Beginning the Journey
I’m completely serious.
Take a deep breath in. Hold it. Breathe out.
In with the good air; out with the bad air.
You’re probably not going to get the homeschooling thing completely “right” from the start, and the longer your kidlets were in school and the more of them you have, the more different directions are probably going to be good fits for you. (And also give you fits, depending on the day).
Here’s the good news: you can’t mess up your kids any faster than the schools would have. It may take a while to find the groove that works for you and yours–and that’s okay, too.
In this section, I’m going to give you some thoughts on beginning the homeschool journey, but–and this is key–I want you to remember that it’s a JOURNEY. Homeschooling is categorically different from school in several very important areas, not the least of which is that you’re going on an adventure with the folks you love the most. You don’t have to stay on the railroad tracks, running at set speeds down a set path–that’s the school model. You’re in a car on the highway, the byway, the backroads, and the side roads. You can park and decide to walk the trails. You can put your car on the train, or you can have it towed. You can ditch the car and get a vardo and a horse. You can hike with just a tent and some sturdy boots. It’s your journey, and your destination is whatever you make it, and whenever you make it.
That’s a lot of freedom. It’s time to breathe again.
Finding yourself before finding others
Homeschoolers divide on five major areas of contention:
Religion. Politics. Parenting Style. Methodology. Goals.
Religion. You’d think this one is pretty straight forward, but it’s not.
There are homeschoolers who homeschool for religious reasons and homeschoolers who homeschool for other reasons. There are religious homeschoolers who homeschool for reasons other than religion. There are different religions among the homeschoolers who homeschool for religious reasons. And there are religious homeschoolers who homeschool for reasons not related to religion.
The most important part of this is whether your religious convictions are a main determining factor in who you choose to spend time with. If you do not associate with people of other religions, or non-religious people (or, conversely, if you’re atheist or agnostic, and prefer not to interact with people who are religious), then you will want to find a homeschool group that is specifically in line with your religious (or areligious) worldview. Fortunately, most groups who have this inclination are pretty straightforward and up front about it, and provide prospective members with a “statement of faith” or a “mission statement” that reflects that world view.
In this particular case, I’m not talking strictly about US voting party affiliation (although that does happen to factor into it in many cases), but the main thrust has to do with why you decided to homeschool. Are you homeschooling because it’s something you always planned to do? Are you homeschooling in response to things that happened at school? Do you think the schools are broken? Do you think they’re irreparable?
What are your parenting politics? Are you an authoritarian, authoritative, or permissive parent? Do you practice attachment parenting? Do you spank? Do you describe your family as a “democracy”? a “benevolent dictatorship”? something else? After religion, there’s nothing that brings a homeschooling group (IRL or online) to blows faster than major disagreements in the politics of parenting.
There are a lot of different ways to homeschool. At one end of the spectrum, you can set up a classroom in your home, hand a chalkboard and a flag, and conduct a very formal “school” program with your children. On the other end of the spectrum are unschoolers, many of whom specifically avoid anything that looks or feels the least bit “schoolish.” And there’s a LOT of homeschoolers in between. For that matter, if you have more than one child, you’re quite likely to do quite a bit of picking and choosing between different curricula and methodologies to suit each child’s interest and learning styles.
Secondary to the methodology you choose for your homeschooling journey is the question of who “is” or “is not” a homeschooler with the advent and growth of online virtual schools and parent-partnership programs (PPPs). In many states, participation in a public school program requires relinquishing your rights and freedoms as a homeschooling family and becoming a public school family whose children attend school from the comfort of their own home. There’s quite a bit of frustration on both sides, as virtual and PPP families feel rejected by independent homeschooling families, and the independent homeschooling families see virtual and PPPs as potential threats to independent homeschooling.
I suggest that any homeschooling family starting out write down a few goals. I can’t tell you what to write here–it’s going to reflect your family and your family culture. If you’re homeschooling for one year so that you can take advantage of a travel opportunity and your goal is for your children to reintegrate smoothly at the beginning of the next school year, that goal is dramatically different from the family who’s taking it one year at a time, and different still from the goal of the family who’s in it for the long haul.
So what’s this all look like on paper? Here’s a brief look at my family:
Religion. We’re Christian, specifically Episcopalian, which makes us moderate and oddities (most Episcopalians who choose an alternate to the public schools send their children to Lutheran or Catholic schools. Part of this is because of the lack of Episcopal parochial schools in some geographic areas–some of it is economic, as the ones that do exist tend to be expensive). We homeschool for educational, not religious reasons, and we like to meet all kinds of people from all walks of life. IRL, this means that the local group we’re in is the local “inclusive” group, whose description reads:
SHS is a diverse group of homeschooling families in the Inland Empire. We include and celebrate families across the spectrum of homeschooling styles and philosophies, and have no official political, philosophical, or religious orientation. SHS exists both as an active online resource and an IRL alternative to other local homeschool groups as a place for hsers to play, learn, and relax with each other in a context where homeschooling, not religion, is the primary common denominator Read more here.
We think the schools are broken. We didn’t come to this conclusion all at once, but over time, reading John Caldwell Holt, John Taylor Gatto, Nancy Wallace, Grace Llewellyn, and others. I suspect attending school will come up at some point, and I’m not sure how we’ll deal with it. I suspect we will have a reading/assignment list to prepare for attending a public school, and a good deal of “understanding talks” before we’d concede.
We’re a benevolent dictatorship. Our style of parenting is very warm and loving and authoritative. We have some pretty specific responsibility requirements to match rights, and we’re always open to renegotiation, but we’ve never kidded ourselves that we’re anything but a benevolent dictatorship. We feel it’s our responsibility to be careful parents, and help Farmergirl become the best adult she can be.
We started out with a Classical leaning. I was completely and totally in love with the Trivium, and working through Latin and Rhetoric, and doing Spencerian Penmanship . . . I can not even begin to tell you how in love with this idea I was. If I had been homeschooling myself, that’s exactly the track we’d still be on, and I’d be eating it up. This was not a good fit for Farmergirl.
We’ve ended up in some weird unschooling-apprenticeship-unit-studies-grandmother-assisted-spelling-and-geography mixture that seems to be suiting us just fine. You may have a similar mix. It’s okay. (Breathe again). The brilliant and wonderful thing about homeschooling is that you get to make these choices–you get to cherry pick what works best for you.
What’s your goal? This is the one that’s probably the most difficult to put on paper. Here’s ours, which we call our “graduation requirements”:
1) Ability to use the library and other research.
2) Ability to write well.
3) Reasonably high score on SAT or ACT to facilitate entry into
college, if she’s inclined.
4) Small house built to completion.
I don’t presume to know what your goals are, or what they should be–and I don’t think ours are the only ones. (And, certainly, not necessarily practical, depending on your lot size, CCRs, or zoning). but I think it’s a question worth asking yourself, and that it helps a lot on the questions of “What should we do tomorrow?” and “What should we do this year?”