Saturday, August 19, 2006

7 Things For Beginning Homeschoolers To Keep in Mind

Maureen at TrinityPrepSchool is tagging people for a list of “7 Habits of Highly Effective Homeschoolers.” I’m not sure enough of being a highly effective homeschooler to phrase it quite that way, but here’s things I’ve found worth reminding myself of, especially when starting out the homeschool adventure, or just beginning the new “school” year.

1. You can always quit.
Sounds defeatist, but it's actually quite a helpful thing to remind yourself of. Parents of preschoolers often worry that they don’t know enough to homeschool through high school, or about college admissions. Don’t fear the future. If it doesn’t work, you can always put them in school. Tell yourself this a lot. Later, you can reassure your kids this way, too: “If you don’t quit that right now, I swear I’m putting you on the first yellow bus that drives by!”

2. Everybody unschools.
Every homeschooler lets little kids play around and have fun; every homeschooler lets older kids have input into their curriculum in a way that reflects their loves and talents. Every homeschooler with a child who is suddenly progressing terrifically in a subject or at a project lets him have his head (as they say of horses), at least for a while, because it would be stupid not to relax the reins when they’re galloping. It's not clear that the word "unschooling" even has meaningful content anymore. So don’t agonize over whether you should unschool, or be structured, or follow a classical curriculum, or whatever. You’ll end up calling yourself “eclectic” anyway, like everyone else.

3. Think about what education is.
This seems almost the opposite of #2, where I said not to worry about your “homeschooling approach” too much. But it’s actually antecedent to #2. You can’t let yourself be blown around by the winds of every enticing philosophy, or of every exciting new curriculum, or by the fear that somebody else is doing it in a different way that seems so much more successful. The way to stay anchored is to ask yourself, and keep asking yourself until the last bird has left the nest, what an education is, what it’s for, what it does, and why you want it for your children. Stay clear on the fundamentals. It puts you on top of the mountain, and all the confusing hills and valleys below, with their highways and dead ends, will sort themselves out.

4. Know the difference between a failed approach and “hitting the wall.”
Many homeschoolers, especially those who don’t put some mental work into #3, find themselves buying curriculum after curriculum, looking for one that “works” (math and learning-to-read curricula especially). Besides being expensive, this sometimes results from blaming the curriculum for the normal phenomenon of education I like to call “hitting the wall.” Every subject is new and exciting at first; even the most astute and eager child will, after a while, discover that the novelty has worn off, and the subject has become more difficult and tedious. Every kid likes to learn the first dozen Latin words and chant “amo, amas, amat” with Mommy. But eventually there’s the vocabulary drill, and the principal parts, and the deponent verbs. And if parent and child have both convinced themself that learning must be fun, when they hit that wall, the child may balk and the parent may start hunting around for something that keeps the child’s interest the way the first curriculum used to, or even needlessly drop the subject altogether.

By all means, if you’ve invested in a lousy curriculum, get rid of it ASAP and (more carefully this time) get a new one. But don’t substitute the natural fun of a new adventure for the mature satsifaction and joy of mastery that comes only with the effort of hard, and sometimes boring, work.

5. Be careful to get socialization.
Not for your kids; if you’ve started homeschooling, you’ve already discovered how much time they’re spending with other kids at soccer and chess club and theatre and 4-H and choir and park day and.... No, make sure to get socialization for you.

6. You can’t own too many books.
You probably just need more bookshelves. Or even a library wing added on to the house. Is your husband handy with carpentry? By the way, the best used-book search engine is Bookfinder, which searches multiple bookselling services like Alibris and Biblio.

7. God gave your children to you, not to someone else.
So don’t be plunged into despair that someone else is homeschooling better, or that you yell at your kids too much (work on that, though), or that you’re not as good a teacher as their favorite teacher back in public school was. Don’t get caught up in disputes over childrearing practices. Most especially, ignore anything anyone says to you--whether it’s a parent, pastor, or neighbor--that makes you feel unhappy about your child as a person. Nobody is advocating for your child but you.

[Special thanks to C. for #7]


Anonymous Maureen said...

I second took me too many years to figure this one out. My sanity was saved by other supportive homeschool moms.

Follow up on the Opinionated Homeschooler's experience on this one! If you don't have a monthly Mom's Night Out type event, then organize one! I'm a better mom and teacher because I feed myself with the words of wise and realistic women friends.

Thank you for your insightful contributions to this project.

5:43 AM  
Blogger sophia said...

Amen to everything you said!

7:07 PM  
Blogger Karen E. said...

I third #5! Great list.

9:06 PM  

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