Eight-year-old Pritha loves to make doodles. She attends dance and music classes. Every morning she decides on the subject she wants to study. Pritha belongs to the growing tribe of home schoolers in India, who don’t pack their school bags and rush to catch the school bus. The mornings in her home are slow and lack the frenzy of activity displayed in the neighbourhood.

In India, home schooling made big news in 2016 when a Mumbai home-schooler Malvika Joshi got into the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) without having Class 10 or 12 certificates. The admission was based on her computer programming talent.

Today, home schooling is gaining momentum due to reasons like disillusionment with the present education system that imparts knowledge in overcrowded classrooms in a routine mundane way offering no opportunity to think. Parents want to provide children with a space to learn and explore at their own pace.

Three home schooling Moms Pratibha Agrawal, Rebecca Manari and Sandhya Viswan share their home schooling journey with us.

Pratibha’s son Pratyaksh (12 years at present) has attended formal school in India, schooling in America, alternate and home schooling in India.

Rebecca’s son Ishaan (11 years at present) attended school for a month in class one then started home schooling. Her daughter Aaliyah (5 years at present) a newborn at that time has never attended school.

Sandhya’s son, Pranavswaroop Vinod  (in class 12th at present) attended conventional school until the mid of grade 4 before he started home schooling. Her younger son Omkar Vinod (in class 5th at present) was home-schooled from the beginning.  He attended a school in Grade 1 and IB school (International Baccalaureate) in Grade 3 and is at an alternative space this year.

What is Home Schooling?

Home schooling is educating a child at home. It is also known unschooling, independent learning, child-led learning or free learning. It works upon the principle of identifying the child’s interests, passions, his curiosity and working with him rather than teaching him.

Charlotte Mason a 19th century educator says, ”Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.” She felt that children needed freedom to explore “Let children alone… the education of habit is successful in so far as it enables the mother to let her children alone, not teasing them with perpetual commands and directions – a running fire of Do and Don’t; but letting them go their own way and grow, having first secured that they will go the right way and grow to fruitful purpose.”

Reasons for Home Schooling

Home schooling is a conscious decision for parents to take full responsibility to educate their child without depending on conventional school systems. Reasons for home schooling could be parent’s beliefs, dissatisfaction with the education system, inability of the child to adjust or unwillingness for any reason and bullying.

Pratibha’s son started school at the age of three and enjoyed initially but later, became reluctant. Pratibha was shocked when one day he said, “I am a bad boy.” Apparently, his teacher admonished him for being unable to paint and draw according to the preconceived standards. Some similar incidents impelled Pratibha to change school. He studied over two years in the new school and discontinued when Pratibha learned that fear was being instilled into his mind by threatening him with dire consequences for certain things.

She cites the main reason for home schooling is enhancing self-esteem and self-awareness by providing freedom with responsibility. “Because the more you are aware of, the happier you are about yourself,” she explains.

Beliefs and Conviction

The decision to homeschool children depends on both parents. It requires clarity, planning, time and lot of effort to homeschool a child.

Pratibha’s husband was not convinced at the beginning. He had long working hours and by the time he was back their son would go to bed without any interaction. They started with an experiment by paying the school fees but not sending him to school. Within three months, her husband observed a lot of changes in their son. After three months he agreed.

“I believe in the philosophy – if I will not close one door I can’t see the other doors open,” explains Pratibha.

Sandhya and her husband were convinced about home schooling. They contemplated home schooling when the elder son was nine years old. “Our older son is gifted in music, and we wanted him to pursue it.” At that time her younger son three years of age was relaxed and doing well in the home schooling environment.

Rebecca wanted to try home schooling and she convinced her husband, “it certainly didn’t take much to convince” she says, “anything and whatever supports the happiness and growth of our children, is what he would agree to.”

Social and Family Pressures

Home schooling is not a new phenomenon and most people are aware, but there is some confusion that may create familial or social pressures on home-schoolers.

Pratibha’s in-laws could not accept the idea but her parents supported the decision.

The concept of home-schooling differs from family to family. As Sandhya says,  “Among home schooling families, there exist different belief systems about education of children. It requires a lot of clarity, courage and strength to find belief system that revolves around your own child because the whole concept is about concentrating on an individual. Two individuals or home-schooling families are not same so home-schooling needs to be adapted according to you, your family and your child.”

Rebecca faced no major challenge from family or society. In the beginning, she used to get annoyed by the question of ‘socialization’. She was also a little nervous about telling the school principal about her plans for home schooling. “So I told her that we were taking him out of school because we were moving to another state.”

Sandhya found that people were concerned about regular issues like socialization and discipline. However, her boys impressed people with their independence. They never had any issue with the paperwork like passport and Adhaar card.

Qualifications

You don’t need any special qualifications to home school your child. Parents can teach and outsource if required.

Pratibha’s son loves to learn music, farming and tennis, and they have outsourced. “If you are not good at any skill you need to arrange things for them.”

Rebecca finds home schooling easy. “I believe that if you are happy to be a parent, and you have the time; you can home school.”

“You just need to be passionate enough. Understanding the child’s needs and the family’s outlook on education is of prime importance,” shares Sandhya.

The Beginning

Home schooling is walking on an uncharted territory. It’s more of discovering and exploration.

Tamara L. Chilver author of the book ‘Grace for the Homeschool Mom says’, “Home schooling allows you the freedom to step off the highway of learning and take a more scenic route along a dirt road.”

Take one step at a time holding your child’s hand. There are no rules, schedules or procedures to adhere. There is no permission or syllabus required. Start where your child wants to. Without any assumptions and set procedures and views expert views just observe your child. A young child will exhibit his or her interest. This will lead you to the place ‘where to start’ Experimenting with methods you will soon understand what works.

Rebecca home schooling journey began after reading the book ‘The Teenage Liberation Handbook’. Her son was bright, creative and disciplined but his teachers were different. “We didn’t want to settle for something that wasn’t good enough as far as our children’s education was concerned.” She met two home schooled teenagers who lived near their place who convinced her that home schooling was the way. They were passionate, friendly, and involved in wonderful and meaningful work.

Subjects to Study

When a child attends a formal school, he follows a pre-decided syllabus and a time-table. Home schooling provides complete freedom to learn. Categorizing learning into subjects can happen when the child is older and is thinking of specializing.

Starting with fundamental skills reading writing and arithmetic is a good way to begin. Younger children mostly are happy with an approach that blends basic skills with other subjects like science, history, geography, art and craft to provide an integrated learning process.

Teaching science, history or geography could be done through exploration, for example, through nature walks, nature journals and gardening. Going to a zoo or visiting historical monuments can also be included. Once the child’s interest is discovered he can explore the Internet or borrow books from libraries.

Pratibha’s son disliked reading but listened attentively for two hours at a stretch. So they started with reading. Recently, he has exhibited interest in academics and started with 5th and 6th standard books. He has completed standard 5th maths and is learning Hindi alphabets. He is at different levels in different subjects.

Mostly, kids learn faster when home-schooled because the system lays no stress for performance without any comparison.

Routines and Schedules

Every home schooling family creates a system based on personal preferences. Some home schooling families follow a schedule to learn certain subjects every day and other subjects once a week.

Pratibha’s son attends classes in the evening. He follows a flexible agenda. It depends on how he wants to spend time. They have a free schedule where other things and activities are incorporated with ease.

Rebecca’s children enjoy an adaptable routine. “Children should have the freedom to be unpredictable and moody when they like, she says. For them, holidays and long road trips happen whenever they feel like. It’s very stress-free.” They follow no timetable.  Her daughter still has never had set lessons. She has started reading and loves playing with the calculator. Playing in sand is another activity she enjoys and Rebecca is happy with things as they are.

Sandhya started with a weekly structure for her older son and daily morning routine for the younger one. The schedule was kept adjustable to accommodate their music and sports activities. Her sons did have a specific school time at different stages. “Depending on the family situation at the point of time, we worked on whatever suited our need.”

She says that school work is a very small part of their lives. Until the age of 12-13 years, the child should work only on the required skills, reading, writing, comprehension and math.

Socialization

Social contact with other kids is essential but ironically sometimes this can be a reason to opt for home schooling because of bullying or problems with the school environment.

A child can find friends in neighbourhood. Sometimes families may be hesitant to let their children associate with home-schoolers.

Pratibha’s son who loved playing with neighbourhood kids has recently become choosy. Today, he likes to mingle with individuals with whom he shares similar interests. He has many home schooling friends on the Internet and Instagram.

According to Rebecca, the school going children are deprived of socialization because of being stuck in classrooms with their head in books all day long. “My kids can go out and do lots of things that school going kids don’t have any time to do.”

Sandhya is not very much concerned with socialization. Just as Rebecca, she feels there are enough opportunities to mingle with the outside world, more so than a school going child. Home schooling does not mean sitting at home and studying all the time. “I feel that my boys find it easy to socialize with all age groups, and they are not limited by chronological age in finding friends of the same wavelength as themselves.”

Advantages of Home schooling

Life of home-schoolers speaks of independence, flexibility, and exploration. It helps to live life at a slower pace instead of racing through it.

Rebecca observes that her children’s life is richer, happier and wonderful because they don’t go to school. She shudders while remembering her school days. Though she went to one of the best schools in Bangalore at that time, she grew up hating school.

For her, the biggest benefit of home schooling is the freedom to be. Her kids learn what they want and wake up when they feel like “Their moods, thoughts and dreams all matter to us, which is something I can’t say would matter to a teacher in a school.”

“In school, nobody would give my children’s’ dreams or feelings a second thought. However, at home, that’s what matters the most. My children are respectful and sensitive to others because of this,” she adds.

Home schooling provides customized education more suitable to the child’s requirements. “And that is exactly what we want,” shares Sandhya.

She likes “the flexibility to go at a child’s pace and to follow his passion. It also provides us the opportunity to apply what they learn or learn from what they apply.”

For Pratibha, the major benefit of home schooling is about taking joint decisions as a family about food, entertainment and holidays, and discuss challenges and fears to see life the way it is in the reality. “It is also about accepting each other’s choices and complementing each other.”

Challenges

Home-schooling is a challenging journey. As a parent, you need to create your own path.

“There is a “certain amount of pressure on the parent and on doing things the ‘right way’, If you trust yourself and your children to do things pleasantly and respectfully, I think you’ll be okay,” adds Rebecca.

Sandhya finds no drawbacks of home schooling with regard to her family. “I focus on what positives I gain from any situation and have learnt to accept what life offers.”

Introspection, observation and communication are very important for home schooling. If you cannot create that atmosphere for home-schooling with effective dialogue to connect with kids, it may become difficult. If parents don’t burden children with their expectations and give the freedom to focus on whatever they choose based upon their interests, likes dislikes it is easy to home school. “Too many expectations can become a struggle,” cautions Rebecca.

“Home schooling can be very demanding without support and involvement of both the parents,” shares Pratibha. A balance between your own and your child’s requirements needs to be maintained. Outsourcing means making arrangements for a child to attend classes. She finds ferrying her son 25 kms one-way to the classes extremely challenging.

Higher Studies

Home schooling is legal in India. Home-schooled children can appear for 10th grade exams through (NIOS) National Institute of Open Schooling established by Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India.

Support System

Rebecca speaks highly of the home schooling community both Indian and international. She has met many home-schoolers and found that they are extremely supportive. “The support system is huge, strong and very heartening. I couldn’t have done this without help of the large home-schooling community who are very loving, free of judgement and like a huge family.”

What Children Say

Ishaan, 11yrs

“Homeschooling is fun. I don’t have teachers bossing me around. When I used to go to school, once I had forgot to take my book. as punishment, I had to kneel down on small rocks. Sounds painful right? It was! If you’re homeschooling, you can learn when you want, and play when you want. Those are the perks of home schooling.”

I like playing guitar, but if I had to go to school and play guitar, I wouldn’t have been very focused. Homeschooling gave me more time to do the things I really love, drawing, cycling, cartooning and playing music.

Aaliyah, 5yrs

“I don’t like going to school because there children have to do too many lessons. At home, I like cycling and playing hide and seek and making tents with my brother.”

Remember, home schooling is a choice. Formal schooling gives you very limited options while home-schooling provides many alternatives, moreover, it offers a child the freedom to learn through discovery.

Suggestions

  • Absolute clarity about the decision is required
  • Meet other home-schoolers to discuss and get an idea of what is involved
  • Read and research about home-schooling methods
  • Find out laws about home-schooling in your location
  • Be ready to devote time and effort
  • Create effective communication with you child

Resources

Home Schooling Models

Alternative Education India

Swashikshan

Edukraft

Khan Academy

The Home School Mom

Facebook Home-schoolers groups

Featured Image Source: Flickr

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