How to homeschool when you’re scared

Today one of my friends linked to this post and said that while she is really interested in homeschooling, she also shares the fears of the writer of the post. She asked how her homeschooling friends dealt with those fears, and thinking about that inspired this post. Because, predictably, I have thoughts.

First and foremost, let’s just put it out there- homeschooling is scary. You’re stepping outside the norm, you’re taking responsibility for your child’s education, you’re taking on having them home all day, you’re taking on teaching them subjects you may not feel confident in. But just because something is scary doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. It also doesn’t automatically mean you should do it. So here are some ways to battle the fear.

“I’m afraid to take my kid out of regular school.”

Write it down:

Why? I’m being serious here, take a look at why you are afraid. Are you afraid of being judged? That your child will miss out on something? (If so, hold on to that, we’ll come back to it.) Are you afraid because you’re doing something unusual? Think of every reason you’re afraid and write it down. Identifying the sources of our fear can help in and of itself.

Read a lot:

The more you read about homeschooling, the more concrete it becomes in your mind as an option. Read far and wide, blogs, books, websites, anything that gives you perspective and options. Read The Well-Trained Mind, A Charlotte Mason Education, A Thomas Jefferson Education , Home Grown: Adventures in Parenting off the Beaten Path, Unschooling, and Reconnecting with the Natural World, and any other book that looks good. You don’t (and won’t) have to agree with all of them, but they’ll show you what is possible outside of a “regular” classroom. This goes hand in hand with

Figure out your philosophy:

My friends will laugh because I have a philosophy about everything, but this is really important. The book 102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum is the most helpful source I’ve found for this, as the workbook pages walk you through thinking about what you want for your child’s education. Think about what it’s important to you that your child know when they graduate. What subjects do you wish you learned more about in school? Do you want them sitting at a desk a lot? Outside? Doing hands on work? Memorizing facts? Figure out what is important to you, so you know what approach you want to take. At this point, you may realize that a regular classroom is the best forum for realizing your philosophy, and that’s just fine. All of the possibilities are tools in the education toolbox, and if you need a classroom shaped hammer, then don’t try using a homeschool sized wrench.

“I’m afraid I don’t know enough to be a good teacher.”

Use the library:

The library is your best friend. The fact is, no one knows everything about anything. If you’re doing a unit on Egyptians, hit the library for age appropriate books about Egypt. Teach your child how to use the resources at the library to look up and find books in the non-fiction and fiction sections.

Use the internet:

There are so many fantastic resources on the internet. I rely on it all the time when I’m trying to figure out how to explain a math concept, or finding an answer to a question I don’t have an answer to. Youtube is full of great videos for visual learners, there are great games for practicing different subjects, and great websites with premade worksheets.

Make friends with other homeschoolers:

If you have a community of homeschooling friends, you have a pool of resources to pull from. Maybe one of them is great at a subject you’re not confident in and is willing to either give you a refresher or do some subbing in for you. Other homeschoolers are also a great resource for ideas for curriculum if what you’ve picked out isn’t working for you.

Look at classes and clubs:

You don’t have to be your child’s only teacher just because you’re homeschooling. There are lots of options for classes at different price points at gyms and community centers, as well as subject specific locations like cooking classes. Girl/boy scouts and 4H are also excellent opportunities for kids to learn outside of the home. The charter school that we went through allowed us to use state funds for certain classes, so that is also something to look into.

Remember, you don’t need to know everything and neither do your kids.

Check out the state standards for the grade your child will be in. See where other kids their age are expected to be at the beginning and end of their grade. It really isn’t necessary for your 1st grader to be able to tell you all of the relevant dates for the history of the Romans- being able to tell you about togas and gladiators and remembering the name of Julius Caesar is pretty awesome. The further I get in homeschooling, the more I realize that I was expecting too much early on. Learning should be interesting and mentally stimulating, not frustrating.

“I’m afraid I’m going to fail.”

Find a mentor:

This is, I think, the most important thing you can do to help yourself not be afraid. Find someone who has done it before, who is further in the process than you are and look to them for inspiration. When we started homeschooling, we went through a charter school that provided an accredited teacher to check in with once a month. I highly recommend this approach for at least the first year. Having someone who can hold your hand as you start is invaluable. My current mentor has no idea that I hold her in that regard, we’ve never met, she doesn’t know who I am. But Heather from Beauty That Moves is a homeschooling mama whose daughter is turning 18, and her posts remind me that this is a viable option, that homeschooling is a wonderful, edifying thing.

Make a schedule:

This is second on the not being afraid list. You can’t have a sense of what you’re accomplishing if you don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish. Determine at the beginning of the year what you want to accomplish. This can be anything from “By the end of the year I want my child to know how to read 3 letter words” to “I want us to do a science experiment every day” or “I want my child to progress through their math workbook”. The more specific, the better. Then break that year long goal down into monthly goals, and then weekly goals. You can go more specific than that, or leave it loose if you want more freedom. I know a lot of people who feel restricted by schedules, I used to be one of them. But I’ve learned that having at least a rudimentary schedule gives you the freedom of knowing that you’re getting the things done that you want to.

Have realistic expectations:

Figure out what your expectations are, and judge yourself against them, not against something impossible. Don’t expect perfection from yourself or your kid, you’re not going to get it. You’re going to make mistakes, and so is she.  If you expect your kid to sit in her chair while you work on math, don’t keep her there for an hour if she’s 5.  This is where a mentor and homeschooling friends come in handy- as a reality check when you get frustrated. Also, be realistic about what kind of homeschooler you are, not just what you think you should be. The fact that pinterest is filled with pictures of intricate reproductions of the Great Wall of China made out of sugar cubes doesn’t mean you have to do that with your kid unless you really want to.

Remember, homeschool isn’t regular school:

And it probably isn’t going to look like it. You’re most likely going to finish lessons in far less time because you’re focusing on teaching less children. Once they’ve got the concept, practice it and move on. School doesn’t have to take 7 hours because you don’t have to wait for everyone to finish. Don’t compare your school to regular school. One of the lovely things for us is that we didn’t have to worry about all of the Common Core techniques for math- once the girls found a technique that worked for them and that they understood, we left the rest alone.

If it isn’t working, you can always stop (for the day):

You are going to have days when you are frustrated beyond belief, or your child is frustrated, and what you are doing isn’t working. Just stop. One of the joys of homeschool is that you can take a step away, no matter what you have on the schedule for that day. If you’re all too tired, watch a video about animals instead of making an intricate sugar cube reproduction of the Great Wall of China. If borrowing is causing tears, cuddle together and read a book instead. Borrowing will wait until tomorrow, and will probably be easier with fresh eyes.

If it really isn’t working, you can always stop (and try something else).

Maybe you have your heart set on giving your child a Classical education and they’re bristling against the structure. Maybe you really love the idea of unschooling but you’re going a little crazy not having things planned ahead of time. Maybe the spelling curriculum that looked awesome causes tears and frustration every day.  Reassess and try something else. It can take time to find what works for you and your kid.

If it REALLY isn’t working, you can always stop (for good.)

Discovering that homeschooling isn’t working for you or your child (or both) isn’t a failure, it’s just a discovery. So you try something else. Maybe it’s public school, maybe it’s private school, maybe it’s a tutor. I know a number of families who tried homeschooling and stopped, and all of them are happier because they were honest about what was working and what wasn’t. Just because you start homeschooling doesn’t mean that you can’t do something else.

“I’m afraid that my child will be weird/not socialized.”

Give them a social education:

I approach my girls’ social education the same way I do their academic education. I plan playdates and social opportunities with specific parameters (not all the time, but you know what I mean) because playing with one friend takes different interaction skills than playing with two or three friends. Give your child lots of opportunities to be around other people and you’ll be fine and so will they.

Are you weird?

In my experience, homeschooled kids of weird people end up a bit weird. Homeschooled kids of fairly normal people end up fairly normal. It’s just kind of how it is. But a little weird never hurt anyone. However, if you (as parents) are introverts (I’m not saying introverts are weird), and you worry about your child feeling comfortable getting out and around other people, then work hard to give them that social education. They won’t have a forced interaction with 30 other kids every day, so you’re going to have to supplement what they’re getting at home.

Homeschooling can be scary, but it doesn’t have to be. Most fear comes from the unknown, and the more you know, the more confident you’ll be. If you’re a religious type who believes in prayer, pray about it. We had very strong promptings that we were supposed to homeschool. Other people might not. Every family and every situation is different. And this is all just my opinion, your experience may vary wildly from this. But hopefully it helps a little bit.


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