As my coworkers were sending their children off to the first week of school recently, I started to feel scared about Lily’s schooling. Not so much about her academic success, but about whether she would be unhappy. I remember the end of summer being a sad time for me as a child because it meant my freedom was over for the year. I was thinking of how Jeff’s mother stopped making him go to Quaker meeting when he turned to her and said, “This is worse than school.”

I had always considered homeschooling something that’s done by stay-at-home mothers, either in very Christian or very hippie families. But the homeschooled boy down the street seems to belong to a different model. His parents both work, and he seems to be doing well—he’s studying calculus, has friends, and is carrying out a project of riding all the train and subway routes of the Boston public transit system.

So I started to look into what homeschooling might look like for us. The Boston area has a wide variety of homeschooling groups and a sort of homeschooling workshop where older children can hang out during the day and take classes or work on projects independently. Jeff and I have a broad enough range of skills and interests that I think we could cover most areas, and with homeschooling cooperatives we could supplement the rest (I take the kids Monday and do gardening/botany projects; another family takes them Tuesday and teaches French). And everything from Khan Academy to Wikipedia makes it possible for kids to learn independently in ways that weren’t available when I was a kid.

I had also assumed that homeschooling necessarily took six hours a day like a typical school, but it doesn’t have to. I thought of all the time we spent waiting in lines, waiting for the other kids to quiet down. I thought of studying the same facts about the Revolutionary and Civil Wars in history class every year for six years. All the busywork. All the time writing notes to each other, folding paper, doodling. An education custom-tailored to a child doesn’t have to take six hours a day to cover the same material, and it doesn’t have to happen from 8 am to 2 pm. In fact, the 2007 Census indicates that most homeschooling families have two working parents (or a single parent who works and homeschools.)

Letting a child’s interests drive her education really appeals to me. She’s interested in ancient Egypt? You do everything about that. Geography and ecosystem of the Nile delta. Physics of how levers and rollers were used to move huge stone blocks for building projects. Geometry of how to find the volume of a pyramid. Art history of Egyptian art. Linguistics of how hieroglyphics worked and how the Rosetta stone was used to decode them. Anatomy of mummy-making. Sociology of a slave-owning society. Etc.

A lot of parents I know take a second job to pay for their kids’ private school. That’s something I had considered, but in a way it makes more sense to just work one job and let homeschooling be my second job. That way I get to spend the time exploring things with my child instead of barely seeing her.

I do think standing in line and behaving in a group are useful skills, and I would want Lily to have at least some experience in a regular school. And if public school is a good fit for her, great. But if it’s not, I feel better knowing we have other options.

(Some qualms: it would be easy to fall into the trap of parents spending all their time on work and kids and rarely seeing much of each other. Also, I think Jeff and I are not as good as the best teachers I had, though certainly better than the worst. And this may just turn out to be something that either Lily or we don’t want.)


7 thoughts on “Schooling

  1. J

    A friend of mine is CTO of an internet company and unschooled all 6 of his kids. They turned out fine and the oldest is now going to the same university I went to.

  2. tobyord

    I know a child who has been home-schooled very successfully and two adults I met at Oxford who seem to have done very well out of it. In no case was it religiously motivated (though I know that is much more common in the US). Of course there are various selection effects. All three are rather introverted, but I presume this is partly what caused them to be home schooled rather than the other way around. All three are very intelligent and capable of applying this, but in two of these cases, they couldn’t be otherwise since I met them at Oxford.

    I was very interested to read your thoughts on the time per day required, and that it is often compatible with full time(ish) work. I’d assumed it would take one parent full time.

  3. acesounderglass

    I was homeschooled for 8th grade, my brother for 6-8th, and I had friends that went K-12. My default answer is that it can be a very good or very bad choice, depending on the kid, the parents, and the school choices available, but a couple of specific notes:

    My mom quit her job to do it, and for the first year she was working well more than a full time job’s worth of work. Some of that is her, some is that she started in middle school, some is that my brother is special needs. Some of it is that she measured schooling in minutes per day. I probably spent logged more hours homeschooling than I would have in regular school, but I also finished my ex-middle-school’s 8th grade curriculum in two months. But I seriously doubt two working adults could homeschool two middle schoolers while working full time in an academically rigorous way. Even though I basically taught myself, my mom still had to pick the curriculum and evaluate how I was doing.

    The biggest problem I saw among other homeschoolers was they had absolutely no concept of a deadline.

    Socially it was the best thing that happened to me until college.

    In order to teach your kids deadlines, and waiting in lines, and socializing, you will probably want extra curriculars. Don’t forget to include the cost of those in your math

  4. srconstantin

    I don’t have kids yet, but I’m interested in hearing about homeschooling options for families with two working parents. I’m pro-homeschooling for my own future kids *assuming* we can find a practical way to handle division of labor.

  5. njr

    For me, school was a break from stressors at home. I got to be with people who didn’t know what was going on, didn’t know my family and just laugh, complain about mundane things, etc. It also meant that I could talk to adults more openly because they didn’t know my parents. This support was really important. During these times of heightened stress, it would have been hard for me to tell my parents that I needed school even though my family values and prioritizes open conversation. My experience leads me to think that a space for children to be fully separate from family can be crucial, at least in some situations. Of course this break from home life can be achieved in other ways (e.g. extra curriculars or the home schooling workshop you mention).

    (PS I just found your blog and am really enjoying it! Thank you for spending the time writing it!)



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