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Monday, January 14, 2013

Three Reasons People Think Homeschooled Kids are Geniuses

Someone asked me today if I thought being homeschooled helped my kids get ahead, ie move beyond grade level academically.  I said no, right away, and I think she was surprised at the bluntness of my answer.  But it’s true:  homeschooling won’t necessarily give your kids an edge.

Here are a few reasons why people think homeschooled kids are geniuses, and why it ain’t necessarily so (though homeschooling is great for other reasons!):

  • Homeschooled kids love to show off their knowledge:  Yes, indeed!  Most homeschooled kids I’ve met are not inhibited about doing what most adults would consider “showing off.”  They haven’t been discouraged by the experience of sitting in a classroom with their hand up waiting for their turn.  Even with multiple siblings, their turn is bound to come sooner than in a class of 30-plus.  Then, too, they’re around adults all day who care about their interests and listen patiently while they express themselves.  This freedom to say what they want can make the kids seem precocious, but I think it’s just the expectation that they will be treated, to some extent, as equals in conversation.
  • Homeschooled kids are allowed to specialize: Even the busiest, strictest homeschool schedule probably has more “airtime” built into it than a typical school schedule, and not all homeschoolers are busy or strict.  That means there is extra time built into the schedule for the child’s own pursuits.  And that’s without even taking into consideration parents who are flexible enough to drop everything for a unit study or a “block” of a week or even a month to stop and study a particular area – just because the kid wants to.  Now, I’m not one of those parents, but I think it makes a difference that Naomi Rivka has hours and hours each day to read and memorize trivia about the Titanic, or Helen Keller or Princess Di or some other great tragic figure or event.  I may not always enjoy the content of her specialization, but she’s got the time to do it, most days.
  • Homeschooled kids learn at the right level, regardless of grade: Yes, homeschooled kids can work ahead of grade level sometimes.  That doesn’t mean they’re geniuses; it just means you’re paying attention to them and their educational needs.  Remember that euphemism, when tech companies were laying off employees and instead of “downsizing” it was called “rightsizing”?  Well, in this case, the euphemism is true.  Homeschooling allows parents to “rightsize” their kid’s education.  In some subjects, that may mean bumping the child up to the next grade level.  In others, it may mean bumping the kid DOWN.  Susan Wise Bauer has a lot to say about that in a lecture I’ve been listening to a lot lately, Homeschooling the Real Child (yes, I paid for it; yes, it was worth it).
  • Homeschool “Success Stories” are self-selecting:  It’s true: studies have shown that homeschoolers do equally well or better, academically.  And it’s also true, I believe, that homeschoolers are accepted into universities at equal or better rates than kids who attend high school.  Therefore, homeschooled kids are geniuses, right?  Nope.  The problem with those results is that testing – and university application – is voluntary.  Parents who sign their kids up for testing are probably the ones who know their kids will do great.  And sure, the kids who aim for university usually get there.  But what those statistics don’t show are the homeschooled children who have succeeded in other ways – like the kids who find a meaningful trade and apprentice into it at 17 or 18 (are they – who may never be unemployed in their lives – counted in the statistics as “dropouts”?).  If your head is in the mindset of testing and university acceptance, you may lose sight of the goal of educating your particular, special, individual child according to his or her own particular, special, individual path.  It often surprises me how parents put in tons of work homeschooling their kids, only to “buy into” the system and start drooling over universities when they turn 17.

Here are my two little “geniuses”:

  • Naomi Rivka is working slightly above grade level in math, which I like.  But she’s not a super-genius – she’s just good at math and likes it enough to spend time on it.  Her Hebrew and Chumash are a bit below grade level (I mean for a North American day-school student in Grade 2).  Meanwhile, her reading, writing, spelling and vocabulary and a few other things seem bang-on for Grade Two.  Oh, and her current specialty – obsession, really – is Princess Diana.
  • Gavriel Zev is well below Senior Kindergarten (US K-level) in math.  Not behind enough to worry, but he can’t yet look at a group of objects and understand how many there are.  He can see a group of seven dots identical to one he just counted – and still have to count each one.  But he actually enjoys counting the dots, so we’re working through it and having fun, working on numbers and what they mean, and forgetting about operations for now; that will come later.  Which is okay, because in Hebrew, in reading, even in handwriting, he seems to be working at about a Grade One level.  He loves words, he loves stories and pictures.  When I give the kids the first few letters from a new vocabulary word, he’s usually the first to guess the word correctly (our last word was “perseverance”).  His current “specialty” is his lifelong obsession with concocting dramatic adventure stories for Frankie, Spot and his other stuffed critters, complete with dialogue and many literal “cliff-hangers.”  None of my other kids has had so many stuffed animals with names, and no other child has been as loyal to them for so long.

So that’s my kids, and me, loving the flexibility to know my children well.  I wonder what I’d do if these were two anonymous children in a classroom of 30… how would I ever figure out their needs, let alone start meeting them?

And looking back at the headline I chose when I started writing this post four hours ago, I’ve realized something amazing…

Homeschooled kids may not be geniuses… but homeschooling parents certainly are.  :-)

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