As homeschooling parents and disseminators of information about homeschooling, we are constantly asked questions by parents considering homeschooling their children, or by the just-plain-curious. Here we offer our responses to some of the questions that come up most frequently.
Q What about socialization?
A Because this is the most-frequently-asked question, we have placed it first. Parents need to consider that in the average school day of 6 hours, the child spends approximately 1-½ hours “socializing”— two 15-minute recesses and 1 hour at lunch. The rest of the time the child usually sits at his desk, separated from other children by the invisible wall of “good behavior.” Plus, as the school atmosphere becomes increasingly restricted and dangerous, the socialization that occurs is not particularly “social.”
Homeschooling parents, on the other hand, often find their children have too much socialization—weekly park days, skate days, and field trips. Besides planned events, children who live in urban or suburban areas come in contact with people all day long. Most neighborhoods, which is where a child’s playmates usually come from (and always have), include children of varying ages, whether homeschooled or conventionally schooled (that is, attending public or private school). Families in rural areas have to take steps to ensure that their children—whether homeschooled or not—come in contact with others on a regular basis. The fact is, children taught at home have more time to socialize freely without being told what to play, when to play, and where to play. If organic, pure socialization is to take place, it is in the homeschool setting.
A Usually, a skeptical family member is concerned about academic and socialization issues. (People who don’t live with your children may not see the positive spiritual and psychological changes they go through once they are no longer in an age- or peer-dependent environment.) Try inviting the skeptic to park days or field trips to let him/her see what your daily life is like.
This brings to mind Michael’s mother, who was very skeptical when she first heard our plans to homeschool. Before our son reached the age of six, she didn’t believe we wouldn’t send him to school. When school enrollment time came and went, and we didn’t change our plan, she was worried and decided to pay for our first-grade boxed curriculum. She also came out to Los Angeles from Chicago and accompanied us on our routine the first week of her visit.
We remember the week distinctly: Monday, a field trip to the J. Paul Getty Art Museum; Tuesday, homeschool gymnastics class (with about 15 families); Wednesday, Yamaha Music School (with 10 other children who weren’t homeschoolers); Thursday, park day (with 20 to 40 other homeschooled children, playing for approximately four hours); Friday, chorus at the Yamaha School (with 25 non-homeschooled children). Our son was occupied with trips to the library, doing his curriculum in the early mornings, and listening to Michael read to all of us in the evenings. She quickly realized that not only was her grandson not socially deprived, but he had a culturally and academically rich life, filled with music, chorus, gymnastics — training he would not receive in a school setting. After her visit, we heard from relatives that Michael’s mother spoke with much pride about what a great life Lennon had!
Q What if all my child’s friends are schooled and she feels “different”?
A Had you asked us this question five years ago, we would have answered differently. We probably would have said to do little things like buy a lunch pail and pencil and paper pads at the beginning of each school year and try to incorporate more “school-type” things into your lives. We would not have said with the pride we now have, how fortunate and privileged he is to be homeschooled! We were squeamish in the early years and sometimes felt that we had to hide. Over these years, our son has taught us that we should be proud to be homeschoolers, that we should feel different because we are. We view his sense of pride in being homeschooled as righteous and healthy. In today’s society, there is constant talk about building self-esteem in children. If you knew that homeschooling your child would give her a tremendous sense of self-esteem—far beyond what she would gain in a school—would you do it? Foster the difference and be proud of it!
A Children who are U.S. citizens cannot be denied public education unless they have been legally expelled or some other extenuating circumstance exists. Therefore, the question really should be: “What is the easiest way to get my child back into school after he or she has been homeschooled?” The answer depends on which state you live in. If you declare yourself a private school, then keeping good records of daily activities and the subjects studied is crucial should you eventually decide to enroll your child in school. If you enroll in an independent study program (ISP), either private or through a public school, you will have no problems transferring back into the system. (In some states, an ISP is called a “church school.”) Call your state’s parent-run state organization for in-depth information.
A This can be a tough situation. That question comes up often when we talk with parents who choose to homeschool because of the negative peer pressure involved in school. We have seen repeatedly that most children, when removed from a negative situation, feel a sense of relief, as if the parents rescued them from something they were attracted to but were uncomfortable with. After-school hours and weekends allow plenty of time for children to continue seeing school friends who are a positive influence. Homeschooling doesn’t mean you are going to another planet! You will still live in your house, in your neighborhood, with the same phone number; and your child’s friends will know that.
Q How will I know if a homeschool group is right for me?
A Fitting into a homeschool group is much like the dynamics between any human beings. You may know two completely opposite people who get along great. Or you may know of people with similar personalities and interests who don’t care for each other’s company. You’ll have to visit a homeschool group to find out if you fell comfortable. For instance, I have met born-again Christian mothers who attend secular groups that feel just right. I have also met mothers who are not religious yet attend Christian groups because they like the structure and the organization such groups tend to have. Try many different groups, and then stick with the one that feels best for you, or join more than one!
A This depends on your teenager and your relationship with him or her. Some teenagers seem relieved to be taken out of a peer-dependent environment and are pleased to do schoolwork while mom and dad are away in order to keep this latitude. Other teenagers fare better working a part-time job during the day and doing their academic work in the evening and on weekends. Teenagers are at a perfect age to benefit from an apprentice situation or mentoring relationship. We know of one teenager who works 25 hours a week in a pet store and plans on becoming a veterinarian. Another works part time at a newspaper office, typesetting and learning about newspapers.
A Your child is the best example of the fruits of homeschooling. However, we admit that even we have sometimes felt uneasy when our son plays basketball in front of our house at 10:00 on a Monday morning, when all of the other kids have gone to school. What will the very active 85-year-old man across the street think? —That we are neglecting our son? But after the voice of fear whispers in my ear, my “brave self” quickly remembers my true opinion: Homeschoolers no longer need to be afraid of recrimination from those with incorrect and preconceived notions. We can express our pride in being homeschoolers and confidence in the certainty of our decision.
Q Should I let my children play outside while regular school is in session?
A Since homeschooling is legal in every state and province, there’s no reason to fear having your child playing on your block. If your child wants to play at the park and is under adult supervision, most communities will not bother him or her. Get to know your community’s attitude toward homeschoolers and, if it is unfavorable, work to change it. Some California communities have “curfew laws” that are being successfully challenged in the courts when they are not enforced with good faith and common sense by police departments or truancy-control agencies. Be open and honest about homeschooling, and help local officials be aware of homeschooling and its benefits to your community.
A Most people who homeschool high schoolers don’t find teaching them a problem. Usually, study habits are already set up; the child is accustomed to completing a certain amount of “work.” Also, students who have been in school usually enjoy finishing their schoolwork early, leaving enough time to work a part-time job, become an apprentice, practice a sport, or take college classes. Parents of teenagers who have never been in school might have to be more involved in finding out how to teach algebra, chemistry, or other “difficult” subjects. Many families in both categories solve this problem by pooling resources and hiring a tutor to instruct a small group (often 5 to 10 children) in a particular subject once or twice a week. Usually, this type of arrangement is conducive to a positive learning experience: The children know why they are there and want to be there, so it works out well for all. With homeschooling becoming more popular each year, “help” is available to any family who wants it.
A People don’t ask this question often, but when they do, we are always shocked and saddened. We believe parents who cannot stand to be with their children don’t really know them. And if they don’t like their children, they are probably seeing a child who isn’t “real” but is a creation of marketing, school peer pressure, fear, low self-esteem, and alienation. When your child is home with you, person-to-person, these external forces can—and do—fall away over time.
Children are people in formation (still under “construction”) and should be protected from what many adults today call “real” life—which translates into exposure to social horrors (news coverage of mass deaths, heinous crime descriptions, desensitization to violence) and personal “stylistic” disfigurement, such as pierced body parts, tattoos, and moshing (slam dancing), anything that would have made a sailor blush 50 years ago. (Ed. note: The Lepperts are here talking about children, and do not have any personal feelings about adults who wish to get a tatoo or piercing. In their view, children should be protected until responsible enough to make intelligent decisions.) Our American society has duped itself into thinking that children are short adults with adult sensibilities—mature enough to make intelligent decisions about all they do and believe. A few minutes of close observation of an 11-year-old or even a 15-year-old discloses that this “short adult” assumption is faulty.
Children are capable of making some decisions, but they have to be guided and steered in many others. We all learn progressively how to navigate life—to make choices, determine what we believe and who we are. To become skilled at such decision-making takes years. John Taylor Gatto, in his book Dumbing Us Down, comments that today’s public school children never get the time alone required to build a personality but instead are constantly moved along the conveyor belt or bombarded with media stimuli. Homeschooling provides such private time. So it is no surprise that once your child has an opportunity to return to his or her appropriate age and stop being a reflection of the external forces, you are likely to find a pretty likeable person.