Tuesday, April 29, 2014

It's Not That Homeschool is Better....

It's not that homeschool is better. However, some homeschool models do have advantages that could be carried out in public or private education settings which would elevate children's lives and education. If we took some of the main components of homeschool and put these components into other settings, we would have a highly effective and productive environment for ALL students regardless of the choice of, for lack of a better way to explain this,  location for learning. Below, I list eight ways that homeschool can encourage other school models to change in order to elevate student education. Feel free to list your own ideas in the comments section. Read on and feel free to suggest changes within your local schools. You can write to your legislators, the media, etc. You CAN make a difference.

1. Homeschools often have low student to teacher ratios. Low teacher to student ratios allow students to receive individualized instruction that includes remediation, enrichment, flexibility in curriculum, problem solving, and creative expression. One teacher for every 15-25 students is a huge undertaking whereas one teacher for every 2-6 students is a much easier work load for all involved. Also, many homeschool families surround themselves with co-ops, family, and friends who are also invested in the children's education. This lowers the student teacher ratio even further in many cases. If we took funding from the testing companies, we could afford to have more teachers and lower class sizes. Since that is not likely to happen at this time, we can offer to help a teacher. Volunteer to run a group at language arts time or help organize an activity. Simple math tells us that the more adults in a classroom, the lower the student to volunteer/teacher ratio will be. You can help just by being present and ready to participate.

2. Many homeschools include varied settings such as co-ops, parks, wildlife preserves, archeological sites, art studios, and more. Varied learning environments foster creativity and exploration. Life experiences help students to internalize information and remember it long term. Reciting information from memory like a robot is NOT, I repeat IS NOT, learning or education. In fact, education hinges on being able to use information learned in the real world. Can you use multiplication and division to compare prices in the grocery store? Can you double or half a recipe? You can memorize a topic, but not have functional use of that topic. We learn by trial and error. We learn by experimenting with objects and topics in real world settings. Many schools cannot offer this type of learning because of money, standardized testing requirements, lack of time, etc. The answer is to create schools that have a variety hands on exploration areas on campus. It may be possible for two schools to work together to create this environment and place it half way between them as walking short distances is possible for many general education students.

3. Homeschool families often learn together. No one is an expert is every topic. It is important for students to know that we all continue learning even beyond our school years. Even adults have to learn new information and adjust their perspectives and behaviors when new information becomes available. There is no harm in teaching children that all people make mistakes, all people must continue to learn, and that learning is a lifelong process.

4. Many homeschool families attend physical education classes, join hiking groups, or exercise at least once daily while they are out and about in the world. Sadly, many schools have less and less time for children to exercise. Sure, most schools have mandated PE and occasional recess, but this is often time spent in a large group and the teacher or teachers may spend most of the time playing "whack a mole" aka disciplining those who are off task. I would find it difficult to focus if my class size was 30-60 as well. There would be too many distractions for me, personally, and I am an adult. Imagine what a hopeless exercise this is for children living with special needs that affect their focus or physical abilities. How would a teacher be able to tailor the activities to meet each and every learner's needs in a class that large? This is a very difficult situation for all involved. This is another area where lower class sizes and varied outdoor classrooms would encourage a positive change.

5. Homeschool families are often asked if their children socialize enough. When I discuss socialization, I have to bring up my experience as a kindergarten teacher. My students had very little time to talk with each other about topics other than schoolwork. During lunch, movies were shown in order to keep the peace. (I fought this and pulled my child from lunch daily to keep her from this practice.) During class time I was to instruct or the children were to participate in group work, testing, or work on their own. Discussions were geared toward academics, not social skills and proper citizenship. Many teachers, like myself, pushed for social centers and recess which allowed the students opportunities to socialize for 15-30 minutes per day. Sadly, this is not the norm throughout the US according to my friends who still teach. Students need unstructured time to talk, work out social issues appropriate to their age level, and move about. In order to aid in social development, schools can implement unstructured time with teacher supervision that allows for exploration of social skills and situations. Teachers should model positive decision making skills and social skills as needed during these times. A different approach is to allow extra time in the schedule so that social skills can be addressed in a positive manner as they come up. Perhaps an argument occurred because a child took another child's pencil by accident. Stop class and address this issue even if it takes 20 minutes, then return to the lesson at hand. Focus on natural consequences, not adult created consequences. (You were kind to a friend, so the friendship is reciprocated. You hit another child, now others are afraid to play with you.) Children need time, opportunities for free choice, and modeling by adults so they learn positive social skills.

6. Not only do students need to learn social skills, they need to learn other life skills. How to care for yourself, others, budget, take care of a family, take care of animals, and take care of the earth are all just as important as academic skills. Not every person or school can afford constant field trips so why not bring the field trips to the school? Plant a garden with the students. teach them organic techniques so that no dangerous chemicals are used. Show them how to cook, sew, clean after themselves, and please teach them empathy and patience by modeling them. Take those children outside and let them help scoop rabbit poop or, even better, have free range chickens and let the children collect the eggs (yes, be cautious of allergies). Let them take science walks through a tall meadow or small forest nearby. Make sure each student takes an exploration bag that includes science notebooks, writing utensils, a pocket microscope, and more. (Last time I checked, Amazon had pocket microscopes for about $2.75 each. Surely a local business would be willing to donate a few class sets of these in exchange for some recognition.)

7.  Many homeschool family focus on personal responsibility and mutual respect. Schools can take this idea and implement it in order for students to become successful without constantly needing external factors acting upon them to make positive social, emotional, and physical choices. Students must learn to make wise choices. They need to be able to trust themselves without worrying about praise or consequences from another person. Natural consequences should be discussed and honored, but imposed consequences from an adult are never the best option as these do not honor reality within the world. Teach the children to trust their thought processes, decisions, and bodies. Let them climb trees if their bodies allow it, let them explore within the bounds of the garden or school trees within the gates. Let them walk across a log that sits above a shallow patch of water. They CAN do this. Have a constant dialog about safety, listening to your body, listening to your conscience. Give them the berth to be flexible, make mistakes, and adjust their choices to correct the mistakes.

8. Homeschool families often search for those who are different in order to learn and grow into world citizens. Many people think that our schools foster a "melting pot" effect where students accept one another regardless of differences, yet we hear about children killing themselves because of bullying. In order to foster world citizenship, we must teach about diversity and teach the philosophy of "harm none", but we also must go out and meet others who are different that ourselves. We must explore the world and learn about cultures that we consider foreign to our own experiences and lives. This is extremely difficult to do even if you have programs that invite community members into classrooms. A community approach to education is key. Exchange programs for older children are also helpful. Attending or hosting cultural events on school grounds can foster a community of respect and world citizenship.

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