Monday, June 4, 2012

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Homeschool Try-outs Over the Summer?

Summer is here, and we are still homeschooling. We've been a year-round homeschooling family for a few years. It allows us to take more breaks, and while my youngest is not formally being homeschooled, our days can be shortened or stretched out as we need them to be. It's one of the great advantages of homeschooling--flexibility. My oldest daughter is finishing her core subjects this week and will concentrate on other subjects for the next two months. My younger daughter works less independently, so we take a slower pace with all subjects. Summer school is always in session at my house for my kids.

This week someone asked about a different kind of summer school. Recently, a member of my local homeschool group asked on behalf of a family to borrow curriculum.  The family wanted to use it over the summer so that the mom and kids can "try-out" homeschooling over the summer break. The post got no response online, but it sent my own mind to reeling.

There are lots of ways to homeschool your child. No one method is right, and all children are inherently different. My opinions here are not based on that notion. But the idea to give homeschooling a "try-out" irritated me.

First, and most importantly, homeschooling is a choice--a lifestyle choice. It's not a "we'll give it a shot and see if we like it" option for me. It takes a such level of commitment that three months may not reveal or allow you to develop a true understanding of how homeschooling can work for you. You must have the mindset that you are now the sole educational decision-maker for your children. You are no longer letting the village decide for you. When you are committed to homeschooling your children, public school is usually a last-resort option. Many parents do not think outside the box when it comes to income and alternatives in homeschooling their children. Recent years have allowed online options that give a wide range of styles and income-friendly options to homeschool.

Second, what if this family is given curriculum that doesn't work for them at all? Perhaps it doesn't follow their worldview, or its implementation doesn't make sense to them? My friend Joanne attests that curriculum is really not the issue, but rather, attitude. Attitude is instrumental in the parent-student relationship and how it applies to teaching. Will the new homeschooling family recognize that? Is the family going to understand the learning style of a child in just a summer, and be able to adapt a curriculum to meet that need?

Third, the mother is going to teach over the summer to children who have been in the public system for the past nine (plus) months, (not to mention previous years and habits that have been established), and the decision will be based on under three months where children will want to be outside, sleep, play video games, and otherwise want to do anything but school work. That is going to be a tough transition for those kids, if parents are wanting to see what homeschooling will look like. I don't speak from experience, but many parents who bring children out of public schools to homeschool are given the advice to allow kids to take a breather. It takes time to find the proper pacing and routines at home because it can be so vastly different from a classroom setting. I don't know if three months will give this family enough time to find a "groove."

Finally--much like my first reason, the entire idea of homeschooling over the summer as a try-out gives me the idea that the family is approaching the idea halfheartedly. If you decide to homeschool, I think you should give it an entire year. We've homeschooled for 7 years now, and I can't say how many times I have changed teaching styles and curriculum. I've learned more about myself and my children, their learning styles and personalities, as well as my own attitude.

Many of my opinions have changed, but my commitment has not. If you are truly committed to homeschooling, your first year is much like what it's like to bring your newborn home as a first-time parent. You fear you will ruin your kids if something doesn't go as you envisioned. If your kids don't get a perfect score on everything, you may scratch your head and wonder what you did wrong or if the curriculum isn't right for you (because all homeschoolers make straight As, right?). Homeschoolers who are committed will find ways to get their children the proper avenues for studying subjects with which the parents have little confidence in teaching. The fact is, many parents miss the boat on what homeschooling allows and encourages. It allows mastery of material (many times not at the pace you expect). That's been a lesson that has taken me years to grasp, especially with one of my children.

So, what is your opinion about this "try-out"? Am I being too picky about how this family is approaching it? Perhaps they have the right approach, so that they don't commit to a year of heartache if they are only half-committed in the beginning.  I thought my opinions may be too one-sided, having only homeschooled my children from the beginning of their scholastic careers.  A little research online showed me that I'm not the only one who thinks a trial summer is not a good idea.  A few weeks ago, the helpful moms over at The Well-Trained Mind had already discussed whether trying homeschooling over the summer is a fair trial.  A vote there shows the majority consensus is "No."  In fact, one mom said three families who have tried this method gave up before the new school year started.

If you're so unsure about homeschooling that you are only willing to give it a trial run over the summer, don't be surprised when you are ready for your kids to be back in school in the fall.  If you are thinking about homeschooling, give tour kids the summer break and spend the time prayerfully considering your decision. If you decide to take the plunge to homeschool, be devoted and resolve to give it a full year. Your family deserves it.

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