My children were in school. I never batted an eye at sending them off on that big yellow bus and enjoying a few hours of blissful quiet. (I never got the full eight hours as one son was only in a half day program so between getting him and his big brother from school, I had just three months of not working and being home alone for 4-5 hours a day.) I had spent most of their younger years at home with them, sending them both to a good preschool program that I worked at off and on over the years (my former place of employment as a teacher.) I had survived the diaper years, the not sleeping, the super fun time of navigating a child in the early intervention system. I thought I'd put in my time and I was DONE. I'd be sending them on their way, getting a huge block of time to work on my business, clean house, cook, create, see friends.
Then my priorities shifted both on purpose and unexpectedly. My older son began to have problems at school where safety was a concern and I became aware of the Common Core State Standards Initiative. I disagree with Common Core for a variety of reasons, some of which my friends agree with, some who disagree or are not concerned. And that's okay. It's my problems, my concerns, my children, my decisions. But it's these concerns that led me to investigate and ultimately decide that we needed to give home-schooling a chance.
It turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Now, do not misinterpret this to think we spend the day twirling clover flowers and counting clouds. Oh, I threaten to send them back to school. I cry. I scream. I fuss. They cry, they scream, they fuss. But guess what, as time goes by, we all do a lot less of that.
We have spent the year learning how we are similar and different, learning a different dynamic to our personalities and lifestyle. I've discovered things about myself as both a parent and educator and I've discovered things about their learning styles and who they are as people, not just spawn of mine.
I've learned about the secret world of homeschoolers and all the cool things we can do that I never knew about when my children were in school. I've reshaped my opinions on who homeschooling families really are. Guess what, they don't all wear denim dresses and shelter their children. There are homeschooling families of all shapes, sizes, types, and styles. More than I can even begin to list. There are plenty of labels but labels are for soup cans as I once read in a book by Amy Dingmann. (Great read, go get it, seriously, go now.)
I've also learned that my friendships with non-homeschooling friends will change. And that's okay because true friends will still be there no matter how weird they think your choices are. (Because chances are you think some of THEIR choices are weird.)
I know quite a few people who are new to home-schooling or are thinking of giving it a go. It's caused me to ponder what I wish I'd been able to tell my non-homeschool friends early on.
Here are the Top Ten Things We Wish You Knew.
1. First and foremost, our decision to home school does not, should not, and could not ever define YOUR choices in how you educate your child. With the exception of some militant home-schooling families, MOST home school families could honestly care less about how you educate your child. Many of us choose to only home school one child, many of us only do it for a season, some for life. All most of us really care about is that we all have CHOICES and the freedom to make that choice. So we applaud your choice, whatever it may be because you had the freedom to choose it. When WE choose to home school we are NOT saying our choice is better than yours. We are NOT saying we love our kids more and we are NOT saying we are superior parents. (And if you are someone who does think that, you have some serious soul searching to do because those kinds of feelings do NOT lend well to survival in the human race.) What we are saying is our choice to home school is what's best for us, right now, right here. It doesn't define YOU.
2. We learn way more than just when we sit down to pen and paper. Just as children in public/private schools learn far more than just what's on the paper in front of them, homeshooling children do not learn in a bubble. (Or they shouldn't.) Chances are when a homeschooler tells you they're done with their work in 3-4 hours what she means is the "book work" or "paperwork". She neglects to tell you about the music lessons, PE class, park trip, field trips, library visits, life skills, play dates, science camps, etc and all the things that are also considered "electives" in public/private school as well. Our electives just often happen to occur outside in the world. (Not all the time.) As it SHOULD be in public/private schools, life is a series of teachable moments. Learning doesn't happen in a bubble.
3. Homeschooling parents ARE qualified to teach their children. This may never come up between your friends, but it may. We just wish more people could understand they are truly qualified to teach their children. Why, when said child suddenly turns five and is off to kindergarten are we to assume we can't handle it? Am I really to believe I'm a *mumble*Something year old woman who cannot do second grade math? And if I am, why can I not re-learn it? Want to know a secret? We have the teacher manuals! Shhh, don't tell. But guess what....we have access to the answers!! And if we are not familiar with a subject, we generally learn it along with our kids! I'm not even going to list all the things I've either learned for the first time, or re-learned this year alone! Some parents happen to have education degrees (There's this secret subset of homeschooling parents who are former teachers....interesting...). Some have degrees in their area of expertise. Some have none at all. Our countries forefathers were not necessarily taught at a brick and mortar school all day long, yet they built one of the finest nations on Earth. Home schooling's not for wussies. We generally do not go at this with an apathetic view of education. I'm not saying it doesn't happen, but overall, we choose to home school because we value education and academics along with individuality and wish to cater that to our children. But we're not all rocket scientists and we don't have to be.
4. We didn't make this decision lightly. Some families know before they even conceive they wish to home school. Most do not. Most make this decision at some point their child's education "career" and decide they want to give it a go. Some families do know early on and make a game plan from day one. Whether we started early or didn't home school until senior year, please know we didn't make this decision lightly. Perhaps we discussed it with you as we discuss everything, but maybe we didn't. Maybe your friend just up and pulled their kids out of school. Either way, I promise you it was not a knee jerk reaction done overnight (Unless it was a specific imminent danger situation to a child, which are few and far between, and I cannot even honestly recall one family I know like that, but I do know it occurs.) But we thought about this. Prayed. Sought guidance. Researched. This was not a quickie idea. I promise.
5. We hate the socialization question. Let's get this over with now. We socialize our dogs, we educate our children. There is a TREMENDOUS difference between social skills and socialization. This is the biggest joke amongst homeschoolers because apparently the world thinks we all hide in a basement and never go out. Or they think because we're not surrounded by kids the same age we will all be horribly un-socialized. Social skills are taught in a variety of ways and I do not recall ever having a job where everyone was the same age as me. The world is a giant hodgepodge of people. The world is social. Social SKILLS are something every child should be taught and homeschoolers are no less capable of teaching this than school teachers. Social skills are manners, politeness, waiting in line, patience, turn taking, respect for elders, navigating checkout procedures, grocery shopping, driving, funeral and wedding decorum, and a million other skills we ALL need to learn. Quite frankly, this whole world needs a big social skills lesson because it sure has been on the decline.
But this is a big one in our world. We know you ask not because you really think we'll lock our kids away from the world, but because you're honestly intrigued and you honestly don't know. I didn't! I asked the question. It wasn't until we started homeschooling that I realized how silly that is. I know I do not take offense at this question but it gets really, really, really old.
Now that's not to say there aren't 'unsocialized homeschoolers' in the world. There are families who can't or won't take advantage of social opportunities. There are kids who are never, ever taught social skills. But I would guess if they weren't in school, they still might lack those skills. There are kids who just ARE socially awkward. There are PARENTS who are socially awkward. There are kids and adults who have social skill issues and cannot help it, or have not sought treatment for it. That doesn't mean they are less of a human than you, and I really wish people would judge a whole lot less.
6. We need a break too. When public/private school parents complain that summer vacation drags on, or they can't wait for school to start, you find different reactions from homeschoolers. Some of us chuckle and say, "Hah, I wish I could be complaining to GET a break from my kids!" Some of us are a little sad and say, "That's sad they don't enjoy being with their kids.". Both reactions are valid and each person is entitled to their opinions. I tend to be in both camps. I am not someone who wants to be with their kids 24/7. That was the hardest pill to swallow in this journey. But whether parents admit it or not, we all need a break. We just don't get our break during the school day like you do. But don't forget us. Ask us to go out on girls night. Find out when our spouse will be home so we can go shopping. Don't get mad when we don't answer the phone during school time, but leave us a message of a time we can call back. Share funny stores with us on Facebook. Tell us about good recipes. We need grown up talk. We do need a break from our kids, so if we vent to you about a bad day, keep in mind we might be forgetting to tell you about the awesome things we did do. Because honestly, sometimes that goes back to the #1 point...we do worry if we talk about the awesome thing you will think we're comparing our kids/parenting/choices to yours. We're not, promise, we just need a friend in this parenting gig and our gig happens to involve homeschooling.
7. We're all a little weird. Does this even need to be said? Seriously? EVERYONE has weird issues, quirks, likes, thoughts, desires, opinions. Stop thinking ours are weird solely because we home school.
8. Every state, city, family, is different. The way your cousin home schools in Denver will be drastically different than her friend in Oklahoma. Every state has different rules and regulations for homeschooling. We like it that way. When things need to be changed, homeschooling families rally together and advocate for their choices. Just as is done in the school system, parents can and should advocate for what's best for their children. Ours happens to be in the topic of homeschooling, so it can vary wildly state to state, city to city, group to group and family to family. There are MANY different types of homeschooling philosophies and unless you ask, you'll have no idea which one we may or may not adhere to. Ask us if you are curious. If not, don't assume we're doing it wrong because it's different than others.
9. If we vent to you, don't assume the entire process is awful. Again, I promise it's not all bad. If your friend is homeschooling and a very good friend, it's possible she vents to you because you're her bud and she feels safe doing so. As mentioned above, there may also be reasons she leaves the good stuff out. Part of this problem is on us, the homeschoolers. We need to stop worrying about what everyone thinks and just share our news in general, good and bad. We need to change this dynamic and share the cool stuff!
**Confidential to homeschooling families...if discussing your homeschooling really does cause dissension among family and friends it may be time to evaluate how you go about discussing it, and if the problem is truly not yours, just let it be a topic you don't discuss. Sometimes in life there are groups of people we cannot discuss certain things with. This is okay to be one of them.**
10. We miss you. Just as life changes and we go through periods of adjustment after college, marriage, babies, deaths, etc; this is just another time in life where things change. You will likely drift apart from some friends. Its inevitable. But true, good friends are important, whether it's short lived or for a lifetime. We want you to know that we're still here...we're still your friend. We don't judge your choices (or if we do so, we do so lovingly and with your best interest at heart like the time you wore that blue dress that was too tight..um, we need to talk.) But seriously, friendship takes work, just like marriage and this crazy home school game. So just because your friend now home schools, it doesn't mean she's not the same awesome person she was before. It just means her schedule might be a bit different, she may ask you to save toilet paper rolls for an art project, and she may not own anything other than yoga pants (to which you need to help save her from that...) but she's still the same awesome friend you loved prior to homeschooling. And if she's NOT and your differences are too much, that's okay too. Life changes. But know your homeschooling friend misses you and loves you, no matter where your kids are from 9am-3pm. I promise.
******* I apologize for this novella but it's something I've been dwelling on a long time, both personally and as I've watched friends navigate this home school experience, both old timers and newbies. Life is ever changing and if we were all just a bit more open to new experiences and accepting, life could go a lot smoother. There will ALWAYS be someone doing it better, faster, earlier, newer, prettier, happier, than you. Ignore that. I am only responsible to God and to my family. I'm responsible for what I say, not for what you hear. I repeat these things to myself throughout the day when things get tough.
Do what works for you, parents.....do what works best for your family and cultivate the friendships you value...
because in the end, we all just want what's best for our children, and that's not the same choice for everyone. But it's a choice we can all support and believe in.