How to begin homeschooling

Sorry to be AWOL, but it's difficult to write a blog post when your daughter has the computer so she can write essays to apply for scholarships. It seemed a wee bit more important.

Yesterday I went out to DeKalb to speak about homeschooling high school at a homeschooling fair. It went fine. The group was small, so it was more of a conversation than a talk, but hey, I'm flexible. I did notice the woman speaking on getting started in homeschooling, who had two huge bins of different curricula she had brought. It caught me off guard, as I realized that if I had done that presentation, dragging along pounds of curricula would never have crossed my mind. A book list, sure. I'm all about a good book list. But the chances that the books listed would be curricula is small. It got me to thinking about what a brand new homeschooler really needs to know in order to get started.

Here is what I would probably have said.

So you have decided to take the plunge and homeschool your child. Congratulations! You are starting an amazing adventure. Like all adventures, though, the right attitude about what you will encounter will make all the difference between you enjoying it and wishing you had never left. I think seeing homeschooling through the lens of how you would approach an adventure is helpful. When you think about adventurous travel, comfort and ease are not the words that leap to mind. In fact, most true adventures have their share of uncomfortable moments, uncertainty, a little hint of fear, and giddiness that you survived, along with the breathtaking views and astounding stories which come from taking a path off the beaten track.

Homeschooling is actually very similar. It can be frightening to venture off the well-trodden and heavily populated path of tradition school. While there are some guide books, they are a little sketchy. There are moments when you wonder why you began, and doubt your decision to not take the tour bus. Sometimes you are exhausted. Sometimes you are afraid you have made a terrible mistake. Sometimes you are lonely. And sometimes you turn a corner and your breath is taken away by the wonder of how amazing your children are, and you got front row seats.

For those who are coming out of a traditional schooling model, it can be difficult at first to wrap your head around what homeschooling can look like, and the freedom it gives. It is so easy to just collect the stack of textbooks, open them up, and do school. Homeschooling this way, is also a super quick way to burnout, and come to the belief that homeschooling isn't going to work for your family. Text books can suck the joy out of any learning experience, for both teacher and student. This doesn't mean that I don't use them, because I do. But I use them as a tool, and do not see them as some guiding light from on high, if not used correctly will doom my children to a life of servitude and failure. A healthy attitude to what text books are and aren't, and what they can and can't do is key.

Frankly, finding the best text books or curricula for your family is pretty easy. There are a lot to choose from, but they aren't actually all that different from one another. Sure, in the world views or methodologies they will differ, but since they are each setting out what a child should learn when, and all purport to be the key to future success, they are the same. Any one of them will educate your child just fine. It's hardly rocket science... no matter what the publishing companies want you to believe. A curriculum is only as good as its teacher, anyway.

If curriculum isn't all that important, what is? I can think of three things that are terribly important to figure out right at the beginning, and will go a long way towards successful homeschooling.

1. Relationship. Your relationship with your child is of prime importance. Can you work together? Is there mutual respect? Or is the relationship one of combativeness and frustration? This is key. Actually, it is pretty much the key to parenting, but a lot can be overlooked if a child spends the day away at school, which limits the number of hours parent and child need to work together. Homeschooling changes all of that. Parent and child will be in close proximity for a good chunk of each day. Often parents are surprised to find that their relationship with their children isn't what they thought it was, and so they blame homeschooling. Behavior and relationship isn't a homeschooling issue, it is a family issue which is highlighted by the intense nature of homeschooling. These things need to be worked on first before anyone can hope to move on to learning.

2. Thinking about education and learning. I am a firm believer in the idea that the parents who are the most successful at homeschooling are the ones who have taken the time to really think through what education and learning really are. If a parent has thought through what they believe about this, then it is much easier to go against the prevailing current. Or perhaps after some long, hard study and thinking, they discover that they actually think traditional school is the better option. Frankly, I don't care, either way. What works for one family is going to be different from what works for another. I have seen children thrive and succeed in both environments, and I have seen children flounder and struggle in both. But children are often the most successful when the parents are committed to their educational choice for reasons other than, 'It's what everyone else does." This explain why on my homeschool reading list, I have more educational philosophy and theory take up a far greater part of the list than more practical books.

3. Be a learner. Homeschooling is more than just filling up your child with the right knowledge. More importantly, it is the encouraging a child's natural wonder about the world and how the world works. The absolutely best way to do this is to be filled with wonder and curiosity yourself. To be excited about what you are learning together. The best projects we've done have been the ones where I am learning right along with my child, and am just as excited about it as they are. Excitement and curiosity are contagious. Adults who are willing to explore and wonder are teaching their children about more than the subject at hand. They are also teaching that the world can remain an interesting place as you grow. They are demonstrating how one learns about something they are interested in. They are modelling the tools needed to become a life long learner. This attitude of learning also helps the adult. There have been plenty of times where I have been learning something new, and it is not easy. I get frustrated. I want to give up. I wonder if I will ever master it. And then I think about what my children experience nearly every day, as they work to learn and master a host of new things. It keeps me in touch with how my children feel as they learn. It gives me patience and sympathy. It makes me a better teacher, because I don't have to remember what it was like to learn, I am also currently experiencing it.

These three things are what you really need to begin homeschooling. A library card probably wouldn't hurt, either. But truly, you don't need a whole lot. A sense of wonder... An understanding of why you are doing this... and a decent relationship with your child is truly all you need. And maybe some books; that's where the library card comes in. Anything else is extra, and possibly more than a little window dressing.


Anonymous said…
Thank you so much for this!


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