What one parent’s experiences with homeschooling reveal about what you can expect and what you shouldn’t fear with remote learning.
By Danielle Davies | Tuesday, July 28, 2020
As parents around the state come to terms with the fact that public school is going to look a lot different this year, I’ve heard a common refrain, “I’m worried my child is going to fall behind.”
Of all the concerns regarding school this year, this is the one that seems to be the most consistent. It’s echoed across political ideologies, economic situations, and ages. It’s the concern of those who want schools to open, and just as much the concern of those who don’t think any public space will be safe enough this fall. I hear it in multiple Facebook groups, in text messages and phone calls.
Perhaps I’m tuned in to hearing it because it’s something that I’ve heard for years, long before the Coronavirus shut down schools this past March—a former public school teacher in Philadelphia, I’ve been homeschooling my own children for much of the past five years. There are multiple reasons we chose to homeschool and none of them have to do with the quality of our local public school—excellent—or our local teachers—also wonderful—and I’m not looking for either congratulations or criticisms. This is simply what has worked for us.
However, for each of the five years we’ve been homeschooling, I’ve been asked by friends, family, and the curious, “Aren’t you worried your kids are going to fall behind?”
My answer? Not really.
My experience as a public school teacher didn’t prepare me to homeschool my children, nor did it give me the confidence to do so, though it certainly provided me with the credentials needed to defend my decision. My willingness to homeschool was fueled in large part, by three things.
1. The Theory of Multiple Intelligences
Developed by psychologist and author Howard Gardner, the theory (in a nutshell) tells us that everyone processes and synthesizes information differently. That though we each have all of the seven to nine (it’s a matter of some debate) intelligences that Gardner talks about, we vary in our strengths and weaknesses. It’s why some people never get lost in the mall (unlike myself) and some people seem to innately understand math, while others can pick up a guitar and play a song they just heard and others are talented communicators. At school, with 23 little heads in a classroom, teachers have to provide lessons that work the most efficiently for the entire student body, which is why we’ve all had to sit and take notes but only half of us are actually good at it.
I knew that at home, I could focus my energy on teaching in a way that my kids most responded to. If that meant learning fractions through baking, or listening to Schoolhouse Rock’s “Three Is A Magic Number” on repeat to learn the three times tables, then that’s what we did.
2. Learning Happens Everywhere
The second thing that inspired my confidence to homeschool was the knowledge that learning happens everywhere.
Learning happens in school. It also happens at home, in the car, at the grocery store, on a farm, at the zoo, on the beach, at the movies, on the boardwalk, and even snuggling on the couch. What’s more, when kids participate in hands-on learning—measuring the wood for their treehouse or making change at the Acme—they make a connection to their real lives.
Children learn with everything they do. Literally everything. From habits and personality traits to basic math, language skills and storytelling, small children are picking up on cues from their families as well as the world around them.
It’s not any different for older students. When my 11-year-old daughter wants to figure out a way to make a better TikTok video, she doesn’t come to me. And she doesn’t go to a teacher. She figures it out, thanks to natural curiosity and the luxury of WIFI.
3. The Internet Is Awesome
The final thing that inspired my confidence to homeschool was my access to the internet.
While learning can take place anywhere, having access to the internet is a privilege that I utilize constantly. While my kids can learn on there (more on that in a moment), so can I. So if I find myself stuck on how to explain something, or I can’t remember what’s on the third row of the periodic table of elements—because unless I worked in science, why would I even need to remember this?—I can do what we all do: Google it.
For my kids, it’s a world at their fingertips. While there are entire virtual schools—much like the programs that public schools may be forced into offering this year—there is so much more! There are TED Talks; online classes that aren’t part of a curriculum but are subject based (our favorites are on OutSchool); and traditional programs (we like Time4Learning). But some of the best options are free and available on YouTube. Some of my favorites include the Crash Course series of video lessons, Sick Science, as well as countless performances, lectures and speeches.
I have the luxury—and oftentimes the curse—of working from home. As a freelance writer, I’ve been doing it for years, and I know that not everyone has this experience. But I also know that homeschooling doesn’t have to take all day, and doesn’t have to look like “school at home”. Homeschooling certainly can mean sitting at the kitchen table and working through textbooks all day, but it doesn’t have to, and it doesn’t for us.
For us, it looks like travel and reading and learning online, long discussions, documentaries, talking about whatever we watch (even when it’s binge watching The Office), and trying new things. It works for us. And it might work for you.
Am I worried my children are falling behind? Not really.
They’re bright and engaged and determined, and what they may lack in one area, they make up for in another.
Are you worried about your kids falling behind? Don’t be.
If they are neurotypical children without extreme learning or physical disabilities, then their education at home might be different than it would have been if it were a regular, non-COVID year, but different isn’t necessarily bad. It’s just different, and this is temporary. While there might be other concerns that come along with your child learning at home—childcare is a big one, financial security another—falling behind shouldn’t be one of them.