Transitioning Back to School: A Homeschooler’s Dilemma

school

Recess at country school house near Ruthven, Iowa
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

When I pulled my kids from school originally, it was entirely based on their educational needs blended with my ability to homeschool them. I did not dislike the idea of schools nor did I dislike the school they were in.  I never had any intention of homeschooling them through high school. I fact, I always firmly said, “I am not going to homeschool high school.” High school content and transcript development – honestly I just wanted to give that responsibility back to my teaching colleagues. This is not to say that you cannot effectively homeschool through high school – you can and I have friends doing it.  I just never wanted to do that.

It’s hard to homeschool a teenager
You hear everyone make jokes about raising teens. But really, imagine being not only mom but also teacher to those surly teenagers. Lately, some days with my middle schooler have been rough, really rough. I assign him a task and it is often met with a deadpan stare.  He will do it, eventually and with mixed results on quality. Too much conflict is starting to build up within our relationship.

In contrast to this, my children attend a special program for homeschoolers – they essentially go to school one day a week. This year, my son choose to place himself in highly academic classes: Literature, Spanish 2, American History, Life Science, and a course that is essentially a physics class.  He winds up with hours of homework for these classes each week. He loves to work hard on that homework. These courses, he wants to excel in.  Clearly, it is time to start transitioning him back to school.

When you homeschool though – so much of what you do is very different from school. The idea of trying to place your child back in a traditional system can send chills down your spine. So below I am going to outline some of the issues with homeschooling that may create problems as your try to transition your child back to school.  Keep in mind that most of these “issues” are actually some of the blessings that you will find inherent in homeschooling – it’s just that those blessings can come into conflict within a traditional school system.

Homeschool is truly differentiated instruction
Differentiated instruction is lauded in the public school system but it does not even come close to the differentiation that occurs in the home. You generally have one student at a particular grade level and you move at his or her speed – his or her tempo. You can select a language arts program two years ahead of your student and if math is a struggle, pick a math program a year behind. Grade level really does not matter – only when people ask. Sometimes, you forget the “grade” your kid is supposed to be in. You use authentic assessments to place your kid where they need to be placed.

Most educational systems are driven by grade level content standards – simply out of the necessity of teaching greater amounts of students at a time.  Will my student get bored in subjects he excelled at? Will he fail and feel lost in subjects that he struggled with at home? These are questions that plague me when I think of sending my son back to school.

Standardized testing – um, not really
Sure homeschoolers are required to test and submit those results in the state of Colorado. Most homeschoolers I know use the IOWA basic test for this. I opt to have my children evaluated each year by an external evaluator. The evaluator takes a look at a portfolio of the child’s schoolwork and then essentially interviews one on one to get a qualitative view of where that child is at academically. Though it technically is an option, no homeschooler I know elects the option of having their kids actually take the state standardized test that all public school students take. I mean, that test is administered hours over the course of multiple weeks. Regardless of what testing option you use, your typical homeschooler doesn’t worry to a great extent over test results and the kids, they tend to just look at these tests like its another activity.

How will my child do when he is thrown into a system that places so much emphasis on testing? Test taking strategies? Um, we didn’t have time for that between the Little House unit study and researching the mechanics of cannon fire. It is a big unknown to me how my child will do on these tests or how he will feel about the importance attributed to them.

Independence and choices
My kids are very independent. I work part-time and care for my father so they have to be self-starters, self-motivated, and they are. It’s a beautiful thing. My teen in particular has taken control of his learning and yes; he is a partner in curriculum decisions. For example, he is a natural writer. He writes for fun. I have had the hardest time finding an appropriately advanced writing program for him that he can run independently. So, we went through a few and he settled on one. He decided which one to use.

What happens when that child is moved into a system in which all curriculum decisions are decided at the district level? If something doesn’t work for him, he is used to doing a bit of research and finding something that works better.

Ah that pesky school environment
I think many homeschool kids would absolutely thrive in the chaotic classroom setting. My oldest daughter who is a social learner would. However, my son has autism and he struggles with any background noise at all. He has taken over the home office for his schoolwork because the classroom with his two sisters is “too loud.” I am still fearful about how the distraction of being surrounded by 30 other kids will affect my son’s ability to learn.

Did I really blow it? Finding a soft place to fall.
Because I have been wrestling with what to do with my son for next year, I have been talking to my fellow homeschool moms. The number one sentiment echoed by those moms is, “If I move them back to school will I just find out that I blew it, that I totally screwed up my kids?” That seems to be one of the underlying fears that keep some of us steered clear of heading back towards the public school way.

The more I thought on this, the more I felt like what I really needed was a transition for my son, I didn’t want to pop him back into a traditional school but I really needed something to cross into our boundary a bit and let us softly head the public school way. I am happy to say that many school districts have alternatives that will help homeschoolers do just that.

So next year, it looks like my son will be registering for a hybrid online school through our local school district. He will have teachers – other than his mom, yeah! He will not just be able to pick any curriculum he wants. However, he will be started right where he needs to be rather than thrown into one grade level. While he will have more group learning opportunities, he will still be at home for much of his schoolwork and can continue to hole up in “his office.” We are both really excited for this change. I do love homeschooling but I value my relationship with my son more. I am ready to start him on this journey back to school.

One thought on “Transitioning Back to School: A Homeschooler’s Dilemma

  1. We are two years post-homeschool and into a standard international school. International schools present a whole host of issues perhaps not present in schools we know well in our environments, but much of what you describe here fits. Helping our spectrum kids integrate is a whole new experience. By the end of the day, my son is so tired of ‘input’ and noise that he holes up in his room for an hour just to reset. He continues to have zero tolerance for what he sees as cruel people, be it other students or teachers. But, we also no longer experience those conflicts that began to arise as my parenting and teacher hats came into conflict. He gets jazzed about new content and input, though he must also navigate standardized learning and a lack of flexibility. Neither of us finds 50 problems of “practice” homework necessary…ever. But he will tell you that he does not regret transitioning back to a school, and that those years of homeschool helped him develop a sense of his passions, abilities and a belief in his independent thinking. I wish you guys great wisdom as you travel along this road.

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