10 Lessons I Learned as a Homeschool Parent
We often focus on what homeschooling means for our children, but what about the things that we learn as parents? Here are 10 lessons you are likely to learn as a homeschool parent:
Your children are individuals; treat them as individuals.
As much as we talk about our kids being unique and special, we still tend to compare them to other children their age. The reason we continue to think chronological age is the best indicator of what-a-child-should-do-when is most likely an unfortunate byproduct of age segregated classrooms. Just as children grow physically at different rates, they also develop learning and thinking skills as their minds and bodies are exercised and allowed to explore. Respecting your kids as individuals means choosing methods and resources that fit their developmental stage and academic needs.
I learned to not to get caught up in the web of measuring our children with charts and graphs and standardized testing. Eventually I figured out that they are not accurate and effective enough to be useful.
One of the most difficult lessons to learn is maintaining perspective when you see amazing families and students featured in homeschooling magazines and in the media. There were times when I felt inspired by the possibilities, but I had to stay true to my gifts, and my children’s needs. I’m not called to be someone else, and they weren't called to be me.
I also learned to resist family and friends who are curious about what the kids were learning, and wanted to give pop quizzes over dinner to test their knowledge. I understood the impulse, but it's not only inappropriate, but would you like to pass a surprise history exam before you dig into the roast and mashed potatoes? Kids will learn respect when they are granted respect, so demand it for yourself, and for your kids.
Knowing how and when to lead
Children are influenced more by our example than by our lectures. The fact is, our lectures often tend to be rather hypocritical. They know it, and you know it. While you speechify about self control at 137 decibels, your credibility decreases while their resistance increases exponentially. When we complain about their progress in reading, spelling, and math, we must ask ourselves if we show them that we are willing to work hard to continue to hone our skills and learn new ones when necessary.
I started out homeschooling like a parent and teacher, but I found myself becoming a student again, learning alongside my kids. It was the best way for learning to be effective and fun.
Knowing how and when to follow
Children are curious and energetic by nature. Parents are often control freaks. OK, maybe I’m just a control freak. These characteristics can clash with frustrating results for both parents and kids. Parents are accustomed to their their own way, but sometimes your way is not the best way.
I had to learn to be flexible, and not try to control every minute of every day. I let go of lesson plans that strangled our kids’ creativity and desire to learn. I figured out that to teach my kids to be self-motivated, I sometimes had to let them the lead and take ownership of their education.
The value of seeking the wisdom and counsel of others
The abundance of books and blogs about homeschooling is both a blessing and a curse. The internet, the library, curriculum publishers, and local homeschool support groups and co-ops offer parents a multitude of resources from which to gather information and encouragement.
I was happy to take advantage of the experiences and wisdom of parents who are already a little bit farther down the homeschool path than I was. The sheer number of choices we have available can become overwhelming, so asking about the experiences and insights of other parents is a great way to gain some perspective.
Gaining the courage to trust your own judgment
We live in a very opinionated society. Everyone has something to say about nearly everything. But you know you, and you know your kids. It takes courage to stand for what you know to be true, to let go of decades of education traditions, and forge a new path for your family. Peer pressure is not just a high school thing; it is still a problem for adults. But we can’t allow societal pressure to rob us and our kids of opportunities to learn and grow in ways that are right for them and for us.
When to listen to critics
Even though critics of homeschooling appear to be hostile to the idea of parents educating at home for reasons that seldom make sense to me, they sometimes have a point.
When nay-sayers ask if parents are qualified to teach their kids. . . well, are you? And I'm not talking about college degrees here. I found out how much discipline it takes to keep kids on track. I had to think about providing them with opportunities to become responsible, contributing members of society. I learned that I was sometimes to close to the issue to see spot potential problems.
Critics seldom have our best interests at heart, but there’s nothing wrong with taking a moment to view your life from their point of view and consider whether or not they are seeing something you don’t.
Letting go of the comfortable and familiar to try something new
If there is one thing that being part of the Schoolhouse Review Crew taught me, it's the fun and excitement of trying new methods and curricula. It was great to have my kids on board with me, using and reviewing the materials we received every month. We learned about how we learn simply by being able to try new things.
So if you think that another method or resource will fit your students better, don't be stubborn and stick with something you aren't satisfied with simply because so-and-so uses it, or you feel like you paid too much $$$ for it and "I must squeeeeeze every penny out of this $75 textbook!". Homeschooling requires us to be creative, responsive, and open-minded. Sell the book, for cryin' out loud, and move on.
When to to walk away from the new and shiny and just stick with what works for your family.
Every year, as the mailbox fills with catalogs and the inbox fills with recommendations, discounts, and free shipping promotions, the lure of curriculum that is shiny and new is almost irresistible. They all look incredible and effective, and promise that they hold the key to your child's learning. You have friends who swear by this program and that workbook.
It was tempting to jump on to another education bandwagon, but if what we were doing was working, I had to resist the impulse to try something new just because it's new. As a one income homeschool family, we had to use our homeschool dollars wisely on resources that provided real educational value for our family.
Homeschooling is easier than it looks and harder than you think
Preconceived notions are unavoidable, and you will bring plenty into your homeschooling life.
You may be surprised to discover that it is not difficult to find resources so that your child can learn a foreign language, play an instrument, and tackle advanced math, so there is no need to be worried about how you are going to teach Algebra or French.
Where you may find yourself challenged:
Dealing with ingrained ideas about what learning looks like
Being tempted to become a little too casual about education and character training
Coping with the criticism and discouragement
Spending too much time in extra-curricular activities
Not giving your child enough extra-curricular opportunities
Making a dinner that doesn't come out of a box
Teaching is a natural part of parenting, and homeschooling gives you permission to explore that side of yourself to its fullest potential. Your kids can learn in freedom, and your family relationships can blossom into true friendships.
But you’ve still got baggage from your own education experiences. Being at home every day without losing your mind takes planning, creativity, and discipline.
Your every day life, wherever you go, is the real world.
For some reason people will either wonder or just come out and ask you how your homeschooled children are going to learn to live in the real world. When this happens, I can't resist looking around and wonder- "Have I stumbled into an alternate dimension? Is there a rip in the space/time continuum?" What is this 'real world' of which people speak?
Is the real world somehow restricted to the public school classroom? If so, why aren’t we all still in high school? It's a stumper.
All the lessons I learned come down to this: live your life in a way that enriches your family and those around you. That's real enough.
What lessons have you learned as a parent?
Share your POV in the comments below or on Facebook.