I’m facing a number of transitions in my homeschool this year. My oldest son has graduated from college and is living at home while working his first career position. Deciding what his responsibilities will be and adjusting to his schedule is a transition. My third son graduated from high school and will be leaving home for college in August. I am losing my experienced drivers! My 16-year-old will be driving and attending community college for dual enrollment classes for the first time. He is also working his first job. My daughter will begin high school courses in the fall. And my youngest will be a true junior high student as he will begin seventh grade work. I have more transitions I could tell you about, but that’s enough to get us started on this topic.
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Why Homeschool Transitions Can Be Tough
I was in my homeschool space as directed by the “Homeschool Space Challenge” in The Organized Homeschool Life book and planner when the impact of many of these transitions hit me.
“I needed to let go of some homeschool materials.”
I have three kids whose records I no longer need to keep.My college-age son was studying for the LSAT and decided he did not want to go to law school. Those materials can go too. My younger kids’ books can move to different bookshelves.
I came across many books I hoped to use in my homeschool but didn’t. I realized that many of our science materials could be sold or given away because I won’t be teaching some labs at home in the future. I moved favorite children’s picture books from one storage location to another and found myself reminiscing about the days when I enjoyed reading them to my children. As a side note, I’m keeping them for my grandchildren. Lest you think I’m hoarding irresponsibly, these books fit on a single bookshelf.
I’m not going to lie. I was feeling sad. I was tempted to boo-hoo all over my schoolroom. But then I realized I needed to approach the transitions I’m facing in a different way. My focus on the past was making transitions difficult for me.I thought about all the things we’ve done before and told myself that homeschooling would never be that good again.Can you relate? It really doesn’t matter what kind of transition we’re making. If we focus on the past and tell ourselves that the past will always be better than the future, we will have a difficult time making a transition.
The second thing I did, that was causing me grief making transitions, was to focus on my failings. I thought about the curriculum I shouldn’t have purchased. I thought about the books I should have used. And I thought about the time I mismanaged. I was angry at myself and discouraged at the thought of going forward. I was stuck thinking only about what I hadn’t done to meet some high standard.
How to Make Homeschool Transitions Smooth
To make smooth transitions, whatever they are, stop focusing on the past and look to the future. I adored having little ones. I loved babyhood, some aspects of toddlerhood, the preschool years, and the elementary years. But the middle, high school, and adult years have blessed my socks off too. I love the people my children are and are becoming. I tell my kids it’s like the preschool them visited for a while and now they’re gone. I do miss them, but this young adult person who has taken up residence in my life is every bit as much a joy. I’m looking forward to seeing my oldest grow in his career. I’m looking forward to having two of my boys at the same college and watching my new freshman enjoy college life for the first time. I am excited to see my 16-year-old develop maturity by working and taking college classes on his own. I am looking forward to seeing my youngest two kids develop their own independence. I’m looking forward to coaching them in their education more than teaching them.
Focusing on the future positives of my transitions steered me away from tears and toward joy. Right now, consider what you have to look forward to with the changes in your life.
The next thing I did to cope with my transitions was to focus on what I have accomplished, rather than what I haven’t. I realized that I have successfully brought three of my children through their K-12 years. They are great kids. Not once have they come to me and demanded to know why I haven’t used certain curriculum, taught a certain class, or kept a particular homeschool schedule. They are happy and doing well in their studies and work. Even if you feel you’ve been a failure you will be able to think of many ways you have succeeded. To make a smooth transition, stop focusing all of your attention on your weaknesses and begin focusing on your strengths. My weakness is trying to do too many things and then dropping some of them. I’m not going to worry about that going forward. Instead, I’m going to focus on my strengths, which is choosing and teaching important and fun lessons to teach my kids.
Thinking about my strengths helps me feel positive about this upcoming school year. Right now, consider your strengths and how to make the most of them in your homeschool.
[Read Why You’re Not Failing as a Homeschool Mom]
If you want to transition well this year, I have another suggestion for you. That is to trust God. I remember another transition I faced years ago. Would I put my oldest child into preschool? That is what I wanted to do. I wanted to have time to parent my toddler and baby and get my act together at home. I was sure if I put my kids in school that I would have the time to write and speak as I believed God was calling me to do. God had another plan. I did not see how it would work, but it obviously has. Homeschooling grew to be the work that met my deepest needs. I grew closer to my children, I got to teach, which unbeknownst to me is what I was made to do. And it led me to doing writing and speaking that have blessed me beyond my wildest dreams. When I consider that I didn’t want to homeschool, I feel like a fool. I should have trusted God. He loves me and He doesn’t want to harm me. He has a plan and a purpose for my life that is good. It is the same for you.
Thinking about God’s faithfulness to me through the years helps me to feel better about the transitions I’m facing. Right now, prayerfully commit yourself to trusting God with your transitions.
If you focus on the future, focus on your strengths as a homeschool mom, and focus on God’s faithfulness, you can make transitions in your homeschool be much smoother. As you work through the transitions, remember that your children are watching. Your kids are also facing transitions. Will we model for them how to focus on the future, focus on our strenghts, and focus on God? Our kids’ current transitions are just one step in their journey. They will face many transitions ahead, some of them a lot more challenging. Let’s show them how it’s done.
Comment and let me know what transitions you’re facing this year.
Do you have worries that keep you from homeshooling? If so, you’ll want to listen to the first part of this article. Once you do, you’re ready to read worries 6-10.
#6 The kids won’t listen to you
That’s a real worry. If your kids won’t obey you, you’re in trouble. You won’t be able to get them to do schoolwork, chores, or the things that will keep them safe and healthy. So how can you homeschool if your kids won’t listen to you? If that’s your worry, homeschooling isn’t the issue. If you send the kids to school and they won’t obey you, how will you get them to do schoolwork, chores, or the things that will keep them safe and healthy?
At one time, school teachers were able to discipline students. That’s no longer the case. Teachers’ hands are often tied in even depriving students of privileges. If there are no consequences in the home either, kids may continue to be defiant and suffer the results of an undisciplined life. If you don’t discipline your child, no one else will.
If you worry that your kids won’t listen to you, you should worry! But only if you aren’t willing to change that immediately.
Require obedience. If your kids openly refuse to do homework or chores, remove a privilege that matters. In the article I wrote on the top question parents ask me
, I give you some ideas. But just to repeat, wait until your child asks for something — a snack, game time, a visit with a friend. The answer then is no. When your child asks why, explain that they didn’t obey. Let them pitch the biggest fit, but the answer is still no. You can switch the order for kids who aren’t openly defiant and refuse to grant privileges until the schoolwork or chore is done. Stop worrying that your kids won’t listen to you and start making discipine a key part of your homeschool today.
#7 My kids will be unhappy being homeschooled and will want to go to school
Let’s first discuss the worry that our children will be unhappy being homeschooled. I had this worry for years and it was completely unnecessary. Here’s why:
It’s normal for kids to be unhappy doing school. It’s normal like it is for adults to be unhappy going to work. Work is work! But kids and adults alike are unhappy in their free time too. We get bored doing the same things. It’s not as exciting as we would like it to be. But for some reason as homeschool moms we think our kids have to be Disney-World happy in their education all the time or we’re failing. Wrong.
My kids, like kids who go to public or private school, don’t like some aspects of school. They complain. They try to put it off. That makes them normal. It doesn’t mean I’m doing anything wrong. In fact, it means I’m doing something right. I am disciplining them in the habit of learning and studying. This is not to say that I don’t think learning should be fun. That’s a soap box for me and why I created Grammar Galaxy the way that I did. But discipline must accompany fun in a child’s education. Don’t worry if your child doesn’t like homeschooling. Ask children who go to traditional school if they like it. Most of them will look at you like you’re crazy and say no. You don’t have to frantically pursue fun classes and curriculum in an effort to make kids happy in their homeschooling. Most likely it won’t work anyway.
But what if the unhappiness gets so bad that your child wants to go to school?
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I did on this situation. I lived through my child wanting to go to school and actually attending public high school. I wrote about the unexpected positive results from that experience
and interviewed my son for the podcast
as well. He just graduated from college, by the way, and is starting his career in sales. We are so proud of him! My son’s desire to go to school was not because I failed in homeschooling him. In fact, he has said that he loved being homeschooled. It served him well until he needed the opportunities available to him in high school. None of my fears about him going to school were founded. That experience was one of my sons attending one school and I can’t generalize my experience to you. However, worry doesn’t serve any good purpose.
So my daughter, who will be a high school freshman, told me she was wanting to go to school. I dropped her off to shadow for the day and I wasn’t worried. I had had a good experience with the school with her brother. But I was sad. So much so that I prayed for peace. God gave that to me immediately. I felt at peace when my daughter said she had made the decision to start high school there in the fall. A few weeks ago, though, she told me she had changed her mind and wanted to continue homeschooling. I immediately realized what a waste my anxiety and upset would have been. No wonder the Lord immediately gave me peace. Stop worrying about your child being unhappy and start homeschooling.
#8 Your kids won’t have enough friends as homeschoolers
I have to admit that I’ve worried about this a lot. At the beginning of my homechool journey, all my homeschooling friends had girls and only girls while I had boys. I worried that they would have no male friends. Years later my homeschooling friends all had boys and there were few girls for my daughter to be friends with. I worried that we wouldn’t know where to make friends. Then a P.E. class led to friendships that led to a co-op in my home. Then those kids graduated, moved, or quit homeschooling, and I worried that my younger kids would have no friends. And I haven’t been alone in this worrying. My husband is an extreme extrovert and worries when the kids don’t have as many homeschooled friends as he thinks they should. He has wondered if the kids would be better off in school.
If you share this worry, let me share some things to reassure you. God knows our kids need friends. He promises to meet all their needs. If He is calling you to homeschool, He will provide your children with friends. These are some of the ways God has provided friends for my children: new neighbors with kids, Sunday school, youth group, sports, homeschool classes, reaching out to our local homeschool group, online friendships with my friends’ kids, and jobs.
If you’re saying BUT right now, I get it. I’ve been in a place where my kids hadn’t made friends in these ways, or more specifically what I considered to be enough friends. I’ve had the opportunity to see my adult introverted son’s friendships develop. Until he was a teen, he had very few friends of his own. Most of them were his brothers’ friends. Now that he is in college, I am amazed by the number of friends he has. What’s interesting is that he never once complained about having too few friends. Nor was he affected negatively because he didn’t have dozens of friends as a kid. If your child has a close friend or two and is happy, you do not have anything to worry about.
If your child wants more friends, I recommend praying together first. Then look for them in one of the ways I mentioned previously. Be patient. Friendships take time to develop. Stop worrying about your child’s friendships and start homeschooling.
#9 Your finances may not allow you to homeschool in the future
Worrying about what-ifs robs us of joy and opportunities now. Early in our marriage, my husband’s fellow sales reps told him that the company he worked for was on the verge of being sold, meaning he would be out of a job. We worried about it. If that happened, we worried about paying our mortgage and me not working. We worried about it for 15 years when the prediction finally came to fruition. The company was sold and my husband was out of a job. But within a week, he had another job that was far better than the one he’d worried about keeping all those years.
This is not to say that we won’t have a time that we have to work and homeschool or even give up our homeschooling because of finances. But worrying about it now will make homeschooling miserable. I know many homeschooling moms who have homeschooled their children on a modest, single income. They didn’t have all the luxuries we are told are musts, but they had the precious experience of teaching their children at home. Homeschooling can be very inexpensive and it is possible to earn an income while you teach. So stop worrying about finances and start homeschooling.
#10 Homeschool haters
The final worry I’ll discuss is about homeschool haters. I did a podcast episode on handling them that I recommend to you. If we worry about people who aren’t supportive of our homeschooling, we give them power. They feel emboldened to continue attacking our choice. Protect yourself legally. I recommend joining HSLDA. Follow your state’s law to the letter. Then kindly set boundaries with people who attempt to interfere with your family’s choice to homeschool.
If you persist in attempting to win a hater over, you’ll likely continue to worry. I have heard from my listeners about family members who continue to hate on homeschooling even after their children have graduated and are successful in a career. If our happiness in homeschooling depends on pleasing anyone else, our happiness won’t last for long. Appeal to the Lord for protection from those who would give you grief. Then stop worrying about homeschool haters and start homeschooling.
No good comes from worrying. Use the time and energy you are spending on worrying to get on with the business of homeschooling! If you need help with worry in general, listen to the podcast episode called Help for Anxious Homeschoolers.
Which of these five worries has been the biggest problem for you? Comment and let me know.
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If worrying is keeping you from homeschooling, I have help for you! We will put five common worries to rest so you can stop worrying and start homeschooling.
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Worry #1: I don’t have the patience to homeschool
One of the first things people say when they learn I am a homeschooler is that they would never have the patience for that. It’s a common and understandable worry. I wasn’t a patient mom at all. And homeschooling just my oldest as a preschooler taught me that. It drove me crazy when he didn’t answer questions I knew he knew or when he had his own ideas for what we should be doing. I often lost my temper and even when I didn’t, I was practically jumping out of my skin while waiting on him. I knew that I wasn’t the best teacher for my child because of my impatience. But I didn’t quit.
I eventually came to understand that patient mothers don’t homeschool. Instead, homeschooling mothers learn patience. They learn it, not from dealing with obedient, cherubic children, but from the aggravating, tiring, and difficult sort. If I had not homeschooled, I believe I may have stayed the same impatient woman I was 19 years ago. I would have remained short-tempered and would not enjoy the closer walk with the Lord and my family that I do today.
[LIsten to How to Be a Patient Homeschool Mom]
[Read Anger Lies Christian Parents Believe]
We tend to want patience right now! There isn’t a shortcut to this fruit of the Spirit, but there is a well-worn path. Homeschooling mothers before us have trod it and you can too. Stop worrying about your impatience and start homeschooling.
Worry #2: I’m not organized enough to homeschool.
The next most common response I get to the announcement that I am a homeschooling mom is that the person speaking isn’t organized enough to homeschool. I have a hard time not laughing in response to that comment. I was a very disorganized person when I started homeschooling to the point that I felt I needed to quit. I would be neglecting my children’s education if I continued. Even though I was only homeschooling a preschooler, I did almost no teaching but also got nothing else done. I didn’t know what the problem was until I met a woman named FLYLady online. Her approach to developing routines and working in 15-minute segments changed my home. I wasn’t born organized, but I have developed routines and an approach that allows me to do everything that God has called me to do.
[Listen to the Power of Homeschool Routines with FLYLady]
[Listen to Homeschool FLYing]
FLYLady’s approach is the basis behind The Organized Homeschool Life book and planner. I applied the same principles of routines and 15-minute missions to organizing every area of my homeschooling life — prepping curriculum, arranging our homeschool spaces, early preparation for holidays and more. I am not IKEA-organized in my home. Many people assume I am. Instead, I am organized enough that I can homeschool, write curriculum, and run a business. My home is not a disaster. I no longer routinely forget appointments. I even have time left over to enjoy family time and participate in hobbies of scrapbooking and tennis. If I can do that, anyone can.
Worry #3: I won’t be fulfilled by homeschooling
Before I was obedient to God’s call on my life to homeschool, I was worried that homeschooling wouldn’t fulfill me. I had a degree in psychology and I’ve given up that career to stay home with my children while they were little. But I did not want to give up my dream of being a writer and speaker. I assumed there was no way I could do all three. Obviously, I was mistaken. I’m doing all three of those things today. But homeschooling has been the most fulfilling of these callings. I have often said that I would give up everything else before I gave up homeschooling. Teaching my own children has been my greatest joy. The family relationships we enjoy as a result are precious to me and my husband.
[Read Why I Wasted My Education]
[Read Homeschooling is the Most Fulfilling Career]
Homeschooling has also allowed me to use the talents God has given me and to fulfill my purpose as a teacher. Before I had my first child, I taught psychology at a local university. I absolutely loved it. God knew that teaching would give me the desires of my heart. I have taught my own children, my friend’s children, and now through Grammar Galaxy, children all over the world. My cup overflows. It is possible to homeschool and work or minister within your talents and your passions. I know women who are gifted in computers and engineering who teach courses for homeschooling students, for example. The same with those gifted in the arts. But whatever your passion, I’m proof that you can work or minister part-time while homeschooling and fulfill the other God-given desires of your heart. I did much less writing and speaking when I had babies. God has been faithful to give me just the amount of activity outside of homeschooling for my season. Use the scheduling worksheet in the post linked below to determine how much time you can devote to your passion in this season of your life.
[Read Scheduling Secrets]
God can fulfill you even as you homeschool. Stop worrying about being fulfilled and start homeschooling.
Worry #4: I’ll choose the wrong curriculum.
A fourth worry homeschoolers often have is choosing the wrong curriculum. We worry that our friends’ kids will get full-ride scholarships to Ivy League schools while our kids will and up being ditch diggers. And all because we chose one math curriculum over another. This fear can lead to curriculum addiction and such a collection of resources that our child is overwhelmed and stressed. An overwhelmed child is more likely to fail academically than one who is using a curriculum that isn’t the best of the best.
I used to have this fear. For example, I listened to people who said if you didn’t use more than one math or science curriculum, your student wouldn’t get into college. That wasn’t true. And while I do think there’s some truth to the notion that using the same math curriculum each year is a good idea, I’ve violated that policy and my kids have still done well. The fact is you teach your children. Curriculum is just a tool you use to teach your children. That is especially true if you tailor that curriculum to your child’s learning style and particular needs. You may need to add other resources and even tutoring, but nearly any curriculum will do when it comes to providing an education for your child.
[Read Curriculum Paralysis]
[Listen to Gaps in Your Homeschooling]
Many of us worry about gaps in our children’s education when we choose a particular curriculum or even a particular approach to teaching the subject. I had that concern about history when I was using a unit study approach to teaching my kids. We weren’t studying history chronologically, so I was concerned my kids weren’t going to master it. I’ve now used both approaches and saw no difference in my kids’ understanding of history. Gaps in a child’s education is not worthy of our worry. I direct you to the episode I did with Charlene Notgrass on the topic. I can tell you that most homeschool curriculum is far superior to that used in public and private school. A wrong homeschool choice is likely better than a traditional curriculum. Stop worrying about choosing the wrong curriculum and start homeschooling.
Worry #5: My child won’t be able to master a subject.
A fifth worry homeschoolers have is that their child won’t be able to master a subject. I was afraid I would not be able to teach my child to read. That fear stemmed from two sources. First, potty training had been a real struggle for me. I couldn’t teach my child that most basic of social skills, so I worried that reading would be a real struggle. The second source of fear was the fact that I didn’t know how to teach a child to read. No high school student is given a course in teaching reading. I wasn’t an education major, so I had no background in it whatsoever. I purchased an expensive phonics curriculum and hoped for the best. My oldest child, and advanced learner, took to reading at an early age. But just as with potty training, he wasn’t interested in it. I was so shellshocked from my potty training experience with him that I let it go. Lo and behold, he was interested in reading in his own time. My second and third kids learned to read on a later but average timetable. My fears that I would not be able to teach my kids were relieved once they knew how to read.
[Read What to Do When Phonics Doesn’t Work]
But then along came boy number four. I taught him using the same materials and the same approach I used with my older three boys, but no matter how many little tricks I added to my approach, he wasn’t getting it. That old fear reemerged. When our kids struggle to master a subject, we can worry that homeschooling isn’t best for our kids. While it is true that your child may need assistance with a learning disability, we should not worry about homeschooling a child with special needs. Here’s why. If your child were in public school, you would have to be your child’s advocate. I know many parents who have gone to great lengths to ensure that their children are receiving the special services they need to succeed in public school. In public school, your child is one of dozens of children. You will have to be your child’s advocate no matter which educational approach you use with your child. Homeschoolers can find the best professionals to assist them for their kids without dependence on a particular teacher or aide in a public school, who may not be the best fit for your child. Special needs children have the opportunity to flourish in an educational environment that supports their self-esteem and enables them to learn using the modality that is the best fit for them. With my son’s difficulty in reading, I consulted my neighbor who is a reading specialist. She explained that my son sounded like he needed to learn to read using whole language, which is another way of saying that he struggled to read phonetically. He wanted to memorize the words. I also consulted an expert at a homeschooling conference about my son’s approach to reading and was reassured that he would not have undue difficulty in reading using that approach. The expert has been proven correct. My son is an excellent reader, despite not learning to read phonetically as his brothers did. No one cares more about your child’s education than you. You’ll do whatever it takes to teach them. Stop worrying about your child not mastering a subject and start homeschooling.
I hope I’ve laid to rest five homeschool worries for you: lack of patience, organization, and fulfillment and fears of choosing the wrong curriculum or your child not mastering a subject. God doesn’t want us to worry. He wants us to get on with the business of homeschooling He’s called us to. I hope you’ll subscribe below to be notified of five more worries we can put to rest.
What is a homeschool portfolio and how can it save our sanity? Read on for inspiration.
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First, what is a homeschool portfolio?
A homeschool portfolio, in short, is a record of what your child is learning. It might be a digital or print record, often kept in a binder.
It can include information about your child for that school year — height, weight, likes, dislikes, and friends, for example. A picture of your child is often a part of this page.
A homeschool portfolio can include goals for that student for the year. These could be academic goals like mastering multiplication facts, life skill goals like learning to do laundry, or social goals like learning to manage conflict with siblings. I did two episodes on that topic, by the way.
A homeschool portfolio can also include information about your child’s complete course of study: school schedule, subjects being learned, texts and outside classes being utilized, extra-curricular activities, books being read, and field trips taken. It is not, generally speaking, a lesson plan book with notes on which pages were completed on which days.
Finally, a homeschool portfolio can serve as an evaluative record. It’s a place for recording attendance, noting progress using tests or work samples, and adding end-of-term grades. It can be used for you and your student to assess how she is doing.
How a Homeschool Portfolio Can Save Your Sanity
That’s what a homeschool portfolio is. Now why do you need one?
The first reason you need a homeschool portfolio is to provide evidence of work completed if you are required to meet with an evaluator. The key information is all in one place for each student, keeping your anxiety about these evaluations to a minimum. Your organization in keeping a portfolio is likely to impress the educator you’re working with or at the very least will present no red flags.
But do you need a portfolio if you aren’t required to have evaluations? You might. Many states’ homeschool requirements can be fulfilled with a homeschool portfolio. Tracking attendance with number of school days and documenting your student’s course of study with work samples may be legally required. A portfolio is an excellent and easy way of meeting that requirement.
So what if you aren’t legally required to maintain a portfolio in your state? You still might want to keep one. The first reason is because you may need to present the information should your circumstances change. If your homeschooling would ever be called into question, your portfolio would go a long way toward documenting your work and protecting yourself and your kids. Should you decide to send your child to school at a later date, your portfolio can help a guidance counselor determine which courses would be most appropriate for your child and may even prevent your student from having to retake classes.
The second reason you may want to keep a homeschool portfolio, even if you aren’t required to, is so you can see your child’s progress. Homeschooling is a long-term project. There are so many days when you feel like you’re getting nowhere fast. Reviewing your goals for your child is likely to remind you that you have had significant accomplishments, even if your progress isn’t perfect. Your child may also feel like she isn’t improving. A record of work done at the beginning of the year and even from previous years will help her to see that she is moving forward.
Finally, you may want to keep a homeschool portfolio, even if you aren’t required to, for sentimental reasons. My husband has many papers from his elementary years and it is a joy for all of us to look at them. I use my kids’ portfolio when I put their school years’ scrapbooks together as well. Their artwork and written work can be scanned and added to either a print or digital scrapbook and will be enjoyed for decades.
How Do I Start Keeping a Homeschool Portfolio?
If I’ve convinced you to keep a homeschool portfolio, how can you start?
First, choose a portfolio. This portfolio from Not Consumed is a great choice. Or print this free pack from Talking Mom 2 Mom.
The most common way of keeping a portfolio is to use a three-ring binder. Use your portfolio printables to organize your pages. The free download includes pages for dividing your binder by subject area. However, you could also set up your portfolio using hanging file folders. Each child could have a wide hanging file folder with smaller subfolders or his own crate with folders for each subject. Yet another way of creating a portfolio is digitally. Use a program like Dropbox or Google Drive to create a folder or set of subfolders for each child.
Whichever method you choose, set it up before the beginning of the school year. Get started on filling out your goals and curriculum choices for each student.
Then ask your child to complete information about himself when school begins. You could ask your child to add books to his books list as he reads them. You’ll mark attendance each day. Add any tests or evaluations done to your portfolio as soon as they are completed. You may wish to collect relevant work samples near the end of the term. I remove sample pages from the beginning, middle, and end of a child’s workbook, for example. At the end of the year, discuss progress on goals with your student and you and your child can note your thoughts in the portfolio.
The process of keeping a homeschool portfolio can be a rewarding one for you and your child, whether you are required to keep one or not. Choose a portfolio printable or digital approach and get started using your portfolio today.
You’ve read the title for this blog post. Are you wondering if I’m suggesting that happiness and homeschooling are mutually exclusive? Yep. That’s exactly what I’m suggesting. I’m thankful my friends Andy and Kendra Fletcher were the first to be honest about it, saying that homeschooling can be a buzz kill. It is possible to have a happy homeschool, but you need a homeschooling psychologist to tell you how.
Listen to the podcast
Before I go any further, I have to address the controversial issue. Which controversial issue you ask? The use of the word happy in my title. In some Christian circles, happiness is treated like the pagan step-sister of the word joy. Don’t believe me? I was once asked by a conference organizer if I would be speaking about happiness rather than joy. Happiness was strictly forbidden. You can imagine how happy I was to have this person listening to my every word and verifying that no happiness talk was included.
It’s okay to be happy. Really.
Now don’t get me wrong. I understand the theological difference from joy, which is a fruit of the spirit and isn’t subject to circumstances, while happiness is a fleeting human emotion. But I also believe that God created us to seek happiness. Happiness is related to the release of dopamine in our brains. Dopamine allows us to learn. Dopamine motivates us. Without happiness, we would all be the Hoho-eating, couch-dwelling bums we are often assumed to be. Seeking happiness isn’t evil, unless you are sinning or you’re a psychopath who enjoys inflicting pain on others. I’m going to leave that determination up to you and I will proceed.
A happy homeschool. How the two fit together.
I’m hoping all the psychopaths stopped reading. I also hope that I’ve established that being happy and seeking after it is a good thing. You can thank me later for absolving you of that guilt. But what I haven’t resolved is happiness and homeschooling. How do they fit together? The problem that most of us have is that we begin homeschooling, believing that it will make us happy. Well, maybe not homeschooling per se. Most of us believed that homeschooling was a path to well-behaved, godly children, who would one day win the national spelling bee.
If we really want to dig deep, and I do, we may admit that we thought homeschooling was a way to make ourselves look good as parents. Maybe we could prove to the naysayers that we actually know what we’re doing. The trouble with this is obvious. We had no idea what we were doing when we began homeschooling.
Homeschooling won’t make us happy.
And choosing to homeschool in order to be happy is an even bigger problem. Homeschooling can make us miserable. I met one of my now good friends when she had just begun homeschooling. She told me, “My son doesn’t want to follow my plan!” I just laughed. Our strong-willed kids never want to follow our plan. And even our submissive kids, if they had any sense, wouldn’t want to follow our plan. Our plan, when we are starting out, is nuts. We try to teach 15 subjects a day using 30 different books. And our schedules would make Navy Seal candidates turn and run. No human being can complete the obstacle course we call a schedule. Between being pregnant, nursing a baby, chasing a toddler, cleaning up after the preschooler, managing the tween’s attitude, and standing our ground with a rebellious teen, we have zero energy left to sew them matching outfits or grind the wheat for homemade bread. If you haven’t yet begun homeschooling, consider this episode your warning. Happiness is not ahead.
“I thought you said this was about how to be happy and homeschool too?” I know that’s what you’re thinking. I’m a psychologist, so I have that gift. I AM going to tell you how to be happy and homeschool too. But I had to make it clear that homeschooling won’t make us happy. I promise you, it won’t. If we want to be happy and homeschool too, we have to be happy first. I know some moms who want to homeschool and are unhappy. Perhaps they long for another child. Maybe their marriage could use a tuneup. Or maybe they aren’t happy working outside of their home. If you add homeschooling to your unhappiness, you’re highly likely to be miserable.
Get happy first.
Before you homeschool, you have to work on your happiness. Yes, happiness is work. It isn’t something that is bestowed on us by the happiness fairy. Happiness doesn’t come from getting married, having a baby, or getting an Instant Pot. (But in case you really want one, I’ll include a link.) Like physical fitness, happiness requires consistent attention. If you’re unhappy right now, keep reading. It gets worse.
Do things that make you happy.
Happiness isn’t a passive activity. Because happiness is a human emotion that is short-lived and tied to our circumstances, we have to pursue it regularly. One of the biggest mistakes we make with respect to happiness in our homeschooling is we stop doing the activities that used to make us happy. When I began staying home with my first child, I lost a considerable amount of income. Without consulting my husband, I decided that I would not spend any money. I didn’t feel I had earned the right to spend. I was not only living very frugally, but I had no social contacts. The relationships I had were all at work. It didn’t take long for me to become very depressed. If that’s you, I encourage you to listen to the episode I did on depression for Homeschooling in Real Life.
Here’s how I got my happy back. I started a Bible study with other stay-at-home moms at my church. We started going out occasionally to eat as a group, away from our husbands and children. Gasp! I spent money. I left my husband and my children at home. I did and I’m proud of it because it saved my sanity. I also started scrapbooking regularly with my friends. I had a hobby that I spent time and money on. It made me happy.
[Read how I still fit scrapbooking into my busy life]
Do things you used to enjoy.
If you want to be happy and homeschool too, you have to do things you used to enjoy. Depressed people do fewer and fewer pleasurable things. The solution can be as simple as pursuing those pleasurable activities once again. I can hear you making excuses right now. That’s another of my psychological skills. “I can’t afford to do the things I used to do.” My response? You can’t afford not to. You could spend a modest amount of money on the hobby or the social activities you used to enjoy or you can spend 5 to 10 times as much on treatment for your depression. You choose.
The fun is just beginning. If you want to be happy and homeschool too, you must do things you enjoy. You also must exercise. If you don’t have time to exercise, you don’t have time to homeschool. My opinion is that exercise is more important than homeschooling. How can I speak this heresy? Because in a homeschool, you are the most valuable player. Without you functioning well, your homeschool will fall apart. Your marriage will fall apart.
I think of a homeschooling mom like a thoroughbred. I don’t know much about horses, but I know that I would never race a horse that had had no workouts. Every day in the life of a homeschooling mom is a race. In order to be at our best, we have to exercise. Exercise is the most powerful drug we have. It can treat depression, anxiety, and it can prevent a host of physical illnesses. Best of all, it’s free and has very few side effects if it’s done correctly. Exercise releases endorphins that make us happy in the moment, but happier all day long. It doesn’t have to take long. A recent study demonstrated that three vigorous ten-minute walks were more effective than a longer walking session at a moderate pace. Take the kids with you. Get them dancing with you to Christian Zumba or on Wii Zance Party. Or get really crazy and go to the gym without them. To quote Nike, just do it.
Get enough sleep. Or even more.
If you are spending time doing things you enjoy, and you’re getting regular exercise , you are ready for step number three to make you happy. After racing my thoroughbred, I would not ask it to teach long division or correct papers late into the night. I’m going to give it adequate rest.
To be happy as homeschooling moms, we have to get enough sleep, even more than enough sleep. If you believe that you’re getting enough sleep, but you’re not that happy, add an extra half hour of sleep to your schedule and see what happens. Sleep deprivation makes us cranky. It’s produces fatigue, which makes running our homeschooling race so much harder. As moms we recognize our kids need for sleep. Let’s recognize our own. As I have gotten older, and more specifically hormonal, I need more sleep. I get it, even if doing so means I can’t keep up with my Navy Seals schedule.
[Read how to homeschool through hormones]
I can hear you again, and you’re saying you don’t have time to sleep. You have a baby, a toddler, or a teen waking you up at night. Then take a nap. A short nap of 20 minutes can do wonders in restoring your energy and your mood. Have a nap while your kids are napping. Ask an older child to supervise a younger while you nap. Put on a video. Allow the kids to play a beloved game. Yes, I mean a video game. Or hire a mother’s helper so you can nap. It’s all worth it to be happy.
It IS possible to have a happy homeschool.
I could give you more ideas (I just did above!), but these three (pleasurable activities, exercise, and sleep) are enough to get you started. When you are working to achieve happiness, you can be happy and homeschool too. In fact, with a happiness foundation in place, you can find yourself being even happier in your homeschooling than you ever dreamed. Homeschooling can be a buzzkill. But it can also be one of the most rewarding careers a mother can have. I have been homeschooling for 19 years. I have enjoyed a closeness in my relationships with my kids that thrills me. I marvel at the closeness my kids enjoy with their father and with one another. And the blessing of learning together is an experience not to be missed. But these blessings come after we are already happy.
Which of these happiness tips are you going to practice today? Tell us in the Homeschool Sanity Facebook Group.
I normally don’t address current events or controversial issues on this blog. But news of the torture, captivity, and severe abuse and neglect of the Turpin’s homeschooled children is prompting me to speak out. I don’t have answers for how to prevent every case of child abuse, unfortunately. But I do have information that I think must inform our discussion about the issue and even prompt our action.
Listen to the podcast
The Turpin case, or child abuse and homeschooling
No doubt you’ve heard some of the horrifying details about the Turpin family in California. This mother and father of 13 children ranging in age from 29 to 2 are accused of starving, abusing, and holding them captive in deplorable conditions. Honestly, the case has given me nightmares. I want to say in no uncertain terms that I am mortified that their registration as a homeschooling family may have been used to allow them to continue abusing their minor and adult children. I am praying for the children and also praying that we can prevent the abuse of more than 600,000 children in the U.S.
I want to share my background with you before I launch into the topic. I am a clinical psychologist, not currently practicing. As a mandated reporter of abuse, I am familiar with the definition and signs of abuse. What I am also familiar with in this case is how to evaluate research and statistics. I have the added experience of having homeschooled my children for 19 years.
An estimated 3% of school-age children are being homeschooled in the United States for a total of about two million students. These are not exact numbers because not all homeschoolers are required to register themselves as such.
Is child abuse among homeschoolers a “widespread problem”?
In the L.A. Times, Rachel Coleman and Kathryn Brightbill wrote that the Turpin case is indicative of a widespread problem of abuse in homeschooling families. They list several examples of not just abuse but torture by families who claimed to be homeschooling. Ms. Coleman and Brightbill, as staff members for the website ResponsibleHomeschooling.org, are privy to a database they have created of examples of severe child abuse occurring in families who again, claim to be homeschooling. They admit that they have no statistically signifcant data that suggests homeschooling families abuse children at higher rates than non-homeschooling families.
However, I understand their perception that the problem is widespread. The details of these cases are disturbing and heart-rending. It’s their passion to protect these children that fuels their mission. Even one incidence of this type of severe abuse of a homeschooled child feels like too many. That being said, I still object to their use of the phrase “widespread problem.” It implies that it’s commonplace for homeschoolers to torture their children when there’s no evidence of that.
To protect homeschooled children from potential abuse, Coleman and Brightbill argue that states should require academic assessments and medical exams. They insist that lack of contact with mandated reporters is what creates the possibility for families like the Turpins to torture and severely abuse. When considering their recommendation, these are the concerns I have.
First, would this increased supervision of all homeschooling families prevent child abuse?
I recently read a description of one of the Turpins’ daughters attending school in the third grade. The filth of her clothes, the body odor she had, and her use of a candy bar wrapper as a hair band suggest that she was being neglected at the very least while attending school. Details are emerging, but I have read nothing which suggests the Turpins were previously investigated for child abuse while at least one of their children was in school. The LA Times further reports that none of the children had seen a doctor in four years. Were any of the children seen by a physician four years ago and yet not reported as being victims of abuse? My point is that mandated testing and physicals may not have protected the Turpins and may not protect other children. Couldn’t these families also move as the Turpins did and avoid mandatory evaluations?
I can imagine Coleman and Brightbill arguing that if more cases of child abuse were reported, their suggested legal requirements are worth it. But is that true? In 2012, 30 states reported that 8.5% of child abuse fatalities occurred in families who had received family services. Here is an example of one such child. These are child deaths and not data on continuing abuse. We can imagine continued abuse in reported families occurs frequently.
There is no guarantee that had the Turpins been reported that their children would have been protected. That’s especially true given the current state of the foster care system. Caseworkers are typically overwhelmed by the number of children under their supervision. There is also alarming evidence of high rates of child abuse within foster care homes. The stress of being removed from one’s home can further traumatize a child. The Turpin children and others subject to severe abuse have to be removed for their own safety, regardless of the added challenge of adjusting to a new home and potentially being separated from some siblings. But it’s important to understand that removing children from an abusive home doesn’t always have a happy ending.
I don’t think we have an answer to the question of whether increased supervision of all homeschooling families would prevent child abuse.
My second question is whether the potential benefit of required supervision offsets the infringement of all homeschooling families’ rights.
It’s possible that mandated testing and medical exams could create a new category of victims — children inappropriately forced to attend public school or removed from their homes and put into a foster care system that could truly victimize them.
What if a homeschooled child has special needs and is actually doing well in a homeschool setting but doesn’t test at an average or above level on standardized tests? Will these children be required to enroll in public school? If so, will they be released to their homes if their scores decline? I think we know the answer to that. Will the same policy be applied to private school students who aren’t scoring as well as the government deems acceptable? If not, why not? There are many small, private schools where educational neglect could be hidden.
The Atlantic reports: “Since 2008, the number of referrals to child protective service agencies…has increased by 8.3 percent, even as overall rates of actual child victimization declined by 3.3 percent during the same period. There is no system that can totally avoid putting parents who don’t deserve it through investigations, despite the fact that even the best moms and dads would regard the ordeal as nightmarish. Over time, however, the number of undeserving parents so burdened seems to be increasing–and the number is large.”
There are a number of horror stories about parents apparently innocent of abuse having their children taken from them without cause. Do we want to put the parents of two million homeschooled children through an evaluative process every year to make them prove that they are not abusing their children? Will we also do the same to parents of all young children being reared at home? The highest rate of child abuse is among infants with over 1/4 of abused children being under age three. If this would be a requirement of homeschoolers only, what justification is there for that? The biggest risk factors for child abuse are alcohol and drug abuse and domestic violence. These risk factors are not correlated with homeschooling.
And who would evaluate homeschooling parents? Might they be anti-homeschooling or of the opinion that a religious upbringing or conservative political views constitute abuse in and of themselves? Such opinions are not rare. In fact, a fundamental belief of all homeschoolers is that their children are theirs to raise and not the State’s. Wouldn’t mandated supervision suggest that we have to qualify as homeschoolers to raise the State’s children?
I’m concerned about legally required oversight of homeschoolers and I don’t think my concerns are unfounded.
The third issue I want to discuss with respect to child abuse and homeschooling is children’s safety at school.
The assumption of Coleman and Brightbill appears to be that homeschooled children have a better chance of avoiding abuse if they can be exposed to mandated reporters of abuse, teachers being one class of them. I understand this view. Parents who torture their children want to isolate them. Teachers could recognize signs of abuse and neglect and could contact Child Protective Services.
But does the risk of the school environment offset this potential benefit? More than one out of every five school children is bullied. In fact, the Turpin girl was reportedly bullied in third grade. We are all familiar with high-profile cases of bullied students committing suicide and even responding to their bullying by shooting their fellow students at school. There have been a reported 11 school shootings in the U.S. in the last three-and-a-half weeks, though that statistic has been disputed. Regardless of the dispute, one might even refer to school shootings as a widespread problem.
Bullying and school shootings aren’t the only abuse school kids are subject to. A frightening 1 in 10 students has been the victim of sexual abuse at the hands of school personnel. Using the rationale of Coleman and Brightbill, we ought to require mental health evaluations of all students and staff to prevent this type of abuse. I haven’t heard any calls for this kind of monitoring, however.
How I think we should respond to the Turpin case and child abuse.
I don’t want any child to be abused or bullied. Like Coleman and Brightbill, I want to protect children. I believe they are precious to Jesus. The challenge is how to do that without victimizing even more people.
These are some steps I feel confident in advocating:
Get to know at-risk families and extend kindness to them. Experts tell us that most child abuse is neglect and neglect is highly associated with low income. Many families don’t have the education they need to parent effectively. They also don’t know the resources available to them. A mom has no idea where to get affordable childcare so she leaves her 9-year-old in the park near her workplace. You can offer encouragement and help in talking with neighbors or you can serve at-risk families through a ministry. In my area, Nurses for Newborns provides education and baby supplies during home visits that have been shown to be very effective in preventing abuse. Support organizations like this in your area with your time and money.
If you believe a child is in danger, make a report to Child Protective Services. You will not be held responsible if your report is determined to be unfounded. Professionals like psychologists are mandated reporters, but we should all consider ourselves mandated reporters when a child is at risk of serious harm. Here are signs to look for.
Get to know your neighbors as a homeschooler. In the aftermath of the Turpin case, people who don’t know us well may be suspicious of homeschoolers who are very private. If you are a Christian as I am, you are to be serving your neighbors anyway. People need to see that our kids are healthy and well-adjusted. Talk about what you’re doing in your homeschool. Many still don’t understand that most homeschoolers have a great deal of social contact through various activities and classes. We want to advocate for homeschooling instead of living in fear of being reported for doing so. Joining HSLDA is a good step to protect yourself from unwarranted reports of neglect. You can relax and be open about your family’s educational choice.
Get help. If you are having trouble disciplining your children without being harsh or your mental or physical health is keeping you from educating your children, reach out for help. Yes, you may have to make a different educational choice while you are getting help, but it’s worth the sacrifice for your kids’ sake. There are many options available to you and it doesn’t mean you can’t resume homeschooling in the future.
A potential legal change to consider
Coleman and Brightbill report that some abusive parents remove their children from school to “homeschool” them. The result, according to victims’ reports, is intensified abuse. This is likely the case for the Turpins. Abusive parents realize they can avoid detection by claiming to homeschool. Coleman and Brightbill argue that parents who have been reported for child abuse should have to be evaluated when they choose to homeschool.
These abusive parents often are not homeschooling but they claim to be, creating an association with homeschoolers that is a problem for genuine, caring homeschooling parents. While I can see the potential for a teacher making an unfounded report of abuse that then makes homeschooling onerous for a good family, I believe the benefits for children and even the homeschool community may outweigh that risk.
What’s your response to the Turpin case? Let me know in the comments.