When is the Best Time to Start Homeschooling?
© Beverley Paine Jun 2004
"We've decided we want to homeschool. Would you recommend waiting until the school year ends, waiting until there is some school break, pulling them out this week, or what?"
I am often faced with answering these questions. I usually advise parents to just do it! Too many parents have reported back to me how wonderful homeschooling life is, how well-settled and happy their children are, only a few weeks after beginning. The joy keeps growing too. There are seldom any regrets for beginning homeschooling straight away. Plus families have tended to give homeschooling a lot of thought, long before the issue gets out in the open...
Just do it! It's really that easy. Schools make education look hard. And it is - with hundreds of children to organise each day, up to thirty in each class - why wouldn't it be?
You don't have that problem though - life learning at home is little different from life during the holidays, when you pay attention to your children, enjoy their company, explore your community and environment with them, have fun, play games... with a little structured learning thrown in for good measure. Children are less cranky, can sleep in, eat to suit their individual needs, wear what they like... Life is so much easier!
Remember - each day that you put off doing it is one more day that the school district has control over your child and you do not, one more day that they and the hundreds of children in the playground have a huge influence on your child. If your child is in danger at school, I wouldn't hesitate.
The same might be true if you child is feeling bad because of falling behind in whatever the class is doing, or if your child is bored because the class is the one who is 'behind.'
You may decide to wait if the school is hostile to your plan - but I don't think there's much sense in that as it's one thing that time won't necessarily change. I'm not in favour of moving house and home to minimise conflict, which some families do, unless the situation is dire and necessitates it.
IIt's not unusual for children to 'break' from school - children do it for all sorts of reasons - illness, extended overseas or interstate holidays, or moving because dad or mum have been relocated with work (think of the armed services - they move families around constantly). Most adjust reasonable quickly, but remember, your child isn't starting a new school - he or she is coming home! That's much more
settling... The difference between that sort of change and the switch to homeschooling is that you know what your child was doing in school. You can choose to continue in that vein or to switch to something different. You can also
choose to have an adjustment period of 'deschooling,' a choice that isn't available to public school students who change schools in the middle of the year.
II often tell soon-to-be homeschoolers that it's okay to keep the kids home tomorrow and send off a note in the morning to the school informing the Principal that your children will not be returning because you're now homeschooling! In some states it's a good idea to check out with homeschooling groups or the internet what the legal requirements are, and you may need to get in contact with the educational authorities.
Most of the information needed is on the 'net now. Some families find it useful to write up two lists: one detailing why they should send the children back to school tomorrow and one detailing why they should keep the children home. When the lists are complete, the list detailing why the kids should stay home tomorrow usually is much longer than the list supporting sending the kids back to school. Some parents are still reluctant though, worried that they don't have a curriculum, or concerned that they aren't smart enough to teach the children, or that the children might miss out if they don't finish the year. It's easy to reassure parents about the curriculum issues with the vast amount of resources readily available to homeschoolers now - not only from businesses run by experienced home educating families but also access to exactly what teachers in schools can buy. I like to reassure parents that designing a curriculum for the year is not on the same level as brain surgery, and after a year or two only takes an afternoon!
Wanting to finish out the year is often about the children missing out on social opportunities - I usually hand them the local network calendar (or direct them to my contacts page on my website) and remind them that just because their children will be dropping out of school doesn't mean they can't play with their friends on the weekend or after school.
That settled we tackle the last issue, often the biggest; wondering they're smart enough to homeschool their children. A friend of mine lists off all the famous scientists, artists and writers who were homeschooled... If that doesn't work I tell
people that we all know the basics and that's all our children need to know in order to become self-directed, self-motivated learners - all we need to know is how to get them to that point (something we can easily do) and then point them in the direction of finding learning resources for themselves! We don't teach them karate or violin if we don't know how to do those things - finding tutors in any subject is often just a matter of looking up the phone directory. There's no law that says we don't have to do it all!
Basically though, when to pull a child from school is a personal family decision. You'll do it when you're ready, or you've been pushed far enough. It's sad to see children going downhill, but it's fantastic to see those children months later after they've been rescued. Love is a wonderful cure for what schools do to some
children - love, time and patience - under these conditions, readily found and given in the home, children prosper.
If you intend buying curriculum you'll find that no matter how hard you try to match up the activities or skills to the year level your daughter or son was doing there will be many sections that overlap. There's a good chance your child will be repeating some areas and missing information or skills in others. This isn't a big deal - usually a minor inconvenience that will require some extra attention from you to fill in the
gaps, or strike out of the books those bits that he or she needn't do again.
Homeschooling is very different from school. Instead of being governed by an hour for math, an hour for English, a semester for this, a semester for that, homeschooling life flows. My children tended to gravitate towards things that interested them, their curiosity piqued by something seen on TV, a conversation we've had, something found out on the internet, browsing through the library, a field
trip, a movie...a million different things. They were never bound by the hours ticking on the clock that signal it's time to move to a different subject, or the final bell of the
year that tells them it's time to stop learning for the summer. They took breaks as they wanted and needed them, then plunged head-long into the next thing that interested them. Homeschooling life was always busy, active and productive!
Carol, a close friend, said that if she had her time over again, she'd take her son out immediately, instead of waiting until the end of the year. Seeing the difference in his enthusiasm for learning, their closeness as a family, the freedom they'd gained, she definitely wouldn't want to delay homeschooling for another hour or semester or summer holidays.
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