PSA to Homeschooling Skeptics

Written by Irina Gallagher

KiteAfter a busy summer spent with family and friends near and far, we have just finished the first month of second grade. I’m so excited about the beginning of this school year. We’ve accomplished a lot during the last several weeks – cultures have been explored, paintings have been drawn, kites have been made, books upon books have been devoured. Unfortunately, along with the excitement of empty libraries, parks, museums, and beaches, we are also back to homeschooling commentary from well-meaning and, in some cases, outright critical members of our community. In the summer, no one cares much to ask about your child’s schooling, but as we return to our extracurricular activities and find ourselves out in the world during regular school hours, we encounter our share of remarks on the subject.

Over the last several weeks I have been a part of too many of these interactions. The latest was with a woman who was very concerned about how many hours per day we spend on school, how I examine my daughter’s progress in any given subject, and how we socialize. It’s fine to ask these questions; I can safely say that a majority of homeschooling parents don’t mind being asked about our schooling logistics. I think most of us are eager to talk about our homeschooling lives; after all, this is an enormous part of our time. What we do care about is that when we’re asked how we choose a curriculum, how we report our kids’ progress to the school board, what our days look like, and the deluge of other questions that we are confronted by regularly, that people do so without implying that we could not possibly be capable of teaching our own children and that our children are severely lacking something crucial by being homeschooled.

I understand that homeschooling is not the standard, so people tend to get caught off guard when hearing that we’ve made this educational choice. As a result, some make strange comments on the topic. Trust me, I’m a terrible conversationalist, too. Here are a few tips that may help you converse with the alien homeschoolers in your life:

Don’t make a face as if you’re watching us step in dog shit when we tell you that our family homeschools. This needs no explanation. I saw this face last Thursday.

Perhaps don’t imply that my kid sits in a cave during the school week (especially when you’re seeing us out doing extracurricular activities – you know…like your kids). My family is fortunate to live in an area which has a vast homeschooling community. There are numerous homeschool co-ops featuring a variety of homeschooling styles showcasing everything from classical education, Waldorf, unschooling, Montessori, religious-based, Charlotte Mason, and everything in between. There are more field trips scheduled by homeschooling groups in our town than we could possibly attend. We see other people. We interact with a variety of age groups on a regular basis. You don’t need to call the socialization police.

Please don’t feel the need to get defensive that you don’t homeschool. I’ll never really understand this one. Often, people seem to think that I am judging them for NOT homeschooling. Trust me, your child being in a public, private, or charter school is at the bottom of my list of concerns. I judge you on how much you tip and how you treat my dog – not where your kid goes to school.

Tone is everything. Instead of asking me how I could possibly know how to teach if I don’t have a degree in education, ask me what my child’s favorite subject is or what I enjoy teaching most. I’ve had many conversations about how we report progress and the minutiae of curricula that were just fine. It’s the discussions which insinuate that I haven’t a clue about anything regarding education that are tedious and insulting. I’d be happy to bore you with details of how my daughter performed on her latest tests or show you the portfolio of a year’s worth of schoolwork that we present during our end of the year evaluations, just don’t make it seem like you’re evaluating our scholarly success please. You have no more right to do so than I have to ask you to see your kid’s report cards. Cool?

How do we know we’re doing enough? This question is so common. I don’t know of a single family who blindly decided to homeschool. We do our research. We spend countless hours seeking schooling inspiration and conversing with other homeschooling families who inspire and guide us. We spend hours weekly ordering books from libraries to coincide with our studies. I have never asked (nor would I dream of asking) a public school parent “How do you know that your child is doing enough in school?” I’m not entirely certain why it’s appropriate to ask a homeschooling parent this. Please understand how high the stakes are when you are teaching your own kid. We can’t say that our teacher this year wasn’t that great. We have no one to blame but ourselves. We work our asses off. We have our doubts and we push through because we believe that we know what is best for our children – the same as you believe your schooling choice is best for yours.

Don’t call us freaks. That should go without saying, right? This was not the same person as the dog poop facial expression. Even as a term of weird, faux endearment, just don’t. Thanks.

Ask us the same questions you would want to be asked. We are all trying to provide the best possible opportunities for our offspring. In that major sense, we are very much alike. Ask us what you would like us to ask you. Tell us what your kids are doing in school. We love to hear it and we love talking about what we are doing in school (just not when it feels like we are attempting to defend ourselves and our kids against homeschool criticism).

Mount Rainier
Sometimes it seems adults have major awkardness asking homeschooled kids questions about school, as if the space in which one learns somehow influences the child’s ability to answer questions regarding their education. I asked my second grader what kind of questions about school she likes to be asked. Here are her questions (and answers).

“I would be glad to answer:

Q: What series of books are you reading right now?
A: Animal Ark Pets

Q: What subject do you like most?
A: Reading

Q: What projects are you working on right now?
A: I’ll always be teaching my brother ballet. For school, I’m working on a book of pictures of family history stories.

Q: What was your favorite thing you learned this week?
A: My favorite thing this week was learning to make soft-boiled eggs.

Q: What kind of field trips do you hope to go on this year?
A: I want to hike mountain ranges.”

There you have it. It looks like I should start planning this mountain hiking trip (maybe we’re finally going to Washington).

Happy school year – no matter what that “school” may be!

Homeschooling Skeptics

Note to Self: Homeschooling Edition

Written by Irina Gallagher

ComparisonThis week, we survived the first week back to school after a long holiday break. This marks the beginning of the second half of the school year in our household. As the semester moves forward and we imminently edge closer to the “Have we done enough?” stage of the year (or May, for short), I thought that it might help my future May self to have a few reminders jotted down in which I can later take a bit of comfort, or perhaps more like a list of homeschooling goals for the remaining five months.

Dear homeschool-teaching self,

  • You’re doing great.
  • Keep trying to chill the f*** out. In all realms, really, but in homeschooling especially. No one is benefiting from your freak-outs. Also, congratulations on losing your composure less. Those B complex and magnesium supplements seem to be helping. You’re the poster child for patience and serenity. (Maybe by May this will be true.)
  • Realize that everything you don’t accomplish in your scheduled plan isn’t a failure; it’s a lesson in the complications, surprise opportunities, and unexpected nature of life. Count what you have achieved because of said “failure” rather than the “failure” itself.
  • Don’t compare your kid’s accomplishments with anyone else’s. So what if another kid is doing calculus in second grade? Good for them. Your kid has her own amazing capabilities. There is no need to be arrogantly defensive; other children’s successes have no bearing on those of your child.
  • Keep your scheduling in check. You know that your family needs to sandwich days of social, outside stimulation in between quiet days at home with no outside influences.
  • Pause at least once a day to reflect on how thankful you are to be able to homeschool and cherish the moments that wouldn’t be possible without this gift.
  • Don’t let people’s questions dampen your spirit. Every homeschooling parent has heard them, “How do you know that you are doing enough?” “How long do you plan on homeschooling? Surely there’s a limit.” “Aren’t you concerned about socialization?” Know that some people are asking with good intentions and from a place of positive interest, while those that ask in condescension clearly don’t know how awesome your homeschooler is. Spam them with some of the hard number infographics you’ve found on Pinterest of why homeschoolers are soon going to be ruling the world (basically).
  • Remind yourself constantly in spurts of “we need more extracurriculars” that you don’t need to boost your anxiety levels with extra activities, nor do your kids need to be dragged around classes-galore and on massive amounts of field trips. We are just not that family. It’s not in us genetically. Yes, of course, don’t miss incredible opportunities afforded to you. But don’t involve yourself just because you feel like every other family is participating more than yours in such endeavors. Just because there’s a field trip, doesn’t mean you have to go.
  • Contain yourself when you find the “perfect curriculum” that will carry your kid all the way through their entrance into college. Remind yourself of the last time you found the, ahem, “perfect curriculum” and decided to go all in, spent loads of money, and decided – upon further consideration with all parties involved – it wasn’t so perfect after all. Don’t commit to years of something. It’s not practical and it’s ill-fitting to your homeschooling style.
  • Remember that your strong-willed kid arguing with you endlessly about not wanting to write (or equivalent), is just a prequel for when she uses that steadfast brain of hers to do something absolutely extraordinary in the world. That tenacity will be most warranted then.
  • Don’t give up. Take a break, step away, reassess, and remember that changing your mind about your homeschooling approach or homeschooling in general is allowed. Don’t make any rash decisions after a particularly hard days.
  • Enjoy it. Even the absurdly difficult days. Like everything else in parenting, this time is very short-lived. Enjoy it.
  • Buy wine. (Magnesium will only take you so far.)

Vacation School

Written by Irina Gallagher

Anna Maria Island SunsetI am a firm believer that experiences leave much bigger impression than do textbooks, so when we embarked on the homeschooling journey with our eldest kid a year ago, I told myself that field trips were a must. How much do you remember from textbooks or worksheets as opposed being “in the wild”? I’m guessing that the ratio is heavily weighted towards getting more memorable information from the real-life experiences of field trips.

My husband was lucky enough to live in Germany for a couple years as a kid. For his fifth grade trip, Dan’s teacher orchestrated a series of fundraisers so that her students could go to Holland for a week. Holland, people, HOLLAND. More than twenty years later, what do you think is one of Dan’s most prevalent school memories? It wasn’t his history textbooks that glorified Columbus, it wasn’t the hundreds of math worksheets, or any of the busy work. A school experience which he remembers more vividly than most was that fifth grade trip to Holland. Understandably so, how can a worksheet leave the same impression as stepping into Anne Frank’s hideaway? A weeklong field-trip to Holland is certainly not feasible for us currently, but we work with what we have and we savor the small field trips to parks, nature preserves, and science centers, because they absolutely still count.