I have always disliked the term "home school" because it contains the word "school". We do not now, nor have we ever, attempted to set up a school in our home. We don't attempt to school our children. For the past 24 years we have been educating them. It isn't semantics, educating and schooling are not the same thing. I used "home schooling mother" in my title because people understand that I mean my children don't attend school. They are educated at home.
Looking back at over two decades of educating my own children, it is almost difficult for me to remember those first days. Education at home is now as natural and normal for us as indoor plumbing. We have long ago ceased to marvel that we are doing something so amazing and novel. But I do remember some things about getting started. I remember my commitment. I was never the type to say, "We'll try this for a year and if it doesn't work out, we'll do something else with the children." No, I was committed to at least a complete high-school level education right at home. I also remember that I sought out the wisdom of those I respected who were already doing it. That was definitely something I did right. Support was something I thought I needed, so I sought it out and found it.
During a recent visit with a friend from back in the day, when we were both starting out in home education and our oldest children were very young, I expressed my reasons for no longer being involved in a home school support group. The group of which the two of us (my friend and I) had been a part was specifically formed as a support group for the parents. It offered little or nothing in the way of activities for the children. We met once per month at a church building that had a gymnasium and the children were permitted to play, supervised, while the adults (primarily mothers) met to discuss challenges, compare curricula and encourage one another. Once per year we held a meeting in the evening so that working fathers could attend the meetings. But all of the current home school groups I know of are all about the children. They either have co-op classes or offer enrichment activities or are geared toward providing opportunities for the children to socialize with other children. This last goal is directly opposed to some of my reasons for not sending my children to school. The parents tend to have everything under control. They get advice from the internet and curricula from the internet. They look at me like a strange dinosaur rather than a resource. These women have nothing to offer me and they don't feel I have anything to offer them. So I don't waste our family's time or resources to cavort with other home schoolers just to say that we do it. If something isn't contributing to our goals as a family, we probably don't have time for it.
My solipsism, however, continues to tell me that I must have something to offer on the basis of all of my experience as a home educator. So I will give my unsolicited advice. My target audience is the parent who isn't already surrounded by experienced home educators and still has those nagging fears and unanswered questions about whether or not they should keep their children at home. I offer this as encouragement as much as advice.
1. You can't ruin your child in a year. This is sort of a motto with me. No matter how badly you mess up the first year of home education, your child will NOT be ruined. It is likely that your child will not be harmed in the slightest. You don't have to commit for life, like I did, you can just say to yourself, "We will try this for one year, and then at the end of that year, we will evaluate what happened and where we want to go from there." Even if your child doesn't finish a single lesson in math, or doesn't advance one bit in reading, it doesn't mean that all of you haven't learned things. There is nothing that a child is supposed to learn at age 5 that can't also be learned at age 6 instead. There are no rules for when things need to be taught. Children are resilient. It will be o.k. This is even more true of older children, even high school aged children, because they are even more capable of making up lost time. We all know people that have graduated from high school a year early by simply doubling up on classes. It can be done.
2. Focus on character building first and academics second. If your children are not obedient, if you don't like your children, if you can't even get them to take out the garbage or feed the dog, don't even think about trying to force them to do school work. You will be setting yourself up for serious conflict. It is hard enough when you have a great relationship with a joyfully obedient child to always get through a difficult math lesson without tears. Not having well-behaved children is NOT a reason to avoid home education, but rather a sign that you need it more than ever. If you don't know how to go about training your children in righteousness, seek help. There are some great resources out there, including books. And don't be afraid to get tips from older folks in your church who have adult children you think have turned out well. Despite being controversial, I don't think there is a better book for restoring order in the home than Michael and Debi Pearl's To Train Up A Child. If you don't enjoy the company of your children, it is your fault. If you don't enjoy them, then probably no one else does either and you aren't doing your job. You owe it to them, and yourself, to rectify the situation. The home should be a place where family members live together in harmony. Make that happen first, then turn your attention to book learnin'. A special note here about starting home education with children who are older, you might need an entire year just to get used to living that way. You may need time to get to know one another, to create chore schedules and organize the home so that it functions well having lots of people in it all day long, every day. Don't be afraid to take as much time as it takes to deal with this first.
3. Develop your own home educating philosophy and set goals in line with that philosophy. Families choose home education for many different reasons. Don't pattern your home education after a family that has different goals. There are many styles and flavors of programs, curricula, methods, and you want to find one that matches the way you think and believe. This means that you will have to do a little bit of research. What is classical learning? What is unschooling? What is the Charlotte Mason method? What are unit studies? Do we want to accelerate their education? Do I want to teach all of my children together or have separate products and programs for all of them? Do we want them to be prepared to go off to college, or do we have other ideas for what they will do after high school? In the alternative, you can just purchase a packaged curriculum or some workbooks, or just go light on academics the first year while you form you own philosophies and goals.In any case, don't be surprised if whatever you choose to do the first year is not what you choose to do in subsequent years. It happens to all of us.
If you take my advice, at the very least you should end your first year of home education saying, "That was fun. That was exciting. We learned a lot."
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