Homeschooling 101: Where Should You Start?

Family Matters on 08.31.11

Photo: albertogp123/Creative Commons 

So, you’ve made the decision to homeschool? Congratulations! Now, take a deep breath. I know what you are feeling: Sheer panic! And you're probably asking yourself a million questions: Am I making the right decision? What curriculum do I need? What will my friends/family think when I tell them? What if I don’t do a good job?

Like I said, take a deep breath. (Seriously, do it.)

Then you'll realize that these feelings are familiar. A few years ago, when I first found out I was pregnant. I cried. Don’t get me wrong, I was happy, but I was also so scared. Was I making the right decision? What baby stuff would I need? What would my friends/family think? What if I didn’t do a good job?

Forget the Manual

When I was first considering homeschooling, I just wanted someone to say, “Hey Alex, here’s a manual on exactly the way in which you should homeschool. Your days will run smoothly, your kids will hang on your every word, and at the end of it all, they will kiss you on your cheek as they drive off for their first year at Harvard.” Do I even need to say that's not what happened?

Your kids didn’t show up with an instruction manual, and they are doing just fine. And honestly, no one person or one book can tell you exactly what will work for your family -- not in terms of newborn sleep schedules, or discipline, or education. Since no two kids are the same, no two homeschools are exactly the same either. (You will have to choose from one of the many different homeschooling styles, and decide which curriculum you will follow -- if any -- but that’s really step two.)

The First Step: Coming Out as a Homeschooler

So where should you start? I said it out loud. “Hi, my name is Alex, and my kids are homeschooled.” Do this -- with your own name -- until it sounds natural and you don’t cringe. It may take a while.

Next, you need to understand that not everyone will think you are making the “right” decision, and you need to be okay with that. Most people just don’t know a whole lot about homeschooling, and so they will make comments or ask very pointed questions that you may or may not have answers to. You are not on trial, and you don’t need to get argumentative over why you are choosing to homeschool. However, it is extremely helpful if you can come up with answers to the most common questions so that you don’t feel caught off guard.

Two weeks before we started telling people, I came up with a “script” of what I was going to say when asked about homeschooling. I did this for two reasons: First, so that I didn’t come off as arrogant. I don’t think I am better than other parents who send their kids to traditional school, so I wanted to be careful not to let my passion for educating my kids at home be misconstrued as a bash to the public education system.

The second reason I wrote a script was so that I could present our decision to homeschool in a clear and concise manner. If you become long-winded or “preachy”, you will most certainly be perceived as judgemental and give homeschooling a bad name. And since you may be the first person your friend or family member has ever met who is homeschooling, you should choose your words carefully.

A Sample Script

Here is an example of a typical conversation I practiced -- and then had, many times: 

Me: “Hey, did I tell you that we decided to homeschool Lia?”

Friend: “Really? Wow, why would you want to do that?”

Me: “It’s funny you should ask that, because I was just as skeptical when I was first considering it. I was like, 'Me, homeschool? No way!' But then I started really looking into it, you know, talking with kids who are or were homeschooled, reading books, and doing a whole lot of soul searching. It started to make a lot of sense for me and my family.”

Friend: “But how will you be sure she learns everything the kids are learning in school?”

Me: “There are loads of resources on the Internet and in the library that give me guidelines for what kids should be learning from year to year. I will certainly use these guidelines as we go about our year, so she won't be behind.”

Friend: “Yeah, but what about socialization?”

Me: “Good question!" (Although, really, it's not.) "Our typical day is full of opportunities for her to be around other kids and adults. We are always out and about, at the library, museum, park, or store, where we either meet with friends or make new ones. Plus, we joined a homeschooling group, and go with the group on field trips or other fun events when all the other kids are at school. Besides, she will still go to all our normal after-school activities, like dance and gymnastics. You know how fast the day flies by, before you know it the kids are home from school.”

Friend: “What about when your kids get older? You are going to send them to school then, aren’t you?”

Me: “We plan on going year by year. If at any point it stops working for me or for the kids, then we will reevaluate.”

Use your own experience to write your script: Try to remember all your hesitations or questions about homeschooling and write them down. (This may not be too difficult, because you may still be working through them, like I am.) Look in books, talk to other homeschoolers, and just take some time to think. The decision to homeschool may make you panic at first, but when you can confidently answer the questions that are bound to come your way, you will have calmed your own fears -- and you will be one step closer to creating the school that's right for your kids.

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