Archive for the ‘Homeschool Advice’ Category

Permission-Givers and Challengers

Permission-Givers and Challengers

There seem to be two ways to be in the world that inspire others: to be a permission-giver and to be a challenger.

Permission-givers help people know that where they find themselves right now is okay: that their intuition, their needs, their return to self (awareness, care, regard), their pain—all of these are valid and valuable.

Permission-givers offer rest from striving.

Challengers call people out of habit and complacency into a new sense of self. Challengers inspire people to aspire to goals that previously seemed impossible or too big.

Challengers offer energy for striving.

The best companions on life’s journey offer both. They know that sometimes it is better to wait and give comfort than to challenge, and other times it is better to support the despair and doubt while sticking with a practice or a change or an effort to make it to the end goal.

The biggest experiences in life benefit from permission and challenge, balanced back and forth.

The danger is to assume that when pain is present, there is only one way to address it. The trick is knowing when to give permission, and when to offer support to meet a challenge.

I’ve found that sometimes the only way to know which to offer is to test one or the other and see what happens.

Challenge can be greeted by complaint—that doesn’t mean it’s the wrong choice.

Permission can be greeted by relief—that doesn’t mean it’s the right choice.

I like to take a bird’s eye view of the situation and consider a bigger picture. Some of the aspects of that picture might be:

  • Rest and nutrition
  • The size of the goal
  • The pace of getting to the goal
  • Space for recovery and pleasure
  • The number of goals
  • Whose goal is it?
  • Changing the circumstances/environment

For instance, if you have a child who is struggling to read, a permission-giver may say,

“It will come in time. We’ll revisit this again in 6 months. Let’s listen to audio books.”

That may be perfect for your 6, 7 year old.

For your 8, 9 year old, the goal to read has become more important. The longer the child goes without reading, the more chances there are that the child feels like she’s failing or missing out on a universal experience.

A challenger might say,

“I see your struggle. I’m here to support you each day as we break this task into manageable increments. Let’s only work on reading after you’ve had a good breakfast, alone with me, for ten minutes per day. We’ll check it off on the calendar. We’ll get more help if we need it.”

The goal (reading) matters, and should not be abandoned. Permission to recover, to take time off, to feel frustrated—super important. Challenge to keep going, to have a companion on the journey, to adopt a practical strategy: also super important.

We want to toggle between these in home education and listen to our kids’ feedback, and always take it seriously.


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And yet we are inclusive readers…

And yet we are inclusive readers

In the land of homeschool, there are many divisions. Groups form for all sorts of reasons. Some are benign: we all play cello; we are putting on a play. Some are ideological: we like classical education, we are unschoolers. Some are religious: we follow this ancient book, we follow this other ancient book. Some are not any of the above, simply: we are local to this city or town.

Over and over again, homeschoolers (already a smallish group in the community of educational options) further subdivide into even pickier criteria for forming group relationships. It’s as if it’s not enough to keep our children home where we have control over what they watch, read, and do every day. The tendency is to form tightly controlled communities for our participation as well—including the like-minded or like-behaviored, and excluding those who can’t toe our line. A policy statement—the criteria for joining—is narrowly crafted and in some cases, even designed to exclude the “dangerous other.”

I know that part of the attractive charm of home education is the notion that we can distill our values and convey them to our kids unhindered by the “big bad government” (so the feeling goes).

Yet a strange thing happens on the way to this carefully crafted community of like-mindednesss.

We read books.

We homeschoolers read LOADS of books. In fact, we pride ourselves on the variety, scope, span, and diversity of the books we read to our children. We seek books that expand our children’s experiences and enrich their imaginations.

We introduce them to monsters, thieves, people from thousands of years ago, and people living in our time. Our children meet in those pages rich people with money and poor people without, people with moral scruples and the unpleasant unscrupulous.

Heck, we introduce our kids to members of other religious faiths, scientists who have rejected religion, and characters who possess magical powers.

Many homeschoolers have a commitment to global awareness. They want their children to be “world citizens” and so they make sure that their kids read books that introduce them to faraway lands, people, and cultures from various times in history.

And yet… the co-op they attend is made up of a homogeneous group of the same type of person, carefully screened, to ensure that no dangerous difference crops up to interfere with a uniform belief system.

Does that seem contradictory to you?

It did to me. Homeschooling is a small community (in terms of numbers in general society). Yet we share these common values:

  • being with our children
  • enabling self-directed passionate learning
  • creating powerful family memories
  • flexibility to teach to a child’s strengths and challenges
  • reading!
  • passing on our family values and beliefs (whatever they are!)
  • making a difference

…and many more.

Why would we make it so difficult for communities to welcome a diversity of home educators? The fear that someone will teach our kids something we don’t want them to teach is easily overcome. Simply don’t put your child in a class that isn’t one you want them to be in. Yet interacting with the children from a wide variety of backgrounds is as wonderful as reading about them (more so).

Do we need the art teacher and the math teacher in a co-op to be of the same religious background? Can a religious child learn ASL from a co-op teacher who is secular?

Why can’t we have the same eagerness to learn from real living families that are not like our own that we do when we read about them in books? If the belief system we hold dear is so easily undone by sharing square footage with people who are not like us, what does that say about that belief system?

I thought I’d offer these thoughts to provoke your own reflections! Your mileage may vary.

The Homeschool Alliance

Take It On the Road

Take It On the RoadJacob, Johannah, Caitrin, Liam, and Noah, Leaning Tower of Pisa, Italy, 2005

The joy in home education is not contained inside four walls. That’s school. And to compensate for the confining nature of classrooms, schools schedule field trips to leave the four walls and novelists write books about those fields trips where the children stay behind to hide in art museums just to avoid going back to that dreary existence (The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler anyone?).

Mobility is one of homechool’s chief incredible features! I know two families who moved to Ireland for a month just to experience a different life. I know a family that uprooted and moved to Australia for a year to spend time away from the busy-ness of northern Virginia and it’s heavy pressured academics. I spoke today with a mom who told me her family has “road-schooled” for 3-4 week stints several times.

Take It On the RoadJulie and Caitrin, Monet’s Garden, Giverny, France

My own family took a cross-country trip to move from California to Ohio and spent 14 days visiting national parks like Pike’s Peak and Mt. Rushmore, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s home in DeSoto and the American Girl Store in Chicago (to name a few places we got to see). We also took a family trip to Italy for 17 days to see my aunt and her family (they live there).

Some of these excursions may not match your family’s income or flexibility so you may consider day trips from home! Perhaps your “stay-cation” could be day trips to all the sites in your state that you typically ignore because they are so close. I remember when we moved to Ohio, the first thing we did was purchase a tourist’s guide to Ohio!

Take It On the RoadJacob and Johannah, Phi Phi Islands Thailand

Every month, we’d pick a weekend to visit one of the sites. We got to ride a boat while it went through the locks and keys, we got to see the location that marks the arrival site of the Underground Railroad along the Ohio River, we explored fossils in ancient river beds, we hiked through the Red River Gorges in Kentucky, and we went to the Renaissance Faire not an hour from here.

The idea of “road-schooling” doesn’t have to mean packing up for a year in a trailer (though it could!). It means making use of the opportunity to be mobile (more than any time in history) and getting out to see what’s there up close and in person. Sometimes we become complacent with our daily expectations of “work” and forget that we might bust loose from those routines to deepen our appreciation for the big world around us.

Take It On the RoadJohannah, Noah, and Julie, Machu Picchu, Incan Ruins, Peru

If you do have this bent—this penchant for adventure—I should warn you now that your kids may get hooked. Four of five of mine have studied abroad in France, two of them as adults have lived abroad in places like Asia and South America for years at a time. Once bitten by the “world is my oyster” bug, they may be wanderers for good.

That’s okay though! Then YOU get to visit them when you have that much-anticipated and dreaded empty nest. Trust me: it just gets better!

Take that school on the road! Venture forth! You’ll be glad you did (and summer is a GREAT time to do it!).

Take It On the RoadJulie and Liam, Cassis, France

The Peril of Trusting Your Child

The Peril of Trusting Your Child

I get email every day from parents who love their kids, who think they’ve got the most creative, smart, surprising little people living under their roofs. They share stories, their children’s writing, photos, and detailed accounts of what their kids are doing. These parents are wowed, amazed. And they should be! Their children ARE amazing. So are yours.

Yet often, even in the same email, a paragraph of worry inevitably follows.

  • What if this brilliant child isn’t on course to graduate at 18?
  • What if this parent isn’t pushing hard enough to fit in lab sciences or essays?
  • What if the child next door who goes to school is completing more “official” work?
  • What if trusting your child’s natural learning process is a mistake?
  • How can a parent know if he or she is traveling down the wrong road before it’s too late?

It’s like two people live inside our minds: the one that knows our children and the one that doubts we know our children.

To trust means to let go of worry. Yet worry defines us! It’s what allows us to feel important, involved, and prepared. Worry proves we care. Worry shows that we are invested. Worry requires maintenance which involves google searches, online discussions, seeking counsel and advice, and the endless work of revising the plan. Worry feels like we’re doing what we should be. Worry leads to action—busy-ness, activity, lectures, and important new strategies to repair whatever it is we imagine is broken.

To trust means—well, what does it mean?

It looks like letting go—literally dropping the careworn hand-wringing, falling backwards without knowing if you’ll be caught. Trust is relying on today to be enough, not wondering about tomorrow, not forecasting doom for the future.

Trust is a big exhale—believing what you see with your own eyes and imagination. It means discounting the input that contradicts what you know inside.

Trust means you know inside.

Trust takes patience, the long view, time.

Trust feels irresponsible and naive.

Trust may be mistaken for denial.

Trust leads to missed opportunities, to overlooking a problem before it’s too late, to putting a child’s well-being ahead of your need to fix him or her.

You will miss some opportunities if you trust—if you put your child’s peacefulness ahead of your agenda to get it right. Trust means not hurrying to fill, fix, and finagle.

What we don’t always appreciate is that worry also makes us miss opportunities. We fill the time with activity and angst—robbing the present moment of joy or space to create or a chance to mature and develop. We hurry to the “next thing” rather than allowing some fallow time for reflection or puttering or simply enjoying a skill mastered.

Trust says: “I see my child and I am noticing all the ways that child is developing right before my eyes, like a Polaroid picture.”

Worry says: “I see what my child should be and isn’t.”

Because parenting is always new (every day, every year), it’s difficult to let trust take the reins. I know I couldn’t trust all day every day come what may. What I learned to do (and am still learning literally today!) is to see my worry and breathe it away.

I pause to consider: what can I trust now? In the middle of the muddle of worry, I can trust that:

  • The lessons my child needs are happening, even if invisible to me.
  • New ideas come to me more easily when I let go of the vice-grip of control.
  • There are people who’ve faced these same issues and have come to fresh conclusions that can help me.
  • My child has the power to learn and is learning already.
  • I homeschooled for a reason—to get off the treadmill of pressure.
  • There is no law saying ALL learning must be completed by 18.
  • Joy is the best teacher, patience is a close second.
  • Creativity solves problems better than coercion.
  • I am a kinder mother when I trust than when I worry.
  • Pressure may motivate, but it also crushes and reverberates to pain and anxiety.
  • Being alert is not the same as being worried.
  • Life is full of inconveniences, mistakes, wrong paths taken, oversights, missed opportunities, misplaced priorities, and short-sightedness—I cannot stop the flow of painful experiences.
  • My child gets to have a unique life that doesn’t match my vision because my child is not me.
  • Any choice my child makes is my child’s choice, not mine.
  • I have all that I need to be a good parent right now, today.
  • My child has all that s/he needs to learn today.

You can add to that list.

Fundamentally, trust is about your child—trusting that the person you love and live with will become an adult who may not match your ideal vision, but who will nonetheless be the person you will continue to love and know and admire and care for, for the rest of your life.

Your responsibility to the child is to continue to lay a feast of ideas and offer educational opportunities, all while providing love and companionship on the journey. When a problem surfaces, trust handles it better than worry.

Trust says, “I know my child. I will find resources that suit and support my child. We’ll make progress together.”

Worry says, “My child is behind. I feel terrible about it. I better switch what we’re doing ASAP and get him or her caught up.”

Trust allows you to pace yourself—to stay in relationship, to keep the lines of communication open, to avail yourself to being that support when your child needs you.

The peril of trusting your child is this: you have to give up your right to worry as an excuse to coerce your child into actions that make you feel better.

The Homeschool Alliance

It Starts with Us

It Starts with Us

We say we want a more tolerant world—or at least, we want more people to tolerate us. We want to be heard, known, respected, and understood. We want space to have our ideas regarded as logical, important, and relevant to the conversation.

When I say I’m a home educator while I’m spitting sunflower seed shells onto the turf as I watch my 10 year old up to bat, I hope that the public school mom sitting next to me will say, “Oh, tell me about that! I’ve heard of homeschooling but I don’t really know what it’s like. Do you enjoy it?” (Wouldn’t that be awesome?)

I don’t want her to say, “Oh my! You’re amazing. I could NEVER be with my kids 24/7. How do you do it?”

I also don’t want her to say, “Homeschool. That seems really risky. How do your kids ever make friends? Aren’t you worried they won’t be ready for college?”

Worse, I never want to hear: “I oppose homeschool. You are ruining public education and your children. I’ve been told homeschooled kids are not prepared when they finally attend school. All the homeschooled kids I know are weird.” Ouch.

And yet.

I’ve heard all of those, including the cheery first one of genuine warmth and curiosity!

Because you and I are ambassadors for an unconventional educational choice, we’re defensive. I think I can admit that on behalf of the movement. 😀 I feel like I’m supposed to represent homeschooling well. I’m required to defend its importance and success and how it doesn’t harm anyone else’s right to educate how they wish. I defend my kids as ordinary garden-variety human beings who can make friends and are able to learn information.

That defensiveness, however, twists my sensitive soul into a little prune-ish pretzel, shriveled and tight. When I’m safely ensconced within the walls of my homeschool enclave, I’ve attacked public education with snark and flippant language. Behind the backs of my parent-friends who choose traditional school, I’ve made not-tolerant comments—you know, the kind that assign a child’s struggle (whatever it may be) to a “poor” school choice rather than showing empathy for the struggle no matter the origin.

I do this all while I hope that my public school friends will tolerate and respect my choices!

It’s maddening to defend home education. But maybe it’s also maddening to be the person who went along with the usual way of things (school) and suddenly is confronted with all this intentional choice that is about “not-school.” Imagine how that might feel—your own go-along to get-along way of life is being rejected by someone who seems sane and interesting. This poor “school parent” is now also defensive and never expected to have to be!

What could we do in that situation?

Maybe we could try this…

“Oh, tell me about public school for your kids! I don’t really know what it’s like since my kids don’t go. Do your kids enjoy it? What are some of the fun things they get to do?”

If we could drop the feeling of being threatened by school and simply enter into the experience on all sides: home, private, public, religious, boarding…whatever version you are encountering—what would we learn?

Education takes lots of forms. To create space for all of them, it helps to remember we are on the same team—rooting for everyone’s children to become good citizens, kind people, and well educated adults.

Maybe it starts with us.

The Homeschool Alliance