A Writer's Guide to Homeschoolers
My mom and I were talking in the car the other day about how poorly homeschoolers are represented in the media. I've never read one book or seen one movie about a true homeschooler. As someone who was homeschooled from kindergarten to twelfth grade, this annoys me. Even most computer dictionaries don't think words like homeschool, homeschooler, homeschooled, and homeschooling are words.
But homeschooling in the United States is a thriving community. Thousands of kids are taught at home, instead of in a public institution. In my church alone, half the kids are homeschooled, and the other half goes to a private Christian school.
And yet, in books and movies, do you ever see homeschoolers? Not really. Most of them are either radicals, like in Captain Fantastic, homeschoolers now trying to have a real life, like in This Girl is Different, or not really a homeschooler, more like on break from going to school. This is something that needs to change. While we're trying to have characters of more ethnicities and backgrounds, why can't we have more people taught at home as well?
Technically, homeschooling has been around since the beginning of time. There were no formal schools back then. Children were taught what they needed to know at home, like cooking and farming. Even once real schools were established, not everyone could afford to go. Necessary knowledge was passed down from parent to child. It wasn't until the 1850s that schooling became compulsory, and often done in a public institution.
Skip ahead to the 1970s, when pretty much everyone in the United States went to school outside the home. Homeschooling was considered breaking the law, even though thousands of people did it underground since the '60s. If you were homeschooled, you had to had to hide during school hours or face truancy problems. That's when people started to speak up. Books were written and cases argued for homeschooling.
The reason it came to light was that people were started to object the public school system. They believed that it was wrong. Homeschooling came out from underground and began fighting for legal rights. Some states were happy to let homeschooling be legal, others had giant court battles before teaching at home could be a viable option. The HSLDA was created to help homeschoolers in legal situations.
Now, the homeschool community is thriving. When I started school in 2002, homeschooling had only been around (in the open) for about twenty years. There wasn't a lot of resources, but my parents pulled through. When I graduated in 2015, I had things like history on DVD and computer math programs. Today, the resources are almost endless and you can learn almost anything without ever leaving the house.
Sadly, that's not true all around the world. Many countries have completely outlawed homeschooling. Children must go to school. Other countries have thousands of homeschoolers or need parents to have a license to homeschool.
Every parent has a reason they decided not to send their child to school or pull them out of school to teach them at home. Here a few reasons.
• They disagree with public school methods. Many people feel that public schools are bad learning environments for kids. Not only is there bullying and peer pressure, there's also all the standardized teaching. Homeschooling also gives you the freedom to tailor your schooling methods to how your child learns best.
• To allow children to be children. Going to a regular school takes away most of your time for thirteen years of your life. Homeschooling can be done in four hours and then gives kids the rest of the day to play and be free.
• Religion. Christians especially like homeschooling because it allows children to learn without being influenced by secular ideas. They can be taught God's word, along with math and science.
• Learning disabilities. Some children can be better taught at home, like when they have dyslexia or ADHD. Being homeschooled allows kids to move at their own learning speed instead of being forced to keep up with others. If they have attention problems, they can learn in short spurts instead of having to focus for hours on end.
• Occupations. People that move frequently, like the military, choose homeschooling because then their kids don't have to switch schools every few years. Young athletes and actors are often homeschooled to help with their schedules.
• Because their parents did. We're starting to come to an age where there are second-generation homeschoolers. I personally haven't met many, since most people I know are first time homeschoolers, but I know I plan on homeschooling any children I may have. Once you've been homeschooled, it often changes your whole perception on the whole school thing.
At it's core, homeschooling is simply learning at home. However, there are different methods used depending on what the parents decide to do. I'm going to go over a few, but there are many different variation and more being made each day. Homeschooling is something that each individual house does differently. There's not a right or wrong way, as long as the child learn's what is required by law.
People also differ on what they choose to do about reporting to the government. Some feel the need to file everything they do with the government, which is fine, and other like my family never have. Neither is right or wrong. Some families choose to put their kids through standardized testing to make sure they're on the right level, others don't. It's all a matter of opinion.
• School at home. This is the method that is most like a regular school, simply taken into the home. They often have set schedules and standardized curriculum for everyone.
• Charlotte Mason. This method was created by Charlotte Mason in the 1800s. It focuses on the idea that kids should be respected and taught first hand. Field trips, nature walks, and discussions are often used. This is a popular Christian method.
• Classical. This one is used both in homeschooling and classical schools. It was created in the Middle Ages and has three stages: Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric. Each stage teaches something different, and the whole approach strives to make connections between subjects.
• Unschooling. This method is considered child-led, which means the child decides when and what to learn. It's core belief is that kids will learn things like math, science, and language arts when they're ready, like walking and talking. They follow their interests instead of a set schedule.
• Montessori. This is similar to unschooling in that there are no set schedules, but instead the child chooses what they want to do. It's paced by the child and often includes hands-on activities. Most people only use this method for younger children.
• Relaxed or eclectic. This is one of the most common types of homeschooling, which is taken the pieces you like from other methods and making a style of learning that works best for your family. You choose what you think your kids need to learn. There's often no timings, instead the kids are expected to get their work done by a certain time. This is the style my family uses, as well as most homeschoolers I know.
Now for my favorite part. Debunking all those myths about homeschoolers. All the answers are my own opinions and may vary for other people, but they are what I have generally observed to be true.
Myth: Homeschoolers are weird and radical.
Truth: We may seem weird to you, but that's only because we don't conform to what the world wants us to be. Radical homeschoolers are few and far between, and even normal homeschoolers think they're strange.
Myth: We learn weird things.
Truth: Actually, we learn about the things we interest us or practical life skills, like cooking or nutrition. The nice thing about homeschooling is we can decided to learn about things that we want to. My brother took a stopmotion course, two of my siblings are learning to write a graphic novel, and I personally took a forensic science course. (What can I say? Forensic science is interesting.)
Myth: All homeschoolers are super smart.
Truth: When you read a book like Cheaper by the Dozen, watch a movie like RV, or hear about those genius homeschoolers that are in college by 15, you may assume that all homeschoolers are grades ahead of other kids and taking college courses as teenagers. Untrue. Most homeschoolers are perfectly normal and on level. Others struggle to learn, especially if they have a learning disability like dyslexia or ADHD. Sure, some start college early, but that's their choice.
It is true though that homeschoolers are generally smarter due to the way we're taught. We score better on tests and are better adults.
Myth: Homeschoolers are unsocialized.
Truth: Argg, this one annoys me every time. Just because we are taught at home doesn't mean we are unable to socialize with others. In fact, most homeschoolers get along well with their peers as well as people of all ages, since we work in all inclusive settings. I bet if you put one homeschooler and ten public schoolers in one room, you probably wouldn't even be able to tell.
Myth: Homeschoolers have tons of free time.
Truth: Yeah, we have more time than people who go to school, but that's because we get all our work done in the morning. Then we can spend the rest of the day doing what we want. Score! It's unfair when things like state competitions don't allow homeschoolers in for having an "advantage". We are just as busy as you.
Myth: Homeschoolers are naive.
Truth: People think that homeschoolers are naive and big eyed because we aren't in the world as much as public schooled kids. We are just as smart about the world as you are, more so maybe. We are able to actually discuss what happens around us, and learn about how the world works. We also know plenty about pop culture.
For other homeschool myths and thoughts, check out this playlist by Blimey Cow. If you're a homeschooler, definitely watch them. You'll be rolling on the floor with how true they are.
So, how can you apply all this to your writing? Allow me to help. Let's start by adding more homeschoolers to books. Especially if you're a homeschooler yourself.
Wouldn't it be interesting to write a realistic fiction novel about a homeschooler trying to go to a state competition that doesn't allow homeschoolers? Or an urban fantasy with a homeschooled character who's mom thinks learning about unicorns in downtown New York is science? Or a family who travels through space for whatever work they do and homeschool their children.
Once you've decided to add a homeschooler to your novel (an excellent choice, might I add), you need to decide what type of homeschool they do and research that. How do they run their day? Is their school online or on paper? What do they do in their free time? Do they go to a co-op? Because homeschoolers are so much more diverse than public schoolers, you'll need to do some work, but it's worth it. Homeschoolers everywhere will thank you.
Wow, that was a long post, but it felt really good to write. Fellow homeschoolers, what did I forget? What did you think?
Let's talk! What do you think of adding homeschooled characters? What other myths do you hate about homeschoolers? Tell me in the comments.