Are you interested in learning the realities of homeschooling?
I’ve got the 411 from 20 years of homeschooling and networking with other homeschoolers. In this series, I'm giving it all to you.
The history of modern homeschooling reveals many long, hard-fought battles by parents desiring educational freedom for their children. Some wanted to homeschool in order to exercise their religious freedom, or to preserve their ethnic heritage, while others longed for a more natural and stimulating environment for their kids. Parents had to staunchly defend their Constitutional right to educate their children in their own homes. Today, homeschooling is legal in all 50 states, although the regulations vary in each state.
However, because homeschoolers have broken from society's accepted pack order and ventured out on their own, they are viewed with suspicion, as rebels, iconoclasts, or fanatics.
Ironic, isn't it, that a society claiming to embrace diversity and freedom has a total wiggins when someone steps out of line?
The result is defensive homeschoolers who would like to share their homeschooling experiences, but believe if they present an unadorned picture of their daily challenges and seasonal struggles, they would not be received with compassion, support, and encouragement. Rather, those who don't understand homeschooling or are enemies of educational freedom will grab onto their stories and use them as ammunition for restrictions on homeschooling.
This intimidation silences many, and instead of feeling free to share their Homeschool Reality, they present only the positives, resulting in an overall picture of family harmony and homeschool success.
The side effects of presenting a rose-colored-glasses view of homeschooling are:
1) Homeschoolers who are struggling feel inferior and discouraged.
2) Homeschoolers who are struggling are too embarrassed to ask for help.
3) Families considering homeschooling fail to get a clear picture of what it’s really like.
That's why I want to share our Homeschool Reality. Our personal homeschooling story isn’t one of overcoming huge obstacles and navigating crisis after crisis. I feel fortunate that homeschooling was a natural fit for me and my family. I love teaching, so when Ken and I decided to take the home education plunge, it wasn’t a scary ride, but a dream come true.
Teaching my own child felt like the best of every possible world.
When we started, Seth was in first grade, so all of our kids have grown up in the homeschooling lifestyle. They’ve experienced traditional classroom dynamics in places like co-ops, Sunday School and Driver’s Ed, and they have continued to prefer the freedom and relaxed atmosphere of homeschooling. They don’t look longingly at yellow school buses or wish they could have the ‘school’ experience.
That doesn’t mean every day is blissful and stress free. The kids have had their share of meltdowns over concepts and skills they thought they would never master. Sick days stress everyone out, and our carefully laid plans are kablooey after several sniffing-sneezing-coughing-aching-stuffy-head-fever-unable-to-rest days.
My kids have experienced boredom when a topic of study wasn't of particular interest to them, so rolled eyes have been spotted and tortured sighs have been heard, which ignites my desire to pep talk for a 15 minute stretch without taking a breath. Of course, this usually just aggravates the situation.
Learning takes time, and focusing on new skills sometimes means that housework and my social life take a back seat to my children’s needs. Stuff can wait, but kids can't. They are growing and changing at an astonishing rate, and our time with them has an expiration date in the not-too-distant future. Meanwhile, the dust bunnies will multiply and the laundry will remain in the same pile where I put it, day after day. Until someone realizes they are out of clean skivvies.
When kids land in Teen Limbo - that odd and mysterious place between child and adult - they still need parental guidance while testing their independence. This translates into an occasional clash of wills. They are alternately excited about their futures and anxious about navigating the next few years of college, career training, creating a financial foundation, and moving from Sorta' Independent to Literally Independent. They need to talk about their hopes and dreams, their struggles and fears. I need to organize my days to include private time with each child to provide those opportunities for conversation. We might take a long walk with the dog, or they'll go with me to run errands. Sometimes I sit on the end of their bed at night and just listen.
My motivation wasn't to raise academic prodigies. Ken and I wanted our kids to be compassionate and wise, but we do not care if our kids can play musical instruments, build robots, or speak several languages. With the right tools, anyone can learn what they need to know when they need to know it. It's the foundation that is most important, and although the foundation doesn't look as impressive as the rest of the structure, it is absolutely essential for it to be solid.
I refuse to compare my kids to other people's kids, or wonder what other homeschoolers are doing, or measure my children against national standards. But this is hard to do because it goes against the grain of our society, which is deeply invested in the media and political narrative of the need for a government controlled education system.
While homeschooling has been and continues to be fulfilling and fun for us, it isn’t without difficulties and sacrifices.
Parents who are thinking about homeschooling need a heads up about Homeschool Reality.
Parents who ARE dealing with Homeschool Reality need to know they are not alone in their struggles.
- Homeschoolers need to exercise discipline on a daily basis. If you choose to homeschool, you will know the weight of responsibility of guiding your child’s education and helping them build their academic foundations. It doesn't matter what method you choose - you will planning your life in ways you did not expect so that your kids have opportunities to explore and learn in the real world. This requires a daily determination and perseverance many parents don't ever have to exercise.
- You may sometimes feel alone and inadequate, with no external funding, no support from a teacher or a local school, no accountability to someone else organizing and overseeing your child’s studies and activities. You will have to be proactive, reach out to gain support from other homeschoolers, ask for help from friends and family who are willing to be an encouragement to you. It is unlikely that someone will magically come along to hold your hand - you have to be the one to find resources and information.
- You have to model the behaviors you expect from your child, like respectful communication, a teachable spirit, compassion and forgiveness, and a well-developed work ethic. If you are physically or intellectually lazy, don't expect your children to break that mold on their own. You will both be frustrated and it's likely you'll toss in the homeschool towel in defeat. This tests you more than anything else, because now your kids see you every day living your life - organizing, prioritizing, dealing with problems, talking to friends. Very little escapes their attention. However, being a role model is not something you want to hand over to strangers at your local school.
- Be prepared to go 'back to school' yourself, and revisit everything from American History to Algebra. You will once again be reciting multiplication tables, parts of speech, poetry, states and capitals. Yippee. If you loved school, you will enjoy the re-learning process. If you hated school, you will probably want to stick a fork in your eye. But homeschooling is not about you, it's about your child's future.
A brief post like this can only scratch the surface of what our homeschool life is like, and might look completely different from the path your homeschooling journey takes. There is no such thing as The Normal Family, so how could there be a Normal Homeschool Family?
Like everything worth doing and worth doing well, homeschooling is hard work.
As a homeschooler, you have decided to leave the main road and travel a narrow path, and you need to prepare yourself to take what comes with it, every day, for every season of life. And let's face it - Homeschool Reality is why many choose NOT to homeschool, and that's as it should be.
Another reality to face; there may come a time when you need to revisit your choice to homeschool and instead use your local public or private school to provide your child’s education. You should be able to do this without feeling as if you’ve ‘failed’. People change, circumstances change, and we need to adjust and adapt without The Fate of Homeschooling resting on our shoulders. A parent who stops homeschooling has not betrayed the homeschool movement or placed their child in the arms of Molech. It's hard enough to be a parent without people trying to freak you out because of their religious beliefs or political agenda. As someone once said - row your own boat unless you want an oar upside your head.
The point of educational freedom is to be able to do what is best for your family.