Editor's Note: Bethany M. Gardiner, M.D., is a pediatrician and author of "Highlighting Homeschooling," (http://www.stickytapepress.com/) which guides parents through the educational options available to them and their children.
As a pediatrician, I was a dedicated career woman and never thought much
about the schooling options of either my children or my patients. I was a product of public schools and assumed the traditional schooling model was fine.
However, as I listened to my patients and their parents, I realized there was a theme being repeated many times over in family after family. They were stressed about their fast-paced lives and the futility of being forced into a box of expectations for a life that they did not fit into. Whether it was fighting against a system that penalized sick children for too many missed days, trying to challenge children that are bored in class, arguments about an ADHD diagnosis, to the hours of homework and busywork that intruded upon family time, parents were feeling overwhelmed and out of control, and these feelings were being transmitted to their children.
The more I considered these facts, I realized that I myself was losing a family-centric lifestyle, struggling against the demands of an outside system while trying to balance a career and my family. I knew that to impact my family and children in the most positive way possible, I needed to take control of my children's education and tailor it to meet their needs and those of my family. By participating in their education, I could teach a love of learning and a passion for education that I saw missing in most of my patients that went to traditional brick and mortar schools. And while meeting the needs of my children, I could also improve my family life by adding to the time that we spent together rather than taking away from it.
If you are like I was in the beginning, you might be attracted to the idea of
home schooling for the benefits, but still worried about whether it is for you. You might be worried that you are not a trained teacher, or patient and creative. Rest assured, I quickly learned that I was not very patient or creative either, but all I needed was the already present love for my children and the desire to see them reach their fullest potential. You might be worried that it would take too much time and that you could not continue working on your other pursuits. Well, it does take some time, but when you think that you don't have to wash uniforms, drive back and forth to school, or participate in school fundraisers, it isn't all that much more time and add in that you will be able to meet the needs of your children better than any institution ever can. I was also able to continue working with minor adjustments to my schedule.
Home schooling becomes a lifestyle that will draw your family together, while
traditional schools are a separating force, from the physical separation during the school day to the hours of homework at night. With home schooling, you can tailor the work time to fit in with the family instead of making the family conform around the needs of others. There is still work to be done and lessons to be learned, but they can be fit in whenever it is best for you and your children. Learning can be extended effortlessly into all aspects of life from errands to vacations. Also, extending learning outside of traditional classroom resources leads to practical applications and real world experiences that are hard to achieve in brick and mortar schools.
Aside from the family and lifestyle improvements that home schooling fosters, the
removal of the one-size-fits-all classroom mentality leads to a highly tailored educational experience for your child. There is time for side trips according to their interests. These side trips help spark intellectual curiosity as well as promote the development of critical thinking and self-directed learning. Colleges complain that many children come to them ill-prepared for collegiate level studies and have begun to actively recruit home-schoolers, realizing that home schooled children have the skills necessary for independent learning because they are built into the home schooling lifestyle and educational model by its very nature.
After over a decade home schooling, with one child now in college and another in
high school, I can truly say it has been the best experience of my life and the best choice for my children and family. As a home-schooling parent, I became a cheerleader, facilitator, mentor, and role-model. I also have the knowledge that we are a tighter knit family unit because of the experiences we shared and I wouldn't trade that for anything.
Home schooling might not be a journey for everyone, but I feel fortunate to have taken the trip.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Bethany Gardiner.