If you're new to the idea of homeschooling, you may picture it as:
- children sitting at desks or around the kitchen table
- textbooks and workbooks open in front of them
- Mom standing at the blackboard (or whiteboard) on the wall
- everybody working from 9 in the morning until 3 in the afternoon.
In other words, what homeschoolers call "school at home." True, all those things can and do happen in some homeschooling households. But more often, homeschoolers start out doing some version of school at home and gradually move away from that model. They begin to develop their own style as they experience the freedom that homeschooling allows.
The stereotype of "school at home" is fading, but it can be hard to explain just what homeschooling is really like to someone who has never seen it firsthand. And the two can be very different, in terms of what students learn, how they learn, and where they learn.
There are many ways a place can affect learning. No matter how a teacher personalizes her classroom, a school is still an institution meant to serve large numbers of children efficiently. At home, it's much easier to control your surroundings to suit the needs of each family member. Here are a few of the ways homeschooling lets families create an effective learning environment:
Families can create a distraction-free zone for schoolwork.
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Many kids find it hard to concentrate in school
. There are disruptive classmates, bells and announcements that cut lessons short, and a schedule that moves them from one room to another throughout the day. Even cheerful decorations or clutter can throw some children off. It varies from family to family, but for students who have trouble focusing in a classroom and making transitions, home can often be arranged to offer fewer distractions and interruptions.
Parents can make sure the physical environment is healthy.
Many students must go to class in aging or poorly-designed buildings. In some, conditions are bad enough to make students sick
. Other children must deal with allergies
that can threaten their life. Homeschooling parents can control their children's environment to make sure it is safe and healthy.
Kids can get involved in the community.
Whenever the "socialization
" bugaboo comes up, I always wonder how sitting in a classroom surrounded by your age-mates, under the tight control of the adults you encounter, can possibly prepare you to function in normal situations when you are grown. Homeschooling children become comfortable with people of all ages, because they are out in the community, interacting with them in the same situations they will find themselves in as adults.
Kids are not trapped in an unsafe social situation.
Schools are, thankfully, finally starting to deal with the serious problem of bullying
. But many kids still find themselves forced to be around other children who do not treat them appropriately. Homeschooling kids can choose who they associate with and walk away from an uncomfortable situation -- just as adults do in the real world.
Learning can take place anywhere.
Schools are cutting back on field trips
, and even making time for recess
on a sunny day is controversial in some places. But homeschooling can move outdoors, downtown, to the beach or the zoo -- no permission slips needed. For homeschooling families, the whole world is a classroom, and learning never ends. That's a picture that anyone can agree with.