More than a few people have lately asked me about our homeschool experience. Most of these people are moms who are considering homeschooling their child[ren] and want to know if they can do it and still retain their sanity. If you fall into this category, please allow me to tell you: YOU CAN! You really, really can. Ask anyone who knows me well. If anybody were to go completely bat-poo insane because of being with her kids all day, every day and also being responsible for their ENTIRE EDUCATION that person would be me. If I can handle it, so can you. Sure, as I told one mom, there are days when I want to quietly walk out with all the cash in my house (about thirteen dollars), get in my car, and roll on down to Mexico. Only, I’ve had to change my destination to Canada, because driving in Mexico has gotten super-dangerous, what with the drug cartels and all.
So, yes, you can do it. Now, what’s stopping you? Crippling fear. Which curriculum will I choose? How do I avoid the truancy police?! If I don’t do everything perfectly, will my kid turn into some kind of socially inept mole person??!! The answer is yes. Ha ha. Just kidding. You don’t have to do everything perfectly AT ALL! Kids, especially young ones, learn surprisingly well with very little intervention. In my experience, exposure to information is the most important thing. The question is: what information do you expose to them?? This is where curriculum comes in.
First, a little disclaimer: LAWS ABOUT HOMESCHOOLING vary pretty widely by state. The Home School Legal Defense League has put together an easy reference of the homeschool laws by state, and that’s some required reading before anyone begins homeschooling. From my research, the variation in state to state laws centers mostly around hours of required schooling and documentation that must be sent to your district school board about your intent to homeschool and about your child’s progress. Texas happens to be one of the easiest states in which to homeschool. The current laws regarding homeschooling in the state of Texas were largely established by a judge’s ruling in the 1991 case of the Texas Education Agency v. Leeper. Here is a summary of that ruling given by Houston attorney, Allan Hollan:
The parents of school-age children in Texas need only home school “in a bona fide manner” (not a sham or subterfuge), have a curriculum “consisting of books, workbooks, other written materials, including that which appears on a computer screen or video tape monitor, . . . developed or obtained from any source”, and the curriculum must be “designed to meet basic education goals of reading, spelling, grammar, mathematics and a study of good citizenship.”
That’s it. Period. In Texas, home schools are dealt with as if they were private schools, and, as such, are under zero legal scrutiny from the public school disctricts. There are no minimum education requirements for homeschool teachers, no minimum number of hours of schooling, and no written notice of your intent to homeschool is required. Though, it is a good idea to let the school district know that you intend to homeschool your legally school-aged child, especially if you are removing him from previous enrollment in public school. The Austin Area Homeschoolers group has a lot of good information about legally homeschooling in Texas. They even have a sample letter of intent to the school district to guide you. But, back to curriculum.
CURRICULUM is nothing to stress over. In Texas, you don’t even have to have a purchased curriculum just a curriculum. I even perused the laws in several other states, including a couple of states that were marked as having high homeschool regulations, and I never saw much about what kind of curriculum had to be used. It is my opinion that, in homeschooling, the particular curriculum you choose matters just about as much as the color of the pencils you use. More than anything, a curriculum is a safety net. It staunches the panic of not knowing what to teach. I used the curriculum I purchased for about two months while I was getting my bearings. After that, I sorta scrapped it.
Since I was bored with my first-grade curriculum, and so were my boys, we started WINGING IT. If prickly pears were on sale at HEB, I’d buy one do a unit on cacti. I was given a few books on at-home science experiments, so I’d center the science lesson around that. For math, we’d do worksheets. I’d just give them the worksheets and explain the directions. If they had trouble, then I’d teach the concept. Usually they just figured it out. For reading, we’d pick what seemed to be a fun book, then I’d read a page and Jacob would read the next, and so on. We’re now reading the “Choose Your Own Adventure” series. For writing, we’d think up an interesting subject and have the boys draw a picture and then write a paragraph about it. Every school session included some worksheets from review books made for first and second graders. Some days, I said, “Forget school! We’re making COOKIES!” and then I’d sneak in some volume and measuring lessons. You don’t have to think up the lessons, either. A Google search of any subject of interest plus “lesson plan” will bring up everything you might need. And, if you feel like you may not be covering everything your child would learn in public school…
Look up your state’s KNOWLEDGE REQUIREMENTS. In Texas, it’s called the TEKS, and if you click on that link and scroll to the bottom of the page, you can click on the TEKS for each grade level. If you are not in Texas, check out this Ed.gov list of State Departments of Education. On your state’s education department website, you can usually find what you need by searching for phrases like “course requirements” and “performance standards”. The knowledge requirements for your state, much like your curriculum, may provide you with a sense of security. Your child will not fall helplessly behind his state-schooled peers. Let me encourage you, however, to feel very free to go past those requirements. The TEKS here in Texas describe such rudimentary knowledge and skills that they seem to be written for high-functioning chimpanzees, for which, granted, many elementary students could be mistaken. But, your and my kids are a lot smarter than monkeys, and one of the things that homeschool allows us to do is go beyond the state’s education requirements.
Having a plan for your curriculum is a big step, but you also need to think about how you will GET PLUGGED IN with other homeschoolers in your area. I will admit that I have dragged my feet in getting us plugged into social homeschool groups this first year of our homeschooling. Partly it is because I have my own little mini-co-op with my friend. Our sons are the same grade (we actually met in our sons’ public school kindergarten class), so we each teach the boys two days a week. It’s been great fun. But, it has taught my friend and me both that the boys need access to more kids their age. Austin and the surrounding areas have many homeschool organizations. Austin Area Homeschoolers is a good place to start. In particular, AAH has a Yahoo group e-mail list geared specifically toward activities and field trips. We are taking our first field trip with this group on May 23rd.
It seems that curriculum/legal issues, socialization, and losing an already tenuous grip on reality are the main sources of fear when a parent is considering homeschooling. But, let’s step away from those boogeymen and allow me to tell you my top REASONS FOR CHOOSING HOMESCHOOLING.
- I make my own SCHEDULE. Public school attendance requirements can be such a ball and chain when the kids can only miss some small number of days without having to repeat the grade. Vacations outside of summer are basically out. Start times as early as 7:30 am? Many kids (and parents!) just weren’t made for that. Plus, the amount of time spent in actual instruction is so much less than the typical six-plus hours in a school day. I’d been feeling guilty when we would get through in 45 minutes a lesson plan that was estimated to take two hours. Then, a fellow homeschooling friend told me of the unofficial homeschoolers rule: 30 minutes of instruction per grade. And, that leaves so much time to do other fun, played-based, physical learning.
- I can PERSONALIZE THE INSTRUCTION. Jacob is really into math and numbers. Go figure. The math force emanating from his father runs strong. In kindergarten, Jacob asked his teacher if he could please add double digit numbers and was told he would “have to wait for first grade for that”. I’m not saying Jacob’s a math wiz (though, in honesty, he probably is – like his father). I’m saying the kid should be able to add double digit numbers whenever the heydoodle he wants to! My friend’s boy loves science, so I let him do science experiments no public school kindergarten teacher in her right mind would allow a student to do. Experiments that involve real mud, slime, fire, acid – you know, all the things that little kids love.
- I am IN CHARGE. What was once one of my biggest fears about homeschooling is now one of my favorite things about it. I get to shape my son’s school experience. More importantly, my son gets to help shape his school experience. And, I get to avoid some of the weird things that go on in public schools sometimes. Like the Winter Solstice party at Jacob’s old school in which the kids silently walked the school’s labyrinth by candlelight – a Pagan-inspired celebration of a specific holiday, because what? Paganism is not a religion? No religion in schools, indeed. Or the time one of his teachers taught an entire unit on how we were killing the oceans. Not that it’s a fundamentally wrong topic, but that the focus was on the child’s personal responsibility in said oceanic homicide. Jacob wouldn’t fish even in a lake for months. And, my friend’s boy had nightmares. They were even told not to eat Cheerios, because the use of palm oil in the cereal was destroying the rain forests. These are values to be taught at home, according to each family’s personal philosophies. This is not public school fare.
Ok, I’ve kind of “fallen off my stool” on this one, so let me finish by saying that homeschooling has provided me with a form of meaningful occupation that has been eluding me ever since I quit my old profession. Being successful at homeschooling makes my brain happy, and my happy brain makes me a better mother.
My final piece of advice is to be sure to get buy-in from both parents in the house. My husband has his own set of pros and cons for homeschooling, and he’d like me to share them with you:
- Jeremiah’s Pros
- no end of the year teacher presents
- no tissue box donations
- Jacob can have recess “in his underdrawers” [editor's addition: only if recess is inside our house]
- snack time anytime
- Jeremiah’s Cons
- increased home toilet usage
- never a quiet house
- decrease in availability of Doritos for Daddy
There you have it. Of course, most of what I have written is my opinion, and there will be many differing ones on this topic. But, I can wholeheartedly and without reservation recommend homeschooling. And, if you have any questions or rants, please feel free to contact me. I can take it.