So You Think You Want to Homeschool (Advice for Newbies)

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I recall the landscape that it arose from. I was a young mom and didn’t know what else I wanted to be. I had never had any career aspirations besides writing and being a Solid Gold dancer; neither of which were coming to fruition. I was an Air Force wife living in Alaska. A woman had invited me to her church to hear someone sing. Since I was to ride with her, I went to her house first. She had several kids, a couple of whom where making crackers on the kitchen counter. I was puzzled. I didn’t know you could make your own Saltines. Another kid came bounding down the stairs with a math worksheet.

“He got all but one.” She handed it to her mother and ran back upstairs.

Something about this household made me feel at home. All the activity, the finches chirping away in their cage, the kids, the smell of things baking, it reminded me of the home I grew up in. It was my first exposure to homeschooling and I knew right away what I could be for the next twenty or thirty years.

Many years before that, I had seen a PBS interview with a homeschooling mom. She had big frizzy hair like a hippie. The camera zoomed in on her face as she spoke with tears in her eyes, “All kids need is love,” she was saying. But it wasn’t just her words. It was the way she said it. Like she was pleading with the whole world to simply stop and love your kids. I made fun of her a little bit. But I never forgot her. And when people would ask me, years later why I homeschooled my kids, I would say, “I just wanted them around. I didn’t want to part with them for six hours a day.”

Today kids are away a lot more than six hours. Up around 6AM to bathe, eat, and get off to a sitter or daycare until the bus comes, then a full day of being directed by teachers and surrounded by other kids. Then the after school programs and sitters, and finally home in time for a quick dinner and a very early bedtime so the poor things aren’t too tired at dawn.

I’ve always felt sorry for the other kids. In Alaska, I would wake mine up and we would look out the window over the back of the couch. It was still dark and all the little kids had their backpacks over their snowsuits and hats and mittens and flashlights waiting at the crosswalk while all the grown ups went by in their cars on their way to work. We drank cocoa and felt warm and glad we didn’t have to join the ranks of the normal folks.

Some people are just cut out for homeschooling. They don’t fit the system. And others would not dream of homeschooling. My advice is this: If you wish you could, you can. And if you feel drawn to it, you probably should give it a try. It was the privilege of a lifetime to spend years with my kids around me. Those years go by in a blink.

 Homeschooling Tips for Beginners:

  1. Before you pull your kids out of school and try to do it yourself, read books about homeschooling. Not books about how to teach, or what to teach, or how to decide on a curriculum. No, read about how children learn. And about homeschooling styles, philosophies, and various methods. See what resonates with you before you start.
  2. Let your kids (and yourself) take some time off. No expectations, no school, no studies; like summer vacation mode. During this time you too can become more accustomed to being with your kids, without the pressure of schooling.
  3. Don’t believe what the local public school tells you.
  4. Do the research on the laws for your state. Find a veteran homeschool group that can put you in touch with lawyers and resources to protect your rights.
  5. Find out what home school groups exist in your area. Homeschooling has grown large enough to encompass lots of different families. Some are very religious, some are secular and wouldn’t go near religion, some are focused on the child, some on the family, some on the faith, some on reporting, some on ways around reporting. But you do not have to reinvent the wheel. The legal battles have already been won in a number of cases, and you just need to get in the loop and find the veteran homeschoolers. They are usually very willing to share resources and advice. But don’t rely on just one.
  6. Don’t believe everything you’re told.
  7. Ignore the nay-sayers. If anything, use them as motivation to prove you CAN do it the way you want.
  8. The only rules are the ones you decide work for you and your family.
  9. Question everything.
  10. Think outside the box.

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