Questions and Answers about homeschooling
Questions and answers about homeschooling. I homeschooled my children for 20 years. Here are some answers to the most commonly asked questions over the years.
Question: What about socialization?
Answer: This is the number one question I was asked as a homeschooling parent, and it is a valid concern. A child can be homeschooled and be well adjusted socially. However, I’ve seen a lot of homeschooled kids who struggle fitting in socially. Friendships, belonging, and learning how to interact appropriately with other people are vital to a person’s social and emotional well-being. However, changing who you are in order to be popular and fit in socially can be self destructive. I love the advice Charity gave to P.T. Barnum in The Greatest Showman.
“You don’t need everyone to love you, just a few good people.” -Charity Barnum
Homeschooling can create a positive foundation for a child if he or she feels loved by a few good people without the pressure of trying to be loved by everyone. Yet, at some time in the child’s life, he or she needs to be capable of interacting with the world in general.
Homeschooling parents bear the responsibility to seek out social opportunities for their children. For our situation we had frequent interaction with cousins and extended family, the children regularly participated in church sponsored activities such as scouts and activity days, we enrolled the children in sports and extracurricular activities, and we always participated in a homeschool group or co-op. The children had frequent interactions with other children their age and opportunities to be taught by other adults besides their parents.
Some social experiences can’t be duplicated at home
We chose to homeschool from first grade through middle school and then encouraged the kids to attend high school. We personally felt that there are social experiences, dances, clubs, sports, student government leadership opportunities, etc. that we could not duplicate at home. Homeschooling in the early years gave the children a chance to gain a solid personal foundation from which to build.
There is definitely an adjustment in the transition from homeschool to public school (or to life for that matter), but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If the child has a firm foundation and high self confidence, he or she will make the adjustment successfully if given enough time and space. My kids each struggled with the change, but used that struggle to grow and progress and eventually succeed.
One child chose to compete on a fencing team, graduate early (age 16), and spoke at graduation as school salutatorian. Another participated in music, drama, and student government. As student body president, she advocated to raise awareness and create a zero tolerance atmosphere for bullying. She made a difference. Another child chose to earn her pilot license and college associate degree before graduating high school. One child chose to compete in wrestling and was selected as a Sterling Scholar. Another child chose to participate in orchestra and art. They were able to successfully adjust both socially and academically. And now as adults, they’re each capable, kind, compassionate individuals who contribute to society in beneficial ways. Please see the “About us” page to see how they turned out.
Question: What will the neighbors think?
Answer: When I started homeschooling, it was not as popular as it is today. I was nervous about what the neighbors would think, but it all turned out okay. Yes, there were a few who judged and condemned, but not very many. Usually the comment I heard was, “Oh you homeschool your kids? I could never do that.”
And I responded by saying, “Isn’t it wonderful that you don’t have to? Isn’t it wonderful that there’s more than one right way to do things?”
As soon as my neighbors realized that I was not judging or condemning them for their educational choices for their children, they relaxed and accepted my choice. We weren’t competing and there was no need for defensiveness.
I have a friend who also homeschooled her children, she made a comment to me one day, “I don’t know what it is about me, but people are so defensive about schooling around me.” I knew the answer; I could feel the defensiveness emanating from her body and I’m sure the other people she talked to could feel it too. That reflexively causes others to raise their defenses and maybe even go on the attack. No one wins in that situation, but if the neighbors feel like you accept them, then usually they reciprocate. Just relax and trust yourself and allow other people to make their own decisions.
Question: What are the legal requirements for homeschooling?
Answer: It varies with different locations. I live in Utah; I had to fill out an exemption form from the state’s department of education. Part of the form was an agreement to make sure you cover required subjects and meet the time commitment requirements. I had to fill out a new form each new school year. It wasn’t difficult. It is the parents’ responsibility to make sure the legal requirements are met. I would recommend doing a google search for legal requirements for homeschooling in your state.
Question: How do you know what to teach? How do you choose your curriculum? How do you know you’re meeting state requirements?
Answer: These are really three related questions that follow a similar theme and can be answered together. The answer may be frustrating or liberating to you depending on your personality. The answer is – it depends.
Several choices available
There are a variety of curriculum resources available to meet your individual circumstances ranging from very structured to a free form do-it-yourself variety. One resource called K12 online education is available to families by state and private schools worldwide. You can visit their website and enter your zip code to see what schools they have available in your area.
We did the K12 program for a few years and their content is excellent. They provide a high quality interactive curriculum that meets all state standards. Usually there is no cost to participate, because you register through a public school in your state. They cover the cost of the curriculum in exchange for your registration in their school which provides state tuition for them. The school we registered through in Utah also provided social and field trip opportunities, accountability/oversight, and testing.
Participating in a program like K12 takes a lot of the guesswork, stress, and planning out of homeschooling and provides security and structure for parents. This is an excellent answer for many families, but I can’t say it’s the universal answer.
For those who prefer more flexibility and control
For our family, although we did enjoy the K12 experience, it wasn’t a perfect match for our needs. We wanted more flexibility. I also have a child with some learning disabilities and test anxiety. The required testing created so much stress for this particular child that it marred the educational benefits and we needed to find another route.
We preferred to create our own curriculum covering the basics, but allowing as much flexibility and freedom as possible for the children to pursue their own interests. I’ll explain more in another post giving personal recommendations.
The bottom line is that there are a lot of options available, and there will be one or more that is a perfect match for your child(ren). If you want state testing, it is all available for homeschoolers. My personal opinion is that standardized testing is over-rated. It evaluates and measures the knowledge about a certain set of data; it does not measure intelligence and it does not teach anything. I believe more time should be spent learning and less time spent in measuring and evaluating. To use an analogy, I believe the cake will turn out better if you allow it to finish baking without opening the door to check on it all the time.
Question: What about accountability?
Answer: I have talked to many parents who contemplated homeschooling, but couldn’t imagine doing it on their own without having a qualified teacher checking up on them and the progress of their child. They wanted accountability for themselves and for their students. I have also talked to other parents who don’t want any institution checking on them to tell them what to do or how to do it. Different people have different opinions.
The answer to the accountability question relates back to the previous question about curriculum and state standards. There are a variety of options available that will hopefully meet your needs. Every state will require a basic level of accountability. Where I live, in Utah, that accountability came in the form of an annual exemption form and a contract to follow certain expectations. Beyond the basic requirements there are optional layers of accountability if that is desired. For those who want more oversight, enrolling in a program like K12 offers the resources of teachers who check the progress of students online as well as periodic phone calls to the home to check on the students. Enrolling in that program most likely will also require state testing. So if you want help being accountable, there are many resources available to give you that assistance.
For me, I preferred to trust myself to be accountable. I was working with my own children and I have a vested interest in their success. As a parent, I believe I care more deeply and intimately about my children than any governmental institution possibly could. I did not require or desire external oversight. In my case, I willingly followed the legal requirements, but kept it to the minimum essentials.
Question: What is the time commitment for homeschooling?
Answer: I considered it to be my full time job, just like the job of being a mom. I have friends who accomplished this while working full or part time and they arranged their schedules to make it work so it can be done, but I wouldn’t personally recommend it.
The time commitment might be different than you’re thinking however. We didn’t “play school” at home by trying to duplicate the schedules and rigidity of the public school system. We just lived life fully each day. Most of the time, I found it to be enriching and enjoyable. It wasn’t a sacrifice of time; it was an investment of time.
One thing that I believe is very important is an organizational system that lets the kids (and parents) know when school is “done” for the day. There’s more about that in the following question.
Question: How do you structure your time?
Answer: Again, there’s more than one right way to do this, and many wrong ways to do this. A structured routine is so helpful to get things done, but being overly rigid is a recipe for discontent. In our experience, the most pleasant and effective method was to have a structured framework and to allow flexibility within that framework. For example, you might have a time set aside for school, but allow flexibility on which subjects are studied or how they are studied.
I created a chart for each child with the expectations of what should be completed in a week. As the child finished an expectation they put a checkmark in the box. Some of the boxes were time based (for example: spend 30 minutes reading) and others were accomplishment based (for example: complete 1 math lesson).
Do the kids know when they’re done for the day?
After creating the chart of weekly expectations, then I counted the number of checkmarks needed to be completed in a week and divided that by the number of days in the week. Then I required that they complete that many check marks each day By the end of the week, everything was done, but the child had flexibility in which assignments to do each day. The important thing is to create a clear expectation of when school is “done” for the day so they can be free to play or do whatever they want. (For example one child might need to complete 40 tasks in a week, and that means that they needed to complete at least 8 each day before the school day is “done”, the number of expectations might vary by the child’s age).
The children were much happier when they had as much freedom and autonomy as they could handle. That doesn’t mean complete freedom, it is freedom within a structure that mom is okay with. Yes, there were times when a child had to do all 5 math lessons on Friday, but they quickly learned by experience that it was better to spread that out. If the child was in a mood for a super reading day and finished all the reading for the week in a single day; I was okay with that as long as the other things were completed sometime during the week. Yes, I had some children who sometimes didn’t finish school until bedtime and others who completed things early and had time to play. I just allowed the consequences to follow naturally and it was okay.
Prevent burnout with flexibility within a framework
Flexibility within a structured framework helps alleviate the potential problems of homeschool burnout and absolute chaos. I watched many homeschool families vacillate between being overly structured which makes everybody miserable and they have to take a break, which leads to anarchy and chaos, which is followed by guilt and super structure again which starts the cycle all over again.
There is a way to be consistently happy and still make progress. Really.
Question: I don’t think I’m smart enough to teach my children. Do I need to learn everything first?
Answer: The specific answer to the question “Do I need to learn everything first?” is “no,” however the question indicates a misunderstanding of the role of a teacher/mentor which needs to be addressed. There are different philosophies about how to teach. One is the analogy of a teapot (the teacher) filling little empty teacups (students). This viewpoint is limiting and sad. It sets a ceiling on the level that the student can achieve. They can’t progress beyond a watered down version of my knowledge and expertise.
Filling a teacup vs. lighting a flame
My preferred analogy of education is that of using one candle (the teacher/mentor) to light a second candle (the student). The role of the teacher/mentor is to light the fire of a love of learning and give the student the basic tools of reading, writing, and research so they can discover things on their own. You can learn alongside the student; you can also help the student find the resources or mentors that the child needs to progress in his or her personal interests. My kids can do all sorts of things that I could never teach them and I think that’s awesome. I don’t want to limit them. I want to launch them. To see how they’re doing as adults, please check out our “About us” page, “Art” page, “Home” page, or any of the content on this site.
Question: I think I could teach reading, but what about math?
Answer: For me personally, I love math and I loved teaching my kids math, so it wasn’t an issue, but I know that math is a stumbling block for a lot of people. To assist those who are nervous about teaching math, I’ve included free math resources on the homeschooling page.
Fortunately there are wonderful free online resources available for math even if you don’t remember how to do the basics. Khan academy is is like having a free in-home tutor. You can create an account and it walks your child through each concept/grade level progressively. It includes video instruction and practice problems. If you don’t understand something, you just watch the video again. The video never sounds flustered or upset if you need to hear it multiple times before it makes sense. Parents can even create their own account and do their “homework” alongside their children. Children learn best by example, and if they see that’s it’s valuable to you, it will be valuable to them.
Make math fun
I think math is more enjoyable when you make it fun, so there are resources for games, videos, and activities to teach basic math concepts like addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, place value, ratios and proportions, coordinate plane, prime factorization, fractions, mean, median and mode, order of operations, scientific notation, Pythagorean theorem, circles, graphs, and area.
I also think math feels more useful when it is integrated with stories, activities, and projects. I’ve included resources, enrichment activity ideas, and interesting stories about great mathematicians. I’ve also included a sample year-at-a-glance lesson plan which includes a schedule to integrate bookwork with games and enrichment activities.
There are many resources available to help you with any topic, including math.
Question: If I homeschooled, we’d drive each other crazy. How can you homeschool and still like your kids at the end of the day?
Answer: Excellent question, but it may have an unsatisfying answer. There is no guarantee that you’ll like each other at the end of the day when you homeschool. There is no guarantee that you’ll like each other at the end of the day if you don’t homeschool. However, there are some basic principles that are helpful in family relationships.
The first principle is being respectful. I’m assuming I’m talking to the parent which is good, because it really begins with you. When parents respect their children, they can feel it. When you show your child that you trust and respect them, they usually respond positively. Give specific, but reasonable expectations and trust that the child will follow them. Let the child know in advance the consequences of not meeting those expectations. The consequences need to be reasonable and something that you will actually follow through with. Have them return and report that they met those expectations and praise them. If they didn’t meet the expectations, then allow the consequence to happen and allow them to learn from their mistakes. Be consistent.
The second principle is forgiveness. Forgiveness isn’t just a “churchy” thing, it’s a relationship thing. Forgiveness means letting go and allowing people to move on without holding a grudge. We all make mistakes. Acknowledge it and let it go. Allow each day to begin with a clean fresh page.
The third principle is patience. Homeschooling takes patience. Parenting takes patience. Living around other human beings takes patience. Take several deep breaths. Count to 10 if you need to. Take a break if you need to. Then apply the second principle (forgiveness) and move on.
My kids and I still liked each other after the end of the day, in fact, we grew closer because of the experience. Please check out the home page to see how they’re doing now.
Question: Is there a right way to homeschool?
Answer: Yes and no. There are several right ways to homeschool. Don’t compare yourself with the neighbors. You’re doing it right if you’re happy, the kids are happy and they’re progressing.
Question: Is there a wrong way to homeschool?
Answer: Yes and no. There are several wrong ways to homeschool. If you’re miserable, the kids are miserable, and/or they’re not progressing then something is wrong. That doesn’t mean that you are a failure, it just means that you need to try something new.
Question: How do you homeschool when you have more than one child?
Answer: You adapt to your circumstances and you do the best you can. Each child needs one-on-one attention. Don’t feel guilty that the one-on-one time isn’t super long. One study indicated that children get less than 2 minutes of one-on-one time with their teacher each day in the public school system and really that’s just a guess since that’s not something that most studies measure. Anyway, don’t worry, just do the best you can.
We found it helpful to have some subjects that we did together as a family group (reading a story for example), some assignments that the children were expected to complete on their own (reading or research for example), and some assignments that I would work with them one-on-one (math for example). Kids want to be treated fairly, and if feels unfair to them they will act out. Using a timer and taking turns helps them feel like they are being treated fairly.
I made a spinner/dial with each child’s name on it and me in the center and rotated it throughout the day. If the spinner is pointing at Joseph, it’s his turn for 30 minutes of mom time. If they know that each child will get 30 minutes of mom time and their turn is coming, it’s easier to wait because they’re more likely to trust that I didn’t forget them. Otherwise they tend to think that they need to fight for a turn and then it quickly turns to chaos. Babies and toddlers aren’t going to understand, but again you just do the best you can and trust that it will all work out.