Homeschooling For Dummies
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Every homeschooler has fears that nag and whisper in the night. Maybe going with the flow would be better. Whether you’re contemplating taking the leap into homeschooling, you’re a first-year homeschooler, or you’ve been doing this for ages, one or more of the fears that I discuss in this list is bound to hit you sooner or later.

The good news is that they’re only fears and nothing more. When the sun shines again and you look into those bright eyes that live at your house, you reach for the math book and know you’re doing the right thing for your family. For the benefit of your middle-of-the-night uneasiness, this list contains the answers to classic homeschool fears.

My child will never make friends if I homeschool.

Actually, the truth is that it’s harder to stay at home and actually do the work than it is to pile everybody into the car and trek across town to another homeschooler’s house for the day. When I began teaching my children at home, I had it easy: Another homeschooler lived four houses down. However, keeping everybody inside until the day’s work was done was still hard. Play sets longed for company, bikes sat idle, and five pairs of inline skates (belonging to the other children as well as to mine) cried for attention.

homeschooled friends © Casper1774Studio/

As long as you involve your child in activities with other homeschoolers or in the community and let him out of the house once in a while, your child will make friends. Due to the nonsegregated nature of homeschooling, your child’s friends may surprise you: Some will probably be a bit older, others younger, and she may even take a liking to the grandma down the street. (Who wouldn’t like a woman who cultivates gorgeous flowerbeds and serves great cookies?)

One of the easiest ways to meet other homeschoolers is to hang out where they hang out. Join a homeschool co-op. Participate in the local library homeschool activities. Call your YMCA, YWCA, or other athletic club and ask about daytime classes for homeschoolers. Sooner or later, you’re bound to meet another family or two like yours.

I don’t know enough to teach my child.

If you took it, you can teach it. Did you make it through second grade? Then you can teach second-grade math and reading.

Remember that I’m not talking about lecturing to a 30-member class. Picture yourself with your second-grader reading words and sentences while snuggled on your lap. Perhaps you sit next to your fourth-grader and talk about fractions while you cut an extra-large, chocolate-chip cookie into sixths for a tasty math lesson.

parent as teacher © Syda Productions/

After a while, when your child brings questions to you that you can’t answer off the top of your head, you learn together. Hand in hand with your child, you read through the textbook or research at the library or on the internet. You’ll want to stay a bit ahead of your student in some classes, and you can pursue other subjects together. If you have high-school-age students, they can do the legwork and bring you the answers.

My child will miss out on socialization.

That depends. What kind of socialization do you want your child to have? If you’re talking about being herded into a room with 20 or more other children and told not to talk all day, then your child’s probably going to miss that experience. If you mean the socialization that your child receives during ten-minute lunches in an impersonal school cafeteria where a monitor walks around the room constantly so that children remain silent while they eat, then your child probably won’t experience that at home, either.

If you mean the kind of socialization that arises from the opportunity to interact with other humans in a natural environment, then homeschooling provides a sterling chance to gain the social skills that can prepare your child for a well-adjusted adulthood. Homeschooling gives your child the chance to experience life as it is lived, rather than institutionalization for six hours each day. Your child gets to socialize with people of all different ages and various walks of life throughout the day as he accompanies you to the post office, greets the FedEx-delivery person at the door, and participates in co-op classes across town.

Homeschool children don’t feel threatened when they come into contact with younger or older children because, in their world, people come in all shapes, sizes, and ages. A 12-year-old homeschooler can interact just as easily with a 5-year-old as she can with a 16-year-old because, in her eyes, age doesn’t segregate people. Isn’t this the kind of socialization that you want your kids to experience?

I will buy the wrong curriculum.

Take a deep breath. Homeschoolers buy the wrong curriculum sooner or later. It happens. It happened to me, it happened to nearly every homeschooler I know, and it’s part of life.

A problem occurs only if you keep buying the wrong curriculum even after you know it doesn’t fit your child. Because every child is different, some books, approaches, and projects work better with one child than they do another. Often you have the extremes right in your own household, like I do. I purchase the curriculums for a few subjects with both children in mind, but I need to buy other curriculums from separate publishers because my children learn differently.

If you have more than one child, and you buy the “wrong” curriculum for the oldest one or two, you can always keep it around in the hopes that a younger child may use the curriculum. When I purchase something for one child and it doesn’t work, I try it with the other one awhile to see if it clicks. With children only one grade level apart, I can do that, and it minimizes my off purchases.

Purchasing one year’s books at a time also helps to minimize the damage. If you buy a language-arts curriculum that does not click with your child this year, you can always struggle through (maybe with some homegrown modifications) and try another publisher next year. Deciding that a new curriculum is the best thing since sliced zucchini and purchasing all eight years’ worth without testing it out first may be a waste of money if your little darling doesn’t like it or if the new curriculum presents information in a way that your child doesn’t comprehend.

If you find yourself with a stack of unusable books after the beginning of a school year, you can always pass them along to a homeschooler who needs them, donate them to your local homeschool lending library, or sell them used through your area vendor or an online swap shop, such as a Facebook homeschool book exchange. Although the curriculum doesn’t fit your child, someone will be delighted to get it because it matches that child’s needs.

My child will learn less at home than he does at school.

If you took your child out of school because he wasn’t learning, then you already know how little information your child amassed at school. You also know that with a little effort you can match or exceed that level at home. Good for you!

Most parents who worry about a child’s learning levels are the ones who never sent their children to school in the first place. They somehow think that those hours spent poring over math books, learning parts of speech, and dissecting tulips this past spring count for less because they were done at home. Or maybe they believe that the schools teach something that they can’t duplicate at home.

Relax. As long as you select a grade-level book for the year and follow it, your child can learn at least as much as her school-aged peers. Because you don’t have to keep pace with the slowest child in the class, you actually have the freedom to work at your child’s pace. In some courses, that may mean taking a year and a half to finish a textbook, but when you’re done, you know that your child understands the material. He didn’t simply read the words and move on.

In other classes, you may stay right on target or even do a book and a half within a year’s time. If your child assimilates science quickly, and you find yourself moving through the science book faster than you thought, you can always take the extra time to incorporate experiments into the class instead of moving to the next book.

One way to keep tabs on your child’s grade levels, even if your state doesn’t require it, is to give your child a standardized test each year. That gives you a general idea how your child regurgitates information and applies knowledge based on the current national norms. If your child scores above 50 percent on a standardized test, that means that he performed as well as or better than half the students who took the test. Not a very detailed way of measuring progress, but it may ease your mind.

I’ll never have free time again.

Oh, sure you will. And it may even happen before they graduate!

Actually, one of the best things you can do for your kids — as well as for yourself — is to carve out a niche of time each week especially for you. Maybe that means watching a movie you want to see one evening after the kids go to bed. Perhaps you leave all the darlings in the care of your spouse and go shopping for a couple hours.

When you take a couple hours to do whatever you want to do (within reason, of course), you return to the job-at-hand refreshed and ready to go. You don’t have to take a really long break. Sometimes soaking for an hour with your favorite novel does the trick. The very fact that you thought enough of you to schedule some alone time does your heart good.

My child may not be learning at the right pace.

As long as your child is learning, adding new skills to the ones already mastered, then you’re doing fine. After all, what is the “right” pace for learning? That depends on whom you talk to.

If you want your child to actually learn the material, it may take a bit longer than breezing through the pages and marking them with checks to show you read them. The best learning involves active participation. Instead of reading through the sample math problem, your child needs to complete a couple problems on his own so he really knows how it’s done.

The parent of a special-needs scholar takes learning at the child’s own pace. This student covers material one concept at a time until it’s all mastered. Sometimes it moves quickly; on other days, it goes pretty slow. As a tutor, you can do the same with your child. If she catches onto a concept quickly and gives you that bored I’ve-got-it-already look, you can safely move on. If she struggles to master another concept, then you can take as long as you need to master it before you continue. If you stick with it day after day, you’ll probably still get through the book before the end of the year or close to it.

I won’t be able to do it all.

Of course, you won’t be able to do it all. Nobody does it all and stays sane. It’s impossible to homeschool every day, cook a six-course meal each evening, mow the lawn twice a week, clean the house till it’s spotless on the weekend, wax the dog on Saturdays, and hand buff the car every other week while running a home business and decorating the house to look like a million bucks.

Lives like this only happen with A-squared personalities or in the movies. A- squared personalities have way too much stress in their lives to be healthy, and the movies don’t happen in real life. In real life, you find yourself cleaning up the spilled cereal milk while engaging in a futile effort to catch the dog — futile because you waxed him yesterday. I can’t tell you the last time I went out to dinner with a Hollywood star (well, I could tell you but you wouldn’t believe me). However, I do recall the day that I homeschooled for four hours, mopped the kitchen floor, and made a dinner that was more than a casserole with a side salad.

So rest in the knowledge that nobody real gets it all done every day. Pick your priorities and go with those. If a spotless house is high on your list, make that a priority and encourage everybody to pitch in to make it happen. On the other hand, if you’d rather wax the dog and run a home business while you homeschool, the house will probably look lived in most of the time. (Is that so bad, if you truly live there?) The dog, however, consistently shines.

After I start, I have to do this forever.

Nope. Not so. You don’t even have to finish the year out, although sticking with homeschooling one year at a time is probably the wisest thing you can do. Giving up on a three-month-old experiment doesn’t tell you much except that you quit before the end of the year. Sticking it out until spring tells you more — you have an idea where your strengths lie, what your weaknesses may be (in curriculum, planning, or even other areas), and the facets of your homeschool that you may change next year — if there is a next year.

Most homeschoolers teach one year at a time. Very few start out in preschool declaring that they plan to do this through college. Your child may only need to be home for a year or two before you send her back to school. Or you may decide to teach for the first eight years at home and send him to high school.

What is the best plan for your family? No matter what the plan looks like, that is the plan you should follow. If it means taking it one year at a time until you look up one day and your oldest is nearing the end of her senior year, then that’s great! But if you teach your child at home for the first three years and then decide he has enough of a head start to move into the school system, then that’s just as good.

As long as your decision strengthens your family and meets your needs as a family unit, then it’s the right decision and you homeschooled just long enough.

I’m not keeping the right (or enough) records on my child’s progress.

If you’re tracking whatever your state asks you to track, then you’re probably doing all right. Your state may require attendance records and immunization records only — keep those up-to-date and nobody can argue with you. On the other hand, if you live in a state that wants you to keep track of each book that you use, to keep a file for a portion of your child’s worksheets and creative writing, and you do it, you’re fine.

Most of us struggle with the paper concept: More is better — the more records, worksheets, poems, coloring pages, and construction-paper creations that are kept on file, the better. Actually, as long as you keep the right snippets of paper, you can happily throw the rest of the stuff away with a clear conscience. (You may want to do it while Junior isn’t looking.)

If you have a high schooler, then you need to track individual courses, textbooks (with authors), course content, grades, and sometimes hours of instruction, depending on your state law. This is the information that you use to create the high-school transcript for colleges and other post-secondary schools, as well as a document that gives the admissions office a picture of your child’s high-school education experience.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Jennifer Kaufeld has nearly three decades of homeschooling experience. She is a regular speaker at state and regional homeschooling and education conferences, and frequently contributes expert advice to several communities on Facebook and elsewhere online.

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