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By Christina Tynan-Wood
Don't burn bridges
Kochenderfer warns against burning bridges with your old school. You may want to go back if homeschooling doesn’t work out, after all. Or your child might want to attend a single class or participate in sports at that school. (Whether homeschooled students can play on sports teams or take individual classes is determined by state law and the school's principal.)
Ava's school doesn’t allow partial participation, but we still had reason to maintain a good relationship. She loves many of the people at her former school and wants to go back to visit. So, although it was tempting to spout angrily at a board meeting, we kept our cool and simply told the school that Ava needed more structure. And that was that.
Instant homeschooling 101
First, look up your state’s homeschooling laws. I was surprised by how simple it was to start. I had to think up a name for our school and mail in a form. I'll also have to issue end-of-grade tests.
Keep in mind that the rules vary from state to state. You may have to provide your planned curriculum in advance, take attendance and provide the records, issue end-of-grade tests, give grades, possess a requisite level of education, or supply other paperwork.
A support group
No really. A homeschool support group will give your child other kids to socialize and take field trips with during the day. It also allows parents to share resources and teaching duties. Finding a group was easy for me: I wasn’t the only parent from Ava’s school who had decided enough was enough. And I still keep up with the parent group I joined back when I homeschooled my son. (To find a homeschooling community near you, go to Homeschool.com.)
The teaching is easier than I thought it would be. Ava takes all her classes online. I'm merely a coach: I answer questions, provide supervision and direction, and drive her to swim team and to her tutor. She's not only learning more — and enjoying it — it’s easier for me, too. I don’t have to rush her out the door in the morning or leave work to pick her up every afternoon. And we're enjoying each other’s company — most of the time (she is after all a teenager) — because we aren’t arguing over grades, bedtimes, lost permission slips, reading logs, or homework.
Choosing curriculums with care
How you set up your home school depends on your life circumstances and your child's age. But both Kochenderfer and Dobson suggest taking your time when choosing a curriculum. “Don’t buy into a structured curriculum the day you start,” says Kochenderfer. “Or you might spend that money and discover later your child is better suited to something else.” They both suggest allowing your child some time to decompress from school, especially if you're making the change because of a school-related trauma. Go on some field trips, find out what your child wants to learn, and give him time to rediscover his love of learning.
Of course, homeschooling isn't possible for every family, depending on the child's temperment, as well as work demands and other practical issues. If you have a younger child, he obviously needs supervision, and even an extremely self-sufficient teenager shouldn't be left to manage his learning on his own day after day. Still, there are ways to work around some of the obstacles: an older child might be able to work independently part of the day, then go solo from a tutor to a relative or neighbor, for example. And if you have some flexibility in your work schedule, you can trade classes with other homeschooling parents: you teach their child math, they teach your child history. An older teen can also take classes at the local junior college. “The great thing about this,” says Kochenderfer, “is that homeschoolers can usually get both high school and college credit for the same class.”
Taking control of learning
In fact, you might be surprised by how much your child wants to learn and takes control of his own education once you hand him the reins. “If you take away the TV and video games, kids usually wake up after a few weeks, rediscover their natural curiosity, and pursue all sorts of learning on their own,” says Kochenderfer.
The teacher who pushed us out the door may have done more for my daughter’s education than she'll ever know. In just a few weeks, Ava has learned she's in control of what she learns — not the teacher. And that's a lesson that will serve her well, no matter what school she attends.