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One Mother's Homeschool Talking Points

by Krishyon Young

People often pepper me with Homeschool questions. In short order, rationalizations roll smoothly from their lips as to why they “cannot possibly” homeschool their children. It is expected that I will soothe their consciences with a sweet, “Well, perhaps it’s not for everyone.” One day I did not oblige. Instead of a polite nod, I volleyed. With every concern given, I countered; for every excuse the questioner lobbed, I sent back a positive twist. She finally gave up, or gave in you might say, as she is now in her eighth year of homeschooling.
Whether you consider yourself a homeschool crusader or not, you simply cannot avoid the attention you will get once you announce to a crowd, “Actually, we Homeschool.” While homeschooling mothers don’t get paid per diem for every convert, we often feel inclined to be the short-term “face” of our incredible movement. After all, someone inspired us once upon a time. In that spirit of giving, I offer you my own “talking points”. Help yourself, take what works for you and toss the rest.

I would homeschool my children, except …
1. I don’t have the patience.
2. I can’t afford it.
3. My kids won’t listen to me.
4. What about socialization?
5. Sports and the Prom, will they miss out?
6. I’m not trained to be a teacher.
7. Where would I find support?
8. What would I do for a curriculum?
9. Little Johnny has special needs.
10. I don’t want to homeschool.

1. Patience: It’s amazing! Once your family gets into a Natural Family Rhythm, you’ll be surprised how little patience is needed. In the institutional school setting, students are expected to sit, stand, move and talk when directed, mostly at arbitrary (to children) times. You’re in the middle of a poem? Too bad, put it away, its time for recess. In the middle of a ball game? Sorry, time to sit down for a math lesson. Time for lunch, whether you are hungry or not. Time for a potty break whether you think you need one or not, now’s your chance. Put your hand down, you already had your chance. Heaven forbid you get thirsty, that is not allowed until after reading group is over. Any sort of natural brain, body or emotional rhythm is set aside for the class schedule. When the child is suddenly dropped off in front of her house in the afternoon, she is tired, worn out, and fatigued by the craziness of her day. That’s when YOU get her back. No wonder you think you lack patience. Once a family moves into a Natural Family Rhythm, harmony happens. Families eat when they are hungry, play when they have energy, sit when they can concentrate and stay with projects until they are motivated to do something else. It’s comforting to see a child relax and feel “at home”. Of course, things aren’t always perfect. That’s all right, too. A little conflict resolution is part of the day’s lessons. When a family is well-fed, well-rested and well-loved, there are far fewer calls for patience. When a family leads a whole life, versus a fragmented life, it leads to contentment all around the table.

2. How much do you think it costs? Your estimate is probably based on what you think the public or private schools spend. This is no way to estimate the cost to educate a child in your home. I have had great, academically successful years when I spent nearly nothing (under $100 for four children, combined). I have had equal academic success when I spent five and ten times more than that. You can buy a full curriculum and set your children up with a “school” that will supervise your child’s work and progress. This option will be expensive, time consuming and restrictive (and stressful). Or you can do what the majority of homeschool families do. Decide what you are interested in learning and look for ways to incorporate it into your family’s life. This costs very little. The public library is a great place to start. The Internet has thousands of unit studies and enough info to keep you up all night for the rest of your life, free for the taking.You will find most people are incredibly generous. Homeschoolers are learners at the core. When you are interested in something, you love to share your knowledge with others. I love this about people. Ask your family, friends and church to see if anyone has a similar interest or hobby. Look for the older gentleman who served in WW II and knows everything about airplanes. How about the amazing retired woman who has traveled the world? You will make friends of all ages and there is nothing like learning something from someone who is passionate about his/her subject.

3. Your kids won’t listen to you? Give them a chance. If your children attend public school eight hours every day, they are weary of being ordered about, usually with little context as to why they are being told to do this or that. That is probably why they question your directives at home. It’s as simple as that. Bring them home. Give them some time to reconnect with the family unit. Give them space to figure out their learning style. Give them back their life and welcome them back into your life. Then you will find yourselves hearing one another. When you look at each other over the table at lunch one day, you will see that wonderful son you used to have such an easy time talking and laughing with when he was a fun four year-old and “your little guy”. You are both still the same people. Re-introduce yourselves to each other and fall back in love with your great “big” kid.

4. Socialization? When this word is used with me, I believe people are saying two things:
#1 – Kids Need Friends. In the neighborhoods in which we have lived, children have attended a variety of educational institutions. Represented were Jewish, Catholic, Methodist and Baptist Schools. Montessorri, Magnet and Charter Schools also carted children off for the major part of the day. Our children homeschool -- a perfectly reasonably alternative educational option. When explained this way to friends, family and neighbors the information is easy to organize and categorize in their heads. The public school in our area still attracts the largest percentage of the families, but certainly it is not the only option. When I am asked the “socialization” question, I describe to people what I see out my front door. Once children are home from “school”, they find one another. No matter where they have been all morning, they are playing together in the afternoon and on the weekends. Many homeschool children belong to town baseball or soccer leagues where they meet even more children. Children attend dance or gymnastic classes where they meet friends with similar interests. My own children belong to a Children’s Theatre where they perform with eighty-plus other young people from age 7-15. I am my son’s Cub Scout Den Mother so each week I have many little eight and nine year-old boys running around my yard. One teenage daughter is a lifeguard where she meets a great variety of people. Another daughter meets people who share her interest in opera and classical music through music recitals. Most great friendships are based on similar interests. A few great friends who all love horses or basketball or reading, are much more likely to sustain a close and meaningful friendship over time. Mothers often orchestrate playgroups or play dates a few times a month both for themselves and their children. Just because your children aren’t preschoolers any longer doesn’t mean you can’t arrange meetings. I met a wonderful mother recently, we knew our children would hit it off and we planned a family picnic in the park. It was as if our children had known each other all their lives. They absorbed each other’s cultural beauty as easily as the sunlight. That they did not speak the same verbal language made little difference. Squeals of delight translate well. Enjoying the people you are with is a much more enriching social experience for children than being segregated by age. In the homeschool atmosphere you have the luxury of thinking Stage, not Age. If your child loves to hang out with her Grandmother and her friends while quilting, why not? If your son thinks it’s cool to be in a band, open up your garage and plug your ears. If our family were any more social I don’t know when we would sleep.
Parental Social Anxiety #2 – Are they going to be weird? If by “weird” you mean like their parents, then yes. Studies show children do model the major behaviors of their parents. If you are fine with “who” you are, be it shy, cool, friendly, abrupt, or far beyond description, then all will be well. After all, YOU found someone to love and presumably to love you. Children who truly are very different or unique are often tormented in the public school environment where being different is more obvious and not at all accepted as diverse and beautiful. These children either strip themselves of their identity to fit into that narrow mold (what a shame) or suffer painful scars that can last a lifetime. I think often of one young man in my youth who could not suffer the hurt and did not live through his high school years. This is an epidemic not properly dealt with in the public school system and it is growing steadily. A kind, loving, accepting mother and father who build you up and help you see your strengths, is just the place for the truly unique. When this beautiful child grows up and goes to college or into the World with his self-worth intact, he will find a greater pool of people with the same interests, someone just as special as himself who will love him for who he is and they will have a happy “weird?” life together. That is proper socialization.

5. Missing out? There are a few schools of thought on this question. One goes something like this: How likely is it that your child would have been one of the few kids picked to be on a high school sports team? Be honest! If s/he has a gift in that area, there are more community teams and special leagues popping up all the time. What do you think private school kids do? As for the Prom, your kids will know lots of other kids who do not homeschool. They can get together with a group and go to the Prom if they want. It seems to be less and less important to kids as the years go by anyhow. Lots of public and private school kids don’t attend the Prom, or the football games. It’s rather unimportant to many homeschool kids. By the time my oldest daughter was 16, she was taking courses at the local college, going to church dances and retreats, and seriously studying classical music at a high level, not to mention playing the electric guitar. She was so involved with her own interests and talents that when the opportunity came for a date to a Prom, this was her response: “It seems so pointless to spend all that money and time to attend a dance with a guy you hardly know. I’d rather save the money and go to the movies with my sister.” So there you are, a teenager’s opinion. However, if YOU want to spend hundreds of dollars so your scantily clad daughter can hang around a hotel virtually unsupervised with hormonal teenagers lookin’ for love in all the wrong places, go for it.

6. You’re not a teacher? You have a head start already. I have noticed the moms who have the hardest time getting settled into the homeschool way of life are the ones who were “trained” teachers. The most important skill you need is one you already have been developing for years. You are a mother (father) who loves your children and wants the best for them. That’s where you start. Your most important subject to study in preparation to teach your children IS your children. Make a list of your children’s attributes, their goals, hopes and dreams. Think of their strengths and areas in which they may need help. Little Johnny might need help with reading but he is a great soccer player. Keep the soccer going; it’s working. Make a new plan to help give his reading a boost, maybe a fun computer game that includes reading. Fran might love to read but doesn’t care much about history. Look for interesting books that are historically-based novels. She may be surprised how interesting and exciting real events can be. Use the library as a discovery island where you find treasures and interests you never imagined existed. Use nature as a guide to your children’s inner loves. When you go on a walk in the woods do your kids run using every muscle they can or do they engage with leaves or sticks or animals along the way? Do they observe, do they search, do they wait or charge ahead? Be aware and amazed at each child’s individual nature. If you become a student of your children, you won’t fail them. You may be surprised to hear that many teachers aren’t even “teachers”. My friend’s son, after one year of college, was hired as a substitute teacher (substitute means permanent without benefits) in his former high school. There he was “teaching” the math he nearly failed a year before as one of the students. His friends thought it was a riot. Do you? There is no magic formula that is given to teachers in college. If there were, the schools wouldn’t look like they do today. The many hard-working teachers out there would have been able to “fix” them. If you don’t know how to do something you feel your child needs, trade skills. Resourceful homeschool families trade everything from goat’s milk for chemistry lessons to transmission repair for Spanish classes. Make your own success.

7. Help is closer than you think. It’s not like in the “old days” when I began homeschooling my children. You can now find support on your local newsstand through homeschool magazines and newspapers. You can sit down day or night at your computer and read and respond to thousands of messages to find friends and encouragement and answers to every homeschool question you or I could ever think of. You can ask around your church, playground or neighborhood and most likely end up with the name and number of someone who homeschools and is willing to help you find your homeschool community bearings. Look for your state homeschooling organization on the Internet. The Web has opened the door to a whole host of new friends just waiting for you to knock on their virtual kitchen doors and willing to help you sort out your problems. Many groups have information ready and waiting for you to access it from the state site. Get involved in a group. Be a giver, not a taker. New homeschoolers must realize there is no “I’m here, what do you have to offer me?” seat at the homeschool group table. Go ready to offer what you can to the group. Everyone has something to give; it might be good organizational skills you can share with another mom in return for a computer lesson. It may even be cookies for the support meeting. Give support and you will find plenty in return.

8. A school and her money are soon parted. Before you spend wads of money on a curriculum (or sign up for an expensive “homeschool” school) ask yourself a few questions. Is this compatible to my child’s learning style? Is this adaptable if I need to change the method at some point? Is this meant for individual instruction? Do I know anyone who has used this and can offer some insight? Does this require lots of preparation time? Is this method appealing to me as a mother(father)? Will I still need to buy other products to complete my program? Does this material portray the message and belief system I want for my children? What are my options if this product doesn’t work for us? There are so many homeschool vendors out there ready to sell you their wares. The trick is to figure out what you want/need first. In our home we have used video algebra, cassette tape history lectures, songs and music for memorization, textbooks, workbooks, and coloring books, no books, puppets, paper mache. We have gone to camps, festivals, college classes, and crossed the country and the ocean to learn what we wanted to learn. Books are great, curriculum can work. So can so many other things. Pretend you are in Paris and keep an open mind and a hand on your wallet.

9. Little Johnny has special needs. First of all, who told you that? Do you know how much money the school gets if they can convince you Johnny needs special care? A lot. On the other hand, Johnny may very well need a specialized program. If you feel (and you are the expert when it comes to your child) there are things you cannot do for your child, talk to your doctor or counselor and find alternative strategies to deal with the issues. Ask yourself if school is really the best place for Johnny to learn to deal with his situation. Why or how would an institutional environment be better able to equip him for the world and daily life he will need to learn to live? Can a warm home with a loving “teacher” give him a better chance for success? If he needs specialized learning instruction, you can do that better than a distracted teacher. If it is life skills he is learning, why would you send him away from life to learn? If you feel certain more help is what is needed you can make special instruction the fun weekly event instead of the daily ritual. Children thrive at home.

10. You don’t want to homeschool … though you feel like you probably should. I understand that feeling, really, many homeschool mothers do. There are times when I look at my neighbor and all her free time and think, “Wow! What would I do with all that time?” Then I realize her house is about as self-cleaning as mine and I can guess what she does. When my oldest child went to kindergarten I was at the school selling ice cream, working on carnivals, volunteering my time for reading and science groups, and attending PTA meetings. I was spending as much time at the school as I now spend teaching my children at home. Shocking, I know. Involved moms are going to spend their time where it benefits their children. Once I brought my child home, I found I had more control, more peace of mind and even more time every day. I felt liberated from the daily bus schedule. I was released from the kindergarten homework I couldn’t understand!? Some mothers who are home with their children have wonderful philanthropic endeavors. Some shop at the mall. I choose to spend my life building my family. It gives me a sense of satisfaction and pride to see their comfort and contentment within the family circle and beyond. That is what I desire, that is where I put my efforts. Think back, remember when you looked into your tiny newborn baby’s eyes and promised him/her the best of everything? Now is the time to fulfill that pledge. It’s within your power to give him/her the best education on the planet. Homeschoolers consistently outscore and outrank both public and private school students. It is the best education available. Not many people dare debate that fact any longer.

Along with many other parents, I have chosen the home education option not only for reasons of academic advantage. Children blossom in the positive and wholesome environment of the family unit. Physical health and safety, coupled with emotional wellness are foundation stones to a healthy adult. This is all enhanced when science happens at the kitchen table where every question, on any subject, is relevant, worth exploring and your teacher/mother thinks you are so very bright and wonderful! Parents have the chance to keep their children away from an environment that is known to demean, discourage and demoralize. By saving them from unnecessary pain and unkindness you, in turn, give your children the gift of an unhurried, happy childhood, uncluttered by painful peer pressure. Your child can grow up when she is ready and read Jane Austin in a hammock under a tree with her roller skates on if she cares to (as my daughter is doing right now). She can study geology, theology or literature’s many trilogies to her sweet heart’s content. Your son, like mine, can wave to the befuddled kids at the bus stop each fall as he heads for his art class at the beach. You and your child can sleep when you are tired and eat when you’re hungry and never, never, never raise your hand before you go to the bathroom … unless you want to.

Krishyon lives in New England with her husband, Tony and their six children. She frequently writes and lectures on homeschooling and parenting issues. ■