Thinking About Homeschooling?

One of the most common conversations we have when people find out that we homeschool starts with, “Really? I’ve been thinking about homeschooling but am not sure if it’s the right thing for us”… or something along those lines.

Some families have their first child and know from the beginning that they plan to homeschool. Those families may spend several years before their child is even old enough to start preschool in the “information gathering” mode. They talk to homeschooling parents, frequent homeschooling message boards, gather materials and start collecting books – they may even connect with a local homeschooling group in their area and start building a network of support. Usually, those parents start homeschooling in the early years; establishing patterns that can work for them for quite some time. Those are all great things! The result is that when their child is old enough to start a K or 1st grade curriculum, the parents are confident and well prepared. Homeschooling is natural because they’ve already been doing it for a while – it is an extension of their parenting.

Many families don’t start out planning to homeschool. Some parents find that as the start of Kindergarten looms closer and closer they’re not ready to hand off their child to strangers for the day, or they may feel that their child is just not ready for a classroom setting for 8 hours per day. Other families have a change in circumstances (work, family, a move) and homeschooling becomes the better option for them. Still others start in public school and find that their child’s needs or that academic expectations aren’t being met and so they decide that learning at home might work for them.

If you’re in that latter category, then you may have some reservations about making a change. “Normal” is comfortable. Making a change, especially one that is as big as homeschooling (seems, right before you make the decision to do it!) can be scary. One of the best suggestions we received was to think about the pros and cons in terms of  “worst case scenarios” while you’re trying to decide.

What’s the best thing that can happen if we homeschool? For most of us, it would be that our child is happy, learning is a joy, our family becomes closer, our child’s interests are explored more fully…. things along those lines. You’ll have your own list depending on what is important to you.

What’s the worst things that can happen if we homeschool? That list is usually much longer and the outcomes sound much more bleak! We tend to think things like our child is a failure, will never get a job, and that people will look at us and know that we singlehandedly ruined our kid!

Get wild with the speculation. Take it to both extremes. Now that you have all those unrealistic and fearful thoughts out of the way, you can get down to the real business of figuring out what is best for YOUR family. Every family has different needs, different priorities, different reasons for choosing to educate at home. No one can tell you what is going to be right for your kids. As the parent, YOU are the expert on your child. You should have confidence in your ability to weigh the options, evaluate your child’s needs and choose the best course of action to meet them!

So how do you decide? A good way to start the process is to evaluate how the current situation is working for you.

If your little one is about to enter K, think about what you know of your child. How do you think he will react to and function in a classroom setting? Is his learning style compatible with a classroom setting? Think  about the time factor – how much time and one-on-one attention does your little one need from his or her caregiver during the day? How much trouble is she likely to get into without that constant supervision? Will your child be able to get that from a teacher who has to divide her time between 20 students? Does your child have a learning disability? Is your child likely to get ‘labeled’ in school? Labels are far-reaching and while some help, a lot of them hurt. If you have a very active little boy who is used to several hours of outside time per day, sitting still in school for 6+ hours is going to be a huge challenge for him. If you have a kinesthetic or tactile learner, then a classroom where things are taught on the board or by repetition may not be the best environment for your kiddo.

If your child is already in school and you’re considering pulling her out, there is more to consider. Presumably, if your child is already in school and you’re thinking of making a change, then something about that situation is not meeting her needs or your expectations. Be honest with your evaluation. Keeping a child who is unsuccessful in a “good school” isn’t helping the child. If your child is unhappy or not doing well, then both of those scenarios can be damaging to your child in the long run. As parents we’re constantly worried about our children’s self-esteem and self-confidence. A child who is not doing well in school will suffer in those areas, which can compound the problem. Even if your child has (what you perceive to be) more doors open to her in a public school setting, how likely is it that she’ll have the confidence and motivation to step through them if those qualities are not being nurtured now? Homeschooling may offer her a chance to build her self esteem and gain confidence, which will help her to seek more opportunities to further her learning. With more children being homeschooled each year, it can be argued that there are just as many opportunities open to students who are educated at home as those who are institutionally educated.

Another thing to consider is environment. We shouldn’t always set our children up for success, we should be aware of scenarios where our children are being set up to fail. It’s our job to step in at that point. Sure disappointment is part of life and of course they must learn to deal with that, but there are enough knocks in life without being put in situations where there is no hope of success – and yet that’s what happens with many children in public school. We ask children with attention difficulties to sit still and pay attention for hours at a time. We ask students who are struggling to “just catch up” without the time or resources to help them do that. We ask children who are excelling and who are eager for more challenging material to wait; to hold back or force them to learn on their own because the teacher doesn’t have time to fully explore that child’s potential. We try to put round kids into square holes that are too small – education is not one-size-fits-all, but we treat it like it is and there are too many kids falling though the cracks. Homeschooling can take whatever shape your child needs it to, can move as fast or as slow as your child learns and there are no labels to apply other than “wash, rinse, repeat”.

As parents, we have our children’s best interests at heart and even if we’re not toting a degree in education, we know how to provide our children with what they need. As homeschooling parents, that may mean that we learn along with them, that we stay up late studying or gathering information, or that we seek a tutor or mentor to help fill in the gaps. We encourage our children, we use our expertise on our kids to spark their interest, we are focused on the best outcome for our kids. Homeschooling allows us to focus on our children and meet their unique needs without worrying about 18 other kids, or meeting a minimum requirement, or shuffling them along because “it’s time”. We can spend days on something – really get into the meat of it because our child is really interested, or skim the surface of a subject until we get to something that really grabs them. We can do projects that teachers in classrooms would never do because they’re too messy, or too expensive to do with 20 kids. We can go on field trips or arrange to shadow someone who works in the field we’re studying… the list of what we can do as homeschoolers is extensive.  In light of that, why wouldn’t you want to homeschool?

Well, that’s a good list, too. We’re not going to cover the self-doubt portion of “why I can’t homeschool” here. If you’re considering homeschooling, then you probably already have a pretty good list of your own short-comings in your head and we’re here to build you up, not tear you down! Homeschooling is great, but it’s not all fun and games. There are some real challenges to homeschooling. All those articles that talk about how advanced homeschooled children are compared to their institutionally schooled counterparts rarely remind parents that the difference is not there just by virtue of being homeschooled. It’s there because those parents have devoted themselves to providing a superior education to their children. That takes time and effort, and not all parents are cut out for that. Be realistic; know your limitations and think about how that will affect your child if you decide to homeschool.

Some realities in homeschooling are:

  • You’re with your children all the time. Please note: ALL. THE. TIME. If you don’t enjoy spending that much time with your children, then homeschooling might not be a successful venture for you or your children. If you require a lot of “me time” as a parent, then homeschooling is probably not going to allow you much of that. If you have a lot of hobbies or spend your time volunteering in less-than-kid-friendly causes, you’re going to have trouble balancing that with homeschooling without childcare. Even the most devoted parent will need to plan some time away to refresh and recharge. If support in your area is limited, homeschooling might prove to be an additional challenge for you.
  • As a homeschooling parent/teacher, you end up spending a lot of your ‘free’ time preparing or planning for school, especially if you make up your own curriculum. There are ‘easier’ ways to do that (i.e.: boxed curriculum), but even then, you will still probably want to supplement that with activities and additional materials. If you’re unschooling, then you’ll spent time worrying about getting a well-rounded educational experience and working all those facets into everyday life. Be prepared to devote even more time to creative planning if you’re working on a limited budget.
  • Homeschooling takes time. Lots of time. Forget ideas of following through on all those crafts that you have half finished or long, leisurely roams through epic literature. While there can be time for some of that, you’re going to devote a fair portion of your time to actually working with your child on lessons or looking up information or doing educational projects, going to and from the library, homeschooling social events or conferences, researching or planning… you’re adding “teacher” to the already full plate of “parent”.
  • Homeschooling can get expensive. It doesn’t have to, but it can. Between buying curriculum, materials, manipulatives, organizational tools, software, conferences, labs… It can be argued that it costs around the same amount  by the time you factor in buying school clothes, school supplies, gas to and from school every day, extra-curriculars and outside lessons. It can also be argued that you can homeschool for less by not buying a boxed curriculum, utilizing homeschool free market groups (similar to Freecycle programs) and the library and making your own manipulatives. All of the above can be true, depending on the choices you make for your family.
  • There may be laws or regulations to follow. If you’re homeschooling in Texas, then this isn’t a concern. Texas homeschools are considered private schools and so we have a lot of autonomy. In other states, that is not the case. You’ll need to check with your state’s laws to make sure you’re in compliance. You can check the Homeschool Legal Defense Association’s website for more information about your state’s requirements.
  • Homeschooling is stressful. Not always, but there are moments/days/times when you’re overcome with crushing doubt – doubt that you can do this, doubt that your child is getting ‘the best’… There are also times when you just need a break – need time alone, and it’s really hard to come by. There are times when life gets in the way – illness, family tragedy, a new baby, work – all of these things can creep into your homeschooling time or eat away at your self-discipline.
  • Education must be a priority. In line with the above, it takes a great deal of commitment to homeschool. Whatever method you’re utilizing, you have to do it. Every method requires parental involvement and attention. Daily. Even unschooling – perhaps especially unschooling. If you’re not able to give your time, attention and focus to your children; to make sure that their education is a priority, then homeschooling may not work well for your family. (That’s not to say that you wouldn’t have good intentions – we all do. But an honest assessment of your ability to follow through on this one is key.)
  • Homeschooling requires space in your home. For some families, school is in the living room, dining room or kitchen. Others use the entire home and still others designate a room in their home as the “school room”. Even if it’s just a cabinet or box to store your supplies, you will need to carve out some space for school supplies. Being organized and knowing where your materials are can dramatically affect the effectiveness of your homeschool efforts. Find what works for your family. If you’re not sure what will work best, try something and if it isn’t working after a while, change it. Just be prepared to have educational materials in your home, possibly visible to visitors. If you want to maintain a meticulously decorated home, the homeschooling may require your family to make space sacrifices  so that school can be contained, or monetary sacrifices so that you can have nice storage cabinets to hide everything when the school day is done or company comes over.
  • Homeschooling can attract negative attention. Ideally, we’re all confident enough to allow nay-sayer’s negative comments to roll off our backs like water off of a duck. But when those comments come from family or friends, it’s not as easy to ignore since they often know what buttons to push to get a rise from us. Homeschooling is much more socially acceptable now than it has been in years past, and so there seems to be less and less negativity attached to homeschooling, especially in areas where it’s a popular movement. But there are still some hold-outs who aren’t as well informed as we enlightened few are. Be prepared to deal with comments, and to discuss negative perceptions with your kids. You don’t have to defend your choices; you can simply change the subject, pointedly, every time it comes up if it’s a point of contention for your family. But it’s always a good idea to talk to your children about what they may have heard that can impact their perceptions of themselves.
  • YOU are responsible for overseeing your child’s every educational move. There is no one else to share the blame if things aren’t going well. On the one hand, that means that you can stop what you’re doing now and make a complete overhaul of the system – work out the bugs and make improvements. On the other hand, it’s a big job to have squarely on your shoulders and there is a lot of worry and stress that can accompany taking it on. If you think that through logically though, as a parent, we’re ALWAYS going to be solely responsible for nurturing our children – emotionally, physically and academically. Staying motivated and keeping those feelings of self-doubt in check are key, and a good way to do that is to find support.
  • Homeschooling parents need a support network. Sometimes, that can be hard to come by. In some areas, homeschooling is just one of many educational options. It’s normal and even cool. In other areas, homeschooling is still seen as something that religious nuts do, and it’s perceived as weird or extreme. There are tons of gray areas between those two extremes. Knowing where your area falls is important and can help you prepare for what kind of environment you’ll be stepping into as a homeschooling family. Homeschooling is easier when you have a group of supportive, like-minded people to connect with, share ideas with and vent to. While there are tons of resources online, having a local group (or even just another family) to connect with in person can be a huge benefit to you and to your child. Of course, you can homeschool all on your own, but why would you want to?

Here’s another pretty balanced article describing why some parents may not want to take on the task of homeschooling. Cons of Homeschooling from HomeschoolingInfo.org

Some other common barriers to homeschooling might be:

“I want to homeschool but my child doesn’t.”

This is something we’ve heard several times, and it’s a tough one to work through. Again, an honest evaluation is key in determining a course of action. For little ones, it may be a novelty issue – once the reality sets in, they may not like it that much. On the other hand, they may fall in love and you’re in a pickle. If your child hasn’t started school, then it’s up to you to evaluate your family’s needs and what you want for your child. There are advantages and disadvantages to public/private/charter school and advantages to homeschooling, and only you can decide what will be best for your child.

If your child is already in school and you want to make a change, then again, honest evaluation is essential. Is your child happy, doing well? Is the school meeting your child’s needs? If so, and you don’t have serious objections to the school itself or to the practice of institutionalized education as a whole, then you might consider leaving things as they are. It’s entirely possible that in coming months or years that your child will come around to homeschooling on her own.

If you’re opposed to the practice of institutionalized education as a whole, you may decide to pull your child out of school despite his objections. There is something to be said for sticking to your principles/beliefs, though if you can wait it out and persuade your child, we do recommend going that route. It can be extremely difficult to homeschool a reluctant student. A period of ‘de-schooling‘ may be especially important in this case.

Of course, there are things you can do to stack the deck in favor of homeschooling – plan ‘field trips’ and keep him home that day, meet with homeschooling groups and let the kids convince your child – place homeschooling in an appealing light. In the mean time, do your research! It’s never too early to ‘plan’ for homeschooling. Network with other homeschooling parents, think about what you’d do if you were homeschooling now. The more planning you have done, the more confidence you’ll gain, and that’s a good thing.

“I want to homeschool but my partner is (not so sure/completely opposed to) homeschooling.”

We’re of the opinion that in a family, these are “our” children therefore, “we” should come up with a compromise or plan that both parents can live with. If your child has not started school and you’re wanting to homeschool, then you owe it to yourself, and may be able to ‘prove’ to your partner that you can do it/homeschooling works in the year or so before Kindergarten. Have a set of goals that you want to accomplish and do pre-homeschool. Cover the basics – colors, alphabet, etc. That’s a good time to see how much time you’re going to need to devote to homeschooling, too. A trial run of sorts can give you a more realistic view of what you’re looking at doing. By the end of that time, evaluate. If you’re doing well and your child is happy, then you should continue.

If your child is already in school and you’re wanting to make a change and your partner is opposed, then honest discussion is key – any reasonable parent is going to want what is best for their child. If your child is suffering in his current environment, then trying something else can’t be any worse than the current norm.

A word of caution here – beware of any argument against homeschooling that is limited to “because”, or worse, “because I said no”. In our opinion, that is in no way a valid reason for not homeschooling. Any parent who resorts to that argument doesn’t have a clear view of the realities of either educational environment. There ARE pros to institutionalized schooling and there ARE cons. It can even be (well) argued that there are more cons to institutionalized education than there are to homeschooling. If someone is trying to bar you from homeschooling your children, make them prove their case. Having a list of specific objections to homeschooling can clarify whether or not there are real objections or if it’s just fear of the unknown talking. Knowing that will help you come to a compromise that will work for your family.

As parents, we’re partners in the task of raising our children and deciding what is best for them. No one parent should have the absolute end-all-be-all say-so of how things will be with regard to the child, however if you’re the primary caregiver for your children, then it can be argued that you have more say in the decisions regarding their care simply because of that fact. As the primary caregiver, you are the more experienced parent with the children, and your partner has placed his or her trust in you that you’re capable of making good decisions for their care. Presumably, you have read parenting books, read articles online, discussed your options with other parents and basically ‘trained’ in your field. No doubt your partner has devoted a comparable amount of time to his or her field (career). It would be presumptuous of you to step into his or her job and tell them how to do it, lacking the training that he or she has had. Similarly, your seniority ‘on the job’ should carry some weight if the discussion is at an impasse.

Some families are able to set a trial period for homeschooling to see how it works for their family. Others look into a different institutionalized setting (like charter or private school) first, and still others may choose to homeschool despite their partner’s objections. Obviously, the best course of action will differ for each family. Do what is in the best interests of your whole family.

If you’re still not sure what to do, here are some links that tout the benefits of homeschooling to help you take that leap!

Why Homeschool? article from Texas Home Educators

Why Homeschool? Blog Mission statement: On this blog we explore why homeschooling can be a better option for children and families than a traditional classroom setting. We’ll also explore homeschooling issues in general, educational thoughts, family issues, and some other random stuff.

Pros and Cons of Homeschooling from A to Z Home’s Cool Homeschooling

Pros and Cons of Homeschooling article from Secular Homeschooler – one of the best “real” lists out there!

Pros and Cons of Homeschooling from Suite 101

Why Nerds are Unpopular by Paul Graham – and excellent view on the system of school from an insider. Though he doesn’t mention homeschool as a solution to this problem, read with that view in mind and it’s obvious.

John Stossels’ “Stupid in America”

My Kids Deserve Better a collection of articles about the detrimental effects of public school on children

Homeschooling: Back to the Future? by Isobel Lyman for The Cato Institute (.pdf file)

A Responsible Choice article from The Cato Institute dealing with public school funding. While not directly referencing homeschooling as an option, it is, and should be supported.

Books:

Public Schools, Public Menace by Joel Turtel

Bad Boys by Ann Arnett Ferguson

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