Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Seven Things I've Learned About Homeschooling

I've been homeschooling my six kids for 15 years and, since my youngest is a kindergartner, I'll be at it at least a dozen more. I've taught my children to read, introduced them to the times tables, demonstrated the proper way to hold a pencil, and assisted in the dissection of numerous frogs. Hopefully, they've learned a lot in our home school. Mom has learned quite a few things along the way, too!

1. It's okay to not have the answer. At first, I had to look up MANY of my children's questions. I was loathe to say, "I don't know", but I wasn't about to make up something and hope I was right! I settled for saying, "Let's look it up together." Although my purpose was to save face, the result was that my older children learned valuable research skills. With my younger kids, I'm not so self-conscious about my own lack of knowledge. I'm comfortable admitting that I don't have the answer, but I'm not beyond making up a snarky excuse. "I wasn't homeschooled, so I don't know. Let's look it up together!"

2. If you aren't careful, homeschooling can define you. Early in our homeschool journey, I realized that people tend to have strong feelings about homeschoolers, whether positive or negative. Among my acquaintances, homeschool moms are considered Super Moms and treated with an embarrassing measure of respect. In other social circles, homeschoolers can almost feel the waves of disapproval emanating from the group. Either way, I work hard to present us as a typical family. The best way to dispel the Super Mom assumption is to take my kids out in public. They'll do it for me without prompting! Occasionally, that also works on those who DISapprove. Witnessing a bit of sibling rivalry can help convince doubters that homeschooled children are, indeed, "normal".

3. It's okay to take a day off now and then. Trying to teach long division while mopping baby throw-up is a losing battle. Although "school" is part of the vast majority of our days, I don't hesitate to call a "home-ec day" (when the house is in desperate need of cleaning), a "mental health day" (if the alternative is losing my mind), or a "hospital day" (when someone is in need of extra attention due to illness). I plan an extra couple of weeks into our school year for these types of occurrences. The days off are less frequent than our public school's "snow days" (which we DON'T take off), but they make a big difference in how well the household (and Mom) functions.

4. Homeschooling is only one of many parenting decisions that will affect my children. At first, I thought I'd try homeschooling for one year, reasoning that home education was unlikely to ruin my kids' lives in that short time. The idea that a single parenting decision can determine my children's future success seems funny to me now. Three of my six have reached adulthood relatively unscathed, despite my blunders. How we "turn out" is determined by a combination of genetics, personal experiences, and family dynamics . . . not just how our parents chose to educate us. Because it differs from the traditional way of doing things, homeschooling is likely to be blamed when a child does something unfortunate and hailed when a student succeeds. It's rarely the sole factor in either case.

5. Don't try too hard. I get this tremendous burst of energy in August. Maybe it has something to do with all of the back-to-school ads in the newspapers, but I am ready and eager for school to begin! I've had a good, long break and this year is going to be different! I load up on educational games and manipulatives (that will be used once), begin crazily preparing chore charts (ANOTHER new method, Mom?!), and set up incentive plans where my kids' correctly completed work is rewarded with a small toy (which I'll find beneath the sofa next fall). This lasts approximately two weeks into the school year, when I decide to take a mental health day (see above) and re-evaluate. That frenzied pace simply can't be maintained. I've learned to include one or two special, short-term "fun" things to celebrate the beginning of a new school year and otherwise moderate my plans to more closely resemble reality!

6. Homeschooling is a legitimate excuse . . . for just about anything! Teaching your kids at home takes time, money, energy, space, and resources that could be used for other pursuits. When it becomes dangerous to navigate the living room, I remind myself that homeschool moms have more mess (books, paper, craft supplies, and half-dissected frogs) and less available time to clean it. (What . . . You didn't think teaching took time?) And here's the main thing . . . the kids are ALWAYS THERE. I'll admit to the occasional fantasy of waving them all on to a school bus and proceeding to mop my empty kitchen, make up a grocery list without interruption, run an errand without strapping someone into a car seat first, or treating myself to a professional pedicure without the necessity of also affording a babysitter. (ESPECIALLY the pedicure . . . )

7. It's worth it. Yeah, it really is. I always hoped it would be, but I can finally say that with conviction, now that three of my six children are grown. I'm not sure if anyone gets through life without a few regrets, but the decision to homeschool isn't one of mine. Here's to my next dozen years as a homeschool mom!

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