Yes, we homeschool our kids, like the hundreds of parents around the world who pulled their kids out of the virtual schooling format in the wake of the global pandemic. This was never an easy decision, and we had our initial moments of confusion and despair. However, now that we are happily settled into the homeschooling routine and having discovered its wonders, I can say that homeschooling has been one of the best things we discovered as a family, during the pandemic.
When schools closed in early March as a precautionary measure to contain the spread of the virus, no one knew what the following academic year was going to be like. As our children’s school communicated their decision to shift all classes ‘online’, we shared the kids’ excitement about experiencing a new, technology-enabled learning method. However, that was not to be. A week into homeschooling, the sheen of the excitement wore off, with our kids — in grades 4 and senior KG — complaining that they no longer enjoyed studies as they did while at school. The extended screen time was also a problem, with the younger one being taken to an eye-specialist to get treated for watery eyes. There were frequent discussions on the school’s WhatsApp group, with many parents complaining about the long durations of online classes.
It was around this time that I started exploring homeschooling, a concept I had come across in magazine articles and Facebook posts. I googled articles on homeschooling and read extensively about the way it is done by different parents, its pros and cons, and its challenges and prospects. I watched a few videos too, some of them explaining the daily routine of homeschoolers in detail. I also learned about the concepts of un-schooling and de-schooling, which had worked wonders for some students. I gathered all the information I could. As a final step, I connected online with experienced homeschoolers. These were wonderful people from different countries who shared information and resources and supported each other with their ideas, experiences, and multicultural perspectives.
Finally, I broke the news to my boys. I told them I was pulling them out from school and that they would henceforth be homeschooled. The reactions were mixed; they were going to miss their friends. At the same time, this was a welcome relief from the lengthy screen time and boredom.
The initial days were as confusing for me as they were for them. Our focus was on continuing with the same method and routine as school, but I soon found that this wasn’t adding any value to the learning process. Gradually, we found out that schooling at home opened a world of learning opportunities. Inspired by several homeschooling videos and expert opinions from seasoned homeschooling parents, we revamped our whole approach to homeschooling.
As a first step, we started looking for learning opportunities all around us without eliminating the fun element. The kids started learning from every little activity we undertook, like a visit to the park, setting up a new aquarium, watching a movie together, buying new indoor plants and caring for them, helping in the kitchen, grocery shopping, etc. They started asking a lot of questions, and soon we found their knowledge horizons expanding in ways we had never seen before.
A few weeks into homeschooling, we discovered that my older son had an amazing talent in crafts and a deep interest in anything scientific. He was making static and working prototypes of everything that fascinated him. A visit to the neighborhood discount center soon became a weekly chore for him to stock up on batteries, wires, cardboard boxes, glue sticks, color papers, and toy motors. He frequently asked questions on basic scientific principles, and whenever my explanations were lacking, he turned to the internet for answers. He often gave his own twists to the models he built, presenting amazing improvisations. The large cardboard cover that came with the replacement LED panel in our kitchen transformed into the masterplan for a future city combining modern amenities and natural surroundings. This happened almost overnight, and we weren’t aware until he unveiled his ‘city’ before us the following morning. A table-mounted indoor basketball game with a manually operated ball-launcher was made from a shoebox. Tiny motors from long-discarded toy guns and cars found new homes in speed boat models and hand-held electric fans. As he continued to research extensively on ornamental fishes and indoor plants, our visit to the neighborhood pet store and nursery became more frequent. He was able to advise us on gender, feeding habits, and compatibility of different kinds of fishes and select the right kind of indoor plants for our house. In short, our nine-year-old turned into a science enthusiast within a couple of months, surprising us with his innovative ideas and perseverance.
The younger one had different interests. He enjoyed playing with numbers. Though not part of his kindergarten syllabus, I introduced basic addition to him. He picked the concept very quickly and was soon adding two-digit numbers effortlessly. I bought him a workbook of simple addition and subtraction but stopped short of introducing him to the concept of subtraction, fearing I would be overburdening him if I did so. But he figured it out on his own, with some initial help from his big brother, and soon he was completing the subtraction worksheets with ease. I gave him a few more elementary-level Math workbooks that he quickly devoured.
Halfway through the academic year, though my kids were progressing well along their favorite subjects, I purchased online curriculums to ensure their all-round development and time-bound academic progress. This meant a shift from the theory-based Indian curriculum we had been following, to the thinking, researching, and problem-solving based Cambridge curriculum. A pre-enrollment assessment by the curriculum provider recommended that my elder son be enrolled in grade 5, which he refused because he loved the grade 4 science syllabus and wanted to “explore it in detail.” The younger one was assessed as having a reasonably good grounding in basic phonics and numeracy skills and was enrolled in grade 1, as recommended.
My kids now follow the weekly schedule outlined by their curriculum provider though they take frequent breaks to experiment, read for pleasure, play with each other, travel, and learn to read and write in their mother tongue, Malayalam. There is no academic pressure, and our curriculum provider has a strict no-no policy on compulsion. Even their quarterly gradings are only for the parents’ reference, to ensure remedial measures for the subjects/areas they fall short.
The kids no longer have to wake up early in the morning to catch the school bus. They can stay up late to finish a book that intrigues them or to gaze at stars and planets from the terrace. The older one has already figured out techniques to determine directions by looking at stars and constellations (I wasn’t aware of this until one day when we stopped to pray outdoors during a weekend drive, and he pointed out the direction of Makkah even before I had opened my smartphone app). As for socializing, I think their social skills have remained intact, and neither of them has had any difficulty making friends with other kids in the park or at the play area in the mall. The oldest one is active on homeschooling kids’ forums and has already made friends from South Africa, Korea, and our present country of residence, the UAE; often chatting with them about pets, siblings, and studies. The youngest of our kids, the 2-year-old is happy that his big brothers are always around, and he often joins them at the study table with his scribbling pad and pencil.
I am not sure if my kids would want to return to school once normalcy resumes after the pandemic. I leave the decision to them. If they choose not to go back to school, I plan to find them more opportunities to explore their areas of interest and interact with peers. I am confident that this will help them evolve socially and intellectually, considering the support of the vibrant homeschooling community in the UAE and some very experienced and creative homeschooling parents here. My sons have also expressed their interest to attend karate and soccer training once normalcy returns. I would very much love to see them pursue things that interest them, without having to spend all their time within the four walls of schools, treading the ‘safe’ and ‘guaranteed’ path to a ‘future career’ without experiencing the countless joys of learning.