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Gaining Confidence as a Homeschooler

by Lynn M. Griesemer

We began homeschooling our children in 1994 when our son was seven (first grade) and our girls were four, three and one. I was never interested in purchasing a curriculum from the experts or teaching professionals. I felt capable and competent enough to design and implement our own plan, which would be tailored to our priorities, interests and goals.

I discovered that the unschooling approach (or self-directed learning) fits in with our philosophy of raising children. I have observed that people seek out, learn and remember those things which are important to them. Adults who decide what to teach children for six hours a day are acting as dictators and the authoritarian style of education is one I am not comfortable wit h. What gives us the right to cram stuff into the minds of our children? It is disrespectful and manipulative.

Childhood should be a time where the intellect and emotions are given an opportunity to emerge naturally. Yes, there are basics that we should pass on to our children, but happy, successful adults are those who have had time to make decisions and mistakes. Each family has the right and responsibility to ensure their children will be self-sufficient adults and each family is free to decide how they will go about that process.

I'm not saying that I am a completely permissive parent and am raising my children to be anarchists or amoral people. Without limitations and guidelines, some of my children might choose to watch three hours of television a day and eat cookies for lunch. But I generally trust that my children will make good choices, while acknowledging that they need parental guidance as they mature.

Why we lack confidence

As parents, we encounter situations where we question our abilities. Perhaps we believe we could have handled a situation better. During the past six years I have discovered some specific ways for gaining confidence and pitfalls to avoid. I'll admit that I have not attained complete confidence in my homeschooling effort, and there seems to be a fluctuation: some days or weeks are wonderful and on other days, I wonder if my kids would be better off in a classroom for two or three hours a day.

Where do these insecurities come from and why won't they go away? I believe that the insecurities stem from many sources: a high-achievement personality; high expectations; perfectionism; making comparisons; trying to please others; lack of a measurement system; lack of a reference point (many of us parents are forging new ground and have never known or experienced homeschooling before we started homeschooling our own children); feelings of inadequacy or that you are not doing enough; fear of failure.

How to gain confidence as a homeschooler

It's important to gain some level of confidence as a person, a parent and a homeschooler, but perhaps it's not so bad that we fall short of 100% confidence. If we were completely confident, we might risk becoming arrogant and self-assured to the degree that we would not ask questions which lead to improvement. We might become stagnant, bored and in danger of losing the child-like part of ourselves that is creative, spontaneous and vulnerable. If we have already attained perfection, there is no incentive to analyze, problem-solve or implement new techniques that may lead to greater success. In other words, it may be healthy to have moments of insecurity and doubt: it keeps you alive and on the lookout.

Days and weeks of worrying or doubting are not healthy. Rather than wasting precious mental energy, you may need to get focused. I would like to offer some ideas for you on how to gain confidence in your homeschooling journey.

Develop a philosophy of homeschooling

The most important thing you can do to gain confidence is to develop a philosophy of homeschooling. This will lay the foundation of your direction and purpose and will help you to set meaningful goals. You may wish to develop a broader philosophy of family life and education. Consider what it is that you want to see happen at the end of your homeschooling experience - what do you visualize or hope for not only one year from now, but five, ten years, twenty years from now? Put your homeschooling philosophy in writing.

Before you put anything in writing, though, I would suggest that you do a lot of thinking and some research. In your reading, begin to assemble what authors you like and possible techniques that may work for your family. Find other homeschooling families and talk with them. It is important to have support from your significant others or within your immediate family. Spouses who embrace a similar philosophy are more apt to be successful during those times when the primary homeschooling parent is overwhelmed or in need of a break. And, in the case of a single parent, meaningful contributions and a sense of continuity is achieved when the child's grandparent or babysitter supports homeschooling.

Other questions you might want to ask that will help you put your philosophy in writing include: What methods of teaching and learning do we think will suit our children? What makes homeschooling superior to classroom learning and what are some drawbacks? What do we believe about "socialization?" What should a child be able to do when he reaches adulthood (academically, physically)? How can homeschooling prepare him for life? Do we have any desires as to how we would like to see our children turn out emotionally, ethically and spiritually? What are our beliefs about activities (sports, clubs, organizations, field trips)? How can we help our children develop friendships and positive relationships?

In order to gain confidence as a homeschooler, it is important to develop a general philosophy that you are very passionate about. This philosophy will be the foundation for your vision or mission in life. And once you have a clear vision, you will be less likely to stray off track with people who sap your energy. You will avoid tasks and activities that are not part of your vision. In other words, it will be easier to prioritize when you have made a commitment to your philosophy. I developed a philosophy six months before I started homeschooling in 1994 and as my ideas about parenting and homeschooling have changed, my philosophy has changed. It's important to revisit and perhaps revise your philosophy every few years or sooner.

Let's address some of the problems that lead to anxiety and some ideas on how to alleviate anxiety:

  1. High-achievement personality. If you have the need to accomplish, you may spend more time in trying to do rather than just letting yourself and your family be. Loosen the need to achieve and aim for one or a few goals at a time. It may be time to cut back on projects, or involvement in organizations or volunteering. Just for a season or a year, give up one activity that demands a lot of your time and energy.
  2. High expectations and perfectionism. Maybe it's time to lower your expectations or enter into situations with no expectations. Try to differentiate between what is realistically possible and what is an unreasonable goal. Set standards and aim for efficiency or excellence, but try to let go of the need to be perfect.
  3. Making comparisons. Perhaps it's time to spend time with your family rather than interact with people in support groups or attend weekly field trips and activities with other homeschoolers. I have observed a lot of subtle competitive behaviors among homeschoolers and often times I have left functions feeling inadequate. I have recently discovered that I should not waste my time with others who do not share some key values. Those who do not support or empower me detract from my mission and goals. After six years of homeschooling, I no longer seek out homeschool families for friendship, but look for other qualities in companions.

    It's silly to compare your brood of four with your friend's only child. Rather than think, "Wow. Her nine year-old participates in theatre, Girl Scouts and the swim team while I do nothing. She is providing a well-rounded life for her child." But look at how rich your life is. Perhaps your family's health and your marriage is thriving. What is wrong with a simple, less structured life? View each family as special and different, not better or worse.

    Also, beware of comparing your own children. Your oldest daughter may have been able to print legibly and read by age six, while your younger son still scribbled at eight and couldn't spell "cat." The beauty and individuality of each child will unfold on nature's timetable, not yours. Your job is to observe each of your children and try to assist them in the direction that is uniquely suited for them.

  4. 4. Trying to please others. This often plagues new homeschoolers and people who care about the opinions of others. As you venture into new territory, you may feel vulnerable and may not be able to verbalize the joyful and intangible aspects of the homeschooling lifestyle. Meanwhile, every time you turn around, a neighbor, friend or relative is concerned about socialization, isolation or that your child is missing out on something. You're tired of being on the defensive and constantly explaining. You can choose to be polite and give short, simple answers or maybe try to change their hearts and minds by engaging in lengthy dialogue. You'll never be well liked and accepted by everyone, so use your energy wisely. Skeptical friends and relatives who questioned us six years ago are now congratulating us on the good job we're doing raising our children.
  5. Lack of a measurement system. Homeschooling seems to be more subjective compared to a classroom teacher who gives tests, quizzes, homework and grades. Some homeschoolers are comfortable with purchasing a standard curriculum and testing their children once a year while others feel that they know their children's academic strengths and weaknesses without having to administer tests and grades. If the lack of a measurement system is causing you anxiety, you might want to reread your philosophy and get more specific or develop some concrete goals. You may need to make some changes in your curriculum or methods.
  6. Lack of a reference point. Pioneers forge new ground and do not have many others to follow. This can cause loneliness, hardship, isolation or alienation. Think of your homeschooling journey as an opportunity to make improvements regarding future generations. Somebody has to do it - why not you? You are courageous enough to give it a try! How is it that parents consider schoolteachers as experts? We can learn to teach our own children and do it well.
  7. Fear of failure. It's up to you whether you want to change your attitude or if you want to continue to be plagued by some unknown outcome. Fear of failure is related to many of the other problems listed above. Maybe it's time for some self-help books or to simply redirect your focus to achieving success and having fun within your family. Get busy trying to succeed and you won't have to worry about failure.

    There are no easy solutions to gaining confidence. It involves changing your attitude, outlook and commitment. As each day passes, you can give yourself a pat on the back for keeping your children out of a government institution and in a loving environment where he or she is free to thrive. You'll gain as much confidence as you need to continue this awesome lifestyle we call "homeschooling."

Lynn M. Griesemer homeschools in South Carolina and is the author of "Unassisted Homebirth: An Act of Love".
Visit her website at: www.unassistedhomebirth.com

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