I attended public schools for many years, as did my husband. For thirteen years, from kindergarten through graduation, we were grouped for school with many other kids our age. After graduation, we attended public universities.
The vast majority of parents who homeschool their children, as well as parents considering homeschooling in the future, probably share a similar resume.
So if we parents mainly went to public institutions—and turned out okay—why are we now investing so much of ourselves and our resources to teach our children at home? According to Dr. Brian Ray of the National Home Education Research Association:
Most parents and youth decide to homeschool for more than one reason. The most common reasons given for homeschooling are the following:  customize or individualize the curriculum and learning environment for each child . . .1
His ranked list goes on, but the number-one reason parents choose to homeschool their children is to provide an individualized education. Regardless of their own educational backgrounds, parents want to tailor-make an education to suit their children’s uniqueness.
By their very nature and sheer numbers, classrooms have an assembly line approach to education. Despite their best intentions, most teachers can only juggle the schedule to give each of their students a few minutes of individual attention. Schools are designed to move kids through in a standardized manner. At graduation, schools anticipate similar outcomes for each student.
But we aren’t cookie-cutter people! We are each uniquely made by God, indwelt with different abilities, passions, and gifts. To blossom as people, we benefit from an individualized approach to learning.
Most parents recall their own experiences and want something better for their children. If public schools are a factory for education, homeschools are handcrafted workshops!
Public schools typically have somewhere between a 20:1 and a 25:1 teacher-to-pupil ratio; homeschools have a 1:1, or in a bigger family like ours, perhaps a 5:1 teacher-to-student ratio. As the tutor, I work alongside each of my children every day. I know what lessons challenge them, when to push them, and where to back off. I know what excites them and what material I need to find a way to clarify. Even when my children enter high school and do more self-teaching, I am a colearner alongside them. This year I am colearning consumer math, algebra II, and geometry (again) with my oldest children.
Many days I do feel tugged in several directions as I help my children learn. Three of the five may all want help with their various levels of work simultaneously. My response can be, “You need to wait patiently for my help” or “You know what’s next on your schedule. Please work on something else while you wait” or even “Go ask your older brother.” But for them, that sure beats waiting while nineteen or more classmates need help!
Even if it feels like there’s not enough Mom to go around, the individual attention that homeschooling offers in a day probably equals the one-on-one time a public school student would receive from his teacher in a week. Each of my kids gets large, daily doses of my time. For the younger kids, it’s them reading to me on the couch, my reading aloud to several of them, and working math problems together. For the older ones, it’s correcting math problems together, discussing something they’ve read, or reviewing a writing assignment. No two days are alike, yet all of my students get one-on-one attention. It’s funny; sometimes I walk around the house asking, “Who needs my help?”
Public schools adopt the same textbooks and curriculum for all students in a grade level. Based on the decision of a curriculum committee or a state mandate, districts purchase hundreds of copies of the same books to be used by every student in a certain grade. No matter a child’s interests, background, or achievement level, there is one book from which all teachers must teach. As I understand it, most districts are on a seven-year treasury cycle. Once a book order is placed, those books will be in use for at least the next seven years. Regardless of how much a classroom teacher dislikes a given curriculum or how students respond to it, a public school’s budget locks them into a textbook for seven years.
But oh, the flexibility we homeschool parents have! One year, by Thanksgiving my daughter and her math book weren’t getting along. So in December, I picked another math program for her to use. Though I hated wasting $50 on the math book we were abandoning, switching to another approach that suited her better was well worth the money. Thankfully, I’m not locked into a seven-year book cycle like the public schools.
Another way homeschooling offers a customized education is that we parent-teachers can select books—and develop entire courses of study—based on our children’s interests, abilities, and weaknesses. As the parents, we know our children. By the time they are school-aged, we already have a pretty good feel for how they best learn something. I might consider my child an auditory learner (prefers listening), a visual learner (prefers watching), or a kinesthetic learner (prefers touching/experiencing). With that knowledge, I can customize how I teach to best suit them.
For example, my oldest daughter is a paper-and-pencil, visual, checklist learner who loves science. All through high school, the Apologia science series was perfect for her. Then along came my oldest son, and although he also loved science, he is a decidedly different kind of learner. From the time he was young, I knew he learned best by listening. Thankfully, the same Apologia science program offered audiobooks. While listening to someone read the chapters via mp3, he followed along in the textbook. Audiobooks were such an easy addition, but it made all the difference in his ability to master the material. Thanks to homeschooling, both learners excelled in sciences during high school, though they learn in vastly different ways. What a blessing a customized approach is!
Tutorial Approach in High School
In my opinion, homeschooling high school is the ultimate expression of a tutorial education. By high school, students can be self-learners who know how to manage their time, complete research and writing assignments, and get answers when they are stuck. In a public setting, they turn to their teen peers for guidance, but in a homeschool family, they have an adult, a parent, to tutor them in life. High school is the perfect time for me to engage my children in deeper conversations about current events, moral issues, and spiritual truths. After all, isn’t Christian homeschooling really about discipleship? My goal is to lead my children into adulthood. This is a pivotal time in that process.
High school is also the time for career exploration, so I’ve added the role of career counselor to my homeschool teacher role. That might mean offering aptitude tests or arranging apprenticeships or career shadowing. As the parent, I know how my child is wired, so I can direct those career exploration options. Knowing her gifts, I helped my daughter arrange times to job shadow a registered dietician and a physical therapist and eventually to enroll in an emergency medical technician program. My husband has modeled self-employment and helped our son lay the groundwork for his own entrepreneurial ventures by suggesting business books, webinars, and blogs for him to study.
A Different Mindset
Gradually I’ve learned to explain to others that homeschooling is a tutorial approach to education. For those of us who were publically educated, it takes a paradigm shift to replace our classroom mentality. Years ago, I recall giving a how-to-homeschool workshop. Unknown to me, a retired public school kindergarten teacher was in attendance, investigating home education for her adult daughter and young granddaughter. A year later, she wrote me an e-mail. She told me how much she was enjoying sitting on the couch reading books to her granddaughter. Helping her beloved granddaughter learn to read, snuggled together on the couch, was a one-on-one approach wholly different from her classroom years. She explained that it had taken her all those months to “undo” her previous way of thinking to adopt a tutorial mindset.
It’s interesting how much the word tutor changes the way I value a home education. Tutoring means a hands-on, time-intensive, customized approach. Tutoring means finding a way to explain content or transfer a concept in the best way a learner can grasp it. A tutor can offer curriculum to match a student’s learning style and present concepts slowly or more quickly to suit the learner. A tutor can customize an entire curriculum with content that suits the student’s passions and talents.
As a parent-tutor, I get to handcraft an education for each of my children. It’s a blessing to be offering my children a more personalized approach to learning and life than I had.
Melanie Hexter and her husband, Matthew, started their homeschool journey in 1998. With two graduates and four children still at home, they ask the Lord to teach them how to uniquely educate each child. The Hexters love to travel the US, using their Colorado Springs home as a western base. Melanie is working on two books and offers several homeschool curricula, including the U.S. National Parks Unit Study, for download at www.LEMILOEpublishing.com. LEMILOE is their family motto: Live Every Moment In Light Of Eternity.