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September-October 1991 Selected Content

Won't They Be "DIFFERENT?" - Becky Olson

"Aren't you doing your kids a disservice by homeschooling? I mean, how will they fit into the real world if they haven't been schooled like everyone else? Won't they be different?'

"I sure hope so!" I wanted to say. "I really want my children to be different!" Her question was honest enough. She was concerned about my kids' futures. I don't think she would have ever understood if I'd tried to explain to her why different is good. So I just smiled and said, 'Well, they seem to fit in most everywhere," as I glanced past her shoulder at my youngest daughter scooping up her baby and the rest pairing off, already finding common interests.

Our society pays great lip service to 'being your own person." Several years ago a TV commercial applauded the individual who took the last exit off the freeway in search of his uniqueness. we still idolize the Horatio Alger ideals of fortitude, hard work, and the concept that "anyone can work their way to the top." Chances are now that one of those fictional boys would have difficulty getting a job, because in reality independent thinking and self taught skills are not valued.

Yes, those of us that have opted to homeschool are working to help increase the value of being able to think through a problem and find the solution, either independently or in a team. When you watch a young child that has bonded well with Ids parents and the world around, that has been encouraged to use explorative powers, the child doesn't sit down in defeat when he comes to an obstacle in the path. This free thinking individual puzzles out a way to overcome, or use the barrier instead of fighting it. In fact if it is indeed an insurmountable obstacle, the child may just sit down and explore it. 'Me child may choose, too, to accept the obstacle as a quest too big to conquer today. He may turn his back and leave this for another time. Or the child may call to a larger person - parent, friend, or sibling - to help move the obstruction.

This same child, in later years, if left to use his own creativity, will face all challenges the same way. Speaking, reading, arithmetic, roller skating and calculus will all be looked upon as a conquerable challenge, if not today, then perhaps tomorrow, next week, or next year.

One of the amazing attributes I see in homeschooling people is they don't take their validation from their "book larnin'." My own children have given up trying to convince adults that knowing the multiplication tables or the capital of South Dakota is not an indication of their learning abilities. Data is not valuable in and of itself, but rather is gathered and stored to be used later on. Whether the use is to answer a trivia question, solve a math problem or write a letter, each is an equally respectable reason for using the information.

An my oldest becomes a teenager, she doesn't feel a need to give in to peer pressure if it makes her uncomfortable. All her life she has decided what is the upper limit of her involvement with anything - from sleep, to reading, to multiplication tables, to jumping into the deep end of a swimming pool. If she wasn't comfortable with it or didn't as a valuable reason for doing it, she wouldn't do it. Them skills are a great help to her in making the decisions teens must make daily. Peer pressure is a factor in her life, but not the deciding factor.

Children that are home most of their young life learn to get along with people of all ages. Homeschooled make great babysitters, because they enjoy being with people. I'm always amazed at how patient these kids an with little ones as well as adults. Them baby-sitters seem to innately understand the value of play, and enjoy sitting down to simple board games, or more complex computer games, with the child they are taking care of. Because self-esteem is high, the younger child often teaches the older one the rules of the board game and the tricks of the computer game. Information is shared equally.

These same kids seldom get impatient with a well meaning adult who talks down to them in a store or rushes over to prevent them from touching a breakable object. They smile, step back, and @611 look at the beautiful item. Sometimes they ask questions about the item, or call me over to share the view. If I sense a real need for the child to touch it, I'll hold it and let the child explore it gently with their fingers. Often the clerk will comment on how gentle the child is with fragile items.

Children that don't find their days cut up into blocks of time have the healthy ability to go with the flow. Having been allowed to explore things until they are finished, they have a higher frustration limit. Moat often they understand that the project will be waiting for them when they return. I rarely find homeschool parents complaining about the lack of attention span their children have. More often than not, the parents are frustrated by the child's need to follow a course of study to the very end, along with several detours into other disciplines that contributed to the original project.

One young woman's fascination with cats led her and her mother on many an exploratory search through the public library, encompassing ancient and medieval history, genetics, animal husbandry, biology literature, archeology, anthropology, and a half dozen more subjects. Once she started, every contributing discipline had to be methodically explored. Some books were read to answer one specific question, others were explored cover to cover, and many of these led off to other studies. By the time the fascination has become a glowing ember instead of a blazing need, an amazing amount of infor mation had been covered, as well as the satisfaction of following a project from beginning to end. Skills had been learned to facilitate the search for information: use of the library card catalog, reading and note taking skills improved, and so on, but these were tools to help answer questions. There was no written report to enable someone else to decide whether the work had been worth while, or had been done correctly, or had followed arbitrary parameters set by an authority figure. The girl was pleased with what she had learned and that was the only validation she needed.

For many years the buzz word in big business has been "team work." This has been a difficult concept for Americans to take to heart. From preschool on children are taught that when the final countdown comes, winning is why the game is played. Although adults admonish children to share, sharing the credit for an accomplishment at the office can spell doom. The driving force of America is competition, one-up-manship, winning.

As I watch homeschooled kids interact, so many times the challenge of the game seems far more important than winning. When they choose up sides for a ball game, little ones are just an valued as big players. When winning isn't the answer, We not necessary to degrade the lack of drills one player may have.

My son and his friend were competing with each other on a computer game. After it was all done, their satisfaction was defined as a comparison. "I'm almost as good an Stephen in this game, and he is as good an I am in the other game." Neither of them two boys' self esteem rested on beating the other, only upon improving skill levels.

The problem solving skills that these children are learning in their independent exploration of the world will, indeed, make them different. Being different is always a challenging path. With challenge comes growth and independent

thinking. Above all of that comes happiness. Those of us involved in helping nurture a "different" person are different, too. When we, like the toddler, stop fighting the obstacle in our path, and accept and explore it, we find happiness in our peace. This is the gift we pass on to our "different" children.

© 1991 Becky Olson

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