Homeschooling isn’t always easy, but you’re probably doing a better job than you give yourself credit for.
Understanding the rules of grammar is great, but knowing how to put them to use is what is really important.
When you hit a plateau, you don't always need to look for a way to hurry ahead to the next thing. Sometimes homeschooling is all about slowing down.
It’s not that homeschool parents don’t want to be happy—it’s that we trick ourselves into believing that we should only get to be happy when we’re doing it all just right.
Whether it’s looking into school options, hiring a tutor, or just finding an outside class for a specific subject, sometimes homeschooling means not doing it yourself.
Some homeschoolers happily DIY from kindergarten through graduation, but most of us will face a time when outsourcing—whether it’s one class or the whole shebang—is the best way to preserve our sanity and ensure our child’s education. It’s not because you’re a bad parent or a bad teacher—it’s just because sometimes we all need a little help. Here are some signs that it might be time to explore outside class options for your homeschool:
You dread getting started in the morning. If you’re miserable when it’s time to break out the math books or work on an essay, something needs to change. Everyone hits bumpy patches, but if your bumpy patch feels like it’s dragging on and on, a different teacher might be what you both need.
You’re starting to dislike your kid. No parent-child relationship is going to be non-stop rainbows and sunshine, but you may need to shift gears if butting heads over worksheets is having a persistent, negative effect on your relationship. If you’ve starting asking yourself things like “why is my child so stubborn?” or “why does he always complain?”, it’s a sign you need a break.
You aren’t doing a good job. If you’re operating on autopilot, doing the bare minimum, or just plain never doing your best work, it might make sense to put your energy into what you do well and let someone else take over where you’re falling short.
You’re bored. You can’t fake enthusiasm, but you can hire it. There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging that a particular subject doesn’t get you excited.
Your student is super-critical. If you’re getting lots of negative feedback on subject matter, assignments, or your teaching style, there’s nothing wrong with testing whether another teacher might be a better fit.
It’s crazy-expensive. If curriculum or supplies for a particular subject cost more than an outside class would, weigh the benefits of doing it yourself before writing that check.
Your instincts tell you its time. You’ve spent years learning to hear what your gut is telling you about what’s right for your child. Don’t stop trusting it now.
This article is reprinted from the spring 2016 issue of HSL.
There was a time when I believed that I could do it all. I could work and be a mother and wife and also have my own interests—and importantly, I’d do it all dazzlingly well and my hair would look good, to boot. Way back, before I’d even had children, I think I imagined my future self as doing all of these things because that’s the yarn the 1970s and 80s spun for its daughters and sons: women can do it all, have it all, without smudging their blue eye shadow or putting a feathered hair out of place.
Imagine my shock when I actually had a baby in my arms: my own baby who needed and wanted me 24/7, who made rational thought seemingly-impossible, who made punctuality a thing of the past. Have it all? For goodness sake, I couldn’t even have a shower.
Later, when I began homeschooling my children, it became apparent that whatever career or other aspirations I had would need to take a back seat for a while longer than I’d originally envisioned. I felt excited about making homeschooling my full-time job, but also somewhat despondent that the ideas and enthusiasm I had for my work couldn’t come to fruition at the pace I’d envisioned. I love homeschooling. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t also love my work, my interests, my hobbies, my passions.
I look back and think of what I’ve had to release in order to be at home with my children. You might call them “sacrifices.” But I choose to frame them differently. Instead of thinking of what I gave up to be with my children, I am filling my frame with all that I have received. Instead of dwelling on what I could have been, I rejoice in what I am.
Since beginning this journey of parenthood I have learned so many things. I’ve taught myself how to cook, to knit, to crochet. I’ve learned how to communicate with compassion, to respect others’ needs and appreciate my own. I’ve learned to look myself in the mirror and accept myself regardless of what I look like or how much sleep I’ve had. I’ve come to measure my worth against my own balance sheet rather than my employer’s, or anyone else’s for that matter. I’ve learned that I have instincts and I’ve adjusted my antennae so I’m tuned into them.
I’ve grown. I’ve changed. I opened my hands and released all that I held, and into those empty hands fell different, unexpected gifts. I do have it all. It’s just not the “all” that you might expect.
Fear is a normal part of life; and can certainly be a part of homeschooling. Am I doing enough? Am I doing too much? Are we out of the house too often? Are my children learning all they need to be learning? Is my teen going to be ready to move out and live on his own? You get the idea.
Most of us have these moments of uncertainty and fear. Right? They’re especially common when you first step onto the homeschooling path, but, to be honest, mine still pop up from time to time, even though I’ve been at this for 18 years. While I’m confident in our decision to homeschool, and love the life we’ve created around our homeschooling journey, I still have to be mindful and notice when fear starts creeping in.
The funny thing about these homeschooling fears, is that most of them aren’t based on the “truth of what is” in this moment, but instead are worries about the future – things that haven’t happened yet; things that might never happen. So why do we put energy towards that?
Now, when I talk about fears here, I don’t mean the very real fears that come from living in a crazy, sometimes dangerous world. I’m talking about fears and anxiety directly related to the homeschooling path. These fears, I believe, come from a space of “not enough.” These fears come from comparison.
When we look at our children and ourselves where we are in each moment, with clear eyes, and open heart, we can accept where we are without fear. But when we start comparing our homeschooling, and our kids, with others—either schooled-kids or other homeschoolers or even to ourselves when we were their age—we open ourselves up to fear.
During my own moments of deep anxiety, I’ve found myself awake at 3 in the morning, heart pounding, mind racing, not really worried about where my boys are right now, but worried about where they’ll be in the future. What if my little one never learns to read? (His brother was reading by this age.) What if he hates learning new things and he goes through life barely able to have an intelligent conversation? What if my teen never becomes a good driver or never wants to cook for himself? What if he never learns to balance his checkbook and pay bills? (When I was his age I was already working and had a car payment, and made most of my own meals.)
I know, in my rational mind, that these particular fears are self-created, and stem from my own insecurities about my role as homeschooling mom, and my own expectations around who I want my children to be. They are based on what-ifs, not what-is. Fortunately, I’ve gotten better over the years at recognizing this and learning how to move past the anxiety. I’ve even started to figure out how to use my worries and fears for good, instead of letting them keep me awake at night.
What I’ve come to realize is that, in certain situations, fear can be useful. It tells us to run or fight when danger is near. It can prompt us to stop what we’re doing and try something new. Unfortunately, most of the time our fears just keep us stuck. Fear keeps us in our head and out of the present moment. And it can be damaging to our relationships with our children, who most definitely pick up on our fears and anxiety, even if we never talk about it with them. In fact, research has shown that parents with high levels of anxiety tend to have children with high levels of fear and anxiety. And none of us want that.
So what can we do, and teach our children to do, to let go of these fears when they arise? Here is what works for me:
- Bring focus to the fear. Don’t fight it or try to distract yourself from it. Instead, take a moment to stop what you’re doing and really look at it.
- Trace the fear back to its source. What is the fear really about? Do you really believe your child will not be reading when he’s an adult? Are you truly worried that you’ve made the wrong choice? Or is it something else? Where does the fear originate?
- Look at it without attachment. Once you stop and examine the fear, and trace it to its source, try to sit with it without attachment. Say to yourself, “I am feeling fear,” not “I am afraid.” Notice the feeling in your body. But don’t judge the feeling or identify with it. See it as a temporary state.
- Turn to the breath. Following the breath can calm the nervous system. First, notice the breath flowing in, and notice the breath flowing out. If you’d like to take it further, you can do a four-count breath: breath in, deeply, for a count of four; hold the breath in for a count of four; exhale, deeply, for a count of four; and hold the breath out for a count of four. Repeat as needed.
- Write it out. Once you have examined the fear and calmed your mind, you may find it useful to create a list of possible actions, scenarios, and outcomes, related to your fear. For example, if you’re worried that your teen will never learn to drive well, make a list of ways he can get more practice. What can he do on his own? And what are ways you can help? And then make a list of options related to the idea that he may never be a good driver or even want to drive. Uber. Taxis. Public transportation. Walking. Biking. These are all viable options that can be included. Whatever your parenting or homeschooling fear is at the moment, coming up with an action plan and also seeing alternate outcomes to your expectations can be tremendously helpful.
- Finally, focus on the great things about your homeschooling and your children. What are the things you are doing right? What are the things your children love? Find the joy in your relationships. Find the joy in your homeschooling. This could make a wonderful list too. Maybe you can add to it every day to help keep the fears at bay.
A teacher once told me that the opposite of fear is love. I like to think of it as joy. While fear keeps us stuck in our comfort zones, limiting our views of the world, joy opens us up to new possibilities. Joy helps us see the awesomeness in our every day activities and relationships. It creates flow in our lives and homes.
Becoming fearless doesn’t mean never being afraid. It just means being able to move beyond our fears into a space of openness. It means showing our children that it’s ok to risk, and fail, and try again. That it’s OK to change course. Learning to navigate our own fears and anxieties in our homeschooling, and in our lives, helps us build connections with our children and the world around us. And that’s why we homeschool, isn’t it?
So what are you afraid of? And how do you work through those fears?
When I was young, there were a lot of homeschooling parents who would brag about the chapter books their children were reading and how many grade levels ahead they were. I wasn’t reading yet, and my mother — feeling somewhat overwhelmed I’m sure — repeated for years, “She’ll learn to read when she’s ready.” It became a mantra of sorts, in the face of surrounding pressure. When she’s ready, she’ll learn.
My mother was right, of course. I was growing up in a very literate household, and without any learning disabilities. By the time I was 10, I was reading at least as well as my same-age peers. Surrounded by other parents who were very pleased to have poster children, my mother had resisted outside pressure and held true to her beliefs in natural learning.
When my family shifted more into unschooling-friendly circles, we started seeing less comparing of children to each other within the community. But holding up unschooling poster children — and poster young adults — to those new to or outside of the unschooling community seems every bit as common.
The message seems clear: In the face of widespread misunderstanding and criticism, we have something to prove — and the best way to prove it is to show how spectacularly impressive unschoolers can be.
I get the drive behind it. It’s hard to be such a small group doing something so unconventional, and it can be easy to feel a ton of pressure to prove the validity of our choices.
But, it can be really hard being one of those teens and young adults who are held up as examples, and even more difficult for the ones who end up feeling they don’t measure up to poster child status.
What success means is pretty subjective. In our culture it generally boils down to college degrees, a “good” job, money, prestige… Unschoolers often add some less conventional items, like traveling the world or starting a business, to the list. But whatever judgements are used, I think all young adults feel a lot of pressure to prove themselves capable adults. When you’re coming from an unschooling background, not only do you have something to prove personally, but suddenly you’ve become a stand-in for all unschoolers, a metric by which to judge the worth of an entire educational philosophy and group of people. Any success is seen as proof that maybe unschooling has some merit to it — and any failure? Well, that’s seen as proof that unschooling is a really bad idea to start with.
With that type of pressure coming from outside the community, it can feel especially hard to have that pressure coming from within the community as well.
I sort of accidentally fell into the role of unschooling example. When I first started writing my blog I’m Unschooled. Yes, I Can Write. I never knew it would end up being so popular or lead to conference engagements and some level of notoriety in alternative education circles.
It’s a position that I sometimes feel very proud of, and that, at other times, makes me kind of uncomfortable. I love that my existence and my writing can help people see how valuable unschooling can be, but at the same time, I want to be looked at as just me, and to be representative only of my own life.
I want what I think we all want, no matter our education: to be seen as a unique individual with my very own aspirations and goals and experiences. I want my successes to be celebrated, and I want support and encouragement when I fail.
As a community, school-free learners want greater recognition and understanding. I want this as well, and have chosen to do what I can to advance that cause. But I also want each and every homeschooler and unschooler to be seen primarily as themselves, not as products of a philosophy, whether it’s believed to be good or bad.
As I wrote in a post last year:
I just hope, as unschoolers, we can hold tight to our shared value of appreciating learning for learning’s sake, whether it’s big or small, sung from the stages of a national singing competition, or curled up in a comfy chair in a nondescript house reading about Arthurian legends or the history of comics.
The goal should never be raising children who are impressive. It should be, instead, about nurturing and celebrating each individual, no matter who they are.
You can spend your entire homeschool life second-guessing yourself — or you can trust yourself (and your kids) to get where you need to go.