This text excerpt originally appeared in the Davidson Gifted Guidebook, Considering Homeschooling: A Guidebook for Investigating an Alternative Path to Education (PDF).
The Joys and Struggles
As a homeschooling parent, you are you will be in the unique position of witnessing and cultivating your child’s education. Having the opportunity to watch your student learn and absorb new concepts is described by many parents as a primary reward of homeschooling. However, children may not always be interested and ready to learn. It can be disheartening when your child’s enthusiasm does not match yours, and you may feel guilty when they do not understand a concept or when you are not as prepared as you would like to be. At the same time, however, time spent learning with your child allows you to see new talents or interests as your child develops. Likewise, it also offers quick insight into any new learning differences that may emerge as your child experiences intellectual challenge, possibly for the first time.
Whether you choose homeschooling as a rescue from an unacceptable learning environment or simply because you believe a home education is the best fit for your student, as a parent you have to want to homeschool. Teaching will inevitably be smoothest when you maintain a positive attitude and sense of adventure as you optimize your child’s education. While maintaining general guidelines, parents can teach a broad set of topics, especially those that interest and engage their children. Because homeschooling offers a one-on-one relationship between the teacher and the student, there is little wasted time.
Things to Expect and Common Concerns
When deciding whether homeschooling is right for you and your student, it is normal to experience some anxiety. You may wonder if you could really teach your child and if you can provide a good education for them. If this sounds familiar, just remember: as a parent you are already your child’s primary teacher; the content you will be teaching is just different from what you already teach them.
Particularly if your child is profoundly gifted, you may already feel that they will move faster than you. Equally intimidating, may be the reality that your child is relying on you to guide their learning by introduce new information that simultaneously satisfies not only legal requirements but also the student’s learning style and interests.
To understand what to teach your child from year to year, collaborate with others in a homeschooling network, conduct online research and follow your child’s interests. Knowing exactly how to introduce and then assess for understanding of new content poses a challenge for many homeschooling parents. Many utilize flexibility and resourcefulness to provide appropriate content, such as creating new approaches to introduce concepts in unconventional settings and ways. Learning about and ultimately incorporating unconventional resources can make challenging topics fun.
As the parent and educator, you are filling two important roles and in all likelihood may need some support, even just someone to act as a sounding board for ideas and dilemmas. Many homeschooling families find support by networking through homeschooling cooperatives. Larger homeschool gatherings such as conventions and seminars offer a chance to not only connect with other homeschooling families, but also learn from experts in the field of home education and find new resources.
Many times, people have strong opinions about homeschooling. You may have already experienced some of the strong responses that the idea of teaching a child at home can elicit. Some may even challenge your decision to educate your child at home. In such situations, just remember that the amount of information you share with others about your child’s education is your choice. Depending on the circumstances, you may find that a simple response, such as “Learning at home is simply the best fit for my child at this time” is an effective, non-reactionary reply. In the case of the dubious critic, it may be more helpful for you to concisely speak to why homeschooling works well for your family, rather than attempt to change their opinion. In whichever way you choose to address such situations, confidence in your curriculum and the benefits to your student will prepare you.
Organization is Key
Chief among characteristics of successful and happy homeschooling families may be organization. Not only will a sense of organization help your child learn effectively and efficiently, but having a framework in place smooths transitions should you encounter periodic diversions. Bear in mind that even if your approach to homeschooling does not entail you doing any actual teaching or transportation of your student, provisions must still be made for supervision of your student as well as any documentation or assessment that may be required by your school district or state Department of Education. It is a fact that time management and simple planning have much to do with being an organized parent-educator.
A common concern among new homeschooling families is that it will be too time consuming. With some advanced planning, however, many families find that educating their children at home offers more flexibility, free time and satisfaction than anticipated. Veteran homeschoolers advise reserving time in your day and week to structure your schedule.
Planning family activities is one thing and planning for learning is another. Reserve time daily and weekly to look ahead to the upcoming content and determine how you will introduce new concepts or schedule other schoolwork. This preparation will give you the confidence that you will be ready to teach when the time comes. Having a game plan in place allows the flexibility in pace, rigor, and structure that many families appreciate about homeschooling, and allows for a smoother teaching and learning experience.
In thinking about your approach, do not overlook some important non-academic considerations. In your weekly schedule, remember to reserve time for administrative tasks such as recording grades, photocopying or locating resources. While a disorganized home may be the reality of many families, even reserving a day each week for deep-cleaning and some daily time for a quick pick-up around the house can help ensure an environment that is consistently conducive to learning.
Another organizational facet to keep in mind is the importance of recordkeeping. The sooner you begin tracking and filing your student’s records, the better. This tracking includes any transcripts that your student may have from college or high school courses they have taken, and keeping a detailed log of home coursework (i.e. curricula, books used, work samples) for ease in preparing your own course descriptions and transcripts.
Finally, schedule some independent work and alone time for yourself and your student. Not only does this allow your child to develop necessary independence, it also offers a welcome break. As a homeschooling parent, your relationship with your child is one of the many things you must balance; the parent and child relationship must come first. Many families find that some time away from each other during the day allows both student and teacher time to refresh and refocus during the school day, provides a much-needed mental break, and reinvigorates the learning relationship. Likewise, teaching and learning at home should not come at the expense of pursuing personal interests and hobbies. By building time into the learning schedule many homeschooling families easily accommodate both.
As your homeschooling journey continues, you will likely encounter some popular homeschooling myths. Some of the common myths about homeschooling are discussed in the following bullets:
- Homeschooling is a last resort – Instead of homeschooling being viewed as a solution to an unpleasant dilemma, in reality most families choose homeschooling for the flexibility, pace and quality of instruction. In the event that homeschooling is something of a last resort, the parent’s attitude regarding their role has an impact on the student. Home educators who show their frustration with and distaste for their role as a teacher can cause their homeschooled student to feel as though their unique talents or abilities are more of a burden than a gift. Young people who feel their family has resorted to homeschooling out of desperation may start to feel guilty about the additional time and expense their education demands of the family.
- My child will become socially awkward – Homeschooling is socially more similar to “real life” than traditional school settings. After all, not all homeschoolers of the same age are at the same place academically. Allowing your student to interact with those of different ages and backgrounds offers opportunities to learn about the world around them. Homeschooling educators should not confine school hours to home. Provide opportunities to delve into various interests while interacting in a constructive way, including formative activities such as community service, attending homeschool groups or co-ops, community extra-curricular activities such as club sports or scouting, or even allowing your homeschooled student to tutor others. Homeschooling does not have to equate to not socializing, but it may mean not socializing exclusively with same-age peers.
- Homeschooling is too expensive – As in many cases, cost is relative. Clearly, there will be some costs associated with teaching a child at home. Does homeschooling cost more or less than the true cost of the next-best alternative available to you? Cost will have much to do with how you choose to meet your child’s specific needs and interests, and will likely be affected by available community and homeschooling resources. Some state that homeschooling may be effectively accomplished for a few hundred dollars per year. Also, keep in mind economies of scale meaning if you are homeschooling more than one child, as each child uses a piece of equipment or text, the cost per child decreases. Some additional cost-saving strategies include:
- Teach or volunteer at a homeschool co-op in exchange for reduced tuition/fees.
- Avail yourself of public libraries.
- Talk with area homeschool families to offer academic and non-academic content, and to plan group field trips.
- Research free content online, from instructional websites such as Khan Academy, Open Courseware from major universities, to full online curricula offered by public school districts or online private school providers. 5. Draw on community organizations such as 4-H, Scouts, youth sports and churches for extra-curricular and fitness activities.
- I have to do it by myself – No amount of training would prepare you to teach your child in every subject at every level. It is normal to incorporate outside resources into your curriculum when homeschooling. Video courses, online content providers, universities’ Open Courseware and co-ops are all options for complementing your instruction. While homeschool groups may have an academic focus, the variety of activities homeschool groups sponsor is limitless, ranging from cake decorating to mystery writing and entrepreneurship. It is important to find such an organization that shares your values, facilitates connections with others and offers opportunities to learn new things. To understand how to pace your instruction, lists of what students should be accomplishing year-by-year or level-by-level are available online. Likewise, the HSLDA offers free information on their website bout your rights as a homeschooling family as well as resources and ideas related to the logistics and record-keeping aspects of teaching at home.
- Homeschoolers hold values I do not agree with – One of the primary advantages to homeschooling for many families is the ability to limit their student’s exposure to culturally popular, religious or philosophical ideas with which they do not agree. Everyone has different values and there is no one right way to homeschool. However, given the growing popularity of homeschooling, it is likely that you might find like-minded homeschoolers locally. If you are considering partnering with other homeschool families or joining a homeschool co-op, attend the meetings of a few different organizations prior to joining so you can determine the best fit.
- Homeschooling will not work with my schedule – One of the great advantages of educating a child at home is the flexibility it offers. Considering the infinite possible combinations of online options, prepared curricula, outside activities (such as youth league sports, robotics clubs, community theater, etc.) and the fact that there are few restrictions as to when course content must be delivered, many families find that homeschooling quickly becomes a natural fit with their routine. However, limiting students to a certain number of outside activities can protect instruction time. Ultimately, your student’s learning schedule depends on your preferences and the resources you choose to use.
- I cannot handle being with my child for eight hours every day – For some families, spending so much time together may be neither attractive nor feasible, but there will likely be opportunities for breaks. Allowing your child to work independently for periods of time helps them develop individual interests, discover personal strengths, and learn what their weaknesses might be. Time alone can be time well spent. Follow your child’s lead to balance independent work with assessment and discussion while gauging their comprehension. As a parent you likely already appreciate that gifted young people can sometimes push the limits, so patience is key. Reminding yourself and teaching your children about humility, kindness and patience will go a long way towards helping everyone understand each other’s quirks and accepting their idiosyncrasies.