Wednesday, March 10, 2010

I’m Thinking about Homeschooling…AGGHHHHH!

Is this you?

Most people I know who have decided to homeschool did not come to the decision through a peaceful, stress-free, planning process.  As soon as they allowed the possibility to flit through their head a racing heartbeat and cold sweat followed.  Most people push this “ridiculous” idea right back where it came from and move on.  But for some people, the idea just won’t leave them alone.  Eventually, they verbalize this thought to someone who most likely looks back at them with wide, stunned or even horrified eyes.  So, they try to forget about homeschool.  But the idea just keeps nagging at them.  If they are lucky they soon find a family or two of “normal” homeschoolers and they may be gently ushered into the world of homeschooling.  But for many, they make the decision to homeschool all alone and a panic attack ensues. I recently spoke to my sister’s friend who was in exactly this spot and it made me wish I had everything I wanted to say and share written down and neatly organized.  So here is my offer of help for anyone who finds themselves in a similar place.

If you are just exploring the idea, keep exploring and don’t commit until you and your husband KNOW it is the right thing for your family.  I’m a big fan of homeschool and I think anyone can succeed at it but I also firmly believe that each family needs to do what’s right for them.  Whatever education system and philosophy you choose to participate in, your experience will be better if you are united as a family and choose it together.  And honestly, it will be doubly hard to get through the hard times (which will occur no matter what you choose) if you and your spouse are not on the same page.  So if you have decided homeschool is right for your family and you’re trying to stop yourself from totally freaking out, proceed.

You are now facing several decisions as well as lots of fears and concerns.  Here’s what I recommend for dealing with and alleviating these things.

1.  Find Out What Your State’s Legal Requirements For Homeschooling Are.  It’s different for each state.  Some states make it easier than others but usually it boils down to a few forms that have to be submitted every fall.  Google “homeschool in [your state]” and you will find state homeschooling organizations that will probably have it all outlined for you.  Even better, find someone in your state who homeschools and ask them to help you figure it out.  I’ve noticed that the paperwork/requirements sound a lot simpler when explained by a real live homeschooling parent than all the legalese that appears on homeschooling websites. 

2.  What Educational Philosophy will you follow?  If you already know the answer to this, immerse yourself in the philosophy’s literature.  If you don’t, you don’t need to decide right away.  Plan on learning about your options, trying a few things out and taking AT LEAST a year to settle on something.  

There are homeschoolers who use a K-12 program that looks just like public school with a virtual teacher, standard curriculum, homework, and a lot of guidance/requirements.  On the other extreme are unschoolers who don’t do anything that “looks” like school but swear that their families are getting great educations.  In between are a billion other options.  You don’t have to investigate all of them.  I believe you will be led to the one or few that are best for your family.  Put your feelers out, see what comes back and check out the things that resonate with you.  You don’t have to adopt one philosophy either.  You can be an eclectic homeschooler and do a little of this and a little of that.  As a reminder, my family has chosen Leadership Education as our educational philosophy and I’m pretty biased in favor of it so take what I say with that in mind.  Homeschool conferences, usually held throughout the summer, are great places to get exposed to different philosophies and ideas.  I’ve never been to one but I hear they are fabulous.  They can also be overwhelming so don’t go to one yet if you are afraid this could be bad for you.

3. Take It A Year At a Time. You don’t have to decide what you are doing for school for the next 12 years, just focus on this year.  Every summer you can reevaluate and adjust as needed.  If you discover mid-year that something is really not working, you can make changes then too.  

4. Demystify Public School and Homeschool.   If you’ve never spent real time in a public school classroom you probably have some totally unrealistic ideas about what goes on there.  I’m not saying it’s bad – a lot of great things happen there.  My best friend was a 4th grade teacher for several years and I visited her classroom many times.  She’s the best teacher I know.  She once told me, “If I could have a class with just 5 kids, at the end of the year I could give you 5 little geniuses.  But I can’t do that with 25 kids.”  Yes, the teachers have been specifically educated and trained for this but even the best ones, like my friend, only get to use a fraction of their skills and knowledge to teach in the public school environment.  They spend most of their energy on classroom management, not teaching.  Seeing is believing.  Find a teacher who will let you visit/help in their class and you will see what school is really like.  It will help you feel less stressed about trying to do it yourself at home. 

      You probably have some unrealistic ideas about what successful homeschoolers do in a typical day too.  Find a family who will let you be a fly on the wall for a day.  You will learn how much can be accomplished in the home environment and see how it actually happens – it’s not magic and you don’t have to be superwoman to pull it off.  There are families that follow a rigorous K-12 curriculum with Mom putting together daily lesson plans and elaborate field trips.  I must confess that I don’t know how they do it—the few I’ve known do seem ultra stressed or have a lot of paid help.  What I do, Leadership Education, feels easier, more family friendly, and the most effective.  But that’s my bias.

5.  Find The Right Resources. There are thousands of homeschool websites with curriculum for sale, project ideas, networking groups and online communities.  Once you know which philosophies you want to explore (choose just a few) find the best resources associated with them.  Ask your friends, join the online community, talk to people, you’ll find what you need.

Here’s my list of resources
b.     Leadership Education (My favorite of the TJED books)
c.      TJED Home Companion
d.     TJED for Teens
e. (sign up for a monthly subscription for additional resources each month)
f.  (Facebook group)
g.  (Annual Family Forum event in SLC and the audio downloads of past years talks and classes)
h.  (The Family Builder Training Program)
i. (get your own leadership education)
j. (Become my Good Reads friend if you want to see what my family reads and my reviews of the books we’ve read.  Find other like-minded Good Reads friends and scour their bookshelves for ideas.)
j.  (This Week in History, online resource for bringing history to life)
k. (I don’t recommend using this as curriculum and requiring your kids to do it every day, just have it around and when your kids ask a question with numbers, get out the manipulatives and show them the answer.  Let them “play” with the workbooks as often as they like.)
l.       Core Knowledge Series (I don’t recommend using any curriculum as curriculum, just have it around as a resource.  These books are great for helping you see what is age appropriate, giving you additional ideas for things to expose your kids to, and as a springboard for deeper studies.  I love that these aren’t just lists, they actually contain the content they recommend.)
m.  The Student Whisperer (on Mentoring Scholar Phase)
n.  For the Love of Learning: Give Your Child a LOLIPOP Education  (all about Love of Learning Phase and organizing clubs and classes for kids ages 8-14.)
o.  The Life of Fred (Math Curriculum that teaches math through a series of very amusing stories.  Covers beginning math all the way to calculus.)

6.  Fill Your Tank.  If this homeschool thing is right for your family you will know it and at some point, you will feel great clarity, peace, hope, excitement and enthusiasm about the whole thing.  Then, you will panic again.  It’s a cycle that most people go through several times.  This is normal.  The key is to keep your tank filled.  Figure out what inspires you, makes you feel at peace, gives you clarity, hope, and enthusiasm and get some of it regularly.  For me this is book clubs, talks with my TJED friends, TJED seminars (attending them live or listening to them), reading with my kids, reading with my husband, dates and getaways with my husband.  If you keep your tank filled, your panic attacks will be less frequent and less severe.  You will start to recognize the cycle and head off the panic attack before it really hits.

7.  Only Talk About This With People Who Will Support You, For Now.   Some people will take the news that you are homeschooling very badly.  That does not mean you are doing the wrong thing.  You and your husband are the only ones that need to agree on this decision – if you KNOW it’s right for your family, you don’t need anyone else’s permission.  But, at the beginning of this journey, you do need support and encouragement and you really don’t need anyone else’s doubts piled on top of your own.  So protect yourself.  Don’t discuss it with anyone who just wants to talk you out of it.  Later, when you are feeling sure of yourself you can have a long discussion with them, hear all their concerns and maybe even resolve some of them.  Sometimes a loved one just needs a chance to express all their fears and concerns.  They care about you and your kids and they are afraid.  Or, they may think your choice, being so different than theirs, is a judgment on them.  If you can listen sincerely and not engage in a debate, it may relieve some pressure and tension.  As you plod ahead on the path you’ve chosen your family and friends will begin to see the proof in the pudding and most of them will line up in firm support of you.  My best friend, a public school teacher at the time, didn’t really want to know anything about Leadership Education until she started noticing how much my oldest daughter was learning and doing as result of our homeschool.  After reading A Thomas Jefferson Education by Oliver DeMille, she realized she wanted to do this too and is homeschooling her daughters. 

Good luck!  Tell me how your journey is going.  I love to hear other's experiences with this.  


Laura said...

First off, you are amazing. Second, your opening paragraph could be a section out of my journal. I have felt those EXACT emotions. I feel so excited, then panicked, then courageous, then scared and self conscious. So THANK YOU for your wonderful post. It hit the nail on the head for me, and I think you may have written it just for me!

Jennifer said...

Thanks Laura! That is wonderful to hear. Good luck with the roller coaster;)

Motherhood for Dummies said...

wow, this is an amazing post abotu homeschooling. Thanks for all the information and links. This is very helpful if we ever think of homeschooling

Kathleen said...

Jen I love this! Very well put and great info.

Dani said...

So glad you posted this. I was just thinking about this again today and trying to figure out where to go from where I'm at in my life right now. I'm totally back at the panic stage, and this has helped me realize that I don't have to make a decision right now. I still have a lot I have to figure out.

Jennifer said...

You inspired this one Dani so Thanks! You will sort it all out and do great with whatever you decide - onward and upward!