Choosing to Homeschool: An Alternative Path

by Satauna Howery, Clifton Park, New York

“Cookie time,” my daughter announced, tossing her math book aside and heading for the kitchen. We had agreed that when the clock struck midnight, she could take a break from her schoolwork to bake chocolate chip cookies.

I knew it wasn’t a break, though. She had simply switched from formal instruction to a more relaxed educational setting. Measuring ingredients teaches fractions. Following a recipe is an exercise in reading, comprehension and sequencing. Safety skills are learned through using the oven–and don’t leave the kitchen a mess, or this mom will have you learning more about clean-up than you ever wanted to know!

What sort of crazy family bakes cookies and does math at midnight? We do! There is no homework here, no inhaling breakfast in a 7 a.m. stupor to catch the school bus on time, no permission slips or parent/teacher conferences. We are homeschoolers, and our classroom is the world.

My daughter is 12 and we are finishing up our second year of homeschooling. I’d been considering this alternative for awhile but kept coming up with reasons not to pursue teaching her myself. How would I get her to activities? Could she and I put up with each other all the time? Where would I find the resources to teach her?

I stayed wrapped in my own fears until a family situation abruptly tore them loose. The worst I could do was discover that homeschooling didn’t work for our family and send my daughter back to public school. Instead, after two years, I have what I hoped for: Community for myself and my daughter, an abundance of educational and social resources, and a child who once again truly enjoys learning.

Why would anyone choose this path? Some families homeschool for religious reasons. Others may want a more rigorous education for their children than what their school district provides. Still others prefer to “unschool”, using no curriculum and trusting that children will find their own interests and learn everything in their own time. We chose to homeschool because we wanted something more for our child than school-day acquaintances. Kids don’t have a lot of time to socialize at school, and many are so busy outside of school that developing meaningful friendships with them is extremely difficult.

Reporting our homeschooling status to the district was fairly simple. Googling “New York homeschool resources and regulations” gave me all the info I needed. This search also turned up various e-mail discussion groups throughout the state. By subscribing to groups in my area, I gained immediate access to a support system of veteran homeschoolers and a wealth of information about upcoming classes, field trips, and events specifically for homeschooling families. I had actually subscribed to these groups almost a year before I began homeschooling my daughter, and I highly recommend this approach. Throughout that year, I struck up e-mail conversations with group participants who all warned me that the first year would be the worst. Then it would get better, and eventually the schedule would be so packed that we’d have to choose between too many awesome offerings. They were right.

At first, we went to an unschooling social group that didn’t meet our needs, sticking it out because we needed the social interaction and because some of the members were willing to give us rides to group activities. In addition, I was completely overwhelmed with the myriad of curriculum choices, but the unschoolers were the wrong people to ask for assistance! My daughter needed print and I needed braille.

We tried some online curricula. Either we didn’t like them or they were based on Adobe Flash and were completely inaccessible to me. Transportation continued to plague me. I live in a rural area where public transit is only sporadically available even to those who can drive to a park-and-ride four miles down the road. I saw goodies like skiing and wilderness programs, and I couldn’t get my daughter to them without paying out a lot of money that I didn’t have.

The answer to all my troubles was patience and perseverance. I chanced upon a local writing class at a used bookstore. The parents chatted while the kids worked in another room. My daughter and I made our first friends during that class, and they had space in their carpool to the wilderness program! I bartered fresh eggs from our chickens for transport.

I found another social group and met more friends who were willing to assist with transportation in exchange for eggs or gas money. I borrowed curriculum from them and learned to relax by listening to their stories. A year with inconsistent formal academic work wasn’t going to significantly damage my child. Better to sit with someone else’s hand-me-down books for a bit instead of throwing money away on something that wasn’t a good fit for our family.

I paid more attention to how my child learned and how I might teach. The curriculum slowly came together.

These days, we do indeed have to choose among too many activities. I lead a homeschool 4-H group. My daughter still attends wilderness and writing classes. In winter, there is swim team, rollerblading and ice skating. When the weather warms, there are park days, trail hikes and berries to pick. I haven’t even touched on the museums, festivals, music, and science opportunities.

Curriculum isn’t so hard to find, either. NLS, BookShare, RFB&D and the Louis database from APH are all good resources. There is also a Blind Homeschoolers Yahoo group. Most of the members are parents who are homeschooling blind children. But there are a few of us blind parents homeschooling our sighted kids. Subscribers sometimes part with curriculum they no longer need, and I’ve been privileged to receive some of that braille bounty.

There is no one right way to educate or raise a child. For us, homeschooling provides a flexibility, freedom and community that we couldn’t find in public school. It’s not for everyone, but if you choose to journey into the homeschool arena, be prepared for an interesting and life-changing ride.

RESOURCES

To subscribe to the Blind Homeschoolers list, send a message to BlindHomeschooler-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.

SOURCES OF CUSTOM-PRODUCED BOOKS: BRAILLE, AUDIO RECORDINGS, AND LARGE PRINT can be found at http://www.loc.gov/nls/reference/directories/index.html. This is a good resource for getting something brailled or recorded if you can’t find it anywhere else.

GUIDELINES FOR ACCESSING ALTERNATIVE FORMAT EDUCATIONAL MATERIALS: www.loc.gov/nls/guidelines.htm.