By Nur Kose and Zaynub Siddiqui
The school year will be beginning for many kids around the world. Many kids are wondering what this year will be like. Will they go to a public school or a private school? Will they begin the adventure of homeschooling?
People are often curious about families who homeschool. As homeschoolers, we have encountered many questions including numerous misconceptions about the way our school works. Some kids think we’re totally lucky, while others pity us. Many have mixed feelings about us, wondering if it’s okay to befriend us or thinking that we’re weird because we study at home.
There are many articles and books out there about the homeschooling experience from the parents’ perspective. What’s missing is how the kids, the homeschoolers themselves, view their way of schooling. Two homeschoolers in two different states, we have decided to collaborate and write a bit about how we feel about homeschooling. We want to chase away some stereotypes and common misconceptions that so many people we have met have about us.
Stereotype #1: Homeschoolers Sleep All Day and Play All Night
Many people think that just because we’re at home all day, we don’t seriously study. Perhaps they believe that receiving a proper education requires neat rows of desks and chairs in classrooms as is the norm in schools throughout the world. Many may believe that staying at home isn’t conducive to learning while in fact one’s home is the best place to learn and grow as a family. As homeschoolers, we are able to use this to our benefit, learning practical life applications and school studies at the same time. And yes, many homeschoolers actually wake up and sleep at an appointed time and follow a certain study schedule throughout the day.
Stereotype #2: Homeschoolers are Not Smart
One slightly frustrating misconception that people often have about homeschoolers is that we’re not very smart or are not capable of learning well and that’s why we pulled out of school. Even when people think they understand homeschooling, they are often surprised when they find out I get A’s and have won nationwide academic competitions during my years homeschooling. What people don’t understand is that the world of homeschooling is very broad. Just as all sorts of kids make up a public or private school, the same can be said for homeschoolers. Students even vary within one family. One of my brothers, for example, is great at memorizing facts and this helps him get good grades on exams. My other brother, however, often has trouble remembering many important facts. Unlike my first brother, though, he shines with creativity, always ready to make something with some paper and glue or experiment with various supplies in the kitchen. “Smartness” can’t be easily determined by a set standard. Everyone learns differently and excels in something different.
Stereotype #3: Homeschoolers are Geniuses
Then there’s the other group of people who assume that homeschoolers are natural geniuses and can zip through grades without much effort. Sure, there are lots of homeschoolers around the world who have demonstrated superior skills and homeschoolers are often the ones to win major competitions. It’s also true that many homeschoolers are a grade or two ahead. With the flexibility of homeschooling, they have been able to finish studying the material for a grade more quickly than others have. However, this doesn’t mean that simply being a homeschooler will make you a genius or that homeschooling requires little work to achieve high results.
To make an assumption about the academic capabilities of homeschoolers based on a few homeschoolers you know is neither fair nor accurate.
Stereotype #4: Homeschooling is So Boring
Many think that, as said before, we sit around all day. This is, in fact, very untrue. Homeschooling comes with so many opportunities and lessons that normally any student in school would not be able to participate in. We meet amazing people and have the chances to go and explore places. Oftentimes, parents make a homeschooling essay or lesson out of all sorts of experiences. For example, I once went on a week-long trip to Dallas,Texas. Distracted by the wonders of the trip, I had not gotten a chance to study during the week. During the plane ride home, my mom whispered to me, “I expect an essay about our Dallas trip in two days.” Some homeschoolers do complain that homeschooling is boring, but these are often the ones who have not been to public or private school before and are not able to really compare the two. And of course, kids without many siblings to homeschool with would probably not have much fun.
Stereotype #5: Homeschooling is All Fun
Sometimes kids who attend public or private school are jealous that homeschoolers get to go to Chucky Cheese’s in the daytime or go traveling for long periods of time during the school year. Many often think that homeschooling is always fun, picturing us studying in pajamas, munching on cookies while studying algebra. And it definitely is true that much of the time, homeschooling is lots of fun. We do get to go places other kids can’t when they’re in school and we get to tell kids who go to school stuff about what happened at daytime get-togethers. Usually my mom doesn’t go out during the daytime, deciding to focus on our studies instead. Sometimes, however, when we were younger and she was invited to a mothers’ gathering, she would take the bunch of us with our bags of schoolbooks. The host would set aside a room for us to study in. It was often weird to be the only kids there, except for the little toddlers and babies running around making a ruckus and sometimes grabbing our pencils. We’d often feel special to be the only kids able to witness these get-togethers among the other kids in our community. Other times, just like any public or private school, homeschooling isn’t so much fun. We also worry about our grades, get frustrated by exams, and refer to subjects we don’t like as boring.
Stereotype #6: All Homeschoolers Homeschool Alike
Homeschoolers all have different ways of teaching and planning. Some join groups in which multiple parents teach all their kids together. Some study alone at home with just the parents and the kids. Some study through online courses and communicate with their own teachers through the Internet or phone. Others don’t work on their regular studies much and do the minimum amount of homeschooling because they might be doing a professional sport or memorizing the Qur’an. Some homeschoolers are more structured with set hours each day to study while others are more flexible and study at random times throughout the week. Teaching isn’t restricted to the way of public schooling and neither is learning. You can learn through anything if want to. In many homeschools, parents teach important skills through hands-on learning. One homeschooling family we know learned about raising hens in a year-long project. The parents incorporated math in the project while the kids carefully measured boards to build the chicken coop. Caring for the hens taught science and responsibility. The kids even had English lessons by reporting about the hens and writing articles about their experiences. Such methods of learning inspired the children more than plain old facts in their textbooks and bland assignments about things they have never experienced. Such kids are more likely to pursue their studies on their own because of their interest in such projects.
Basically, there are so many ways to homeschool that you can be pretty certain that any two homeschoolers you know study differently. Don’t make assumptions about all homeschoolers based on what you have seen in someone else.
Stereotype #7: Homeschooling is not “Real School”
When people make comments like “don’t you wish you went to real school?” I always get annoyed, saying that I do go to real school. Does studying at home mean that I am not getting a real education? Have the last seven years of my life been unreal?? If so, why did I just beat you by twenty points in that vocabulary bee? Maybe unreal is better than real.
Stereotype #8 All Homeschoolers are Antisocial and Awkward
Many people will come up to me and ask, “Where do you go to school?” I reply with a small smile, “I homeschool.” Then it gets so quiet that you can hear the crickets. Everything gets awkward and the girl looks at me with pity and I can tell she is mentally questioning my social life, which really isn’t fair. In fact, before homeschooling, while attending a public school I was so shy to the point that if someone called my name I would feel like hiding under the table in fright. Homeschooling brought me out of my shell and made me communicate with people more. Just because I don’t talk to kids my age every day does not mean my communication skills are undeveloped. I regularly attend workshops and Islamic events with my family and when I interact with other community members, they remark that I appear more mature than many others my age. What we really don’t get is why people assume that a traditional school environment is a better environment for kids to grow up in than a homeschool. How can kids ever mature and learn real-life lessons if they’re stuck with other immature kids their age forty hours a week?
Stereotype #9: Homeschoolers Don’t Dream About Going to College
When I first encountered the question, “So, do you plan to go to college?” I was momentarily shocked by the implication of the question. Did people really think that just because I was homeschooled, I wasn’t interested in pursuing higher education? Did people really think that I just stayed at home for fun and didn’t care about the future? However, I eventually allowed myself to realize that such a misconception wasn’t entirely the questioner’s fault. There are, in fact, many homeschoolers who do not plan to attend college due to other studies or family circumstances.
Stereotype #10: Homeschooling is Restrictive
This absolutely must be the most untrue stereotype ever. Upon separately interviewing a number of homeschoolers (the kids), we discovered that most of them enjoy homeschooling because of the freedom it provides. One homeschooler remarked that she gets to learn faster than kids in public school because she studies at her own pace. Another girl stated that she loves being homeschooled because her mom allows her to organize a plan for her daily work on her own. Being homeschooled, she gets special privileges. All the homeschoolers we interviewed agreed that the best part of being homeschooled is the freedom it offers.
We have probably had the best experiences as young adults, having so many opportunities. We have entered competitions and attend events normal students would never be able to attend, written books for children, and have talked to people that you don’t meet everyday. Most of all we are able to learn about life the real way, learning how to navigate and search for opportunities rather than worrying about our next period. We can advance in topics that we excel in and use that to make a difference in the world. As a homeschooler, I’ve read college level books and have written articles for a really cool website :) and excelled in my photography more than I would have ever been able to if I were in school. Since our parents get to decide on our curriculum, we get to incorporate religious studies with our other subjects. For example, while learning about Egyptian history, my mom adds Prophet Musa’s story in, allowing me to learn from different perspectives. With homeschooling, we can learn about the things we want to, such as Islamic art, Islamic history, and Islamic science. We can include Qur’an reading and memorization in our daily schedules.
People have always commented on how cool I am and how lucky we are because of all the opportunities we have. One of the best parts about being homeschooled is that our parents realize many things about us that they wouldn’t have been able to discover had we gone to a regular school.
Although you may have heard many stereotypes about homeschooling, try to think of it as a unique experience, not something that’s there for weird people. Just as public and private schools offer different methods of learning, homeschooling is a special way for kids to bloom as they learn about life with the people they love most.
About the Authors:
Zaynub is thirteen years old and is in ninth grade. She enjoys debating and is an aspiring photographer. She also has a special passion for reading, writing, and using social networks. Zaynub was born in Pennsylvania and raised in California. She currently lives in Washington D.C., USA with her parents, sister, and brothers.
Nur Kose enjoys reading, writing, and riding her bike. Having recently turned 16, she is enjoying starting to drive. Nur is starting 12th grade through Indiana University’s online high school diploma program. When she is not studying, she is leading the 99 Orphans Team (of which she is president), trying to get articles for MKM (of which she is editor), or managing her room (of which she is boss). She also blogs at http://nurkose.net/. Nur lives in Delaware, USA with her parents and four younger siblings.
(Attention, writers! Muslim Kids Matter is a regular feature at Muslim Matters. New articles for kids are posted every other Sunday. You’re welcome to send in your entries to firstname.lastname@example.org.)