After our heated debate in class, whether to homeschool or not, I took time to reflect on the issue from the point of view of a mature teacher in the Delta school district in the year 2011.
I see that our education system is shifting from the ‘factory model’ and moving towards collaboration and a deeper exploration of curriculum. Many teachers are using technology and opening up their classrooms to the global learning community. However, many elementary school classrooms are still overcrowded and organized by age groupings, limited staff are available to support students with their academic or behavioural struggles, and teachers are expected to cover a large curriculum in a specific amount of time with few opportunities to reflect or adapt lessons to their students’ needs.
Back in the 1980s, my partner and I decided to build a boat and go traveling with our children for three years. We assessed the expenses and the risks. One of those risks was to take our children away from the Canadian school system. We were worried about compromising their education. I asked a school principal how to reinstate my children upon our return, what tests would be required, and was told simply that they would be placed back in a class according to their age.
My partner summed up education in three words, “reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic”. He felt if we focused on that, the rest would follow. My daughters read all the time and traded books with other children in different ports. I liked hearing the discussions over the trades, the ‘book talk’, as to why this book was worth two of those. Long ocean passages were often broken up with starry night retelling of tales to keep Mommy entertained while she was at the helm. My children diligently wrote letters to relatives, created stories and developed very complicated plays. They added factual details to our ships’ log such as crew activities, weather reports, and notes about the ports we visited. Loading three months of food onboard before major passages involved a variety of mathematical activities for them. They helped count money and compared exchange rates, planned recipes and multiplied ingredients keeping in mind the number of crew to feed. We checked expiry dates on products and stored them so that they could be consumed in a timely manner.
Daily life aboard a ship is a constantly busy time. The children were always a part of the necessary duties. They checked the weather, monitored wind and hull speeds, took sun shots at noon to check location, helped ration fresh water and recycle containers, used radios to contact other ships, maintained sails and lines, observed patterns in waves, noticed sea life and the creatures that came aboard our vessel.
Making a landfall was always exciting especially when comparing and contrasting the geography. All hands were on deck whenever we came into port. The children met customs officials, families on other boats and in the towns, traveled into towns to markets, communicated in different languages, learned about the local history and saw how people were able to adapt to their environment using the resources at hand. I realize now, after looking at my Grade Four curriculum that many of the prescribed learning outcomes were addressed.
My children had the advantage of a ‘parent/teacher’ influence twenty-four hours a day seven days a week. They also had visiting instructors in the form of crew and people from around the world. My daughters were generally able to focus on projects without interruptions or limits. I’ll never forget a play they created while we were in Panama. They rallied local children, painted boxes to make dragons and turned a spinnaker sail into a castle. The whole neighbourhood was invited and were very pleased with the performance. The children planned, cooperated and produced a successful event.
Important questions came up in our Delta cohort after watching the unschool and homeschool clips…Where are those children now? How are those children doing? I hadn’t thought about how the traveling and homeschooling affected my children in the big picture until now. I do remember that when we got back to Canada that my oldest daughter was teased because she didn’t know about a lot of the television shows and her clothes didn’t match the other students. My youngest daughter wanted to be in a higher grade because she already knew a lot of the content and was thrilled when her teacher gave her independent projects to work on.
Where are mine now? They are very focused individuals and are passionate about the things they do. Both daughters have continued on with their education. One daughter has her masters in education and the other has a bachelor degree and is interested in starting her own business. Both have planned, saved, and traveled on their own to a great variety of places like Nepal, France, Spain, Mexico, and New York. They appear to be lifelong learners.
As a parent and now a teacher, I can see advantages and disadvantages to homeschooling. I believe that the time spent with my children was worthwhile but realize that other parents may not be as fortunate and need to work outside the home, be less patient, or have limited academic training.
If I could do it over again, I would wish that the Internet and laptops were invented. Then my children would have had quick access to information instead of waiting to get to port when we ‘teachers’ didn’t have an answer. I would have appreciated using some of the Math websites to find activities to support their learning. I believe that children need to bounce ideas off each other in order to enhance their thinking. Programs where my daughters could have communicated on-line with other students would also have been very beneficial.
My few years of homeschooling gave me the opportunity to get to know my daughters not only as children but as learners in a unique way. I would still encourage parents, if they had the time and inclination, to try it.