16 DOs and DON'Ts for a successful homeschool experience:
#1 DO circle the wagons to keep the naysayers at bay. Surround yourself with like minded people who are supportive of your decision to homeschool. Stay away from the skeptic relatives and friends who will constantly undermine your every move and throw obstacles in your way. If they aren't willing to support you and your children then cut your ties and tell them 'no thanks' when they offer advice or try to make you feel like you're a lousy parent.
#2 DO read as many books, magazines and blogs as you can about homeschooling to see how other people are doing it or how they did it. Read as much as you can about your constitutional rights too. When we started homeschooling over 22 years ago there were few books about the subject of homeschooling. The first book I read was 'Teach Your Own' by John Holt. I was hooked on homeschooling after that. The best magazine at the time (and still is) was Home Education Magazine published by Helen Hegener in Tonasket, Washington. I craved every copy of this magazine and counted the days between issues. Now there is a plethora of books, magazines and blogs about homeschooling. Subscribe to as many as you can and be sure to look at my recommended reading list where you'll find books about homeschooling, as well as books about your parental and constitutional rights. Empower yourself with knowledge.
#2 DON'T let your detractors rock your homeschooling boat. This includes the main stream media that loves to tweak the movement by creating less than flattering stories about homeschoolers. I learned early on how the media is able to create jagged and inflammatory portrayals of certain segments of society. This is why I no longer grant interviews. Detractors also include school officials, legislators, social workers and law enforcement. Many of them have no idea what homeschooling is or what the homeschool laws are. Even if they did know they are quite capable of lying about both to get their way. Avoid them if at all possible...even if they're related to you.
#3 DO learn what your constitutional, parental and God given rights are. You should study the US constitution every day and teach it to your children. You'll be amazed at just how empowering it is. Always remember you have parental and God given rights as well. A great book for learning about your rights as a homeschooling parent is Home Education: Rights and Reasons by John W. Whitehead and Alexis Irene Crow. Losing your fear of the school authorities once you've gained this knowledge is quite liberating. Armed with this information makes you a stronger advocate for your child and your rights as well. Develop a passion for freedom!
#3 DON'T follow the advice of experts. The dirty little secret here is there is no such thing as an expert! My most recent example of this is when I took my ailing mom to the emergency room last week and the doctor sent her home after tests telling her her heart was fine. Three days later we were back in the ER and another doctor told her she needed a pacemaker which saved her life! Always get a second, third and fourth opinion if necessary. Over the years I've discovered some of the most dangerous people who have access to children are school officials, psychologists, psychiatrists, doctors, legislators and law enforcement officers. Don't be too quick to let them diagnose your child as learning disabled, ADD, ADHD, bi-polar, or in need of behavior modification. Relegating your child to an institution such as public school seems to bring out the worst in children. Free of this debilitating environment most children thrive and that is one of the main reasons homeschooling is so successful.
#4 DO get organized. This means organizing all aspects of your life not just your homeschooling. Make a space in your home (not a class room) where you can keep most of your homeschooling supplies including books and writing materials. A corner of your child's bedroom will do for this. As your child grows this space will evolve with age appropriate supplies. When the children are young it can be used as a play area. Preteen children can use the space as a reading nook and teenagers can use the space as a home office or study space for college courses. Designate chores to keep the household running smoothly. As children outgrow school supplies and clothing organize a yearly tag sale to rid yourself of the clutter and bring in some extra income. It is much easier to stay organized when there is less 'stuff' everywhere. Use storage bins for the keepsakes. Get a file cabinet for all your important paperwork. Get individual file boxes for each child and teach them how to use it. Having friends and company over for visits is fine but try not to become the neighborhood hang out. A house full of constant chaos can throw organization to the wind. Make a schedule but try not to over-schedule your life. If you have 10 children and they each have a friend over for a weekend that would be poor scheduling. Take turns having a buddy over for a play day. Prioritize! Establish needs and wants and make sure your children know the difference. Communicate with each other about everything and include the details. No one is a mind reader. It's easier to stay organized when life is less hectic.
#4 DON'T bring all that educational baggage you learned in college as an education major to your homeschool. This is a real pet peeve for me. What you learned in college doesn't necessarily apply to real life parenting. Keep your educational theory to yourself and don't experiment on your own child to see if it works. As an education major you were trained to deal with a class room full of immature, inexperienced, impressionable strangers. If you have decided to homeschool you need to leave that training at the door and focus on being a patient, nurturing parent who loves their child unconditionally. You are teaching your child NOT a student. You both live in a home NOT a sterile classroom. I've discovered some of the best homeschooling parents are high school dropouts. They tend to be much more creative and far more open to various methods when teaching their children. Better yet, don't use that educational theory baggage you learned in college in your public school classroom either!
#5 DO can the canned curriculum. You'll be wasting hundreds of your hard earned dollars on those prepackaged school programs when you can just as easily create your own homeschooling program using items you can find at your local department store, art store or business supply store. You can also find good used and inexpensive books, CD's, videos, educational toys and materials at thrift shops, tag sales, online and at flea markets. Many times these cheaper materials are in mint or near mint condition. Most canned curricula are geared toward the masses. By building your own curriculum you can create a custom fit for the individual child. We simply set a few goals for our two children. Those goals were reading (either to the child or by the child); each child was required to learn about our constitution and constitutional law; each child was required to own and operate their own business by the age of 16. That was pretty much it for goals. Everything else fell into place as each child grew.
#5 DON'T be concerned whether or not you're homeschooling properly. Regardless of my opinion, experience and advice or the opinions, experience and advice of others, there really is no right or wrong way to homeschool. Homeschooling is all about freedom...the freedom to experiment and make adjustments as you go. The freedom to make mistakes, learn from those mistakes and then correct those mistakes. Homeschooling is also a discovery process. We discovered our children were the best teachers. By following their lead we were able to plan better and adjust faster for a more harmonious homeschool experience. We provided lots of opportunities for our children to learn from and kept a ready supply of resources on hand. We took our children everywhere we went and let them participate in life as it unfolded. Like most homeschooling newbies we made the mistake of trying to school at home. We eventually evolved into unschoolers after years of experimenting, trying new ideas and discarding what didn't work. We discovered homeschooling was the easy part. Most of our difficulties were the result of school officials harassing us, family members doubting us and a schooled public that couldn't comprehend what we were doing.
#6 DO cut out distractions. A distraction can be anything from housework to obnoxious school officials and relatives. A distraction can also be anything that sucks the life out of you to the point where you have no time or energy left for your young children. Ever hear the expression: don't sweat the small stuff? You need to let it go and concentrate on what is important in your life. Prioritizing will help. If the opportunity for a field trip to your local art gallery arises what would you rather do? Take your homeschooler to see some paintings or do laundry? I guarantee you the laundry will still be there when you get home. Do you have someone in your circle who constantly berates your decision to homeschool and thinks your child won't develop the skills necessary to live a great life? Cut that person out of your life because chances are they are not going to be convinced otherwise and no amount of educating them will change their attitude. Going overboard on lessons, sports, field trips and participation in events can wear you, your family vehicle and your bank account down. Most children are happy with just a few outside interests. Many times in our homeschooling journey our children were quite content to stay home (where they had plenty to do) and enjoy their down time. When they were ready to hit the road for some excitement or a change of scenery we all enjoyed and appreciated it far more than had we filled each and every waking hour with busy work or distractions.
#6 DON'T homeschool the children of other people. Make those parents stand on their own two feet. Over the years I've had several parents ask if I would homeschool their children. This never made sense to me. Why have children if you don't intend to raise them? That includes educating them! Parents who homeschool their children will experience the most amazing journey of their life. Not only will their children learn in relative freedom away from a failed bureaucracy (public schooling) but parents will gain knowledge they never thought possible. Children have so much to teach us and their lessons in patience, bravery, love, creativity and fairness go far beyond what any instructor in a baron institution could possibly dole out. As a homeschooling parent you'll be less likely to miss those infinite moments of gained knowledge that only come with the closeness you'll share with your own child in a more natural, loving and normal environment at home. You may even finally learn the 3 R's that have eluded you these many years after your own public school experience.
#7 DO become computer savvy and embrace all the latest technology. We have entered the information age...embrace it! Learn your way around the internet so you can find lots of free materials, information and great deals on books, trips and more. Develop your own communication and technological skills in order to help your children with theirs. Technology keeps changing, sometimes overnight it seems, and children have a natural talent for learning it quickly and efficiently. Just be sure to monitor and limit their online time. Remember the mimeograph machine? That was high tech in my day. Now we have gadgets you can hold in the palm of your hand and run an entire business from. We love the new technology and its widgets but be sure to make time for some good old fashion fun and relaxation that doesn't involve the high tech world we now live in.
#7 DON'T be afraid to make drastic changes in order to accomplish your homeschooling goals. This could very well include selling everything you own and moving to a more homeschooling friendly state. All things are temporary. Once your children are grown you can move back. We need to reach beyond our comfort zone sometimes, especially if it involves what is best for our children and our families. Scary thought I know but you'll be amazed at how emotionally and physically strong you are when it comes to protecting the well being of your children. As parent it is your solemn duty to guard against anything that will harm your child physically, mentally, spiritually and educationally. A parent who wants their child to learn from 'the school of hard knocks' is unfit to raise that child. Never underestimate the tactics of school and government officials in your state. If you're not willing to take a stand and defend your children and your right to educate them as you see fit then sometimes it is best to go where there is little or no interference with your homeschooling.
#8 DO become an advocate for homeschooling and unschooling. As a parent you will always be your child's best advocate. This includes advocating for your child whether they participate in group sports, family activities, clubs, summer camp, relationships and even at the doctor's office. In order to become a strong homeschooling parent who is able to provide the environment and opportunities where your child can learn in freedom, you need to know as much about homeschooling as you can. Read books on the subject. Talk with veteran homeschoolers. Learn the homeschooling laws in ALL the states because our borders are not invisible when dealing with school officials and the laws vary from one extreme to the other in each state. This way you can inform friends and family members, including those out of state, about your rights and possibly their rights too. It may dawn on them that they too have unalienable rights as parents and they too need to become stronger advocates for their own children. The more people you empower around you the easier it will be for you to homeschool in peace. The more you know about homeschooling, its history, its benefits and its outcome the stronger an advocate you'll become, not only for your child but for your constitutional rights as well.
#8 DON'T hang out with other people who are not like-minded about child rearing and homeschooling. It is never a good thing to waste time arguing, pleading or trying to convince the naysayers that your decision to homeschool was made with the best intentions and you are determined to see it through. Find others who support that decision and actively help you accomplish your homeschooling goals. Even if close family members, at the very least, are not willing to encourage you then it may be time to put some distance between you and them. Family members cannot be expected to praise your efforts when many times even the parent will not see the fruits of their homeschooling labor until their child is older and shows noticeable progress. We discovered a great way to gauge whether our homeschooling journey was succeeding or not was to visit grandma's house when all the cousins came to visit. Our children stood out with better manners, the ability to talk in depth with the various generations about more meaningful subjects, and their presence was by far more calm than their schooled cousins. You don't need an organized support group but what you do need is just a few friends and family members who actively engage in your homeschooling endeavors with encouragement or hands-on participation. Remember, it works both ways so if grandma wants to be a part of your homeschool success story then let her bring her expertise and experience to the mix. She'll be happy to pass on her information and your child will bridge the generation gap with a new found interest and respect for a beloved grandmother.
#9 DO look for ways to finance your homeschooling journey. It cannot be stressed enough that homeschooling need only be as expensive as you want it to be. When we first started homeschooling we thought we needed all the trappings of a classroom in our home in order to teach our children. That was one of our biggest mistakes but one of the easiest to overcome. Our classroom eventually evolved into a playroom loaded with toys, games, puzzles, projects, books, comfy furniture and a myriad of other fun stuff. Once we learned that education was not the same as schooling, our creativity and determination not to mimic the public school soared. With our new found educational freedom and creativity we quickly learned ways to support our homeschooling financially. We learned to seek out freebies, barter, sell our cast-offs at flea markets or online, start businesses, and we became expert recyclers. To learn more about financing your homeschooling read 10 Ways to Pay For Your Homeschooling.
#9 DON'T let others bully you into thinking you can't raise your own child. There is no such thing as an expert! Doctors, lawyers, politicians, teachers, state officials, scientists, media, in-laws and others all seem to think they know what is best for you and your child. Do they? You are the parent and no one knows your child better than you. Remember that. Don't let these meddlesome creatures bully you into doing things their way. Politely thank them for their advice and walk away or politely thank them to mind their own business. Either way, go about your business of raising and educating your child as you see fit. Research and learn what you want to know about homeschooling your child then adapt that information to your needs. Learn from your mistakes so you can keep going and growing. You'll be amazed at how much more enjoyable life is for you and your child when the so-called experts aren't controlling it.
#10 DO include your children in your life...warts and all. Just remember to make those life lessons age appropriate and use your common sense. Strive to live a better life for the quality of it and to set a good example for your children. Of course you want to leave the gory details out for some things but letting your children experience life with you will expose them to the realities of it. That life may include showing them how you pay the bills, letting them watch the news with you, explaining how politics work, going to social functions like weddings and funerals, and including them in serious family discussions. Children need to learn life isn't all toys, games, electronic gadgets and trips to theme parks. You can raise children who are aware of the world and what it's like without putting the fear of the boogie man in them. Knowing the truth about life will better prepare them to successfully live it.
#10 DON'T feel you need to join every support group or unschool forum. The biggest problem with support groups is they become organized and that's when they start to stifle spontaneity and creativity. It's better to get together with a few good homeschooling families when the mood or ability to do so strikes. NEVER join a state run program that collects data on you, especially a preschool or daycare! Online forums can be informative providing you have the time to chat or post but don't take time away from family that could otherwise be used to simply enjoy your own self-discovery. Infants, toddlers and very young children only need the company of their parents and siblings for their development. By the time they're 8 to 12 years old they're ready for some socialization outside the family. If you insist on joining or forming a group one good one is all you need. Members will come and go so make sure it is flexible, spontaneous, and laid back enough to keep out the pressure of becoming yet another appointment on your already busy calendar.
#11 DO become an advocate for homeschooling and unschooling. There is no better way to fully commit to the home education movement than by being an advocate for it. When others see that you are a home education advocate you strengthen their resolve to pursue, persevere and promote the benefits of homeschooling as well. Learn all there is to homeschooling including its history, methods others employ and the benefits. Commit homeschooling statistics to memory so you can answer questions or defend the movement at any given opportunity. Create a homeschooling blog or write books on the subject to share your knowledge and experience. You may even be able to turn your expertise into a full time occupation that could generate an income for you.
#11 DON'T take advice about homeschooling from novice homeschoolers. First, if you want to learn what homeschooling is really all about, find out what the elders of the homeschooling movement have to say about it in their books, videos, forums and blogs. Then make sure the homeschooling parent you're getting advice from has at least 5 years of experience under their belt. Even then that person may still be finding their way and may not quite have this home education thing figured out yet. This may sound harsh but many novice homeschoolers tend to jump through too many unnecessary state and local hoops. They think they're doing the right thing by abiding by the school's or state's every whim when they are actually causing more harm than good to their liberty and freedom. Whatever you do don't listen to the naysayers including journalists, public school personnel or even those who gave homeschooling a try but failed miserably at it.
#12 DO have fun, be silly and encourage each other in your family and your homeschooling community to lighten up. Laughter IS the best medicine. Throw off the shackles that prevent you and your children from enjoying the simple and silly things in life. Homeschooling shouldn't bring you to tears over unfinished lesson plans or workbooks. If your homeschool feels like you're living and learning in a pressure cooker then it's time to unwind, relax and unschool. Parents need to de-stress before they can create a happier learning environment for their children. Learn to eat healthier to regulate your body's physical and emotional state. Learn better personal financial habits so you're not so stressed over money. Finally, enjoy some adult humor (not raunchy) and fun so you'll be more relaxed around your children. The sky won't fall in on you if you have a glass of wine during some down time, a date night with your spouse, or even if you watch some adult humor on The Late Late Showwith Craig Ferguson or Little Britain.
#12 DON'T get bogged down with record keeping, grading, and other things that public schools do. If you're doing these things, no matter what your state regulations are, then you're schooling at home NOT homeschooling. This is where the term homeschooling rears its ugly head. For lack of a better word we sometimes use the word homeschooling interchangeably so the novice homeschooler or parent will know what we're referring to. Many of us purposely didn't do school things with our children and we spent much of our learning years out and about in the world. When we use the familiar word homeschooling we're also referring to unschoooling, deschooling, home-based education, free range learning, open source learning and a myriad of other ways of educating.
We veteran homeschooling parents may have begun our journey for academic or religious reasons but when we crossed the finish line and look back we can see what homeschooling is truly about. It's all about freedom and liberty. We homeschoolers are fulfilling the dreams of America's founding fathers. We are pursuing our God-given and unalienable rights. Sure, we kept the drawings, writings and creations our children produced over the years but we didn't consider it record keeping and it certainly wasn't offered up to officials for scrutiny. How would you like someone to grade your housekeeping? The few times we graded our children's work we did so to show them how and why it's done in public school. In your homeschool every child is a Valedictorian! Don't bury your homeschool in unnecessary paperwork just to satisfy the authorities. Chances are it isn't required and you certainly don't want to offer up information about your children that is, quite frankly, none of the state's business.
#13 DO include your children in your life...warts and all. This can be done without depriving your children of a happy and memorable childhood. By 'warts and all' I'm talking about explaining your frustrations with minor things such as household bills, relationships, unruly relatives you'd rather not spend time with, politics, money and your own lack of knowledge. Life and children don't come with handbooks. We as parents don't have all the answers and many of us are still finding our way in this world. Children have the uncanny ability to teach us about life, love and letting go of our hang-ups. If we open up to them and we begin to let go of our own adult baggage they can make our lives so much richer. The best thing I ever learned from my children was patience and they were great motivators by making me want to learn everything about anything. Remember what it was like to see the world through your eyes as a child? The good guys wore white hats, life was simpler, little things meant so much, and the stars in the night sky were shinier. You were convinced you could talk to the animals and you saw everything in black and white. Continue to see life through the eyes of your child but at the same time let them know that there will be challenges and obstacles to overcome. Those challenges and obstacles will be better dealt with if children are clued in early rather than left to suffer a rude awakening to some facts of life.
#13 DON'T let your child decide whether or not to attend public schooling. The consequences are far too serious to allow an immature mind to make this decision. Your young child has no idea of the history, the politics or the intent of the public schools in this country, or the world for that matter. It is imperative you never EVER send your child into this corrupt system. Don't be taken in by the 'carrots' they dangle in front of you such as athletics, proms, drama clubs, honor rolls, field trips and the plethora of feel good opportunities they use to draw you in. Today all of these 'carrots' can be found and attended in the outside free world. Once you sign on the public school's dotted line you've given them your permission to force you to live by their rules, their whims and their warped beliefs. The public schools will rob your child of their dignity, their education and their very soul.
#14 DO find some quiet space to call your own and use downtime for reflection, problem solving and planning. To let you in on a little secret, my favorite place for this was in my van while waiting for our children when they attended piano lessons. I would have a solid hour and a half all to myself to read, pay bills or simply enjoy the solitude. When the children are young take advantage of nap-time to do this. I promise you the dirty laundry and dishes in the sink will still be there but the rejuvenation and clarity you experience from that down-time will make housekeeping far more enjoyable. As your children grow older and become more independent you may discover you have more time for yourself, your job or your hobbies. If you are able to pace yourself, reflect and remain organized early on you'll be better able to enjoy life. You won't find yourself stressing over a frazzled and hectic existence brought on by trying to be the supermom you were not meant to be.
#14 DON'T be afraid to instill your own values in your children, not the political correct ones modern bureaucrats think they should be. Our culture has run amok. Good guys get mocked, ridiculed and punished while the bad guys are emulated, worshiped and get their own television shows. There truly are elements of good and evil on this earth. Much of the evil is perpetrated by the politicians doing the bidding of those who have bought their favor. Standing up for your beliefs is not enough anymore. You need to be armed with detailed information about politics, commerce, finance, education, medicine, religion and more. Only then will you be able to decide whether you want to participate or not participate in the factions that control your life and the lives of those around you.
#15 DO teach personal finance in your homeschool. These are precarious times as far as the global economy is concerned. How is your economy? By teaching personal finance to your children you will finally receive the education concerning money, investing, debt, economics, business, liabilities, assets, barter, budgets, unions, and cash flow that you were denied in public school. Public schools teach consumer finance NOT investment finance. You need to know both and the difference between them. Learn to invest! Start sharing this information with your children by getting them a piggy bank. Better yet, get them several banks. When you go to a store show them how to shop. Let them earn some money to shop with. Math workbooks of different age levels are readily available at department stores or online. Own a business? Let your children participate to learn how it's done. We were fortunate to find the Rich Dad, Poor Dad book series by the time our children were in their early teens. These are excellent books and materials by Robert Kiyosaki. Kiyosaki turns everything you ever learned or assumed about money on its ear. Peprare for a real eye opener but also a better world financially for you and your family.
#15 DON'T throw away any of your child's creations. That includes art, writing, drawings or awards no matter how many or how trivial you may think they are. Keep a scrapbook or special box to store them in. If your child is too young to sign their own name you should write the name of the child who created the piece and date it. Over the years our children have created drawings for our homeschooling newsletter (Right At Home) and booklets. It was a thrill for them to see their art published and led to our daughter creating her own homeschooling newsletter titled Jiggety-Jig. She eventually won awards for her 3-dimensional clay work at the local fair and that led to her own business called Flutternut Studios. Many of you may be searching for a way to boost your own economy. Use these creations for T-shirt, mug or calendar designs to raise funds for your homeschool. It's a great way to show off your child's talent and they make great gifts for the grandparents.
#16 DO look for ways to finance your homeschooling journey. Often homeschool families will decide there should be at least one stay-at-home parent while the other works a full-time job. Being a stay-at-home mom or dad doesn't mean giving up an income. Read 10 Ways To Pay For Your Homeschooling to learn how to finance your homeschool. Our present economy is rather rickety at the moment. It's best to start now preparing for a sustainable way to finance your homeschool before being forced to make hasty decisions later on.
#16 DON'T feel pressured to send your child to college. College attendance is highly overrated, not to mention a vehicle for putting you and your child into proverbial debt for the rest of your working life. If your child wants to become a brain surgeon then that's another kettle of fish. However, many other skills can be self-taught and apprenticing still does exist. There is always community college where your child can pick and choose courses without the added costs of housing, food, untold fees and frivolous non-elective classes. Many homeschoolers are ready for college courses by age 15 or 16 and many use community college as their high school. By selectively taking a few years of community college courses most homeschoolers will begin to know which direction they want to go academically and are free to decide if a college career is right for them. Many, however, discover full time college at a state or university campus is wasteful of their precious time and money. A year or two of community college business and accounting courses is just as beneficial and less costly than four or five years in a degree program far from home.