Tuesday, February 03, 2009

For Those New to Homeschooling

I’ve recently come across a number of families new to homeschooling, both online and in person. Unfortunately, many have arrived at homeschooling as sort of a last-defense. Things, for one reason or other, were really not working out for their kids in the traditional school setting.

I say “unfortunately” because I think this must be the toughest route to homeschooling. I think it’s easier for those who begin exploring from the standpoint of wanting to live a more family-centered life. When you’ve been forced to make a choice (which often involves some major lifestyle changes) because your child is suffering, there’s a whole lot of pressure, adjustment, and anxiety to deal with all at the same time.

So I’ve been thinking about the sharing some of the advice I hear from seasoned homeschooling and unschooling mothers that I know and they ways (I hope) we have been helping to ease the transition for some of the new members to our playgroups.

I think the thing most of them need to hear is that it is okay to step back, bring your kid home and focus on getting to know each other again, and take time to figure out what works best for your family. Especially when kids are pulled from a school setting in the middle of the school year, there seems to be a lot of pressure on the homeschooling parent involved to jump right in and recreate school at home. Sometimes this pressure may come from a spouse or other family members, but sometimes it is just fear driving us to “do things right” and “fix” something that has gone terribly wrong for our children.

Successful Homeschoolers Don’t Necessarily Recreate the Classroom at Home

I think one of the biggest misconceptions of homeschooling is that it should look like a classroom at home. There is a stereotype of kids sitting around a kitchen table with noses in textbooks, a mother busy giving lessons in reading, writing and arithmetic in the mornings, and maybe covering geography and biology in the afternoon before a quick “field trip” to the zoo.

Maybe this happens in some families – but it is completely foreign to my experience. I’ve met homeschoolers who follow a prepared curriculum and others who have never cracked a textbook (though they’ve often devoured hundreds of regular old books). I’ve met those who do spend significant time doing something school-like at the kitchen table and those who wouldn’t recognize their kitchen tables for the variety of places they go and the multitude of tasks they do (and don’t even both to categorize as educational or not).

There are those who are going places all the time, exploring their neighborhoods by car and bike and various other modes of travel. There are those who spend a majority of their time enjoying the comforts of home, rising when the moment feels right, eating when hungry, engaging in this or that when they get to it.

If your first efforts to homeschool leave you feeling stressed and frazzled and you or your child in a mess of tears and hair pulling, don’t think you are not capable.

Just stop what you’re doing. Start exploring new ways of doing it. And know that it’s okay that you haven’t found what works for you and your family right at the start.

A Break from School is a Good Thing

If you haven’t run across the term, deschooling, now is the time to Google it. Or you can go read this article, Deschooling for Parents, by Sandra Dodd and then follow her links at the bottom of the article. I couldn’t put together a better collection than Sandra has here.

I think there is great value in deschooling whether you plan to follow a more traditional homeschool approach or a completely radical unschooling approach. Giving yourself permission to take a vacation from school, as well as schoolish ideas, will help you get back in touch with your child and figure out where you want to go from here.

Focus on Healing Yourself First

So much of what happens to our kids goes beyond our role as a parent and caregiver. I listen to people start talking about why they’ve pulled their kids out of school and inevitably stories of their own school experiences are brought into the mix. Our own experiences with schooling, those of our spouses, family, friends—stories both good and bad—have a huge impact on how we cope when our kids encounter some of those same (or different) hardships. Some people who felt they did fine in school will find themselves re-evaluating their own experiences and realizing they weren’t so great after all… or that the parts they fondly remember really had nothing to do with their education.

Sometimes we need to stop and think about how we got to the place we are at, better understand our own experiences and backgrounds in order to begin to formulate our own ideas and gain the confidence we need to be successful homeschooling parents with happy, homeschooling kids. I’ll write more about this in the future, taking from my own experiences and maybe interviewing others to get some different perspectives.

In the meantime, here are some more links to get you started on your journey.

Mind the Gap, by Diane Flynn Keith

A recovering Type-A Mom, by Lisa Heston

What Is Unschooling? by Pat Farenga

What is Unschooling? at Unschooling.com

There are a number of blogs and websites linked in the right hand column. Many provide great glimpses of daily life of homeschoolers and through them you will find tons of links worth exploring.

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