“School at Home” vs. Home Education: Is there a difference?

In recent days, with everyone at home and attempting some form of schooling with their children, we have gotten comments like, “at least you guys are used to this, right?” Well, yes and no. I would hate for our temporary-homeschooling friends to somehow think that what their kids are having to do via online Zoom lessons and worksheets is what homeschooling is all about.  So, it seems like a fitting time to make a distinction between “schooling at home” and home education.

Photo by: Jessica Lewis, Unsplash

I liken the difference to my experience in the “Craft Cabin”:

Before moving to the U.K, we spent 10 years in the camp industry.  When we first took the position, I decided to volunteer in the craft cabin since I love to dabble in all things crafty.  I asked about the various crafts that campers usually made and the format that was used to deliver the instruction.  I learned that over the course of their week at camp, campers typically had 2 or 3 choices which consisted of something like friendship bracelets and pre-fabricated bird houses.  The campers would come in, and if you were working on friendship bracelets you were on one side of the room, bird houses on the other.  Everything was calm, and organized, and simple.

I was new, and didn’t want to rock the boat too much, but I began to lay out my vision for a different sort of space where kids could come and have access to a wealth of supplies, materials, tools, etc. and make whatever they wanted.  Luckily, I had a kindred creative spirit on staff who was excited about my plan, so I cleared out my personal craft closet (which I am just a little ashamed to say almost filled up the entire cabin) asked other families to do the same, used our craft budget to buy tools, paint, and other supplies and created a space that felt more like a studio than a classroom.  

It was love at first sight for the campers. “Can we make anything?” Yep! “Can we make more than one thing?” Yep! “Cool!” And they were off.  They pretty much had access to anything in the room, including the glitter!  I know, it’s usually where I draw the line too, but there is something about a kid’s face when they discover that glitter is fair game that makes the cleanup  totally worth it. (Well, almost).

The campers needed to be given boundaries and expectations of how the room was to be organized and how to respect the materials and the workspace, but that responsibility was coupled with the great freedom that they were allowed in the “studio”.  At times, there were up to 50 campers in that relatively small space and, to some, it looked like absolute chaos.  But if you studied each child you would notice that they were very intent and focused on their own particular project.  My job, and that of the other counselors, was simply to direct them to the needed supplies and tools, give mini-lessons if they needed to hot glue or sew something up, or to point them in the right direction if they had an idea about something they wanted to make.  And boy, did they have some ideas!  When the campers started using the wood scraps, hammers, and nails to create things like wooden guitars and cross-bows (who knew there was such a thin line between craft and weapon), it got a bit loud in that space so I sought out a dear friend who built an entire wood-working area on the back porch of the Craft Cabin.  

Photo by Barn Images, Upsplash

Time always flew by much too quickly and it gave me such joy to see these kids proudly show off their finished projects.

And guess what? At the end of the day, there were always still plenty of campers that wanted to make friendship bracelets by choice! 

I hope you can begin to see the parallels between the Craft Cabin transformation and the difference between doing “school at home” and home education.  

For the most part, schools are controlled, teacher-led environments where students are told what is important to learn, how to learn it, where to learn it, what the right and wrong answers are, not to question those in authority, and that the most important thing is the final product (aka- the numbers and letters you end up with at the end of high school).  

Photo by: Neonbrand, Upsplash

You see, in school, if you take away the teacher and the high-stakes exams, you pretty much take away the bulk of “learning” since everything hinges on the teacher to ask the questions, give assignments, lead engaging discussions and experiments, and give grades.  The exams? For motivation, of course.  The thought of “what might happen if I don’t score a …” keeps students grinding away. 

Unfortunately, many homeschooling families (who were homeschooling before the lockdown) have chosen to set up their learning in exactly this same format- Buy a curriculum (or multiple curriculums), force your child to learn it, and them test them on it.  The result?  Often kids who lack passion, motivation, and autonomy and see little relevance in the subject matter.

A thriving home education, on the other hand, emphasizes the learning process, taps into a child’s natural curiosity, and provides the resources for a child to develop his passions and talents. In home education, the adult acts more as a coach,  provider of resources, and encourager.  The goal is that children learn how to learn, ask their own questions, dive deeply into subject matter, conduct their own experiences, collaborate with other children on a project of interest, pursue opportunities in the community, etc.  When no teacher is present, learning simply carries on.  And not just learning, but real and deep learning. 

According to authors Jal Mehta and Sarah Fine (In Search of Deeper Learning: The Quest to Remake the American High School) “deeper learning” is defined as learning where students master content, identify with the content (find it relevant to their lives and future), and apply the content to other disciplines, projects, etc.  You can imagine that, as they were doing research for their book, it was only in a few pockets of a few schools (mostly in the area of electives) where this type of learning was happening. Although found to be extremely effective, schools simply do not have the bandwidth for this type of  “deeper learning”.  

But the home, on the other hand, is a perfect place for it.  Children have the time and space to master content, they can learn things that they identify with, are passionate about, and find relevant to their lives, and they can apply that knowledge to projects, volunteer work, jobs, other content areas, etc. 

If you are a homeschooling family by choice, what is it that sets your family apart from the rest of the homeschoolers in the world today who are simply “doing school” at home?  

Does your homeschool simply involve ticking curricula boxes?  Are you in constant fear of falling too far “behind”?  Have you ever stopped a child from trying to get to the bottom of a question because “there is not enough time for that” and they need to “get back on track”?  Do you give your children grades? Have you ever told your child that one subject is “not as important” as another?  Are you worried about what a “typical” year 5 student knows?  Is your child ever in tears learning material that is simply not “their thing”?  Are you working harder than your child to get them to learn?  Do your “school” hours seem to never end? 

If you have answered “yes” to any of the above, it may be time to re-evaluate why and how you are educating at home.  

Let’s not hinder our children by trying to replicate school at home.  Why not make your own list of things that can’t be done at school, but can be done at home, to benefit your child’s growth, well-being, and education.  Make sure that your days are full of those things, and you will have children who love to learn. The goal, after all, is to end up with adult children who know who they are, realize their gifts and how to develop them, and leave home with a sense of pride and purpose.

Photo by: Janko Ferlic, Upsplash

For advice on creating a plan to help your child thrive in their learning, please visit my services page.

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