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Homeschooling Intrigues Me - Where Do I Start?

by GREG and MOIRA BELL

You are not alone. Nowadays, it is rare to meet an American parent who hasn’t at least heard of home schooling. Those looking at homeschooling from the outside routinely express two chief concerns - 1) “How can homeschooling parents tolerate being with their kids 24 hours a day?” and 2) “What about socialization?”

Allow me to move these two mental boulders out of the way, then you’ll be better able to see more of the treasures which lie ahead down the homeschool path.

AT HOME WITH MY KIDS ALL DAY?!!
“I struggle just to get my kids to do their chores and they constantly snipe at each other - I wouldn’t have the patience to be with them all day!”… Sound familiar? Many prospective homeschoolers, who have had their children in daycare or institutional school, start with similar concerns. Let me tell you some good news. Much of the surliness that kids exhibit toward parents and siblings is an outcome of spending large chunks of time every day on the receiving end of the verbal and emotional abuse of other children while in an institutional setting. It is an outcome of being forever compared and measured against other children. Who’s smarter? prettier? skinnier? more popular? more athletic? As these children become homeschoolers they typically go through a 3-6 month period of detoxification where their harshness and defensiveness gradually melts away. This is one of the best kept secrets of homeschooling - when your kids realize they have innate value and uniqueness and that you are committed to seeing them successfully outfitted for their personal special place in the world - their hearts get bonded to yours! This process can take longer depending on the length of time kids have been in institutional schooling, but it will come when you replace criticism, comparing, and competing (mainstays of institutional schooling) with encouragement, customized learning, and the goal of mastering what’s important. You will also find many ways to be away from home by yourselves or with other families enjoying cultural opportunities, nature, exercise, field trips, etc.

SOCIALIZATION
So what’s the real question behind “What about socialization?” Are we laboring under the notion that kids need lots of time with their age mates to develop important social skills? What do well-socialized kids look like anyway? Are they the teens you see hanging around the mall? The kids who are taking weapons to school and using them? The kids who discuss last night’s sitcoms each day with friends as though those actors and situations are real? Those subdued with drugs to make them manageable? Those that pressure each other to look, act, speak, and believe just like the rest of the adolescent herd? When we’re willing to face the facts, it’s fairly obvious that a well-socialized person is one who respects and learns from those older and wiser than himself, and who cares tenderly for those younger, weaker and needier. He is someone who understands his own strengths and contributes in his unique way along the human continuum.

I’ve often been told by homeschool skeptics that children need to be with a room full of age mates all day to learn to “face reality” and toughen up. My observation is that a room of age-same students immediately contrive to define themselves by their differences. (“I have nicer clothes than she”, “He has more friends than I do”, “I’ll never be as good at math as she is”, etc.) This isn’t a criticism of kids - it’s just something I’ve observed over and over. Homeschoolers operate within an age-blended environment which more accurately reflects the “real world” where people of all ages and skills are mixed together. The beauty here is that the differences are real - different ages, different skill levels, different strengths, different likes, different privileges. Everyone’s place is defined, respected, and non-competitive. I believe “reality” is an age-blended environment where people are free to learn and better themselves at their own pace in an atmosphere of mutual respect. (a.k.a. “homeschooling”)

SO WHAT IS HOMESCHOOLING REALLY?
In a nutshell, homeschooling is the process whereby responsible parents, through a motivation of love, train, equip, and launch their own children as responsible, literate, and skillful on-going adult learners. It differs from traditional public/private schooling in that parents act as the direct overseers of the child’s learning process. It results in family glue rather than family fracture. It fosters maturity anchored in real life experiences from a much younger age, and it can be fully customized to the learning style and specific destiny of each child. It fosters genuine social graces through interaction with people of all ages. It is bursting with real-life problem solving opportunities, which are their own best tutorial.

You’ll no doubt start homeschooling thinking about “academics” and “subjects”, but as you progress in it, you’ll discover that the essence of successful homeschooling is less in the “schooling” aspect and far more in the concept of “home”. You come to experience the reality that families are the building blocks of human life. And healthy families are the seed beds where balanced, loving, capable humans are grown. You tend those little seeds, supply ample water, fertilizer and sunlight, control the weeds and get a healthy root system in place which will enable those little sprouts to one day become mighty, healthy, fruit-bearing trees. You see that each child is constituted differently right from the beginning and their style of “leaf”, nurture and feeding needs, and long-term purpose are unique.

IT’S NOT JUST FOR THE KIDS
As you recognize and work with your own special “plants” you wind up filling your own “educational holes” (for many of us, those are the legacy of our own institutional education). Many homeschooling parents report that they are finally “learning” (appreciating, absorbing, retaining) all the academic content which they missed during their own school years as they go through the material with their own kids. Some have termed homeschooling “The education of two generations”. With the high caliber of materials available to home educators, a parent whose own education was weak need not fear.

As homeschooling parents, we are also realizing that our children know and like each other and us as their parents much more than we did our siblings/parents growing up. This is largely because our kids are together, sharing many more joint memories and learning from one another rather than growing up with groups of peers in separate classes in what our kids call “away school.”

CRITICISM YOU MAY FACE
Be prepared for the unleashing of adult peer pressure if you decide to pursue homeschooling. This is a hot issue and one that causes people to react defensively about their own school choices, no matter how gracious you may be. Try not to be shocked when you’re hit with unsolicited judgment. It’s wise not to announce a decision to homeschool until you’ve readied yourself, done the research you need to get your feet planted in the idea and been a quiet observer for awhile. Certainly not everything that flies under the banner of homeschooling with pertain to your family or interest you, so you will be, to varying degrees, charting your own course. What other people think homeschooling is may be quite unlike your experience. Many a homeschool critic (particularly skeptical grandparents) have been silenced within 2-3 years when they see the joyful, communicative, lively learners you are producing -- hang in there!

MORE GOOD NEWS
If you’ve had children in school and are bringing them home, there will be a need to redistribute the household workload. Give yourself a grace period of 6 months to a year to get through “detox”, begin bonding with each other, and take shared ownership of the needs around the house. Another unsung secret of homeschooling is this: When your kids have you all day everyday and sense that your heart is turned toward them they will need you less! Don’t envision yourself chained to your kitchen table teaching math facts ‘til you’re blue in the face. Once you’ve established new family routines and dynamics, why not look into a home-based business, take a college class, or pick up with your latent creative talent? Demonstrating that such learning is a normative on-going practice for a healthy adult is one of the best gifts you can give your kids.

BEGINNING STEPS
So you want to go for it. Where do you really start? Observe, research, and read, then read some more. Or if reading is not your strength, select some tapes on homeschooling and listen to those. Ask those you know who homeschool for their favorite books/tapes on the subject. See those in the resource list below. Although you’ll be tempted to want books on “How-to” homeschool, you’ll be much better off if you initially focus on “Why to homeschool”. Lay a broad philosophical foundation and lengthen your homeschool vision -- both of these will greatly influence your long-term success.

Consider attending a homeschool conference in your area. While these can be overwhelming, they also unveil the vast and rich network of ideas and resources available to you as a homeschooler. You’ll be impressed by the caliber of families and children you meet. Visit the vendor hall and collect homeschooling catalogs. Attend a support group meeting or park day. Inquire about your state’s homeschooling requirements (see resources below).

It is common, at this point, to feel vulnerable and tempted to over buy because “it all looks so good!” We suggest, if you can, hang around with homeschooling families who have a home life you respect and have produced children who are well-rounded in the ways you’d like yours to be. Homeschooling is not a simple linear process. (Take A, add B and you’re guaranteed to get C). Rather, there are multiple dynamics at work in healthy homes and wisdom in these matters often soaks into us with time and exposure.
Study your child. This is so important if you want to have a satisfying and successful homeschool adventure. Look at this child’s strengths, special interests, free-time activities of choice, and apparent weaknesses. We highly recommend working through Discovering Your Child’s Learning Style by Willis and Kindle Hodson. Homeschooling affords you the liberty of customizing your child’s learning experience. Knowing how your child takes information in and what motivates him/her will save you much wasted time, energy and money.

HOMESCHOOLING APPROACHES FROM WHICH TO CHOOSE
You’ll encounter a few major approaches to homeschooling in the literature and marketplace. Research more on the ones that resonate with your vision for your family’s learning environment. It is not uncommon for new homeschoolers to buy a prepackaged curriculum from a major supplier in order to feel that they are covering all the bases. With time, experience, and greater confidence you may want to harvest what works for your unique family from all these approaches - this is referred to as the “Eclectic Approach”. Here is a list of popular homeschool approaches and philosophies. A resource list follows this article.
Delayed Academics - based largely on the publications of lifelong educators Drs. Raymond and Dorothy Moore, this approach encourages cultivating a heart to worship, work, and serve others before moving into formal academics. The Moores advocate waiting until a child’s physical, mental and emotional readiness to learn are evident (often not until ages 9-12). Moore cites research that 9-year-olds can assimilate, in just 100 hours of instruction, all the material other children have had to spend 4 years of their lives learning through drone seat work. They emphasize learning through a broad spectrum of life experiences. This approach often explains a lot to parents whose son or daughter just can’t sit still at a desk in the early elementary grades.

Charlotte Mason Method - Emphasizing “Living Books” (rich, first-person literature of all genres) and real-life experiences. This approach encourages abundant opportunity to observe and interact with original sources in art, music, literature, and the natural world. Typically children learn to document their discoveries through journaling and drawing. Parents usually read-aloud from great books with the overarching goal that their children will love to learn.

Classical or Trivium Approach. This view emphasizes excellent thinking and communication skills honed by the intake of fundamental factual knowledge (referred to as the “grammar of a subject); the understanding of the reasoning and relationships behind knowledge (known as the “logic” of that subject); and the ability to organize and assimilate this understanding so as to generate new discoveries and convey this knowledge persuasively to others (called the “rhetoric”).

Principle Approach - Using the four “R’s” of research, reason, relate, and record this approach is popular among certain Christian homeschoolers who believe America was founded as a Christian nation with a Christian form of government. In order to return America to these first moorings, Principle approach adherents seek to raise young people who are well-grounded in Biblical principles and can thus govern themselves and participate in representative government wisely.

Unit-study Approach - This method takes one topic at a time and uses it as a launch pad to integrate the related knowledge from all disciplines. Rather than studying fragmented “subjects” (math, grammar, history, etc.) unit studiers discover inter-related knowledge in a growing web around one central hub. (For example - using baseball as the topic they would study the history of the sport, it’s key figures, the math of baseball stats, the physics of pitching, etc. - all as part of an integrated whole)

Workbooks/Textbooks/School in a Box - Innumerable publishers furnish complete curricula using textbooks, workbooks, interactive CDs or on-line learning. Many of these look and feel more like “school” as most of us remember it. When children first leave an institutional school setting these programs often are a good first transitional step because they mimic school to your children and comfort new homeschooling parents that “learning” is taking place.

Unschooling - Probably one of the least understood terms within homeschooling, unschooling differentiates “teaching” from “learning” and believes that children are born curious and eager to learn. The role of parents is to deeply nurture their children, provide a wonderfully learning-rich environment and let the child’s innate desire to understand and manipulate their world lead them to discover and skillfully use all they need to have productive happy lives. Critics imagine these families just let their kids run amok. More thoughtful observers recognize that unschoolers are trying to tend the internal spark and love of learning which many of us had snuffed out by years of compulsory schooling in things which held no meaning or value to us.

A WORD ABOUT MOTIVATION
Reasons to homeschool range the full gamut -- from things to get away from (excessive peer pressure, violence, weak academics) to things to be gained (family unity, freedom, the meeting of special learning needs). We’ve found it helpful to sort through our motives, define them, and watch them evolve as our homeschool does.

We began homeschooling primarily because we were so impressed by the kids in homeschooling families we knew and felt it was a parent’s job to educate their children, not the government’s. When people ask us now why we homeschool (after being on this course for 12 years) we can honestly say we love being with our kids and wouldn’t want to miss a day of their joyful lives. We say that we could never ask even the best classroom teacher to invest in our children the way we can because our kids are precious to us and we would lay our lives down to see them succeed. We tell people that having our kids with us has helped us to grow up, learn to communicate better, and become better people. Obviously, we didn’t know at the outset that our motivations would undergo such a transformation.

TAKE THE PLUNGE
Once you’ve researched, read, and decided that homeschooling is right for your family, take the plunge.
Begin with a minimum of purchases or buy a pre-packaged curriculum. Try to include some materials for a particular interest of your child’s, not strictly “school” books.

Plan to ease your family into new routines. The decision to homeschool won’t magically transform your family overnight but it will in time soften and reshape your family in healthy ways.

Allow for a season of detox. It may rock your child’s world to find out that school is no longer about getting grades and passing classes, but rather about mastering important skills and learning to love the process.
Find and hook up with a support group you enjoy. These vary from moms networking nights, to field trip generators, to park days for fun, to couples meetings -- find one that satisfies your needs.

Figure out what refuels your own engines and schedule it! Stephen Covey says the key is not to prioritize your schedule, but to schedule your priorities. Taking good care of yourself in your newly-expanded role as a homeschooling parent is, without question, a top priority. You may need a regular Moms night out, time at home alone, a creative outlet, a daily afternoon nap - whatever keeps you on an even keel - make it a priority and do it!

Steadily improve the learning value in your home - Great read-aloud books, reference resources, educational toys, art supplies, science supplies, healthy food, regular exercise, minimized clutter, a place for everything and everything in its place -- you get the idea. When you are home 24 hours a day, home needs to be as calm, pleasant, usefully organized, and resource-filled as possible.

Relax - No matter where you start or how faltering your first steps may feel, your kids will not be ruined by your loving investment in homeschooling them. You will find yourself changing, perhaps even more than your children, as you learn to truly know each of them, respect their uniqueness, and be committed to their long-term success. As humans, we find it easy to follow those whom we perceive love us deeply. Let love be the foundation, the power, and the aroma in the air of your homeschooling adventure.

Greg and Moira are living, loving, and learning with their not-so-little “plants” in Virginia. Besides reading aloud by the hour to their kids, they enjoy crossword puzzles, homemade music, and sleep (a rare commodity). ■