Thursday, November 19, 2009

Homeschool Challenges Change As Our Children Grow Older

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.


christinethecurious said...

I think your list is right on. This year as my oldest boy is in 6th grade, the volume and difficulty of his studies are very challenging for both of us.

Interestingly, when I asked him what his opinion on outsourced classes was (there is a tutoring company in our town where he could take a writing class, then later Apologia science classes) he pointed out that adding in homework, and commuting time, he'd get it all over with quicker working with me.

I'd be worried that his attitude to learning is getting wrinkled, but he is still excited about library books on topics of his choice, and no one truly loves grammar and composition all of the time, any more than doing calesthetics (or anesthetics as Madeleine L'Engle's son called them).

Paraphrasing my husband, just because it isn't easy doesn't mean it isn't good.

Thanks for telling it like it is!
-Christine in Massachusetts

Crazy Homeschool Mama said...

excellent post. I can relate on every point! I just recently enrolled in a virtual school...I know it isn't the best option, but I am burning out of the planning and sending them to the brick and mortar isn't an option...if I could afford SOS or something I would rather do that..we are just in a new season of life with middle schoolers

Rational Jenn said...

Very interesting post! I'm at the beginning, where you were when you started. My kids are 7.5, 4.5, 17 months. You've given me quite a bit to think over when I consider where we're heading, and what we envision for the future.


Veronica Boulden said...

Wow. Thanks for saying all that. We're just starting out, too, so this is great advice.

Shez said...

Excellent post. My kids are only 3rd graders but we're already seeing much of what you write about. My kids decided last year that co-operative classes, museum classes etc, were generally not worth their time or effort. They came to me and asked me to do all their teaching and let them have playdates instead. They find that they learn more with me in a shorter time.

My daughter, in particular, is very bothered by the poor behavior she sees (generally from the boys.).

We now only do classes where I know the teacher well and know what academic standard she's set. I'm really liking the system we have at the moment. I teach a chapter of Latin a week at home and then the kids go to co-op for their Latin club where Lydia of does fun activities to cement what they've learned. She also teaches a book club which my kids love.

Next semester we're adding in biology. Again, the teacher is someone I respect and she is only going to be doing the labs and additional "stuff". I get to teach a chapter a week to my kids.

Lydia and i just ran a science fair in SE VA. the k-4th graders comprised more than half of the entrants. We only had two high schoolers take part and one one showed up on the day.

Thanks for the warning of what is ahead of us.

Ida Red (aka Richele) said...

Great post! My dd entered 6th grade this year. Wow..a far cry from the years before! I am beginning to feel indept! LOL. My son is in 4th but doing 5th grade work. Thankfully, I still have a preschooler! Preschool is so much fun. As much as I love teaching my older students...there is a sense of urgency that was not there before. I am beginning to fear that I am not preparing my daughter well enough for junior high which will prepare her for high school and then college. So much to think about.

Just Me: said...

Loving your honesty! There really is nothing like the humility of parenting older children!!

I came to homeschooling a little backward; my middle daughter asked us to homeschool in the 2nd semester of her 9th grade. We are working through a local charter school for her so I'm not totally overwhelmed by my ignorance in her subjects.

Now she is a junior at the same charter school and I am homeschooling (for reals) her 2nd grade little sister. There are days when I wish for a little time for a complete thought in my head, but I wouldn't change a thing. I am so thrilled with the countless opportunities for accidental conversations. I just didn't get that with my oldest (in college now) since her time was taken up by traditional school.

As my children got older I found myself drawing closer to my husband. I really needed his support as the moms I knew seemed to get more and more competitive and judgmental. I just think it's an older kid phenomenon. It's as if the kids' accomplishments are a direct reflection upon the parents.

Someone told me that if you take the credit for your kid's accomplishments, then you must also take the credit for their failures. And isn't part of growing up accumulating failures as well as successes. Thank goodness they get to experience those failures and successes with our comfort, support, and love.

Thanks again for your post!

~Melanie at Finally Homeschooling

Ganeida said...

No, homeschooling an older child is not always fun. Mine, very bright, hates academics. She is art & music & that's all she cares about so doing the English/history is hard, the science an extreme sport & the math a hostage situation at the point of a sword! Just the same, & this is the thing, I know my child has learnt *how* to learn & when it is something *she* wants she is motivated, intelligent & capabable. Wouldn't know it was the same child who tells me I should put her in school where she need ever exercise her brain again. Out of the mouths of our teens!

christinemm said...

Thank you to everyone for sharing your thoughts.

I had the typical thoughts of "should I blog these things since they portray not perfect homeschooling situations"? I am glad I shared them.

I like hearing your stories and how some of your realities are. Thank you for sharing your experiences with me and my blog readers!

Tressa said...

I just stumbled on your blog from the Carnival of Homeschooling. I am homeschooling a 9th grader and a 7th grader this year, and you pretty much discussed my concerns. It is very hard work homeschooling high school. I have chosen to forego outside classes for most of the reasons that you mentioned. Every day is important in our school now. School work must get done. I have to set deadlines, and he needs the time to do them. Instead I set aside days to just get together with friends and do something fun instead of sitting in a class.

I think many homeschooling mothers sell themselves short and put their children in classes because they feel that they can not teach the work. The problem is that teaching high school level work is hard, and often times we have to teach ourselves first. This doesn't allow much free time for mom. I realized this about 2 months into the year. I don't get to read for fun much anymore.

There are very few homeschool high school blogs. A friend of mine and I are trying to decide if this is because we are just too busy homeschooling and don't have time to blog, or for another reason. I posted a couple of early thoughts about high school on my blog. They are buried under the homeschool category.

Keep blogging about older kids. There are those of us looking for it. Best wishes!