Surviving the First Year

Surviving the First Year of Homeschooling after Leaving Public School

I understand your frustration. We began homeschooling after our older child had spent several years in public school (our younger child spent only Kindergarten in The System). We felt strongly that God was leading us to take responsibility for our children's education, but we had a difficult time finding adequate support from other homeschoolers. Most of the other homeschooling families we knew at that time had been educating their own children from the beginning and had never experienced the trauma of feeling that public school had failed them. Parents often write to me, seeking encouragement and advice in surviving this transition from public school to homeschool. I know exactly what they mean. It is a completely foreign situation, somewhat like starting over from the beginning, but with students who cannot afford to lose any ground. Children who undergo this change from public school to homeschool will experience abrupt (but not disastrous) changes in environment, teaching styles, and learning situations. These changes will usually affect behavioral changes in the child -- sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. The environmental changes may put the child on an emotional roller coaster. If he had difficulties at public school or did not enjoy that experience, he may be relieved to be away from that setting. At the same time, he may miss some of his acquaintances or the reliable routine of scheduled activities. Enjoying school, not enjoying school; missing the other students, not missing the other students; excitement, depression; up, down -- most children do not have the maturity to effectively cope with the emotions they will experience through this process without help and hugs from their understanding parents. If the student is eager to adapt to homeschooling, the teaching parent will not have much difficulty during the transition phase. However, some students are not in agreement with a parental decision to leave the public school and view the change as something to rebel against. In this case, their behavior may become uncooperative and stubborn and include what I call the "Limp Spine Syndrome," that tendency for a child's entire body to go completely limp whenever you urge him to pick up a pencil.

The simplest assignments may drag on and on, and work that the child could easily have accomplished within a few minutes' time may stretch out to last an entire day. If the child had formerly been an attentive student in the public classroom, he may just be dawdling at his work in an effort to substitute Mom's companionship for the classmates he is missing, or he may be seeing this extended class time as a way to monopolize Mom's time, keeping her from completing other household tasks, and thereby punishing her for taking him away from his former friends and associates. Students who are used to having homework assigned to be done later may not immediately grasp the concept of doing their work during class time. A casual discussion of expectations between teaching-parent and student may clear up many misunderstandings and motivate the child with the promise of free-time activities once the schoolwork has been completed. Since this new arrangement is homeschooling, not school at home, it will undeniably be different from what the student had been used to. The style of teaching necessary for a roomful of children is not at all suitable for just a few students. At the same time, the learning skills used in the large group setting are not the same skills necessary for the more self-directed format of homeschooling. Another common cause of disinterested learners is lesson presentation in a manner that does not appeal to the child's learning style: giving oral explanations to a student who learns best through building 3-D models, or assigning a student to read a chapter of history when he would rather participate in a reenactment. Spend some one-on-one time with your child, endeavoring to learn what things he is interested in and how he would prefer to study them, and then tailor a few lessons specifically towards those areas. If your reluctant student is interested in guns and soldiers, rent a few factual war movies (look for older movies that do not require the modern cautions against adult scenes or foul language) and watch them together, followed with brief discussions of various scenes or characters. If he is car crazy, challenge him to research comparisons on new models or prototypes. Find his areas of personal interest and focus on those. It can make a tremendous difference in his level of motivation and create a valuable bond between the two of you at the same time. (Mom is letting me study this?) Remember, education was taking place long before the first textbook was ever written. Teaching and learning are difficult enough with only a few subjects -- there is no reason to complicate matters by tackling too many subjects at once. When neither your student nor you as teacher has had any experience at homeschooling, allow yourselves plenty of time to adapt to this new routine before worrying about covering all the bases. A student who cannot read well cannot fully grasp history. A student who has not mastered handwriting will find creative writing to be needlessly tedious. Get the basics covered well first, and then other academic subjects may be added in later.

A parent recently mentioned to me that her student had previously been given prescription medication to compensate for a learning disability while in public school, but he did not seem to have a need for the medication at home. The child also seemed to be struggling with that inconsistency -- why was the medicine needed for learning at school, but it is not needed for learning at home? Let me bluntly say that I feel public schools have become much too liberal in assigning "disability" labels, and children are being over-medicated, sometimes needlessly medicated. I do not discount the possibility of children with legitimate problems in learning, but I also think medication should not be the first choice in conquering those problems. If you are struggling with homeschooling, be encouraged -- the first year is always the toughest. Remind yourself that you have chosen to homeschool your children for very important reasons. There is a definite adjustment period involved in switching from public school to homeschooling, and that period can last at least a year. If you are currently in the critical transition stage between public schools and homeschooling, I suggest you browse through my Indexes for a larger dose of encouragement. I will list a few past articles here for you to start with: --Questions from a First-time Homeschooler --Homeschooling Is Hard Work --Do the Best Job You Can, and Pray for God to Clean Up the Rest --What Didn't Work for Today Can Be Changed for Tomorrow --Homeschooling an Only Child --Meatball Education: Filling in the Potholes of Public School --Spoken Destinies and Learned Behaviors --Are We Homeschooling or Schooling at Home?