A recent Gallup poll, published August 25, 2020, revealed that 10% of American families with children of school age are intending to homeschool their children this year. That’s double the 5% last year! And this is not referring to online learning. The study was careful to point out that “homeschool” did not include those enrolled in formal school but studying at home. This growth in homeschooling is in the traditional sense of the word.
The year 2020 has been a difficult year with many negative changes. School shutdowns and the explosion of homeschooling is included by some in the list of negatives. This new experience has not been easy, and many parents are struggling to cope. There is a lot more responsibility for the parents when the children are home 24/7. But the good news is that while many families, understandably, have struggled to adjust to the change, there has been a silver lining. The research suggests that, overall, this has actually been a positive rather than a negative experience for many children.
Time at Home = Better Learning
Simply spending more time together has proven a blessing for many. The more individualized learning experience has actually improved education for many children. Studies have found that children have experienced learning gains as a result of more time spent in real life versus the artificial classroom environment. Most importantly, many families have drawn closer together and seen spiritual growth through this experience.
While many have been concerned about children falling behind this year, two articles published in Psychology Today, by Peter Gray, titled “Survey Reveals Children Coped Well with School Closure”, and “Kids Continued to Cope Well Two Months After Schools Closed” revealed that children have actually benefitted from the break! These were well-conducted surveys, conducted a month apart, representing an even sampling across many different backgrounds.[2,3] (To be clear, I do not promote all of Dr. Gray’s ideas, as some of them would not be in line with the Lord’s principles of true education; but the research, nonetheless, is good.)
To summarize some of the findings:
“Overall, children’s psychological well-being seemed to improve after school closure.”
Many children were found to be less stressed and calmer away from school. Many reported being able to get more sleep. And while many children still had assignments from school, they found that they were able to complete these in far less time than when in school, due to fewer distractions and less wasted time.
Other research supports this finding. A survey by the American Psychological Association found school to be the #1 source of stress for young people. Other research shows rates of mental health admissions and suicides for school-age children are double during the school year compared to during summer break.[5,6,7] Suicide is the third-leading cause of death for school-aged children over age ten. Perhaps a break from school and a resurgence of everyday learning is just what children need.
“Children appeared to gain a greater sense of independence and personal responsibility after school closure.”
This is quite logical, actually. School, in general, does not allow much independence of thought or action. Children growing up in the micromanaged environment of school often struggle to think outside the box, come up with new ideas, learn responsibility, or develop good cause-to-effect reasoning skills through trial-and-error experimentation. They often don’t fully develop their potential for thinking or acting for themselves.
A large majority of children in this study reported enjoying new activities in the extra time, doing things on their own, learning new skills outside of school assignments, and even taking part in household chores, (parents should be happy about that!), thus developing creativity, thinking abilities, and responsibility.
The list of new activities and learning experiences was endless. Have a look at this awesome video put out by the research foundation as part of the study https://youtu.be/uP2xxi17-40
“Parents gained a heightened appreciation of their children’s capabilities.”
With the extra time together, parents found themselves actually getting to know their children. Seventy-three percent of parents in the study agreed with the statement “I am gaining a new appreciation of my child’s capabilities”. Parents found joy in doing things together and found that their child could actually be a help around the home and enjoy it!
A second study:
After the first study found the above results, a second study was conducted a month later and confirmed again that:
- Overall, children’s psychological wellbeing seemed to improve after school closure.
- Children appeared to gain a greater sense of independence and personal responsibility after school closure.
- Parents gained a heightened appreciation of their children’s capabilities.
Won’t they fall behind?
Of course, the concern for many parents and teachers is that children will fall behind academically with less time at school. Thankfully, there is no need to worry – the reverse is true! In addition to the abovementioned benefits, children can actually improve academic outcomes with some proper direction by parents.
Studies on the so-called “summer slide” (the supposed decline in academic abilities during summer break) have revealed that, well, summer slide is a myth.[9,10] Children may lose a few school-specific skills, but overall there is at least as much academic gain as there is loss. Reading abilities were shown to either not change over the summer, or increase. Math calculation abilities decline, while math reasoning abilities increase. In other words, while they may forget how to do specific calculations in math, they gain a better understanding of math concepts over the summer, or rather, they actually understand what math means versus just seeing numbers on a page. A true understanding of math concepts is best learned through everyday life, so summer break seems the best place to teach that!
It would fill a book to discuss all the research showing the benefits of real-life, hands-on learning versus the rather sterile, textbook-based learning environment found in the classroom. Perhaps I’ll write a later article on that topic. As eminent educational psychologist Dr. Jane Healy states, “Much early development of physical and mental skills – and of their foundations in the brain – comes from experimenting and solving problems with real-world materials.” Our children will benefit in many ways (including academically) by getting out of the classroom and engaging in real life.
Dr. Gray puts it so well, “The most important lessons of life cannot be taught and can only be learned in real life. In real life we learn how to make our own decisions, how to create our own activities, how to actually DO things as opposed to memorize things. For schoolchildren, summer is a time for immersion in real life. School, at best, prepares children for more school. Real life prepares children for real life.”
So parents, don’t stress over the lack of school your child is experiencing. Rather, focus on what you can teach them through everyday life. You’d be surprised at how many academic skills you can incorporate into everyday life. Cooking lunch can be an educationally-rich learning experience, with math, science, language arts, history, marketing, and social studies woven in. With a bit of creativity, you’ll find the opportunities to be limitless. But don’t get stuck on the academic skills either. As important as those are, learning life skills is even more important. And most important of all is that time you spend with your child.
The one negative finding:
There was one negative finding from this research: “most children were looking forward to going back to school—because they missed their friends.”
It’s understandable. Children will miss those friends. That struck me as sad, however, because there’s a solution. Simply, YOU, the mom, the dad, be a friend to your child. The reason their peers are their friends is because those are the ones who they have spent the most time with, studied with, and done fun stuff with. You, the parent, can do that too. Spend time together, talk together, study together, do fun stuff together. With some effort and time, you can be your child’s best friend.
Please parents, while the kids are home away from school, don’t resort to media-based solutions. Don’t just replace school with online learning – go learn together from real life. And don’t replace friendships with superficial social media – be a real-life friend to them. Bind their hearts to yours so that you can better guide their feet into right paths. It will require an investment, and it won’t be easy, but it will bring amazing returns – eternal rewards!
You can find lots helpful books and DVD’s on the topic of homeschooling and true education in the Thinking Generation store. Check it out.
- Cooper, H., et al. (1996). The effects of summer vacation on achievement test scores: A narrative and meta-analytic review. Review of Educational Research, 66, 227-268.
- Healy, J., (1996). Endangered Minds: why children don’t think and what we can do about it.