What’s holding you back from homeschooling?

All of you who are deciding how to educate your kids this year (2020-2021): I see you and I want to help assuage any fears you might have about homeschooling. And though this message is for families caught in a unique and unprecedented situation, I think my thoughts below may help anyone who feels pulled toward homeschooling but is just plain terrified to take the plunge.

1. You say:

“I’ve got to have a plan yesterday. My mental health is slipping because I can’t turn my brain off. Nothing seems like the right decision. I need everything to be clear so I at least know how I’m moving forward. But I don’t know enough to feel good about any decision I’m making today! I don’t have time to do the research I need to do without losing my mind.”

Remember: you can change your mind. You can make a decision today based on the information you have now. When things are different on August 15 or November 15 you can change your mind if you think that’s best for your family. The path you pick doesn’t have to be forever.

Remember: you can take your time. If you’re homeschooling, you don’t have to have a locked in plan by the first day of school. In Ohio, homeschooling days and hours do not have to correspond to the public school schedule. In Ohio, you can submit a curriculum plan and adjust it or scrap it without renotifying the district superintendent. In Ohio, you can pick when/how/what your kids learn throughout the year and are not obligated to follow state standards and pacing. Setting aside my personal beliefs and opinions, I can say with certainty: it is a fact that the state has given families this freedom. These are not loopholes; this was carefully crafted law code giving autonomy to homeschooling families. Therefore, you can pick the homeschooling path *for now* without stressing if you do not have curricula chosen for every subject. Do not rush your research and reflection. You can submit a general curriculum plan in August and wait til October to begin academic work, or begin gradually, starting with one subject and roll in others over time.

2. You say:

“What if my kids fall behind? What if I choose the wrong curriculum and it’s terrible for us? What if I don’t remember long division, new way or old?”

Remember: there are always gaps. When I taught second grade it was normal for a class to have a broad range of abilities and experiences. I also taught summer math and reading intervention for kids ages 5 to 13. In all these situations, we’d be headed into a fractions unit and the background knowledge about fractions would be all over the map. Some kids instinctively knew it all immediately. Others had mastered nothing that was taught about fractions last year because they were not developmentally ready for it, or were out sick for a week, or came in from a different district, or learned it and forgot it two days later. This is real life! And these “gaps” (I am not a fan of that word but oh well) will be even more typical in the next few years post-COVID.

Remember: learning is not discrete. Standards and pacing are necessary in school because teachers are managing a whole class (or classes!) of students and are accountable for measurable progress to the people who use taxpayer dollars to pay them. It is a matter of logistics. Everywhere else in the world standards for specific careers, organizations, or colleges are more specialized and apply to a smaller subset of people who have chosen to focus on a particular field. And beyond that, they do not exist at all! We are all learning (I hope!) for the rest of our lives. If I find I’m lacking knowledge about something that is important (required for a job, my happiness, my social capital), guess what I do? I go learn it! Lately I have been studying the Bible much more intensely and even learning how to teach it. I am becoming more aware of my limits and lack of knowledge. But this lack doesn’t indicate ignorance. It reveals that I am at a different point in my journey than others. And what a joy it is to be on the road with people ahead of me and behind me so we can all help each other! This is my greatest joy whether I’m learning about biblical theology or the curly girl method, parenting or permaculture. It is so fun to find out that whole worlds exist around topics I never dug into or even knew were out there.

3. You say:

“What if I fail?”

Remember: your child is a whole person. Close your eyes and picture them in five years. Ten years. Who do you hope they become? What will make you proud of them? What makes you proud of who they already are? With that in mind, what are your priorities as a parent? I imagine academics are just one piece of your goals for your child’s future.

Remember: struggle does not equal failure. This is a lesson you can model for your kids! Struggling makes the newly winged butterfly strong as she comes out of the chrysalis. Struggling builds stronger neural pathways in our brains as we wrestle with unfamiliar territory. The worst part about struggling is that it is hard. We do not have to be surprised by it, nor paralyzed or defeated. We can say “dang I wish I were better at this. I wish I knew more. I wish I didn’t have to struggle now because I am so tired! I am so sad. I am frustrated like a volcano.” And in the next breath model a growth mindset: “I can persevere when it feels too hard like this because it is helping me grow in humility/knowledge/persistence/grammar.” Journeying through this unpredictable/sucky time alongside your kids is the most valuable lesson they’ll learn and what family is all about.

4. You say:

“My child has an IEP. I do not feel equipped to teach them at home!”

Remember: homeschooling is the ultimate individualized education plan. You can go at whatever pace your kiddo needs. You also know them well and have been their greatest advocate their entire lives!

Remember: you can get help; you are not in it alone. In Ohio, the Jon Peterson scholarship and Autism Scholarship are both options for homeschooling families. They have lists of covered care providers for a variety of services.

Whether you homeschool or bus to school or school through the computer, I hope you can relax your expectations a bit so we can remind each other that cherishing our kids and trusting their curiosity is a great way forward this year and every year.