Tuesday, July 12, 2011

What It Takes

If you are a homeschooler, even a new one, you already know what people are going to say when they find out you homeschool.  There will be something about the S Word of course.  They may ask why or how you do it if they are comfortable, and interested.  Most likely though - especially if they are parents of school-age kids - they will tell you all the reasons why they can't or won't homeschool.  There are few variations among these reasons: I don't have the patience is the most common.  I also hear "I couldn't spend all my time with my kids, I need a break" and "I couldn't be my kid's teacher and parent."

So here's the thing.  I don't have super-human patience (or even human levels of it unless I've had enough coffee and/or sleep).  I don't have a degree in education.  I don't love being around my kids more than the average parent.  Last night, at my monthly homeschool parents support group (read "my monthly lifeline to adult conversation with women to whom I'm not married") I saw many amazing moms.  Women who are homeschooling one, two, three kids; some by design and some by accident, or out of necessity, like myself.  I love these women and gain sustenance from those two hours.  But as I looked around the room, I didn't see any supermoms.

Well, I didn't see any parents who are more super than you, or more super than any other parent.  That's because any parent can do it, no matter the reasons for homeschooling or the financial or intellectual resources one brings to the table.  (I admit, single parent homeschooling could be tricky, but I know some who do it and know it's not impossible.) Any parent can do this because parenting and homeschooling are the same thing.

You need the same amounts of patience, fortitude, and love to homeschool your child that you need to parent that particular child.  Your child doesn't suddenly need different amounts of your energy, time, attention or intellectual capacity because you are now teaching them grammar and multiplication instead of potty training and brushing their teeth.

Think of all the things you taught your child before they went off to school and think of all the things you teach them on a daily basis that are not strictly academic: how to set the table, behave in public, count change, ride a bike, negotiate sibling rivalries.  Sure, you are not going to be an expert on every subject - outsourcing is perfectly acceptable.  You have probably already outsourced swimming and music lessons.  I tried to outsource Bean's potty training to a Montessori school, and that didn't go so well but we got through it.

And that's what you do: you get through it.  Every day, since the day your child was born, you've had to make a million decisions, negotiate a minefield of tricky situations, and figure out how this little human creature who came without any instructions -not even a DNA map printed on their forehead for gosh sakes- works.  And you have.  Sometimes better than others.  You have listened to the good advice of your friends, ignored the good advice from your mother and mother-in-law (and later went back and did that too).  You've tried dubious suggestions from websites and had dubious results, you've tried to keep up with the playground moms and then didn't bother.  You keep trying and figure it out every day some days better than others.

That's homeschooling.  I started homeschooling Bean with a million expectations of her and of myself.  Many of these we've discarded and refined.  Before we even started homeschooling, I was dissatisfied with the curriculum I saw being taught both in private and public schools.  I thought surely there must be something stronger and more rigorous out there.  There is, but that doesn't mean I could tell Bean to read ten pages and answer three essay questions.  If she was the kind of kid who could sit down and do the work put in front of her with no questions asked, then my blog would probably be about something other than homeschooling because I wouldn't be doing it.  The early days of homeschooling were frustrating when I saw myself as more of a teacher than a parent.  I had to work through my expectations, set them aside, and do what worked for Bean.  It's still a work in progress.  Just as she is, and just as I am as a parent.

I lose my patience some days, spend weeks taking the wrong track with something, and sometimes get it right on the first try.  In the beginning, I used a lot of workbooks from Costco because that's what I had.  As we kept going, and I figured out what worked for each of us, I abandoned those workbooks and began developing a curriculum.  But when we start our school day at 9am, I am not suddenly Ms. Teacher, I am still Mom.  Bean is not suddenly an easy going student ready to learn every subject I throw at her without question.  I use them same strategies to get her to learn anything she's not one hundred percent interested in that I would use to get her to clean her room.

Just as with any other aspect of parenting, from the time Bean and Boo were each born, I just show up each day (second or third cup of coffee in hand) and begin where we are.  That's all it takes.

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