Keeping Mum

Dita De Boni looks at the trials and tribulations of being a parent.

The pros and cons of homeschooling

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To homeschool, or not to homeschool? Photo / Mark Mitchell
To homeschool, or not to homeschool? Photo / Mark Mitchell

I have to say that the day my fairly conservative husband came home and wondered out loud if homeschooling was a good idea made me stop dead in my tracks.

It's one of those options that I have always thought of as extreme. An extreme lifestyle choice, and a total career 180 degree turn for a woman in her most competitive years.

Heck, putting your foot on the pedal for 3-5 years while the kids are little is hard enough. But devoting potentially 12 years to their education at home, having them underfoot 24-7? I couldn't imagine it for my own part - and I swiftly told my dearly beloved this - and wondered aloud back to him if it was in some way detrimental to have the kids cooped up with me for longer than strictly necessary.

Ali had cottoned onto the benefits of homeschooling when he'd done this story about a group of local home-schooled kids who had made an award winning robot and were about to go to America to compete in an extremely prestigious robotics competition.

These guys' families were part of a well established, tight-knit group of home schoolers currently operating outside the New Zealand school system. Then I came across this article from Salon.com written recently by a husband whose unconventional-sounding wife has made the decision to homeschool the couple's twins because they felt it unnecessary for the children to come into line with the regular school day (week and year) at their relatively tender age of 5.

The family in this article are teaching two of some 1.5 million US home-schooled kids, and interestingly, statistics on the matter - such as they are - suggest only a third embark on homeschooling for religious grounds (there are some religious groups that consider state schooling morally bankrupt).

The rest just do it because they think it's better. This is the reason given in the Salon case:

"We're not ready to surrender our kids, and ourselves, to a 10-month-a-year, all-day institution whose primary goal, at least at this age, seems to be teaching kids how to function within a 10-month-a-year, all-day institution. Our kids are learning plenty - not exactly the same things other kindergarteners learn, I suppose, but plenty. They're making friends and having fun. They can go to the beach on gorgeous fall afternoons, or hit zoos and museums on crisp winter mornings, when other kids are sitting at desks doing worksheets about the letter B."

"Hell , I wish I could do it"," writes the father.

The subject always attracts lots of debate where ever it pops up. Hell, this article in Salon got a whopping 538 letters in response. And you can certainly point to many successes of the home schooled, in various competitions that see them pitted against conventionally-schooled pupils (see not just Ali's piece but also this admittedly older piece, also from Salon)

I still can't see myself doing it, although like most people I think the benefits of good home schooling are pretty convincing.

For one, I am not a teacher, certainly not one with much patience. I am the daughter of a teacher who spent many years honing her craft and I find it difficult to see how this skill might simply be aped by the untrained (an ex-teacher would be a different story, of course).

And then there is the issue of socialisation... My children don't have cousins nearby, and are unlikely to be part of a huge family. Already their options for playdates during the day are ever-decreasing as more and more children get sent off to daycare and kindy. I would worry that they would become insular, and not come into contact with the various types of people they need to - I believe - to develop empathy and understanding.

If you could somehow fill your children's minds with wonder, teach them everything they need to know to both pass exams and live informed lives, arrange for them to have lots of stimulation from both friends and other "teachers", then I can see home schooling might work.

But boy it seems like a lot of work - and work that not many of us would really be that well cut out for.

Pictured above: To home school, or not to home school? Photo / Mark Mitchell

Dita De Boni

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