When we started homeschooling seven years ago, the only other homeschoolers I knew lived five thousand miles away.
My instinct had told me that public school was the wrong environment for my son (who at four years old was already known as ‘the naughtiest boy in the class’) and my intense daughter (six), who needed much more downtime than a busy school + extracurriculars schedule could provide.
I knew nothing of his twice-exceptionality or her giftedness, so even after we met other local homeschoolers, I felt out of my depth and many times wondered what I was doing wrong.
To help matters, my kids’ grandparents were vehemently opposed to my decision and even my husband thought I was crazy. I was riddled with anxiety and second-guessed myself at every turn.
Here’s what I wish I’d known back then when we first started homeschooling …
1. Homeschooling works!
Oh how I wish I could time-travel my younger self forward to today and show her how well homeschooling’s working out for us.
I’d show the younger me my daughter (now 13) happily composing songs with friends, figuring out maths problems for fun, looking forward to taking her first GCSE (physics) in a few months, and speaking fluent Spanish.
My younger self would be so happy to see that Cordie has more passions than ever, but also has time to sit and listen to music, to hang out with friends, to draw, and to recharge by sleeping till her teenage brain feels ready to wake up.
The younger me would also love to see how Jasper (12) is learning to take care of his needs so that he’s not triggered in everyday situations – and that he’s never thought of himself as naughty.
I’d show her how his dysgraphia and dyslexia don’t hold him back at all, as he speedily touch-types the magical stories he dreams up and makes his way through dozens of audiobooks each month.
2. Be confident about your choice
Shortly after I removed my son from school I bumped into a school-mum acquaintance. ‘Where’s Jasper been lately?’ she asked. ‘ I’ve decided to homeschool him ,’ I mumbled.
I had to repeat myself four times before the woman could understand my reply! I was so unsure – ashamed? – of my radical decision, I couldn’t bring myself to say the words out loud.
A few months later on my daughter’s last day at school, I happened to be standing outside her classroom before lessons began . I saw the teacher write a puzzle on the whiteboard and Cordie – oblivious to the other children still chattering away – eagerly copying it down and getting to work. Panic seized me. How was I going to provide the intellectual stimulation my bright child was evidently getting here, all day long? (I managed. ;))
As for my kids’ grandparents, who all but staged an intervention when they heard I’d removed my son from school … I did what I could to gently reassure them, and remembered the advice of every homeschooler I knew who assured me that my family would come around. They did.
3. Relax while you de-school
I knew how important it is to allow a period of ‘de-schooling’ after kids leave public school (a month for every term they attended, is one guideline). The idea is for everyone to recover from the stress of school and to let go of the rigid public school mindset.
De-schooling is probably even more important for the homeschooling parent than the child. We need to let go of our ideas of what school should look like (writing in workbooks from 9-3.30) and spend time quietly noticing what our children enjoy doing and how much they learn naturally.
While I did allow us a de-schooling period, if I had my time again I’d relax and enjoy it wa-a-ay more, and not have a panic attack every time a friend mentioned what her kids were learning at school.
You just can’t compare homeschooling with public school on a day to day – or even a year by year – basis. Your kids aren’t going to learn the very same material in exactly the same way they would have at school. That’s the point!
4. They’ll have plenty of friends. Or just one. And that’s okay
I’m lucky enough to have one highly extroverted child and one who is very introverted.
Why lucky? Firstly, I’m not sure where we’d find the time to meet the needs of two children as busy and social as my extrovert. But more importantly, I know that each of my kids has had the same opportunities to make friends and get involved with social activities, so I don’t blame myself for the fact that my son has just one close friend whom he meets every few weeks. I don’t even see it as a bad thing.
I know that Jasper’s happiest at home, mixing with family and his beloved pets. He gets on fine ( mostly ) at his couple of extracurricular classes, and he gets plenty of exercise flipping on our trampoline and walking the dogs.
In our extrovert-centric western society, it’s easy to panic about the S( ocialisation ) word when you start homeschooling. Don’t. Follow your child’s lead, and they – and you – will be happy.
5. You’re the expert on your child
When we’ve been to public school ourselves, it’s scary to question the system.
‘Everyone’ goes to school. Surely it must be the best path for our kids?
Not necessarily. Not when you consider that schools have been around for a tiny fraction of human history, and were designed to meet the needs of the industrial revolution (childcare, which in turned produced the next generation of compliant workers).
Teachers – even the good ones – have to work within a system that was designed over a century ago to meet the needs of the average student.
Parents raising kids at the edges of the bell curve need to trust that we know our child’s needs best.
Of course I’m not saying don’t consult professionals. We’ve seen some excellent ones over the years (and some less good ones). But when it comes to how your child learns and thrives, you’re the one who’s had thousands of hours of experience. Not the local school, not your teacher neighbour, and not your mother-in-law.
6. Don’t be afraid to mix and match homeschooling styles
The first home education book I read was written by unschooling pioneer, John Holt. Then, being the intense type I am, I set about reading everything else I could get my hands on.
Soon my head was spinning as I discovered classical homeschooling, Charlotte Mason, project-based homeschooling, and Brave Writer (to name just a few). Each philosophy has online communities buzzing with devoted fans who, despite their extremely good intentions, tap right into our insecurities and make us feel like we’re letting our children down if we don’t follow their methods to the letter.
There’s nothing wrong with learning about the different styles and trying out activities that appeal to you. Our own ‘us-schooling’ style combines aspects of several different homeschooling philosophies. Just remember that the single most important factor in successful homeschooling is the parent-child relationship. Don’t put that in jeopardy by forcing them to follow a homeschooling methodology they hate, no matter how well it works for the family you read about online.
7. Homeschooling is not a panacea
I confess, I used to hear about issues other people were having with their kids and secretly think, ‘That would never happen to us, because we homeschool.’
I should have known better, given all the judgement and misunderstanding my 2e son faces from people who have no idea how he experiences the world.
Without going into details, I now realise that even homeschoolers experience bumps in the road every now and then, especially as children get older. Navigating these bumps has humbled me and given me a new level of empathy and compassion for other families.
I’ve also been grateful, during the tough moments, for the flexibility and family time homeschooling provides when life does get stressful.
8. ‘This too shall pass’
Minecraft? Nail art? Phineas and Ferb? Creepy crawlies? When intense kids get into something, they really get into it. No half measures.
As a homeschooling parent responsible their development and education, you see your child gripped by their latest
fad passion and wonder if they’re ever going to broaden their horizons. Funnily enough we get especially anxious about the less academic obsessions.
I only really got this recently, when my daughter switched her intense focus from gymnastics to music. As we pushed aside the foam mats to make room for amplifiers and guitars, I desperately wanted to go back and reassure my younger self who wished fervently for her tall and strong (but unbendy) daughter to find a passion she was better suited to.
One thing I’ve realised throughout all my kids’ passions, though, is to trust that – even when my daughter spent six months watching Disney Channel sitcoms in every spare moment – they’re learning what they need to learn .
Sometimes the best character training comes from the unlikeliest activities.
More about homeschooling
Navigating By Joy – My homeschooling blog, filled with fun educational activities and our homeschooling story over the last seven years.
* * *
Do you homeschool? What do you wish you’d known when your kids first left school?
If you’re considering homeschooling, what are you most anxious about?
I’d love to hear from you!
To subscribe to my regular posts about life in an intense and sensitive family, leave your email in the Follow By Email box below. You can also follow Laugh Love Learn on Facebook.
* * *
To read more posts about transitioning between public school and homeschool, visit these great GHF bloggers.