Sunday, August 15, 2010

Chatting with a new homeschooler

The Blog Cruise is starting up again!  I'm so excited!  I had a lot of fun posting on these various topics last year, and I really look forward to thinking/chatting about a lot of homeschooling related subjects again this year.

"What advice do you have for those considering homeschooling or just starting out?" is the Blog Cruise question this week.

This is a tough one to give a generic answer to, you know?

So, if I were set down at a table with someone new to homeschooling, and we had a bottomless pot of coffee to share, here are some of the things I think I'd say...

First, I'd want to listen, and to ask some questions.  How old are the kids?  What kind of educational experience have they had so far?  Why are they considering/planning homeschooling?  Are there specific issues that led to this decision?  Do they know other homeschoolers already?  Do they have anything planned out yet?  What are they most worried about with this whole homeschooling idea?

Because, the thing is... the stuff I love about homeschooling may not help this hypothetical new homeschool mom at all.  And what I fear may not be an issue at all.

I start, though, by encouraging them that they can do it.  And if they are feeling like they are supposed to, then they should.  Anyone who really wants to homeschool and is willing to put in some effort can do it.  The biggest thing you need is commitment.  And support within your family. 

If they are brand-new homeschoolers, starting kindergarten with their oldest, my comments would basically come down to:
  • Don't rush the academics.  You can learn lots and lots by playing and doing.  Grow a garden, slice open fruits to compare seeds.  You can learn about 'community helpers' by being out in the community, you don't need a social studies textbook for that.  
  • It doesn't have to "look like" school to be a great learning experience.  You don't need desks and bathroom passes.
  • You can do it.
  • You might want to find a few homeschoolers you can talk to and bounce ideas off of.  You probably don't need a full-blown support group.  I think that can be pretty overwhelming when you are new.  
  • There are tons of resources available online.  Find some resources for YOU, not just for the kids.  If you go here, you can purchase 36 mp3 files of homeschool speakers for $20.  That's a great start.
  • Homeschooling K-3 does not have to cost much of anything.  Put $10 in a jar for library fines.  Ask for a laser printer for Christmas.  Library and internet are great resources.  Use them.  Put off buying curriculum.  Use that money for great real books, swim lessons, an art class, or just put it into an account for next year.  Spend money after you have learned more about what you really are wanting.
  • Try not to do too much.  It's a marathon, not a sprint.  Savor this time, really delve into what you are learning.  Taking a REAL look at what your neighborhood school is doing can give you some perspective. 
  • There are going to be gaps.  No matter what you teach them, no matter where they are taught, they are not going to learn everything.  There will probably even be some really important thing they don't learn.  But if you teach a reasonably comprehensive "course of study" they will either learn what they need from you, or they will learn how to learn it themselves when they need it.

But what about the parents who are pulling their kids out of the classroom, and are new homeschoolers of middle school kids?  Or even the mom who has been homeschooling and it has gone well, but as the neighborhood kids are heading to the junior high, she's recognizing that she feels like a new homeschooler all over again?

What I have to say then is a lot different.  First, I have never pulled a kid out of school, so I do not know first-hand what that is like.

But I think with an older child especially, one of the best things you can do is to find something that they are particularly excited about, and make sure they get the chance to pursue that.  In my case that means we find time to spend time with bugs, and we spend extra time on ancient history.  Knowing that they get to delve into things they really like is one thing that helps keep my boys positive about homeschooling.  I would think that would be particularly helpful for a child who is used to a classroom.  Let them really experience one of the big benefits of homeschooling -- the chance to personalize your education and study the things you are passionate about.

You probably have a pretty good idea as to what they would have been studying if they stayed in school.  So, use that as a base for what to teach, adjusting as necessary.  So if they have had four years of US history, and their classmates are going into year five of US history, feel free to do something entirely different.  Sticking with roughly what they would have done if they stayed in school can help you to not go totally overboard and do too much.

Don't overschedule.  You don't have to join every opportunity that comes along. 

You might want to find a co-op or a support group.  But be careful in doing that.  There can be a lot of pressure in homeschool groups, as homeschoolers tend to have strong opinions and they generally are pretty willing to express them.  If you have decided to stick with the same math text your child has been using, you don't need pressure from homeschoolers that XYZ Math is the only way to go.  If you are choosing to use a grammar text, you don't need guilt heaped on you that grammar is best taught naturally. 

Along that line, I used to recommend going to a homeschool convention.  But given some of the disturbing trends in state homeschool organizations lately, I'm not sure that is good advice across the board.  There are some awesome online conventions though.  I'd highly recommend checking out the Schoolhouse Expo -- tickets go on sale in a few hours (August 16 at 12:01 EST).  If you can't attend live (they will sell out), get the "to go" version.  This gives you the chance to hear some great homeschool speakers without much of the extremist dogma.

You are going to make mistakes.  You are going to spend money on that perfect XYZ Math program only to discover that you or your child hates it and nothing is going to be learned.  I know it seems that high school is just around the corner, but you do have time.  Analyze WHY it doesn't work, sell it to someone else (because it probably is perfect for another family) and make a better-informed decision.  Consider that to be part of your teacher training expense.

Along those lines... if every homeschooler you know loves something, and it doesn't work for you, don't feel like a failure.  Find something else.  There are probably more ways to homeschool "right" than there are homeschoolers.  Find YOUR "right" way, and don't worry that it looks different from your best homeschool buddy's right way.  And keep in mind that just because it works for you, that doesn't mean it will work for someone else. 

If your child is behind in something (all the new homeschoolers I've met lately have children who are behind in math) don't feel like you have to race to catch up.  Start where they are, and start moving forward.  Your 6th grader is doing 4th grade math?  Great.  Work with that.  Make it a goal this year for them to really understand 4th grade math.  Don't rush them through it.  Make sure they really get it.  As a 7th grader, then, they can work on 5th grade math.  But a lot of that repeats what they now actually KNOW, so next year, you can probably get through 5th and half of 6th grade math.  As an 8th grader, they can finish 6th grade math and probably do pre-algebra.  And then they are on track to take algebra I as a 9th grader.

But even if they can only make a year of progress each year... if they graduate from high school with one year of algebra that they actually understand, then they are probably ahead of many, many of their peers.  They are certainly far better off than if they are pushed through, only sort of getting math, in order to "keep up" with where they are supposed to be.

The other big thing I tend to talk about is how homeschooling isn't easy.  Especially as the kids hit that middle school/high school age.  It's a lot of effort, a lot of planning, a lot of frustration.  Totally worth it.  And worth sticking through those rough patches.  I hate when people think that I've got it all together, and I do really try to make sure that I don't give people the impression that this homeschooling thing is all sunshine and roses. 

That's hard though, because it sounds so depressing.  So I like to talk about how much fun I am having with my older guys too.  Homeschooling when they were little was fun.  Challenging sometimes.  But fun.  Homeschooling now that they are older is challenging most of the time.  But getting into serious conversations about why the Western Roman Empire fell, or whether or not flu vaccines are effective... that is just a whole new level of interaction.  And a lot of fun too.

The TOS Crew Blog is sponsoring a question of the week every Tuesday.


Lindsay said...

great thoughts! I am just here on the TOS blog walk as a fellow crew member! I am a new follower of your blog too!

Kristenph said...

This is great advice Debra :)

I just gave you the Sunshine Award on my blog. :)

Dawn said...

Great post! Stopping by with the crew to see others all the info you shared - thanks! We're only on our 2nd year so we still have LOTS to learn. Thanks for the help!

Julie Coney said...

great, great advice.... It is so important that a new homeschooler learn not to take everything so seriously or any mistakes as failure! Excellent encouragement!

Michelle Smith said...

You have some great advice, Debra. I also just gave you the Sunshine award on my blog. I see that Kristen beat me to it! ;)

Catherine said...

This was a great post. I especially liked the advice to nurture the things the children enjoy, and to never rush through. This has been my favorite part of homeschooling.

Vickie said...

Paddling along on the Cruise :) Great advice. Thanks for the reminder...and I'm in my 9th year homeschooling....about it being OK if the kids are not up to "grade level" as their public school counterparts. What they will know, will probably be more indepth anyway.

God's Blessigs

Jodi said...

WoW! Debra, your post was FULL of great advice! Thank you so much for sharing. I like to see kids be able to pursue their areas of interest too. It's one of the great benefits of homeschooling. Thanks for participating in the Blog Cruise this week! I'm excited you're back...looking forward to reading more!