Homeschooling is having a moment. The number of homeschooled students in the United States grew by 300,000 between 2007 and 2012, and now make up about 3 percent of the school-aged population. According to a report from the National Center for Education Statistics, parents chose to homeschool their children for many reasons. The most common was concern about the school’s environment. Second was a desire to provide moral education, and the third was dissatisfaction with other education options.
Growing parent dissatisfaction with Common Core has already led to an increase in the number of parents who choose to homeschool their children. I know the plural of anecdote is not data, but the small homeschooling community to which our family belongs is already planning to add a number of families next year on top of the growth it experienced last year.
After our oldest daughter was diagnosed with Aspergers, my wife and I decided to homeschool. Although we knew our local school system had some support for her, we believed this would be a better option.
We know our daughter’s strengths and weaknesses, found a curriculum that works, and my wife started homeschooling her. Today, thanks to some budget issues that threatened my former job and opportunities in my wife’s place of employment, I find myself a stay-at-home dad who is the homeschool teacher to his kids. This is not where I planned to be at this point in my life, but I believe in God and, evidently, he had different ideas. So here I am.
You think you want to homeschool? I congratulate you on your choice. In my completely biased opinion, it is superior to the public education system because it’s simply a natural extension of what you’ve already been doing for years as a parent. The only difference is that you’re teaching them about history, math, and science instead of life skills. You’re already a teacher, so go teach.
But first, a few pieces of advice.
1. Find a Curriculum
One of the most tangible signs of homeschooling’s increasing popularity is the variety of curricula available to parents. We use Classical Conversations, which is like a classical liberal arts education for kids, but there are many others, both religious and secular. A simple web search will actually reveal an intimidating number of them, but smother the impulse to shut off the computer and run away.
Choosing a curriculum comes down to a few simple questions: how do your children learn, how much time will it take, and how much will the materials cost? Find one that works for you and resist the temptation to create your own. Parents have been homeschooling for decades, and have used their knowledge to create these learning plans. Don’t spend time forging trails that have already been marked by those who traveled before you. Trust their wisdom, and lean on their experience. It will ease the transition for you, and for the kids.
A good curriculum will help you set a firm agenda, organize your teaching, and be a lifeboat on the days when you don’t feel like teaching, and they don’t feel like learning. More on that later, but fair warning: those days will come.
2. Find a Community
One of the dumbest criticisms of homeschooling is about whether the kids will be “properly socialized.” In many public schools, kids sit near others of their age for hours at a time, being addressed by an adult while also prohibited from speaking with one another. At most, they get maybe an hour of social time with their peers before being put back into the classroom. That’s not socialization, it’s conditioning.
Every Tuesday, our kids look forward to “CC day,” when those of us who use this particular curriculum gather for a few hours in the morning. There is an assembly, a time of concentrated learning of that week’s curriculum, and a meal and social time. This particular community consists of about 35 students, but that number doesn’t include their younger siblings, who spend the teaching time in a nursery.
When they gather, they socialize. Not in clumps of like-minded cliques, but just kids being kids. Once out of the nursery, the younger kids do their best to blend in. The older kids run around, and the younger join them. Eight-year-olds talk to twelve-year-olds, and adults interact with all. There are no grades, no artificial barriers. Just kids of all ages spending time together.
Even if you decide not to join a group, don’t homeschool alone. Seek out your fellow travelers and spend time with them. Let your kids run around together and socialize. Go to the library, visit museums. Learn together. Homeschool doesn’t mean you have to stay at home. It is not a synonym for hermit. It gives you freedom to go out and provide your kids with experiences they would not have in a public school.
3. Let Go of the Idyllic, and Start Slow
The point of this article is to encourage, not discourage, so I’ll try to make this point as gently as I can: sometimes, homeschooling is terrible and you will have fantasies of putting your kids on the public-school bus and waving at them as happily as that girl in “Almost Famous” did right before everyone sang “Tiny Dancer.”
Okay, that was less gentle than I intended. My point, though, is if you’re thinking about homeschooling, you probably have a certain expectation of what it looks like, and if you’re like me, it was something along the lines of us perfectly reciting curriculum facts together while classical music plays quietly in the background. Also, we’re all smiling.
Reality set in pretty quickly, and I realized a simple truth: to the kids, homeschool is just school. There are times the kids eagerly come to the table ready to learn, but those are about as rare as seeing a unicorn flying over a rainbow. Although my kids do enjoy homeschooling, they are not always enthusiastic about it. Some days, I have to use the Dad Voice to get them into the dining/homeschooling room, then try to cajole them into actually engaging with the material I’m trying to teach.
Homeschool is work. It’s sometimes tedium and there are times you will sit in silence at the table with your kids after asking them a question while they scowl and ignore you (spoiler alert: this may involve tears—and not just from the kids), but the first time they recite the Preamble to the Constitution or tell you the names, symbols, and atomic weights of the first twelve elements on the periodic table, when the repetition finally bears fruit, that’s when you realize that it’s all worth it. It doesn’t make the bad times better, but it lets you know that, yes, they are actually listening and learning, and it’s working.
This will happen, eventually, but in the beginning? Start slow. This is new for you and new for the kids. Set your expectations accordingly.
My wife works on the weekends, so that’s when we do a lot of our homeschooling. A couple of weeks ago, the kids and I sat down at the dining-room table. I pulled out the book and started asking questions and…it all fell flat. They weren’t paying attention. I was tired, so I just let them go and play.
This will happen. Just roll with it. There are days your kids will not want to learn, and there are days where you will not want to teach. Sometimes, you’ll all be able to push through it, and school will proceed as normal. Other days, this will not happen, and the reasons aren’t always bad. For example, if you miss a day or two of school because the weather is great and the kids just want to enjoy being outside, embrace it or, better yet, move school.
We live in Maine, a state that just had a cold and stormy winter and a late spring. The last weeks of the school year were beautiful, with 70-degree weather and sunny skies. During them, the kids understandably wanted to get outside and play, but we had 20 days of school yet to complete. Enter what my kids call “sneaky school.” In my experience, this is the best school of all, and it’s easy. We sit outside, in the sun, and I ask them questions or review that week’s curriculum material. Other times, we review material while they play with Legos, or eat dinner. This, to me, is the most wonderful thing about homeschooling: it’s portable.
I am not an optimist. In fact, by nature, I’m an introvert with more than a touch of misanthropy. Fun for me is sitting alone in a room, reading a good book. So imagine my surprise when I found myself enjoying being a homeschool teacher and meeting with the CC group.
Homeschooling may be work, but it’s one of the best jobs you’ll ever have. When I first started attending the group, and saw all the happy faces on the parents around me, the experience seemed strange and I vowed to avoid the Kool-Aid. My resolve lasted just under three weeks, when I had an epiphany on a Tuesday morning while watching a group of kids recite, from memory, the first seven verses of John 1, in Latin, from the Vulgate.
I’ve had many moments since: a violin concert performed by two kids, or watching my daughter with Asperger’s grow increasingly comfortable speaking in front of her classmates during each week’s presentation time. The best part is seeing how much they’ve grown to love learning, and even starting to teach—my two older girls have spent time helping their younger brother learn the alphabet, or how to count to ten.
Watching your child’s face light up when he or she grasps a concept is intoxicating, and it’s no less so when you watch their peers do the same on homeschool-group days. Those moments are the best part of homeschooling and we get to observe and rejoice in them. When you’re a homeschool parent, you are sharing knowledge with your children while encouraging them to dig deeper. Our house is home to a classroom of three smart, restless kids and every time I see them understand a concept, I’m glad we made the choice not to outsource their education.
These are just the basics. There are many other issues to consider: the laws that regulate homeschooling in your state, assessment options, and whether you can access extracurricular activities at your local schools, to name a few.
I am unabashedly biased in favor of homeschooling. It has worked well for us, and we’ve become more than a bit evangelical in our support for it. That said, I understand that it’s not possible or convenient for everyone, but if you can do it, I encourage you to try.
As I said before, as a parent, you’re already a teacher. Homeschooling just adds a few more subjects. The good news? It makes the best job in the world even better.