Jennifer Kaufeld has nearly three decades of homeschooling experience. She is a regular speaker at state and regional homeschooling and education conferences, and frequently contributes expert advice to several communities on Facebook and elsewhere online.
Answering the Big Questions
IN THIS CHAPTER
Thinking about homeschooling
Knowing it all - or not?
Affording the adventure
Schooling as long as you like
What about socialization?
Perhaps you just found out that your best friend intends to homeschool his children next year, and you want to know more. Maybe you're thinking of pulling your children out of the local school and want to know about your options. You may be a veteran homeschooler who always taught from the textbooks and now want to add different subjects or unique learning opportunities into your day. Maybe you've heard one particular term over and over, such as "unschooling," and want to know more about it.
Whatever your reasons for picking up this book, start here if you want to begin at the beginning. This chapter answers those big questions that are uppermost in almost every new homeschooler's mind, including a discussion about that elephant in the room, socialization. Find a comfortable chair, settle in, and begin your journey into the world of home education.
Getting to This Point
Stunned, you look up one morning over your cup of coffee. How did you get from being a perfectly happy public or private school parent to someone contemplating homeschooling? When did the feeling begin to dawn on you that you weren't ready to send your bundle of preschool joy out into the school world, and you also aren't entirely sure he's ready to go, either?
You may be tired of spending four hours on homework after your child returns from a full day at school. Reteaching the skills at night to a child who passed the daytime hours at school is exhausting and frustrating for both you and your child. You're both tired, you want to get the work done and out of the way, and you may even quietly resent the intrusion into what used to be your family time.
Maybe the escalated violence in elementary, middle, and high schools worries you. You hear reports of guns and knives in school, police patrolling the halls, and you want to ensure (as best as you can) that your children remain safe. Or violence may have already touched your community, and you feel the need to react in a positive way while you still have time.
Perhaps you see your family values, traditions, or religious beliefs lessening as your child spends more and more time in an institutional setting, and this bothers you. Children function best from a strong foundation, which is hard to build when they spend six to eight hours per day outside a parent's care while they're still young. Parents see amazing changes even after bringing high school students into homeschooling from a troubled school setting, but building the foundation when they're young is easiest. In this case, homeschooling builds (or rebuilds) strong families, which in turn provides balanced adults for society.
Your child's lack of academic progress may concern you. As every parent knows, each child develops in her own time and in her own way. School materials are designed for the mythical middle-of-the-road child who learns certain skills at certain times. If your child fits outside the mold, she may fall behind in classes or show signs of stress. Pulling this child out of public or private school and teaching her at home takes the pressure off and allows you to spend as much time as necessary working through specific subjects or skills.
Perhaps family work or activity schedules clash irreparably with school schedules. Although not the most common reason for homeschooling, this is certainly as valid as any of the others. If one parent travels several months of the year or a family business or passion, such as stage or athletic performing skews your weekly schedule, then homeschooling may prove to be the optimal solution for your family. It allows you to be together, do what you need to do, and still meet your state's educational requirements.
No matter what your reasons are for wanting to homeschool your children, if they center around what's best for your family right now, then your reasons are valid and worth pursuing. Home education is all about meeting your child's needs. If the school no longer meets those needs, and you're willing to take the plunge and give it a try, then you may find homeschooling a perfect fit.
Knowing Not to Know It All
No one knows it all, not even the teachers in the schools. Many schools assign teachers to lead classes on subjects they were never even trained to teach. At the beginning of a school year, these teachers, scrambling as much as anyone else, read the teacher's manuals to determine what in the world fifth-grade science is all about.
You don't need to know it all. You come to homeschooling with certain strengths and specialties. The topics you love and those things you do well become natural subjects in your homeschool. If you love to cook, for example, home economics class becomes an effortless and fun way to spend close teaching time with your children in the kitchen while passing on something that excites you. There's a good chance that they'll learn to cook well, too, as they catch your excitement and internalize it.
In the beginning, until you develop a support network of other families with specialties of their own, you teach what you know and use teacher's manuals or library books for the rest. If your children are older, you can even turn them loose in the library to research a subject that you know nothing about and then ask your students to report back to you after they learn about it. This way, you both learn something new.
With a good textbook in your hand or a sound idea of what you want to teach or learn and access to a decent public library or the Internet (almost every community has a good library these days), a homeschool parent learns alongside the student. Most homeschoolers, after three or so years teaching the kids at their houses, say, "I had no idea I'd learn so much along with them!"
After you meet a group of homeschool families who have children roughly the ages of yours, a natural networking begins to take place. You may offer to teach cooking to a group of kids whose parents think that the family can opener is a prized possession. In return, if you don't know a bass clef from a quarter note, another homeschool parent may be willing to hold an introductory music class for the group. By joining together and sharing skills, nobody needs to know it all. You spend less time fussing over the teacher's manual, and you still get it all done.
The truth doesn't always make good news stories. News media relies on the sensational and the bizarre, while normal, run-of-the-mill life generally doesn't qualify as news. Homeschool media stories that tout homeschooling as expensive, elitist, and only for the wealthy are simply not true. The truth, which is that anyone can homeschool for nearly free if they need to, doesn't make splashy headlines.
Many people manage to homeschool their children for about $500 per child, per year, on the average or less. Some swing it on $500 per family. A few manage to teach for nearly free, but they're the truly dedicated bargain shoppers. Five hundred dollars per child, per year, is a good round figure for estimation because you can get a good number of books, supplies, and even a few extra goodies like field trips for that amount. Now, opting for a $500 budget means that your child won't be using the coolest, newest whizbang textbooks for every subject, but it also means that you can provide a more-than-adequate education.
Set a budget for homeschooling supplies at the beginning of the year, but remember that you're bound to pick up some fun stuff along the way. So include that in your estimates. Setting up a reasonable budget can give you realistic boundaries while also letting you know that you can do this. Keep in mind that preschool and kindergarten are relatively cheap educational years. After you stockpile construction paper, glue, crayons, kiddy scissors, and some read-aloud books, you're most of the way there.
As you rise through the ranks, however, books get more and more expensive, until you reach the high school level where a new science book may cost you $90 or more. With more than one child, however, your costs go down every time the next child in line uses that $90 book. Planning a $90 purchase when three children can use the book in turn gives you a sturdy text for $30 per child in the long run.
When you think about pulling your child out of a private or public school system, don't forget to consider all the items that you currently pay for that will become irrelevant, such as
- Book rentals
- Club fees
- School lunches
- Tuition (for private school)
You can apply that money to the extra costs that you now have, such as textbooks and lunches at home. Even clothing costs take a dive when you realize that you can homeschool in your sweats and no longer need school-appropriate clothes for each day of the week.
If you opt for low-cost or almost-free homeschooling, you find yourself trading time and energy for the money you'd normally spend on curriculum. Trips to the library take time; you may spend hours writing math practice sheets for your first grader or searching for them on the web so you can print them out. Buying the books you...