Thursday, February 15, 2018

Our Homeschooling Adventure

I'm dusting off the trusty old blog to attempt to give a brief but sincere answer to those who have asked me for homeschooling advice. A lot of you don't know about my rule: I don't give parenting advice. Why? Well, when people ask for parenting advice, they are usually really wanting to vent, express frustration, or seek confirmation of what they already plan to do. The hard observations are usually not welcome. So it's awkward when (mostly) mom friends ask me why I chose to homeschool and if I recommend that THEY homeschool.  That might be beyond my scope, and it's definitely beyond my role in their lives. So: I'll give a couple of insights, and not much more than that. 

1. I've been kicked out of some homeschooling conversations because I'm not technically, it seems, a true homeschooler in some folks' minds. My kids technically attend an online charter school. I think complete homeschooling with your own curriculum or one you've purchased is valid, but I did not feel qualified to do that, not at this point. True, I am a teacher by trade, and I have a Masters degree, but that degree is in English, and outside of my facility for language and my theological studies, I don't really have enough of a background in any other discipline to teach anyone else. At least that is how I perceive myself for now, and that is the ideal, so if I had to do it all myself, could I? Yes, but to me, that wouldn't be the ideal. An online school is free [to me] (paid for by my taxes, the money that would and has been going to my public school district, the one I've never used), supplies computers, phones, and curriculum, and gives us access to several degreed and certified teachers with content knowledge across the spectrum. We still have the flexibility of homeschooling, but we have the structure of a brick and mortar school curriculum, and my kids aren't engaging with only me all day every day. Choosing an online school involves a LOT of research. Recently one of Ohio's online schools, eCot, had to close down midyear  and THAT is a bummer for the students who were nearing graduation, and a huge headache for their parents. Look for an online school that pays its teachers well, offers flexibility of schedule, is transparent about curriculum, has been around for a few years, and has a proven record of playing nice with the government. That will matter. 

2. To find out about homeschooling, don't *just* ask homeschoolers. But DO at least ask *some* homeschoolers! Homeschoolers are a wonderful bunch; I can tell you that without reservation. And they are very diverse! More and more people are getting turned on to alternative education systems, whether it's because of a child being bullied, an unsafe school, concerns about indoctrination, or simply a desire to give their kids a "free-er" childhood. 

3. This one is important: when you ask for advice about homeschooling/unschooling/online schooling, or any alternative to traditional brick and mortal public or parochial school, please please PLEASE gently filter out people who do not share your essential goals and values. I'm nonplussed by mamas who fret about advice and criticism coming from folks who have an entirely dissimilar idea of what childhood should look like and entirely different goals for what kind of adults they want their kids to be! These are not the people to ask about educational choices: you can ask them about finances, food, clothing, vacation spots, skincare, or the price of tea in China, but WHY on earth would you ask someone for parenting advice whose basic core values and goals for their family are opposed to yours? Don't do that. Also, filter out the reasons that are eliminated by the most rudimentary research into homeschooling. These emotional and uninformed responses will be three. Ready? a. your kid will turn out to be a __________. b. #socialization!!! and c. how does this get them ready for the "real world?" (whatever that is). When you hear these, smile and nod like someone is giving you an intriguing potato salad recipe. Then move on to someone else. 

4. Two benefits I've seen already from homeschooling (and mind you, I haven't even been doing this for a full academic year yet!) are the closer and better observation of the material my kids are studying and a closer and better observation of MY KIDS. Truly. I thought I knew my kids pretty well; I'm a stay at home mom, and I don't have many interests and obligations that take me away from my kids, never have. So I thought I knew a bunch about them, and I did, but there is a whole other layer that I have only gotten to see and know by being around them while they are "doing school." 

5. Homeschooling is not about you. What I mean to say is that it's not a panacea for your problems or your kids' problems, for that matter, but especially not for yours. I waited a few years after my initial epiphany about homeschooling to actually implement it because I didn't want to do it for the wrong reasons, like missing them during the day, or being afraid my son's asthma would flare up while he was at school.  Those could be factors, but I don't like to decide things from a place of emotion.  That's never a good idea. Don't do that. I'll give you an example from my own life: I have had some anxiety issues since about 2005 when my mom was diagnosed with cancer. Now, some would think that my anxiety and worries about my kids would decrease by having them home under my watchful eye. But it doesn't work that way. It's not about me. The fact is that now I can listen to every cough and worry about it! So if I had started my homeschooling adventure laboring under the belief that this would be a partial solution to my anxiety, I would be disappointed and THAT would come through to my "students," my kids. 

6. Sometimes you need to ask yourself not WHY should I do this, but WHY NOT? Really. And that's all there is to point number six.  

7. Before I started my research into alternative educational plans for my kids, I had to orient myself with a mission statement of sorts.  I suggest you do the same. What do you want your kids to learn? What are the priorities? After reading the book How to Hold on to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers by Dr. Gordon Neufeld and Dr. Gabor Mate, it all started crystallizing for me. But it took me three years after that to really know this was the right move, and it took *really* answering the question above. I want my kids to learn about the triune God and His Church. I want my kids to learn how to think. I want my kids to question axioms, popular culture  and people. I want my kids to look at what works empirically and through the lens of the natural law, but also look at the supernatural. I want my kids to be qualified to recognize, resist, and refute logical fallacies in written form, in the media, from a journalist, or from a friend. I want my kids to be confident in their identity as a child of God. I want my kids to pursue Jesus, pursue their personal goals, be good stewards of their gifts and talents, be kind to others, and be close to each other. I want my kids to mature at a healthy pace. I want my kids to be willing and able to express themselves freely and WELL. I want my kids to be saints.