May 2020

Reluctant Homeschooler? Join the Club!

BY SUKI WESSLING

It’s an odd time to be a homeschooler. You finally got used to being the weirdest family on the block, and then suddenly everyone is doing it.

I’ve been writing about homeschooling and teaching homeschooled children for years, operating in an almost invisible subculture that mainstream parents and teachers only found out of desperation. As recently as January, a public school official expressed surprise to me that my job—online teacher of homeschooled students—even existed. Most of the teachers I met thought that homeschooling was perilously close to child abuse.

So I and other veteran homeschoolers have been watching with a mixture of concern, elation, amusement, and consternation as the public school system has creaked and lurched into the 21st century, knocking on the door of the “weird kid” club.
This treehouse is getting crowded!

But seriously, as a homeschooler I welcome this chance to introduce the larger public to some of the wisdom we have gleaned over the years. As we watch families trying to shift to home learning, we homeschoolers see a lot that is familiar, even though homeschooling families are also homeschooling through quarantine for the first time.

Following are a few pieces of wisdom that homeschoolers have always been willing to share with our schooling brethren.

Teachers benefit more than they know from herd behavior
During my first pregnancy, my doctor said to me, “If you’re going to have one, I figure you should just keep going till you have 6. That’s a lot easier!”
I laughed, but she wasn’t completely joking. It really is harder to wrangle two or three kids than it is a larger group. You might find it takes an hour to get one child’s shoes on, yet your teacher accomplishes that task with 20 students in five minutes.
Give yourself—and your child—a break that they seem less willing and slower moving than they were at school.

Time needed to focus on actual school work is lower than you might expect
Pretty much every homeschooling parent went to school. So overdoing it is one of the most common newbie mistakes. We think, “Students are at school for 6 or 7 hours a day. That means we have to ‘do school’ for that long.”
Homeschoolers find that we get done with seatwork much more quickly and efficiently. If your teacher is asking for more focused time than your child needs, ask if there are other activities you can do. You don’t have to be sitting still to learn any of the academic subjects in school. And plenty of time spent in school is spent on socializing, creativity, and exercise, too.

Busywork makes no sense at home
It’s not uncommon for classroom teachers to have a stockpile of “busywork” for every unit they teach. In a classroom, it can be very handy to have tasks you can give to the students who finish first. It can also be helpful to stretch out the learning time so teachers can give individual attention.
But at home, work that makes no sense to a child simply makes no sense. If your child could go play with a pet, do a baking project, or talk to friends online, why force them to do work that doesn’t promote further learning?
If your student gets frustrated at their workload, consider which of the work promotes learning, and which just takes up more time. Ask your child’s teacher if you can prioritize the learning-heavy work.

Your job as a parent takes precedence over your job as a teacher
“How can I be both Mom and teacher?” is one of the standard questions that new homeschoolers ask. And the answer is: you can’t. No matter what, you were a parent first and you’ll be a parent last. When the roles conflict, the choice is clear.
If your child is upset about schoolwork, you are presented with a conflict. Do you try to resolve the emotional issue, or do you try to push past it to get the work done?
Homeschoolers will tell you that very little homeschooling tends to get done during times of great stress. If being stuck at home doesn’t qualify as great stress for a child, I don’t know what does. Think about what you want your child to look back on when they think of this time, and prioritize that.

Family meetings are a must
Families can get by without a lot of communication, especially if they don’t spend a lot of time together. Homeschooling families? Let’s talk.
You’re stuck at home together. You are all filling multiple roles in one environment. You don’t have friends to decompress with. If you aren’t doing family meetings yet, now is the time to start. There are some great family meeting guides out there. Find one that suits your style and call your meeting to order!

Parents need their “me time” more than ever
Homeschooling is the ultramarathon of parenting. You’re always on, right?
Nope: successful homeschoolers get time off. If you have been “on” since the schools were closed, it’s time to set some boundaries. Call a family meeting and explain that you need some space. If you are a single parent in a small apartment with a child or children, that space may end up being metaphorical. But you do need it.
If you have a room to go to, make some rules. Make a sign! Get everyone to sign onto the plan. Your me-time might be doing work. It might be talking to a friend or relative on the phone. It might just be taking an afternoon nap. But you need it. Find a way to get it.

Live a learning lifestyle!
I hope that when your students return to the classroom, your family benefits from this experience. My children attended both school and homeschool, and there were benefits to both. When homeschoolers return to school, they can take a lot of new tools with them. They will have a new, hopefully more intimate, relationship with their families. They will have learned new technology. They will hopefully have learned what it is that they love most about the world outside their home.
Living a learning lifestyle means that even when you’re not “doing school,” you’re looking at the world around you, wondering, coming up with questions, and trying to find answers. Homeschooling is a great way to introduce that spirit into your family, now and for the long term.

Suki Wessling is a local writer and teacher, and the mother of two mostly grown homeschoolers. She teaches online courses for homeschoolers at Athena’s Advanced Academy, and keeps an active blog. Find more writing at SukiWessling.com or visit Suki’s Parenting and Education Facebook page.

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