I believe they are among the bravest homeschoolers I know—right up there with the pioneering parents of the 1970s and ’80s who educated their children at home when it wasn’t yet legal. Any parents who remove their children from the public schools to educate them at home are bold in my eyes.
These parents don’t get much recognition in the homeschooling community. In fact, in my fifteen years of homeschooling, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard an address or read an article specific to this subset of homeschoolers. They are largely ignored, despite the gigantic task that they accomplish.
Each summer for the past ten years, I’ve led a Home School 101 seminar for parents considering home education in the fall. About half of those who attend had children previously enrolled in the public schools, but are now looking for a way out. They want a clean slate for their children, whether academically, socially, spiritually, safety-wise, or emotionally. They come to the meeting because they hope that homeschooling will be that fresh start.
I’d like to commend these gutsy parents. Also, I’d like to encourage any current public or private school families considering a similar “late” entrance to homeschooling not to be afraid. Your route may be a bit longer, but you can do it!
Fear of a New Schedule
My husband and I took the relatively easy road to homeschooling. We decided to homeschool before our children ever reached school age. As homeschoolers from the start, we never established a routine that included having our children leave the home every weekday, packing lunches, or setting out clothes the night before. Homework and permission slips were never part of our evenings, and we never planned our days around the bus schedule.
I say we had it easy because we gradually built our homeschool routines and habits. Those who withdraw their children from institutional schools don’t have that luxury. Within weeks or months of the decision, they are full tilt into third-grade materials or high school courses, depending on the age of their student(s). Most of those I’ve become acquainted with through my Home School 101 seminars have admitted that building an entirely new routine was difficult, yet it became one of the most refreshing parts of their decision. In many ways, this schedule reset gave their family a new perspective: life and learning can be intertwined.
Fear of Inadequacy to Teach
Like many homeschoolers, our family progressed through the developmental stages of learning. I read board books to my infants, chapter books as they grew, and gradually taught them letters, sounds, and reading. When my children were of “school age,” we incrementally added math and reading to our schedule of informal playdates with friends and weekly trips to the library. Retrospectively, the increasing bookwork changed our family dynamic less than when we welcomed a new baby or my husband started a new job. Each new academic stage brought small challenges, but none was too steep.
On the other hand, parents who pull their kids out of an institutional school are faced with a quick learning curve. Jumping into long division, addressing spelling woes, or even instructing a student gifted in math or writing can be intimidating. Entering the homeschooling on-ramp later in a child’s schooling is not easy, but many families have found it doable. Some have told me they succeeded by leaning heavily on the prepared curriculum they chose; they let the curriculum do the teaching while offering the student direction and encouragement. Approaching homeschooling from a one-on-one, tutoring mindset helped to reduce the intimidation factor.
Others said that becoming a homeschooler meant becoming a fellow learner with their students. They completed chemistry problems and watched the math DVDs with their students in order to recall the subject from their school days. Admittedly it took a large chunk of time, but the decision to come alongside their children in their subjects spoke volumes about their family’s commitment to making home education work.
Finally, they realized the first curriculum they selected didn’t always have to be the one they stayed with. As their confidence to teach grew and they understood how their children best learned, they switched curriculums to what best suited their needs. Sometimes, especially with younger children discouraged by the public school system, they rejected formal curriculum in favor of reading lots of good books together. The goal? Reestablishing curiosity and a love of learning as top priorities.
Fear of Finding New Friends
The number-one fear I’ve heard from those who took a later entrance ramp to homeschooling is the fear of isolation. They fear their children will resent leaving their friends to enter what feels like a social vacuum. True, they are leaving their school friends, but that doesn’t prevent scheduled get-togethers, seeing friends at church or sports events, and being intentional about keeping up worthwhile relationships. Most parents on-ramping to homeschooling realize that maintaining old school friendships can’t outweigh establishing a new circle of friends. Negative socialization and poor peer influences are often the very reasons they are removing their children from the public schools.
And if the next question is “So, how will my child make new friends?”, never fear! Homeschoolers have so many social options available that sometimes I have to decline opportunities in order to be home enough to get schoolwork accomplished! Many homeschool events provide a broader social scope than public-school students receive from their same-age classmates year after year. On a weekly basis, our students relate to children younger and older than themselves in support groups and co-ops, and with their neighbors, adults, and senior citizens through volunteer opportunities, not to mention daily life with their own siblings. Watching brothers and sisters establish (or reestablish) deep friendships can be among the sweetest parts of choosing to homeschool.
Probably the best bit of relational advice I’ve ever heard—and since repeated—to homeschooling parents with previously public-schooled children is this: get back their hearts! Being at school for five or six hours a day necessitates that children give their trust to their teachers, bus drivers, lunch and playground monitors, and certainly, to their peers. Each day they are letting those people influence them as much as, or more than, they are seeking their parents’ input. After withdrawing a public-school student, homeschool academics are important, but getting back that student’s heart is essential. Let the goal of the first months (or even the first year) be the reestablishment of a solid, respectful, trust-filled parent-child relationship.
Fear of Legal Troubles
Thankfully, home education is fully legal in all fifty states! Those considering a later on-ramp to homeschooling should research the homeschooling laws in their state. The Home School Legal Defense Association created a map* which rates how difficult it is to homeschool in each state based on the amount of regulation: no, low, medium, or high levels of regulation. Find a local support group to join. Parents there can assist with curriculum suggestions, and their children can be a source of new friendships. Ask those veteran homeschoolers to help you properly establish an “exit plan.” With that properly executed, homeschoolers will rarely face legal challenges.
Fear of Financial Pressures
With children enrolled in the public schools, both parents are able to work outside the home. Dual-income families are not as prevalent in homeschool settings since one parent typically concentrates on instruction. Therefore, a decision to leave the public schools in favor of homeschooling may mean a significant drop in family income. The fear of “how are we going to make it?” is a very real one.
Honestly, God will have to provide in a supernatural way. Equally so, each family entering the on-ramp has to make significant sacrifices to reduce spending and find new sources of income: selling a car, working part-time in the evenings, selling nonessentials on Craigslist and at garage sales, eliminating eating out and cable TV, accepting hand-me-down kids’ clothes or shopping at Goodwill, and cutting down on daytime driving and weekend trips. These financial sacrifices will test the depth of their commitment to homeschooling, to be sure, but God says He will always equip us to accomplish that which He has called us to do.
It does take a tremendous amount of bravery to withdraw children, disentangle them from the public system, and begin anew. It demands conviction, planning, and follow-through. It requires finding appropriate replacements for the vacuum that is created by leaving all the structures of the public system. To those considering such a change, have no fear! Watching other families over the years, I have witnessed many success stories. God provided a way for them to bravely push through their fears and begin to successfully homeschool. To those parents who have withdrawn children from institutional schools—or are considering it—to begin home education, I applaud you. You are the bravest homeschoolers I know.
Melanie Hexter and her husband have homeschooled their children since 1998, with one graduate and another soon-to-be. Thankfully, they have received abundant support along the way, especially from family members. The Hexters recently made a cross-country move and are now in northern Utah, home to hiking, skiing, and many marvelous parks. Melanie has written the Bible Storyboard and U.S. National Parks Unit Study curriculums, available at LEMILOEpublishing.com. She hopes the beauty of the mountains won’t be too distracting, because there are several writing projects she is hoping to tackle in the upcoming year.
Melanie Hexter and her husband, Matthew, started their homeschool journey in 1998. With two graduates and four children still at home, they ask the Lord to teach them how to uniquely educate each child. The Hexters love to travel the US, using their Colorado Springs home as a western base. Melanie is working on two books and offers several homeschool curricula, including the U.S. National Parks Unit Study, for download at www.LEMILOEpublishing.com. LEMILOE is their family motto: Live Every Moment In Light Of Eternity.