I never signed up to be a homeschooler. I’ve secretly admired the creativity and the devotion of those parents who could do it, but I couldn’t possibly do it myself.
I had work, and I didn’t have the patience, and I honestly felt like professional teachers would have a better impact on my kids than I could ever have.
Plus there are lots of positives to going to school – socialisation, friendships, teamwork, being forced to work with kids and teachers that you might not pick and choose. But I envied the homeschoolers (and the unschoolers!) their unfettered view of education, their ability to keep curiosity at the center of education, the fact that their kids were learning in a way (at its best) that felt relevant to the child.
While they may still have to tick attainment boxes, they aren’t bound by the curriculum and they have more flexibility to lean into that one child’s strengths and creativity. I even started a company to help kids learn in this way, but I was never brave enough to take on that responsibility with my own kids!
And here we are. We are all homeschoolers now. Reluctant or enthusiastic, we find ourselves with our kids at home all day every day. They have more or less structure coming from school and the lessons that they are transmitting. Many of us are with our households all day and all evening, every day, and many of us have fewer social distractions than before. Keeping our kids on track is hard work, and the internet is full of people saying that they never signed up for this.
What if we look at this differently?
What if this is our chance, and our kids’ chance, to get some of the advantages of homeschooling? Where are our kids’ natural interests? What’s a problem they are interested in solving? What skills do they need to do that? How can we help them learn something that they wouldn’t have learned otherwise? How do we help them come out of the pandemic with a sense of accomplishment, a new skills, or a new interest. Even more motivating: Can we replace any of that TV watching and video game playing with anything constructive?
It’s not easy, and for some people I recognise that it’s impossible. I’m not an essential worker so I’m in the house with my family all day. My own son is 17, and I fully recognise that that means that he can do this much more independently than a younger child.
As we went into lockdown we came up with a few goals. Mine was a Couch to 5K challenge (don’t judge). We had some cooking projects that we wanted to do together. And my son had to pick something to learn that he could use to support a project, that he wouldn’t have been able to pursue if he had his usual commute and schoolwork. He’s taking a Udemy course in a topic around data and statistics, because that’s his jam. The next step should be looking at some open data sources around the problem he’s interested in and seeing how he can apply some of the techniques he’s learned. He’s gotten beyond me so I can’t help him with the actual problem he’s trying to solve, I just encourage him to keep going and to finish something.
I’ve told him that this is a golden opportunity. When else do you have the time to pursue something, and the relatively open schedule, with so few competing claims on your time? When else are you actually bored enough to have the motivation to take this on?
For any of the times that you’ve complained that the stuff you are learning at school will never be relevant in your life – here is your chance to find something relevant and work on it. Develop a skill, solve a problem. It might even be something that will be interesting to show on your university applications! My son is interested in data at the moment, but it could have been writing a story, or working on a new art tool, or coming up with a board game.
We are all homeschoolers now – and yes there are still a ton of things competing for our time as parents and employees – AND we’ve got an amazing opportunity to support our kids as they pick up something that is totally outside of what they have to do for a test, for an assessment, or for a curriculum.
Let’s think outside the box and help our kids think about what they’d actually like to learn, and not just what school requires. Let’s help them explore, create, and problem solve and to think about learning differently.
If you have any thoughts, questions, or comments about the above please feel free to email personally (firstname.lastname@example.org).