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Structuring Your Homeschooling Discussion
New to homeschooling? Having confused and uncertain conversations with your spouse? Here’s a quick method for structuring a discussion about your new life with the kids. There’s nothing original here, and you can get a fuller discussion of these ideas in the Lepperts’ “Homeschooling Almanac” or plan on attending a homeschooling conference. And yes there are, of course, a hundred ways of homeschooling, and a hundred factors in your own life with your kids. But it may be useful to have these four hooks to hang your arguments on:
  1. Dividing Roles & Responsibilities
  2. Your learning approach
  3. Daily Schedules
  4. Legalities
1. Dividing Roles & Responsibilities: Truth is, even when your kids were going to school, you had the ultimate responsibility for their education and smooth progress into the big world. It was you who had to get them up each day and make sure they got their homework done. It was you who had to deal with discipline and moral responsibility. It was you who worried when they couldn’t keep up with grade level. But your role was to respond to whatever the school asked you to do. Indeed, part of the stress of sending kids to school is the disjunction between responsibility and authority – you got all the responsibility, they got all the authority.

The good news is that one responsibility, “keeping up with grade level” has been removed, along with the related stress of carpools, late-night arguments about homework deadlines, parent-teacher conferences, PTA meetings and the like. Paradoxically, by taking full responsibility for the progress of their children’s minds, most homeschooling parents feel a lightening of the load.

Nevertheless, you now must make decisions and divide responsibility with your spouse or significant other in a way you did not have to when the school was setting the agenda. Who will be responsible for homeschooling and who will earn the bread for the table? Who will decide curriculum and daily schedules? When your kids were going to school, curriculum and schedules were left in the hands of a third party and the issue of roles was simpler; now you and your spouse will have to sit down and decide them between yourselves.

In my experience, a clear division of responsibilities is best, and the primary homeschooling parent should get primary control. Just because you have become a teacher, doesn’t mean you want to acquire a principal to look over your shoulder.

And yes, I won’t cover the issue here, but homeschooling can be very difficult for divided families. Not impossible, but often difficult.

2. Learning Approach: There are a number of important homeschooling philosophies from pioneers like John Holt and Charlotte Mason you will want to read up on – if just for inspiration. But most home-schooling experts would say there are five basic approaches to working with the kids at home. Your average homeschooling family comes up with a mix of these approaches, though there are purists in each category.

  1. Unschoolers, influenced by the writings of John Holt, believe in following a child’s lead. They trust that the child’s mind will seek out what it needs. If your 10-year-old gets interested in Vikings, then you might spend a month chasing down books and museum exhibits on Vikings. When he’s ready to read, he will ask for help. There are few “pure unschoolers” out there, but there are equally few homeschoolers who don’t incorporate some of Holt’s liberating ideas into their new life, and every Homeschooler should read “Growing Without Schooling.”
  2. The “Parental Approach,” is a term coined by The Link publishers Mary and Michael Leppert, and implies that the children are apprenticed to the parents in a way that harks back 150 years to the time before mandatory public schools. In essence, the children learn with the parents as they complete their own work. Moral and religious education is kept close to home, and close to the heart. An effort is made to transfer the skills acquired by the parent (Medicine? Music? Woodworking?) to the child, and academics are incorporated on an “as needed basis” rather than by following a standard curriculum.
  3. Purchased Curriculum. Within the pages of this newspaper you will find ads for many kinds of packaged curriculums – complete sets of materials including correspondence courses, web-based programs, and learn-at-home academic plans. Some homeschoolers successfully center their children’s daily schedule around materials like these, and create a “school at home” environment. These programs can work well for those who prefer a traditional academic structure – adding their own, more flexible elements as they go along.
  4. Independent Study Program (ISP) Bowing to the homeschooling movement, and trying to find a place within it, many public school districts now operate independent study programs, either directly or through “charter schools.” They may even pay parents a small stipend for materials. In these programs, homeschooling parents devise an educational plan along with a “master teacher,” and then report in once a month or so, showing progress. Indeed, if you call the school authorities and talk about homeschooling they may tell you that joining such a program is mandatory in your state, even if it is not. Some parents find working with the school district to be a positive experience, simplifying the creation of transcripts, etc., and some find it intrusive, burdensome and even dangerous – what happens if the master teacher thinks you have gone “off track?” Like school itself, the experience depends a lot on the teacher you work with each year.
  5. Eclectic Homeschoolers. Okay, you’re going to need a math book. But wouldn’t a subscription to the symphony be the best way to learn about music? And that 6-hour Ken Burns documentary on the Civil War is way better than any textbook on the subject. Oh look! The local theater has an apprenticeship program for teenagers! Eclectic homeschoolers have the confidence to use an “all of the above” approach with a mix of unschooling free time, “joint learning” with parents, and structured academic materials. They may even utilize an ISP in their school district. In essence, eclectic homeschoolers (by far the biggest group of parents!) make it up as they go along.
3. Daily Schedules. Know thyself. Some of us can live happily without daily schedules, and find that homeschooling is a great liberation from the 7 a.m. carpools and 11:15 recess bells. Others cannot bear the burden of unstructured time, and need to make sure the kids are cracking the math books at 9:30 each day. Be honest with yourself and what you want, and be honest with your kids. Just remember that homeschooling should make your life and theirs more enjoyable than it used to be…

4. Legal Status. Let’s get this straight: It is legal to homeschool in all fifty states, and the political climate has never been more positive. Some states are very loose, and require little or no tracking of home-schoolers, while some require regular reporting or participation in an ISP (see above). You don’t want to rely on hearsay, but I strongly suggest that you ask around with other homeschoolers, and contact the homeschooling association in your state well before contacting the authorities. Only when you have a clear picture from a politically-aware association (check the internet) and several fellow homeschoolers, should you make that phone call to the state and fill out the paperwork. Remember that the authorities often have their own strange agendas, which may have more to do with their own funding sources than the law or the welfare of your child. As an example, in California, there is no currently no law whatsoever defining “homeschooling.” If you call the school district, they will tell you that the only way to homeschool legally is through the ISP that they operate. But if you contact the Homeschooling Association of California, they will explain that you can file an affidavit to declare yourself a private school and operate with perfect legality. As you can see, you need to get the straight information from those who are in touch with the ever-changing situation every day. -- MPZ

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