Thursday, 3 September 2015

Homeschooling 101: FAQs

There's been a lot of interest lately in homeschooling, and I've been asked frequently about what it's like, the specifics and legalities, and how to start. While I can't speak to every jurisdiction, and the regulations will vary from place to place, here are some FAQs to get you started. 

Is it legal? 
There are only a few places in the world where it is, in fact, illegal to homeschool your children, and again, only a few where it is impractical to homeschool. But generally, homeschooling, in one form or another, is legal just about everywhere. I'm fortunate to live in an area where homeschooling is not only completely legal but also completely without regulation. Please check with your local laws before starting. The best place to get truthful information is from a local homeschooling support group. Be careful about talking to the public school or school board: because it is not in their interest for you to pull your children out of the school system, they may not give you accurate information about the legalities and regulations of homeschooling in your area.

How do I teach them?
That is really a broad question. The specifics of your curriculum, teaching style and structure of your homeschool will depend on a lot of factors, and I will go over some of those (and how to best pick for your family) in later posts. But generally, since you, as their parent, taught your child how to walk, talk, feed and dress themselves, use the bathroom, and the basic rules of interacting with others, you can totally teach your child to read, write, add, subtract, or whatever academic skill or information they need to learn. You know your child best, and you were your child's first teacher. You are their best teacher!

What about testing?
For many people, homeschooling is actually about avoiding the myriad standardized tests that seem to plague the school system. And depending on your jurisdiction, that may be entirely possible. For others, standardized testing is a useful tool. Standardized testing is available for purchase privately, through the various publishers, and also may be available through your public school system. Please check with your local school board or homeschool support group for more information on that. 

What about socialization? 
Homeschoolers get asked this a lot. We even make jokes about it. Again the answer is "it depends". It really depends on what you mean by "socialization". 

If socialization means the ability to interact with others politely and respectfully, to handle difficult people and different opinions without emotional outbursts, to conduct oneself in public as civilized and well-mannered; in short, if it means the basics of social interaction, then homeschooling is your best choice to achieve that. Homeschoolers get the benefit of great modeling (through their parents), direct and indirect immediate teaching, correction and feedback (because parents are generally insistent on manners), and the opportunities to interact with people of all ages and lifestyle choices, because they aren't restricted to an age-segregated environment, with drastically different rules than real life and immense pressure to conform. Homeschooled children live in the real world, not the artificial one created by the institutional school classroom. 

If socialization means the opportunity to interact with age-similar peers, then again the answer is a resounding yes. In fact, homeschoolers, because of the flexibility inherent in keeping your children out of an institution, have much more opportunity to interact with others, similarly aged, or not. Whether its being out and about with their parents while they run errands, interacting at libraries, swimming pools, parks and playgrounds, or participating in the numerous activities available for children to take part in, homeschooled children get all the interaction that the parents choose to arrange. Because we are not spending hours after school on homework, our evenings are much freer for those sports, dance, gymnastics, lego, 4H, boy/girl scout, church youth and children's ministry, music, art, chess, and drama classes and clubs that the community offers, and because we are not restricted to school hours, we can also utilize special opportunities during the day. Also, many places have active homeschool coops and support groups, offering their own classes, playdates, and interaction opportunities.  It would be easy to end up out every night of the week with a class or activity, and sometimes we homeschoolers can wind up forgetting that we actually need to be home for the homeschool to happen. 

How do you stand your kids all day?
Some people claim that I must have some kind of superhuman patience to deal with my children all day, every day. Trust me, I'm not a supermom. My kids squabble and fight just like every other child. But I will say this: they don't fight near as much as some families. And it's not because of something I did or didn't do as their parent.  Consider this: a school-aged child spends roughly 5 hours a day being told to sit down and shush, to concentrate on academics, to stop fidgeting, to stop talking with their classmate, even to ask permission to use the bathroom! Is it any wonder that by the time they get home, they are exhausted, stir crazy, emotionally pent up, hungry and over stimulated? My homeschooled children, by contrast, can change positions as needed (and do frequently), get up and move as they want, use the bathroom whenever its necessary without having to ask, take frequent breaks, eat snacks as they get hungry, ask all the questions they desire, and don't have to wait (or at least not often). So they don't lash out, they are relaxed and calmer, and the little fights and fits that come up are the typical childhood issues, worked out quickly and well.. part of the education process. See the socialization question for how. 

How will I know what to teach them?
A typical course of study for children in every grade can be found at http://www.worldbook.com/free-educational-resources/typical-course-of-study .  Actual curriculum can be purchased online, from a local store if available, or at a homeschooling convention or vendor's fair. There are tons of options, and you can even create your own, if you desire. You can use an all-in-one preplanned curriculum, or mix and match subjects to suit your child's learning style, academic level and interest. You can even choose to forgo curriculum entirely and learn through other methods. Specifics on educational philosophies and homeschool methods, along with curriculum options will be explored in later posts. Just know that there are lots and lots of options here.

How do I start?
This depends on your jurisdiction and the legalities. If you are a parent of preschool children, you probably don't have to do anything in particular, really, except plan out what and how you want to teach your children. If you are a parent of children over the compulsary school age (somewhere between age 6-8) or have children already in school, you will need to withdraw them from school. The specifics will vary from place to place, but generally you'll want to send a letter of withdrawal or intent to homeschool to your local school as well as your school board, and get a copy of all school records to date, including test scores and any special notifications (IEP, special education plans, behavioural notices/plans, etc). 

If you are pulling your children out of school, you *must* take time to "deschool". This is a term veteran homeschoolers use to describe the process of adjusting from an institutional school mentality to the attitude and flexibility of homeschooling. I will talk more about what that process looks like in a later post. 

No matter how old your children are, there are certain steps you should take before beginning the process of homeschooling. You need the what and how to teach, and you'll want to set up and gather the supplies you need before hand. This preparation time is crucial to your chances of a successful year, but at the same time, don't get so tied to your plans that you forget about being flexible.  Steps to beginning include: 

1. Observation 
2. Decide on an approach
3. Choose priorities
4. Figure out a method
5. Shop/create curriculum
6. Plan out your day/week/term/year.
7. Gather supplies
8. Happy Homeschooling!

I'll talk about the specific steps in more detail in later posts. 

From a veteran homeschooler to the curious beginner: homeschooling is more of a lifestyle choice than an education. It's not necessarily easier than institutional schooling, though I would suggest it is less frustrating. It is, however, incredibly worthwhile! The connection to your children, the protection and security you can give them, the tailored education plan - being able to challenge their strengths and support their weaknesses, the flexibility for special occasions and once-in-a-lifetime opportunities (no more having to pay peak-time prices for those family vacations!): these are just some of the many many benefits to homeschooling. 

You already have your reasons for not wanting to put your children in school. No matter what they are, homeschooling will achieve beyond those reasons, if you are committed to the long-view. I wish you well in deciding what is the best fit for your family!

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