The early stages of learning at home

Tabitha, being 5 in September, would normally be in kindergarten. Her brother Asher would be in “K-4”, if he were in school (and mind you, these days, there is plenty of pressure to send them off early.) However, Tabitha is reading, doing addition and subtraction, and has known thing like letters, shapes, colors, numbers for ages. She’s also learning about geography and fundamentals of science.

One thing, though, that I have noticed is that she’s a fairly lazy student. I don’t say this in a bad way, because bright kids are often lazy, and one of the reasons that they seem “smart” is that they are always trying to figure out how to make things easy. Tabitha picks up an awful lot, but often when pushed a little, she rebels with the “I don’t want to!” which certainly is always a challenge to parents who are homeschooling.

So how does a somewhat lazy student get to a point where she’d probably be at least a year ahead of her “normal” public school class? We started early.

In saying that we started early, I’m definitely not saying that we started her on the “Baby Mozart” and “Your Baby Can Read” or even “ABC Mouse”. We did none of these things. However, from the time she (and now her brothers) were little, my husband and I talked to them, we read to them, we counted with them, we asked them questions. And once they started comprehending things, we’d change things up a little bit and ask them “silly” stuff, maybe pointing to a dog and asking them “Is that a zebra?” The first few times, it was kind of confusing, but once explained, questions like that usually get them giggling, along with them thinking. (And as they get older, adding in details like “but it has four legs and a tail” and watching them try to explain differences between dogs and zebras is certainly amusing!)

Several years ago, I won a book called Testing for Kindergarten: Simple Strategies to Help Your Child Ace the Tests for: Public School Placement, Private School Admissions, Gifted Program Qualification* by Karen Quinn. Now for most of us, the premise sounds somewhat absurd, because most of us don’t think that we ought to prepare kids for testing that young. In her case, she lived in New York City, and early testing like that is pretty routine in order to get kids spots in highly competitive “gifted” programs in the city’s public and private schools. In her case, the impetus was that her son, having had ear infections for much of his early life, tested so low that he probably would have started school in special ed classes. Knowing that there was nothing wrong with his brain, she was determined to work with him strategically to be able, within the course of about a year’s time, get him testing better than that. She was successful – very successful – in this, and this book, besides having a lot of tips specific to testing for schools, has an awful lot of resources and strategies for parents who just want their kids to be learning things early on. After all, their education begins at home! 🙂

*Amazon affiliate link

Reasons We Homeschool

Every family that homeschools is different. The following is a list of some of the reasons our family is doing so:

1) Quality of public education.
When we last moved, we knew we were moving to a district with questionable schools. Not every school in the district is terrible, but we certainly didn’t want our kids to be the subjects to find out which schools and teachers are decent and which are not. However, I have known people who went into teaching – and passed all their college courses and got their degrees and teaching certificates – who didn’t even know math facts such as 6×3. Upon being questioned on how they were going to give out grades or figure out report cards, the answer is, “well, I don’t have to know that; I can just put all that info into the computer!”

2) Hostility to Christianity and Christian Values
As the culture in the United States shifts more and more to this idea of “freedom of worship” from “freedom of religion”, the space in which children and parents are allowed to express their beliefs and values in public schools seems to become more and more circumscribed. Furthermore, there seems to be more and more hostility to any exceptions to this. (Case in point, a recent case where a Russian Orthodox woman in New York City fought for two *years* for a religious exemption to vaccines developed using material from aborted babies; the school district responded by asserting that said religious exemptions are “too easy” to obtain.) Furthermore, as secular ‘values’ (or lack of values) are taught, public schools are more and more openly hostile to parents – and in particular Christian parents – wanting to instill more traditional values to their children.

3) Inability to ensure the safety of students
In this, I am not even overly concerned in something like a Sandy Hook or Columbine-style attack, which is another issue in itself. What I consider here is that there are many children – usually who are suffering from terrible family lives – who are dangerous to others. Public schools, by and large, are not allowed to expel these children for good, nor are they allowed to punish them in any meaningful way, other than perhaps calling the police. For example, a friend of mine enrolled her 3-year-old son into a half-day pre-kindergarten program. One of the other boys kept grabbing her son’s glasses off his face and throwing them on the ground. The teacher’s “solution”? Ask my friend if it would be possible for her son to get contact lenses. For a 3-year old. I kid you not. (My friend vowed, from that point on, she didn’t care what it took, her kid was going to go to a private school.)

4) Cost of Private Schools
Back in the day, many private schools had fairly low tuition because they had church parishes and benefactors that could shoulder large percentages of the costs. (Also, many who employed nuns, in particular, didn’t have the same labor costs.) As church congregations dwindle, and people do not put the same emphasis on donating to church, churches are unable to support the schools, shifting that burden on parents if the schools can survive at all. Combine that with the fact that with all the money that is getting poured into public schools for equiptment, teacher salaries, etc., many private schools feel like the only way to compete for students is to offer similar things, which drives costs up. Add to this infrastructure costs (rent, maintenance, etc.) along with insurance, etc., and it is no wonder that private schools have gotten so much more expensive. (Here is a list of Orthodox Christian schools in the United States – please consider supporting!)

5) Inflexiblity
Whether it comes to school lunches, common core, ‘zero tolerance’ policies, etc., as there are efforts to ‘standardize’ education in the US, there becomes more and more of the idea that there is only one way of doing things permitted, and any variance to this cannot be allowed, regardless of the circumstances. How ridiculous is it that a pregnant 17-year-old can’t have a second helping of lunch if she’s hungry?

6) Data MiningLack of privacy
Much of what Common Core hopes to do is gain traceable insight into children and how they learn. Unsurprisingly, their home life has a lot to do with how they learn in school. As a result, not only does the Common Core method seek to get children’s test scores to be able to track over a school career, but all sorts of other data points, including weight, family political beliefs, when kids are potty trained, how kids interact with others, etc. This information is not available for parents to see or be able to correct if there are mistakes, but instead, is sold – with identifiable personal information – to “educational developers”.

7) Wasting time
One of the criticisms of homeschoolers is that the kids, in general, spend so much less time “at school”. However, schools and school districts increasingly see children’s time as theirs, as many, many school districts increase not just the length of school days, but the length of school years. This makes it increasingly difficult to have a life and participate in activities outside of “school time”. With homeschooling, children can get a competent and fulfilling education without wasting hours a day (beginning – and ending – with the transit phase, not to mention the amount of public school time that is basically babysitting). As a parent, my time is important, but so are my children’s. If we can give them a better education at home, and save everybody an awful lot of time, why shouldn’t we?