What made you start homeschooling?
That is the question I get a lot. I’m sure my former colleagues, and anyone else who thinks we’re crazy, wonder about this too. On the other hand, my first friends when I moved to NY 13 years ago were all homeschoolers. All of them. I had only been out of the classroom 18 months when we moved here. I thought they were crazy! Until it was time for my then 18 month old to enter kindergarten…
He began kindergarten already able to read and by the mid-year mark there were problems. We worked with the school to provide a better spot for him and he did some first grade classes in the morning and went back to Kindergarten in the afternoon. In first grade, despite a great teacher, the same issues began to surface. In a nutshell, the school system lacked the resources our son needed. For the first time, I realized that public education is not a one size fits all entity.
It was this thinking that led us to take our son out of school eight years ago half way through first grade. Though he was reading fluently, he had to fill out every phonics activity. Instead of meeting him where he was skill wise, he had to stick within the convention of what was happening in that building at that grade level at that time. There was no room for stepping outside that convention- believe me…we tried a lot of things to see if we could change his situation (I’m sparing you the details). What was that about? I can only think it was about making sure that all students could meet the standard. It didn’t matter that he was well beyond the standard. It was a benchmark that needed to be met by everyone.
And, as it turned out, my homeschooling friends had all taken bets to see how long it would be before I started homeschooling!
We had one goal when we started homeschooling:
We wanted to restore the love of learning in our 6 year old. Public school had taken a bright, eager learner and produced the opposite…in short order.
We shifted the focus of our time onto what homeschoolers refer to as “deschooling”. Legend has it that it takes one month for every year you are in school, to deschool. That first semester was a glorious blur of Magic Tree House unit studies,The Daily Quest, math, and reading trade books together to improve his reading fluency. Very early it was mission accomplished! E14 adored the chance to stay home and work at his own pace, which is fast.
What Made Us Keep Going with Homeschooling?
First, let me say that I knew once we pulled our son from public school, there was no turning back. We had chosen to homeschool because we wanted to provide more opportunities for our son and to allow him to work to his potential with abandon. The issues that arose in the classroom would only get worse as time went on. The gap between what he is capable of and what the school could provide would only get wider.
At first, we considered sending our daughter to school. We had her screened for kindergarten. After all, we didn’t know for certain that the school could not meet her needs. However, further reflection reminded me that there were other things we would still need to be vigilant about (the liberal use of the TV in the classroom for one) and I knew that we would not be taken seriously since, in the school’s view, our answer was to pull our child. I figured we would not be given a fair shake and I could just picture the conversation in the teacher’s lounge should anything come up!
Secondly, following the school’s schedule was tedious. Homeschooling meant freedom from the academic calendar and daily routine which was very liberating!
I visited with at least one friend who homeschooled and I found her school style to be just wonderful. Her kids were creative, innovative thinkers and as an observer, the sky was the limit on what they could do and discover in a day. I am forever grateful for having met Cathy, and for the opportunity to visit her home on multiple occasions.
As time wore on, our homeschool philosophy was formed and solidified. Not only did my son need some time to decompress from his classroom experience, so did I! I needed time to realize that our homeschool did not have to look like a traditional classroom and since that is my training, it took time to let some of that go.
Are you going to homeschool all the way through?
Obviously, as time marched on, that was everyone’s next question. How long are you going to homeschool? Are you going to do this through graduation?
We would get that a lot the longer we homeschooled. Dan will tell you he thought the kids would attend public high school. I told him when we first started that IF they went back to school, it would not be until high school. My experience as a classroom teacher tells me that homeschooled students who return to middle school have a difficult adjustment. Those same kids thrived when they tried high school. So, if you are thinking of your kids returning to school, wait until high school when all the students are new in a big place. It levels the playing field.
The longer we homeschool, the more we see the benefits of it and the more convinced we became that we’d homeschool all the way through. Dan knew back when he observed first grade that Ethan was doomed to repeat his mistakes if we didn’t change his environment. As he’s gotten older, those traits have only gotten stronger. I posted last week on how we work with our Occasionally Motivated High Schooler.
Homeschooling allows us to pour into our children’s passions. They get to spend a lot of time discovering at their own pace the things they are good at and we get to mentor them through unique opportunities because we don’t follow the school schedule. It’s not that you can’t do this with a child in public school, but it is more difficult. The time spent in school combined with homework and any activities, leaves little room for exploring one’s interests.
If you are going to homeschool through to graduation, how will you provide college prep and difficult courses? Will you supplement with community college?
I’m sure you get this question too. How can we possibly be equipped to prepare our children for the university and the corollary, how will your children be prepared to sit in a classroom.
For the record, I’m going to clear up this little myth. Classroom behavior and conventions is not that hard. It can be picked up pretty quickly. This is not among my chief worries for my children.
Many homeschoolers do you use the local community college to supplement their high school experience. For some families it makes sense to use this resource. Before you go that route though, you have to consider a few things. First, is dual credit an option? Homeschoolers love the community college partly because their students can earn high school and college credit at the same time. However, this is not universally true. For example, our local Ivy League school does not accept community college credits as dual credits. You can use them as high school OR college credit, but not both.
Also, consider time and transportation and the effect it will have on your overall schedule. Cost is also an issue. We prefer to save our tuition dollars for college after high school. That is not to say we don’t pay for education in one way or another, but the cost for community college classes in high school is not insignificant. It’s definitely something to be weighed before jumping in with both feet.
Additionally, the community college experience may not be challenging enough for Ethan to have to work hard- particularly the classes open to high schoolers (having taken prerequisites between semesters at a local CC, I know the class had very different expectations than my university classes). If he earns himself a fine grade with little effort that would only serve to cement his opinion that life doesn’t require hard work. We don’t need that kind of reinforcement and I definitely don’t need to pay for it!
There are many ways to use the resources available to you in the community. Some of the resources are established within the university and others come from various organizations. I encourage you to seek out connections with the community to help prepare your kids for the future. It could be a job, an internship, an apprenticeship, time with a mentor or just about anything. Homeschoolers are available when conventionally schooled students are not which can open unique opportunities.
Check the websites of local colleges and universities. Even if you don’t currently have a relationship with one, chances are you can establish one. Many grants specify outreach as part of their charter and you’d be surprised at how willing faculty and staff can be in working with you and your student. I have found that adults love working with homeschooled students. Most are articulate, knowledgeable, and show initiative.
The longer I homeschool, the more feedback I receive from others that homeschooling is a great thing. In fact, more often than not, our children are pegged as homeschoolers as soon as they meet an adult and talk with them. It doesn’t take long to recognize kids who talk freely with an adult and love to exchange ideas and ask questions. Across the board, adults who lead us on field trips, love this!
As for upper level classes, there are online options available, exchanges you can make with other parents who have expertise, and my personal favorite…your student can learn it on his own with your help as a mentor. After all, ultimately he will be responsible for learning it in college anyway. What better way to be prepared for college classroom life, than to be self-sufficient in the learning process? If he comes across something he needs more help with, then you can seek out that help. It’s out there to find.
This is not meant in the helicoptering sense! In most school districts, homeschooled kids aren’t permitted to participate in school activities and sports. It’s too bad really. The school communities lose out on a lot of skill and talent because of it. A lot of homeschoolers like to use the, “I pay taxes” argument, but it is our choice not to use what is available to us educationally as a result of paying taxes.
The point is, if you want your children to have certain activities, you have to make it happen. We have organized LEGO robotics teams for years in addition to Sewing Camp, pick up soccer, etc. Another parent put together baseball this spring. Our group has a large, successful co-op and a lovely Civil War Ball every year.
Will Your Kids Get into College?
That’s a fair question and one that could equally be asked if our children were in public school! The question is probably one that asks can homeschoolers get into college? The answer to that is a resounding, YES! Every year more of our children’s homeschooled peers go to all sorts of colleges and universities.
Their transcripts will be prepared by me. In NY State, they are unable to earn a high school diploma. However, they can earn a letter of equivalency from the school superintendent. Our paperwork goes to a homeschool administrator who will request the letter once our credits are in place. And no, our children will not get a GED. Do your own research on that one, but it is not advised.
Often, we as homeschoolers, are plagued with the shadows of our own educational experiences.
How often do you second guess yourself because you feel like maybe you should be doing “more” with your kids? Or maybe you are chased by well-meaning “others” who remind you constantly about conventional means of education.
Our homeschools do not need to look like everyone else’s. They need to be our own and not held in by convention. Sure, we have a responsibility to our children to take the job seriously, but there are so many ways to reach the end goal. In fact, whenever I have the opportunity to speak with others about our decision to homeschool, I always tell them that homeschooling is tough sometimes. It may mean family members are upset or you get a lot of criticism from any number of sources. However, having my kids miss out on all the extraordinary (and the ordinary) experiences that come with being educated at home is not worth it- simply for the sake of convention.
So, I want to challenge you.
In what way is your homeschool conventional? In what ways is it unconventional? Does the “conventional” get in the way of you discovering your kids and their abilities? Their strengths? Their weaknesses? Why do you do school the way you do? Do you desire to change anything but feel like maybe you shouldn’t for some reason? Is it a good reason? Or is it simply convention?
You might enjoy more perspectives on Answering the Homeschool Critics sponsored by iHomeschool Network.