BY LAURA SIMON, guest blogger with Triad Moms on Main
Homeschooling is tremendously popular in North Carolina. Chances are, you know a family that is homeschooling their kids. You might know an adult who was homeschooled as a child. Maybe you’re thinking about trying it with your own family. If so, you’ve likely discovered that making a choice to homeschool can feel more than a little overwhelming.
In the July issue of Forsyth Family, I shared three tips to help you navigate the tough decisions you’ll need to make before you start homeschooling. Now, I want to offer four suggestions to help make your first year a success.
Tip 1: Shadow Homeschooling Families
I was homeschooled myself for a number of years, so I had a good idea what a homeschooling day would look like. If you don’t, or even if you are looking for inspiration, shadowing a homeschool family can be a great way to begin crafting your own vision. Yes, this pretty much involves inviting yourself over to their house. Disregard social norms and do it anyway. Every family does things differently: some are very, very structured to the point of imitating traditional school, and others have a schedule that ebbs and flows by the day. Some families get up to an alarm and start work by 7; others let their kids sleep as long as they wish, take some time to play, and then buckle down to work. My personal schedule depends on how needy my two-year-old is that particular day. If she is exceedingly clingy, sometimes we put off our school work until her naptime. If she is willing to play independently, then we knock the school work out early. Flexibility is my friend.
The more families you can shadow, the more realistic you’ll be when you make your own plans. (Trust me, your initial expectations for homeschooling are probably not very realistic. In retrospect, mine were laughable. Especially the part where I pictured the house being clean.) If the family you’re shadowing is using curriculum that interests you, take this opportunity to try it out with your own kid. Find a printer with a photocopy function; it will be your best friend. I’ve saved myself a fortune by copying a few pages of someone else’s book and letting my kids try them.
Tip 2: Consider a Co-Op
Homeschooling is very popular in North Carolina, which means there are plenty of co-op options available. You do not have to join a co-op; in fact, our state is relatively lenient, in that there’s not a whole lot that you have to do. However, I’ve found that our co-op is not only good for my kids, but it’s also a great source of support and encouragement for me. Homeschooling is best done in the community, however you decide to create it.
Co-ops are like curriculum: you’ll find a wide variety in terms of purpose and price. Some co-ops are aligned to a specific curriculum, meaning that strict standards apply to instructor training, scheduling, and general operation. There’s less risk in choosing a co-op like this, but often the price-point is higher. The other option is an independent co-op, formed by like-minded parents who want to leverage the collective strengths of the moms within the co-op. These co-ops tend to be much more affordable, but they require you to put more trust in the parents running them. When you talk to other homeschooling families, ask them about their co-op, if they have one. If possible, arrange to visit. Homeschooling Facebook pages can be a great way to find smaller, lesser-known co-ops. If you are looking for a co-op, I’d suggest joining one (or several) of these pages and asking for recommendations.
Tip 3: Don’t Overdo It
The more research you do, the more amazing opportunities you’ll find. If you aren’t careful, you’ll wind up with three extra-curricular activities per kid, per day…and no actual time to teach! Especially if your kids are little, give yourself a few months to see how much spare time you have—and how much you are willing to give up—before you register for anything. Just because something is good, doesn’t mean it’s good for your family. Choose carefully.
Tip 4: Give Yourself Freedom to Change Your Mind
When you begin to make final decisions, remember that you aren’t marrying the choices you make. If you aren’t happy with your co-op after a year, you can always try a new one. The same goes for curriculum choices. In fact, you might find that what works for one of your children doesn’t work at all for another. One of the tremendous benefits of homeschooling is that you can constantly make adjustments based on your child’s needs. Take a breath and make the best decision you can, with the knowledge that you can always change your mind.
Our family loves the choices we’ve made. Homeschooling isn’t for everyone, but our kids are learning and thriving. Good luck, and enjoy the journey!