I taught public high school English in the state of Virginia where we had to abide by the Virginia Department of Education's Standards of Learning or SOLs. When I lived in North Carolina, the standards were in a state of flux because of low test scores. In Tennessee, when I began homeschooling my then-kindergarten son, I printed out a copy of what kindergartners should know by the end of the year from the Tennessee Department of Education's website and a copy of a kindergarten report card that a teacher in my church sent me. When I moved to Texas, I printed out the Reading Grade 4 and Science Grade 5 2008 versions of the TAKS test. A few months ago, I printed out the Texas High School Graduation Requirements. There is a fear that lurks within the homeschooling parent that somehow, we are going to miss something, and even though we have chosen to forgo public education, there is a nagging doubt that maybe, just maybe, we should follow what the public schools do, just in case.
What if I miss something? What if I screw something up? What if he grows up being bad at math? What if she's not prepared for college? What if.....?
After living in four states with four different standards of educational achievement for children, I came to realize something: Every state is different, and I need to find my own way. So how do you do that?
1. Let go of the fear.
How many holes do you have from your own education? For me, I went through high school and learned very little history. Were you bad at math or writing? If so, then it's ok for your child to have struggles, too. It doesn't mean you're doing a bad job educating your children.
2. Decide how you are going to educate your child -- your way.
You have to say, "I'm not educating the state of Texas' way; I'm doing it my way." Then, figure out what that way is: classical, traditional, eclectic, etc. It's totally all right to check what a state is doing and requiring, as long as it is just another tool in your toolbox and not a chain around your neck.
3. Treasure the freedoms you do have in homeschooling.
*The freedom to create something that looks different -- reading books together in your living room, drawing pictures of monocots and dicots in your front yard, eating lunch together every day, buying and feeding a Venus Fly Trap -- you are creating something different.
*The freedom to wait until your child is ready. For me, my son was not ready to write essays in the fourth grade. As a seventh grader, he's doing great in this area. However, fourth graders, especially boys, seem to end up hating writing after "testing" for it. Homeschooling gives you the freedom to wait.
*The freedom to tailor to kids' likes and passions. My oldest went through a reptile and dinosaur phase. My youngest did a unit study on penguins. Study what they love.
*The freedom to co-educate. I am able to do history and science with both of my boys together, and they do a book called Vocabulary Cartoons together, with my oldest teaching the youngest. This gives them common experiences and good times together.
*The freedom to do more. I believe we have covered more history more deeply than most public schools.
*The freedom to be flexible. We are able to go to Florida for a World FLL Invitational or to visit grandparents in October. (We also have the freedom to finish school at the end of June!)
*The freedom to fill in the holes as you see them. Who cares about your kids' education more than you? If you see holes, then you can take the time to research strategies and to give your child one-on-one help for any problems he or she may be having. Also, for us, I realized my son knew too little about how our government works, so I checked out books from the library on the three branches of government and had him read them on his own. Recently, he asked me to get him some books on World Wars I and II because he felt he should know more. (Yikes! I need to do that!)
*The freedom to teach them how to learn. When my husband was getting his PhD at Vanderbilt University, he knew a young man who was 20 years old and getting his master's degree (and later applied and was accepted to the PhD program at the age of 22. He finished his PhD at age 27.) He had been homeschooled his entire educational career. I asked him what the key to his educational success was -- what should I make sure I teach my boys. He didn't say math or science or writing. He said, "Teach them HOW to learn." He went on to explain that many people his age simply do not know how to educate themselves about what they do not know. Facts are not as important as learning how to FIND facts. We just studied Benjamin Franklin, who was in school for only three years, and then educated himself. Teach them how to use a library, read books, find answers, be curious. Teach them how to learn.
*The freedom to teach things that only you can: Christian values, how to get along as a family, life skills, etc.
Public school standards can be a great guide, but don't let those standards squelch your freedoms.
My two sons are in the 7th and 3rd grades. I have not taught them Texas history yet. As Mr. Incredible says, "We'll get there when we get there!" I plan to get there, but not when the public schools say I should, and that is OK.
NOTE: This is meant to be encouraging for those who feel called to homeschool. I am in no way critiquing public school choice or those who work tirelessly in the classroom. I believe strongly that we all should pray and do what God has called us to do in the area of educating our children.