Saturday, August 4, 2012

Expecting the Unexpected When Homeschooling

One of the best things about homeschooling is that your kids can learn at their own pace.  This is a deciding factor for many families when they're considering their education options.  In a large classroom setting, a brighter child may be held back by the slower pace of the classroom.  Other children may struggle to keep up and have a hard time getting enough one-on-one help from an overburdened teacher to bridge the gap.  Even the child whose learning pace and style are ideally suited to their classroom will find themselves playing catch-up after every stomach bug that keeps them home from school. 

My husband and I had always been ahead of the curve academically and I naively assumed that our children would be also.  When envisioning my son's education proceeding at his own pace, I assumed that pace would be an accelerated one in comparison to that of his peers. I had taken my first high school course in fifth grade and had visions of the heights that my boy would reach outside the school system, with the only limitations on his achievements being his own.  He would love school, love to learn.  Teaching him would be fun.

The reality was somewhat different.  Hunter struggled to learn to read, just couldn't seem to remember much of what we taught him no matter how many times we went over it.  Most days I wanted to tear my hair out or bang my head against the wall in frustration; each tiny gain represented weeks or even months of hard work and patience.  Luckily, my mother happened to be a literacy tech for the school system.  For over a decade she'd been taking struggling readers out of the classroom and teaching them one-on-one, working with them until they got up to grade level.  She was more than willing to work with her grandson in the evenings.  I was very happy to have her help, not only for the early professional intervention that Hunter clearly needed, but because I probably would've blamed all of his problems on the fact that he was homeschooled and given up had she not been there to set me straight. 

Even with her well-trained assistance, Hunter's difficulties persisted.  Homeschooling wasn't to blame, nor had I failed as his teacher.  It was simply a quirk in the way he learned; essentially, certain things took him a little longer.  As we both continued to work with him and learned the best way to explain things to him, he started closing the gap.  I remarked to my mother one day how lucky he was to have had access to the same interventions at home that he would've received at public school, grateful that my choices hadn't deprived him of that extra boost.  She informed me that he wasn't nearly far enough behind to qualify for her services had he been a public school student. 

It had been my first instinct when I saw my son struggling to blame myself.  I immediately started questioning my decision to keep him home, doubting my ability to teach him.  My mother's comments made me realized that had he been a public school student he would've had to keep dropping farther and farther behind his classmates until he finally qualified for some extra help.  If anyone was going to intervene for him before he'd fallen so far behind, it would have been his family all along.  It's not the fault of the teachers, but there are so few of them, so many students, and such an enormous workload.  At home Hunter is his teacher's first priority, every day.

It's easy to get discouraged when you've taken on such a huge responsibility and things aren't working out the way you'd planned.  Some parents, seeing a bumpy road ahead, decide to cut their losses and put their kids in the school system before they can screw things up too badly.  I entertained that thought on many occasions.  I'm glad I didn't quit and enroll my son in public school; his problems only would have gotten worse.  The more I've learned about how my boy's mind works and how best to teach him, the happier I am with the decisions I've made. 

Starting to homeschool is sort of like bringing your first baby home from the hospital; it's a lot tougher than you could have anticipated, and there are constantly new challenges to adapt to.  If you're not expecting the difficulties and frustrations, it can feel like you're failing.

Prepare yourself for the reality of homeschooling; it may look very different from the visions that led you to choose it in the first place.  Expect the unexpected, and be ready to improvise when necessary.  While some families really do find that homeschooling isn't the right path for them after all, chances are things will get easier as you go along.  You'll work out your routine, discover your child's learning style and a teaching style that suits, get better at deciding which materials to use and which to skip.  This flexibility is unique to home education.  It may take a while and some trial-and-error, but I value the chance to tailor the situation to my son's needs. 

Don't give up!

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