Today I got sidetracked from my plans and wound up surfing homeschool blogs that were new to me, blogs that were nominated for various categories of blog awards for the Homeschool Blog Awards.
There are so many blogs of families with little kids! Okay, okay, so when I started this blog I was one of them. Back then my kids were aged 4 and 7. These families seem so happy, almost gleeful over the smallest things.
In the local homeschool community it seems that homeschooling starts to taper off in middle school. I mean, formerly happy homeschooling families start enrolling their kids into school, for various reasons. Some enter their children in the upper elementary grades. Yes, people are always starting off schooling and then pull their children out, I know that. But things are just different homeschooling older kids. Some of these changes make families change their mind about homeschooling. It usually has to do with academics getting harder and kids not wanting to learn or strife between parent and child about doing the lessons or in some cases the kids begging for more social time with kids their age.
How is my life different than these families with much younger kids?
Here are a few ways in which we're different now than the way our family used to be:
1. There is more of an urgency to get certain academic work accomplished. I have less than six years until my older child starts college. In the beginning the road before college seemed so far away. In fifth grade the switch flipped from "we have tons of time to homeschool so enjoy the day, we'll get to it someday" to "there are X number of years left before we're done".
2. Some of the academic work that must be done if preparing for college admissions is not all fun and games to teach. Sometimes work just has to be done and even the most creative thinking does not provide me with a fun way to study the subject.
3. At some point in fifth and sixth grade the number of things that suddenly are not learned simply and easily increases. Learning starts to take more effort. Effort is not always met with joy and excitement. Thus the homeschool mom sometimes has to play the part of the strict school teacher.
4. Puberty begins and the hormones affect the homeschooling as well as the family relationships. Developmental changes occur. Kids are no longer in that stage of living to please mom. Kids become more independent minded. They start to question authority and push limits more. Homeschool lessons can be in the mix of what the child and parent battle over. Parents of schooled kids often struggle with kids over homework and other family life. Now imagine puberty combined with the entire education of the child not just homework completion deadlines.
5. The children have different social needs. They want more time with friends. In my area kids are very busy. Sports, especially travel sports for elementary and middle grade kids, can take up a lot of time. This makes friends unavailable sometimes. At times our schedule doesn't jive with their friend's schedules.
6. It gets hard to choose what to do and what not to do. My boys have so far chosen to do Scouting. This is a big commitment. The shift from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts in the middle of grade five is a big change. For example often there are two weekends a month with Scout activities including a 36 hour or so camping trip. Sometimes it is my kids who are too busy to see their friends.
7. My kids want more learning experiences with other kids. We try to do some of these with homeschooled friends of theirs. However often if behaving in the class and being quiet et cetera they don't get enough social time with those friends. Thus just doing classes together is often not enough time with them to cultivate the friendship. Homeschooling families often will not allow social time with friends on weekends, saying it is family time or time to see the father (who works days during the week). Only allowing social time for friends Monday-Friday afternoon is hard if the days are packed with homeschool academics, sports and/or Scouts.
8. My kids and other kids we know like to do sleep-over's. This seems to give enough social time with their (not homeschooled) friends (who allow social time on weekends and use summers for social time). However this interrupts the family's schedule. The weekend winds up conforming around the kids. For example if we are trying to get a house project done or do a bunch of errands but we have a guest for 36 hours or so this doesn't always work out unless the kids can play unsupervised while we do the house project. Another challenge is they usually stay up way too late, or even just talk in the dark, so then they are tired the next day. I don't have a simple solution other than try to only do sleepovers about once every eight weeks or so. If my kids had it their way they'd have a sleepover every week. (Starting in fifth grade I myself spend every single weekend with my best friend and sometimes also with our other friends as a bigger group.)
9. There are many good outside classes and events that my children can take now that they are older. Around here many classes don't start until age 6. It is hard to choose the best of the best. Often we overbook the kids as it is hard to say no to a great opportunity. Yet running around from appointment to appointment can make for a harried lifestyle. I thought homeschooling was supposed to prevent a frenzied family life just by default. Come to find out to have calm and open schedules requires a constant concerted effort.
Time is spent addressing learning disabilities. This can be visits to professionals or home therapies.
Time is spent dealing with medical things and most commonly, orthodontic braces on the kid's teeth! This can mean up to four visits a month for a family. This takes time and energy to fit in between everything else!
10. If too much is done to outsource classes or do field trips it is hard to get the other academic work done at home. Yet when outsourcing basic courses, I'm reminded of how inefficient it is. In other words we can do more work at home than if I pay for a course and drive the kids to take it with a teacher. I save money and time by teaching some course material at home. The kids have more custom tailored learning experiences with curriculums and books chosen to suit them best. Yet it sometimes is not easy to teach them at home OR sometimes I'm not as disciplined about actually doing the lessons so it can be tempting to just pay a teacher or join a homeschool co-op and say the child was taught that subject at the class by the teacher. Sometimes the amount of content covered in a class is not sufficient or doesn't result in as much learning as we hoped it would though.
For example one friend asked me to give feedback on her homeschool plans. There was nothing for the topic of science. She said, "I'm counting that nature class as our science." My reply was, "But that class you use is a total of eight hours of instruction for September to January 1. Eight hours of science instruction for half of the academic year is not really equivalent to what the public schools are teaching! And a nature class is not covering other topics like magnets and biology and chemistry and physics and many other things!". This mother had wanted her homeschool content to exceed the academics at public school, that was one of her main reasons to homeschool in the first place, yet the home education she was crafting seemed inferior for the subject of science.
11. The homeschooling community is a bit incestuous in my area. We see lots of the same people. Not everyone gets along (sometimes the kids and sometimes the mothers). We sometimes get on each other's nerves especially if we see a lot of each other and if any problems occurred. Some people are quick to forgive and some hold grudges for a long time (both kids and the mothers).
Since things we do are basically all optional I'm trying to keep my kids happy by avoiding activities with certain other kids such as keeping away from a kid with an impulse control problem who has been hitting and hurting other kids. Who would willingly put their child, the victim of a bully, with a bully?
Another example is avoiding kids who wreck a learning experience due to bad behavior. Why should I pay for a class that will be disrupted yet again by one or more certain kids who have stressed the teacher out in the past (that the teacher was not able to handle). My kids get frustrated having good behavior for themselves in a paid class when they'd like to tell off the other kid. If the kids were in school they'd have no choice but to deal with whomever was in their classes. But with options with homeschoolers it is sometimes better to just avoid certain people and have a happier life. This is a pain in the neck to deal with. It involves things like finding out that a certain class is available but keeping it a secret from certain families, or calling my friends to see if I can talk them into putting their good kids into the class with my kids. It can be time consuming and exhausting at the same time.
12. Homeschooling allows us to be close to our kids. This means for example, my kids tell me stories of what goes on. Sometimes this upsets me (but I have to just let it go or get over it) and other times the situation is unacceptable. Also due to homeschooling I'm often around the other kids and I have witnessed things firsthand. If my kids were in school or on a school bus I'd have no clue of these things if my kids didn't tell me of them. Some of my friends with kids in school hear stories long after they are over or from other people not their own kids, so it cannot be assumed that schooled kids tell their parents everything, even things like being bullied verbally or physically.
13. Lastly we can custom create group classes and field trips for homeschoolers. Yet I have learned the hard way that this can be very stressful. It is not as simple as setting a date and time. This can wind up being political and some problems with people can cause so much stress that sleep is lost or friendships are fractured and may end altogether. In other cases, homeschooling parents used to customized things for their kids can be very demanding of the organizer in an attempt to customize it best for their child or even for other family members. It is impossible to customize a class for ten different kids, for example but sometimes every family wants things changed to do this and not do that and to change the time to suit the nap of their younger child, so forth and so on. They make demands like change the time to earlier or later or better for their preference for a lunch time or shorter class or longer class or longer schedule or shorter or want it cheaper or study things more deeply and on and on.
I have seen this happen so many times I hardly ever state an opinion to the organizers, I'm just happy they are doing the work, not me! I'll take sub-optimal things just out of gratitude that I'm not the one dealing with it.
Blogging About Homeschooling
The last thing is that on this homeschooling journey I have had some crazy things happen to me. Some make good stories but I can't share them. Even though some of you may benefit from learning from my mistakes or from issues I've seen happen, I can't share them or I'd risk alienating myself from everyone. Some things are passing issues, something really upset me but we're over it, we've moved on, and to make it permanent by blogging it would possibly do more harm than good.
So homeschooling older kids is sometimes not all peaches and cream. Sometimes things are a bit rougher around the edges or the days have more problems and worries than we want. I'm sometimes just trying to get through the real life situations and have no time or energy to put to writing about them let alone publishing them on this blog. I'm too busy having moved on to the next challenge to think about or write about last week's issue, even though it would have made for interesting reading.
So even I am winding up to be one of those homeschool moms of older kids who suddenly become quieter and retreat a bit back from being a super enthusiastic cheerleader for homeschooling to being more focused on my family's daily life. Yes, even I'm starting to keep my mouth shut except when making desperate calls to my closest homeschool mom confidants to vent or ask them for sage advice.