School is back in session which means my social media feeds are wallpapered with snapshots of grinning, backpack-toting children posed next to miniature backboards that note their new grades. The school year starts out for most with grand expectations for growth and achievements. Perhaps, this is the year your son will master phonics, memorize those multiplication tables or excel in chemistry. Maybe over the next nine months, your daughter will learn her alphabet, make the team or tackle calculus.
But what happens if your child’s days don’t progress as planned? What happens if the bullies aren’t converted, your convictions are undermined or your child’s learning style can’t be nurtured? What if the tears don’t stop falling beyond the first week, the stress leads to stomachaches or grades don’t improve even though you know your child is capable of more?
We started our home school journey right out of the gate 14 years ago; however, in the same amount of time, I’ve witnessed and given counsel to more than a few families who felt compelled to flee the traditional system after concluding it was a poor fit for their child.
Typically, families have similar concerns and questions when they contemplate educating their children at home. What curriculum should we use? Will my children listen to me? Am I educated enough to teach my own kids? What about high school? What does my state require of home schoolers? While I wouldn’t label myself an expert, I’ve got some guidance to offer should you find yourself considering home education.
First, identify your motivation for schooling your own children. Are you looking to focus on a specialty, does your child have special needs, is your faith a primary focus, do you want to offer your child more educational experiences or does your employment situation require you to move frequently? Even though you may be looking to escape a problem in the traditional system, you still need to discover what you are hoping to move toward or achieve in your home school.
A friend’s son studies science in the hopes of specializing in a particular branch of research. Obviously, he still needs to complete all the basic educational courses, too, but at home he has the freedom to indulge his passion. Also, the family has open (real time) discussions about current scientific theories and their faith perspective on the matter.
Another boy struggled socially. Highly intelligent, he had a difficult time managing over-stimulation and making friends. At home, he was able to concentrate without the distractions of a large classroom. In order to help him address his social anxiety, his mother opted to participate in a once a week co-op with other families, plus martial arts and a boys’ club. These extracurriculars placed him in small group settings for limited amounts of time which helped keep him from feeling overwhelmed. He eventually overcame his social struggles. These parents identified goals and were able to tailor their children’s education to meet their needs and promote their strengths.
Once you’ve established your reasons for home schooling, choosing a curriculum will be (somewhat) easier. We consider our school to be our domestic church; therefore, we stick with providers who support our faith. Some parents create their curriculum by marrying a variety of sources, some purchase a grade-in-a-box from a single vendor and other parents enroll their students in virtual classes. This choice requires a bit of research and it can be helpful to attend a home school conference or pick the brain of a like-minded home school veteran.
I’m going to admit that every time I hear a parent say, “My kids won’t listen to me,” I cringe. Yes, children can be challenging. Yes, they do require us to tell them one thousand times (+) to pick up their dirty socks, but as parents we are also in a position to regulate all those incentives which drive our children. We hold the car keys, we control media time, we orchestrate extracurricular activities and we stock the snack cabinet. As difficult as my children can and have been at times, they know that there is no chance of attending that birthday party or play date if they shirk their math assignments. TV/computer time is non-existent for anyone who refuses to complete the daily lesson plan, etc. You have the ability (and duty) to command obedience and respect. You can teach your children and they will listen.
In my junior year of public high school I found myself in a quandary. For the first time in my educational career, I was in danger of failing a course. Unsatisfied with that prospect, I went home and reread my entire geometry text from start to finish. I learned more through that last ditch, self-directed effort than I had all semester (and I passed the exam).
A typical textbook works according to this format: a new concept is introduced, examples are given and then the student applies the concept. By high school, most students are quite capable of independent study (with parental oversight). Tutors, co-ops and video lessons are other possibilities for aiding students in classes which you might deem too challenging for self-directed study.
If your child is only beginning second grade, there’s no need to worry about the high school question this year. Just like the rest of life, it’s helpful to have long terms goals, but worrying about the distant future is usually a waste of energy. Take it year by year then re-evaluate and adjust as needed. Once high school is actually on the immediate horizon, know that nearly every subject can be acquired from either textbook reading or hands-on experience.
Each state has its own legal requirements for in-state home schoolers. These can usually be found by calling your local Department of Non-Public Education or searching online. It’s important to make sure that you are in compliance to protect your rights and to insure your child will have the proper credits for transferring or moving on to college.
Nowadays, I’ve been privileged to see the fruits of my labors. My 19 year old works while studying business at our local community college. My recently graduated 18 year old just texted me from his first semester in college seminary to say thanks. He said he’s tutoring fellow students in Latin and math, and credited me with giving him a leg up on his studies. I’m still deeply entrenched in the day-to-day chores of corralling my toddler while reading history pages and answering grammar questions, but I can confidently say that home schooling was and continues to be the right choice for my family.
If your child isn’t flourishing in their school setting, why grin and bear it through another year of tears, tantrums and parent-teacher conferences? Maybe it’s time to consider the educational alternatives available. The right education creates lifelong learners, who are eager and able to discover new paths.
What are your family’s educational goals and how are they being met?