Friday, March 1, 2013

Why We H/School (Part 1): The Decision-Making Process and THE #1 Question

I am regularly asked questions about why we h/school our kids.  The answer I provide usually varies, depending on the day!

The truth is that our reasons for h/schooling have changed over the years...I'm not sure I can remember all of them now!

In the pre-school years of contemplating which school we would send Matthew to, h/schooling initially came up as a remote, fifth option - the last, bottom-of-the-list option after public school, public French immersion, private school, and private Christian school.  In fact, when we (in '05) bought the house that we now live in, a significant consideration for us was that we would be only a field away from a very good public primary school.

One thing I knew for sure was that we would have to factor into our decision Matthew's character.  We needed to take the tenderness and sensitivity of his heart into consideration.  Change was/is difficult for him and things easily hurt him.  He struck me as being one of those kids for whom it would be beneficial to wait a little longer to start school.

In those days I sucked up as much information as I could about schooling options, listening to other parents/sources speak to the issues.  One thing that I noticed was that all around me parents were talking about their kids needing to be(come) more independent.  That struck me strongly, because I've never been a believer in pushing kids to become independent too quickly - and Matthew seemed to be a prime example of why I believed that.  I had no need or desire to 'toughen up' Matthew's tender heart at the tender age of three or four or five or six by encouraging him to be independent, and I didn't want to be in the position of having to leave my distressed child at the classroom door, even knowing that he would eventually adjust and be 'ok.'  But that was just me and the perspective I had on Matthew at that time.

Somewhere along the line, as options dropped from the table for one reason or another, the h/schooling option remained.  In those early days of contemplation, Geoff was (strongly?) opposed to the idea of h/schooling and definitely would have assumed a more traditional schooling option.  I wasn't opposed, exactly, to h/schooling, but I didn't really think it was realistic, given that I am not a person who has the patience for this kind of thing, and given that I am not highly organized.  I also had a career that I wanted to continue on a part-time basis and I didn't know how this would work with h/schooling.  And besides, I figure that if I survived both the public and private schooling experiences, surely my kid could, too.

But still, the h/schooling option remained when the other options began to disappear.  And so we (mostly I) began thinking about it and researching it.  It seemed overwhelming, to be truthful.

Because I didn't really understand how h/schooling works, our biggest concern in the early days of contemplation (reflecting the #1 question I'm still asked by others!) was the socialization of our child.  We worried, given that Matthew was an only child, that he would not benefit from being at home as much as he would being in a classroom where he would be with like-aged peers.

But I didn't even really understand what the word socialization meant.  I had a hazy notion that it had something to do with kids learning to play with each other and becoming attuned to societal norms, but that was pretty much it.  It's a word/concept that wasn't really talked about a lot.  In an effort to dig deeper, I engaged people (family, friends, teachers, perfect strangers) in conversations about what it meant to be socialized and realized, with shock, that no one really seemed to have a great idea about what it meant and, in particular, how it applied to our children attending school.

I heard a lot of different responses to my very genuine question about what it meant to socialize a child:
  • conforming to what society expects
  • learning how not to be bullied
  • learning how to play
  • fitting in
  • being like other people
  • getting along with other people
  • learning how to be independent from parents
  • learning how to be like other people
  • the process of conforming to what society expects.
  • learning how stand in lines. (this definition, offered by a stranger, made me laugh!)
Really the only thing people had in common when speaking about socialization was the assumption/conclusion that the school system would provide it...whatever it was.

That wasn't really a good enough reason for me at the time of our decision-making and, in the end, socialization was one of the primary reasons we ended up deciding in favour of h/schooling.  We realized that we would actually have lots of time to get together with other people; we wouldn't have to worry about bullying in these young and innocent years; we could choose the people we would want to spend time with; we could spend a lot of time together as a family unity (which we thought would be great in the event that we were able to bring two more children into our midst); and Matthew (and now Seth and Lizzie, of course) would be able to develop relationships with people of various ages.

All in all, the socialization question came and went for us pretty quickly, I'd have to say.  I read a bunch of stuff, thought and talked it through, and realized that the whole idea of socialization, from my perspective, really and truly was about teaching our children to function (someday) as adults who are able to relate with other adults by the time they're in the workforce, etc etc.  I figured that relying on other children to teach our child(ren) to 'socialize' or 'fit in' wasn't as necessary as we initially assumed, and we concluded that relying on Matthew's like-age peer group to socialize him to be an adult might be more like the blind leading the blind; after all, young children have not yet developed their own sets of values or disciplines.  We also knew that, in order to help Matthew learn to play with a peer group, we could arrange such opportunities as he developed friendships and expressed interest in different kinds of activities and/or sports.  Incidentally, I am not saying here that socialization can't work in the public school system; what I am saying is that we concluded that socialization can also readily be done outside of an environment where like-aged children are placed together for the purposes of education and socialization.

I don't know if there was ever a point where we stopped researching options.  But two other factors entered into our decision.  First, I started learning about Gordon Neufeld's developmental psychology approach to the parenting of children and it totally resonated with my instincts as a parent.  Though he himself did not h/school his children and did not specifically advocate h/schooling, reading his book and beginning to take a bunch of Neufeld courses fundamentally shifted some of the ways in which I parented (then only) Matthew and viewed his education.  The second thing that happened was that I attended a h/schooling conference.  There I noticed teens of varying ages having fun together despite the variance in ages; and I noticed lots of teens talking (really talking) with their parents and looking them in the eye; I wanted what I saw in those parent-teen relationships and so everything about h/schooling became even more appealing.

It seemed by that point that we were headed in a direction that we would never, ever have envisioned ourselves taking.

(to be continued)

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for writing this out! So, so interesting to me. At this point we've chosen Christian school, but the idea of homeschooling is definitely appealing to me. Especially with some of our kiddos.