Like many other students around the country, my youngest son will start school in a few weeks – not homeschool, actual school, the kind with teachers and whiteboards, and a gym that smells like a clingy mix of sweaty bodies and floor polish. And his first day of school, just over three short weeks from now, will be the first time he’s stepped foot into a classroom as an enrolled student since the middle of his 1st grade year, almost seven years ago.
Needless to say, I have mixed feelings about this.
Mostly I’m excited for him because this is his choice, one of the first significant decisions he’s made for himself. My husband and I have always told the boys that homeschooling was a choice, and they could make a different choice at any time, but I don’t think either of us really believed they would. My oldest son plans to continue homeschooling through high school, so for my younger son to choose a different option is a big deal. We both support and understand his choice, though, because he’ll be going to a great school, one where the teachers and staff are incredibly warm and accepting, who will be able to challenge him academically while teaching him ways to manage through some of the difficulties he faces with dyslexia. It’s a good choice and a good plan.
But it’s not all sunshine and lollipops.
Amidst the happiness, I’m also feeling quite nostalgic. Homeschooling has allowed our family to spend lots of time together and develop incredibly close bonds with each other, and now an important chapter in our family’s story is coming to an end. And so, even as we prepare for this move forward and the next chapter, I keep finding myself looking back, reviewing the past seven years and examining each of the memorable moments as I would a treasured, precious object, one that I haven’t taken off the shelf to fully appreciate in a while.
A patchy assortment of happy memories spring to mind, of course. We’ve laughed a lot, at each other and ourselves, while exploring countless parks and hiking trails, or creating gooey clay sculptures and muddy paintings. We’ve read and critiqued a ton of amazing books together, and puzzled over numerous math problems. For years, these are the moments that have provided the context for our daily family life and formed the foundation of our relationships as the boys have grown and matured. But none of these first memories to surface are the happiest moments, I realize. Instead, the moments I’ll remember most years from now, that I’ll continue to treasure even when both of my sons are grown and have families of their own, are some of the quieter, unplanned ones that didn’t actually involve laughing or diving into a messy project together, or even being together at all.
For me, the moments when I’ve felt the happiest are the times when I’ve caught a glimpse of the men both of my boys are becoming.
These are the times that have had almost nothing to do with me and any “fantastic” homeschooling plans I’ve come up with, and instead have been entirely about my kids taking the reins on their own learning and making choices that excite them because they’re connected to their interests and bigger goals. The moments are hard to describe exactly, because they’re often fleeting, and almost always unexpected, like when my oldest son disappeared for hours, and later casually showed me a 3-D human figure he’d been modeling and “rigging” (so it can walk and move like a real human) in a software program I’d never heard of and didn’t know he knew how to use, aided by detailed diagrams of human anatomy that he found; or when it dawned on me, as he showed me a spreadsheet to ask a question about modifying formulas, that he had been teaching himself calculus (though he didn’t realize that’s what it was) so he could calculate the trajectory of a spaceship he was designing and wanted to launch in a space simulation program; or when I read a poem my younger son wrote spontaneously because he just read some Rumi poetry and was inspired. There are countless other examples, and I can’t come close to taking credit for any of them — none were part of any of my plans, and I’m certain that if they had been, they would have failed spectacularly. The only credit I can take is that I’ve learned a very important lesson quite well on this homeschooling journey: almost always, the best thing I can do is get out of the way.
I resisted this lesson in the early years — I thought that “real” learning could only happen in an environment characterized by academic discipline, supported by the structure of rules and routines, even though strong evidence to the contrary was right in front of me every single day. The intricate stories and artwork they created, and the earnest questions they asked about the world around them, didn’t count (in my mind) as “real” learning. I cringe now when I think back on those days. The boys were learning every moment of every day, I just didn’t see it, or appreciate it. I wish I could go back and burn each and every one of the daily plans and assignments I created, along with the stacks of textbooks and workbooks I spent countless hours researching and then purchasing. I wish I could go back and tell myself to just trust — trust that nature had already deeply embedded the love of learning in my children, and that all I really needed to do was water it, and maybe pull some weeds from time to time.
This is why it makes me sad when I hear other homeschooling parents ask questions like, “How do I make my lazy son do his school work?” or “How do I deal with my daughter’s defiance when she won’t do what I tell her?” These parents have missed a beautiful opportunity to create some wonderful and happy memories. They have forgotten that they are raising future adults who need to have the experiences (including making mistakes) and to develop the self-confidence that will help them make their own choices when they are out in the world and don’t have us there telling them what to do. As they grow, our children need our guidance and support, without a doubt, but they also need space to grow their own roots, to flower in their own time when the conditions are right for them — we can’t do it for them, and we’ll just delay their growth process (at best) or undermine the full potential of their development (at worst) if we try.
So, this is why I’m happy for my son as he prepares to head off to school. He’s making a choice that is right for him, and I know that he will take his curiosity, creativity, and self-confidence with him, to a place where the staff and teachers know how to support and encourage without interfering. Homeschooling over these past seven years has allowed him to discover his authentic mix of strengths, interests, and goals, so I am confident that even more happy moments are coming our way.
If you enjoyed this post, click on the image below to check our what other homeschoolers have written about their happiest homeschooling moments!
I’ve been doing lots of writing about homeschooling and the transition to college lately, including this recent article I wrote for Homeschool.com where I share some of the information from my new book. If this is a topic you’re thinking about, too, check out the article and let me know what you think!
The perspectives and insights I’ve gained throughout this research have been incredibly valuable in the planning I’m doing with my boys, and I know that there are many, many homeschooling families who would benefit from this information, too. So, I wanted to return and share some of the specific results of this research with other homeschooling families who are also planning for college. Given the large quantity of information I’ve gathered, I can only share some of the specific questions, concerns, and experiences resulting from the research with homeschooling families in this article, and will follow up in a separate article focusing on the perspectives and recommendations provided by the survey and interviews with admissions officers. Read more…
“For educators and others wanting to understand the wide range of homeschooling experiences, examine the myths surrounding homeschooling, and become familiar with some of the research regarding homeschoolers’ academic outcomes, this book is a great place to begin. Dunlap has done a marvelous job of shedding light on the world of homeschooling and how post-secondary institutions might adapt to this growing population.
From Home Education to Higher Education opened my eyes. It taught me a lot about the world of homeschooling and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to better understand the homeschooling experience.”
You can find the full review here: https://collegeahead.us/home-education-higher-education/
In addition, one of the homeschooling moms profiled in the book recently sent me an email and had this to say:
“I love the book. I mean, I seriously love it. It’s been a great review for me, plus it’s given me tons of new information. I didn’t know it would be as relevant to me as it has proven to be. Every now and then I have a parent who is considering homeschooling ask me questions. I now know I can recommend your book. It gives a great overview of homeschooling in addition to all the information about college and additional resources. It’s also been great timing for me as I think about the coming homeschooling year. Your writing is clear and concise, making it easy to read, as well. Nice work!”
If you’d like to pick up (or download!) a copy, you can find it on Amazon here. Once you’ve read it, let me know what you think!!
And in other news…. I wanted to let you know that I’ll be speaking as part of the Home Education Council of America’s (HECOA) 13th Annual “Not Back to School” event.
5 COLLEGE APPLICATION TIPS FOR HOMESCHOOLERS
Thursday, September 14th
For traditional students and non-traditional students alike, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that when you are applying to college, demonstrating your academic ability is the most important part of the process. For non-traditional students like homeschoolers, though, there are other important criteria that admissions officers also look for — things you’ll rarely find on their school’s admissions page. In addition, there are key choices you can make even before you apply that will help your application stand out during the admissions process. So, if you’re beginning to think about applying to college and are wondering what you can do to increase your chances of getting accepted to the schools of your choice, join us for this inspiring, informative session. By the end you will have a list of easy steps you can take immediately, along with a variety of unique ideas for making your application compelling to any admissions officer.
The conference is online and completely FREE!
Sign up on the HECOA web site!
It’s hard to express the excitement I feel about having my first book published! July 11th, the official launch date, will be a special day this year and for years to come. Here’s a quick overview of the book, which is available for pre-order on Amazon right now — please share with anyone you know who may be interested!
Coming Tuesday, July 11!
From Home Education to Higher Education
College applications are difficult at the best of times: word-count-specific personal essays, questions about what makes their school the best school, and let’s not forget the plethora of paperwork, different for each college. But what happens to those who don’t attend a school where they get official transcripts to give to the college in question or don’t have a school counselor to help them decide their futures? What happens to homeschoolers and other alternatively educated students?
In her GHF Press book, From Home Education to Higher Education: A Guide for Recruiting, Assessing, and Supporting Homeschooled Students, Lori Dunlap seeks to help answer these questions and more by encouraging professionals who work with homeschoolers to develop a plan to recruit, assess, and assimilate these students so that they may better enter and thrive in colleges and universities of their choice At the same time, Lori gives advice to homeschooling families to help them discover what admissions professionals want in an ideal applicant, better preparing them to write those essays, answer those questions, and work with the admissions professionals at their chosen schools.
Whether you’ve been homeschooling for just a few days, or you’ve already been at it for many years, at one point or another you’ve probably asked yourself at least one of these homeschooling “frequently asked questions”:
- How do I make sure my kids learn all the right things?
- What if I leave out important material?
- What is the best curriculum for [insert subject name here]?
- What if my child won’t do his/her work?
I don’t think I’ve met a homeschooling family yet who hasn’t faced these uncertainties at some point along their homeschooling journey. In fact, I think many of us have probably bumped up against these questions multiple times as we gain more knowledge and experience, and as our children reach new phases of development and maturity. The reason you won’t find a printed FAQ with easy answers to these questions, though, is that the answer to all of them (and numerous others) is the same: “It depends.”
One of the primary reasons so many of us have chosen to educate our children at home is because we want them to learn in a way that fits their particular needs and goals, and that allows us to be responsive to our students’ interests and abilities. Once we make this choice, though, we often find that this level of freedom and flexibility is also one of the biggest challenges of homeschooling. There are so many options, so many possible paths, that many of us begin to feel overwhelmed, or afraid to make a mistake, or concerned that our kids will miss out on important opportunities.
This is where learning and personality assessment can be incredibly helpful. Understanding our child’s particular learning preferences and strengths is a great starting point not only for developing our homeschooling plans, but also, as our children get older, for starting to think about post-high school plans, including higher education and career options. One of the most thorough and helpful assessments I’ve found is the one developed by the LearningSuccess™ Institute called the “Self-Portrait™ Power Traits Assessment,” and I recently had the opportunity to interview Mariaemma Willis, a learning specialist at the LearningSuccess™ Institute. (Please note: the above link will take you to a page with more information on this assessment, along with a link for purchasing the assessment at a reduced price.”)
Here are some of the questions I asked, along with Mariaemma’s responses…
- What are the most important things I need to know to homeschool?
The most important thing you need to know is who the student is. When students are in school, teachers and administrators begin their planning by thinking about things like the curriculum, learning materials, and the physical classroom. The individual students, including their learning preferences and interests, are rarely considered in the planning. As homeschoolers, however, you have the freedom to begin with knowing who the student is, and then all the other decisions can flow from there. And while some parents already have an idea about how their children learn best, sometimes a formal assessment can also be validating, in addition to providing insights about areas you may not have considered, like what the best learning environment might be for them. What’s more, students love learning about themselves, and the results of the assessment can be a great basis for involving your child in the decision-making process.
- What are some of the areas the “Self-Portrait” assesses?
There are five basic dimensions included in our assessment are:
- Disposition (personality),
- Preferred learning modality (auditory, visual, or tactile),
- Talents, and
- Best learning environment.
There are five main dispositions we look at, each of which tends to be pretty stable over time. The best learning happens when we understand that a “spontaneous” student, for example, needs to be able to move around and release physical energy while they’re learning, versus an “imaginative” student who learns best when they can piece ideas and information together for themselves. The first won’t learn well if confined to a chair for much of the day, and the second needs the freedom to explore their thoughts and ideas on their own. The three other types of dispositions include “organized,” “supportive,” and “curious,” each of which requires different types of support and opportunities to accomplish their best learning.
In addition to disposition, knowing how your student prefers to take in information, how to incorporate their interests and talents into their learning plan, and creating an optimal learning environment for them (considering factors like noise levels, lighting type, and social groupings) are each important individually and together as you make decisions about different types of classes, curriculum, and other educational activities.
- Could learning style information also help with home issues, such as chores?
Yes, because you can match chores with your child’s disposition. For example, if your child has more of a “supportive” disposition, you can ask them to do chores that involve working directly with other members of the family, like helping to make meals. If you also factor in their interests and talents, you can create a list of chores that they’ll be more likely to remember to do, and will do well.
- Can a learning assessment help me with a child who resists doing school work?
Yes! If a child is balking about doing academic work, it’s a clue that something is going on, and that you may need to find a different approach. The learning assessment is a good starting point, and a learning coach can help you incorporate the results of the assessment into a plan that works for both the parent and the student.
- How do I know I’m teaching the right things? What if I leave out important material?
Nobody knows for certain if they’re teaching the “right” things, not even experienced teachers. Every school teaches different classes in different ways at different times – nobody teaches all the same things, so there’s no important material you can leave out. As homeschoolers, as long as you teach your children the basics, including understanding and valuing their learning preferences, they’ll have the tools they need to be lifelong learners and will be able to fill in any “gaps” in the future.
So, as many of us in the homeschooling community wind down one academic year and begin planning for the next, taking some time to look more closely at our child’s “power traits” could be a great starting point. The LearningSuccess™ Institute would like to help, and is offering two types of support to our community:
- A reduced-rate learning strengths assessment, and
- A free teleconference where you can ask Mariaemma questions about how to incorporate your results into your plan for next year.
Here’s the link to more information about the assessment and how to get your assessment at a reduced price:
The free teleconference will be on Thursday, May 4th, at 10:00am Pacific. You can join the teleconference even if you choose not to do an assessment — you’ll still be able to ask questions and learn a lot from the conversation! Please RSVP here, and we’ll send you the details on how to call in:
(*Please note that the link to the assessment is an affiliate’s link, which means that if you purchase an assessment you will be helping support my work. Thank you!)
He tried to hide it, ducking his head quickly as I walked into the room, but I had already seen his face. He was crying, again, and didn’t want me to see. So I pretended for a moment that I hadn’t, moving through the room and tidying things here and there as I debated whether or not to say something. What could I say that hadn’t already been said many times before? What can a mother do when her child is struggling, and she doesn’t know how to make it better?
This boy, my youngest son, is very much like me. Of my two boys, he resembles me the most in terms of looks, and especially in terms of personality — strong-willed, independent, and often driven by an internal engine that doesn’t seem to have an “off” switch. The latter trait can be particularly frustrating for both of us, especially when we face obstacles outside of our immediate control that prevent us from moving forward — we’re not good at sitting still or waiting. So we have both become very good at work arounds, at figuring out how to get things done in spite of challenges or setbacks, to the point that sometimes other people (even the people closest to us) don’t have any idea how much we’re struggling because we seem to be doing fine. This trait also makes it hard for us to ask for help, because we don’t want to slow down long enough to explain the situation and ask for it, and because we feel like we should be able to figure it out on our own.
Except sometimes we can’t, and by the time we realize that, we’re already overwhelmed and exhausted.
This is the point my son had reached when I walked in on him that day as he was working on a written report. I knew reading and writing were challenging for him, and since they never have been for me, it was hard to know exactly what to do, but I did my best to help him figure out a variety of work arounds, like listening to audio books instead of reading physical books, and typing instead of writing by hand. But sometimes audio versions aren’t available for the book you want to read (which was the case for this project), and sometimes you just need or want to be able to write things by hand. Both of these are very hard for my son, and he has explained to me multiple times that “the words move around on the page” whenever he tried to read, and that he has to focus so hard on spelling words correctly when he was writing, that he lost his train of thought on the bigger ideas he wanted to communicate. I could certainly see evidence of these difficulties in his school work — the simple words and sentences in his papers didn’t come close to matching the depth and complexity of the ideas and questions he could express verbally. This is a kid who barely broke a sweat developing and delivering an hour-long presentation on Hannibal and the Punic Wars when he was in fifth grade, but who cried in frustration as he attempted to hand-write a simple timeline for his presentation board. In short, the gulf between his written abilities and his verbal abilities was wide, and getting wider.
So, as I tidied his room that day, realizing that we were both feeling overwhelmed and exhausted by these issues, I decided it was time to find some help. None of the solutions we had tried seemed to be helping all that much, and it was time to find out why. At first he resisted the idea of visiting a learning specialist and having some testing done, but over the course of a few days and a few more frustrating sessions with his report, he finally relented. In retrospect, I’m really glad that I gave him this time to think it over and to let the decision be his — forcing him to go through an evaluation process would likely have been counterproductive, damaging his self-esteem and undermining his growing sense of independence. Finding the right kind of professional support was an important part of the process, too. Unfortunately, all experts are not created equal, and I had to invest a lot of time in finding someone who could affirm my son’s creative and intellectual strengths, and who could gain his trust by treating him with respect and without condescension.
During my search for professional help, I was excited to find an online tool that gave me a chance to “walk a mile” in my son’s shoes, or, as their web site says, to “experience firsthand how frustrating it is when your hand won’t write what your brain is telling it to.” I asked my son to watch as I tried a few of the exercises, typing, fixing, re-typing, fixing again… the timer ran out every time before I could finish. I couldn’t believe it. How could anyone ever get anything done this way? When my son confirmed that the simulation was almost exactly what it’s like for him, my heart overflowed with compassion and admiration. And then we cried together, but this time out of relief instead of frustration.
So, as we begin this next part of the learning journey together and I reflect on our experiences thus far, I’m grateful that I allowed the extra time for my son to come to his own decision, and for me to find the best learning specialist for our needs. Now that we have a better understanding of how his brain is wired, and why particular activities are harder for him, his whole demeanor has changed. He’s feeling empowered and optimistic, even though we’re still too early in the process to have seen much in the way of results yet. Sometimes just knowing that there’s a path forward, and having someone who is willing to walk it with you, makes traveling even the most challenging of terrain much more bearable.
Thanks for stopping by today! If you enjoyed reading this article, you can find more on this topic here.
For many families who are homeschooling their kids through high school, the decision to pursue this path was made with a fair amount of hand wringing. Most of us spent a significant amount of time researching information online, talking to other parents, and generally imagining every potential problem and worst-case scenario before deciding to take the leap (or not). “How can I make sure my son will learn everything he needs to?” “Will my daughter miss out on typical ‘rights of passage’ like prom?” And most of all, “What if she wants to go to college?”
For those of us who do decide to take the leap, we find out pretty quickly that there really isn’t much to fear – there are so many educational resources and social opportunities available, the real problem we face is the feeling of being overwhelmed as we go through the selection process. And the same holds true for college admissions for homeschoolers – not much to fear there, either. Success stories abound as parents of homeschooled kids who are already in college share their strategies and recommendations with those of us who aren’t quite there yet.
In all honesty, though, I’m still worried…
The responsibility of guiding my sons through childhood and into their first years of young adulthood weighs heavily on me. Both of my boys are already planning to go to college, and I don’t want them to just attend whichever “homeschool friendly” college will accept them. That feels too limiting. Instead, I want them to start with their goals, to consider all the possibilities, to choose a college based on the combination of factors makes a school the “best fit” for them academically, socially, and geographically. As homeschoolers, this means that if some of the colleges they target are not considered “homeschool friendly”, they will likely have to work harder than traditional students to prove to admissions officers that they’re academically prepared and capable.
So, what can I do to help them? And what can I do to help other homeschoolers, too?
These are the questions that propelled me to conduct a national research project, “From Home Education to Higher Education”, that I wrote about in more detail here. If you’ve read this blog before, you know that this research lead to a couple of articles here and here, and ultimately to a book, which will be published and available this summer. (Yes, I’m smiling ear-to-ear as I write this – I’m so excited!) What’s more, the interviews I conducted with admissions officers as I was researching my book lead to another idea and project: The Uncommon Applicant.
It all started quite unexpectedly. I was focused on interviewing college admissions officers with the goal of uncovering insights and recommendations I could share with people in my book, but I really ended up discovering so much more. Specifically, toward the end of many of the interviews, I kept hearing some version of the question, “Where can I find more homeschoolers?” Finally, a light bulb went on for me: not only are homeschoolers looking for more information about schools they are interested in, but admissions officers are also looking for more ways to connect with us, too! So, this is great news, but it also presents another issue:
As homeschoolers, how can we find out about schools that may be a perfect fit for our child’s educational and professional interests and goals, that are very interested in recruiting homeschoolers, that we may not be aware of?
As homeschooling parents, many of us are already really busy. With so many colleges and universities offering so many different types of programs, and with constantly-changing and sometimes hard-to-find admissions criteria, how can we cast a wide net and be sure we’re helping our students find the schools that may be the best fit for them? I realized that admissions officers and homeschooling families need a dedicated place to meet, to get to know each other, and to share questions and answers. So, I decided to create one.
The Uncommon Applicant will be a virtual college fair for non-traditional students like homeschoolers. It will be a place where colleges and universities who are interested in our students can set up virtual career booths, describing their programs, admissions criteria, and financial aid information that are of interest to non-traditional students like ours. Membership will be free to students and parents, who will be able to research and contact schools any time they want.
While this sounded like a great idea to me as I help prepare my boys for life after high school, I wanted to make sure that other homeschoolers were interested, too. It turns out, they are! Within just a few days of posting some basic information, we have over 100 homeschoolers who have already signed up for their free membership – and our web site isn’t even live yet.
So, for the next couple of months I’ll be hard at work getting everything set up so we can officially launch this summer. In the meantime, if you or someone you know has started their college planning and could benefit from a virtual career fair, you can learn more through the link below. As an added bonus, I created “5 College Application Tips for Homeschoolers” that all new members get for free.
Stay tuned for more information on our growing community, as well as the official launch of my new book!
Where can I find more homeschoolers?
I was talking to a new homeschooling mom a couple of weeks ago, helping her work through that “What have I done?!” feeling that so many of us homeschoolers have when we first take the leap. I reassured her that almost all homeschooling parents have experienced that “I just jumped off the cliff” kind of panic, especially at the beginning, and I also told her what I tell everyone who asks me about my choice to pull my kids out of school: It’s the best decision my husband and I ever made.
That’s not an overstatement. My boys are so much happier than they were before, and are truly thriving in a way that I’m certain they wouldn’t be if we’d kept them in traditional school. Other people notice and comment on it, too, even before they know that we’re homeschoolers. I regularly have new acquaintances, or neighbors I barely know, tell me about an interesting discussion they had with one of my boys, remarking on how well they hold a conversation, or how thoughtful and engaging they are. And it’s not just my kids — other homeschooling parents I know have similar stories. I honestly think this is one of the most underrated benefits of homeschooling – kids get to be who they are, and get to relate to other people as they are, without any of the power dynamics and judgments that so many kids experience with adults when they’re in school.
So, I’m a big fan of homeschooling, and will enthusiastically talk to anyone who’s interested about the benefits of this lifestyle. But that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. In fact, some days it’s really, really hard. And truth be told, there have been several occasions when I seriously considered sending the boys back to school.
You see, along with the normal responsibilities and challenges that come along with being a homeschooling parent, a few years ago another issue was added to the list: I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. This condition makes me feel like I have a bad flu for days, sometimes weeks, at a time, and when my symptoms are at their worst I run a high fever, my joints ache so much I can barely move, I pass out when I take a shower or stand up for too long, and food… well, even the idea of food makes me nauseous. On these days, helping my older son work through algebra problems, or teaching my younger son how to diagram sentences, are tasks that are nowhere close to doable. In fact, simple conversation is barely possible because I’m totally exhausted and easily annoyed. It’s during these times when the normal challenges of interacting with and guiding two highly-sensitive and energetic boys entirely overwhelm me and make me want to throw in the towel.
I adore my boys, and most days I welcome their higher-than-average levels of emotion and desire for interaction. The difficult part of having highly sensitive kids, however, is that their emotional antennas are so attuned – they pick up on everything, and their highly-active imaginations envision every worst-case scenario. They just need so much reassurance, interaction, and physical touch, it can be exhausting even when my batteries are fully charged. So, on the days when I’m feeling terrible, there’s no missing the worry on their faces the tremble in their voices, and I do my best to put on a happy face (or the happiest one I can muster) and spend precious energy soothing them and trying to calm their fears, insisting again and again that I’m okay, when all I really want to do is yell, “Go away!”
But I can’t, because that would devastate them.
Adding to the difficulty is that I can’t take them to regular music lessons or sports practices — driving is not an option. This means that we’re sometimes stuck in the house together for days at a time, me laying on the couch or in bed feeling like a rusted out old clunker ready for the junk yard, them with minds like race cars revving, ready to go. It’s not a good dynamic.
As the boys have gotten older, though, and as I’ve become more adept at managing my condition, we’ve learned to surf through these difficult days a little more smoothly. We keep our schedule as flexible as possible, not getting too caught up in deadlines or plans we can’t adjust if necessary. They’ve become more independent in some of their work, and focus on the things they can do without my help when they need to. And it’s important to note that there have also been some “up sides” – they’ve learned how to do lots of household chores like cooking dinner, washing dishes, doing laundry, and taking care of the dogs (our version of home economics, I guess).
So, when I’m talking to people about our homeschooling experiences, I’m still honestly able to say that it’s the best decision we ever made. I make sure to let them know that there will be tough days, too, though, and there will definitely be times of doubt, significant doubt, even if they’re not dealing with a chronic illness. Everyone gets the flu or a bad cold sometimes, and there will undoubtedly be other family events that will disrupt things, so it’s okay to just “surf” during these times. You can trust that you’ll get back to a normal routine eventually and, if you’re lucky, maybe your teenager will even be able to bring you dinner!
If you enjoyed this article, check out more on the same topic at this month’s
One of the great benefits of being a writer and a homeschooling mom is that I have a lot of control over our family’s schedule. This means the boys and I get to take a bunch of time off around the holidays every year to enjoy some time together while we recharge our batteries and prepare for the year to come. And, as we headed back to work and back to school a couple of weeks ago, we decided it would be a good idea to spend some time thinking and talking about our goals and plans for 2017.
It turns out that Hunter S. Thompson was able to provide some helpful ideas that guided us through our discussions. Early in January I re-read the widely-shared letter that he wrote to his friend, Hume Logan, in 1958, and found that Thompson’s wise advice about choosing goals that “conform to the individual” rather than making “the individual conform to the goal” was a useful guidepost, one I thought would be especially relevant for my high schooler. With college (probably) on the horizon for him within the next few years, I’ve noticed that it’s easy to get caught up in the same sort of high-stress planning and goal setting that traditional high school students face when thinking about college: Which classes? How many science labs? How many AP classes? SAT or ACT? What type of extra-curriculars? The hoops are many, and these questions swirl and swirl each time we consider and reconsider, each time getting lost in trying to “conform to the goal.”
Here’s the thing about my family, though: we don’t like to conform.
We have tried, many times, relearning each time that trying to meet others’ expectations makes us stressed and unhappy. And yet, as my boys’ primary teacher and (now) college advisor, I still unexpectedly fall into the trap of trying to follow a narrow set of standard timelines, courses, sequences, and testing schedules, all with the hope that people we don’t even know will someday approve of and validate my boys and their accomplishments, allowing them to pass through to the next set of hoops. But here’s the problem with this kind of thinking: it emphasizes the ideas that what others think is more important than being self-reliant and exercising your own judgment, that being “good” and following all the rules is more important than being independent and authentic. Most of all, it sends the message that personal goals should come from some external source rather than from your own understanding of your unique set of abilities, desires, and goals.
In our culture, it’s easy to grow up believing that there are certain standards we need to measure up to if we want to prove that we are “worthy” or “valuable”, whether these are grades, test scores, athletic accomplishments, acceptance to prestigious universities… the list goes on and on. These standards usually prioritize certain types of intelligence (logical, linguistic, and physical) and ignore other types (artistic, intrapersonal, and existential). As a result, our individual values tend to be based on these external standards, and we get caught in a narrow definition of what success looks like, often at the expense of ignoring what is inherently and authentically true and valuable within each of us, what Thomas Merton would call the “secret beauty of their hearts.” It’s heartbreaking, really. How many people today, right this moment, are suffering because they chose a path that was deemed “acceptable”? How many will never find their true purpose?
If I were to write a job description for myself, at the top of the list of responsibilities would be this: helping my boys recognize and express their “secret beauty” by identifying their particular abilities and desires, all while being guided by compassion, curiosity, and a search for meaning (instead of approval). Or maybe, more simply and as Hunter S. advised, encouraging them not to “dedicate their lives to reach a pre-defined goal”, but rather to “choose a way of life they know they will enjoy”. But this leads to an important question: Am I qualified to do this job?
As the product of twelve years of public education, plus six more years of higher education beyond that, maybe not. It certainly isn’t easy for me. Checklists and schedules, indeed all things measurable, make sense to me, and I find that going back to them when I’m feeling uncertain helps relieve the anxiety that comes with navigating ambiguity (which I’ve written about here). However, when I’m able to remind myself that I’m trying to give my boys a compass, not a map, my job becomes clearer. And, at the very least, I’m willing to be a student right along with them since these are lessons that I’m learning and trying to apply in my own life, too. So, my primary qualification might be that I’ve made the mistake of “conforming to the goal” (and have written about here), and trust that there’s a better way.
As for the specifics of our plans and goals for 2017, I’ll share more about those in an upcoming post, along with some other guideposts we’re using to help us navigate through this year. And a bonus — I’ve finished the final edits on my book about college admissions for homeschoolers, so look for more information on publication dates, plus some excerpts, coming soon!
“Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living within that way of life.
The goal is absolutely secondary; it is the functioning toward the goal which is important.”
-Hunter S. Thompson