Getting your bearings

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I met a woman who recently decided to homeschool her two children. She wore a look of determination, but it was laced with a definite sense of terror.

You see that look in movies, on the faces of suburbanites who find themselves crash-landed in the deep wilderness. Lurking behind every tree may well be a bear (or worse) and now, she is pretty well convinced that whatever option she might chooses, something will go wrong and it will be all her fault.

Before our heroine goes into full-fledged panic, let’s define “it”: A brief list covering the usual suspects:

That she won’t be a good enough teacher
That her kids won’t learn the right stuff
That her kids will learn the wrong stuff
That her kids won’t learn *any* stuff
That at the end of the school year, when she sits in judgement for Annual Review, some education overlord will point a Finger of Doom at her and thunder, “YOU HAVE FAILED.”

I know what causes this. A parent who has decided to homeschool brings it on themselves when they conscientiously go to the internet and search “how to homeschool.” The second they hit enter, a firehose of information gets turned on at full blast.

HOMESCHOOL, MATH, UN-SCHOOL, REQUIREMENTS, SOCIAL STUDIES, CLASSICAL, ECLECTIC, CURRICULUM, TESTING, SCIENCE, CO-OP, UNIT STUDIES, COMPLIANCE, MULTIPLE INTELLIGENCES, CHARLOTTE MASON, 2E, PORTFOLIO, CLASSES, RESOURCES AIGH, STOP!

No wonder she looks shell-shocked.

If you found yourself in an extreme survival situation, you should know the rule of threes: you can make it three minutes without air, three hours without shelter, three days without water, etc. It helps you clear your head and prioritize. Don’t panic.

If you’re starting to homeschool, also don’t panic. It isn’t survival school, but knowing the fundamentals will give you some guideposts to follow while you figure out what’s going on in these woods.

First and foremost: know the rules. I cannot emphasize this enough. Understand the regulations set forth by your locality and know how they apply to your situation. Once you know what’s required, you know where the boundary fence lies around the regulatory monster. Remember that laws exist to limit the government, not you.

Second: relax. I’m serious. You could do what I did, and spend an entire summer staying up all hours reading everything you can lay your hands on about homeschool curriculum and philosophies. Absorb half a dozen guides written by individuals who confidently preach, “This totally works and your children need this.” Pick up a smattering of work materials here and there because they look like they might be interesting to your kids, and gradually accumulate an impressive stack in eight weeks’ time. Then kick off homeschool in the fall only to discover that all your plans – all of them – are driving you and your family bananas.

Instead of looking at what other people are doing, first figure out what education means to you. Be honest with yourself: is your goal merely to re-create school at home? Because you have a flexibility and freedom that is completely unavailable to standard institutions. You aren’t hampered with the logistics of 30 kids plus chaperones if you want to take a field trip. You don’t have to carpet bomb your classroom with worksheets because each child mostly represents how much time you must spend grading. You don’t have find one program to fit 30 different learning styles and 30 different intelligence levels.

If your kids are coming out of school, the first best thing you can do is sit back and observe them. Are they readers, crafters, listeners, watchers? What motivates them, catches their interest, lights their fire? Because I can tell you right now, if your kid thinks it’s a yawner, the curriculum is still useless, no matter how many parent reviews say “This was the greatest thing ever!!!”.

But… If you find your child learns their fractions effortlessly from measuring and baking chocolate chip cookies, then I suggest you get them an apron and the cookbook of their choice. If they devour history books, make friends with the local librarian. When science podcasts become all-consuming, invest in a good set of headphones.

If your child is young, and has never gone to school, I ask you this: has your child been learning up to this point? Of course they have. You didn’t upload some module to his brain at age 1 for “recognize shapes and colors”. There isn’t some switch in the back labelled “precocious” that you flip when she hit age two. Your child has been learning organically from day one, and continues to learn not because some institution says it’s time, but because they want to know. And that curiosity, that desire to learn is the single most valuable asset they have. Nurture it, grow it, make that flourish.

Everything else will come.

head cephalopod

Just sorting out the flotsam of the universe.

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