Some people know I’m a huge fan of the free range style of parenting. If you also think that babies don’t need so much crazy gear, consider it reasonable for school age kids to run down the street to see friends on their own, and refuse to worry about the extremely remote possibility that a random stranger will kidnap your kid off the street, then this is the parenting philosophy for you too! It’s all about fostering independence.
But wait, you say, that sounds like the antithesis of how people think of homeschooling parents! I encountered someone just the other day who seemed to think that because I homeschooled, I must spend every waking minute keeping a watchful eye on my children. Clearly he didn’t see this morning when my kids spent an hour watching Avatar cartoons before I even woke up. Or this afternoon when they spent an hour… somewhere. The basement with the Legos? The backyard mixing “potions” in my nice glasses? Well, they’re here now, so clearly nothing blew up. I’m sure there are some stringently watchful homeschool parents out there somewhere. But considering the helicopter parent trend, are they really that different from the population as a whole? I do know many homeschoolers who have expressed to me that a desire to spend more time with their children is a primary reason for homeschooling, but wanting to spend more time with your kids is different from wanting to keep an eye on them at every moment.
For me, while I love my kids, spending a huge amount of time with them wasn’t one of my primary motives for homeschooling. From the time that they were finally old enough, I jumped at opportunities to drop them off in classes. They’re very comfortable with leaving me, even for strange situations, and I’ve tried to encourage that confidence in them. I chose to homeschool for other reasons. I believe that institutional settings aren’t usually the best learning or socializing environments. I also find our country’s standardized test driven educational culture to be completely out of whack. I see education as process-oriented, something that most schools don’t seem to understand at all.
However, I’ve discovered that homeschooling also gives my kids a balance that most kids these days miss out on. They can spend a huge amount of quality time with me and the husband, have a varied and interesting slate of activities in the community and still have loads of time to play by themselves or with their friends. They’re not quite old enough to venture far on their own, but they have the run of the house and when we go places, they can wander through playgrounds and creeks while I read a book. I always bring a book.
I know I’m not the only one either. The kindergarten co-op we participated in is made of homeschoolers who feel similarly. Here’s what a typical co-op day looked like: one of the parents did an hour or two of planned activities. Then we shoved a snack at the kids and set them loose in the house or the backyard out of our sight while the parents snacked and talked for the rest of the day. Sure, the educational part of the day was important. But the friendships and free social time were probably even more important. This was also the group in which the kids went on a hike together completely by themselves. We picked a place they knew well and couldn’t escape from because it was an island. After a couple of misadventures, they arrived all together, all in one piece, and very proud of themselves.
Because of these experiences, I’ve realized that homeschooling makes it much easier to have free range kids. Kids in schools are increasingly denied any free play during their days. Even the physical education part of their day is increasingly diminished. Because we homeschool, my kids get a lot more free play time than many other kids their age. Unlike the school system, I’ve made that a priority for my kids.