I have had FOUR different parents ask me about homeschooling this past week.
It is the time of year when everyone is evaluating where they are and making plans for next year. Even though I know our family is going to homeschool next year for 5th, 3rd and 1st grades, I’m also in the position of making final decisions regarding how they will be learning. I will admit that it is a great deal of pressure and can be very frustrating to slog through the masses of curriculum available.
In a way, it reminds me of having infants. One of the friends I spoke with is struggling with the decision whether or not their first-born will attend kindergarten at a local public school or homeschool for the year. She expressed the fear I think every parent shares, regarding not only schooling but nearly every decision they make. ”I’m afraid if I keep him home, I’ll ruin him. And I’m afraid if I send him to school, I’ll ruin him!”
This struggle is so commonly felt by parents – about how they birth, how they feed, how they support their family, where/when/how everyone sleeps, how to handle tantrums, how to encourage independence, where/when to seek childcare, how to maintain a balanced relationship with your spouse and community without sacrificing your child’s needs…I could go on and on. We have all, as parents, had those nights where we cannot fall asleep because we are certain we have ruined our child, or at the very least our relationship with that child, because of a decision we have made. It is miserable to suffer through.
We are not perfect. We are flawed, faulted, fumbling and yet somehow we have been put in charge of the well-being of another human being who relies on us. The struggles are the same, though the circumstances are different. There has been an awakening of our generation that we do, in fact, love and know our own children better than anyone else on the entire planet. In some ways, it has allowed us far too much emphasis on our own influence – a weird sort of parental hubris. In other ways, it has given us the courage to make big changes.
This does not mean that everyone should homeschool. Please do not misunderstand my pontificating today. But it does mean that you are the expert about your child. We have certainly spent time and money seeking the opinions of experts for the children in this house – and I mean experts that have titles and fancy initials as well as experts that have experience by way of being a grandparent or another parent who has struggled with a similar situation in the past – and their diagnoses, opinions and wisdom have influenced and effected the decisions we have made regarding the parenting of our children.
But we have come to an entirely different way of embracing the idea that “the buck stops here.”
The parents I know who have considered or are considering homeschool have come to the same place. It is not a decrying or denouncing of teachers or administrators – they are wonderful and talented individuals who care deeply about their students. They are also regular people just like you and me, who have bad days and make mistakes. They are dealing with all kinds of difficult classroom management, testing pressures, bureaucratic b.s., and school politics while managing to provide most children a very good environment. But the amount of families considering homeschooling is, in some ways, a commentary of the educational system in its current state. And it is definitely a commentary on the involvement and understanding parents have with their children.
Usually, there are special circumstances with a child that precipitate an interest in homeschooling. I doubt we ever would have considered it so seriously had a situation not circumstantially “forced our hand.” For my family, it has lead to a great educational fit and a different view of learning. It has been a complete 180-degree move from our previous opinions. There are some things institutionalized schooling provides that I can never replicate in a homeschool setting. But for now the benefits are outweighing the negatives for my children.
In listening to a close friend discuss the school options in her city, I was not surprised to hear she has found an excellent fit for her family. It did make me wonder, however – with such a large number of options available with such a wide variety of educational theories – why so many of the schools have (in her very qualified opinion – she’s been in the educational system of this city for over a decade) a poor reputation. There are families all over the place considering the very same thing as the four who have contacted me recently.
Considering homeschooling is a terrifying prospect (or it was for us, anyway). How will I have time? Will my kids suffer from isolation? Will my relationship with them suffer because I will be both teacher/parent? What will this do to our family dynamic? How do I make sure I’m teaching the right materials? What will I need to give up in order to make this work? Is it even legal? How will this effect relationships with others in our extended family and community?
I can’t answer most of those questions because I am not the expert on anyone’s family. Just my own. But I can tell you a few things I have learned about my family since we began in March of 2009. The adjustments we made were similar to and took roughly the same amount of time as those made when the children started regular school. We went from a schedule-less farm family whose days revolved around the weather and when the youngest children needed naps or food, to separate lives where one person spent all their energy on the farm work and the other managed the pick-up, drop-off, homework, paperwork, and events coordination. It took me about a year to feel I was “in the groove” of managing those things for my family. At times, it was pretty stressful. When we decided to try homeschool, I was stressed about curriculum and learning styles, so my focus stayed there. As a result, my housekeeping, yard work and general organization suffered. It took about a year for me to readjust my focus; after I was feeling confident about how and what my children were learning, I started to notice the piles and disorder in the rest of my life and began to address them.
Like a friend I spoke to earlier this week said, “That’s the small stuff.”
The big stuff stayed in place for us. Our priorities included our family dynamic and the children’s emotional well-being. In these areas, homeschooling proved to be what we had hoped. We all grew closer, our exchanges consistently improved and the children’s self-esteem and general assurance have blossomed. This is not to say that children cannot experience this is a regular school setting – they can and do so – but my children had different needs at that time than our schools were able to provide and it was truly gratifying to watch what we saw as a huge risk pay off so well.
We were actually more able to focus on our relationships as a family and as spouses once we started homeschooling – it gave me a scheduling freedom I had never possessed previously. I did not feel any guilt for leaving the children for a date *any* time the opportunity presented itself. They had plenty of time with me – for heaven’s sake! And if a chance for fun or interesting experiences as a family came up, it never mattered if it was a school night. Lessons just began a bit later the next morning and no one had to suffer for it.
Homeschooling puts my parenting in sharp focus for me every day – it challenges and humbles me and I am, with out question, a better mother for it. Perhaps that would be true even if we had remained a part of institutionalized schooling. I cannot say. But I can say that homeschooling has not had a negative effect on the parenting of our children or our relationship with them. It has certainly given us more influence and greater focus on how we wield that influence.
Sometimes we had (and still have) uncomfortable exchanges with friends and family. But for the most part, there has been no disruption of relationships because we chose homeschooling. Our friends and family love us and our children, and even though they (just like us) probably thought people who homeschooled were nuts, they generally kept it to themselves.
When letting people know we were going to homeschool, we found it was important to tell them we were not dissatisfied with our school, but our children had different needs for that point in time and we felt we could meet them better at home. We also presented it as a “for now” situation – we were and remain open to the idea that things change and our top priority is loving and educating the “whole” child from the inside out (in whichever way works best for our family). It also helped to point out that we were doing so with the support of an expert (in our case it was a child psychologist), which can be very reassuring to others who love you and your children and for whom homeschooling is a brand-new idea. We also talked about the growing percentage of homeschooling families in our society.
I also think the simple fact that it was us made it more acceptable. There is nothing special about us – your friends and family would find it more acceptable as well and likely react the same. When you change the way you are schooling, you are not changing who you are. People meeting you for the first time will have a different impression of you than they would have before. Those who already know you will either say “Jessica’s always been a little whacko, but I still love her” or “Jessica is really brave – I could never do that.” They will all watch with interest – not hoping you will fail because they love you and your children – but wondering how it will turn out and probably keeping their fingers crossed. And your children are the same people wherever they receive their education. Experiences will, of course, influence them. But if your child is a bright and social child homeschooling will not change that. If your child is shy and quiet, that will not change either. They will, however, be surrounded by the constant support of those who love them exactly as they are without condition.
I reassured others, as well as myself, with the understanding that it is a completely reversible choice. (I try not to get into “if I can do it, anyone can” because most of the time people are not ready to hear that and are much more comfortable thinking I am special and awesome.)
If you have decided you want to look seriously into homeschooling, there are lots of great places to garner information. There are some very informative review sites online (I found this one when we were first considering bringing the kids home). Keep in mind lots of them are trying to sell you their product, so anywhere you can find reviews from people actually using the curriculum is especially helpful. I also went to meetings of homeschooling groups, talked to families I knew that were homeschooling, and utilized online forums to ask questions. One of the best things I did was to attend a used curriculum sale. Not only did I get to put my hands right on some of the materials I’d been reading about, but I got to speak to a person who had actually used them. You will find that most homeschoolers have found something that really works well for their family, but they are fully understanding that it is not going to be the right fit for everyone else.
You can look into the requirements for homeschooling in your state using the Homeschool Legal Defense Association web site. For us, it was simple – file with the state as an unaccredited institution and get started. We made sure we had read and understood all the requirements before we began – it helped us plan.
Whether or not you decide to look further into homeschooling is a decision that only you can make. There is never 100% assurance in parenting choices. Only hindsight is 20-20 and honestly, I think that is deceptive. Even when you feel you should have/could have done something different, you cannot know how things would have turned out if your choices hadn’t been the same. We are all going to screw up our children. No getting around it. It is simpler to accept that right now and forgive yourself. Just do your best.
In the big picture, we as parents sweat too much over the small stuff. If you try homeschooling and it is a giant bomb, it will not scar your child for the rest of his life. Maybe you will all look back and laugh. Lots of parents have found a year of transitionary homeschooling to be a gift for their family as they found the educational path they needed elsewhere. But if you try homeschooling you may find, like my family, that it is the best decision you ever made and you will be consistently thankful you were able to consider something that seemed so different. Maybe you will make it easier for another family struggling with their current circumstances to consider making a change.
Don’t be afraid of change. Don’t be afraid of your gut. It may or may not lead you to homeschooling, but I encourage you to look into all your options. Somewhere out there, a school or method of schooling exists that will fit your family. Make a change – it is the only way things improve. Good luck!