“Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school. It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education. ”
– Albert Einstein
My daughter was homeschooled for a total of 4 years from elementary to middle school. She was sporadically in and out of school from 3rd-5th grade. She was back home for 6th and 7th, and then back in school starting 8th. Now she’s in the 10th grade, and I have to say all those years of homeschooling have come in handy given the school closures.
While homeschooling, she was used to a loosely structured schedule with ideas/concepts that needed to be covered, rather than chapters, and the rest of the day was open to the pursuit of non-academic interests and hobbies. Covering concepts rather than specific chapters in a book forced her to use multiple resources. For instance, when she studied the Cell, she would switch between standard textbooks, reference books and online resources. She was/is used to juggling between curricular material to ensure comprehensive knowledge to whatever extent possible. Her years of homeschooling prepared her well to go beyond the prescribed textbook or her teacher to look for answers that are not readily available. It has allowed her the opportunity of time to dig deeper into ideas and connect ideas across disciplines.
The road to developing these habits was not smooth or without obstacles. It took us a good 2 years to develop a rhythm and to shed the habits of classroom learning.
You have probably noticed these school habits in your child too, right?
The mindless copying from a textbook into a notebook, the often meaningless chart making, completing the ‘portion’ etc. Very few teachers make time to focus on the big ideas in the subject and help students understand and connect ideas across subjects.
Not that I’m advocating homeschooling for all children or that homeschooling is a panacea.
In fact, we have encountered a diverse range of abilities in homeschooled children- some who couldn’t do simple operations on fractions at the age of 12 and some who were so advanced that they were solving algebraic operations at 8 years. Unfortunately, the ones who successfully make the transition from homeschooling to school and back (like my daughter) are the very small minority.
I’ve been asked, on many occasions, about the secret to my daughters’ effortless adaptability to different learning environments, styles and teachers. Honestly, there is no secret. It was a journey undertaken by circumstance rather than deliberation and it required a enormous amount of effort from us as parents. But, I surmise that what I learned from homeschooling my child could help parents of children across all ages. So, here is a distilled version of those 4 years of learning at home.
- How to Ask and answer questions.
Children are naturally curious. Their ‘whys’ are often annoying and exasperating to us adults but they serve an important developmental purpose. Once they’re in school however, most kids lose this predisposition towards inquiry. The ones who don’t lose the habit of asking questions, have caregivers responsive to their inquiries and the patience of a saint. What do parents, who neither have the time nor inclination to engage with the incessant questioning of young children, do?
For starters, encourage your child to read independently. We’ve addressed this here, but a quick tip to get your child to read is….to be a reader yourself. If your preschooler observes you reading for pleasure, half the battle is already won.
Second, read to them for a minimum of 20 min a day.
Third, turn the tables and you ask questions while you’re reading to them and wait for their response.
For instance, your 4 year old chooses the story of ‘The crow and the Pitcher’ (Aesop’s Fables) for a read aloud. You can ask questions such as ‘What would you do if you’re the crow and you’re thirsty’? When faced with this question, I remember my daughter, then 2 or 3, claiming that she will put a straw into the pitcher/jug and drink the water.
This habit of asking questions and coming up with solutions as a preschooler seamlessly transitions into ‘inquiry oriented learning’ in elementary and beyond.
2. How to read with comprehension.
Once the mechanics of reading are mastered, the next milestone is to understand what one is reading. Understanding can be straightforward in early readers such as “Jack and Jill go up the hill” and interpretive as in fairy tales and fables. Expose your child to a wide variety of genres to help them develop skills attuned to different requirements of reading.
How to read a book by Moritmer Adler is the gold standard for learning and teaching to read with comprehension. It’s targeted towards adults, but many of its ideas can be taught to little ones, with a bit of modification.
3. How to be resourceful
What exactly is resourcefulness? It can be described as finding solutions to problems with the resources you currently possess. Despite the culture of consumerism permeating Generation Z, where everything is dispensable and replaceable, the value of resourcefulness is timeless especially when faced with problems that cannot be solved by throwing money at it.
Encouraging creativity in your children will feed resourcefulness. For instance, what would you do if you have to go to a birthday party and don’t have a paper gift bag? Make one! What would you do when you don’t have a glue stick? Use a flour paste or even grains of cooked rice will work in a pinch.
A simple google search will yield plenty of free resources that teach resourcefulness, here is one. A gentle reminder though that as parents, we have to be mindful of being resourceful ourselves before we demand it of our children.
4. How to develop persistence and resilience.
Children, like most living things, are naturally resilient and will rise up to meet challenges that are developmentally appropriate. Presume that your children are emotionally, cognitively and physically competent and they will surprise you with the extent of their abilities. Drill the growth mindset into them by repeating that their skills and abilities are growing everyday, and what is difficult today will become easier with practice.
Teach them to value persistence through mastery. Here are some tips how to teach mastery through afterschooling.
Schools, unfortunately, are not ideal environments to inculcate the above 4 skills/ character habits as there is limited contact time with teachers, variable peer influence and lack of quality supervision and guidance. Parents have to pick up the slack along with regular adult responsibilities. If parents can’t make time, then children will have to learn these values through the school of hard knocks where the results may or may not be positive.