About a year ago David and I made the decision to pull the kids out of public school. The uncertainty and anxiety we felt over making that decision was palpable and even David took to referring to it as our “grand experiment”. Now, a year later I can’t imagine educating my children any other way. The number of homeschool parents who start at public school and then transition is growing but not enough of them are talking about the transition. As a result, here is a list of the things I wish somebody had told me a year ago.
1.) Public School Detox
As an adult you recognize that your children will need to adjust to the new school format but nobody says that as a parent you will too. It took us from August to December to “detox”. Early on I had a homeschool Mom tell me, “keep in mind that you aren’t doing school at home but you are homeschooling – those things are different”. We do not have subjects divided by times or spend hours on worksheets. Life skills and school skills are taught interchangeably and sometimes math looks like a really long visit to the grocery store where kids are calculating ounces and liters and per pound measurements. Sometimes social studies is a long discussion in the car regarding the welfare system while donating canned goods to the food bank. Sometimes English is a book club or reading a series of books together as a family. It takes a long time to release your grip and sense of security that reside in WORKSHEETS. When I realized that I wasn’t giving my kids any better education than the public school system because I was requiring WORKSHEETS every day I stopped in my tracks and changed course. Now our day is so much more engaging and eclectic and rewarding for everybody.
2.) Friendships Take Time
EVERYBODY will make you feel like a freak that you are homeschooling and that your children will be socially retarded because they aren’t surrounded by 16 other 8 year olds telling poop jokes. This pressure will make you frantically scramble for new friends and in the first couple of months they won’t be found and you will feel like a social leper. It took us a year but we have all met and made new friends. Homeschool families that have similar schedules, interests and senses of humor. And yes, perhaps it took a bit more effort than the hundreds of people who surround us during public school but it did happen. I wish I had more faith at the beginning of my journey that this would happen without me needing to worry about it (and before I forced myself and my children into a dozen awkward social situations).
3.) Dangers of Overbooking
Related to #2 you will fear that you aren’t providing enough interaction and enrichment and so you will commit to EVERYTHING. Do NOT do this. I suddenly realized around February that I had booked at least one activity every day of the week and I began to long for days where we could just stay home and do school work. My advice is to designate two or three days and call those “activity days” and that is when music lessons, speech classes, tutoring, Co-op or whatever takes place. I’m comforted in knowing that even well seasoned home schoolers still struggle with this very thing.
On the flip side, try EVERYTHING. There are so many great opportunities for lessons and co-ops and clubs and we tried a lot of different things this year. Some of them worked great like book club and others did not like Lego club. We have loved our co-op experience but there are some homeschool groups I don’t think we will join again.
I mentally set goals for each of the kids. Things I wanted to make sure they accomplished before the end of the year. It was nice to think, “well, I wanted to make sure we accomplished these 4 things, and we did”. I wanted Max to improve his handwriting, his reading skills, learn to tie his shoes, ride a bike and learn his multiplication tables and he did. He accomplished all of those things. There was other stuff we accomplished too but to know that the key things were met made me feel like we stayed on track.
5.) Keep Reading and Reaching
There were lots of times this year that I felt like a failure. I suspect that feeling won’t ever go away, but it was nice to have other moms, homeschool families, books and educators encouraging me along the way. On good days, or times when we had breakthroughs, I would mark them down and celebrate them so I didn’t let them go unnoticed. Keep looking for those places of encouragement because you will need to go back to that well again and again. Sometimes the perfect book or article or even FB post was enough to help me face another day.
I can’t believe we only have six weeks left in our school year. I don’t know exactly when we will stop because I’m not sure when I will feel like we’re done, and perhaps we will continue to do some school things right on through the summer. After all we’re trying to create life long learners and learning doesn’t stop happening just because it is warm outside.