I came into homeschooling by chance. It was by chance that my second child was born with a learning difference. It was also by chance that, in the third grade, he landed one exceptionally bad teacher in an otherwise exceptionally good school. So it happened that one warm, sunny April afternoon, without having any previous notion I would be homeschooling ANY of my children, he and I sat looking at each other in shock and disbelief. I think we were both wondering if I had just really told the principal he wouldn’t be returning the next day, or any other day for that matter.
I remember everything feeling very surreal as I drove directly to the public library, and checked out all they had on homeschooling (3 books). We went home like any other afternoon, except that the largest shift ever, in our family dynamic, had just occurred. It rumbled up from the earth and shook us from our roots, through our core, to our tiny budding leaves.
Fast forward a few years; now that I’m a veteran homeschooler of exactly 1 child, I can reflect on the new life that has emerged for us. As a result, I have strung together 5 seemingly unrelated, but nonetheless profound ~ to me ~ meditations on homeschooling. Maybe, some of these are familiar to you too.
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1. Those fears I had about homeschooling were unfounded.
Anyone who has considered homeschooling, even if it was just a fleeting thought, has had these fears: I don’t know if I can do this, I don’t know if my child will learn, I’m afraid I will leave something out, I’m afraid my child and I won’t get along or he/she won’t listen to me, I’m not smart enough, I suck at math (or science, or grammar, or whatever).
I’m relieved to report that I found all of this to be untrue; this doesn’t mean I don’t have to chase away the doubt monster which is always creeping in – but no matter what, when I look at my (mostly) happy, (definitely) thriving child, I know my fears were unfounded. It’s not just test scores that say it. Actually, the test scores are the least important indicator to me that this is working.
It’s the feedback from him in a thousand tangible and intangible ways that let me know those things I was so scared of, on the way to the library that day, were unfounded. It’s also feedback from those around him: his friends, his friends’ parents, the folks at the science center, the youth leaders at the Y, his art teacher, the cashier at the grocery store, other family members, etc. The interactions he has with friends, family, and community put my mind at ease. We can do this. My child is learning. If we discover a hole in our curriculum (geography!), we can pick it up any time. We can get along (almost every day).
I’m no genius, but I am smart enough to facilitate my child’s learning – which is an innate drive within him, as a human being. I am not the vessel of all knowledge that must be poured into his brain. I might suck at math, but I’m excellent at seeking out a curriculum that works for him, and takes the stress off of me – which for us is Teaching Textbooks, at least this year.
2. Except One – Homeschoolers are weirdos.
It’s the most common misconception, right? “Homeschool weirdo” is an actual term. I’m sure it’s in a dictionary somewhere. In my naïve homeschooling infancy, this was one of my fears too. My kid was going to be a homeschool weirdo. But unlike the previous point, this one turned out to be true.
My kid is a total homeschool weirdo.
Because homeschoolers are weird. Just like public schoolers. Because kids are weird, and people are weird, and that’s just a straight up fact.
The first homeschool group function I went to, I looked around at everyone, very carefully evaluating their weirdness. Just as I suspected, it was a strange bunch, and I was fascinated. There were a few religious zealots. There was also the kid who arrived on the back of his mom’s Harley. There were a couple of radicals, who felt all word problems were created by the liberal left, and the ones who had never had a haircut their entire lives. There were the brainy ones, who answered all the questions before the teacher even asked them, and the awkward ones, who shuffled off to the side and didn’t want to interact. There were also the ones that appeared “normal” on the outside, whose eccentricities were below the surface, but were no less real. It didn’t take me long to realize that homeschool kids are weird, just as weird as the tribe of public school kids that we had long been a part of.
3. I love Nickelback.
There. Now it’s out there. Let the internet flames rain upon me. I love the one band everyone in the world seems to agree sucks. But, I have a semi-reasonable justification for it.
With my son at home, I’ve had many more opportunities to experience his evolving person. The way I loved The Wiggles when he was 18 months old, and he would dance and sing along to them like they were gospel – that’s the way I love Nickelback now. To see how he sings every (god awful) word while he sketches. Or watch him put “Photograph” on repeat and jam while he cleans up one million Legos for the one millionth time. I love it. Seriously. I love it because he loves it. If I am in the car, and Nickelback comes on the radio, I turn that sucker up. It’s my way of giving thanks for this parenting opportunity that I might have otherwise missed out on.
4. Child labor is a good thing!
I remember watching Michelle Duggar of reality TV fame, and thinking rather judgmentally that she was running a child labor camp. Every kid had what seemed like an endless list of “jurisdictions” or chores they were responsible for, and most of them involved meetings the needs of younger siblings. I’m not the only person out there who criticized her delegation of duties; it seemed the kids were all mini parents of one another. After becoming a homeschool veteran (smirk), I can say one thing: Mama Duggar was on to something. I’m not about to sprout a quiver-full of kids, though some would argue that my 4 already are, but I will readily admit my opinion has changed.
Here’s the deal. When my son was in school, I felt bad asking him to do any chores at home. He had already been cooped up all day, he had homework to do, and I wanted him to be able to spend time being a kid. Simple chores that he would have been entirely capable of (and benefited from) were left to me or his father. But remember that shift in our family dynamic I mentioned? This was a biggie for me. One of the best things about homeschool is the labor I get out of him. Trash? Done. Bathrooms? Working on it. Dishes, laundry, prepping dinner? He is part of it all. And perhaps the pot of gold at the end of the jurisdiction rainbow – childcare. He helps meet the needs of his younger siblings. He can give baths, read books, change clothes, feed snacks, even play dollhouse if I really need him to. He has successfully calmed a feverish and vomiting toddler when I was unable to get to him. This may have literally been the moment I was most proud of my 11-year-old ~ to see him calmly comforting his little brother, on his lap, while they both sat covered in puke. I just felt like “Hey, this guy is fantastic, and he is gonna grow into an exceptional adult.” He has the opportunity to contribute to our family, and nurture other people in a way he never would have before. I am trying to come up with an academic skill more important than that, and I can’t. Just can’t.
So Michelle Duggar ~ if you are out there. I was wrong. You knew something I didn’t. I admit it!
5. I could totally be Secretary of State.
Actually, I think this one might be true for any parent, but homeschooling just underscored it for me personally.
One day I was a mother of two public school boys, and in a matter of hours I became a homeschooler. I had zero preparation, zero forethought, and very little grasp of what I was getting myself into. That first afternoon, I felt I was sinking. But damn, if I didn’t get a grip on myself and put my big girl panties on, as they say. It was rocky at first, but I figured this gig out. I know I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination; worries and doubts cloud my thoughts on a daily basis. But, I went from being completely overwhelmed by what I thought was an unimaginably tall task, to feeling ever so slightly ahead of the 8-ball. Frankly, I believe that the doubt I feel helps keep me accountable to this task. I can always do better.
I’ve had opportunities to gain confidence in my adult life: graduation from college and grad school, accolades and promotions in my professional life, childbirth, maneuvering marriage and family, like we all do. This undertaking though, has given me confidence in ways nothing else has. And I am not kidding when I say that if I woke up tomorrow, to find some apocalyptic circumstance in which I was appointed Secretary of State, I could figure that gig out too.
Anne Alloway is a homeschooling mother of four who gave up personal space a very long time ago.