By Maria Hawkins
Photo credit: Erin Kohlenberg
About 5 years ago we were visiting my sister and brother-in-law and they asked if we would ever consider homeschooling (they were a few months from having their first baby and thinking perhaps it was a good option for them). At the time my son was on the cusp of turning two and I had been out of the classroom for as long. In retrospect I was a bit defensive about the question. I felt strongly, as I remember, that only a teacher should be teaching and that in general it was a crazy idea. I was, I think, slightly appalled.
My how my opinion has changed.
As my son began to grow and learn I realized that my most important role was exposing him to everything I could, and letting him lead the way. I saw how important it was to provide a basic structure for our days, but how it was equally important to let him really drive the details. I begin to see how formal schooling actually interrupted many of the things he did naturally that fit so well with the developmentally appropriate practices and early childhood theories I felt so strongly about. I saw how at home I could let him sit and look at books for hours. He could draw, then paint, then draw again for a two hour span. We could decide to bake bread and then go for a walk. We could investigate the pine cones we found and then do an art project and then read a related book before bed.
I saw how so many things that would be hard to make work in most classroom settings were so easy to make a reality at home when it was just him and I. There was none of the other “stuff” that is a reality of traditional schooling. I saw how “teaching” just one child, (or even a couple as my daughters joined the equation) was very different compared with having a classroom of 30 kids.
And don’t get me started on the language portion of this journey. All of this amazing discovery was taking place in Spanish!
We live in the US and are an OPOL (One-Person-One-Language) English/Spanish family so I had no concerns for his English language acquisition. However, as he was getting older and more aware of the world around us I saw more and more it was going to take some serious work to keep Spanish in the mix. Although in the back of my mind I kept in the idea of us moving a couple school districts away so that he could attend the dual language school there, more and more I saw the potential that learning at home had.
Here was a way for us to not only to continue our amazing educational journey together but also to ensure Spanish would remain part of how my son would learn and discover and explore the world. Spanish could be part of the journey, not just something we would have to squeeze in after regular school hours. We could work towards him being bilingual and biliterate at home, naturally, just as we had been doing thus far.
Homeschooling had an awful lot of positives once I really sat down and saw it for what it was and what it could be for us.
As you can see, my opinion has evolved dramatically. I still think that to teach in a traditional classroom setting you are going to be the most effective teacher if you have had some training and have a variety of tools at your disposal. Although I don’t doubt that there are exceptions, I can say from experience, that in general most people need a few tools in their belt to walk into a room of 30 children with 30 sets of needs and wants and do a superior job of helping them all navigate the world of learning.
But where learning at home is concerned, I have come to the conclusion that the biggest requirement is the commitment of self. You must be willing to own the responsibility you are taking on and commit to giving your time, energy and spirit to helping your child/children learn on a non-traditional path. In doing so you must also acknowledge that you are embarking on a less common road for their education and as part of that, to help them negotiate that difference comfortably. If you can do that, then I think you can do a superior job of “schooling” at home.
So, 5 years later I have come a long way from being appalled by the idea of homeschooling. Upon further introspection, it turns out we have been happily “educando en casa” (educating at home) since before the question was first posed.
And by the way, my sister and brother-in-law eventually decided homeschooling wasn’t a good fit for them and now have their daughter in preschool. Interesting how often you find your opinions changing as you travel down this parenting road. One step at a time we find the best fit for our families.
Maria Hawkins grew up in New Mexico immersed in both Spanish and English. She has her National Teacher Certification in early childhood education and has taught in both bilingual and monolingual public schools. She currently keeps busy homeschooling her three bilingual children, teaching weekly Spanish classes for kids, and leading a Spanish Playgroup to support local bilingual families.