Having a goal, idea, or even just a homeschooling "personality" is very important. I would suggest narrowing down your reasons for (or against) and ideas about homeschooling before even looking at curriculum options. If you don't, you might find yourself overwhelmed by all the choices, or spending a lot of money on a curriculum that doesn't end up fitting with your style.
Obviously, this is just a blog post, but if you want a book to read, I do recommend Cathy Duffy's 100, 101, or 102 "Top Picks for Homeschool" (our library has a few copies available) as the first few chapters are a great way to narrow down your (and your child's) style. She does get a little checklist happy, whereas I am more "go with the flow and when it's right you'll know" - I tried the checklists, and charts, and then gave up after awhile.
So, here is a little about our personal homeschool choices and why we homeschool.
- Age. Our oldest has an August birthday. Now, we could have "held him back" a year, so he would start Kindergarten at 6 years old, but then he would be the oldest in the class. My husband and I were both among the oldest in our classes, and it didn't hurt us in the long run, but I at least had some trouble with that when it came to certain things, like driving to school occasionally as a sophomore. I was joking with another mom that we sometimes take these things too seriously, because who knows whether our children would enjoy being the oldest in the class or whether they would enjoy being the youngest in the class. Overall, it's a pretty ridiculous thing to freak out over whether they should still be barely 18 or already 19 when starting college, but it is the first thing that started the discussion. Because, let's all be honest here, barely 5 is way to young to be sitting in a classroom for 6-8 hours a day.
- Intellectual ability and curiosity. While my oldest was too young in my opinion to start Kindergarten, he has an insane curiosity and was already reading. He taught himself phonics at age 3, which I ignored for as long as I could, but when he started showing signs for being ready for sight words as well, I did finally teach him to read at age 4. I highly do not recommend forcing kids or pressuring kids to learn to read (and I probably did too much pressuring regarding handwriting too early), however, when all the signs are being met for learning to read, I also feel it's wrong to NOT give your child the opportunity to learn to read (without pressure). So, now I have a very young Kindergartener, reading on a 2nd grade level (or higher).
- Personality (child's). My son did preschool for two mornings a week for 1.5 school years (all of 3-year old preschool and half of his 4-year old preschool). On his "pre-evaluation" at the 4-year old preschool, they noted that he already knew all the "academics" but needed to work on his fine-motor skills and he "did not participate in group activities". Well, unfortunately, pretty much all of Kindergarten is writing or drawing and/or group activities. Now, in a small group, or one-on-one, he participates fairly well. Library story time, or larger group activities (such as the baseball team which was 10-20 kids) and he pretty much shuts down. He also hates singing, art, and drama.
- Transportation. I tell people the worst thing about preschool was driving back and forth with a younger sibling in the car. Even though it was a short car ride, you are really making that trip 4 times a day (drive there, then back for morning drop, drive there, then back for afternoon pick up). If we had stayed in Louisville, I would have considered our elementary school since it was a neighborhood school (we were technically over the line into Oldham County) and it would have been a 10-15 minute bus ride (the bus came just to our neighborhood, picked up kids and then went back to the elementary school). Now we live in an area where even the neighborhood bus ride would be much longer, not to mention all the other school choices and magnet programs, with everything from "bus depot" drop off and pick up to parent provided transportation. I have enough shuttling kids around town for errands and playdates, I don't need (or want) to chauffeur them to and from school before I have to.
- Personality (mom's). I was homeschooled through elementary, so I tend to understand a lot of what homeschooling families typically "get". I also was a teacher in a failing public school, which terrifies me no little bit, because much of what I saw could be going on in "good" schools as well, and is being hidden by the natural abilities and personalities of the "good" families and kids at the school. I've seen that homeschooled kids can easily adapt to private or public school (for the most part). I've seen that their academic abilities and natural curiosity are protected rather than squashed. I am a naturally reserved person, but I can tell you that I never felt "shy" until I went to private school. I talked to strangers, sold Girl Scout Cookies door to door, and was generally friendly and open, but something about that school "system" made me nervous and unsure about myself rather than the confident, self-assured child I had been while homeschooled. I also, on the opposite side, felt a bit overwhelmed to begin homeschooling. My personality is to over-plan and never actually get around to doing what I've planned and was a bit worried I wouldn't "complete" what was needed (this came into my curriculum choice big time).
- Personality (dad's). My husband, on the other hand, was not gung-ho about homeschooling at first. He figured he "made it through" public school just fine and was even outgoing despite being an introvert. He was an August birthday as well, but advised that we could just "hold our son back" as he had been. He also asked a good question that I hadn't fully thought through at the time. He asked, "who is accountable if our child isn't learning what he needs to"? Now, the answer to that, is actually the same answer in a public or private school as well, the parents. This may surprise those of you with children in private or public school, but there is no real accountability for failing a particular child. Parents are responsible for whether their kids are learning, but if your kids are gone all day, how can you be sure what they are learning? I can tell you that there were kids falling through the cracks in droves at the school I taught at, and communication with the parents was nearly impossible. One child "passed" his computerized reading test (probably by looking at what the kid next to him was doing, he wasn't dumb by any means) and none of the teachers on the team figured out that he couldn't read until the end of the first semester. Who was held accountable for this horrific oversight? No one. The student and his parents were the only ones that could have fixed that situation any sooner (we all thought it was behavior issues until we discussed it further and I and the other teachers realized he was great on the math/history/science concepts as long as someone explained the topic or activity one on one with him).
- Siblings & family. I think it's awesome that my kids play together and love each other. Sure they can be loud and rough and get on each other's nerves a bit, but overall they have a great relationship. I can't imagine trying to keep my 3 year old busy while big brother was off at school all day. I know how difficult it is even for my 5 year old when his little brother naps. I love that I can send them outside to play in the dirt box, or take them to a park, or play soccer and go for bike rides. This is "family time" that most people have to cram in on the weekends or summer, and it's time that we can't get back with our kids.
- A firm foundation. This is where I bring "religion" into it. There is honestly no religious reason to homeschool, despite the fact that many parents (Catholic and Protestant) choose to homeschool for "religious" reasons. This is more a side effect of homeschooling that I'm taking full advantage of. I don't leave things out of science or shelter my child from media. He found a science book the other day and brought it to me to explain "this is how the world started - it was all volcanoes" and I set aside what I was doing and explained/pointed out that this version had the word "probably" and was someone's idea who didn't believe in God. Then I explained the same concepts from a Christian perspective and asked him which made more sense, that we just appeared from dust or that life was breathed into that dust by an Almighty God. Believing in evolution takes more faith (in my opinion) than believing in the amazing design of an All-Powerful Creator, and if it makes sense to a 5 year old, it ought to make sense to an adult. I can trust that these concepts that he's working through at age 5 will set a firm foundation. As pointed out to me last night at a child evangelism seminar, I can't "save" my own son, I can't even "save" myself. However, I can make sure the gospel is presented clearly and simply to him, from a young age, and pray for God to work on his heart, while it is still tender.
All that being said, we chose to go with the Heart of Dakota curriculum. More on that in a future post.
What are your reasons for (or against) homeschooling?