By Ann Zeise
So you're considering homeschooling? Has it been the "year from hell" for your child at school? Is your little one just not ready to deal with crowds of unruly children in a public school situation? Perhaps your family situation or business would allow you to travel often, and you want everyone to enjoy the opportunity. Maybe your religious beliefs or cultural values are so different from your community, that you are looking to homeschooling as a haven. Maybe you just stumbled on this page and want to see what the controversy is all about!
Families decide to homeschool for all sorts of reasons, and then often continue homeschooling simply because the freedom is so sweet and they like the affect it's had on their children and family life. They like living joyfully with children.
Remember when you were expecting your first child and you thought you'd never, ever be able to enjoy those things you enjoyed pre-parenting? Then you found you could get a jogging baby carriage! You could get a backpack and take baby along! That a baby could be taught to swim! That the toddler seemed perfectly content to go along with you so many places. You found that your children were picking up some of your interests, and finding some of their own. Homeschooling is really a continuation of this learning-within-the-family lifestyle.
Where Not to Start
OK, so where do you start looking for information about homeschooling? You'll want as broad a picture as possible, before you narrow down to a "fit" for your family. There are some homeschooling organizations out there that, unfortunately, feed newcomers a rather narrow and sometimes negative picture. Be wary of any group that could make money, lots of money, off of your family. I'll tell you where not to go first and why:
- Your local school district - it is in their best interest to keep you tied to the district so they will continue to get attendance funding. They may either tell you independent homeschooling is illegal in your state or will greet you enthusiastically into their Independent Study Program. They'll encourage you to duplicate at home what wasn't working when your child was in their schools.
- A homeschool legal group - it is in their financial interest to scare the daylights out of you so you'll buy into their insurance plan. If you follow the laws of your state, it is unlikely you'll need legal representation. A family really needs a good, local family lawyer, anyway: one to draw up a will, and to be there should you need representation for anything, say, for an auto accident, let alone a confrontation with the school district.
- An exclusionary group of any kind. While it may seem comforting at first to find "your kind of people," these groups often don't see the whole picture, and tend to propagate misinformation because they are out of the loop.
- Any curriculum company or distance learning program - of course, their objective is to sell you a big package of books and materials, and maybe throw in a supervisory teacher for a lot more bucks.
Where do I Start?
"So where do I start? Those are the easiest to find!" If the information is free or for the few bucks, go for it, as we say in California. You may find free material at your local library, or need to pay a little for a few magazines or books, or maybe a tad more for conference admission, but these are the best sources.
- Your local homeschooling support group - which is a group of families that meets on a regular basis, and can tell you how the homeschooling laws of your state are really applied in your town. Maybe the law says to keep an attendance record, but has any official ever asked to see one?
- Your state level homeschooling association - join this group for the $20 or so that they'll ask for membership. You'll usually get a newsletter and invitations to various activities, such as conferences and campouts. They can keep you informed about the homeschooling laws.
- Homeschooling Conferences - typically in the spring and summer. Do try to attend the full conference. Bring along someone to watch the kids so you can concentrate on the information. The Homeschooling Events calendar is loaded with upcoming conferences. Early registration is often at a discount, so check the calendar and the Association sites often. Most have an associated curriculum fair where you can waste tons of money buying things your kids will never use. Either kid-test the products, or bring the vendors' catalogs and flyers home. Buy when the pressure is off. Alternatively, get the catalogs before you go, know what you want, and save shipping costs. Many vendors will lower prices last day of the conference.
- Homeschooling laws for your state - I put this 4th so you'll talk to the others first. The laws can seem pretty convoluted at times, but you need to have a good copy on hand to see all the options. The state associations can usually provide you with the current laws and an interpretation. Homeschool websites may or may not have current laws posted. "Current" is the keyword here. The most accurate links are the ones directly to the homeschooling laws on the state's department of education web site.
- Homeschooling chats, email lists and message boards - people mean well, but can sometimes steer you wrong, so take what you get here with a grain of salt. On the other hand, they can also give you exactly the specific information you need for very unusual questions. (I can't help you with such questions as "Help me find homeschooling material for my blind, adopted, 10 year old child from Romania who speaks no English." but someone on a message board might!)
I also have written and linked a lot more features to help you get started with homeschooling and have a whole library of net links I hope you'll explore. There is also a huge set of web-based, interactive projects in Explorations 4 Kids for your youngsters to teach things to themselves right online. Use the kids' links yourself to plan your own unit studies.
Most of all, relax! As my friends Bill and Win Sweet say, the goal is to:
Maximize Freedom and Success
minimize stress and failure
Ann Zeise has been homeschooling since 1993, been helping folks our online since 1989, a teacher "forever," and will gladly answer homeschool questions from those who have visited her site, A to Z Home's Cool Homeschooling Website, and not found what they needed.