By Diane Flynn Keith
Are homeschoolers and their approach different today in 2015?
The director of a charter school home study program in southern California recently confided, “Homeschooling parents are very different today than they were twenty years ago. Back then, parents didn’t want or need direction because they were philosophically committed to homeschooling and believed it was the right thing to do. All they wanted from the charter program was legal cover and a few resources. Now, most parents homeschool as a last resort because their children had a problem at school—such as bullying or test anxiety. They really don’t understand what it means to homeschool or what it takes. They lack self-confidence to help their children learn and require much more instruction and hand-holding than ever before.”
Curious about her observation, I asked homeschool veterans and mentors what they see as the most significant change in homeschooling over the past two decades.
Marty Layne, a homeschool author, speaker, and coach in British Columbia, echoed the charter school director’s observation, “Today, most homeschoolers in my area are enrolled in distance-learning schools. The impetus to homeschool often comes after people have tried school and found that it doesn’t work. There is no underlying philosophical reason not go to school.”
If the decision to homeschool is in response to a negative experience in school, Marty suggests that it is important for a parent to define how education really takes place – because it may not look anything like a traditional school model. She said, “That’s often a surprise to parents. Typically, they persist in using school curricula at home and want a supervising authority to tell them what to do next.” She added, “It’s almost as though what is needed is a crash course in listening to oneself, observing children, and exploring how people learn things.”
Marty often shares the following quote from Scott Dinsmore with parents:
Start with why: Many people approach life thinking about what they will build or how they will do it. They miss the essence, which comes much earlier. Understand why you want to create something. This is the hardest step because it involves knowing yourself on a level few people do. It involves digging to your core and understanding your values. It means utter congruency.
Michelle Barone, a family therapist in Los Angeles who works exclusively with homeschool families and the founder of the Unschooling Summit, identified the same major change, “I have seen parents choosing this lifestyle from FEAR not from philosophy.”
Michelle also noted, “Parents are focusing more on the future—how to get their child into college—and are often unaware of the developmental place their child is right now. Today, there is much more reliance on attending classes at learning centers and dependence on others to do the teaching.”
Michelle added, “There has been a high increase in the use of media games, too—and in some families this is mostly what kids are doing.”
That last observation resonated with every veteran homeschooler I interviewed. Technology has changed access to information and the way it is delivered. There has been an increase of and improvement in the resources that are available. One visit to The Homeschool Buyer’s Co-op reveals the plethora of educational resources that exist for every age, grade, ability, and interest level.
While it is a far cry from the sparse days of homeschooling, I think there is a downside to the luxury of having so many options. All of these products can lead to confusion, overwhelm, burnout, and frustration. It’s what I jokingly refer to as the “throw-enough-stuff-at-the-kids-and-something-is bound-to-stick” methodology.
My best advice with regard to resources is this: Before you buy anything, before you download free curriculum at BudgetHomeschool.com, and before you insist that the kids watch TED Talks, try to figure out how your child learns best. Include them in the process of selecting materials, environments, and mentors that speak to their unique talents, interests, and learning style. For help getting started, read Discover Your Child’s Learning Style, by Willis and Hodson.
Another big transformation has occurred in the demographics of homeschooling. While home education may have begun with the stereotypical image of religious fundamentalists and fringe element hippies, today the booming growth is among mainstream and secular parents.
Homeschool veteran Barb Lundgren, editor of “Home Education Magazine” and founder of the Rethinking Everything Conference, remarked on another significant difference between then and now, “Fathers are so much more involved and supportive!”
The proliferation of stay-at-home dads is reflected in the homeschool community. These days, fathers are chauffeuring their children to homeschool park days, field trips, and co-op classes.
One homeschool dad, who has been an advocate of the modern homeschool movement for over thirty years, is Pat Farenga. An author and speaker who works tirelessly to continue the legacy of John Holt (who coined the term “unschooling”), Pat remarked, “I would say one big change I’ve noticed is the shrinking number of homeschooling conferences. The internet has provided us with webinars that enable people to get the help they want without traveling to a conference. However, the physical and emotional nature of a conference is totally different than any online experience. The personal connections you create with others at the event, the unusual books and items you might stumble on in the vendor hall, and the speakers who mingle with the crowd are all lost or limited by the constraints the internet puts on human interactions. Of course, the cost of putting on a conference plus the expense of traveling and staying in a hotel as a family has also contributed to this decline. But the online experience is a pale version of a real homeschooling conference.”
The veterans I interviewed agree: Attending homeschool conferences is the ultimate way for newbies to make connections with veterans, feel supported, and get inspired. Many national and state homeschool organizations sponsor conferences that bridge the span between homeschooling then and now. You’ll find a directory at the A to Z Home's Cool, homeschooling website.
Diane Flynn Keith is the Founder and Editor of Homefires.com, a website devoted to kindling a life-long love of learning through homeschooling and unschooling. She is also well-known for her best-selling book, Carschooling: Over 350 Entertaining Games & Activities To Turn Travel Time Into Learning Time. Follow Diane on Facebook