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Kim's Advice

Suggestions for New Home Educators

by Kim Kimble

My advice to homeschoolers is as follows; take from it what makes sense for your family, leave the rest.

1. Relax, have fun, enjoy each other (my one mandatory piece of advice).

2. Be a facilitator or mentor. I make an effort not to be a teacher. Instead, I try to facilitate learning by providing opportunities, materials, and sometimes suggestions. I also try to mentor, but I have been most successful when I arrange for others to mentor my children on specific topics.

3. Be a student or co-learner. A child who learns to teach is forever altered as a learner. Increased respect for the imparting of information, as well as, a heightened awareness of the value of information, comes from being the "expert". Our current educational system is set up with a division between learners and teachers. A community of learners, young, old, novice, and advanced, teaching and learning from each other, has synergy not found elsewhere. Everyone has something they can teach. Professional conferences/conventions are much like this. There are speakers, but participants benefit largely from the information gained chatting between the seminars and during meals. Attendees leave renewed and recharged.

Some of my favorite homeschooling memories are of being taught the crawl stroke by a twelve-year-old in green goggles, learning to tie boondoggle from an eight-year-old summer camp aficionado, and struggling with the basics of Irish step dancing under the tutelage of a ten-year-old Isadora Duncan.

4. Role model what you want to see in your children. If we want our children to be lifetime learners, we need to role model lifetime learning. We must read, write, take new classes, challenge ourselves, question, research, laugh, and create if we want to see these qualities in our children. For us, home education is more a lifestyle than an educational philosophy.

5. Define your goals in writing. There have been many times over the years when my husband and I have worried and had "lively discussions" about the education of our children. Having a predetermined set of goals for your child's education supplies a benchmark which can greatly simplify the times when you are so caught up in the day's progress (or lack of it) that you lose sight of the big picture.

6. Talk to other homeschoolers about their educational style. There are as many ways to homeschool as there are people home educating. Some unschool, some have small schools in their homes, while most are somewhere in between. Take from those conversations what makes sense for you and your child, disregard the rest.

7. No matter what type of homeschooling you choose, make sure you afford yourself of it's advantages. A woman once asked me if I knew of any books which covered our area's local history. I told her no, but there was a store ten minutes away which was run by a local Native American whose mission in life was to share his knowledge of the local tribes. Additionally, she could walk from her home to the stone houses of our area's original white settlers and take a tour any day of the week. She told me she didn't have time to do field trips, she had to finish their packed curriculum. She just wanted a book she could make her kids read.

Most often the homeschoolers I have seen fail are the kind that try to exactly replicate strict little schools in their home. Most homeschoolers I know do some "seat work", but in my opinion, having workbooks and end-of-chapter questions be the main focus of the day kills the real-world, authentic possibilities of a home-based education.

8. Find other homeschoolers for support. During the long, wonderful, inspiring, exhausting days ahead, conferences, books, local support groups and email lists can all play a role in helping you work through the challenges and share the joys of your triumphs. Giving and receiving support from fellow home educators can be a great pleasure, as well as, a benefit.

9. If you live in a state which requires reporting, know the laws better than the people to which you report. Many homeschoolers don't really understand the regulations and rely on the school or state officials for answers. Without exaggeration, I have been given misinformation from school officials more often than accurate information.

10. Don't spend a lot of money on curriculum. This advice is difficult for new homeschoolers. It is like having only eaten at Old Country Buffet for every meal of our lives. As a result, we have trouble visualizing Thai food, whole grains, garden vegetables, fresh squeezed OJ, homemade ice cream, or mom's signature dish. Our instinct is to buy an expensive prepackaged curriculum which sometimes includes a grading service because that structure is all we have ever known and it feels safer. If at first you feel you need to buy a prepackaged curriculum, buy it with the intention of using it as a guide and not being a slave to it.

After eight years of homeschooling, I've learned the number one item in our homeschooling arsenal is the library card. Sit down with the kids and ask them what they want to learn about and then use library skills to find that information. Follow their lead. When that topic looses its appeal jump to another.

We do about 15 formal math problems about three times a week using a Math workbook popular in the homeschooling community. We also do a little phonics from a workbook because reading and spelling are still a challenge for my nine-year-old daughter, but we wouldn't if these topics came easily. Everything else is just living our lives and following our interests. Social studies, history, the arts, physical education, and science all come to us in various unexpected ways, but they come. We are always busy. We don't watch much TV or have a video game. This is what works for us this year, with this child. The only thing I can say about next year is that it will probably be different.

11. Keep track if you get nervous. Many homeschooling activities don't lend themselves to the traditional method in which we were educated. If the "Are they getting enough?" question begins ringing in your ears, observe and record:

List all the subjects you think your student should be covering down the left side of a paper and the days of the week across the top (don't forget the weekends). Next, fill in each activity you do in one of the squares. If you talk about the Russian prime minister because of a cartoon in the newspaper, mark it down in the social studies square for that day. Pumpkin carving, Easter eggs: art. Bike riding, snowball fight: physical education. Chinese food for dinner: home economics, social studies, history, nutrition/health, geography. If the kids ask, "Why does the snow around the trees melt first?": science. If you have to look up the answer: library skills. Of course, more traditional work would also be recorded.

12. Be ready to change/evolve. The beauty of homeschooling is it can be altered easily. Be ready to admit something is not working and try a new approach. Society has little knowledge of the realities of homeschooling and few living examples of it's results. As homeschooling parents, our views of homeschooling change as we educate ourselves by reading, talking, and experiencing homeschooling. In addition, our children grow and mature, and their view of their own learning also evolves.

13. Have fun and enjoy each other.

This is one view of a home-based education.