Monday, March 27, 2006

Homeschooling: Think, Decide, Then Start---Just Do It!

This piece is dedicated to Julie V. at LiveLearnLaugh because reading of her worries inspired me to share these words of encouragement which are based on my own experiences with homeschooling.

There are lots of choices in the homeschooling world today, too many choices, I think. I am hearing more and more of people getting hung up on the decision making process. Some ponder using a book or curriculum for months, others ponder homeschooling for two or three years (while their child suffers in school, according to the parent).

Something else that complicates matters is that if a family ponders homeschooling when the oldest child is a baby (as I did) then there are many years to read and ponder before putting much of it into practice. That is a lot of time to think and ponder, and there is plenty of time to worry and perhaps try to become a perfectionist about it.

Here is what it boils down to: think about your goals, look at choices, make a decision, and just start. Period. Stop that indecision in its tracks!

Don’t get too hung up on any one of those stages for too long because it may interfere with enjoying life with your children right here and now and it may also incite worry or perhaps even fear. Living with worry and fear is not good. Don’t get stuck in an indecision rut, which is when you begin to fear that any choice you make won’t be ‘good enough’ or won’t be perfect. Make your decision, buy or borrow what you need, and use it (and stop looking at what else is out there to buy) and enjoy this time with your child.

I know it may seem scary. I know that you may be afraid that the reading curriculum you are considering buying is not the perfect reading curriculum or if the homeschooling style or method that you chose is best or right for your child and family The problem is that most times you will never know this until you try it.

I hereby give you permission to make a decision, get what materials you need and just do it. Just homeschool your children and live life. Enjoy this time with them. As you use program A or method B, just do it and see how it goes. Stop spending mental energy worrying if the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. What other families do does not matter. If what you are doing is working for you, then that is a success.

With regard to curriculum, I will break the news to you now. What is perfect for your friend may not work with your child and what worked with your first child may not work with your second child. This is because each child is different. Another element is that you are different than your friend (or your cyber-friend, or the homeschool magazine product reviewer, or the homeschool conference speaker, etc. etc.). It is good and a responsible thing to research things but it can sometimes go too far or go on for too long. Don’t let that happen to you.

Another thing about curriculum or books is that they are not ranked with one being the best, 2nd, 3rd, etc. There can be many 'great' curriculums or books. You may already own or be using a 'great' one, so pondering about some other 'great' one serves no purpose. We are not competing with other homeschoolers, so if a friend uses program A and you use program B and you both think they are 'great', guess, what, you are both right and neither of you is wrong and neither is using a 'second best' program. If you start out with some book or curriculum and it is working, then you are meeting your goal and there is no need to change just because you hear of some other program that is 'great'.

Regarding homeschooling method, I advise this. Think about your own philosophies. Think about long term goals. Know what public schools do in your child’s grade and decide if you are matching up to what they are doing exactly, loosely, or if you have a philosophical reason to be very different than the public schools. (You may want a different time table than the public schools a la Waldorf schools that delay reading instruction or you may want a more rigorous academic program such as a classical method a la “The Well Trained Mind”). Once you figured this out, set a short term goal, goals for this school year. Work toward the goals. The goal is to make progress, to move forward.

It is best to have a plan and move forward with it. Believe me, if it is not working out, for whatever reason, you will know it and you will have to deal with it. The advantage then is that you know what didn’t work with your child and you will then know what to look for in a different curriculum, book, game, program or whatever it is!

Here are some simple examples of things learned through trial and error that I have experienced or I have heard from my homeschooling friends.

The math curriculum was too bight and colored on the pages. My child needed pages with just black ink on white paper.

The phonics book was too cluttered on the page (100 Easy Lessons). My child did better with reading plain black words on an otherwise bare page.

My child was using the pictures in the story to guess at the words rather than sounding out the words, it didn’t work. We switched to a program with just words on a page and it all clicked.

My child learned the math facts quickly by listening to them arranged in a song format. It seems any information delivered in a song is instantly memorized.

My child begged for me to turn off the math facts song CD.

My child struggled with the multiplication facts until I tried a game with large numbers placed on the floor that included jumping from one answer (number) to the next answer (number). Suddenly the facts were memorized.

My son learned to read numbers larger than 10 by playing Bingo.

Playing Monopoly taught my child to count money.

Unschooling worked for two years then my child wanted a routine and a structure to the day.

My child hated the same schedule every day, so now we like a looser schedule and impromptu learning.

I wanted to do the Charlotte Mason method and not start formal lessons until age 6 but then my son began teaching himself to read at age 3.5. What then?

I wanted to follow the classical model a la “The Well Trained Mind” but my son was not ready for ‘seat work’ until aged 5.5. If he had done what is recommended in “TWTM” then he would have flunked out!

Do you get the idea? What works for one child doesn’t work with the next. Just try something and see how it goes. Adjust as needed when the time arises.

I believe it is a good thing to have opinions and ideas about educational philosophy. It can be a problem, though, if my child does not respond to that method and I must do something different. I have learned through experience that as a homeschooling mother I need to do what is right and best for each of my children rather than pushing my own personal preferences or agenda onto them (when to do that would be problematic for them). I think that do respond to each child and to customize each of their educational plans is the most responsible thing for me to do, and it is ‘do-able’. I have had to abandon some of my preconceived notions about how our homeschooling journey would unfold as our reality turned out different than what was in my imagination. All the time I had put into researching method A and all the ‘proof’ that I build up about how that method would be successful had to be abandoned as it wasn’t working for my child. I know it has worked for other children, but it just didn’t work for my child. What a disappointment for me! (Note here that my child felt no disappointment, only joy to be relieved of the method that he was not enjoying!)

I remember getting flack from my unschooling friends when I stopped unschooling in response to my child’s need for more structure and a set routine rather than our completely unstructured day. Let’s not do that to each other! Let’s not judge each other or even ourselves. Our homeschooling community is so small; couldn’t we work more to get along with each other rather than sub-dividing?

If I purchase a curriculum that I thought we’d love and then we don’t love it, I don’t beat myself up about it. I sell it to someone else at a bargain price, recoup some of my financial losses and move on. When the budget calls for it, I buy some items used. I have found some great bargains and was grateful for them—those were someone else’s mistakes! So really, we help each other when we let go of materials we don’t use and sell them to other homeschoolers at bargain prices.

Another lesson here is to have an educational philosophy and an image of your ideal situation, but DO NOT judge others who choose something different for their family. You don’t know their personal situation. You don’t know what negotiations and compromises they may have had to make with their spouse just to keep homeschooling and to remain happily married. Some husbands really come down on their wives if the wife is not doing the method or using a curriculum that the father perceives as the best and the right way. I know of some families in which this was the subject of heated arguments and even threats of divorce resulted. What is better, a divorced family who homeschools 100% the way the mother wants or an intact happy family who homeschools using a curriculum or method that is not Mom’s favorite? Is the child better off doing Mom’s choice B for homeschooling or being forced to go to school, which is Dad’s option to not doing choice B?

Pick a method and just start it. Jump in and try it. If the method isn’t working for your family, guess what? You can change it. If what you thought was perfect ends up feeling like torture, change it. Once you are in the middle of doing it, you suddenly learn new things that you’d never have known before if you were still pondering about it.

If you end up making changes, it is not a sign of a failure, it is a sign of a success, because you realized that things were not going ideally and you are trying to remedy it. You are meeting your child’s needs and providing what you think is the best education for them at this moment in time, and you are to be commended for it. Given how children grow and change over time, the liklihood is that at some point something in our homeschooling journey will need to be tweaked and that is not a sign of a failure!

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Melissa O. Markham said...

Great post! And true!

me :) said...

Girl - LOVE your blog! I could not agree more. I remember when I started researching (you know, when my oldest wasn't potty trained, LOL) I would ask the HS moms I knew what cirriculum they used. I would get **so** frustrated when I was met with "a little of this, a little of that... you know, what works for us...". It made me want to scream. I wanted the silver bullet - the secret key. Almost a year into our journey I have finally realized - there isn't one. It's a little trial and error - a little "hey, I can always ebay this stuff later if we hate it" and a little "I think we need to really stick it out with this one". My theory now is that I give everything about a month to try it out. That seems to give me time to see if it's not working for us, or if DD is just being a little stubborn (or isn't ready). I have learned so much this year, and it truly makes me so much more excited for the journey ahead. I agree - jump in the water - nothing is set in stone and since the beauty of homeschooling is specialized one-on-one attention, you can always change direction later. [And as an aside, I have been able to sell all of the cirriculum I've not used for about 80% of the price I paid for it - so if you really hate it - re-bay it!]

Kim C. said...

from the comment above:
[And as an aside, I have been able to sell all of the cirriculum I've not used for about 80% of the price I paid for it - so if you really hate it - re-bay it!]

Better yet - start out by buying it secondhand. Then, if you don't like it, sell it for what you paid. You generally lose only shipping, and trust me: nearly anything can be found secondhand. After Ebay, look at Amazon, then try a google search (used + title you're looking for) for the smaller sites. That's how I stumbled across and found a fantastic deal on 2 items that were overpriced in the bigger arenas.

christinemm said...

Thanks Kim, I had never heard of!
I am going to check that out now!

me :) said...

Kim you are totally right - my 80% includes even the stuff I bought used (I recoup about 80% of whatever I pay for it, as long as it is in good shape). I learned about the WTM swap boards from your blog here - and it saved me a TON of money for our stuff for next year. I decided to try out Sonlight for next year, and by buying "lots" on ebay, using the WTM board and taking my time, I will save about 60% off of full retail. I can also bunch it all together next year and probably sell it for at least what I paid for it. You have a great blog here - and I really appreciate all the time you put into it!

Julia V. said...

I am very touched that my humble post has produced such a wonderful one! I 've read it once, went to wash the dishes :) , came back and read it yet one more time!
Being on the "Start" line is always nervebreaking, and that's how I've felt. You know it's close to that kind of feeling when you find out that you are expecting your first baby. You are excited, thrilled and scared at the same time. You start educating yourself about the changes in your body and learning about what to expect in the future when the baby arrives. You are anxious in anticipation. You take it day by day, month by month. Then the baby arrives, you think you know everything, but in reality you don't until you really start to live through whatever you'd read in the books. And that's when the confidence comes, that's when you start to see what works for you and able to make decisions easier. I think I'm in the "pregnant" stage of homeschooling, but coming close to the term :)
It is all so exciting and new! I am living every day and enjoying every minute with my kids. I am already able to make decisions that work for us based on my observations and experience. But being a "perfectionalist" I tend to doubt whether it's the best I could've done.
I really appreciate your uplifting, honest, dinamic, encouraging words! Your passion is surely contagious !

Shaun said...

I linked to you from the Carnival -- so timely! Thanks for the encouragement. We pulled my daughter, age 6 and 11/12ths, from school just a few weeks ago. We're having our extended spring break, but we're going to start adding in some structure and a bit of schoolwork (reading, math, Chinese, religion). It's been daunting reading in so many books that "the first step is to determine your philosophy of education." Duh . . . my what? My oldest is nearly seven and I think any philosophy of parenting I started with has pretty much disintegrated in practice!
One book even said that I should work out the curriculum and philosophy 3 to 4 months before starting to homeschool! Wow, now that's daunting!
It's so good to read the real-life thoughts of homeschoolers and know that I'm not the only one jumping in on a wing and a prayer.

meredith said...

Thanks for the reminders to stay out of the quagmire, excellent post!!