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Homeschooling and Community Service
Few families are in as good a position as homeschoolers to contribute to their communities. Unfortunately, community service isn’t always high on many homeschoolers’ agendas. We are consumed by worry about which curriculum to use, which teaching methods are best, or tests; we are fixated on the battles — real or perceived — with our school boards; We are busy being social directors, helping our children choose art, music and dance classes or organizing outings. These days, homeschoolers can be just as busy with school trivia as public school families rushing to PTSA meetings, shuttling the kids to soccer and Little League practice, and making the homework.
I would like to suggest that we overlook a vital aspect of homeschooling if we get too wrapped up in ourselves. We overlook, and often ignore, the very communities in which we are privileged to perfect our chosen lifestyles. As homeschooling has become (for better or worse) more mainstream, our interests tend to narrow accordingly. Homeschooling is less often a social statement than simply an ordinary alternative, such as a private or parochial school, or a charter or magnet school. Of course, this is a great achievement and it is good that we are no longer (or perhaps only rarely) seen as social outcasts. But at the same time, this spirit of enthusiasm, this drive for social justice, this fire of commitment to a higher ideal has been somewhat smothered by acceptance and convenience. And that’s not good.
I think there is an important educational topic that we need to inject into our school agenda, and that is Social Action. Or at least, Social Interest. Try giving your kids a field trip into the real world. Visit a soup kitchen, a homeless shelter, or just walk down a city street and talk about what you see. Is there trash on the sidewalk? What about the guy with the bike and the bag full of rags or cans? Visit a nursing home, not on vacation, but on some dark day in the middle of summer, and talk about the elderly in your own family. I am not about to suggest that there is any cure for all social ills, nor to venture my own opinion on social injustice, neglect and abuse. This is something I do privately with my own family. But it’s also something you can do with yours.
Go ahead and voice your opinions and try to get your kids to form some of their own. what do they see what do you think Do you have any suggestions to make things better? Can you, as a family, make a difference in your community in some way? There’s a lot to the adage, “Think globally, act locally.” From experience, the only thing I can say for sure is that volunteering at least an hour a week at some charity in your community is uplifting and fulfilling. It’s something that most kids in public schools will never have the opportunity to experience on a regular basis or in that sly, direct way that we can. It’s a way to integrate math, social studies, history, geography, science and economics in a real and personal way that kids — and adults — will never forget.
Volunteering doesn’t have to be difficult or terribly self-sacrificing to be effective and meaningful. If you have very young children, you obviously have to consider their health and well-being. You may not want to subject them to places where there is a lot of disease or uncleanliness, or traumatic environments among the mentally ill or abused. There are less creepy and equally effective ways to contribute to society. Although for much older children and teenagers, helping to feed the homeless at a soup kitchen or working at a downtown medical clinic can be very valuable experiences.
Those with younger children may find volunteering at a nature sanctuary or park fulfilling. When my children were very young, they enjoyed visits twice a month to a local nursing home. After going there for a while, the children became very comfortable with wheelchairs and senility and disfigurement; How could I have taught this with a book?! And then there are many ongoing projects in each community. Locally, an early intervention center has begun planning a “Boundless Playground,” which will be 70 percent accessible to children with disabilities and will eventually be open to all children. We are helping with fundraising and have been invited to help when construction begins. We read about it in the paper and simply called and offered to help. The center was happy to include us, as most groups are when you offer to help.
The volunteer opportunities are endless: literacy programs, meals on wheels, shelters, wildlife parks, libraries, reading to the blind, neighborhood cleanup programs, and more. You can find out which organizations need help in your community by calling United Way. Or just read the paper. You’ll be surprised how many ways you can find to help, when you simply take the time to search and identify real needs in your community. Then you and your children will board one real education!
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