Friday, June 26, 2009

Preparing to Homeschool

by Linda Schrock Taylor

It's that time of year again. Parents are worrying and debating, "Should we let the children return to public school for just one more year?" Parents are refiguring budgets and wondering, "Could we drive the old car another year and put the kids in private school?" Parents are reevaluating long-range financial goals to determine which might be put on the back burner until later; so as to homeschool children who are growing up quickly now. Many parents arrive at the decision to homeschool, but then fail to act upon their decision, fearful of taking 'The Giant Step,' as we called it in our home. Do not be fearful. Act. Your children will be all the better for it, and you will never regret your decision.

Too often parents have believed the official state slogan, "You need to be a certified teacher in order to teach." That is nonsense, and one need only look at the failure of the public school system to see how 'well' those thousands of certified, degreed, experienced administrators and teachers have failed America. That system of 'educated professionals' has hurt the American people so severely that millions of individuals, and our nation, may never recover. America now ranks alongside countries long noted for having unskilled workers, low literacy rates, and the destructive effects of illiteracy: poverty; crime; welfare; gangs; illegitimacy; large prison populations; industry and manufacturing moving to countries where literate workers can read orders, blueprints, and manuals for operating high-tech production machinery. Mexican workers have a 90% literacy rate; American workers have about a 70% literacy rate. Eventually, Mexico may have to close its borders against Americans sneaking in to find work.

Certainly loving, committed parents can educate their children better than the State is doing. Children being homeschooled by parents who are focused; who willingly sit and learn with their children; who mediate experiences and information; are far better off than the children in most public schools in America. However, children who are being kept home from school by parents who lack plans, goals, and a commitment to truly educate their children, are better off in school where, hopefully, they will have a few good teachers and come away with something.

Parents do not need to "know everything" in order to homeschool. I have a master's degree and I certainly could not begin to teach my son everything that he needs, and I want for him, to know. Luckily the world is full of books, videos, and websites on every topic. Help is available for those who honestly seek it. Bring your children home, but do it with forethought, planning, and a commitment to provide the best education possible. Homeschooling is hard work, but it is most rewarding.

There are some things that you do need to know as you begin homeschooling: Know Your State Homeschooling Laws; Know Yourself; Know Your Child; Know What you Want Your Child to Learn; Know Your Timeframe; Know That the First Two Years Will Be the Roughest; Know that Reading must be the Number One focus; Know That It Is OK To Be Flexible.

Know the homeschooling laws in your state, and learn as much as possible about homeschooling. As a first step, visit the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) website and learn the laws for your state. If you must file paperwork with the state, call the homeschooling office at your state department of education, and ask to be sent a homeschooling packet. Read it carefully for some states, like Michigan, require that you check a certain box stating that you sincerely believe that your children do not need certified teachers. Otherwise, the state expects that a certified teacher be involved in your homeschooling. Also, do not forget to tap into resources within your circle of family and friends. Maybe a relative is a retired certified teacher and would enjoy teaching some French lessons; a neighbor might be willing to act as consultant and advise on materials and lesson plans. Be innovative in finding help and support. Check for a homeschooling group in your area to join. Some of those groups are so large that they have orchestras and offer courses for the more difficult high school classes.

While at HSLDA, read a variety of articles so you can better understand the rights, and the responsibilities, of homeschooling. When you decide to homeschool, consider joining that association. The knowledge that you have immediate access to lawyers and advice is invaluable and especially reassuring to families as they begin this new venture. As protection against a day when the state might decide to interfere with our homeschooling, we keep every paper; every workbook that David completes. At the end of each school year, I bundle everything into a brown expanding file, label with grade level and year, and store. If I am ever questioned about whether I 'really' provide him with schooling, I can rent a hand truck and wheel the tall stack out for all to see.

Know yourself and your spouse. Communicate with your spouse to assess the commitment, skills and goals of your team. If the mother is strong in language and reading, but feels shaky with the math and science, plan educational schedules so that both parents can participate. No bus will pick your child up at 7:30 AM, and you don't have to run your homeschool as a typical public school day. You may choose to, as an aid to developing structure and accomplishment of goals, but you do not have to 'be in session' from 8:00–3:30. We homeschool four long days, then David has Friday off because he and his father have jobs in the meat department of a small town general store. Sometimes we have English classes on the weekends when I am more available to work with writing assignments. Flexibility is important, even in choosing or discarding materials. If you chose something that simply is not working, chuck it and find something that does; change the schedule; cut or increase the workload. YOU are the teacher, the principal, the superintendent and the school board. You make the decisions. Be flexible as you meet the needs of your children, yourselves and your household.

Know your child, and understand that you know your child better than any other educator. For example, if you know that your child hates early mornings, you adapt for that, plan schooling around it, and maintain an environment conducive to learning. David gets up just about the time that the bus he used to ride passes the house. With book in hand, he eats a leisurely breakfast while reading his literature assignment. After a relaxed beginning to his day, he feels more ready for pencil and paper assignments. You can be flexible and still complete the lessons plans that you wish to accomplish.

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