I keep meeting parents who have pulled their kids out of school but it's not just me, statistics prove it: homeschooling is on the rise in the United States.
They all say the same thing when they step tentatively into one of our park days, hope and trepidation in their eyes:
My child is doing so much better now that they aren't in school.
I don't know what the heck I'm doing.
Yes, I nod. Yes. We all felt that way when we started.
So now that I've been doing this for nigh on 15 years, I thought I'd share some of my tips for new homeschoolers.
1. Find a community, but make sure it fits.
You will thrive much more easily with support–even if it's only online if you can't find it where you live–but you won't thrive if the community isn't a fit. You see, homeschooling isn't a one-size-fits all thing. There are unschoolers (self-directed educators) and curriculum homeschoolers. Online homeschoolers and Montessori-type homeschoolers. Religious homeschoolers and secular homeschoolers. The list goes on. And even then, inside each sub-category there can be differences. Radical unschoolers are different than academic unschoolers.
Homeschooling is a varied as people.
So find the group that fits you. And you know it fits when you can be your complete self, whether that self loves to share how the Bible is helping you find peace at home or you love to swear to emphasis how much it hurt to get your tattoo. I'm telling you, a group of non-school-going folks who high-5 you all the way is the only way to go.
So if you can't find a group, make one. That's what Facebook is for.
2. Decide what your mission is.
What do you value? What does success look like to you? How will you know you are successful? If families sat down and figured out their family mission statement many core fears would clear themselves up and and large wrong-turns in homeschooling could be avoided.
Your family has a unique view on life.
Does success to you mean a child can name all the capitals and do calculus? Does it mean they are skilled decision makers with a high Emotional Intelligence? Is empathy a core value? Commitment? Service? How will you know your child is successful? Is it when they pass a test you provide, when they show an extreme interest in something and follow through on it (however unconventional) or when they show they are responsible and can be independent?
Take your time figuring this out. "Create a core mission statement" is easy to say but may be very hard to do. Once you try to write it down you may end up facing your own issues. This is deep work folks, but it's the guiding star to your ship. Without it, how will you know where you are going or when you get there?
3. Learn who your child really is.
They were born who they. Now you can help them be the best they can be. But what the heck is that?
However you want to go about this I'm all heck-yeah but to help you understand what I'm talking about I'll share my favorite person-understanding thing. It's Myers-Briggs.
I'm a huge fan of the Myers-Briggs personality typing system (MBTI). It helped me understand people in ways 15 years of personal growth research never did. But mostly it helped me understand how to support my children.
All types are awesome and inside each type is a unique person. But once you realize not just in your heart but in your brain that there is honestly nothing wrong with your child who seems so shy or your child who can't seem to sit still or your child who is ALWAYS TALKING SO LOUDLY or your child who....
It gives you great peace of mind. It allows them to be who they truly are and–more importantly–who they are not.
4. Communicate. Clean it up. Grow.
Learn how to communicate, clean up your mistakes, and grow from them. You are going to be living with these little people, and tween people, and teenagers 24/7 for a long time. This close-quarters living will reveal all of your flaws to you. Your children will mirror them. They will poke at them. They will drive them to the forefront until you have to choice but to either transform yourself or live in a swirl of all-ages chaos.
Homeschooling your children will force you to become a better person. This will be your greatest challenge and your greatest gift. Embrace it. While they are in school learning you will be learning too. Read books on communication techniques. Take classes on forgiveness. Learn about the habits of highly successful families. Whatever your favorite flavor of self-help is, buy it in bulk.
The end result?
People will hear you homeschool and say "I don't know how you do it, I could never stay at home with my kids all day" and you will just smile because you LOVE living with your child/ren. True story.
5. Practice answering questions from people about what you do.
Most people can't help it, they don't know how else to start a conversation with a kid except "What grade are you in? Where do you go to school?" HOW you answer that question changes everything.
If you answer with a bow of the head, mumbling with apology, "We don't go to school...." you will be met with a similar head nod from someone feeling sorry for you. If, however, you answer with a huge smile of confidence and joy, "I'm homeschooled!" they will simply smile and say "Oh, that's great!" mirroring your enthusiasm.
Each person who "has concerns" over your educational choices is usually well-meaning. Genuinely concerned.
"How do you socialize? How will they get a job? Go to college?" They have no idea and they are alarmed so I help them feel better. I give statistics or success stories. I tell them how ANYONE who is 18 can go to community college. How 16 year olds can get associates degrees and transfer to major universities if they choose. I talk about apprenticeships and entrepreneurial paths. I tell them about the hundreds of social opportunities available to my family and how we have to say no to more things that we say yes to because there is not enough time to do all of the "social" things we could do.
Mostly, I say: when a child is at home over summer vacation, do they learn nothing? Not one thing? Not even on that family trip? Did they never talk to another person or "socialize"? If summer vacation can be ripe with learning opportunities and growth, just imagine what you can do all year with a parent or two focused on it with you.
I win them over, every time.
You see, most people don't realize homeschooling is actually a thing. If you are homeschooling, or considering it, chances are you've done a lot of research. Now it's a bigger topic online and in the news but just a decade ago it wasn't. I can't even count the number of parents my age I have met who said: You don't have to put your kids in school? I didn't know that.
Imagine what the oldest generations don't know about what we now know about education.
6. Have fun!
Believe in the power of having fun.
As adults we can appreciate what stress does to our bodies, our minds, and our spirits. Even doctors talk about how harmful it is. Homeschooling gives us a chance to cultivate an environment of our choosing. Like making a nest for a baby bird or tending the waters of an aquarium we get to cultivate the atmosphere we grow our children in.
It's hard to learn new ideas when you are scared, stressed, or anxious.
Think about it. Brainstorming is a huge technique for developing innovative ideas. The number one rule for great brainstorming is creating a safe space. Once people feel comfortable to share ideas–no matter how wacky they are–their ability to create new ideas multiplies.
And then, once they feel comfortable what do they do?
So you will know you have safe space when there is laughter. And when there is laughter you won't sweat the small stuff.
And that's worth staying home for, if you ask me.
It's like personal growth and stuff.