September-October 2007 Selected Content
Ask Carol - Carol Narigon
Get Started with a Little Help from Your Friends
OK, we've made the decision to homeschool. Now what? Someday I'd love to be one of those strong, independent homeschoolers I read about, but right now I'm overwhelmed and slightly terrified of what we're about to do. I don't want to screw this up! Where do I start? - Joanie
I remember that feeling as if it were yesterday, Joanie, and not way back in 1993. In spite of homeschooling's growing popularity and the vast amounts of information available, you're still embarking on a personal journey that is unlike anything else you've ever done before...sort of. Of course, you've helped your children learn before. You helped them learn to walk and talk and use the potty and play peek-a-boo. I'll bet you didn't do all that without the support of family and friends, right? Let me introduce you to your five new best friends.
Make a date with your state law.
Every state has a homeschool law or code that homeschoolers are supposed to follow. The first thing to do -- even before you order your first curriculum catalog -- is to learn and understand that law. Wine it, dine it, and become very intimate with it. The closer your friendship, the more confident and effective you will be as a homeschooler. If you're lucky and you live in a state like Illinois, your homeschool law will be a cheap date. You don't have to do much to comply. If you live in a state like Ohio, where I live, it's a little more complicated. You'll have some decisions to make about how you'll choose to follow the code. Homeschooling is legal in every state, but every state is different.
One thing is the same for homeschoolers in all states, though. The first rule for your new relationship is more is not better. Do only what the law requires -- no more. One reason you need to know the law is so you'll know if a school official is acting outside of the law, trying to make you jump through hoops that don't exist. Some homeschoolers seem to think they'll get extra credit if they give the school more information than is required. And some school officials seem to think they have the right and ability to make their own laws. Neither is true! If you know and understand the law, you'll be able to follow it without being taken advantage of. That will give you more confidence in your ability to break away from the public schools and the idea that you need to do what the "experts" say. (See Shay Seaborne's article in this issue for more on that topic.)
Find a local support group.
Make friends with real-life homeschoolers who live in your area. Both you and your kids will need friends who can go on field trips, provide support, and hang out during the school day. You need friends who understand your lifestyle and what your days are like. It may take some time to find homeschool friends you click with, so start now. Ask at your library if they know of any groups. Watch your local papers for homeschool information nights that might be held at bookstores, libraries, or churches, or for classes and workshops that are offered for homeschoolers. Google your hometown + homeschooling. Chances are there are more homeschoolers out there than you ever imagined. You won't necessarily become friends with all of them, but eventually you will find new friends who will help make your homeschool adventure easier and more fun. HEM has a group lists and resources on thier site, homeedmag.com.
Use the Internet.
The Internet is a great source of support and information, but it can be one of those friends that sucks away so much time you forget your goal is homeschooling, not just reading about homeschooling. You'll need boundaries with this friend, but it can provide you with a lot of support and encouragement, so by all means use it. Almost every state has at least one good state-wide Web site where you can find information on your state's laws, support groups, and grassroots efforts. You can find one by Googling your state + homeschooling. When you do, beware the ads from public charter schools (K-12, Connection Academy, etc.) and curricula companies that come up. You're looking for homeschoolers, not people marketing to homeschoolers. I would also warn against sites that use scare tactics or information from a certain group of lawyers who claim to be homeschool experts and legal defenders. They aren't always accurate in their interpretation of the laws in various states. Your best source of information is homeschoolers who actually live in your state.
You'll find good, general homeschool information on the Home Education Magazine Web site at www.homeedmag.com and on the American Homeschool Association's site at www.americanhomeschoolassociation.org.
You might also want to look for an online support group. You can find one for people in your state by going to yahoogroups.com and typing in your state or city. Home Education Magazine also provides many e-mail groups. (See the HEM Notebook in the front of this issue for more information.) Remember, though, that online support is not the same as face-to-face, real-life friends.
Get it at the library.
I've said this before and I'll say it again, don't buy a bunch of stuff right off the bat. I know all those companies with their curricula and books and kits and CDs and DVDs are singing their siren song, tempting you to fill your house with "product," inspiring dreams of that picture-perfect homeschool family who builds a nuclear reactor together, promising your child's acceptance into an Ivy League school by the time he's 16. Don't buy it. (See Karen Vogel's article for a glimpse into the world of curriculum addiction.) Instead of spending a bazillion dollars on workbooks and textbooks that you'll probably never use, make friends with your library. She's free. She doesn't want anything in return (unless you let your books go overdue). And she's probably got more to offer than you realize.
Libraries aren't just for books any more. You can check out software, DVDs, CDs, magazines, books on CD and, sometimes, even art. Many libraries extend the same privileges to homeschoolers that they do to teachers. My local library will put together a selection of books and/or other materials on a particular topic if I call and give them a couple of days. You can also get information about local happenings like classes, concerts, workshops, and even homeschool groups at the library. So make the library your special friend. Nothing feels better than filling up a milk crate with books and taking them home without spending a dime.
Don't forget the kids.
No, you aren't really your kids' best friend, but you will be spending a lot of time together. Your most important task isn't preparing your third-grader for fourth grade like a public school teacher would. It's developing a close, loving relationship that will help make your days joyful and fulfilling. If your kids have been in school, it may take time. That's OK. One thing homeschooling gives us is time. So even though you still have to be Mom (or Dad), your relationship is more important than schoolwork. It's more important than anything. Learn a new family paradigm: that you can enjoy being with your kids. What a concept!
Years ago, not long after we started homeschooling, an online friend said something that guided my homeschooling for years to come. She said, "When we started homeschooling, I felt like I'd tucked a kid under each arm and stepped off a cliff. Imagine my surprise when I learned we could fly." My husband even commissioned a quilt for me on our 25th anniversary depicting that quote. (See photo.) You don't know what will happen when you step off that cliff; it can be a scary and exhilarating feeling. Take your five new best friends with you and I believe you'll have a better chance of finding your wings. Good luck.
© 2007, Carol Narigon