Leaving School and Learning at Home

by: Isabel Shaw

In this article, you will find:

Time is on your side

Adjusting to the Change
Deciding to homeschool, telling your relatives, removing your child from school – that was the easy part! It's Monday morning and your kids are home: What should you do now? Actually, it would be more helpful to discuss what you should not do.

  1. Do not rush out and purchase a full curriculum package.
  2. Do not try to duplicate the school environment at home.
  3. Do not expect your child to become an eager learner overnight.
  4. Do not assign a heavy academic workload to your child.
  5. Do not, especially with older students, establish goals and objectives until the family has time to adjust.

Be patient with your kids—and with yourself. Allow a minimum of a few months to simply unwind and adjust to your new lifestyle. This is a major change in your child's life, and all changes require time. Experienced homeschoolers describe this as a period of detoxing or decompression. Formal studies are put aside, and personal interests and activities are encouraged.

Schooled kids are conditioned to do what they are told and not act independently. The school day is tightly scheduled around bells and blocks of time. They are taught to work on subjects to obtain good grades, rather than pursuing their interests and talents. The longer the child has been in school and conditioned in this way, the longer the decompression will take.

Ted, 15, began homeschooling last year. It was not an easy transition. Ted was so turned off to learning he needed almost a year to take the initiative and become a self-directed learner. His parents were patient, however, and supported his choices during that period. Despite taking a year off from formal learning, Ted quickly caught up and is now working on more advanced material than his schooled peers.

Homeschool mom and author Cafi Cohen describes this decompression period in her book Homeschooling the Teen Years: "When previously schooled children begin homeschooling, everything changes, and the entire family decompresses," Cohen writes. "Overnight your children's lives transform from competitive, coercive, and peer-group-oriented to collaborative, self-directed, and family-oriented. Suddenly, there's time for privacy and time to be alone."

Ideas for Gentle Learning
It's best to turn off the TV during the day, and allow limited access in the evening. Chores must be a part of your child's daily routine, as you all adjust to your new lifestyle. Weekly trips to the library are helpful, with an emphasis on subjects your kids find interesting. Read to them every day—the longer the better. Even preteens enjoy having a good book read to them.

Take long walks, visit parks and museums (blissfully uncrowded during the day), and talk—a lot! One mom confessed to me that when she took her often-hostile 10-year-old daughter, Anna, out of school last year, she barely knew her. School, homework, friends, and activities ate up most of the girl's time. As Anna decompressed, her mom was pleasantly surprised to re-discover a warm and friendly person hidden beneath the tough exterior she had built around herself to cope with school and peer pressure.

Ready to Learn... Now What?
Choosing a Homeschool Curriculum is a practical guide to finding the right course of study for your family. For older kids, Homeschooling Teens takes you from the preteen stage right to college. For a more day-to-day look at what it's like to homeschool, read Learning at Home: A Mother's Guide to Homeschooling by Marty Layne.

Parents often want specific information on how I homeschool or exactly what they should do each day. The truth is, what works for my family may not work for yours. Try to remember that you are no longer bound by a tiresome curriculum geared for 30 kids in a noisy classroom. Successful home learners are those who tune in to their kids' strengths and weaknesses, and create a course of study accordingly.

What I've learned after nine years of homeschooling is that if you trust that your kids will learn, they will. When treated with respect and allowed to pursue their interests, they become interested learners. And when learning becomes a family endeavor—not separate from daily life, but a part of it—it is a joyful experience. Doubtful? So was I. But experience has taught me otherwise. And kids, of course, are great teachers.