Many years ago, I wrote a post called The Best-Kept Secret of Homeschooling. In short, it’s about how homeschooling educates you as the teacher. There’s more to it than that, so click over to read it if you haven’t before. Today, we’re talking about the second-best-kept secret of homeschooling: the unlikely connections your children are able to make when they are removed from the school setting.
School as an institution crowds out private life and private time, while creating limited space for limited relationships and interactions. This is something John Taylor Gatto talks about in his excellent book Dumbing Us Down — and that book is why we discussed this subject last season in Episode 77 of Scholé Sisters called Let’s Get Together, Yeah Yeah Yeah (Communities vs. Networks).
Here’s a great example of the difference: when my kids ask me why I played with this child but not that one when I was growing up, my answer is often that we weren’t in the same grade. They look at me like I have two heads when I say things like that, but it’s true — I usually considered kids younger than me as unfit playmates, a mentality I imbibed at school. There were a lot of connections I didn’t make in my childhood simply because I went to school.
So let’s talk about three categories of unlikely connections. It’s not so much that homeschooling guarantees these connections. (Nothing is ever guaranteed.) It’s just that the nature of homeschooling makes room for such connections to happen.
1. Intergenerational Connections
I remember telling someone early on that there are a lot of benefits to homeschooling that are not reasons why I homeschool. This is one. I don’t homeschool so that my children see their grandparents and great-grandparents more often, but it’s a huge side-benefit of what we do.
As I type, my youngest is over at my parents’ house working in the yard with my father. They are two peas in a pod much of the time, especially during certain farming seasons. My youngest got up super early this morning in order for this to work out. He had most of his independent work done before I even left my room. He had everything done (except piano) when he departed around 9:30 am.
My father owns an agricultural droning company, and my youngest works with him much of the time. Because we homeschool, he can organize his schoolwork around these jobs. He has a blast, he’s learning to love the land and the work, and he thoroughly enjoys meeting farmers at their work.
Homeschooling can mean that not every hour is accounted for — that time is open and available for relationships. We are blessed to live in a place my family has been for many generations, but it’s the act of homeschooling that gives my children time to cultivate relationships with their elders for themselves. When my grandfather is nearby running errands and drops by my house, the children are home to greet him because they are homeschooled.
2. Intragenerational Connections
When you’re in school, you can miss the fact that you are part of a larger generation, one that extends beyond your grade or school. My personal experience was mostly to know who older kids were (and possibly admire them merely because they were older than me), not care who younger kids were (as I mentioned above), and only have real relationships with kids almost exactly my own age (usually limited to my own grade). I think I was sort of an extreme case, and possibly some of this was reinforced by the fact that my younger sister and I are very close in age, but my point still stands.
The more school invades non-school hours, the more exaggerated this can become, since one of the primary places a schoolchild will cultivate non-school-specific relationships is in the home, church, and neighborhood. I remember, for example, when some of our neighbor children disappeared after starting school. I assumed they had “gotten a life” and decided playing with neighbors wasn’t cool anymore — and perhaps that will happen as the teen years progress — but it turned out even the kindergarten was giving homework. The children simply didn’t have time for neighborhood play.
And of course, this worsens when the children are old enough to join school sports teams and more. The school (or the sport) becomes the organizing factor of life.
The Covid shutdown has provided an interesting experiment. The schools in our neighborhood have mostly not met for almost a year now. The children, while technically not homeschooled, are doing school at home. Their lives are home-based, as is their play. There are no extra-curriculars to draw them back to campus, and I can’t tell that they really have homework. If so, maybe they aren’t doing it? Ha. It’s hard to say.
Regardless, having a neighborhood full of kids schooled at home has been eye opening. The first thing I noticed was that siblings were playing together more than before. My children have always played together, and I’ve always assumed that was another one of those lovely byproducts of homeschooling. The shutdown experiment seems to prove this true.
My two younger children are 12 and 14. Starting promptly at 1:00 pm, neighborhood children as young as 7 or 8 begin knocking on my door. And then commences a grand parade of children from about third grade up to high school on rollerblades, bikes, and other wheeled contraptions that lasts until sundown (and sometimes longer than that). With the school closed, they have time to play, and they are getting better at it with each passing day.
But more to my point: being schooled-at-home has put some big nails in the coffin of age segregation.
3. Subject Area Connections
Homeschooling takes far fewer hours than institutional schooling. It doesn’t matter if it’s the best institutional school you could possibly think of — individual tutoring is by nature more efficient. It just is. I spent hours and hours of my school time waiting for other students to be done with their work. Homeschooled kids, on the other hand, simply move on to the next task on their list.
As we’ve seen thus far, this efficiency leaves time for all sorts of vital personal relationships — time for building friendships with young and old.
This also leaves time for developing personal interests. If your school time drops from six hours per day to four, just imagine the possibilities of those extra two hours. You could learn things you’ve always wanted to know. You could read those books you were given for Christmas. You could practice an instrument. You could get better at your hobbies (or gain a new one).
I have often told people that one of the biggest gifts I wanted to give my children in homeschooling was free time. (Full disclosure: In our home, free time has had nothing to do with screens.) Over the years, our children have done all sorts of interesting and crazy things, and I have found that this is not unusual. It’s not that my kids are special — they’re just like the other zillion homeschooled kids who have enough time to pursue interests and projects.
Gatto Was Right
In Dumbing us Down, John Taylor Gatto talks about the difference between institutions which seek to encroach further and further upon your life, and community-innovated projects. One-room schoolhouses were of this latter sort. They were built by the community in order to serve the needs of the community. The schools were obligated to the community, rather than the other way around.
It’s not that homeschooling is so much better; it’s that it is the nature of overgrown institutions to be inefficient and to begin exist for their own sake rather than for the sake of those they claim to serve (or their original mission).
I know there are so many bad things about shutting the country down during Covid (and I know many of you probably can’t comprehend that the West Coast has been mostly shut down this whole time). I never want to minimize the pain and loss caused by the lockdown. But I see this — the chance for all these sweet children in my neighborhood to experience a more wholesome, home-based life, where the school does not impose itself upon their private time, where they can roam and play and invent games and learn to negotiate and all the wonderful things that happen when children’s lives are not run by adults so much — as quite the blessing.
And it’s a blessing that can continue for those of us who choose to homeschool.
If you don’t homeschool yet, feel free to join us. ♥
Get the (almost) weekly digest!
Weekly encouragement, direct to your inbox, (almost) every Saturday.