Sports News Editor, Alabama, USA
As my job title suggests, I have a passion for sports. I’ve been around sports my whole life and working at the newspaper has brought me a lot of joy through the years.
I have one child who is 10 years old. Elliot is not interested in sports at all. While I’m a little disappointed he doesn’t share my love of sports, it has not taken away from our father-son relationship. He shows an interest in a wide variety of subjects, such as animals – wolves in particular. At age 7 he informed his mother and me he intends to be a wolf biologist.
I think the fact he knows what career path he wants to follow is because of his home-based education. Had he been going to public school on a daily basis, I don’t believe he would have been able to discover what his passions were. He was able, on his own, to discover his passion for wolves and study the subject in depth. Homeschooling has been a wonderful advantage for Elliot. I didn’t use to think that way. At all.
When Elliot was born, I naturally expected him to attend a public school, get involved in activities such as band, sports, and clubs, or maybe in student government. That’s how I was raised and everyone else I know was raised. In fact, I had never met a homeschooling parent or child before.
The homeschooling idea was brought to me by my wife, Tiffany, who had been researching it on the Internet. She had a son, Trey, who was in public school, and she had concerns about putting Elliot through the same ordeal. Every day, it seemed, she would tell me all the trouble Trey was having in school. The trouble wasn’t that Trey had difficulties learning, rather, it was the fact the school was not doing enough to educate him. By the time he was in fourth grade, Trey had lost interest in school and learning altogether. It wasn’t fun and it seemed like this horrible chore that had to be endured for eight hours a day, just like a job.
My wife didn’t want that for Elliot and she did her best to convince me that homeschooling was the way to give Elliot the best education possible. I was adamantly against it. I was a product of the public education system and was able to attend college and get a job. Why couldn’t Elliot do the same? I couldn’t understand why it was so difficult to realize that public school had plenty of benefits.
Learning the Ropes
The biggest concern I had was the actual learning part. I’m not a teacher and neither is my wife. How in the world was I going to teach my son about math, science, literature or history? I’m not qualified to do those things.
After much discussion of the idea, I relented and we began the journey of home-based education. At first it was easy. When kids are young, you are just teaching the basics – numbers, letters, shapes, colors, etc. This is the age they soak up all the information, and this type of education was required of me as a parent to teach him anyway.
When we began doing more advanced stuff, like reading, simple math, and an introduction to science, I began to get worried. My struggle was not with Elliot learning the topics, but with me giving the instruction and teaching the material. There are several ways to educate at home, and the method we chose was a combination of unschooling and other relaxed methods. I began introducing material to Elliot and we discussed it at length over the course of several days until he was able to grasp it fully. We did this with all subjects and material and I found that we didn’t just discuss it during times of learning, but we talked about it in the car, at the grocery store, while watching TV or when were just hanging out together.
I began to realize that school was in session all day, even if we weren’t in a classroom or sitting at a desk. I think that’s what sold me on the whole thing. When a kid is in school he is there to learn and once the bell rings, learning time is over. With unschooling, the opportunity to learn is ongoing and is not restricted to a schedule.
Because of this, we were able to spend our time focused on a particular piece of material and stick with it for as long as we wanted. In public school, there isn’t enough time to devote to one thing because they have to follow a guideline. When Elliot was having difficulty with math, we were able to put everything else away and just stick with math until he felt comfortable with it.
Another concern for me was friends. How in the world would Elliot interact with other kids if he was at home and not around other boys and girls his own age? My fears were put to rest early in Elliot’s unschooling development. We got involved in many activities and groups to support our unschooling endeavors and got to know many parents and kids along the way. It didn’t take long to realize that other homeschooled kids attended the same groups, camps and events as we did. Elliot made many friends along the way, including his best friend Max.
He is not receiving the same form of social interaction as ‘regular’ kids in public school, and I do realize Elliot is different from those kids, as he hasn’t been exposed to them and the culture that comes with public school. Elliot does get to meet a much more eclectic group of people, however.
They have allowed Elliot to be himself, without the repercussions of being teased or mocked. Everyone in the group was a little different and everyone was OK with that. Elliot has even stated to me that he knows he is not like other kids and is a little weird. But he is OK with that. This fact, above anything else we have benefited from unschooling, is the most satisfying. I felt pressure to fit in and be with the in-crowd in school. I didn’t dare share my true feelings for something until the rest of the group was OK with it. If it was considered ‘stupid’ or ‘lame’ to do something, I didn’t do it. Elliot doesn’t care. He knows who he is and is fine with it. He has long hair and dresses pretty weird and goes out in public wearing a soldier’s helmet. He gets stares from people in restaurants, and gets called ‘a girl’ all the time due to his long hair, but he’s perfectly fine with it and takes it all in stride. I know that’s a direct correlation to him being unschooled.
Although I see positive results with unschooling, I still am not 100 percent certain of Elliot’s future. I still have concerns, mainly with college and how Elliot will be accepted and whether or not we are teaching him all he needs to know.
We are working on a plan to help us with those concerns, but there are still a lot of issues we have and some doubts as to whether we are doing right by Elliot and his future. He’s behind in his reading skills, and his writing skills leave much to be desired. We are hoping these issues will be small bumps in the road and not cause trouble when he’s older.
I know he’s a smart kid because he educates me on some things that I don’t know and when he learns something, he learns it. It’s not just retained for a week and forgotten. Overall, I’m totally for unschooling. Like I say, I still have some doubts, but the results are conclusive that it was right for us. Elliot is a happy child who has flourished from this method of education.