Bouncing the Back-to-School Blues
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By Hilary Evans
Every year beginning sometime in August, a new wave of nudging begins. Friends mention how happy they are their children are returning to school. Concerned family members inquire whether I've "had my fill", if I'll "take a break", or worse, if I'm ready to "cut the cord.” The downright rude and ignorant will demand it's time to give the kids a real education by putting them in school. It doesn't have to be so hard. As homeschooling parents, we have the opportunity - and some say the responsibility- to educate our family and friends on the benefits of learning at home.
"I'm not interested in winning anyone over to my way of thinking... It works for us, and that's the only thing I'm concerned about," said homeschooling mom, Crysty Riggs. This attitude is reflected by homeschoolers the world over. We don't want everyone to do things our way, but it would be nice if those close to us could respect our choices. Sometimes though, that just doesn't happen on its own.
Support from other homeschoolers during transition periods, whether you have just made the jump to home education or are facing negativity after summer break, helps defuse self-doubt.
The library is a great place to begin your search. Librarians have access to an amazing amount of information, not just on books but on communities too. Even if there isn't a homeschool group in your area, chances are the staff can point you to other parents educating at home.
"We do not belong to any 'formal' homeschooling group that meets on a regular basis, but we are involved with a looser network of homeschoolers," said Lisa Beamer. "So, while we aren't tied to any one activity or any one meeting day or time with these folks, we see a lot of the same people time and again as we do activities with them. This is a perfect set up for us."
When your search for a support group runs dry, try online. Homeschooling is legal in every state, and homeschoolers from every state congregate online to talk about complying with the laws and to plan events. Just be careful what you wish for. Committing to too many tasks at once can be overwhelming.
“ Honestly, we could be going to something every day of the week, but we simply can't do everything. The group is about 75 members and someone is always proposing a field trip or some such," said Tori Billings.
Staying involved with other homeschoolers not only reaffirms your decisions, but answers the most commonly asked question - "What about socialization?"
"The first year we homeschooled I created a family newsletter that the children all contributed to and sent that out to family and friends. I felt it was a good way to keep the grandparents in touch with our lives, to give them a feeling for what homeschooling meant to us," said Karen Gibson.
People were quick to assume our reasons for homeschooling. Some thought it was an attempt at being unique, and others thought we didn't have the money for public or private classes. The experience showed me how generous my family members are. We received several offers for help with tuition, help in finding scholarships and daycare assistance for registration days. Unfortunately, once we turned them down, people kept offering.
Small businesses use a letter writing campaign that really helps homeschoolers in this situation. Where business owners write their friends and family when they begin a new venture, homeschoolers can send out a letter at the beginning of the school year. Both share their motivations, goals, and successes. Business owners invite their friends and neighbors to take advantage of their services. Homeschoolers can ask family and friends to support them in their decision - by any means applicable.
If Grandma has offered to pay for private school tuition, offer her a list of supplies and ask that she purchase from them instead. That babysitting neighbor might be able to teach the kids to knit. You'll be surprised how many talents your friends remember once you've invited them to show off for the kids.
Numerous opportunities exist to share your choices with other people. Websites, newsletters, blogs, telephone calls... but it is our children who offer the best demonstration of the effects of home education.
"My children are pretty good ambassadors," said Tori Billings. "When we travel we usually visit people I've met online. Many of them have been swayed by the example of my kids to at least consider homeschooling."
Armed with all the support in the world, you may still get comments that make your nerves raw. Parents approach this in different ways, but keeping your focus will help your philosophy stay intact.
"Everything has to do with your perspective and attitude and how you present yourself," said Judy Jackson. " I have yet to have someone present a logical defense of institutionalized school. Comments are focused on a wide variety of things, but none of them have to do with education."
Knowing the law goes a long way in feeling sure of yourself in the face of criticism. In Iowa, for instance, there are three methods of assessment. When an aunt of mine chimed in with, "Well, they'll still have to be tested once a year!" I had the satisfaction of telling her that no, they wouldn't, and that our assessment policies acknowledge that different children learn in different ways.
Some parents feel it's best to let people list their complaints, and move on. If someone really has a bias toward homeschooling, they assume it's for keeps. However, other parents fear the effect that has on their children.
"I tend to just blow things off or let them win as I don't want to talk with them or deal with them. But I realized the other day when someone was doing this that I was not talking straight in front of my kids," said Katy Diltz. " I either need to speak more of what I feel, not something I want to do necessarily, or talk to the kids a bit more as to what I really mean when I'm trying to get rid of someone who doesn't get homeschooling and doesn't want to get it."
The Fondness of Home
To a degree, school was fun, and some of us carry just a shimmer of guilt when people point out all the things our children will miss. I don't mourn their loss of busy work, cranky peers, or grade anxiety, but bulletin boards and Weekly Reader have stayed dear to me. The brilliance is, we can provide our children with the best of school while they school at home.
" I loved getting new supplies each fall so I do indulge the kids in getting them new markers or a new box of crayons or a new journal, just for the heck of it," said Katy Diltz.
Tori Billings, who frequently travels with her children, found a childhood love in field trips. Amie Cleghorn loved history class, and now uses history lessons to manage several subjects at once.
For the most part, homeschoolers do not try to mimic public school at home. Some go out of their way to avoid similarities. But, at times when missing "the school experience" is bringing you stress, it's comforting to know our children really can have the best of both worlds.
It's hard to handle the criticism that comes out of left field- from friends, family, people we thought understood. Having a good support system and staying focused on why you chose to homeschool keeps your spirits up. Sharing the process- and the results with other people gives them a chance to understand.
Thankfully, homeschooling is growing in popularity. Slowly this negativity should become less of a problem, until finally home education - or at least choice in education - is seen as the norm.
"More people know someone who is homeschooling these days, and overall, most of the people I've talked to view it as a positive thing," said Lisa Beamer, "even if they don't fully understand it."
Copyright © 2004 Eclectic Homeschool Association