This is the 4th and last installation in my series, 8 Common Pitfalls That Can Cause Homeschool To Fail. If you haven’t read the others, you may want to take some time to check them out. They have all been inspired by issues and challenges I have run into in 6 years of homeschooling my twins, as well as numerous conversations with others who have tried homeschooling and given up, or are still at it but feeling frustrated. Topics that have been covered so far are parental expectations impeding progress, kids who don’t know what they’re interested in, teaching and learning with nontraditional methods, the need for a structured environment, conflicts between parents and children, and diversifying types of activities.
My hope is that by conveying the experience of another homeschool parent who has run into similar challenges, and recognizing that many others have similar issues, this series will help keep more families in the world of homeschool that would like to be there. As I’ve mentioned in other sections, homeschooling is lifestyle choice and requires a great deal of self-awareness and healthy communication within a family. It is a challenge worth pursuing, and I want everyone to succeed! The last two topics are; keeping kids socialized with peers, and giving them access to other adult mentors or teachers.
Not Enough Peer Interaction
I cover the topic of socialization more thoroughly in my article “Socialization for Rural Homeschoolers”. The truth is that even in urban areas, homeschool parents often have to make an effort to make sure their kids are spending enough time with peers.
I should be clear. I am not a believer that kids need to spend 6 hours a day, 5 days a week with kids their own age ( I guess if I was, I would send my kids to public school!) I don’t even think that structure is particularly healthy. For an in-depth ( and fascinating) analysis of the social impacts of the standard school structure, read “Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers”, by Gordon Neufeld.
However, I do feel that kids benefit from some amount of time sharing their academic pursuits with other children. Learning together makes things more fun, and can enliven a topic with a variety of opinions and perspectives.
Think of the last time you had a brainstorming session with a group of friends or co-workers. How many ideas were generated that you would have been unable to come up with yourself? It also creates many more options for diverse activities, such as playing group games, putting on a play, holding a book club or building a complex structure.
Another important aspect of learning together is that it helps avoid the all too familiar, mostly adolescent and teen phenomenon, of feeling “weird” or outside of society somehow. I noticed this aspect of developing acutely in the last year of my boy’s lives, who are now eleven. When they were 7, 8 and even 9, they were content to gather with other homeschool kids every few months when our rural group holds events, or to see their few homeschool friends occasionally for play dates. By the time they were ten, though they never said they wanted to go to school, they commented more and more about the things their school peers were able to do that they were missing out on. I didn’t want them to develop a resentment towards the homeschool lifestyle, and so we joined a homeschool co-op an hour’s drive away, a significant compromise. But the shift in their attitude was clear, and worth every mile.
Most towns in the U.S. have some type of homeschool group, or at least a yahoo type list serve. There are many online watersheds to help you find a nearby group, such as the Homeschool Legal Defense Association’s (HSLDA).
or for an unschool focus, you can try Unschooling Mom2Mom, Of course, you can just search google for something in your area as well.
Even in this digital age, however, not all groups or activities are necessarily findable online. If you are having trouble connecting with others in your town or area, you can always rely on old fashioned techniques. Librarians tend to have a pretty good sense of who the homeschoolers are in their purview since most homeschoolers tend to spend a lot of time in the library at times when other kids are in school. You can post flyers to host an event, put a notice in the paper, or just go to local attractions during the day (such as a museum or park) and notice the other families that are there. You may need to become a bit of an organizer, hosting activities or organizing field trips, at least for a while, until you can find a group that is more or less reciprocal. Don’t worry about needing to be an expert in something or able to teach a certain topic. You can just invite families over to play or make a simple craft. The effort will be worth it. It is a great feeling to see your kids excited to learn, knowing their peers are doing it with them or at least knowing they are out there doing similar things in their own homes.
Not Enough Outside Teachers/Adult Mentors
This issue can often be resolved at the same time as the peering issue if you are able to work with a group in which parents take turn leading classes or activities. However, if you find yourself in a situation in which you are doing most of the facilitating, or your group is fairly unstructured, so that your kids are not getting intensive guidance or instruction from the other adults, you may need to explore other options.
Prior to joining the structured group that we commute to, this was a challenge for us. We occasionally got together with other families for field trips, but the interactions were mostly social, and I felt they were missing out on experiencing other types of instruction or guidance that I was unable to provide. Additionally, I feel it’s important to provide the opportunity for the particular kind of bond an adult and child can form in the teacher-student role, or mentor/mentee role if that is the preference.
Sometimes this relationship can build with after-school classes or clubs. My boys joined a martial arts school a few years ago, and subsequently have developed a wonderful bond with their teachers. Their approach to teaching is far more disciplined than they get from either me or my partner, having been informed partly by their military background. However, the teachers are also very gentle and warm in their personal interactions and are careful to support every child’s individuality. It is a unique combination, and I feel lucky to have them here in our valley.
We might not always be so lucky to find great teachers so easily, however. I’m fortunate that my boys continue to have an interest in martial arts, despite their initial discomfort with the regimented style. Many kids try different activities and do not necessarily find that special relationship. In that case, I think the only option is to keep searching. There are many opportunities for kids to make meaningful relationships with other adults, even if it is not in the traditional teacher/pupil context. Maybe your child will meet a librarian they can connect with, or take an interest in gardening and work for a local farmer, or meet a neighbor who needs help with household chores. If you listen to stories of the adults that made a difference in people’s lives as children and teens, you will hear that they come from all walks of life and often from the most unexpected places. The key is to keep an open mind, encourage your child to make connections they’re drawn to, and let things unfold naturally!
Although this is the conclusion to the series, it does not necessarily cover all of the challenges that may waylay hopeful homeschool families. However, I hope it gives an overview of the types of issues that can get in the way of a positive, enriching experience for both parents and kids. I have faced every one of the challenges listed here, and known many others who have as well, and can honestly say they are all surmountable. In fact, working through them has been part of the personal growth process that is a side effect of homeschooling. By taking our kids education in our own hands, we are also choosing to learn about ourselves and our kids, and how to meet our needs more effectively. How empowering is that!