Parents choose to homeschool for a variety of reasons, ranging from dissatisfaction with their local school’s quality of instruction to religious convictions. Every state has provisions for allowing parents to homeschool their children, but individual regulations concerning issues such as curriculum and assessment of a child’s academic progress vary between states, so parents need to learn their locale’s laws before commencing homeschooling. Every state allows parents to reinstate their children into public school, but a school official will want to discuss the child’s homeschooling to help assess his academic level.
Deciding to homeschool your children is probably the most significant lifestyle choice you as a parent can make, and it does not come easy.
Usually one parent looks into it and must convince the other parent that it isn’t crazy. So, the education actually begins with both parents opening their minds to new concepts.
Some are motivated to try homeschooling because of a bad experience their child had in public school, or some may view the conventional school curriculum as not in line with their beliefs or aspirations, while others are drawn to the freedom and joy of spending more time with their children.
No matter what the reason is, all parents who decide to homeschool will face similar challenges. Besides having to decide what and how to teach your children, you may also have to justify their lifestyle choice to the countless conformists who surround you.
When we first announced our decision to homeschool our kids, one family member brashly told us “how dare you think your smart enough to homeschool your kids.” Another said “You’re going to ruin your kids lives.”
So much for good old family support, right? Even though the popularity of homeschooling is growing leaps and bounds, most will find many family members, or even their spouse, to be resistant to the idea when it’s initially proposed as it’s out of line with traditional conditioning.
In the face of this pressure, you must choose what to teach and how to teach it so you don’t “ruin your kids lives.” Then comes actually filling your days with lessons and activities while managing the household and, sometimes, another profession as well.
It is not an easy path but, ultimately, it’s worth it for those of us who philosophically commit ourselves to homeschooling. There is no standard approach to homeschooling, but we thought outlining some rules for happy homeschooling can help others find more peace in their journey.
Removing Your Child from School
While some states allow parents to withdraw their child for homeschooling at any time during the school year, others require parents to provide advance notice, ranging from a few days to a full month. Parents may inform the state of their intention prior to the school year or while school is in session. Some states such as New York require parents to submit their proposed curriculum along with a letter of intent.
States such as Connecticut and Nevada require homeschooling parents to submit a curriculum that’s equivalent to the state’s, imparting the same knowledge that the child would receive from a public-school education. Other states, including California, don’t mandate specific curricula for homeschooling. Parents can use any pedagogical methods they find appropriate for instructing their children, and parents can supplement or replace standard textbooks and worksheets with hands-on activities, like interactive computer learning and videos, as long as the child learns what’s required by the state. States allow parents to make reasonable curriculum adjustments to accommodate their child’s pace of learning, abbreviating the duration of subject areas a child quickly masters and extending time spent on a subject the child struggles with.
The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) reports that as of 2006, 42 states don’t mandate specific educational requirements for parents to homeschool their children. Other states such as Georgia and New Mexico require homeschooling parents to hold a high school or college diploma to homeschool their children. In states like Nevada, failure to meet equivalency standards can result in the state requiring parents to return their children to public school.
States such as Oklahoma don’t have requirements for reporting a child’s academic progress, but most require some form of reporting. States such as Hawaii require parents to submit progress reports to the state, and states such as Pennsylvania require parents to provide portfolios of children’s schoolwork for education personnel to review. Most states require all students to take standardized achievement tests periodically.
Here are some basic rules that may help new homeschooling parents:
Educate Yourself: I don’t mean re-leaning Algebra. I mean both you and your spouse must learn about homeschooling and agree on the general philosophy. It is nearly impossible for homeschooling to succeed if both parents aren’t on the same page. The experience will quickly deteriorate if one parent resents the idea or is overly critical of the process. Luckily, there are many terrific books and blogs about homescholling to give you plenty of helpful information and support.
Consider it a Trial Run: Calling your adventure into homeschooling a “trial run” will help in many ways. First, it will diffuse negative reactions from friends and family who will inevitably pepper you with questions like “what about college?” If you must, explain your reasons for trying it and tell them if it doesn’t work out they can always go back to school. This also relieves the pressure to plan too far ahead. It can be easy to lose yourself in the magnitude of responsibility that comes with being in charge of your child’s education. Don’t worry about long-term success or failure, just consider it a new experience with nothing to lose.
Put Joy and Happiness First: Happiness and joy should be the overriding goal for your homeschooling experience. Everyone should enjoy the process. Otherwise, what’s the point? Teaching and learning is much easier if everyone is having fun. If something isn’t working or is causing too much tension, then change your approach or scrap it altogether. Happiness equals success. Period.
Have a Flexible Curriculum: Your kids do not need to be spelling bee champs to justify your decision to homeschool. Sure, it’s wise to set some basic academic goals, but be willing to throw out the “on par with grade level” mentality if necessary. Kids are sponges for learning, especially when they’re enjoying themselves. Believe me, they’ll always be learning far more than a standardized test can show.
Teach How to Think: All public school students are taught what to think, but few learn how to think. Homeschooled kids aren’t special because they learn what to think better than their schooled peers, they’re special because they learn how to think. So ditch the flash cards unless you can use them in a memory game. In other words, be creative in presenting boring material as a mystery waiting to be solved. Make you lessons more like treasure hunts. The ability to solve problems is far more valuable than the ability to memorize “facts” that can be Googled in 2 seconds.
Embrace Technology: Some homeschoolers have a negative view of TV, gadgets, or video and computer games. Admittedly, we ditched our cable TV service 4 years ago, but that doesn’t mean we’re against our kids watching TV altogether. We just thought it lost its value given that the Internet offers the same product, commercial free. Movies, iPad apps, Kindles, and computer games are fantastic educational tools. Learning to use these tools properly and keeping up with the changes in technology is essential to include in your curriculum.
Join Local Homeschool Groups: You will be surprised how many families homeschool in your area. These groups are an excellent way to make new friends and to get ideas and support. Many will plan events, joint classes and field trips, play dates, chess clubs or sports, and even dances for the older kids. Join the various groups that most appeal to you and you will immediately gain a support network and social interaction for your kids.
Adapt Quickly: There is no one right way to homeschool. Every single homeschooling situation is unique to each family. So don’t be overly committed to a certain approach if it isn’t working or you’re not enjoying it. On our homeschooling journey, we’ve gone from a strict curriculum with books and schedules to pretty much unschooling. Nothing you ever do is lost or wasted, it all serves as a lesson in the homeschooling experience. But the faster you realize something isn’t working, the better. Follow your intuition and don’t be afraid to adapt midstream.
Have Faith and Be Confident: Most of us were traditionally schooled, so it’s only natural to second guess our homeschooling decisions. Am I doing enough, not enough, or what else should I be doing? Are they getting enough socialization? I really enjoyed high school sports and dances, am I depriving them of those experiences? All I can say to these common insecurities is to trust the process. Have faith that the unique experiences you can offer by homeschooling will far outnumber the few memorable times you had in school. And if you do your best to maintain a joyful atmosphere and focus on happiness, everything will turn out just fine.
Deciding to homeschool your kids is a monumental decision, but it doesn’t need to be stressful. Just educate yourself as much as possible and do a trial run. It is impossible for you to “ruin your kids lives”, so don’t listen to the criticism from people who know nothing about homeschooling. Make it fun and joyful and watch your children blossom into unique happy people.