Sunday, June 17, 2007

Advice for New Homeschoolers

The conference in Kansas City was great! I got to hang out with a couple of dear friends as well as meet so many new and interesting people. Thank you to everyone who welcomed me! (A special thank you to Rosie.)

One thing I learned while there, was that I need to completely rewrite my Relax, You Can Homeschool Too speech. From the questions I got, I realized what new homeschoolers really need is specific information on how to get started and not so much info on the whys of homeschooling or generalities.

When I first started homechooling, there where few to no choices. We just winged it as we went along. (And, our kids are turning out okay!)

Today, parents are completely overwhelmed with all the choices. Home study school or design-your-own? Charlotte Mason, classical, Montessori, unit studies, or literature based? Saxon, Math-U-See, MCP, Fred, or ABeka? Unschooling, relaxed, eclectic, or work-study? Should I supplement with online classes, tutors, co-op classes, or community college? And that is only the very beginning.

New homeschooling parents come to conferences with an idea of what they want to do, hoping to refine that idea as well as purchase the materials they will need for the year. But, what often happens is that they walk into that vendor hall and see a whole slew of new options they have not yet considered and begin to question their original choices for their homeschool. Then, they either overbuy or throw up their hands in frustration.

Perhaps this week, before I leave for South Dakota, we all can talk this over. What advice would you give someone just starting out? And, we have to consider the two different kinds of new homeschooling families - those who are pulling older children out of school and those who are starting at the very beginning.

I have my own ideas on this and will try to mesh them out over the next three days, but I really value the opinions and experiences of my readers, so I'd like to hear from you too in the combox.

14 comments:

elaine said...

I would love to hear more stories about those "pulling" children out of the school system. I have 5 children (4 that are school age) and I will be homeschooling 2 of them ... maybe all of them by the following year.

I know WHY I want to homeschool and the many, many resources that I have to choose from, but picking what I want to use has been the hardest thing. After that I know that I need to set up a system to organize my school. I am excited ... it feels like a new job, but it also feels a bit daunting. I would love to hear "how" people start who are in my position.

Maureen Wittmann said...

Do you think it would be best to keep a "newbie" talk pretty short and then take questions? I think parent panels are great for the new homeschoolers, but a lot of conferences don't have them anymore.

So, advice on how to set up your homeschool -- do you mean like scheduling? Physically setting it up as in shelving, work space, etc.?

And then advice on how to choose the best curriculum for your family dynamic?

One piece of advice I found myself giving an individual homeschooler and should have perhaps put in my talk was to write down your goals. Especially with a family pulling kids out of school. Write down the 3 or 4 things that you really want to accomplish that year. Maybe some family devotions, get math up to spped, and read lots of real books -- and then go easy on everything else.

My kids have always homeschooled, so I don't have personal experience to share in that area. But, my friends tell that the first year is the hardest and once you get through that it gets way, way easier. So, they say you should be careful not to overschedule that first year.

Michelle said...

My sister is pulling her children and homeschooling next year for the first time (grades 5 and 3). She too has been completely overwhelmed by the choices available. I told her that she needs to use me or another homeschooler as a mentor, especially the first year or two. Even though I started with kindergarten, I was thankful to have a good friend with an older child who gave me advice. I still turn to her four years later, but not as often.

Shirley said...

Hi Maureen,
From the perspective of a new homeschooler - your blog entry itself just might be the answer you are looking for? Your points are well taken - that homeschoolers today have overwhelming numbers of choices (both in curriculum and style/method), with the result that we can overbuy or start doubting our previous "decisions" (were they written in stone or jello?). And meanwhile at that same conference where I am feeling overwhelmed I see so many other parents with their act together! How intimidating!

The title of your speech is still what we need to hear - that we can do it and that we need to relax! Perhaps the content has shifted a bit from "can I do it/am I qualified" to "how do I go about it/how do I get started"... Helping us newbies realize that yes, things have changed over the years - that there are a lot of options these days, that we are not the only ones feeling overwhelmed. That it is ok to wander down a few garden paths before you find the one that fits your family (they will not be ruined for life because we purchased a math textbook that didn't work well for us!).

And again, as you also point out, the needs are so varied: some of us want to know about older children, others Pre-K. Some about curriculum, some about organization of the classroom... we all want you to address OUR needs! Would that you could have the gift of the apostles on Pentecost and speak in tongues wherein we all heard what we needed to hear regardless of what actually came out of your mouth ;-).

Maybe some advice to organize all our questions and how to approach the research/resources needed to look for answers and solutions.

Thanks for all your good writings!

Meredith said...

For those who are considering home education, I believe it's important to establish the why's and then start slow, and not try to do it all in the beginning years, I believe this is where burn-out can set in. I have appreciated this kind of advice and I'm in my 7th year!! Blessings for a great talk!

Leticia said...

Over the nine years I have swung from a workbook-based approach, towards Charlotte Mason, and back again, and I see it as a process of growth, for me, and offering a variety of approaches for my daughters. Now I am about to start down the path to homeschool my daughter with Down syndrome, which will certainly open me up to yet more approaches. My point is that a homeschooling mother will learn much along the way if she reads a lot, and responds to her individual children's needs. No need to get too hung up on choosing that first program, if they were in school, they would have a completely different teacher several times a day. You are offering them a consistent teacher who knows them better than any other, and LOVES them. What could be a better starting point that this?

elaine said...

I think homeschooling is SO PERSONAL. While I am so excited about the many freedoms that I can enjoy for our family, the number of choices and ways to homeschool can be daunting.

For so many year I sat back and watched the schools make the choices for what my children would learn. Most of that time I didn't even bat an eye ... the schools had the upper hand. My girls seemed to be doing well, so I didn't question anything. NOW that I am taking on the challenge of teaching my own children, I feel like I am putting a tremendous amount of pressure to "do things right" (the first time). In my mind I do know that every child is different and every homeschooling parent has switched up their methods to suit their children. I guess in my heart, I just want to make good choices for my children and feel like what I am about to embark on is BETTER than what they had.

Another thing that you did touch on Maureen is the organization part of homeschooling. I would really love to hear examples of how people track things like schoolwork, lesson planning, legal stuff, etc. I am accountable for my children's education, and being the perfectionist that I am (blushing), I just want to find a way to feel "all together".

I love examples ... can you tell?

Alexandra said...

Pass The Torch is doing a carnival of advice for new homeschoolers on 6/22. The link is on my blog.

Interesting how you deal with meltdowns...we do the same with our very sensitive introverted nine year old child. He won't melt down, but he gets very morose(shuts down) when he thinks he's done wrong...very hard to correct him. We use the exact same humor to bring him out of it. Also, my husband helps with math, and has to do the Grover voice from Sesame Street to get him through math corrections, especially word problems!

As far as newbie advice...to thy own self be true. Find something that fits the child and the family lifestyle. There is no one correct curriculum. You read so much advice online about the superiority of various homeschooling methods, but if it doesn't work for the child, it's worthless. Curriculum is a tool, and it should be tailored to the child.

Ana Braga-Henebry said...

I have coached newbies personally many times... and have seen them succeed, primarily after learning a few points: 1. they can do it, 2. there are materials out there to help them with whatever style they choose, and 3. don't try to do it alone: get support. I think a good article to quote/refer to would be the cover article in the last issue of Heart & Mind. It discusses how if you are called to homeschool, be prepared to "do something". It will take work. The idea of "if i do nothing is better than what they do in school" is false, and we are to provide them the best academics we can, along with faith formation. I think newbies would benefit form understanding that from the very beginning.

Colleen Trinko said...

After 10 years of homeschooling, I believe that success in two areas results in the "newbies" sticking with homeschooling. (1) The academics are not overdone that first year (which you & other posters have addressed), and (2) The newly-homeschooled kids & their moms have plenty of social outlets with like-minded folks. (I haven't seen this addressed.) At least during the first 3-4 years, I strongly believe that even if it's inconvenient to do so, those social bonds are so important for both the kids & the moms.

The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

I did a post on this some years ago, setting out the things I wish I had been clearer on when I started homeschooling:

http://opinionatedhomeschooler.blogspot.com/2006/08/7-things-for-beginning-homeschoolers.html

Alice Gunther said...

I only have a moment to comment, but the first thing I would tell new homeschoolers is not to worry! It is great, and their children will have fun and friends!

The academic aspects can't be beat either!

Mary G said...

Maureen,

I hope I'm not too late to add my $.02! One thing you might want to address is making sure all who are invoollved are on board before homeschooling -- if kids are little than BOTH spouses need to onboard and supportive; if kids are older and been in "real" school, they need to have some input to the curricula choices, etc.

Also, you might want to add that the parents (usually the mom) need to remember that they don't have to know everything first -- kids repsect the truth and especially as they get older will know when you're "making it up"....

Remiknd them that this is homeschooling NOT schooling at home - they need to forget all their past experiences with "school" and teach their kids a love of learning. One thing Rick and I are doing with our littles this summer is stressing that learning is a 24/7 kind of thing -- and that it doesn't end when you graduate high school, college or even grad school -- we're always learning! I went to a talk tonight at our parish on Catechesis and our Pastor mentioned that he is always seeking to learn more as he doesn't know it all either ... something we forget in our age of always having the right answer.

Blessing Maureen and prayers for the talks to go well....

mel said...

Good to see you in KC Maureen. :)