Homeschooling has been on the rise in the last few decades due firstly to the flexibility and freedom it provides and then lately because of a worldwide pandemic. Changing the setting of instruction from classroom to kitchen table doesn’t always change the methods of learning though.
Whether due to societal pressures, status quo, insecurities, exhaustion, or just being unaware, there are still many obstacles to true freedom in homeschooling. These obstacles aren't the legal kind, the financial aspect, or even the question of who is qualified to teach their own children. (Spoiler: Everyone is qualified.) The obstacles that cause the most stumbles for homeschoolers are commonly centered on what homeschool parents need to unlearn.
Writer and futurist Alvin Toffler once famously said that “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” This incredibly profound insight is, quite fittingly, most accurate when applied to the field of education.
- to truly embrace and enjoy the freedom homeschooling offers,
- to learn the optimal methods, and
- to give our kids a superior education
we must be willing to unlearn the standards and boundaries we’ve subconsciously ingested and replicated.
1. Unlearn Teaching Methods
One of the most common mistakes that homeschoolers make when they first start out is to attempt to replicate school at home with brightly-colored posters, student desks, and standing in front of a chalkboard, etc. The assumption is that homeschooling is just doing the same things that schools do, but at home.
The reason this approach causes so much frustration, though, is because it assumes brick and mortar schools have it right to begin with. The notion that students can only learn when seated at a desk, that a strict schedule must be followed, that a child needs a classroom or workbook or orator before them in order to learn is what needs to be unlearned.
Remembering that public schools were designed to teach a set of standards to the largest amount of children possible, you begin to see how much of the way school is carried out is due to the need to control and organize the masses. In a room full of dozens of children, desks and workbooks streamline and contain the process. In a home full of homeschoolers, however, anything goes.
- Children don’t always need a teacher. They can learn from their books, from documentaries, from digging in the mud themselves.
- Homeschoolers don’t always have to school at home. They can attend classes, tour museums, join groups, take lessons, or devote an entire semester to studying the compost pile out back.
- Curriculum doesn’t always need to be finished or completed as outlined.
- School can happen at all hours of the day or months of the year.
2. Unlearn Timelines and Standards
When thinking about your child’s educational career, it typically follows a familiar timeline. Preschool begins around age 3 or 4, and graduation is usually accomplished once your student is 18. Sure, there are those homeschooled aberrations who graduate at 14 or the unschoolers who don’t begin formal lessons until a child reaches double digits. But really, the entire timeline is arbitrary.
Parents—especially homeschooling parents—are frequently found voicing their concerns over their child’s supposed falling behind. The question that needs answering, however, is what exactly they’re in danger of falling behind.
Public schools, the schools that are designed to be as one-size-fits-all as possible, have a timeline, sure. They have deadlines and graduation dates set in stone; grades that must be achieved by a certain date or else. The timeline that begins at 4 and ends at 18 is designed to announce completion, not necessarily comprehension.
If your child can’t get enough learning in or you choose to homeschool year-round, then you may very well find yourself ordering a graduation cap a few years early. But if your child needs more time, there is no rule or consequence that states your child must be completely finished learning by the time he turns 18. If it takes two years to complete algebra 1, that’s fine. If graduation happens at 19, 20, or any other age, that’s fine.
The goal of education is to learn, not to meet a deadline.
Several countries and cultures encourage gap years between high school and college. Universities are always dotted with time-wizened students returning to pursue their passions. The age at which your child begins or ends schooling is completely irrelevant, and the sooner you unlearn the timeline society has taught you, the freer you will find yourself to view schooling as an opportunity to grow, not a deadline to meet.
3. Unlearn What You’ve Learned
At some point in your homeschool journey, you’ll come face to face with something you thought you knew. Whether it’s an historic inaccuracy you’d always thought was fact or a math hack you never learned, you will find yourself at a crossroads, deciding how to move on. The temptation to teach what we’ve always been taught is great, requires less work, and keeps things flowing nicely. But to effectively educate, to really give your children a whole education and not an overview of academic expectations, you must be prepared to humble yourself and recognize that there is more for you to learn… and maybe even more for you to unlearn.
Maybe you’ve painstakingly selected a homeschool method that you are passionate about, feel connected to, and agree with wholeheartedly, only to discover two years in that it doesn’t translate with your lifestyle. Maybe the tension in your home is unbearable because diagramming sentences is just not clicking and it’s taking weeks and neither of you see the benefit anymore. Maybe you’ve since learned of different historical perspectives and stories that tell a narrative that’s at odds with the one you’ve always known. Whatever jolts you or humbles you can be an opportunity to teach you.
Learning alongside your student forms bonds and connections much deeper than academic knowledge. Being open to learn, adapt, unlearn, and re-learn makes for an immersive educational environment, and honestly teaches you some pretty neat things along the way.
Remember: You’re not homeschooling so that you can regurgitate everything you know,. You’re homeschooling so that your child can learn in the best way possible. And that means you’ll need to learn, too.
Homeschooling is not an all-or-nothing endeavor, a mantle you pick up and carry to the end without once pausing for breath. A homeschool journey is almost a living thing, something that changes and adapts and grows.
- If something isn’t working, you don’t have to do it.
- If something is taking a little longer, slow the pace.
- If something is rocking the foundation of what you thought learning was supposed to be, put the work into rebuilding it anew.
So lay down your education, unlearn, and start learning.
About the Author
Jennifer Vail proudly lives in the great state of Texas with her very handsome husband and three very funny children. All three kids are educated in three very different ways according to their very different needs, which is exhausting but fulfilling. Jen's hobbies include naps, 90's pop culture, Netflix binges, buying books with the best of intentions to read them all, photography, and extroverting. She holds a degree in counseling but has found her calling by writing for and spending time with families of differently-wired, outlier kids—the square pegs of the round world.
She stays up way too late and drinks way too much caffeine, but has no intention of changing either. She is the community manager and contributing author at Raising Lifelong Learners where she writes about homeschooling gifted, anxious, and otherwise different kiddos, but also rambles at This Undeserved Life from time to time. She feels compelled to mention that she still very much loves the Backstreet Boys and rarely folds her laundry.