Welcome to homeschooling/unschooling where you have opened yet another window of opportunity for people to judge you and suck energy from your being by wasting your time drawing you into conversations which are mostly built around others’ guilt about what they fear they may be doing wrong with their own kids. Please avoid this all too common trapping. Do not engage. Just do not engage with anyone who is not at least 90% supportive of your decision to homeschool. Reserve that energy for your child(ren).
But obviously I think it’s worth it to homeschool, even with the copious amounts of stress it brings. Whenever I have considered (and threatened) to put my kids in school I am immediately faced with a multitude of ways that my children would suffer in a school environment (and no, I don’t buy into the “We All Made It Through OK” fallacy): bullying (emotional, physical and sexual), racism, Islamophobia, sexism, disrespect and abuse for their individuality, the increasing stress accompanying a testing-based education system and general boring-ass curriculum that would drive them to hate learning. Homeschooling is stressful and it has taken me many years to learn how to deal with that stress, but it’s a fair tradeoff for me. Here are some things that I wouldn’t have minded picking up on a lot faster:
Support: Find like-minded people and talk to them/listen to them, this will help to lessen the very natural self-doubts that will flourish in you fed by both internal and external voices. See above. Really there may be very little support available in your region or related to your particular circumstances (such as working while homeschooling, being a single-parent, having a child with a different point of view/way of being or maybe a disability, diagnosed or undiagnosed) so seek those folks out. Do google searches where you may find blogs of interest to your needs, join social media groups, be open to starting and participating in physical groups, but keep in mind that homeschooling mamas are ridiculously overly busy and can be hard to organize with. I hate to say it, but take what you can get when you can get it, unless of course this person/group is less than 90% supportive of your choices, then forget ’em, bad homeschooling groups can be an energy suck.
Homeschooling Philosophies: Homeschooling parents can be really annoying too. We are all going about this with quite a bit of defensiveness and/or chips on our shoulders and we can be horrid about judging how other people are doing it. For instance, I am an unschooler (a radical one really) which means that my children are all self-directed learners. I basically facilitate and advise. My children express and demonstrate their interests and I find and suggest ways for them to further these interests. Now, when we lived in Alaska we were eligible for a yearly stipend that paid for supplies and classes. Many other unschoolers would click their tongues at me and insist that I wasn’t unschooling because we turned in work samples to the state, took yearly tests and accepted money in return for these efforts. I was very clear to my children that if they wanted to do X,Y,Z (go horseback riding, have an annual subscription to the children’s museum and tons of art supplies) then they needed to do the work required by the state- not at all a set curriculum – but still all based on their own interests and the samples being stuff like “Photo of Z reading a book” to fulfill reading credit, otherwise we could not afford these things. It was their CHOICE to do the work or not, and of course they chose to and we discussed different ways they could fulfill the requirements based on their own interests (Lego robots for science!) and that IS unschooling. The child makes their own choices.
Integrated Studies: As you wander down the road of this homeschooling journey you are going to come across loads of material demonstrating how institutionalized schools are doing it all wrong and how they KNOW this and are still doing nothing to change their ways. You are going to learn to follow your instincts, and then get some back up from you chosen support network and those homeschooling articles/books and sages when you need. One big thing for me is integrated studies. This is a bit of a buzzword in schools right now, because it is awesome and a very natural way to learn, but unfortunately it is really cumbersome to pull off in an institutionalized environment (Waldorf schools do it well, but they have been at it for decades) and it is not at all child-led as it is still a presented, packaged curriculum (fine if you are into that kind of thing). But you, dear homeschooling
parents moms, have the perfect opportunity to embrace this phenomenon. The general idea for integrated studies is that you take a broad subject matter and spread it across the curriculum so that a child is exploring this topic in several subjects. For instance I have a child who is very into studying everything and anything about all wars. This was weird for me to embrace, but I did and he has learned a tremendous amount about history, cultures, religions, science and technology, art and even just reading so much material (not written for kids) has helped him to improve his own writing, of course. I think this is a great way to approach unschooling. Foster your child’s individual interests and they WILL flourish.
Schedule and Personal Accountability: When I very first began to homeschool, I mean my first few days with my first son over a decade ago, I was prepared to use a “traditional” homeschooling schedule, you know sit down at the kitchen table after the breakfast dishes were cleared and begin lessons. My son, thankfully, wasn’t buying into this charade. He just thought it was so weird and really balked at drawing the alphabet in crayons (he hated crayons!) when there were better, more pressing things to do like constructing something with the enormous cardboard boxes we had recently acquired. It felt fake to me too. So I went back to the books and started learning about other and many ways of homeschooling, eventually I found unschooing and it just made sense for us. My son was already brilliant, he WAS learning and seeking out knowledge all the time, so I decided to try out this method that others swore by. And it works.
One of the biggest challenges for me (and the husband) has been scheduling versus personal accountability. Radical unschoolers will tell you that they don’t put their kids on schedules (not for bed, not for work, not chores) and that their kids learn self-discipline. This is true for me, but it is not easy. At all. My younger kids go to bed when I do, my older ones stay up later though sometimes (like when they are going for new sleep deprivation world records) I firmly remind them that it’s not fair that they are living amongst us but so separately, sleeping all day, not being available to help with their siblings and the house, inconsiderately eating whatever they want and so on. They get that. They are self-centered kids, but they are also empathetic and smart, they get it that it’s just not fair and they come around. But you can imagine how frightening that sounds to authoritarian parents and people who are used to “controlling” children.
When we did turn in samples to the state (and actually I have one enrolled in the Clonlara program in Michigan right now) I had to do frequent countdown reminders regarding when the work was due and it was pretty hectic just before the due dates, but again if they wanted the activities badly enough… they got it done. And I have had to see my kids miss a few opportunities due to them not being able to pull it together in time, and that can be a real hard thing for a parent to let unfold – but the child LEARNS from it. There is plenty of stuff out there about letting kids learn from their own mistakes and how that builds personal accountability, and so far this seems true for us.
Currently I have five children who are not enrolled in any programs and interestingly to me, three of my kids have been curious about where they stand compared to their schooled peers and have sought out online assessment tests to see for themselves. What they didn’t know they looked up on Khan Academy or Wikipedia, and poof now they know.
I feel for anyone beginning homeschooling, whatever method that they use and for whatever reasons why they are doing it. You will face hurdle, after hurdle, after hurdle, but if you look to and communicate with your children you will know for sure if you are doing the best thing you can. As much as I am for child-led learning, I think we parents also need to reclaim our instincts and in many ways our power – we are very capable of doing greatness for our kids.
Next step? Deschooling if you can.