This original post was written almost 3 years ago, in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy, when several of my friends were asking questions about homeschooling. I’ve had a couple of people ask me again recently, so I decided to repost it.
In the past 3 years, I have very little to change from my original post except to say that at 19 and 20, while my little bugsies are now growed up……. they still live at home. So, take any advice I give with a grain of salt :)
They’ve been homeschooled pretty much from day one. I think Jake made it to the middle of first grade. Andrew never made it past preschool. His preschool teacher took it upon herself to diagnosis a 4-year-old little boy with ADHD because he liked sticking his fingers in the fan and wouldn’t sit still for story time. That just happened to coincide with Sarge getting orders to South Korea. I took them out of school, we moved across the world. We actually did have every intention of putting them back in school when we got back to the States. Then we got back. And I really cannot explain what Sarge and I saw in our boys that made us change our minds. There was something about them that was just different. We never put them back in school.
I spent the next several years patchworking every kind of curriculum I could think of. Everything from the little workbooks at Wal-Mart, all the way to full-on school-at-home with Calvert School. I read an article on the Department of State website geared toward foreign ambassadors and Calvert School was one of the distance education options they suggested. Good enough for ambassadors, good enough for my kids, right!
I beat myself up. A LOT. If I regret anything, it would be that. Beating myself up for not being organized. For not sticking to a schedule. For not sticking with a curriculum. For not forcing them to do schoolwork.
I beat myself up because I thought I was ruining them. I would never be good enough. They would never be good enough. They would grow up and hate me. On and on it goes.
Honestly, it wasn’t until about 3 or 4 years ago when I quit beating myself up and made a decision. Although, I never really told anyone that decision except my mother. That decision was to officially become an unschooling parent. You can read all you ever wanted to know about unschooling here. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unschooling I read a lot about John Holt’s philosophy, read Sandra Dodd’s blog. I had really been doing it all along, I just kept trying to be something I wasn’t and would never be. But it was at this point when I just let go. I completely let go.
I didn’t tell anyone because I knew the whole thing had the potential to be a gigantic clusterfuck freight train headed for disaster. I knew that would be the thought process of everyone who knew, and they’d all be looking at me out of the corners of their eyes just to see the train wreck. Perhaps, I thought, if I don’t tell anyone and this all goes horribly wrong, maybe I’ll still have time to fix it? I don’t know.
So, I am telling you now. And anyone who wants to know. My kids were unschooled. We don’t have textbooks. Or desks. Or school hours. Or any kind of studious discipline.
They take standardized tests every year, as per North Carolina homeschooling law, but they just fill in the little bubbles randomly, I send it off to be machine graded, and stick them in a folder. I have never even looked at the stanines, or whatever the fuck it’s called. Nor do I care.
My kids have taught me more than school ever did. I truly believe this experience has turned me into a different person entirely. Watching my kids discover their world. Teaching them how to learn, fostering in them a passionate desire to want to learn. Do you know what is more amazing than your child running through the front door waving an immaculate report card at you? Watching your kid teach himself a musical instrument, and actually wind up being ridiculously talented enough to stand up next to professionals. Watching that child you thought would never learn to read…. teach himself how to read. And not with books or worksheets. But just during the normal course of his life.
I stopped pretentiously dogging on formal schooling long ago. It’s a bullshit attitude to have. A lot of kids thrive in school. They have wonderful experiences. So, I am only going to say this once. The other thing you learn the most when you have unschooled your children is…. okay…. this stings… but…. how little formal secondary education matters. And how quickly an enterprising child who loves to learn is able to teach himself the few useful things he needs to know to move into adulthood. I listen to both of them talk. I have conversations with them. In the course of those conversations, I tell them things. Things I knew they probably did not know because they never went to school. And I will tell them these things, and then they say, “Duh, Mom… everyone knows that.” You know, obvious shit like how the axial tilt of Uranus makes it look like it’s tipped over on its side. Sorta like, everyone knows Mickey Mouse, and everyone knows Uranus has an axial tilt of 97.77 degrees. Duh. Idiot.
Andrew does that all the time. And I think he surprises me most because he’s not nearly as…. uuuhhh… vocal as Jake is. Jake will just verbally slap me in the face and say, “Shit, I didn’t even go to school and I know more than you.” And I smile. And nod my head. Because he’s right.
But this blog post really isn’t supposed to compare my own way of teaching my children to any other mode of education. This is not intended to convince anyone of anything. Or to spit hatred toward formal education. Or any of that. Because I don’t hate formal education. I just chose not to pursue that for my children. The purpose of this blog post is simply advice. I have had a lot of people over the years, and even more lately, ask me about homeschooling. They ask for advice, where to look for curriculum, how to start, all of those things. So here goes.
First, check out HSLDA. The Homeschooling Legal Defense Association. There, you will find the homeschooling laws and governing bodies for your state.
For North Carolina, it is The Department of Nonpublic Education.
Go to those websites. Read, read, and read. Follow the law. Do the things you are supposed to do. Some states have more lenient laws than other states. But know that no matter where you live, you aren’t just going to fall off the grid. You are answerable to someone. Like it or not.
Second thing. And this paragraph is most important. Decide on how you want to teach, or not teach, your children. Decide on a curriculum. And then….. realize that this will change with the wind. At any given moment. Anytime. All the time. You are going to start homeschooling just like a kid on the first day of school. Brand new backpack, brand new Lisa Frank pencils and pencil box. Brand new Trapper Keeper. Brand new clothes and shoes. Everything smells new and exciting. And by the time Christmas break comes around, you’re ready to stick an ice pick in your ear. Homeschooling is no different.
Some homeschooling moms have the perfect personality for this. They love charts. They love being organized. They love playing school. They make a goal and keep it. They dig in with both feet and barrel through it with guns blazing.
And then, there is you. You are going to hate yourself. Your charts will get lost beneath the electric bill and accidentally thrown in the trash. You will have conversations with other parents about what their kids are learning in school, and will immediately be absolutely certain that your children are mentally retarded and it’s all your fault. You will assume all of this means you were not cut out to be a homeschooling parent. And you will assume that your only choice is to relent and run to your nearest principal’s office. At this point, many parents quit. Those are the parents who say, “Yeah, we tried it for a while, but it just wasn’t for us.” If you choose to do that, there is no shame in it. You do what you think is right for your child. Full stop.
If you choose to stick with it, I will say this. Don’t do what I did. Don’t beat yourself up. Have faith. And that is coming from someone who barely believes in oxygen because she can’t see it. Have faith. Have faith in yourself. But more than that, have faith in your child. If you believe in him or her, they will feel it. If you truly believe they are smart, it will rub off on them. If you value your child as a human being, if you ask their opinions and mean it, if you have conversations with them about real-world topics, you are telling them that you believe they are smart enough to keep up, and then, they will go make themselves smart enough to keep up. See how that works?
Along with faith, be real. Be real in front of your children. Have faults, and talk about them. Fuck up, and apologize. Relate to them with real-life stories. And listen to theirs. What does any of that have to do with homeschooling? Because you are making yourself more than a parent. You are making yourself a human being they respect. If they respect you- not as an authority figure, but as a human being- they will listen to you. They will hear you. They will consider your words, allow your words space in their brains. They will know that you might not always have an answer, and if you don’t, you’ll find one, and then you’ll show them where you found it, and now they magically know how to find answers for themselves.
After a while, once you’re done with the initial freak-out, once you’ve spent gads of money on all sorts of curricula only to toss it all out the window in the second month, and then spend the next 10 months blaming yourself for it. Once you’ve gotten over that, school becomes a non-issue. Totally a non-issue. That might happen sooner for some of you, much later for others. It was much, much later for me. Like, 2-3 years ago. I did not belong to any parenting or homeschooling support groups. I knew a few homeschooling parents, but they were nothing like me. Even the unschooling ones. I just never fit in. Hell, the boys’ cub scout pack was almost entirely made up of homeschoolers, and that was a fucking joke. That shit had to be the most pretentious and self-important bunch of human beings I had ever met. And my kids never liked their kids, either. So, whenever I had a “Oh my god, my kids are going to be on welfare and they will hate me forever” moment, I had no one else who could relate to me and tell me what to do, or how to feel. I learned on my own.
A lot of unschooling parents do subscribe to the theory of doing a bit of actual textbook work in the older high school years, and in hindsight, I think I’d be an advocate for that. However, you may find that once your kids are that age, they will want to learn it on their own. They will find their own websites and information. Because you taught them that. You taught them to love learning. You taught them how to find answers. So when the idea of going to college becomes a little seedling in their mind, and you show them the kinds of things most high school seniors need to know (meaning, really, honestly need to know. Meaning, seriously. Considering most college freshman years are spent reviewing everything you just learned in high school), they will sit down and learn it. More than likely, it will take them a month or so. Maybe shorter. Maybe longer. But you won’t have to do anything. You’ve already done your job. Going over and nudging shoulders with your kid and trying to “teach” just annoys the hell of out them… because they’re busy learning shit. And you’re in the way. See how that works?
This is the point where I am going to give you some more links. I’m going to look in my school folder in my bookmarks and pick out the ones I think are most helpful. These should get you started pretty quickly on the road to that emotional breakdown that will cause you to either 1) Give up and enroll them in school tomorrow, or 2) Feel absolutely right in your element, your kids are thriving, you’re proud of them, and all is right with the world. Or, 3) Lie to yourself with daily Stewart Smalley-esque affirmations until, 10 years later, it finally becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, and you go online to your blog and admit to the world that you don’t teach your children dick or squat. And they are still fucking brilliant.
Time4Learning (One of my kids’ faves)
|Mari, Inc. (reading, lit guides, etc)
K12.com (free online public school in some states)
I have tons more links. TONS. MORE. And giving you my opinion on any of them wouldn’t matter. First, because I really don’t have a lot of experience with most of them. Second, and this is the most important thing, every child learns differently. That is the beauty of being human. We are all different. The way we experience the world is as different as the number of humans that walk upon it. I do not know any parent who wants their child to become another brick in the wall. We are not a cookie cutter species. That is why we are humans. And not ants. Or bees. Or a herd of antelope. We have self-awareness. We are curious about our world and our place in it. What works for my kids might not work for yours.
And lastly, if I had to sum it all up, and give you the absolute best advice I have, it would be these few things.
1) Be the parent your child needs, instead of molding your child into the kid you want.
2) Have faith. In yourself and your kid. What you don’t understand is that even though you have lost faith in yourself, your kid will think you’ve lost faith in him.
3) When given the choice between worksheets or fingerpaint, always choose fingerpaint.