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Homeschooling: Making The Leap

Many people know they want to homeschool long before they ever have children. Others may be intrigued by the concept but haven’t taken the leap yet. And then for some of us, homeschooling is the furthest thing from our minds.

Before my third child was born, I’d never given homeschooling a second thought. I come from a long line of public school teachers. My grandfather, my mother, and my sister are all teachers. I’d taught preschool and kindergarten for over twenty years. I certainly wasn’t blind to the limitations of public schools, but I had (and still have) a deep respect for the profession of teaching.

Then along came my son, who challenged all my ideals about teaching. From the time he was very small, my son was very curious and bright. He was also full of energy, which often ramped to out-of-control levels when he was with lots of other kids. At the playground, he constantly touched other kids and sometimes mowed over them in his enthusiasm. At school, his teachers reported that when they worked one-on-one with him, he was brilliant. If the class was noisy or the teachers couldn’t help him stay on task, he quickly became distracted. Classic ADHD symptoms, but my husband and I were less than excited about medicating him, especially when he did so well at home where things were quiet.

Enter homeschooling. I had more than a few misgivings about homeschooling, but the more I read, the more convinced I became that it might be the best option for my son. I decided to try homeschooling casually over summer vacation. We didn’t do a full-blown curriculum, but I figured this would give me a good idea of what to expect.

At the same time, I made a list of my questions and fears about homeschooling. To answer these questions, I did some research, talked with other parents, and learned through my observations. If you’ve thought about homeschooling, you might have your own list of worries that’s preventing you from taking the leap. My guess is your questions are probably some of the same ones I had. Every family’s different, and the answers I found may not work for you, but they’ll probably ease some of your worries and give you something to think about.

Do I Have The Patience To Homeschool?

I’d spent most of my adult life working with children every day, yet this question worried me. Teachers get breaks; homeschooling parents don’t. What I learned, though, as I talked with other parents is that most homeschooling families don’t view mom (or dad) as the main individual in charge of schooling the way most teachers perceive themselves. One mom said to me, “We’re a family, not a school.” This parent established a flexible schedule that allowed for some autonomy for every family member, including mom. Her kids are expected to do some independent learning every day, while mom works on her own things. Kids also pitch in to do chores. Afternoons are reserved for field trips, service projects, or simply playing.

I’ve found that in many ways, I’m actually more patient than when my kids were in public school, simply because I don’t feel constantly rushed. We maintain a schedule, but we don’t have to get out the door by 7:30 every morning. We also don’t have the burden of homework and after-school activities because we do everything during the day. It took a while to find a rhythm, but we’ve become accustomed to a slower, more relaxed pace of life.

Of course, come January, when there’s two feet of snow on the ground and no end in sight to the dreary weather, we all get a little grumpy. For me, the answer is a few extracurricular activities and field trips. During swimming lessons or karate class, I bring a book and just take a few minutes to myself. Since we started homeschooling, we’ve also instituted an earlier bedtime. Kids don’t have to go to sleep, but they do have to be in bed at eight. This time in the evening really saves my sanity and lets me reconnect with my husband.

What About Socialization?

I think this is probably the number one concern for most people and also the question homeschoolers get most from others. I remember hearing neighbors and friends talking critically about homeschoolers. They’d make comments like, “Homeschooled kids are just weird.” I wondered how many homeschoolers they actually knew. A small part of me also worried that they were right.

Since then, I’ve become acquainted with many homeschooling families. Socialization rarely seems to be a problem. The homeschooled kids I know are polite, articulate, and confident. They actually seem better able to talk with adults than most kids.

I’ve found more opportunities for socialization than we’ll ever have time to take part in. Recreation centers and universities offer classes in art, crafts, nature, science, robotics, and other topics where kids can make friends. Homeschooling groups hold monthly activities, including spelling bees, picnics, and science fairs.

How Can We Afford To Homeschool?

If you already live on one income, this might not be a big issue, but it was a concern for our family. I’d retired from teaching to start a freelance writing career, which gave me some flexibility, but I still worried about managing homeschooling and my career. How could I keep my writing career on track and homeschool at the same time?

As I talked with other parents, I realized that perhaps I compartmentalized things too much. In my mind, work was work, and school was school. The two did not mix. Yet, my great grandmother had educated eight children, managed the family farm, and maintained a thriving silkworm business all at once. How did she do it? I think by taking the attitude that life is education, regardless of whether you’re milking a cow, talking with a client, or teaching a child to read. Her children were part of her daily activities, and every experience was instructive.

Understanding this philosophy helps me keep perspective, although working and homeschooling can be tough. I work early in the morning. I’ve also instituted an hour or so of quiet time in the afternoon when my kids can read or play by themselves. Like other homeschooling parents, we try to be as frugal as possible. We grow a garden, shop second-hand, and avoid debt.

How Will I Motivate My Kids To Learn?

There’s a common misconception that homeschooled kids don’t spend a lot of time learning, but actually spend their days mindlessly watching television. I worried that my kids wouldn’t take their studies seriously. What I found, though, is that when kids are allowed to help choose not only the subject matter, but the method of instruction, they’re eager learners.

My son spent three weeks learning about snakes recently. He read books, looked at Internet sites, and visited a zoo to learn about them. Then, he wrote a story, documented and graphed the snakes’ characteristics, and created snakes from clay. I never once suggested to him that he do his schoolwork.

We combine projects and field trips with traditional book work—an approach that many homeschooling parents use. I think the secret to motivating kids is to continually analyze how learning is going. If kids seem bored, it’s time to reassess and try something new.

Homeschooling is challenging, exhilarating, and rewarding. It requires courage to go against social norms, especially when family members, neighbors, and friends vocally express their disapproval. If the leap to homeschooling seems especially large, take a summer to experiment. Like me, you may find that the leap isn’t quite as scary as you thought.

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