Homeschooling is a big commitment and families do not take that responsibility lightly. They know there is only one opportunity for a K-12 education that fits their children’s needs and goals.
Many new homeschooling parents are scared of “getting it wrong,” not doing “enough,” or otherwise failing to sufficiently prepare their children for the next level and adulthood.
Take heart! You know and love your children best. You know their needs and aspirations. And you make big decisions for them all the time – where they live, what they eat, how to manage their healthcare, and more.
Parents are also their children’s first teachers. You teach them to walk, talk, interact with others, instill a love of learning, foster curiosity and imagination, provide examples about the families’ values and world view, and other important experiences that impact the children’s growth and development.
Too many adults have been convinced that once a child reaches five or six years old – when the kids reach “school age” – that they are no longer equipped or prepared to educate their children. That’s not true. Don’t fall for that nonsense! Don’t let the world convince you that you are not enough for your children.
All that said, there are two pitfalls that new(er) homeschoolers fall for and they are totally avoidable. We want you to be successful and to have a rewarding experience with home educating your children for as long as you decide it’s the right path for them.
Mistake #1: Replicating Public School at Home
Families, especially those who had their children previously enrolled in public schools, are prone to falling for this trap. The public education system is designed for mass education, and at best, suits children who are more comfortable with highly structured environments, large group learning, and other one-size-fits-none standardization.
Today’s public education is largely driven by tests. The statewide assessment is a big emphasis because districts want to perform well. That determines curriculum choices and how time is spent in class. They often have practice tests throughout the year to help boost students’ performance.
That is not at all what homeschooling is.
Families that try to replicate public school at home are the ones who struggle the most and often return to their local schools out of frustration. They haven’t embraced the flexibility and autonomy that true homeschooling empowers.
Home education allows for a fully customized learning plan and environment. Homeschoolers have zero requirement to replicate any aspect of public education – not the pedagogy, standards, scope/sequence, calendar year, school day, attendance requirements, or anything else.
Families may choose the what, when, and how for their children’s learning. Although the NH home ed statute, RSA 193-A, has a list of broad subjects – science, math, language, government, history, health, reading, writing, spelling, history of the US and NH constitutions, as well as exposure to and appreciation of art and music – that must be covered at some point in the child’s home ed program, families are free to choose any materials to use, when to study those topics, and for how long and to what degree.
To underscore this, the home ed graduation requirement has families self-certify that their students completed the equivalent of high school. That does not mean replicating the local public school or state’s graduation requirements. Instead, families can base it on the teen’s post-secondary goals and use those requirements to essentially work backwards and develop the high-school plan based on those goals. Keep in mind that families must cover the broad subjects specified in statute during the student’s gr 1 to 12 years.
Even for younger students, following their passions and interests will encourage them to be more participative and engaged. It also lays the groundwork for them to take ownership of their learning as they get older. It fosters being a life-long learner.
Families may follow their local district or the state’s standards if they choose, particularly if the intention is to homeschool only briefly. However, it is not a requirement and no guarantee home education achievement is accepted by the school towards graduation. We developed material to help families who end their home ed program to try to maximize transferred “credits,” but ultimately it is determined by the public school authorities.
With homeschooling, students are not limited to textbooks, workbooks, tests, classroom settings, or other traditional school trappings to dictate their learning.
Home education can use any resource they choose, and there are thousands of options. Homeschooled students can participate part-time in the Virtual Learning Academy Charter School, NH’s only online chartered public school, at no additional cost. There are thousands of online programs, many are free, for classes and curricula. Families can incorporate field trips, informal group learning like book clubs, and other self-formed learning opportunities whenever and however they choose. There are also numerous enrichment classes and programs – music lessons, martial arts, farm and nature programs, and so much more -- available that families can easily incorporate into their children’s learning. Teens can also consider volunteer positions and job-shadowing as part of their learning, just like public education has Extended Learning Opportunities and the new Learn Everywhere program that count these experiences towards graduation.
Home education allows far more flexibility, autonomy, and freedom for students to explore their interests and have their educational and social needs met.
Mistake #2: Not Connecting with Others
One of the biggest reasons families return to their local schools is that they haven’t found a community or friends. That is a big struggle, particularly since Covid shut down so many opportunities and limited people’s comfort levels with social interactions. It has been hard on everyone, homeschoolers included.
However, there are ways to still engage and connect with people. But it takes work.
Public schools provide an automatic social circle of children of similar age and typically in a common zip code, and often adults make friends with the parents of their children’s classmates. Public education provides a built-in social construct, for better or worse. These communities are essentially assigned by the system’s requirements of children being in assigned grade levels by birth dates and grouping activities and classes by those grade levels.
However, students, especially with Covid still playing havoc with in-person learning, have limited social interactions even in the public-school setting.
Instead, homeschooling families are free to associate with people of their choosing, finding people who share similar interests, beliefs, educational needs, and ideologies. They are also not bound by zip-codes and can interact with people beyond 10 minutes of their own homes, if they choose.
They are also not limited to educational opportunities that occur on Monday through Friday, 8am to 3pm, or social activities that are after traditional school hours.
We see many families who are hesitant to interact for a variety of reason. Many seem to think they must share the same faith, age of children, and geographic location to meet new people. Certainly, people can choose to interact or not with anyone they wish, but again, families can reach beyond those parameters, even if it is only to meet up at a park or ice-skating event.
GSHE has the most comprehensive list in the state of support groups so people can find each other and connect. There are groups that are more active than others. Some are for younger kids; some are for teens. Some share a common faith or approach to home education. Some are specifically for group learning opportunities while other are just for fun and outings. All of it is great! People are able to connect where it fits their family’s needs and interests.
GSHE encourages people to find their “tribe” by engaging in events that are shared in our main Facebook group. It is a very active and friendly community of nearly 5,000 people from across the state. If something posted in our events is not of interest, then we welcome members to create opportunities that their own children would enjoy, whatever those may be. We have sledding meet-ups in the winter and park days in nice months, online gaming, art shows, volunteer opportunities, holiday activities, and other ways to meet people and make friends.
We also have the Make New Friends Challenge with concrete suggestions regarding how to reach out, even during these winter months.
These efforts not only benefit our children, but adults, too. Even us introverts need human connection, at least once in a while.
Get out of your comfort zone and make some efforts to meet people and make new friends.
These social connects are not only to uplift your spirit and build community, but also encourage you and your children along your home education journeys. You are not alone.
By Michelle Levell