We were in the car, talking about the decision we were getting ready to make about home schooling for two years, when William asked Natalie, “What about friendships? Do you think you would miss being able to make friends at school?”
I could tell Natalie had already put some thought into the subject, for she explained (with examples) how school wasn’t the only place nor necessarily even the best place to make friends. She paused briefly and then added, “I like spending time with people my age, but I’ve learned in the past couple of years that spending seven hours a day with just my age group is too much. A couple of hours is plenty.”
Because were were having a somewhat serious talk, I squelched a giggle. William, on the other hand, laughed out loud. “I don’t think I’d want to spend seven hours a day with just 50-year-olds,” he added knowingly. After all, one of the reasons he loves teaching at a university is that he spends his days with a wide range of ages.
We had many such discussions prior to making our decision to “skip middle school.” A wonderful book that helped cinch our decision to home school for two years is Lisa Rivero’s The Homeschooling Option: How to Decide When It’s Right For Your Family, (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).
Here are just a few excerpts from the book that reassured any qualms we had and gave us the courage to leap into a two-year learning adventure.
Page 41: Something is wrong with the pace of our daily lives when we need magazine articles and news reports to show us how to make time to be with our children, how to eat together, how to schedule family time. Homeschooling offers a way off the merry-go-round. We simply step off. In time, the world stops spinning and we can see life, education, and our children more clearly. We slow down and cut back. New and prospective homeschoolers are wise to read the works of John Holt and other early homeschool proponents who understood that homeschooling is not about giving an academic edge or riding a new merry-go-round. Homeschooling is about families being happier and less stressed, about getting to know each other and learning to live and learn together. Your children can still be well educated and successful; they’ll just have more fun and be healthier doing so.
Page 59: Will children interact enough with peers to build communication skills and develop emotionally? Implied in this question is that extensive interaction with age peers is necessary for building communication skills and developing emotionally. We can turn the question around and ask, “Can children in school have too much interaction with peers, impeding their emotional and social development?”
While being with other children of a similar age is certainly not a bad thing, schools institutionalize same-age socializing and learning. Children in school have no choice but to spend at least six hours a day with twenty or more students of the same age. These groups are further separated into elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools. This model is such an engrained part of our educational system that it is hard to imagine anything different or to see the problems it can cause.
Friendships are based not on age but on interests, personality, values, and goals. Adults can think about their own friendships. How many of your friends are exactly your age? What is the basis for your friendships? Where did you find most of your friends?
Page 61: In a series on middle schools, the New York Times explored some of the drawbacks of limiting children’s exposure to younger and older students. By removing sixth, seventh, and eighth graders from the more nurturing approach of elementary school, we may be asking them to make too abrupt a transition at a time when they are experiencing important physical and emotional changes. The most popular proposed solution – schools that include kindergarten through eighth grade – is criticized because it can hold the older students back from the academic preparation needed for college. Some schools are experimenting with combining sixth through twelfth grades, to give young teenagers the head start they need on college-preparatory learning and provide them with the example of older students. However, this option can force children to have to deal too quickly with high school peer pressures without the opportunities to serve as role models and leaders themselves.
Page 64: Anyone homeschooling or thinking of homeschooling can remember that one of the unique benefits of homeschooling that money can’t buy but that can easily be lost in pursuit of too much socialization is time: time to work slowly, time to think, time to focus on a single idea rather than multi-tasking, time for self-knowledge and reflection, time to question the world and wait for the answers.
Page 65: Children who learn at home gain a different set of social skills from many other children. Homeschooled children are excellent at talking to and working with children of different ages. They have interesting and engaging conversation with adults. They are also unlikely to follow the ideas of a group without first making up their own minds.
Page 147: One of the unfortunate consequences of spending most of their days apart from each other is that families come not to know how to spend time together, how to enjoy each other’s company. Summer vacations are a good example. As the days get longer in the spring, so, too, do parents’ worries and complaints about how to keep their kids busy in the summer without anyone going crazy. Summer parenting magazines are filled with advice about how to get children “off the couch” or away from video games, how to find summer camps to fill up some of the time and how to make the countdowns until fall a little easier. The rare parent who does admit to looking forward to three months of togetherness may be viewed as unnatural at best, clingy or controlling at worst.
While it may be unusual for parents and children in the twenty-first century to spend most of their time together, it is far from unhealthy. There is nothing wrong with a family whose members respect each other, can spend long stretches of time with each other comfortably, and genuinely enjoy that time together. How many parents wouldn’t want that kind of relationship with their children? How many families have the time to practice such a relationship?