Will you PLEASE take my Johnny in and school him along with your own?

Will you PLEASE take my Johnny in and school him along with your own?

Posted in Tough Questions

 A home schooling situation to watch out for is teaching someone else’s children. You may foster a stranger’s child long-term; you may look after a relative’s child long-term; you may adopt a child; you may home school another home schooler’s child(ren) on a casual or regular basis in certain subjects. As commendable as these actions are, they will cause definite drawbacks to your home school that must be soberly considered before making this kind of arrangement an everyday lifestyle. 

One of the major advantages of home schooling one’s own children is the tutoring aspect, the one-to-one time with each child. This is immediately compromised and possibly sacrificed altogether when teaching foster children at home. Why is this? There is so much you have to learn about this foster student, how he thinks, his learning style, his attention span, his current understanding of every topic under study, his emotional and mental and intellectual maturity levels and abilities, his learning gaps, etc., etc. These are things you often know or have observed and internalised in your own children without, it would seem, any special effort to do so. (Incidentally, it is this aspect of parenting, the depth of understanding of one’s own children, which makes parents so well qualified to teach their own children in the first place.) In addition, foster children often have their own set of problems arising from the reasons leading to their need to be fostered.

You now have to spend extra time with him trying to figure all these things out. And it takes time for him to learn how to fit into your scheme of things, which may prove impossible to do in the end because of his personal makeup and the totally new set of group dynamics now at work within your family.

However, homeschooling a foster child is an unparalleled opportunity to influence, love, nurture, train and discipline another life for the sake of the Gospel and the Glory of our God and Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.

This writer was home schooling his four children when our family became co-guardians and custodians of an 8-year-old boy. This boy, whom we shall call Sam, had been to public schools until we got him. His attention span was 30-45 seconds. My children had attention spans of 60-90 minutes. We would often sit and draw or play with leggo, while I read science or history or geography to the group, stopping frequently to discuss words & concepts and to ask questions or follow tangents. Sam found this intolerable at first.

When he first arrived I gave Sam a page of simple addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division problems as he told me he was doing all of these at school. He finished this assignment in record time. Upon examination it was found that all the answers were wrong. I pointed this out and he was unable, it seemed, to grasp what I was saying. In fact, he just became frustrated and declared, “I don’t understand,” as he withdrew into a foul mood, arms crossed, head down, brows knitted tighly together. It turned out that he was accustomed to filling in the blanks, but had no idea that sometimes the red marks alongside the returned assignment meant the answer was wrong. He had no understanding of place values, no idea of how to add and carry or subtract and borrow. To add 24 + 35 he would add 2 + 4 + 3 + 5 and wonder what was wrong with his answer of 14. Even after working with him for 8 months, it was simply too taxing on his concentration and logic to arrange maths skills in a logical sequence to figure how much change he should get after buying several items. He had a twisted self-image, occasionally saying he was no good. His mental, intellectual and emotional levels were more like my 5-year-old, yet he was older by a few months than my own 8-year-old son. When an officer from the Education Review Office in Wanganui came to review our home education, she was surprised to learn that Sam was 8, as she had decided he was 6 or less after observing all of the children for 30 minutes or so at close quarters. We therefore assigned him a place between our 5- and 8-year-olds in the family pecking order. He never accepted that and began to devise ways to victimise our 8-year-old, whose place in the pecking order Sam was determined to usurp.

To effectively teach him anything at all required my full attention. I was reduced to giving assignments to my other children and hoping they could cope on their own. They resented this straight away as it was both robbing them of tutoring time and interrupting the normally quick flow of their own learning curves. Although we had always thought that our home school was pretty relaxed and casual, we discovered that to this product of the state schools, it was quite intense, unbearably so in fact. To accomodate this new addition, our whole home education process had to be both radically modified and slowed down. Now I know for sure what an impossible job school teachers face.

We considered sending Sam to school while continuing to home school our own. We decided that was unacceptable. It would make Sam seem to be a second class citizen in our family, make us look like we were not that convinced about home schooling, and then most of all it would just import straight into our home some of the problems of the state schools, problems we were determined our children would not have to endure.

Sam lives elsewhere now. I loved the challenge he presented and the progress we made. I believe we helped him form a Biblical self image to replace the hopeless one he had. We were with him when he prayed to the Lord for forgiveness and salvation. He made so many very big changes to his behaviour, that we find it amazing as we look back over the time. His attitudes were much more difficult to change; in particular, we were unable to shift his attitude of resentment to his place in the pecking order. Our own children’s attitude hardened toward him as he victimised one in particular, and as his simply being there so completely changed our family’s group dynamics. We continued to foster children, preschoolers for short-terms, and have since adopted two full siblings through the contacts made while fostering. Being adopted, these two could not be any more a real part of our family, although they are without question wired up differently than our natural offspring. But I would never try to homeschool again any foster child older than my youngest.

Taking on the job of home schooling a foster child is one thing, but how about home schooling the child of a friend or neighbour? Some of the possible problems are the same. In addition it may well cause your own home school to become more like the classroom you wanted your child to avoid in the first place. Larger numbers, less time for personal tutoring, children with different backgrounds pose all sorts of problems for an otherwise homogeneous and more-or-less harmonious family who understand each other and know how to work together. If these new children have been to public schools, then there will be all those negative aspects which have to be weeded out, which may or may not be entirely possible.

A few years ago, just after Sam had left us, I attended the Christian Home Educators of California’s annual conference at the Disneyland Hotel in Los Angeles. There were 4,000 conferees (parents only!), and each elective hour had 15 different workshops plus six more that were demonstration workshops of commercial resource people. I attended one workshop about home schooling other people’s children, but all they covered was taking in friends or neighbours for pay. They had ALL the typical problems…..chewing gum stuck under their dining table, kids carving their initials into their dining room chairs, lesson plans and marking every night….just like a school classroom! One woman there asked about home educating foster children. Nobody knew anything. So up went my hand, and suddenly all chairs were turned around and we had another workshop in progress. The other workshop attendees wanted to come to grips with really influencing a child who needed foster care, not with how to run a classroom. There is a place for serving others by tutoring their children, and I reckon we will need to see a lot more of it as the state system continues to fall apart. Just be aware of what any such service for others does to the prospects of your own children’s educational potential.

For about a year, for only one morning a week, I tutored mine plus two like-minded, like-standard children of close Christian friends. These sessions were a real pleasure. Being all close and alike in background and expectations made the teaching a real joy and a nice variation for all concerned. But I couldn’t see us doing that any more than one morning a week, otherwise my own programme with my own children would have been compromised. If I were paid for teaching others, that would be a whole different story, as then I would be a de facto professional rather than a volunteer amateur. But even then I would still have to determine whether my objectives in home schooling my children were being served or severed by home schooling these others.

My advice would be to know for certain what your own personal objectives are for home schooling your own children. You must ask whether taking on another home schooler, either a foster child or the child of a friend, will help or hinder the fulfilment of those objectives. Be tough, be convinced of your calling before God, and be unafraid to say “No” to even the tear-jerking requests from both foster agencies or close friends.

From Keystone Magazine
July 1998 , Vol. IV No.II
P O Box 9064
Palmerston North
Phone: (06) 357-4399
Fax: (06) 357-4389
email: craig