Tuesday, March 19, 2013

{Homeschooling FAQs}

This post is to answer some common questions and address the most common myths related to homeschooling. I am going to answer the questions based on my family, so they will be specific answers, but they can generally be applied to any family thinking about homeschooling.

How do I get started?
No matter which state you live in, you first need to visit the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) website to find out how to legally homeschool. Every state is different, and each state has its own laws regarding homeschooling. If you are not abiding by the law, you can face fines, serve jail time, lose custody of your children, or all of the above. =(

Once you find out the specific law(s) for your state, HSLDA can also put you in contact with local organizations in your area. These organizations connect you to other homeschool families and can help answer specific questions related to homeschooling, provide support and encouragement during your homeschooling years, as well as offer guidance in making homeschool decisions.

Specifically related to our family, we homeschool under South Carolina's 3rd Option. That means that we align our home school under an "umbrella" group. This group oversees our schooling each year. The specific group that we use is Palmetto Homeschool Association (PHA). In order to legally comply with option 3, we submit the required documents to PHA each year. Just to be clear, PHA is our legal umbrella group and NOT a support group. Although PHA does support us, it's primary function is to be our authority in schooling.

What about socialization? Won't my kids "miss out" since they won't be around other children?
This was a concern of mine before I knew much about homeschooling. I grew up attending traditional, public school and truthfully, homeschool children were the children who got expelled from public school for one reason or another. It wasn't until moving to SC and attending our church did we find out how popular homeschooling was (and continues to be!).

There are many options for "socializing" your homeschool children. (I use the word "socialize" in quotations because no one lives an isolated life; we are all surrounded by people. Every day life provides countless social situations and therefore countless learning opportunities on how to behave in those various social contexts). There are support groups, co-ops, group classes or lessons, etc. that exist outside of sports, church activities, and neighborhood friends.

Our family belongs to a support group for field trips. Each semester (usually in August and January) the group meets for a planning session to discuss ideas for field trips and set dates on the calendar. There are over 100 families in this group so there are typically 2-3 field trips planned for each week. Obviously we can't participate in all of those, but we do try to do at least 1 field trip each month. Another way my children are "socialized" is through weekly piano and pottery lessons. These are both done in a group setting with other homeschool families. The pottery lessons are actually provided through the city in which we live- homeschooling has become so popular that even the City is taking advantage of the many ways to include us! Finally, my children are involved in sports leagues through the city as well as active participants in our church's youth programs. My kids are surrounded by people of all ages and abilities, and they receive the same opportunities (if not more) than a typical public school child.

We have met many families we otherwise would not have known, and friendships have been formed that would not have otherwise existed, because of homeschooling. Sometimes, we have found that we actually have to decline participating in certain activities simply because it is easy to become "too socialized" and neglect school. That is a balance each family must find on their own. The point is, there are countless opportunities to participate in social functions.

What about curriculum? How do I choose?
As you homeschool and meet other homeschool families, conversations inevitably turn to curriculum choices. The reason is not because we are "comparing" ourselves to others, but because there is SO MUCH out there that it is interesting to find out what others are doing. That is part of learning, and it is part of what makes the homeschool community so eclectic. Plus, if you homeschool more than one child, what works for one child may not work for another. Knowing families who have used a curriculum that is different from you can help you decide on what to choose without having to purchase it first. I know I am so thankful for my homeschool friends who allowed me to borrow books to see if I thought it was something that would be useful for my family. Also, if you use a curriculum that others have used, you can compare the way you do things. I have a friend who greatly enjoys spending time on the "extras": doing further research, going places, completing more experiments, etc. She has been able to tell me which ones were worth doing and which ones should just be skipped, saving me time and trouble along the way. Also, many curricula come with teacher guides, textbooks, workbooks, etc. In some cases it may not be necessary to purchase EVERYTHING, even though the publisher suggests it. With others, all of the books may be necessary. Again, this is where knowing someone who has used a particular curriculum is helpful as you can find out before purchasing which items are essential for a successful school year.

There are many books in the library on this very topic, so much so that it can be overwhelming. My suggestion as to how to decide on which curriculum to use (and I will admit, I followed my own advice) is to find a homeschool family with children you admire. You want to look for a family that has children who display the very characteristics you are hoping to instill in your children: smart, godly, well-behaved, whatever it is you are looking for and hoping to accomplish through the years (remember, schooling takes time). Once you have found your family (or families), talk to them to find out what they used. Ask to look through some of the teacher guides to get a feel for them, ask them what other curriculum they've used (chances are, they've used many) and which ones they liked and didn't like. Of the ones they didn't like, why didn't they? Why do they like the ones they are currently using?

You also need to have a realistic idea of how your school day will go. I have young children who attend preschool several times each week. I have to drop them off and pick them up. I also have to take into consideration various appointments for each of us, running errands, grocery shopping, extra-curricular commitments, etc. It is a rare day for us to be home all day. Because of that, it is important to me that the curriculum I use be flexible so my kids can take their work with them. On the other hand, some families choose to do all of their schoolwork on DVDs. That obviously won't work for our family since I can't leave my kids home alone yet. Perhaps one day we might switch to that method of schooling, but for now, I need to be able to car school, waiting room school, parking lot school, along with home school. =)

Homeschooling in the elementary years sounds easy enough, but what about when my child begins high school and the classes become more difficult? I was not a strong student myself in math/science/english, how am I supposed to teach my child in that area?That is another comment I often hear from people when they find out we homeschool. My answer is simple: either use the teacher resource book that accompanies whatever curriculum you are using (each lesson is written out in explicit detail) and seek help if/when you need it OR don't teach your child in that particular subject.

The wonderful thing about homeschooling (well, one of the many wonderful things) is that there are so many options to choose when teaching your child/ren. There are classes available for any subject or grade level. Of course, there are fees associated with the class, but it may be worth the price if it is beneficial to you and your family. For instance, there are many homeschool families in my church who participate in a science class. There are several classes as they are broken down into groups (such as biology, chemistry, general science) and by grade level. There is an instructor who teaches the course, assigns homework, administers tests, etc. It is very similar to a traditional classroom, except only one subject is being taught. I plan to use this option when my children reach high school. I enjoy science, but I have a weak stomach and there is no way I could supervise (let alone lead!) a dissection. I also plan to do this with high school literature; I think that type of class warrants participating in a discussion with one's peers. I enjoyed my literature class so much and gained perspective from my peers during those class discussions; it helped make learning engaging.

There are so many more options, this is just one. Again, talk to others who have graduated children (if you are concerned about high school courses) to find out what they did or are currently doing. Most homeschool families are happy to share with others about something we feel so passionately about.

Do your children really graduate with a high school diploma? How is that possible?
Yes, my children will graduate with a diploma since that is the option we are choosing. Again, go back to the first question about getting started to learn more about the various options of homeschooling, especially in SC.

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I realize the topic of homeschooling is very broad, and I have only addressed a few of the questions I am often asked. If you have a specific question that I did not answer, or would like a more complete answer to a question already posted, feel free to leave it in the comments. I will do my best to answer you in a timely fashion.

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