It has been six months since we started on this journey with our 14-year-old son, who began a home-based high school curriculum last fall. I’m no expert by any means, but you’d be surprised how much several trials by fire in a short amount of time can teach you. I know there’s a lot more knowledge to grasp with each year, but here are ten things I’ve learned so far.
1. You can’t just go with one curriculum.
Even though my son is enrolled in an online accredited high school, there are still gaps I need to fill. For example, Khan Academy has been vital for him (and me!) to understand Algebra. Also, it can be challenging to find Christian history, literature, and other educational materials from an African American perspective in a mainstream homeschooling curriculum. I’ve posted a few history resources here on UrbanFaith.com, but you can also check out Store.UrbanMinistries.com.
2. Think nontraditional.
The main reason we’re going through this journey is that the structure of a brick and mortar school was not working for our son. So why repeat the exact same schooling structure at home? I’ve learned that sometimes he works better at night. He doesn’t necessarily need the weekends off. He’d rather do a little bit seven days a week instead of a normal five-day week. You can learn anywhere — for example, we’re going to learn Spanish vocabulary in the grocery store.
3. You do need some structure.
Every kid is different, but I can’t leave the house without making sure he knows what he’s supposed to do and then following up when I get home. I’ve heard horror stories of people thinking their kids are working only to find nothing but a trail of video games and social media filling up the day. Setting boundaries are important, and you can include your child in making those decisions. For example, I will talk to my son about the week and what we are going to accomplish and we will agree on which days and times he will complete the work. Some families might have routines that are more strict. But this works for us.
4. Connecting with other homeschooling parents keeps you sane.
I’ve spent a lot of time on social media with other parents who have kids in the same program. It makes me feel less isolated as we’re all going through it together and sharing our stories. We all have kids of varying ages, but there are always a few moms with kids the same age as yours. You’d be surprised at the similarities in our stories. I’ve learned a lot from those moms and gotten great tips and teaching resources. Check out these groups when you have time.
5. You have more time in your day to make learning fun.
When you strip out lunch, advisory periods, the time between classes, gym, assemblies, and time for teachers to work with other kids, that streamlines your child’s day quite a bit. My son can pretty much do his entire day’s work in three hours. I’m finding that is common among other kids who are learning at home. So I’ve started to get creative. We’re going to take advantage of several museums that offer free museum days to area residents. Also, we’ll be going to work out together at the local YMCA, which has affordable pricing.
6. You become the school guidance counselor.
If you don’t go to an online accredited school, you’ll need to develop your own transcript for your child. The Homeschool Mom has a great blog post about this, but keeping track of all the courses, lessons, tests, and grades become your responsibility. Also, it’s on your shoulders to plan out your child’s future, making sure that they are taking in all the subjects necessary for whatever transition they plan to make after high school. I’ve created a spreadsheet for my son that goes from freshman through senior year and has all the courses he will need to take to graduate.
7. Standardized testing is a little more challenging.
My son needs to take the PSAT this spring and it was not easy to get the local high school to let him take it there. I made several calls and emails that were ignored. If you’re not enrolled in the school, don’t be surprised if they simply don’t care that much about assisting you. Unfortunately, when you call the people who administer the PSAT, they say to contact your local school. In the end, the only reason I got a response was that I pointed out that I do have another child at the school. It was very frustrating. The lesson learned here is to start a few months early if you want your child to take standardized tests. Don’t wait until a week before the test. They have to make special accommodations for homeschooled kids and that can take time.
8. It takes a village to homeschool a child.
In my opinion, homeschooling will be hard to do if you work full-time without other family members to support you. This is a tough one to write because I know not everyone can survive financially on a part-time salary. But honestly, you have to be present to make this work. You can’t give an assignment and just leave without touching base during the day and providing assistance as needed. Not to mention, it requires a lot of planning in advance on what to teach, what classes to incorporate into your curriculum, when to take time off, how to provide extra help in subject areas unfamiliar to you, etc. That said, I could see it working if there is an extended family in the house who can help share the homeschooling load. I have a friend whose mother is helping to teach her small children a few days a week. It gives her a break and grandma time to bond.
9. People will be judgemental.
I’ve had people tell me they think I made the wrong decision. That I just gave in to my son’s anxiety. They’ve said there’s no way he can learn at home what he could learn in a public school. Some scare me with warnings that he won’t get into college. It’s hard to hear. From my point of view, my son actually doesn’t mind learning now. No more “I hate school” mantras. I know we made the right choice for our family.
10. Choose your path based on your circumstances.
If your goal is to give your child a flexible schedule in the short-term and you intend for him or her to eventually go back to regular brick-and-mortar schooling, consider starting with your local public school first. A lot of school districts have home-based, online curriculum partnerships you can look into if your child has an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Or, they may have a program where you can work with your child’s teachers and take the work home. We did that when my son was in middle school. If this is a long-term choice and there’s really no going back, do your research first before you make the leap if you have time to do so. Talk to other homeschooling moms. There are so many options now and you can tailor something specific to your child’s interests. Start with the Homeschool Legal Defense Association.