Whether we realize it or not, we are all teachers. Someone in our lives is looking at us, and to us, for advice and guidance and comfort. And we are looking to others for those very same things.
Homeschoolers do not have a built in support system as do traditional schooling parents, so we must find ways to connect with others who share our desire to direct our child's education.
Thinking back over the last 20+ years of homeschooling, I can see how the internet immediately became the homeschooler's favorite tool for networking with other families, shopping for and choosing curriculum, and discovering places to go for field trips. Support groups and co-ops sprung up hither and yon like clover in the springtime.
Because homeschooling for many families is not just a lifestyle, but a passion, they become homeschool mentors and spend time on a regular basis helping other homeschoolers get started, select curriculum and create lesson plans, and deal with the every day of homeschool life.
But what should you look for in a mentor, and what does it take to be one?
How much homeschooling experience do you need to be a mentor?
My answer is going to surprise some of you. I think five minutes sounds about right.
The fact is, homeschooling begins the instant our children are born. We teach them hand-eye coordination, compassion, speech, morality and appropriate behavior. . . and if they are potty trained by the time they are four, go ahead and pat yourself on the back. You have read them stories, sometimes even with voices and sound effects. They know colors and shapes, and can build a fort with anything from Legos to mashed potatoes. You have done some serious teaching already, and homeschooling is just a continuation of that.
Mentoring is being honest and open about sharing your experiences. You are simply sharing what worked, and even better, what didn't work. Discussion is often just thinking out loud, and when we talk with someone else about the situations we've faced, we can not only help each other find solutions, but offer caution and counsel about what to avoid.
We get the idea sometimes that being a mentor means you must be old and wise, with decades of experience. That certainly is helpful and sometimes preferable - after all, a homeschool parent with littles might not have much counsel to offer the parent of high schoolers prepping for college. But many parenting dilemmas and academic issues are solved by the same principles applied a different way. Don't be a homeschool wallflower - give the support you have to give, and you are a homeschool mentor.
The aspect of mentoring that most find scary is the idea of leading by example. We think being a good role model implies achieving perfection or expertise. However, being an example is more about modeling how to handle shortcomings and vulnerabilities than being impervious to them.
In what areas do we expect to act as an example? Are other parents teaching the same way we do, using the same books, and parenting clones of our children? I don't think so. Each family has their own dynamic, every child has specific needs, and our homeschools will develop and adapt as the days go by.
Mentoring is not providing a pattern for others and expecting them to simply connect the dots. Formulas and guarantees are totally bogus - there is no such thing as The Right Way to homeschool. As a matter of fact, avoid homeschool 'experts' who are selling a One Size Fits All solution to your homeschool questions.
Mentoring is not making up rules, standards, and decreeing what is best for other families. It is providing an anchor so others feel the confidence and freedom to forge their own unique path. Our steadfast faith, patience, and compassion are the principles that guide us, and will also help us guide them.
Maybe no one liked the cheerleaders in high school, but everyone needs encouragement, and mentors make a point of regularly offering hope, support, and comfort to those in need. Mentors are the cheerleaders for your homeschool.
Encouragement doesn’t require eloquence, or expensive cards and gifts. Your steady presence can be felt in the simple prayers, notes, phone calls, emails, or even text messages. But please don't use trite and worn phrases that lack sincerity. If you are a mentor, it does require knowing in what areas your friend needs consolation or inspiration.
As Christians we are commanded to be burden-bearers:
Galatians 6:2 Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
This communicates relationship. We can become so busy in our own homeschool lives that we don't develop and nurture relationships. Has it ever occurred to you that modeling healthy relationships for your children is part of their home education?
Hello? Am I talkin' to myself here?
Encouragement doesn't mean we have to devise solutions on the spot. We are sometimes tempted to 'fix' other people, but that is not really in our power, it isn't appropriate, and it's not necessary. As homeschoolers we know how much lighter the load feels when others come along beside us to comfort and sustain us with nothing more than genuine concern.
This sounds easier than it is in reality. Empathy isn’t just feeling for someone, it is feeling with them.
We aren’t simply communicating; we are communing with one another.
We claim to desire and enjoy close-knit relationships, but we are often guilty of keeping people at arm’s length. By not trying to connect with others, we are by default pushing them away. We are loathe to reveal any vulnerabilities, and we are too busy with our own issues to deal with the struggles of others. But when we keep people at a distance, we can neither receive the warmth and joy of friendship, or give it.
We are not fulfilling our calling as Christians, or even as human beings, designed to be part of a family and community.
Homeschoolers may lead very different lives, and use a variety of education methods and resources, but we know the same insecurities, concerns, fears, and irritations:
- “What if I can’t teach them?”
- “Why isn’t my child’s spelling improving?”
- "Are you sure this is legal?"
- “What if my family is against our decision to homeschool?”
- "What about high school and college?"
- "What if my child doesn't want to homeschool?"
- “Why do people always ask us how we provide proper socialization?”
Because we know how it feels to have these questions, we can commiserate with others, and find solutions together.
Have you begun to see yourself as a homeschool mentor? I hope so. You probably don't realize how much you have to offer to others.
Are you new to homeschooling, and hoping to find someone who will act in this capacity for you? The easiest solution for many is social media platforms like Facebook groups, but search for support groups in your area and get connected face-to-face with other homeschool families who would be happy to stand with you as you homeschool.
Wherever you are on this homeschool journey, make it a goal to find another homeschooler, and share your experiences, be a good example, encourage and empathize with them.