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Smart Free Range Kids: Or Why Homeschoolers Don’t Stay Home

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Smart Free Range Kids:

Or Why Homeschoolers Don’t Stay Home

By Linda Dobson

homeschoolersIf you’re one of millions of homeschoolers, this one’s especially for you.

Once upon a time, researchers interested in learning performed an experiment with rats. Two groups of rats received the same amount of food and water, but some lived in “impoverished” cages while others enjoyed an “enriched” environment – bigger cages, more friends, and lots of toys to keep them busy and curious.

The rats living in the impoverished cages weighed more than the “rich” rats, but their brains were inferior in two aspects significant to learning. “First,” explains Dr. Jane Healy in her report on the research in Endangered Minds: Why Children Don’t Think and What We Can Do About It (Touchstone, 1990),there are many more glial support cells in the enriched brains, and second, the neurons themselves have more dendrite spines and thus, presumably, more synapses.” Glial cells nourish the all-important neurons that create and maintain connections for thinking. Dendrite spines deliver messages to neurons before the messages “jump” across gaps to be picked up by another neuron’s dendrites.

Hold on. It gets even more interesting when we add a control group.

Wild Rats Represent Free Range Homeschoolers, Free of the Lab

At the same time researchers were also keeping an eye on a group of control rats that grew up “in the wild” outside the lab. These rats were exposed “to the real challenges of living in a free environment,” explains Dr. Healy, “finding food, defending themselves, and moving about when and where they wish.” For the purpose of our discussion, let’s consider these rats as closer to homeschoolers and free range kids.

The researchers found that as beneficial as it is, the “enriched” environment didn’t stimulate the rats’ brains as well as the natural environment, where the rats “tend to have larger and heavier cortexes than do those raised in cages.” Cortexes, Dr. Healhy explains in her book, are “the control panels for processing information at three levels: receiving sensory stimuli, organizing them into meaningful patterns so that we can make sense out of our world, and associating patterns to develop abstract types of learning and thinking.” While rat research doesn’t translate directly to humans, it has some clear implications: Living a free range lifestyle, as do many homeschoolers, is not only natural, it is good exercise that builds highly-functioning brains.

Homeschoolers don’t necessarily know of this research. They’ve discovered the benefits of integrating children into the workings of the greater world by, well, integrating children into the workings of the greater world. Like everyone, homeschoolers need to accomplish daily chores, and whether that means going to the grocery store or the state capital, to the dentist or the attorney’s office, their free range kids accompany them.

Free Range Homeschoolers Are Free to Learn More Like Adults (Because Kids Are People, Too)

As a veteran of the education process, you have a track record to look back on, so let’s look. Think about your thirteen years of required school attendance. (Take your time: I’m not going anywhere.)

First, and be honest now, how much do you remember from those days about things like the Battle of Hastings, trigonometry, the inner workings of an earthworm? Would you be able to pass today the same tests you passed in high school? Second, beyond the biology classroom, how often have you applied your knowledge about earthworm entrails, or any other subject covered in school, as you go about daily life?

Next, think about the information you do use in your normal routines. Where did you learn how to balance your checkbook, change a diaper, fit as many dishes as possible into the dishwasher, change a tire? Where did you learn how to move that real estate, inspire the slowest child in your class, create beautiful quilts, be an effective board or council member?

Likely, you picked up these skills and countless others outside of the schoolhouse, either apprenticing with a parent or other adult or out of the need to take care of yourself and your family. If you learned the basics of your job at college or trade school, remember that this was voluntary study beyond your compulsory school days.

Homeschooling: Focusing on Learning, Not Teaching

See also Homeschooling: Focusing on Learning Not Teaching

“The most useful and important learning tools are rarely found within the realm of ‘curricula,'” says one of my favorite veteran homeschoolers, Lillian Jones. “Just as adults find their most important learning in the real world and the most unexpected and natural situations, it’s the same for children.” (Because…children are people, too.)

Being a free range kid who is out and about doesn’t just build brain muscles. It also opens up a world of learning opportunities in the same forum most adults find effective – real life. Just as rats, ideally, thrive when they live as nature intended, so do children who are homeschooled and out of the cage known as institutionalized schooling.

And that’s why, despite the lies and disinformation you hear around you, homeschoolers don’t stay home.

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