How homeschooling allows families to customize and personalize education.
by The Varsity Tutors School@Home Team
Conventional schooling leaves little room for deviation, whether it’s about exploring topics outside of the curriculum or spending extra time on a particular area or skill. Granted, for the occasional class or research assignment, students may choose a subject of their liking, but such activities are the exception rather than the rule. For the most part, it’s state administrators and course instructors that ultimately determine what content students are exposed to.
Consider, for instance, the New York State Education Department’s list of themes and topics to be taught in world language classes at public schools. The second theme is “Physical Environment, Geography, & Travel,” and under checkpoint B, it shows that students are to learn about weather, natural disasters, time and more in this unit.
Now, notice the ambiguity of the terms “Relevant geography” and “modes of travel.” Which geography and modes of travel to focus on is at the instructor’s discretion, which is why no two courses, even within the same language, are ever identical. One Spanish instructor may devote a class to the topic of earthquakes in Chile, while another may center that same class around hurricanes in the Caribbean.
Well, what if you and your child had a preference one way or the other? If you were homeschooling, this would be a non-issue, as both parties would have a say in what content they study—so long as it doesn’t stray too far from the standards.
In the article “To engage children, give them meaningful choices in the classroom,” Parker, et al explain that “Giving student real choices in the classroom — having to do with the material they study, the assignments they complete [. . .] — can boost their engagement and motivation, allow them to capitalize on their strengths, and enable them to meet their individual learning needs.” Being able to make such decisions fosters “feelings of autonomy, confidence, and relatedness,” according to the article.
But this should come as no surprise. If you were able to choose between an activity that interested you and one that didn’t, one that played on your strengths and one that didn’t, which one would you take away more from? The answer is obvious.
Sadia Shakir, attorney and mother of Northville, MI, understood this benefit when she chose to homeschool two of her daughters. The decision came about when her youngest expressed interest in memorizing verses from the Quran, an endeavor that would have been out of the question in public school.
But at the Shakir household, religious instruction has become part of her daughter’s routine. Shakir is pleased that her children can cultivate their passions through homeschooling and “believes the needs of her children should determine how they are educated.”
Daniel and Erin Matica of Worthington, MA homeschool their children for similar reasons, noting that their kids “have a lot of freedom” but also a great deal of responsibility. Regarding the children’s study choices, Erin commented, “They’re passionate about it, and because they’re passionate about it, they work really hard at it.” One of the Matica daughters explains that attending conventional school “wasn’t worth it” because it would have meant giving up her private art lessons.
In addition to providing greater curriculum flexibility, homeschooling can be a way to cater to your children’s learning styles. We all have a learning style, and some of us have more than one. While the exact number of learning styles that exists is debatable, most sources quote at least these four main ones: visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and reading/writing.
Each parent is suggested to learn a little about what each style entails, as well as suggested study methods for each. In so doing, parents will become more adept at identifying their children’s learning style(s), which is especially essential when students are too young to identify it themselves. (And, as a bonus, parents can apply this knowledge to their own learning journeys.)
In the classroom, most teachers try to include a mixture of activities that will address the diversity in student learning styles. For instance, a teacher may use ample diagrams and photos in presentations to help visual learners grasp the material. With auditory learners in mind, the teacher may then have the class listen to music, a podcast, etc. Variety is the only way for a classroom teacher to ensure everyone’s needs are being met.
But what if you, as a homeschooling parent, could use that instruction time more efficiently? That is, by tweaking all activities to align with your child’s learning style(s)? The results could be extraordinary.
Stacy Wells of Homeschooling.Mom reports that, “Kinesthetic learners are the ones most often diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) in a public-school setting that has no room for such movement-based learning.” In conventional schools, space and time limitations, as well as concerns over student safety, may prevent some instructors from engaging kinesthetic learners to their full capacity.
If your child has been diagnosed with one of these disorders, they may benefit from exploring more kinesthetic learning at home, where you can decide how and for how long each activity will take place. Whether to do it outdoors or indoors, using props or not—it’s all up to you.
But you don’t need to reinvent the wheel either: there are tons of quality online sources with game recommendations for kinesthetic learners, including vocabulary hopscotch, Legos for multiplication, and alphabet yoga. When you’re homeschooling, kinesthetic learning can take up 100% of the school day if that’s how you design it. The sky’s the limit.
Varsity Tutors School @ Home offers something for every homeschooler, whether it's customizable complementary instruction in both academic and elective subjects or a digital app that makes daily homeschooling logistics easier for parents. Learn more here.