Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Homeschool - How We Roll, Part 1

Over the years I've been asked a lot of questions about why we homeschool.  Some of them have been polite curiosity, some sincere interest and many narrow minded attempts to express poorly formed opinions. Yes, I just said that.
In response to the polite curiosity and sincere interest, over the next three posts, I will share with you:
Why we decided to homeschool
How we homeschool and
What we have gained from the decision to homeschool.
Before I get in to the topic of why we decided to homeschool, I feel like it might be necessary to state a few disclaimers:
1.  I am not against public or private schools.
2.  I am not a homeschool Nazi who thinks h.s. is the only way to educate.  Homeschooling is NOT for everyone, and unfortunately there are many parents out there who do not subscribe to this philosophy....those are the families who give homeschooling a poor reputation.  It's one thing to admire the "ideals" of homeschooling and another thing to put them into practice consistently every day with dedication and focus.

Now that we've got that covered, let's move on to the story of
why we decided to homeschool in the first place!

Years ago I graduated from college with an elementary-middle school education degree with an emphasis in science.  In the latter years of college career, I worked for a professor who, with his wife, home schooled their children.  This was my first exposure to a homeschool enviornment.  At the time, I was curious and inquisitive (but nothing more) about this form of education.  I also observed that all of the children (school ages first grade through high school sophomore) demonstrated the following intellectual and character qualities:
1.  While conversing with adults, they spoke articulately, respectfully, confidently and always made eye contact with others.
2.  They were highly motivated in all areas of life - academics, music, sports, family and home life, hobbies and chores.
3.  In most subjects, particularly those of interest, they were at least one or two grades beyond their current age standing.
4.  They were cheerful, positive, confident, helpful, responsible and thoughtful.  Their curiosity, inquisitiveness, and contemplative natures were far more mature than I expected!

These exemplary character traits made a great impression on me.

Fast forward about six years, and Steve and I are now facing decisions regarding the education of our first child, Benedict.  I always thought that we would send our kids to school, hopefully a Catholic school, depending on where we lived.  At the time, we were living in Kansas City, so we had a lot of options, and that was exciting.  The only problem was, in the summer and fall we traveled to Southwest Kansas to custom harvest wheat, corn and milo for local farmers.  This complicated school a bit, because I didn't want to stay in KC alone for two months while Steve was gone, but I knew if we traveled west to harvest with him, Ben would possibly be out of school for the first two months of the fall semester.
Because I had confidence in my ability to teach, and pre-school and kindergarten didn't seem too daunting, we decided to homeschool.  I did a little bit of research and asked a few seasoned homeschool families to recommend curriculum materials that would work for us.  This was before the days of Pinterest and the plethora of homeschool blogs - so I relied on textbooks, curriculum fairs, homeschool conferences and the advice of mentors to help me navigate our new pathway.

You might think that I wouldn't need much help since I had an education degree, but let me tell you, that couldn't be further from the truth!  Yes, some of the methods of teaching were applicable, but teaching at home vs. a classroom is a completely different ballgame, and I needed some coaching!
While I received a great deal of support and encouragement within the homeschool community in our area, I was not prepared for the synicism and backhanded remarks that I encountered from strangers and even family. While these situations were never easy, being drilled with questions and comments helped me to establish in my mind articulate answers concerning the positive benefits of homeschooling.  Those honest responses have been put to good use over the years.
While economic circumstances brought us in to homeschooling, it is the positive fruits from the decision that has kept us in it (I will describe these fruits in part three of this series).  Three years into our gig, we decided to retire the harvesting business.  I could have easily placed Ben in school. But, by then we were a part of a large network of families who connected through co-ops, athletics, book clubs, bible studies, field trips and more.  We had so much support, social opportunities, cultural experiences and joy within our home surrounding the spirit and methods of learning that we knew it was a right fit for our family.  The kids were thriving intellectually, socially, emotionally and spiritually, and so were Steve and I!

We still homeschool our children today, with the exception of our oldest son, Benedict who began public school in fifth grade, and we love it!  Our philosophy is, and has always been, 
one year at a time, one child at a time.  
With each school year, we discern what is best for each child as an individual.
If you are tossing around the idea of homeschooling as an avenue for educating your child/children, I offer you the following points to consider as a part of your decision process:
1.  It is vital that you and your spouse strive to be in agreement as to whether homeschooling is a good decision for your family.  Then, work together as a team. Your kids are more likely to thrive in an optimistic, supportive enviornment that is working from a clear, united goal.
2.  While homeschooling is a big commitment, it doesn't have to be forever.  I know several families who homeschooled for only a couple of years.  One year at a time, one child at a time.
3.  Get to know other homeschooling families in your area.  Many larger communities have networks that hold meetings, host field trips and classes and even have online support.  You can find out more information about networks in your area here.
4.  If you are worried about the expense, remember, depending on the number of students you are teaching and their grades, you really don't need a fancy classroom. And, typically, if you have access to a library for supplemental materials, your curriculum materials will not cost more than the expenses incurred from sending your child to school.
5.  Be committed.  That means be prepared - for any school to succeed you need to have a plan (a general schedule, curriculum, extra-curricular activities etc.).  I am not suggesting that fexibility cannot be a part of that plan, but the "just winging it" each day philosophy is never a good idea.
6.  Order your priorities.  Devoting even a part of your day to homeschooling means that your current schedule and domestic habits are going to change.  Be prepared for things to feel a bit crazy for a while until you settle into a rhythm that allows time for school and the current activities, chores and communitity or church commitments you're already involved in.  Some of these may have to be put on hold or given up if school is going to succced in your home.

Part two of this series of posts will focus on how we homeschool.  I'll try to cover everything from schedules, activities, extra-curriculars and chores to navigating curriculums, considering learning styles when teaching and supplemental materials that I cannot live without!  I hope you'll stay tuned!


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