Are you considering homeschooling your child? Are you somewhat clueless where to even start? Are you going through one heck of an internal struggle and self-doubt worrying about your child’s future?
Almost nine months ago, we (my husband and I) were in the same boat when our son kept saying “No school” every single morning after almost two years of struggling to adjust. It was not easy seeing the world from his perspective. After all, both I and my husband went to conventional schools! But we finally heard what he had been trying to tell us for a really, really long time “I like my ma’am, I like my friends, but I don’t like school.”
Neither his teachers, not his friends were the cause of his dislike for school. He disliked school because it was not tuned to his individual learning needs. He disliked school because he was a square peg being forced to fit into a circle hole. And sadly, the best private schools within a ten-mile radius of our home all posed the same challenge.
Of course, I get it. Both my parents are retired teachers and I have seen the other side of the coin too. Overworked, poorly paid teachers can do only as much through their sheer hard work, will-powers and genuine love for the children. Forced to follow a rigid curriculum with very little flexibility and crooked student-teacher ratios, they do the best they can. But sometimes, their best is not enough for the children in question.
And that is exactly when parents are faced with the dilemma of whether to pull their children from conventional schools or keep struggling and hoping that the children will eventually adjust. We pulled the plug on formal education after struggling for almost two school years. We started homeschooling as an experiment with absolutely no clue where we were headed.
Nine months down the line, our son’s statement has remained intact and so we have decided to continue homeschooling for the next year too. During this time, we have gained some insights into the whole homeschooling gig. And so, if you are just about to embark on this eye-opening journey and begin homeschooling your child, here are some things you need to know beforehand:
1. Is your child’s temperament conducive to a homeschooling environment?
First things first. Some children thrive in school settings and love learning with their peers in a group. Then there are some others who learn better in the quieter homeschooling environment.
In short, your child’s temperament is the determining factor of whether your homeschooling experiment will be a success or a complete disaster. If your child looks forward to going to school (except for few occasional slumps, probably after school breaks) and in general, can’t stop talking about his class activities and school, perhaps homeschooling is not the right fit for your child. On the other hand, if he prefers staying home and has to be dragged to school ninety-nine percent of the times, then there should be no doubt as to where he belongs.
2. Are you comfortable spending extended hours with your child without a break?
The second most important thing to remember about homeschooling is that it is not just about your child. It is also about you, who will have to become his primary teacher. This means you will not only have to increase your patience levels many times over but also make-do with almost zero break time. Are you prepared for that kind of commitment?
Even when children are going to school, they can be very exhausting with their unbound energy. Homeschooling can make that even more pronounced and burn you out if you are not careful and have not planned beforehand for weekly recuperating sessions for yourself. It could be simply staying home and letting your spouse take over the primary caregiver duties for the weekends or going out with your friends. Whatever works for you is fine!
3. What are the homeschooling laws in your state/country?
Once you have answered the two big questions above in favor of homeschooling, then comes the practical challenges. What are the homeschooling laws on your part of the world? Is it legal? Is there some specific curriculum you need to follow or some audit that needs to be done before you can homeschool? You must find the answer to these questions before becoming a homeschooling family.
For us, in India, the laws are a little hazy and open to interpretation. But the crux seems to be that as long as the child is getting an education (under the Right To Education Act), it does not matter whether it’s at home or at school.
Additional Resources For Indian Parents:
4. What homeschooling method (or a combination) will you adopt?
Once you have established the legalities of homeschooling in your part of the world, next comes the implementation. What homeschooling method (or a combination) will you adopt? Depending on your child’s temperament and the way he learns best, you may choose Traditional or Montessori or Unschooling or a combination of the different types that there are. Maybe you will create your own method customized to your child’s particular case. In any event, it doesn’t hurt to know beforehand about the existing methods and learn from the people who have tread this path before you.
5. What are your goals from homeschooling?
It helps to remember the core reasons why you opted for homeschooling in the first place and what are your goals from homeschooling moving forward. Because believe me, once you start, there will be many occasions when you will question yourself and circulate back to the beginning wondering why you even went for it!
For us, it was to give our son a chance to be himself and learn at a pace he was comfortable with, without needing to conform to the pace of his peers. He likes to self-learn by doing hands-on experiments and playing games related to the concept. When he is invested in a subject, he likes to dig very deep. For example, last year and the year before, it was all about astronomy. Right now, he is into Geography – maps in particular – and pesters me all day long to show him places on the globe. He has shortlisted Siberia (Really, kid?!) and the (north) Pacific ocean as the places he wants to visit (I could go to Hawaii!). So, currently, we are exploring and learning more about these places in addition to his usual subjects. All this could not be possible in a school setting because frankly, the teacher would go crazy if he/she has to entertain the likes and dislikes of 25+ odd students. Enough said!
6. What teaching aids, resources will you use?
Yes, talking about teaching aids – Would you buy a homeschooling curriculum online or create your own? What activity sheets, practice books etc. will you peruse? Which field trips will you take? And many such questions.
For us, since our son is only five, it is still very spur-of-the-moment free-flowing kind of school. I use practice books etc. that are readily available in bookstores or create my own. Sometimes I print out a few activity sheets online. Field trips are basically any and every time we step outside the house. It’s so exciting being a small child, everything is so worth exploring! 🙂
But as our son is progressing towards his next grade, we are thinking that perhaps it is time for a more serious approach towards his education, especially the things he doesn’t like doing much like handwriting.
7. How will you take care of your child’s socialization needs?
One of the biggest criticisms against homeschooling is that children need peer interactions and they don’t get it much when homeschooled. And this makes them socially awkward.
Anyone who has met our son will know instantaneously how wrong this preconceived notion is. Being outgoing is more about a child’s nature than about whether he is homeschooled or not.
Having said that, however, it is important for us, the parents to ensure that our children get enough exposure to their peers on daily basis. This is because learning the social etiquettes is an important part of wholesome education. So, yes, you will need to make sure that the child’s socialization needs are met regularly, be it in the playgrounds, music classes or swimming lessons.
For us, being in India, it comes rather easy. Between our relatives and our extended families, we have more children than I can count on my fingers. And our son gets plenty of playtime with his friends and cousins.
8. How will you handle questions from non-homeschoolers?
“Which school do you go to? What grade do you study in?”
This is probably one of the top three questions for breaking the ice with a child. There is nothing wrong with this question. Except that every time our son gets asked this question by friends and strangers alike, he promptly replies “I don’t go to school. I don’t like school.” and clamps down.
And we, his parents, fumble for words to explain the situation, after which my husband takes over and says “He doesn’t go to school. He is being homeschooled.” while I keep looking on uneasily.
This is followed by an obvious look of disbelief and then perhaps a “Why?“.
I am sure this scene has played similarly with many homeschooling families. It’s not easy going against common belief. I tend to get defensive about our choice to homeschool, but as my husband rightly pointed out some time back “It’s not a matter of debate. It’s just about what you as a family think is the best option for your child.” Case closed.
9. What is your exit strategy?
There are many pros for homeschooling, but between you and me, if our son had settled into his class happily, we’d have never chosen this route. Frankly, which stay-at-home mom doesn’t want a little break from her children? 😉
When we started homeschooling nine months ago, it was for a short time, until we figured out a better schooling option for him. But now, we are confidently extending it for another school year. We will see from there how it goes.
What I am trying to say here is that homeschooling may be tremendously beneficial for the child in question but it does take a toll on the parent in charge of teaching. So, maybe, at the end of the next school year, I may get so drained that I may not wish to continue another year. Or maybe, our son would want to go to school like his friends and cousins (who knows!). So yes, you need to have an exit strategy if you ever need one.
For us, the exit strategy is that we already have a shortlist of schools which we believe matches our son’s temperament. Again, we keep information handy as to the kind of entrance exams that may be needed if he ever decides to go back to school.
We are still very new at this whole homeschooling gig. But what we have learned in these nine months is valuable.
True Story: Until recently, I was freaking out (internally…I always freak out internally!) that our son will never communicate in Hindi. But he surprised us a month ago by showing a complete understanding of the language! He speaks in Hindi only when he feels like it. Although he is not as fluent as in English, he is getting there. And he understands Bengali too, even though he can’t speak it yet.
And why am I bragging about this? Well, because one of the lessons that we have learned in these past nine months is that you cannot rush education (You are allowed to freak out all you want, but you cannot rush it!). Children learn when they are good and ready. And once they are ready, they will learn. And when you are the one taking this journey of learning with them, it becomes doubly exciting and awe-inspiring.
Now that you know, are you ready to take this leap of faith and dive in?
Over To You
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