Ari Armstrong, Education, Exclusives, Uncategorized

Armstrong: If ‘back to school’ leaves you cold, consider homeschooling

“Back to school” doesn’t mean anything for my family, except that various public venues are less crowded during weekdays, and sometimes we can hear band practice down the street. We homeschool year round, with only occasional breaks for travel and special events, and that works great for us.

If public school isn’t working well for your child, you too might consider homeschooling. There are lots of possible reasons for this: Your child is getting bullied, your child is either bored or behind, the quality of education is poor (test scores indicate it often is), your child has unique needs not met by the school, your child wants more autonomy, you want to spend more time with your child, you want a more-flexible schedule for your family, or you’re sick of all the school politics.

How homeschooling works for my family

Approaches to homeschooling vary widely, from “unschooling” to formal schedules that resemble a traditional school day. Here I’m going to describe what works for my family. It might not work for yours.

My child values autonomy. He doesn’t want to be told what to do all day. Yet, at age eight, as he heads into third grade (not that grade levels mean much to us), he does not, in my experienced judgment, always give sufficient weight to what he needs to learn now to achieve the success he’ll value later.

My child genuinely enjoys science. Partly that’s a result of my wife and me giving him many opportunities to learn to appreciate science. He’s visited the Denver nature museum scores of times. His favorite TV show is PBS’s Wild Kratts, about animals. Recently we’ve enjoyed Prehistoric Planet, Apple’s excellent documentary series.

It is too early to tell, of course—and I’m not going to be one of those parents who tries to shoehorn him into a specific career path—but at this point it seems likely that he’ll pursue a career in the sciences. So, although all children need to learn basic math, doing so is especially important for my child. And a solid background in math also will serve my child well if he instead goes into economics, business, social sciences, or any of numerous other fields.

Given its importance, we work on math for around an hour nearly every morning. Avoiding long breaks means that we can keep moving forward, rather than waste time reviewing what he’s forgotten. Working in short durations at the start of the day means that he can stay focused rather than grow tired and inattentive.

I continue to love Dimensions Math. It thoughtfully builds a thorough understanding of the relevant concepts. Although I don’t buy the teachers’ guides, the program now has materials designed specifically for homeschoolers. Recently I also purchased extra books of word problems from Singapore, the same company that publishes Dimensions.

After math, we do around a half-hour of spelling and writing. Right now we’re also going through the first book (of three) of Building Foundations for Scientific Understanding, in preparation for a science group we’re joining this Fall.

After a couple hours or so of “formal” schooling, my child’s day is mostly his own. Often he plays with other homeschool friends at various parks. When we’re at home, he might cook a meal, work on a science kit, watch TedEd or other educational videos, or read a book.

Homeschooling has not always been easy. Sometimes we struggle with motivation and with distractions. On the whole, though, we’ve found a routine that works for us.

I’m a member of several homeschool groups on Facebook, and every so often someone will post a message something like, “Oh no homeschooling isn’t working I’m stressed and my child hates it.” Some new homeschoolers don’t fully appreciate that homeschool doesn’t have to look like traditional school. My advice is to relax into it, keep things simple, and empower your child to help set the course.

The financial cost

Legally, homeschooling in Colorado is very easy. You just have to send a note to a school district and meet minimal requirements. Or you can join an “umbrella school,” which as far as the state is concerned is a private school. I think most “homeschoolers” in Colorado are not officially homeschooling according to the state. Officially, only 8,674 students were homeschooling as of January, down from 10,502 in 2021. Presumably the decline relates to people moving on from the pandemic. Another 30,799 were “registered in online educational programs” (yet another option), according to the Department of Education.

The larger challenge is the financial one. For most families, homeschooling is not feasible unless one adult treats it as a part-time job. In our household, my wife works a more-demanding job, while I work part-time and spend relatively more time tutoring and shuttling our child to homeschool events. For us, the hit in income is worth the benefits.

Government does fund various one-day-per-week programs for homeschoolers. This is a mixed blessing, as it reduces the amount of outside networking that some homeschool families pursue. Yet for many families these programs help fill in curriculum gaps, free up adult time, and offer a way for families to reclaim some small portion of their tax dollars.

Remember that government still forces homeschooling families to financially support the public schools that they do not use. That’s not fair, obviously. Politicians could fix this problem by relieving families that homeschool from paying taxes to public schools. I won’t hold my breath.

Or politicians could pay homeschool families an amount equal to, or at least an amount some fraction of, the level of per-pupil spending at public schools. This approach makes me nervous, as politicians might be more eager to impose additional controls on homeschooling families. But if there’s a general voucher program (fat chance so long as the teachers’ union reins supreme at the capitol), homeschoolers certainly should be included.

Building community

The main thing I didn’t expect, going into homeschooling, is how well I’d get to know other homeschool families. When you drop your kid off at school, you don’t have to worry too much about whether you get along with the other parents. But parents of homeschoolers tend to spend more time with each other as well as with the kids. Homeschoolers tend to be members of vibrant communities.

Of course, the adults don’t always get along. Sometimes homeschool groups fall apart because of tensions among the members. More often, schedules clash, or a family moves or puts their child back in “regular” school. Homeschooling as part of a community requires extensive networking. To me, the social aspects of homeschooling are an unexpected benefit.

I’m not saying that homeschooling necessarily is for you. I do encourage you to think seriously about whether it might be.

Ari Armstrong writes regularly for Complete Colorado and is the author of books about Ayn Rand, Harry Potter, and classical liberalism. He can be reached at ari at ariarmstrong dot com.


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