When you’ve suddenly taken your kids out of school to homeschool, there is a long list of things to do, and it all seems like it needs to be done quickly so your kids won’t be behind.
When you start homeschooling, one often overlooked aspect — especially if you hadn’t planned to homeschool — is the need for you and your child to come to terms with the school experience and the reasons you find yourself homeschooling.
To help you process the big change that comes with suddenly starting homeschooling, I recommend this: tell your story.
Telling your story of how you came to homeschooling can be powerful, similar to the power found in birth stories, ancestry/genealogical stories, and other narratives that describe personal journeys.
If you started homeschooling in the middle of the year, there is a good chance that it is in reaction to a school situation that was not working for them. You tried to make it work, maybe even for years. In some cases, you were a “I’ll-never-homeschool” parent or a public school teacher or an education advocate who has up to this moment thought, “homeschoolers are abandoning public schools.” You may have an understandable need to explain to everyone how you ended up homeschooling. Tell your story, in order to get perspective on this decision.
Here are some suggestions for telling your story.
Choose your audience carefully. You can’t get support from the non-supportive. Find or create a safe place to tell your story, either in writing or in person, but keep in mind that some family, friends, and policy makers will disagree with your decision. Blogs, Facebook groups for homeschoolers, in-real-life homeschool groups, homeschool conferences, homeschool park days, and similar settings provide safer places to describe your journey to homeschooling.
Realize you will hear exaggerations about homeschooling — both from those who say homeschooling will doom your children (not true, of course) and those who say it will guarantee homeschoolers’ future success (unfortunately, also not true). You will get responses to your story that vary widely depending on the other person’s experience with homeschooling and how it fits into their views of politics, society, religion, and economics.
Understand that homeschoolers have heard this before, and most longer-term homeschoolers have moved on. After a while, those whose children began their education in the classroom stop focusing on why school didn’t fit, and they spend more time on the freedom they have to help their children learn at home. Many (if not most) experienced homeschoolers will realize what stage you are in and lend a listening ear; however, understand that they are not at the same stage.
Listen to experienced homeschoolers’ current stories — these are among the paths you may go down in your future months and years of homeschooling. To keep communication mutual, listen. Understand that you, in your newness to homeschooling, are not the only one reflecting on being in this educational minority; longer-term homeschoolers are also processing what it means for them and their growing children. It may sound different to you — this search for the right approach to homeschooling or concerns about high school — but these parents also need to tell their stories, and you can learn from their seeking and processing.
Avoid over-generalized school bashing. When you tell your story, keep in mind that not all homeschoolers have come to homeschooling from negative experiences in school. Additionally, the public has been slow to realize this, but many families use a blend of educational strategies, homeschooling some children while sending siblings to public or private school. Still others homeschool for certain periods of children’s lives, but always intend to send their children to high school.
Philosophically there are many good discussions about such things as the possibility that “school” itself is outdated and that compulsory attendance and standardization lead to pathologies. However, on a practical basis, there are many homeschoolers who do not hate school. When you are speaking personally, realize that others may not have the mindset you might assume they have. If you become more interested in the politics and societal implications of school and homeschooling, look for forums where this kind of discussion is invited. It’s a broader story than your personal story.
Let your children tell their stories. Realize that while your journey to this decision is shared, their story about leaving school is their own. They may miss people and things from school in a way that surprises you, especially if they seemed unhappy there. Let them tell their own stories about the transition to homeschooling. Listen. Ask gentle, open-ended follow-up questions. Listening to your children as they feel and think their way through their transition to homeschooling is a powerful first way to show them you will be a reliable homeschooling parent.
You may want to help your child set up a private blog, write letters to grandparents, create a closed Facebook group, or safely share on Instagram or other social media. Some may want to make a video about “the differences between homeschooling and school” or some other version of processing their new approach to education. Some will want to stay in touch with school friends while others will focus on new homeschooling friends. Either way, their play and time together will provide an ongoing opportunity for your children to express themselves, eeking out their stories a little at a time. Indulge the time it takes.
Pay attention to how deschooling affects the narrative over time. Both parental deschooling and your child’s deschooling will change your own and your children’s perceptions about school and homeschooling and about what “must” happen in a home-based education. In other words, your story and your children’s stories will change over time.
Early stories about the decision to homeschool are often “jump off the cliff ” stories — and for some people may feature fear, uncertainty, determination to do better, resentment at being “forced” to homeschool, or acquiescence to the inevitability that homeschooling is the only way. Of course there is also anticipation and excitement about new opportunities and better times ahead.
However, as you drop presumptions about how education “must” happen that are relevant to the school model rather than the homeschooling model, you will find your story morphs because of new insights as you “deschool.” (And if you do not know about deschooling, you absolutely should click the deschooling links above. Deschooling is probably the most important factor in getting homeschooling off to a good start. Read everything you can about deschooling).
There may be therapeutic benefits to telling your homeschooling story. “How did I come to homeschooling?” begets the question, “Where will we go from here?” Your homeschooling story may inspire or support others, help you find perspective on your decision, contribute to any needed healing, and lead to the hope and plan that will sustain your children and their education.