I am a teacher and a mom of four. I’ve taught grades 6-12 in public, private, and parochial school. I also spent several years homeschooling my children. I’ve learned that there are lots of ways to approach education and that each has its advantages and disadvantages. What works for one child or family might not be the best fit for another. Still, there are a few things everyone can learn from homeschoolers that could benefit all learners.
1. Not all kids need to reach the same milestones at the same age.
Without pressure from administrators or the fear of getting poor standardized test results, homeschool parents are free to take a less urgent approach to reading and other skills. This more relaxed style might mean that one child learns to read or multiple or tie his shoes at four or five and another not until seven or eight. When kids aren’t expected to learn new skills until they are developmentally ready, it makes for a more positive learning experience, which can reduce stress and burnout–for kids and for teachers.
2. Not everyone has to learn the same things.
As a homeschool parent, I was fairly strict about math and reading. Whatever my children’s level, we had our lessons, and we stuck to them. But for other subjects, we were often less structured. I made sure my kids had the necessary resources–books, videos, games, etc. and then allowed them to explore (with my guidance) whatever interested them, be it marine life, Ancient Egypt, or outer space. Easy for me, fun for them!
3. Sometimes it’s okay to ditch the lesson.
The importance of flexibility in the classroom is something schools could learn from homeschoolers. Every homeschooling family is different, but in my family, we weren’t above ditching the lesson now and then to go outside, play a game, or just read. An occasional break from the routine just to do something fun or relaxing teaches kids a lot about balance and self-care.
4. Bigger kids make great tutors, helpers, and mentors.
Behind nearly every successful homeschooling mom is a big brother or sister who is reading to the little ones, helping a younger sibling with math or just tidying up before moving on to the next thing. Finding a way to provide these types of multi-grade interactions in a traditional school setting would benefit students and teachers and build a stronger sense of community.
5. Reading aloud is a big part of the day.
The benefits of reading to children, even older kids, are numerous. In a family with kids of varying ages or in a classroom with kids of varying abilities, reading out loud provides an opportunity for everyone to come together, to explore new worlds, talk about new ideas or just enjoy some much-needed downtime. Learn from homeschoolers and bring the oldie read-aloud tradition back into style! Looking for great read alouds for your kids? Check out these book lists:
- 30 Read Alouds Your High School Students Will Love
- 30 of The Best Read-Aloud Books For Middle School
- 30 of the Best Read-Aloud Books for Elementary School
6. Recess is a priority.
Homeschooled kids tend to have more time to play than their in-class peers. This is as much for mom’s sanity as it is for the kids’ enjoyment. But the research is clear: recess benefits kids physically, academically, and emotionally. How many behavioral and learning issues could be reduced or eliminated if kids just had more recess? Definitely something that schools today could learn from homeschoolers!
7. Nature study is for everyone.
Among the textbooks and workbooks, picture books and novels, it’s not uncommon to find The Handbook of Nature Study in a lot of homeschooling homes. Nature study is the quirky thing homeschooling families do that is part science, part recess, and part exploration. It usually involves getting outside and looking for and identifying bugs, leaves, birds, rocks, and other things in nature. Nature study can happen almost anywhere. It cultivates a love of investigation, a desire for knowledge, and an appreciation for the environment. Not only that, but there are multiple benefits to simply being outdoors.
8. Sleep matters.
Only half of American children are getting enough sleep. Considering that adequate sleep is crucial for healthy academic and emotional development, this is a disturbing statistic. Starting school later in the day enables homeschooled kids to get the sleep they need. Middle schoolers and teenager, in particular, could benefit from a more sleep-friendly school schedule.
9. A little boredom is a gift.
For the classroom teacher, keeping kids busy is key to maintaining order. But if teachers had the freedom to take kids outside at their discretion, or to set aside more time for students to simply read, draw, write, or play, they and their students might discover what many homeschooling families know–boredom is the birthplace of creativity.
10. Childhood is precious.
Many homeschooling practices–laidback learning, plenty of recess, reading together, being outside–are largely about one thing: preserving the joy and wonder of childhood. Childhood is a vapor. No curriculum goals or test scores are worth robbing kids of the time and space they need to enjoy it.
Could traditional schools benefit by taking a few pages from the homeschooling playbook? Sure. And the reverse is certainly true as well (take it from a mama who forgot to teach her son how to spell our last name.) But the truth is, many of these homeschool-inspired practices would have to be implemented at the administrative or even legislative level. Still, there are some homeschool hacks we, as classroom teachers, can try on our own or that we should advocate for to make learning more fun and relaxing for us and our students.