New and prospective homeschoolers ask a lot of questions - I know I sure did! Even those of us who have been homeschooling for years often have various concerns, especially when beginning high school. This page is my attempt to answer some frequently asked homeschooling questions while providing advice and encouragement. If your question isn't answered here, feel free to write to me at and I'll try to answer it for you. (Please be patient, as sometimes it takes me a while to write back.) ~Teri
Homeschooling 101: Questions & Answers
Q. What does it mean to homeschool?
A. In general, home education - homeschooling - is a way of life in which the home is the center of learning. More specifically, homeschooling means different things to different people. For some families, homeschooling means having school at home, complete with textbooks, tests, report cards, and regularly scheduled field trips. For others, homeschooling is unschooling - it's simply the way they live their lives - parents and children living and learning together with school and life completely integrated. However, you will find that most homeschoolers fall somewhere inbetween those two extremes.
Q. Why do parents homeschool their children?
A. The majority of parents who homeschool are concerned for their children's spiritual and character development as well as their social and academic welfare. Homeschooling allows parents to limit the influences of bad temptations, false teachings, and negative peer pressure. Parents can be sure their children are getting a thorough instruction in the basics without having to worry about the latest educational fad. Homeschooling families are able to take advantage of flexible scheduling for work, travel and vacations. Some parents homeschool their learning disabled children because they feel the personalized, loving instruction they can provide is better for their child than that of an institutionalized group setting.
Q. What are your personal reasons for deciding to homeschool?
A. When I ask myself why I want to do this, I have to be honest and say that I am trying to limit the environment that my children are growing up in. They are young and innocent for such a short time and I don't want them to grow up too fast. I am concerned about what they would be exposed to in public schools. I know that I can't protect them from everything, but I want to be sure they have the morals, values and knowledge firmly in place before they are confronted with the "real" world. In addition, my basic instinct is to draw them in, not push them away. I genuinely enjoy my children and love having them around. I have never been one to try to enroll them in day care, Mom's day out, or preschool programs. I would rather have them home with me. (A wonderful answer provided by Ellen McCoy! That's exactly the way I feel, and I couldn't have said it better myself! ~Teri)
Q. Is homeschooling legal?
A. Homeschooling is perfectly legal in all 50 states, and it is becoming legalized in other countries as well. Laws and regulations do vary from state to state, and interpretations can vary from school district to school district. You will have to investigate the laws for your particular state; local homeschool organizations can provide this information. Many groups provide information packets for new homeschoolers which include information about the laws and regulations. It is usually not a good idea to ask your school district or state department of education about homeschooling. In many areas, local officials and even state officials do not understand the laws relating to home education and may give you misleading or outdated information. In general, some states require you to submit a plan to your local district, some require you to file with the State Department of Education, and some allow you to register your home as a private school. In Arizona, you simply file an affidavit of intent to homeschool with the county school superintendent. You do not have to be a certified teacher.
Q. How do I find out about homeschooling in my state? How can I get in touch with homeschoolers in my area?
A. The Home School Legal Defense Association (hslda.org) has a summary of state organizations and a listing of legal requirements. If you're thinking about homeschooling, contacting your state homeschool organization or local support group is a good place to start. In addition to being the best source of information about current laws and regulations, they can also offer information about getting started, including local resources and educational opportunities. Support groups often have newsletters, regular meetings and field trips, P.E. classes, sport teams, writing clubs, book discussion groups -- whatever appeals to the families involved. Homeschool support groups offer opportunities for getting together with other families, activities for both children and adults, advice and even cooperative classes for children. Some have a purely social focus - others have an academic or religious focus as well. Before you join one, attend a meeting and see if the type of group is compatible with your own needs and beliefs. While some homeschooling families get along just fine without belonging to a support group at all, I highly recommend joining a group so that your children can meet other homeschooled children, and so you can enjoy the fellowship and friendship of like-minded families.
Q. One of the things I am most concerned about is telling my family. I am somewhat intimidated by what their reaction might be. Am I being too controlling by limiting my children's environment?
A. I think everyone has that problem about telling their family and friends they're going to homeschool. My mom used to be a schoolteacher, and my parents weren't too keen on the idea of homeschooling at first. Whenever we went to their house, my dad would ask my son math problems and how to spell words, as if to check and make sure he was learning something. But they've warmed up to the idea over the years. The first thing people used to ask would be "Is that legal?" Ten years ago no one had even heard of homeschooling and wouldn't know what you were talking about, but I think more people are aware of what it is these days, and now that homeschooling has such a proven track record, how can anyone seriously say anything against it? Don't be afraid to stand up for what you believe in. You have to do what you know in your heart to be the best for your own children. But even though you're sure in your own mind, sometimes it's hard to gather your thoughts and explain your reasoning to other people. I would suggest getting an introductory book or two about homeschooling and letting them read about it themselves. A few of the most convincing ones are: Strengths of Their Own, by Brian D. Ray; Home Schooling: The Right Choice, by Christopher Klicka; Dumbing Us Down, by John Taylor Gatto; and Real Home School, by Kathy Banks.
Q. I am planning to homeschool, but my spouse/parents/relatives/friends are skeptical about it and do not support my decision.
A. This is probably the most challenging problem that new and prospective homeschoolers have to face. Remember, most concerns about homeschooling are based on ignorance or misinformation. However, the fact is that thousands of successful homeschoolers have gone before you. Many skeptics are reassured when they learn that homeschoolers do have friends, do have a wide range of learning opportunities, and do get into college. Read some books about homeschooling (see the previous questions for some recommendations) and as you do, select the passages that best address your critic's concerns. Sometimes you may simply have to live with a friend's or relative's uncertainty for a while, until you prove to them that it can be done. Given time, as the skeptics have a chance to see how homeschooling works and how well your children are doing, their fears will lessen.
Q. What are some of the benefits of homeschooling?
A. One of the biggest advantages of homeschooling is that you don't have to operate exactly as a typical school does or make your child follow the same timetable. Many families like the flexibility homeschooling provides both parents and children. The individualized attention that homeschooled children receive has many advantages over the classroom where a teacher tries to meet the needs of many children at different learning levels. Since one-on-one tutoring is more efficient, it takes less time as well. There are more enrichment activities and time to do them available for home-taught students than for those in school all day. Unlimited possibilities exist for field trips, specialized classes, and private instruction in art, music, etc. Children can learn about things they are interested in and at a time in their lives when they are ready to learn. No preconceived schedule forces them ahead or holds them back. Vacations and outings can be planned for off-peak times when the crowds are smaller or the costs are lower. Children can learn about the 'real world' by being a part of it - no artificial settings to 'provide exposure.' Children can receive a superior education attuned specifically to their own needs, learning styles, personalities, and interests - at far less cost than that of a private school. But probably the most significant benefit of homeschooling is the claiming (or reclaiming) of the family. Homeschooling families spend incredible amounts of time together living, learning, loving, and playing. They have the opportunity to develop a depth of understanding and a commitment to one another that is difficult to attain when family members spend their days going in separate directions.
Q. What about socialization?
A. This is probably the biggest myth about homeschooling. Homeschooling does not make kids socially deprived! Homeschooled kids are hardly isolated. They develop social skills by interacting with siblings, neighbors, friends, and relatives. They learn how to cooperate with others through homeschool activity groups, in art, music, dance or gymnastics classes, on Little League sports teams, in scouting troops, church groups, and other clubs. They are able to meet people of many nationalities, from a wide variety of backgrounds, with all kinds of life experiences. Socialization in general isn't as great as some people proclaim it to be, anyway. The real concern, it seems, is whether homeschooled children will be able to function out in the world if they don't have the experiences schooled children have. But think for a moment about what schools really do. They take away a child's private life, classify and segregate children by age and ability, reinforce class, gender and racial prejudice, and don't give children a chance to daydream or allow for any quiet, contemplation or individual play time. Socialization in this case becomes submitting one's will to that of the group (or person in charge). Numerous studies have found that home educated children are as well adjusted socially, perhaps even more than, students in conventional schools. In fact, overly extensive peer contact during childhood can cause undesirable peer dependency. Freedom from peer pressure encourages self-confidence and independent thinking. Thus, homeschoolers often have a better self-concept than their schooled peers. Home educated children, because they spend so much of their time out in the real world, are better able to relate to adults and children of all ages, are more likely to have a wider variety of friends and to be free of the cliqueish behavior so common in schools. Not to mention the fact that they are a lot less likely to smoke, take drugs, and become involved with gangs!
Q. Aren't you afraid that your kids will be too dependent on mom and dad, and will be at a disadvantage when the time comes to go out on their own?
A. Not at all. I think that the extra love and attention they receive as children will give them the confidence they need to succeed in life. My boys have never been to school, preschool, daycare, or even with a babysitter. But they are extremely independent, self-confident, self-motivated, and able to think for themselves. I truly believe that by being nurtured within a close-knit, loving, stable family environment for 24 hours a day in which they are not thrown out into the world at too early an age, they are able to develop naturally at their own pace to their fullest intellectual potential and emotional maturity. They can concentrate all of their energy on learning, serious thought, and creativity, without their minds simultaneously being worried or preoccupied by peer pressures or other problems. Homeschoolers are able to thrive, because as growing children they are not weighed down by the stresses brought on by the outside world.
Q. How will your kids ever learn how to get along with others or speak in public if they have no experience in a classroom or group setting?
A. I know from personal experience that public schools do nothing to help children's social skills or self-esteem. I was the shortest, skinniest girl in my class. Although I was brought up in a loving, Christian home, my self-confidence was crushed when I went to school. I will never forget how my second-grade teacher ridiculed me in front of the whole class! Naturally shy to begin with, I became afraid to say or do anything for fear of being made fun of. I enjoyed playing sports such as basketball and tennis with my other family members at home for fun, but in school I was petrified of P.E. class. I was a straight-A student and I loved to learn, yet I dreaded going to school and built a shell around myself to get through the day. No matter how hard I try to get over it, I am still painfully shy and self-conscious as an adult, and unable to function well in social situations. So much for public school socialization!
Q. Shouldn't Christians send their children to public schools so they can be a light to non-believers?
A. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. They are more likely to be influenced negatively by the other children and the school's non-Christian agenda. Ministry is something for a family to share and for children to participate in with their parents. Children are still too impressionable and immature to be "a light in the wilderness" on their own. An army doesn't send their soldiers into battle until after they have gone through extensive training, and neither should we. As Mary Pride says in The Way Home, "When my son is as strong as Daniel, then I'll let him go into the lions den."
Q. Won't our homeschooled children regret not having had the public school experiences that we had as children?
A. It is strange in a way to think about our children growing up without knowing what school life is like, since public schools have become so ingrained in the American experience. But when I recall the childhood memories of my own school days, the memories aren't all that good! Even as a young girl I remember feeling like the public school setting didn't seem normal or natural - it was too institutionalized, too crowded and uncaring. I hated the long hot bus rides, I hated the rude kids and the cliques, I hated wasting time on silly questions and busywork when I already knew the stuff. However, I enjoyed coming home and reading, looking up topics of interest in my encyclopedias, working on extra-credit projects, and learning things on my own. So I don't mind if the closest thing to a classroom setting that my sons come to being in is Sunday school. They will have their own school days memories of time spent with mom, doing math with dad, P.E. at the park, all of the field trips we went on, etc. Homeschoolers are blessed to have the whole world as their classroom. Recommended resource: No Regrets: How Home Schooling Earned Me A Masters Degree At Age 16, by Alexandra Swann (Although not every child will match Alexandra's schedule, most will be glad to have been homeschooled and will thrive because of it.)
Q. How many homeschoolers are there?
A. There are more than a million homeschoolers nationwide, according to the Home School Legal Defense Association, and the number of homeschoolers has been growing by 25% per year. Today in Arizona there are at least 20 times more homeschooled students than there were just ten years ago. There are currently about 20,000 homeschooled students in Arizona, and the homeschooling movement continues to grow by leaps and bounds. Not all states require homeschoolers to register with a central location, so not all states are able to count or even to estimate the number of homeschoolers. In states where such figures are available, it is clear that the number of homeschoolers has grown significantly over the past ten or fifteen years.
Q. What kinds of people homeschool?
A. All kinds! While in most cases Dad goes to work and Mom stays home, single parents homeschool, working parents homeschool, dads at home homeschool, parents with ongoing illnesses homeschool. Some families homeschool some of their children but not others. Grandparents homeschool grandchildren. Homeschoolers live in the country, city, suburbs, small towns. Some run family businesses, and some parents combine working outside the home with homeschooling. The homeschooling movement is growing increasingly diverse as people of many religions, philosophies, and ethnic backgrounds choose to homeschool. In addition to several groups and publications specifically for Christian homeschoolers, there are now groups and newsletters addressing the concerns of Jewish homeschoolers, Muslim homeschoolers, and African-American homeschoolers.
Q. Is homeschooling expensive?
A. It doesn't have to be. Homeschooling can be as expensive or as inexpensive as you make it. It depends on a lot of things, such as how many children you will be homeschooling, what kinds of materials and resources you choose to use, etc. Some families make good use of their local library and get by on spending less than a couple hundred dollars for an entire school year; others spend several thousand dollars in that same school year on computers, books, learning materials, and specialized classes. Most families fall somewhere in between. A superior education isn't dependent on how much money you spend. You probably already own some supplementary materials according to your child's interests and activities. Free resources can be found at the public library, through interlibrary loan, and in homeschool resource centers located in some communities. You can purchase homeschool curricula that is reproducible and re-useable for all of the children in your family. There is a big market for used homeschool curriculum and books. Garage sales and thrift stores may even have school supplies and creative craft materials. Some homeschoolers share or barter materials and skills with one another. You can go on low-cost field trips to interesting places. Most museums provide generous admission discounts for homeschool groups. Many bookstores, school supply stores, and other businesses offer homeschool educator discounts of 10-20%.
Q. Are homeschool books and materials widely available, and where can I get them?
A. Home educators have a wealth of resources available to them. Home education conventions and curriculum fairs are the best place for getting ideas and looking at all of the materials that are available. Check with your local or state support groups for information about these. If you are interested in finding out more about prepackaged curriculum or correspondence schools write for their brochures and informative flyers or demos. A wide variety of excellent educational computer software is now easily obtainable. Homeschool catalogs and internet sites are filled with every resource imaginable. Most families find the public library to be a valuable resource. In addition, some families frequent bookstores and educational supply stores. Other families find their most treasured learning resources at garage sales, thrift shops, and used book sales. Even educational videos from the video rental store can be useful.
Q. What kind of support and resources are available for homeschoolers?
A. There are local support groups, statewide homeschool associations, national homeschool organizations, online services, workshops, seminars, conventions and curriculum fairs. There are several major homeschool curriculum publishers and full-service home education correspondence courses. Homeschool how-to books and home education magazines offer information and advice. The expansion of online educational services is a convenient, positive development for learning at home. Think of the resources available in your community: libraries, museums, historical sites, courthouses, specialty shops, nature centers. Think of adults you know who can share a skill, answer a question, let your children observe or help them at work. Think of real-life activities: writing letters, handling money, measuring, observing the stars, talking to older people. These are just a few of the ways that homeschoolers can learn writing, math, science, and history. Talking with other homeschoolers will give you additional ideas.
Q. This will be my first time at a curriculum fair. What should I expect?
A. Well, you will enter into a huge exhibit hall packed with a huge assortment of every kind of homeschool book, curriculum, and supplemental resource imaginable, and your mouth will drop open! I have to warn you, it can be quite overwhelming. There will be so much stuff to choose from and it will be easy to get sidetracked! But seriously, don't let the amount of materials and information available in the curriculum hall get you frustrated. You certainly won't be using everything that you see. For the first time, try to get a broad overview of all that's available, and pick up brochures or catalogs to look at when you get back home. (You will want to take along a tote bag, backpack, or something to carry everything in.) It took us a couple of years of going to the annual curriculum fair before we got it narrowed down enough to know what we really needed. That's another reason why it's good to start early, and ideally you should attend a curriculum fair even before you officially begin homeschooling, to get a better idea of what it's all about. A curriculum fair provides an opportunity to meet other homeschoolers from around the state (and see how many homeschoolers there really are, as well as finding out how nice - and normal - they all are!) in addition to meeting publishers, booksellers, and exhibitors from around the country. Curriculum fairs are usually associated with a homeschool convention consisting of seminars and workshops that offer lots of information, encouragement and advice, often with special tracks for new homeschoolers. (See also the next question.)
Q. What is the state home education convention like?
A. The state homeschool convention is the biggest and most anticipated homeschooling event of the year. Well-known homeschool leaders speak about home education and other parenting issues. There are usually special sessions for new homeschoolers and homeschooling teens, as well as informative workshops on a variety of topics. This is an event not to be missed if you are homeschooling or even thinking about it. My husband and I always leave with a renewed confidence and enthusiasm about home education after listening to the inspirational, informative speakers. Also, my favorite place for looking at homeschool materials in person is at the convention's curriculum fair. The vast array of books, curriculum, and other materials in the exhibit hall can be quite overwhelming, so have an idea in mind of what you want to look for when you go there. We always head over to Affordable Christian Books first, to buy next year's Saxon text before they're sold out. Along the way, we stop by the software booth to check out their great deals on CD-ROMS. My husband likes to leisurely browse around all of the exhibitors and see if there's anything new that catches his eye. Meanwhile, I get out my long list and methodically go from one bookseller to another on a serious search for particular titles. In addition to the main curriculum of interest to you, be sure to take a look at all of the other fine exhibitors. If you didn't go to your state convention this year, make sure you plan ahead to go next year.
Q. How do I decide which books and materials to use? Do I need to purchase a complete curriculum?
A. This is probably the most difficult question to answer. You will have to investigate all of the materials on your own and decide which will best meet your family's needs. While many families prefer the ease and convenience of using a packaged curriculum, you don't need a packaged curriculum in order to homeschool successfully. Some families choose to mix and match among different curriculums for different subjects, and a few prefer not to use any curriculum at all. They make up their own unit studies as they go along, depending on what they feel is important for their children to learn at the time and what is useful and helpful in their daily lives. It can be helpful to look at sample copies of materials before you choose, and to read reviews written by other homeschoolers. But keep in mind that what works well for one child may not work for another child, even in the same family. It's hard to know how something will work until you actually begin using it - so be prepared for your choices to change over time and be aware that you may buy some things that just don't work out. Before deciding on what you need, think about what learning means to you as a homeschooling family. Consider your child's individual learning styles and skills. Keep in mind that school curriculum developed by educators for classroom use has been designed for ease of teaching a large group of students, but not necessarily for sparking the interest of an individual child.
Q. How does homeschooling work? What is a typical day like?
A. Most homeschooling families will tell you that there is no typical day. While many families set aside a certain period of time for focused academic work, others do not. Some families homeschool five days a week, while others homeschool four days a week and may reserve Fridays or Mondays for extracurricular activities. Some homeschoolers follow a regular public school year with the summer months off, but other families find it helpful to spread the teaching throughout the whole year. A homeschool year may begin in August, September, January, or even April. School schedules for each child may vary and the family often adapts its schedule as the children grow and their needs change. Homeschooling children learn in a variety of ways, not just by doing academic work. They learn by reading, conversing, playing, by doing volunteer work and apprenticeships. Some homeschooled children attend outside classes; others do not. Typically children will spend part of the day on their own at home (to read, play, build, draw, write, etc.), and some time with their parents (to get help with a subject, to do math lessons, to do a science experiment, to have a discussion, to do some kind of focused project together). Homeschooled children often also spend time with others outside the home (in music class, in Scouts, in a homeschoolers' book discussion group, in a volunteer job, etc.). As you can see, there is no right or wrong way to homeschool. Every homeschool is as unique as the families themselves.
Q. What should you do if Child Protective Services knocks on your door?
A. While I cannot provide legal advice, I would implore you not to let them in, whatever you do! They will act upon the slightest suspicion to take your children away from you. There is no need to be fearful about this, as such incidents are relatively rare, but homeschoolers should be aware. Hopefully you are a current member of the Home School Legal Defense Association. If so, just call their toll-free hotline to immediately get in touch with one of their homeschool attorneys, and they will advise you right over the phone. Even in states where homeschooling is widely accepted, there have been cases in which unknowing persons report seeing children playing outside in the middle of the school day. The best defense against this is to make sure that your neighbors know you are homeschoolers and that they understand what homeschooling is. It helps to be on friendly terms with them as well! In one case, a doctor recommended that a child be hospitalized, and the parents wished to leave and get a second opinion. Upon finding out that the child was homeschooled, the doctor decided to call CPS. The fact that there are so many real cases of child abuse and neglect these days tends to make some people overly cautious and even meddlesome. If they also happen to be ignorant of the homeschooling laws, this can unfortunately lead to problems for legitimate homeschoolers. For more specific details about home school legal defense, be sure to visit: www.hslda.org
Q. I like the idea of homeschooling, but yet I don't want to have to give up my own job/career/interests.
A. You may not have to. Homeschooling doesn't necessarily require sitting around the kitchen table with your children six hours a day and giving them lessons. It may take a little creative juggling, but many of the perceived barriers can be gotten around with some thoughtful problem-solving. Some mothers combine part-time work with homeschooling, and a few even manage to work full-time and still allow their children to learn at home. These families may be lucky enough to have retired grandparents living nearby who can help with the homeschooling. There may be homeschool co-ops available in your area, or private tutors that can do some of the teaching for you. Even parents (usually mothers, but sometimes fathers) who give up their jobs to stay home with their children still have time for their own pursuits. Homeschooling doesn't take as many hours out of your day as you may think. Much of the children's time may be spent studying independently or using self-grading computerized curriculum. People who work at home can often homeschool at the same time. Your children may even become interested in what you are interested in. Many homeschooling families run cottage businesses at which they all work together. Alternately, you may find that your personal wants can be set aside during your children's crucial growing-up years and you decide to focus on them completely. Then you can enjoy the time you spend learning along with them!
Q. I am really excited about the prospect of homeschooling, and alternately absolutely terrified. Is this normal? Sometimes I think I'll drive myself crazy worrying about whether it will go well or not.
A. Well, homeschooling obviously isn't for everyone. It's a huge commitment that requires a great deal of patience and takes up a lot of your time. Homeschooling is a complete lifestyle that becomes a part of everything you do. The prospect of homeschooling can indeed be overwhelming, not just when you're first starting out, but even from time to time as you're doing it. But based on your enthusiasm, I'm sure you'll do fine. When you start out homeschooling from the very beginning, there's no need to worry and there's no need to hurry. The home provides a convenient, integrated learning environment and you kind of grow into it naturally. Every day is another opportunity to instill a love of learning that will last a lifetime. The early grades can be very informal and by starting homeschooling at a young age, it gives you plenty of time to try different things and make changes until you hit upon what works best for you and your child.
Q. I want to homeschool but it seems a bit overwhelming for me, I do not know how my very unorganized self could do my kids justice.
A. I wouldn’t let your concerns about being unorganized hold you back from homeschooling. I’ve been homeschooling for ten years and I’m still unorganized! I’ve found that it doesn’t really help to wait until your circumstances are more favorable, because those perfect conditions never come. Everyone feels a little overwhelmed at times, but if in your heart you truly have the desire to homeschool, you can do it. (See also the next question.)
Q. How do I know if I have what it takes to homeschool my children?
A. One thing I know after seven years of homeschooling, it doesn't matter how educated you might be, or how many credentials you might have; nobody has "what it takes" to homeschool. Your strength must not be in your own ability. God is the one who called you to be the parents of the "gifts" He has given you. When God calls you, He equips you with what is necessary to fulfill that which He has called you to do. God wants us to prosper in our homeschooling efforts. Continue to trust in Him. Make Him your only priority. (The perfect answer for this question was provided by Kelly Maynard. Thanks Kelly!)
Q. I like the idea of homeschooling, but I won't have time/I don't enough patience/I'm not smart enough or disciplined enough to do a good job.
A. I've heard it said that even the worst homeschool is still better than the average public school. If you want, you can simply pay a little more to enroll in an online academy or correspondence school that has teachers on staff who oversee your student's work and do all of the grading and record-keeping for you. This is also an ideal option for families with working parents, or for those who would prefer a private school but don't have any in their area.
Q. How can parents teach subjects that they're not good at or don't know much about?
A. Parents don't have to be an expert in every subject. Even schoolteachers don't know everything. (That's why textbooks have teacher's editions and curriculum comes with teacher's manuals!) Parents can join co-ops, hire tutors, sign up for a single correspondence class (or, for high schoolers, a community college class) in that subject, or look into the many self-teaching CD-ROMS, videos, and online resources that are available. In doing so, parents can even learn along with their children! While many children are capable of teaching themselves - just as adults do when they have something new they want to learn - one of the most powerful learning experiences for a child is to have a parent learning right alongside them. And when searching for "teachers," don't overlook friends, acquaintances, and businesspeople in your community - most people are delighted to have a young person around who is sincerely interested in what they know and do.
Q. I would like to homeschool, but my child has been labeled "learning disabled" or "ADHD" and I worry that I'm not qualified to teach such a child.
A. It is important to note that many children who are labeled as being learning disabled in school turn out not to be disabled once they begin homeschooling, so being taught at home may actually be the best thing for them. Perhaps the child was simply not yet ready to read, or did not follow the expected timetable, or does not learn in the usual way, or does not thrive in a group or classroom setting. In these cases, the one-on-one instruction provided by a loving, caring parent may be just what they need. Recommended Resource: The Myth of the ADD Child.
Q. I don't think my first grader is enjoying learning in school. I'm considering home schooling him next year. I'm fairly confident that I could do it but, I am still unsure.
A. I would like to really encourage you to jump in now and begin homeschooling your little guy before any more time goes by. So many attitudes are formed about learning at this early age that I would be concerned about continuing in a negative environment. You don't want to have to spend a lot of time "undoing" a negative attitude. I believe with all my heart that a motivated parent is the best teacher. You could just start by getting some basic books on phonics and math and reading lots of books together. (I would like to thank Joni Corby for her great answer to that question!) In fact, early formal schooling (before age 8) is controversial and may even be detrimental. According to Dr. Raymond Moore, an early child development expert: "There's not one replicated study in the United States today that suggests that little children should be in school at 5 or 6. Not even one! There's not one replicated study today in the United States that even suggests that a normal child should be in kindergarten. The home is the best garden for the child, the average home, and the time has come when we should be strengthening the home instead of taking children out earlier." Recommended Resource: Better Late Than Early, by Dr. Raymond and Dorothy Moore.
Q. I am concerned about getting my son to take this seriously, because he has never been enrolled in any structured setting before (other than Sunday School). When I have tried to work with him in the past, I can't get him to understand that this is serious business. Once again, any words of wisdom?
A. Relax, your son is still rather young to be sitting down for formal studies (see the above question for more on early schooling). And even in regular schools there are always some kids who don't take it seriously! Nevertheless, at home you can get away with being a lot more informal, unstructured, and un-serious. You will learn that different children have different learning styles, and you have to take that into consideration. For example, in third grade math there were a lot of drills and repetition, and the only way we could keep our son Peter from being bored while reciting his answers was to have him do some physical fitness exercises at the same time--rather unconventional, but it worked and he does great in math! I used to try to start out each school day by officially ringing the school bell and reciting the pledge of allegiance, and having certain times for certain classes. Well, that didn't last long! We do still have generalized times for doing things, but we also go by when they're in the mood for something and run with it at that time, rather than trying to force them into doing something when they don't feel like it. So don't try to be too serious about it, because then it becomes more of a dreaded chore rather than an enjoyable learning experience. And you don't always have to be serious anyway--there are ways they can learn and have fun at the same time.
Q. What if my child and I don't get along very well?
A. Sometimes a parent and child always seem to be at odds with each other, especially when they both have strong-minded personalities. This is a relationship issue that needs to be resolved whether you homeschool or not. It can be done with patience and determination through love, care, and prayer. Homeschooling may even help by forcing you to spend more time together. If you demonstrate a loving commitment to your child through homeschooling him, his attitude may improve when he realizes how much you really love him, based on all of the quality time you are spending together. By working together in this way, you will also learn to communicate better and be more understanding of each other.
Q. What if my child won't do his work?
A. I must admit, I needed help on this one! I received some expert advice from Jessie Wise which I would like to share. Read her original article at www.welltrainedmind.com/faqs.html. The following is a condensed version: Does your child sit and sulk every time you open up the math book? Are crying and whining, "I don't want to do this!" and "This is too hard!" common refrains in your house? If you're covering a new subject, the child may sincerely not understand it. But it may be that your child has learned how to get out of difficult work by complaining, refusing, or crying. In any case, you must patiently, consistently, and frequently walk the child through the difficulty in order to build confidence. Don't overwhelm the child with a long, complicated lesson in a subject that bores or frustrates him. If a particular task such as math always produces tears and complaints, break it up by doing half of the lesson in the morning and finish the other half in the evening. If they know it well enough, try assigning every other problem rather than every single problem. If the behavior continues, post on a chart or on a piece of paper that you can both see the consequences for refusing to do work (if you are convinced the child is able to do it). Having the consequences laid out and visible before the behavior occurs can take some of the tension out of the situation. Thay way you're not forced to decide, while you and the child are both upset, how to resolve the problem. Rather, the child knows ahead of time what will happen if he cries, complains, or refuses to work. When the undesirable behavior occurs, do not scold, do not lecture, and do not express anger or irritation. Just state the consequence and go on with the day. If another complaint occurs when you state the consequence, double it. (But make sure you forewarn the child of this result, or you will produce resentment.) Tell the child that specific assignments have to be completed before playtime begins. Then carry through; refuse to excuse the child for play until the work is done. A good rule might be, "If you play during study time, you must study during play time." Whatever solution you try ("Every time you say, 'This is too hard!' in a whiny voice, as opposed to genuinely asking me for help, you will lose twenty minutes of computer time."), keep in mind the child should feel the consequence, not the parent. If the consequence penalizes you (if, for example, you have to sit across from the child enforcing the consequence for half an hour), the situation will not get better; you will just become angry and frustrated with the child. And don't forget to examine your own parental behavior. Do you give up in frustration when faced with a difficult task or with a task you don't enjoy? Do you complain about jobs, rather than just doing them and getting them out of the way? Do you procrastinate when having to do unpleasant tasks? It may be that the child's emotional response comes partly from your own habits. You may also need to "clear the air" before beginning any behavior modification. For example, have you given up and continually allowed the child to take the easy way out when faced with hard tasks? Have you exhibited impatience in teaching, or have you yelled too much, making the child feel inadequate? If so, tell the child honestly and without blameshifting what you've done wrong, and ask the child to forgive you. Then work together on establishing consequences for the bad behavior. It generally takes six weeks to change a habit, so don't give up on your consequences chart too early. Remember to stay focused on the long-term goal: teaching the child to be self-motivated and to take personal responsibility for outcomes of his decisions. Point out to the child that he ultimately makes the daily decision to fail in a task or succeed. Explain that the mental discipline and self-control needed to complete a difficult assignment doesn't come naturally; it's hard work, like jogging a mile for someone who's out of shape! Make sure the child understands that many necessary tasks in life are not pleasant, but we do these as quickly as we can do them well to get them out of the way. Keep in mind that children are immature. They cannot see the connection between present behavior and future success. So it is up to the parent to provide some immediate gratification for a job well done (or immediate unpleasant consequences for substandard work or behavior). This will help the child to develop habits of success. Finally, don't forget to practice generous amounts of encouragement and praise for desired attitudes, and make sure that you recognize and applaud successes that result from a child's decision to change negative behavior.
Q. How can I tell if my children are learning?
A. Your children have been continually learning since the time they were born. Children have an innate ability to soak up information around them like a sponge. Just like when they were babies and toddlers, you can know what they are learning by spending time with them and observing the growth in their understanding of the world. Observation as an assessment acknowledges growth in understanding and skill level. Unlike standardized testing, it doesn't give a 'snapshot' that attempts to quantify learning at one point in time. It is has no preconceived notions about what a child 'should' be able to do. You can look at the whole person and concentrate on everything your child knows, instead of what your child does not know. Testing, in the home environment where parents are always well aware of how their children are doing, may be unnecessary and intrusive. Like any other educational decision, testing should be a personal choice intended for the benefit of your children. Although a nationally standardized norm-referenced achievement test allows you to track your child's progress and gives you a reliable measure of your child's academic performance compared to other students across the nation, careful consideration should be taken before the testing option is chosen. Some questions to consider before making this decision include: which tests will be used and for what purpose, how might the testing process affect the learner, how will the test results be used, and are there less intrusive alternatives that can be utilized instead? Standardized tests are under fire from many teachers and educators, and some school districts are even attempting to eliminate standardized testing. Some families like to have an idea of what is expected of children in school at various ages. For this, you can obtain a scope and sequence from your local school district, a curriculum publisher, or download a "Typical Course of Study" from the World Book Encyclopedia website (www.worldbook.com). Recommended Resource: What Your Child Needs to Know When, by Robin Scarlata.
Q. What if my state requires testing, or if my children need to take standardized tests later for college admissions? Will they be prepared?
A. First, make sure that testing is legally required in your state. Some states no longer require testing, and others list testing as one of several options (such as keeping a portfolio or getting an outside evaluation). If you do have to test your children, you can prepare them by working on sample tests (just as public schoolchildren do) and talking about test-taking strategies. Homeschoolers entering college can prepare for the SAT or ACT by using one of the many test preparation books that are available. Not all colleges require these tests, however. By the way, homeschooled students as a group generally exceed national norms on standardized achievement tests.
Q. What about homeschooling teenagers? What about homeschooling through high school?
A. There is an increasing numbers of teens who have been homeschooled their entire lives, and more teens are leaving public schools to be homeschooled. These kids are studying subjects in depth, learning from apprenticeships, work, and travel. They enjoy the independence of homeschooling and have the time to discover what they really love to do. Recommended Resource: The Teenage Liberation Handbook. I also recommend the following website: www.homeschoolteenscollege.net (Cafi Cohen's Homeschool Teens and College: A homeschooler's guide to college admissions and educating teenagers, from the author of And What About College?)
Q. How can homeschoolers get into college?
A. Hundreds of colleges and universities all over the nation accept home educated students, and some are even actively recruiting them. Such institutions have come to value these intelligent, responsible young people because of their maturity, creativity, disciplined study skills, independent thinking skills, and enthusiasm for learning. Formal transcripts, diplomas or GEDs are not always required. However, if you are concerned about meeting college admission requirements, there are correspendence courses and online academies that will do the record keeping for you and issue official transcripts and diplomas. Some homeschoolers take their high school classes at the community college level and thus receive a transcript from the college for those courses. (Those students who take enough community college classes to receive an AA degree are then automatically considered transfer students by the university.) On the other hand, keep in mind that college is not necessarily the only route to adulthood or to a career. Some homeschoolers would rather start their own business, pursue on-the-job training, apprenticeships, or volunteer work instead of going to college. Recommended Resource: And What about College?, by Cafi Cohen. I also recommend the following website: www.homeschoolteenscollege.net (Cafi Cohen's Homeschool Teens and College: A homeschooler's guide to college admissions.)
Q. Why should homeschoolers be interested in what goes on in the public schools?
A. Just because we are homeschooling does not mean that we should not be interested in all education issues. While some homeschooling families do place some of their children in public schools and other homeschoolers plan to put their children back into public schools at a later point, there are other important reasons as well. First of all, since we still have to pay taxes to support public education, we have a right to see that effective, efficient education is provided. Secondly, homeschoolers should stay aware of public school legislation because even though it may not affect homeschoolers directly, it may have indirect implications. For example, a driver's license legislation to enforce dropouts back into high schools may look good on the surface, but it would also affect 16-year-old homeschoolers. Thirdly, public school laws have the potential of being forced on the private and homeschool community at a later date. Fourth, as American citizens in a democratic republic form of government, we have an obligation to be involved in that government and to communicate with our representatives. Finally, our homeschooled kids will have to live with the products of the public school system. What kind of moral values and education will those who work in the community with our children have learned?
Q. Any other advice?
A. Home education, as with any major decision, should not be entered into lightly. Homeschooling is an important responsibility that requires discipline, time management, household organization, and above all, absolute commitment. Home education is a challenging, yet richly rewarding experience. Best wishes for a successful homeschooling endeavor!
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