatest therapeutic aides (and the joys of his life) away for the bulk of the day. His sisters are deeply, eagerly involved in his various therapies. His first speech/hearing therapist considered Jane her right-hand man in Wonderboy’s sessions. He has made huge strides recently, and I am convinced this is due in large part to the delightful motivation and modeling he receives all day long from his sisters.
Like I said, I get where the question is coming from. If homeschooling required six hours of concentrated instruction time five days a week, we’d be in trouble. But a lifestyle of learning is a whole different kettle of fish. Wonderboy has brought an awful lot of learning to this house. We learn because of him, for him, from him. I affectionately refer to him as our Unit Study on the Brain. Rose calls him her Favorite Thing in the Whole World Which I Love Even More than Horses and Dolphins and Both my Hermit Crabs Put Together.
So. If you’ve wondered whether this will all get too complicated at some point and we’ll have to lay our ideologies aside and put the kids in school just as a matter of survival—now you know. We have an immensely good thing going here. But I really appreciate the concern, honestly, and I’d rather people did ask the question. It gives me an excuse to gush about how much fun I have all day long with my fabulous children.