By Sarah Miner
I keep ending up in the checkout line with this one checker who quizzes me about homeschooling. Initially, I felt a bit insulted when he quizzed my four-year-old about speaking in a complete sentence once he found out we homeschooled, after she’d been talking with him for several minutes (using very complicated compound sentences) as he swiped my groceries across the scanner. But during this most recent conversation, my response changed as it appeared he knew nothing about homeschooling except a few rather common misconceptions. It seemed more appropriate to be open and welcome his questions. He seemed confused when we clashed with the stereotype he associated with a homeschooling family.
Question 1: “How does your four-year-old know that Smashing Pumpkins song?” On occasion, we watch episodes of “Whale Wars” on Animal Planet On Demand with the kids. The theme song is “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” and my younger daughter was rocking out instead of begging for candy. She knows that song because we listen to it even when not watching shows about environmentalists attempting to protect whales in southern oceans. She could probably sing “Dream On” by Aerosmith for you, too.
Question 2: “Do you teach them yourself?” Yes, in a manner of speaking. They teach themselves quite a bit (see above), but I do insist on math and provide ample individually appropriate educational opportunities. For example, my older daughter was telling him about the DVD on division we had just watched. They take classes and choose curriculum-style books in subjects that interest them in addition to the bulging bag that comes home with us from library trips. The other part of this answer is that teaching is part of parenting, and, for our family, homeschooling has been a natural extension of parenting.
Question 3: “Did you take classes or have the required educational background yourself in order to homeschool your kids?” Parenting is teaching. Parents learn about their kids, they learn about ages and stages, and they keep parenting through uncharted territory every day. I could have justified my worthiness to educate my own children, citing my academic background (and my husband’s!), but I didn’t think that was what his question was really about. From his tone and expression, I gathered that it was scary and overwhelming to consider educating, without the education credential he is currently working toward, young minds. For someone without children, I can understand their trepidation. Jumping into the deep end of the pool is a scary thought, but parenting and homeschooling are different and incremental. Rarely, except sometimes by choice, does a person become a parent starting with a toddler in a tantrum. It’s all about the baby steps.
Question 4: “How do you know she is learning if you don’t do assessments?” Honestly, I love this question. We have conversations. If she can explain it to me or someone else, she knows it. If, while we are in line at the grocery store next time, she tells you (with wide eyes and great enthusiasm) all about how the tectonic plates are moving at specific inches per year and how this movement of the plates caused the formation of the Hawaiian Islands as well as the coastal mountain ranges and earthquakes, (or the destabilization of atoms, or marine biology, or…) you’ll know quite a lot about the information she learned and retained.
Parents are teachers, regardless of whether children go to a school, do school at home, or learn independently. Every family marches to their own drum and theme song.