Homeschooling is a Scary Proposition

It's the last installment of homeschool week on the blog. For earlier posts see here and here and here.

Today we'll be looking at some obstacles to homeschooling, and how to overcome them, if you feel like homeschooling is something you'd like to try.

The question:

Hi Kendra!

I've been following your blog for a little over a year now and I really love it! I so admire your awesome family life and your self-confidence.

I am hoping that you can give me some advice with a problem I've been wrestling with for a while now. Homeschooling has been on my mind and the posts you've written about it already have helped me immensely. I really have no problem with the public school system, but I really love the idea behind homeschooling that life centers around home and the family. I have 3 kids: Claire (3), who would be starting JK in September and twin boys, Simon and Thomas (1). I know I can do it (though I'm also realistically prepared for hard days and challenges!), my husband supports me (God bless him) and I am blessed to already know several good homeschooling families that live nearby. There are two problems that are still stopping me from taking the plunge:

First, I know that I will have some pretty opinionated and loud nay-sayers, not the least of which is my mother. I wish I could say that even if she disagreed, she would support me and trust in my decision making, discernment process, but she's already kind of made it clear that she won't. In fact, I truly fear the constant guilt-mongering will last forever. We happen to be close, so I am always seeking her approval... but I know there won't be many days where I probably WON'T hear about how I'm ruining my children and making them miserable by keeping them home. Sigh. I am very non-confrontational, so this is difficult for me. Any advice in this area would be so appreciated!! Did you meet much resistance? How did you/do you deal with it?

Second, I am wondering how to start with my daughter, who is currently SO excited to go to "real school" that she wakes up every morning asking if it's fall yet. I think that this causes me more doubt than anything else because I don't want to devastate her. She is very social and active and loves to be out and about. I feel that homeschooling would be really good for the whole family (especially if we have more kids because, I share your policy that you should never wake a sleeping baby EVER and that would be difficult on a school's schedule...). I am not "afraid" of my kids but I don't want to crush her either. Any helpful tips on what to do? I feel like when she's this young, it may be easy enough to just not mention school at all and keep going on our merry way, but she will keep asking and I want to mean what I say!

Thank you so much for all of your inspiring words on the blog... Oh, and your Day in the Life post was by far my favorite one last year! In fact, I think it may have been the catalyst in my homeschooling endeavors! It helped to have a real look at what life looks like homeschooling in a big family!
God Bless,

Michelle Sachs

The answer:

Hey Michelle,

I think what you're asking about here are really common concerns of ALL new homeschoolers.
Homeschooling, despite what it might seem like in the Catholic blogosphere, is still relatively rare and pretty counter-cultural. I think it's quite normal for even very supportive extended family to be taken aback by the idea that a family wouldn't be sending their kids to regular school. Because that's just what people DO with their kids, they send them to school.

I think the best approach with skeptical family members is to just try to let things play out a bit, and let them see that it's working for your family. I'd highlight the fact that this isn't a forever decision. This is something you feel that God has put on your heart to try, so you're going to homeschool for this year. And next year you'll decide again.

Having a supportive husband and a homeschooling community and confidence in your own ability to handle it is are the three most important pieces to the homeschooling puzzle. While also having a supportive extended family is ideal, I don't think it's nearly as important as husband and community and confidence.

Something else to consider . . . I don't personally do ANY sit down preschool homeschool with my kids. And even in kindergarten, I keep sit down instruction time pretty minimal. When I only had one in school, we did a very consistent 45 minutes or so, two to three days per week. Now that I have so many other grades to attend to, my current kindergartener gets less direct instruction time than that. But I have found that for my kids, early school concepts have come more quickly and easily if they're not started too early, and daily interactions, unstructured play time, and family outings are a more valuable use of time for my kids younger than six or seven.

I have had a couple who really were ready to begin learning to read before kindergarten and one in particular who has a deep and abiding love for workbooks, and for those kids, I did do some sit down schoolwork, just because they really loved it. But for the rest of my kids, who were happy just playing, I let them focus on that.

Also, sending your kids to preschool outside the home does NOT mean you can't be homeschoolers. My three oldest attended and loved a non-academic two day per week preschool. If the dropping off and picking up wasn't so disruptive to our homeschool day, my younger kids would be going there, too. If you have a good option for a fun preschool, and you think your daughter would enjoy it, you might want to consider it, even if you plan to homeschool.

The easiest way to smooth the transition from traditional preschool to homeschool kindergarten or first grade, I think, is to spend time around your homeschooling family friends. That way your daughter knows that there are different ways to go to school, and homeschooling is one of them. Then, whenever the subject of school comes up, you can just remind your daughter that, after preschool is done, we'll be doing school at home, like the insert-name-here family does.

It comes down to a family culture issue, really. Different families are different, and do things different ways. If my son had said, "But my friend Aidan is going to such and such a school. I want to go there, too." I would have told him, "Different families do school different ways. That school is what's going to work for Aidan's family next year. But the Tierney family is going to homeschool. That's what's going to be the best for us."

Then, for both your mom AND your daughter, you can really highlight the benefits of homeschooling. You'll have more flexibility to be able to go to the beach or a museum, or on a hike or a bike ride, or a vacation. Your daughter will be able to be home with her siblings and be a part of the rhythm of your family's day, not someone who leaves in the morning and comes home in the late afternoon. She'll be available for outings with her grandmother. You'll be able to spend time more specifically than they are able to do in a classroom. You can blow through easy subjects, and take your time on more difficult ones. You can include things that are especially of interest to her like gardening, or cooking, or art, or science, or music, that they just don't have the time or resources for in a classroom setting.

In my personal experience, there is NO SHORTAGE of opportunities for socialization in the homeschooling world. My kids participate in a wide variety of activities. They all play on multiple sports teams at our local park. The boys do Boy Scouts, and the girls do Little Flowers. We have weekly parkdays and monthly field trips with our Catholic homeschool group. I host a bi-monthly science class in our home, where a scientist comes in and teaches our group, which includes us, plus a few other families from our homeschool group. My boys are altar servers and my older daughter helps out on the doughnut committee at our church. We are quite involved, and my kids have really close friends.

And the best thing about it is that their close friends share our family values. I can't guarantee that you'll find the same among all Catholic homeschooling families, of course, or that you wouldn't find the same thing in a Catholic school (hopefully you would), but we have been just incredibly blessed in the companionship of our homeschool group friends. There have been disagreements over the years, of course, but very few. And not one time in the eight years I've been homeschooling have my kids come to me sad because another child has teased them about their physical appearance, or our family rules, or our faith. It has never happened. I do have one child who has more trouble than the others in getting along in a group setting, and who has sometimes gotten a hard time from the group of kids, but it's always had to do with my child's behaviors and actions, and never with physical appearance . . . which I think is a very important difference.

You still have lots of time to reflect and resolve and figure things out. But if homeschooling is what's right for your family, as it has been for mine, I think you'll find that it just ends up manageable. The couple of months my son attended our parish school, it never felt quite right, everything was off kilter. As soon as I brought him home to try homeschooling, things fell into place. That's not to say it isn't hard, of course, any type of schooling is going to have its challenges. But if you are meant to be homeschooling at that time, you will find you have the grace to do it, and to handle all the direct and indirect challenges that come along with it.

Good luck!

Please let me know if this answered your question, and if there's anything else I can do to help.


p.s. here are some posts that might be of interest . . .

Creating a Family Culture

Quit Worrying About Preschool. Seriously, Stop It.

How to Start a Little Flowers Girls' Club

Mailbag Disclaimer: I am not a theologian, nor am I an official spokesperson for the Catholic Church. (You're thinking of this guy.) If you read anything on this blog that is contrary to Church teaching, please consider it my error (and let me know!). I'm not a doctor or an expert on anything in particular. I'm just one person with a lot of experience parenting little kids and a desire to share my joy in marriage, mothering, and my faith.

If you've got a question, please send it along to catholicallyear @ gmail . com . Please let me know if you prefer that I change your name if I use your question on the blog.