I’ve been watching a lot of my older friends (and a few of my peers) on social media post about homeschooling and trying to figure out how to get their child to engage with at-home lessons during this pandemic. There are so many tools out there for them to use: websites to crowdsource lesson plans, video tools for teaching lessons to multiple people (crowdsourcing education or stuff schools have set up so teachers can have lessons with their students without anyone needing to leave home), websites with all kinds of neat learning tools, and so much more. Some people are even choosing to forego standard education and instead focus on life lessons like cooking, home maintenance, simple car repair, baking, and the sort of things that schools no longer teach children that are still essential life skills. It’s amazing watching the world shift before my eyes.
Part of me wants to weigh in. I see all of these people passionately attempting to do what they can with the hand life has dealt them, focusing on making sure their children are engaged with learning, and I want to help. I may not be an educator or have any particular insight into tools, but I was home schooled for seven years. My entire grade school career. First through seventh grade (I skipped eight and went straight to high school), I was taught by my mother and myself. Also, I was taught by Math Blaster computer games, which have given me the relatively useless skill of being faster at doing addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division of up to six digit numbers in my head than most people can type it into a calculator. I enjoyed two years of notoriety in high school for being faster at spitting out numbers than a calculator and then we all realized it was a pointless skill once you introduced stuff like the quadratic equation and trigonometry.
Anyway. I want to weigh in and talk about what it was like as a home schooled child, what my experiences were, and what pitfalls there were, both the obvious ones and the not-so-obvious ones. The only problem is that there’s so much else from my childhood tangled up with my lived experiences during those seven years that I’m not entirely sure what was a result of being home schooled and what was a result of my abusive older brother and neglectful parents.
I learned to cook, but was that because I needed to make myself useful or because I was given the opportunity to learn a useful life skill? I woke up at 5am every day, got my lessons done, did all my homework by 10, and had the rest of the day to myself, but was that something I actually wanted to do so I could spend my afternoons pursuing my curiosity or was it a result of the early hours of every day being my only chance to get attention? Did I get a few years ahead in my math and reading/English lessons because I was naturally curious and eager to learn more, capable of driving forward at whatever pace I wanted or needed, or was I a few years ahead because my parents didn’t let me play video games for more than 3.5 hours a week, I had a limited supply of books (only got driven to the library once a week and couldn’t really bike there alone until I was thirteen), there were no local kids my age to play with, and my parents made me throw out all of my favorite stuff at one point because Harry Potter stuff encouraged witchcraft and was a bad influence on me because (paraphrasing) “playing pretend and liking something so much that I wanted it to be real meant I was making a false idol out of Harry Potter”?
In all likelihood, it’s probably a little of both. Most things in life are too complex to drill down to a single cause and even if I had few other choices, I chose the things I did because I am innately curious with a strong desire to learn. I’ve always enjoyed privacy and quiet time to focus on my work, whatever it is, and as a child I didn’t really have the choice to stay up late. I’ve always enjoyed feeding people, maybe because my Midwestern US roots where love is frequently expressed through food/feeding someone, but also because I like food as well. Still, though, it’s impossible to say what else my life might have been if I’d had more supportive and attentive parents or an older brother who didn’t verbally and physically abuse me. I can’t really separate my childhood and influences into their constituent parts, even if I can see how it all added up to the life I lived.
Thanks to the efforts of myself and my therapist, plus the proactive steps I’ve taken to address the largest issues in my life, I’m starting to be able to pick through the mess of my upbringing and figure out which habits and behaviors are useful and good, and which are things I should work to eliminate. Eventually, I think I might be able to talk about what my life was like being home schooled and even give people advice on how to teach their own children. But right now, I’m not sure if “make sure you keep yourself available for additional explanations and learning assistance when your child pursues self-guided education” is because I wish I’d had someone to help me figure out the tougher grammatical concepts beyond just the book (it took learning German in high school for most of them to finally make sense) or because I wish my mother had been more emotionally available. She was teaching four of us at once, for a couple years, so it’s hard to be sure and incredibly easy to make excuses.
Ultimately, I guess, if you’re reading this in hopes of learning something useful for home schooling your child, I guess the only thing I know for sure that you should do is communicate with them. Spend time listening and learning with them instead of just preaching. Take this opportunity to get to know them better, find out what inspires them, and challenge them to teach you something new. In short, engage with them. In whatever form that takes.