The question most people ask me when I tell them that my children are homeschooled is, “I don’t really know what that is. Can you tell me more about homeschooling?” If I could explain homeschooling in one sentence I would consider myself exceptional or fortunate. I will attempt here to give you an inkling of what homeschool is like for my family, but I also want you to know that homeschooling, by its very nature an individualized approach to education, is unique in every homechooling family. We are fortunate here in Wisconsin to have one of the best homeschooling laws in the country, and as a consequence, we have a unique variety of homeschoolers in our state.
For some people homeschooling consists of a small area in the home set up like a miniature classroom, complete with a small chalkboard and all the other paraphernalia we associate with school – desks, textbooks, etc. One or both parents may share in the teaching responsibilities and the children may take tests and do homework, just as they would in a brick and mortar school. Many families will purchase a prepackaged curriculum and some will even enroll in accredited online schools. An example of this would be the Wisconsin Virtual Academy (often referred to as WiVA). If this is your idea of what homeschoolers do, you are both right and wrong, because while this model may exist in many home schools, it does not represent all of us.
For many families homeschooling consists of no fixed curriculum. They approach teaching through a child-focused, self-directed form of education in which a mentor offers guidance with minimal restriction in what a child is free to explore. This form of homeschooling is oftentimes referred to as unschooling. Unschoolers believe that children have inherent learning abilities that are frequently stifled and even corrupted by traditional schooling. They believe that learning is a social process that can occur naturally and continually through collaborative activities. Just as children learn to walk, to interpret spoken language and to compose their own thoughts and speech, so too can they learn to read and write and do math with the guidance of their parents (and without being forced to do it). What’s that you say? “But how can children learn unless we force them to learn? Isn’t learning supposed to be work? Isn’t it supposed to be unpleasant?” Well, ask yourself. Do you ever have to be forced to do things you are really interested in? If you enjoy quilting, or gardening, or even physics, do you ask someone to force you to do it? Have you found yourself enjoying going to the library to read up on something because you want to “learn” more about it? If so, you are guilty of unschooling. In a sense, then, unschooling is learning by living, and discovering your path through the guidance of a loving parent.
There is a third type of homeschooler, and though I don’t have anything more than anecdotal experience to back me up, I think it is where most homeschooling families are, and that is somewhere in the middle of the two examples I presented above. Many of us start on one end of the spectrum and end up taking elements of both philosophies and integrating them in an approach that works for our respective families. This is kind of where our family is. It works well for us. I feel fortunate that my kids are excited about the things they are learning, that they are becoming critical thinkers and that they are being given the chance to find and pursue their passion in life. If you would like to read more about homeschooling I recommend The Homeschooling Book of Answers: The 88 Most Important Questions Answered by Homeschooling’s Most Respected Voices by Linda Dobson.
Dr. George Idarraga
Pediatrician Meriter Pediatrican
2275 Deming Way, Suite 220
Middleton, WI 53562