I am a "new" homeschool mom.
"New" as in my son is still in the very beginning years of early elementary education. If he was attending traditional school, he would be in kindergarten this year. It would likely be our first year as "school age parents."
And yet, I feel like an "old" elementary school mom, too. I feel like a mom who already has seen some shit, done some things, been around the block in terms of guiding their child's education. Probably because my son has, at the ripe old age of 5, already been part of the public education system for... well, five whole years.
As an infant born with congenital medical conditions and developmental disabilities, my son entered the public education system through the front gates of early intervention when he was eight months old. As soon as he was initially discharged from the hospital after his long first stay, he was greeted at our home by a smiling team of therapists and special educators. (Prior to that, he was receiving hospital-based services with the same intent -- namely, to support his early developmental skills and lead him toward that long list of developmental milestones.)
Every week for the next 2.5 years, he received in-home developmental support. And sure, this is not "schooling" in the sense that most people would consider, and yet.... it also was. This was physical education, adaptive learning, language development, social-emotional education, etc.
When he was three years old, he transitioned to a public preschool, at which point, his involvement in the education system became more recognizable. While he did receive academic services at home, thanks mostly to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, he nevertheless gained the additional support of a certified special education teacher and various classroom aides.
Over the past five years, as the parent of an infant, and then a toddler, and eventually a preschool-age student, I participated in countless parent-teacher meetings and conferences. We had daily homework and skills assessments. We had bi-annual IEP meetings and evaluations.
So, while my kid is the age of a typical kindergartener, we already have five years of his public education under our belt.
I am both a "new" mom of school-aged kids and, also, an "old" one.
I have long been interested in education policy and practices. Hell -- I completed my graduate thesis in law school on the state of public education in the US. I even grew up with a teacher mom. I don't think my life has ever not involved continuous discussions about the ins-and-outs, ups-and-downs, topsy-turvy complications of teaching and of being a teacher.
And I think that is why my family was so open-minded when it came to considering alternative routes to education. We were educated about education! And while my son had nothing but positive experiences with his schoolteachers and support specialists, both in early intervention and later in his preschool program, we could see the writing on the wall.
If I was already apprehensive about the current landscape of public education in this country prior to having kids, the idea of shepherding my young child with disabilities through the school system was enough to send us running for the door.
I am confident in our decision to homeschool our kids.
The truth is: No matter how solid the IEP, no matter how experienced the teachers, no matter how dedicated a school is to diversity and inclusion, there is no public school in America that can support the education and overall wellbeing of my Disabled son better, or even on par, than I can at home.
The other truth is: In an era of benchmarks and standardized learning, pushing students to their mental limits with testing, and the ever-looming anxiety-inducing fear of mass-murder by school shooting, there is also no public school in America that can better support my non-Disabled son than I can through home education.
Find me a public school that does not test students in early grade levels.
Find me a school that leads curriculum choices with environmental education, outdoor learning, the arts, STEM, and creativity.
Find me a school that is free from the political bullshit of recent book bans.
Find me a school that is free to celebrate every single student for exactly who they are.
Find me a school that prioritizes recess and the joy of movement with the same energy they bring to math and literacy.
Find me a school that focuses on adaptive learning and real-life skills, rather than mandating the type of classes the large majority of adults will never, ever actually put to use.
Certainly, there are some alluring charter schools out there. There are definitely some intriguing private options. And I would never rule these out as future pathways. Our family is not beyond relocating our primary residence to access the right educational opportunities for our kids.
And yet, even charter and private schools limit the ability of families to hodge-podge together an eclectic mix of curriculum best suited for each child. Necessarily, by entering a child into a school system -- whatever the system -- you forfeit much of the freedom you have as a parent to specifically guide their learning.
Home education, rather, provides endless opportunities and the freedom to direct every part of learning.
When we finally made the firm decision to homeschool our oldest son, I dove headfirst into learning everything I could about becoming a home educator.
I wasn't worried about the "knowledge" part of it. I hold three graduate degrees -- the teaching part I could figure out easily enough.
Rather, I wanted to expand my perspective on what "education" truly means. I wanted to hear from enough parents and previously homeschooled adults to reset my understanding of what a school day can look like, what "homework" means, what "curriculum" means beyond the four walls of a traditional classroom environment.... I wanted to intricately understand the difference between homeschooling strategies, models, and practices. I wanted to understand the pedagogical differences between school-based and home-based education.
And I learned a lot about a lot of things!
I am immensely pleased that I began with that type of deep learning.
I pat myself on the back for having the foresight to begin at that point, with that degree of perspective building.
What I found most helpful, as a new homeschool parent, however, was the simplest practice of setting perspective. And this is something that was discussed in various podcasts, books and articles about home education.
The idea is to ask the question: What is your goal(s) in homeschooling?
Now, as a new homeschool parent, one may immediately jump to those age-old goals of public education. For example:
"I want my child to learn to read."
"I want my child to score high on college entrance exams."
"I want my child to be prepared for college, get accepted, and graduate with a valuable degree and highly lucrative job opportunities."
Yada, yada, yada.
But... And it's a big BUT -- those are all goals that can be, and consistently are, achieved through public education. In fact, there is a whole team of highly trained educators just down the road that can help your child meet those goals. So, if those truly are the educational goals you have for your child, why not simply send them to your local neighborhood school? It will surely be a lot easier on you!
The answer: If you are considering homeschool for your child, those are not your goals. They may be benchmarks. They may be outcomes of your child's education, certainly. But academic benchmarks should not be the goal or purpose of why you choose to homeschool.
Your goals, your purpose, in bringing your child home for their education must rest at a deeper level than some one-off academic learning benchmark.
So then, how do you approach homeschooling?
How do you set your perspective on homeschooling?
And how do you employ that perspective when making decisions about homeschooling?
Here is the advice I took from my initial learning as a new homeschool mom:
Before you begin choosing curriculum, setting schedules, and making plans for the year, consider your personal beliefs related to the purpose of education and how you hope your child will feel about education when they are ready to graduate into the world.
Set a vision. Set overarching goals. And WRITE THEM DOWN so you can review them at the start of each new homeschool year. Allow your mission statement and the vision and goals you have for home education to guide your curriculum, extracurricular, and whatever other choices you make for your academic learning plans.
(Again, this process is discussed in numerous podcasts, books, and articles about home education. I highly encourage those parents who are considering homeschool to perform a simple Google search on the topic. It is an extremely helpful way to begin organizing your thoughts.)
Here is our family's HOMESCHOOL MISSION & VALUE STATEMENTS
School Name: Stohr Hendrickson School Without Walls
Mission: To nurture children who are connected to nature, community and our core family values of self-love, personal growth, life-long learning, and volunteerism.
Vision: To guide individualized and impact-driven education for the greater good.
Guideposts/Goals: To raise and ultimately graduate young humans who are --
3. Full of Wonder