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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Why Homeschool - Part I

Following a request from a large fraction (one) of my readers, I will try and explain how we came to the decision of homeschooling. Before I go into the reasons though, I think I should give a summary of how we got to this point. This is going to be long and probably boring, but since you asked, here it comes..

Let me start from when we came back to India, about two years ago. Rajiv had just turned four and we were happy to let him return to the daycare/preschool that we had been using every other time before. We trust them completely, they are nice to the kids and I couldn't ask for anything more, really. That is, by the way, the same place where Viola has started now.

We were told, however, that four years old was already quite late to be looking for admissions at a good school, meaning a private school with a good reputation.

For those who think that a government school should be the automatic choice - and that could have included me too, a while ago - I can only say that this is now how it is these days in urban India. We don't know anybody, as far as I know, who send their kids to a government school. I am sure there are some good ones, but they are certainly overcrowded (thirty/forty children per class) and the discipline methods used would not always be ones that I would find acceptable. Language would also be a problem for us, while it is easy to find private schools whose medium of instruction is English and where local languages are not required in the early grades.

So we were told that we should start applying to schools right away, for a chance to get a spot. Even among private schools, I realized I wouldn't be comfortable with most of them. We saw a place where they proudly showed us pages and pages of worksheets that the four year old "students" were supposed to fill in their one hour long lessons. I asked whether they had troubles with children not sustaining attention for so long and the answer was that "they have to learn". I think that four years old is too early for this and I think that this kind of education is harmful, even though on the surface it might seem to produce desirable early results.

One specific concern we had was about handwriting. Rajiv started reading before he was four and was able to add small numbers and things like that, but he had not yet started to write and I could see that even with some encouragement his fine motor skills were not developed enough yet to allow him to do so without pain and disappointment. Apparently, boys develop their fine motor skills a bit later than girls in general, and anyway I do not think that any child should be required to write well so early. If it happens, great, but it should not be expected.

Since most school seemed to insist on the early writing and I did not want to damage my boy's self-esteem by setting him up to fail in low kindergarten, we started looking for some alternative options. The only school we found that seemed acceptable was a Montessori school, but after a long series of interviews and after being required to write an essay on education and other tasks we were not granted admission.

At this point, we stumbled upon a new school, less than two years old, with a European curriculum and nice small classrooms. We liked the fact that it was bilingual (English and German) because languages are one thing that it is worth learning early on and we had overall a good impression, but the fees were very high, more than three times the fees for other schools we had seen. Still, as a temporary solution and knowing we could not afford it long term, we enrolled Rajiv at this school.

At the same time, we started looking for another cheaper school to try again for admission after one or two years and we narrowed it down to two schools that were recommended as less rigid in their approach. We went through the admission process and even got a spot, but we were still not fully satisfied. Our main concern is that schools seem to assign most of the value to easy to measure skills, like how neatly can the child write or can he perform a task exactly as shown. They also seem to judge children based on their weaknesses and I can see how that might drain a child of his enthusiasm pretty quickly.

In spite of this, we were going to pick one of these schools anyway, and we even got quite excited about one particular school at some point, but then a few practical problems that came our way put the choice back on the table and an old idea of trying to homeschool made its way to the front line.

I will write about that in the next installment.


  1. Thanks a lot for sharing! I always find these kind of decisions fascinating and I completely understand your thought process. I would probably do something very similar if I was in your shoes.

  2. I think this is a great decision and I hope it is sustainable for the longest time! Do you know if others homeschool kids in Chennai?