By J. Samia Mair
For years, come April, I would be promising myself (and threatening loved ones) that I was through with homeschooling. And even though it happened every year, around the same time, I thought I meant it each and every spring. April showers meant April tears for me. I was exhausted, feeling under appreciated, and believing that I am depriving my children of a good education and a mom, a fun mom, who wasn’t “teacher” for much of the day. Admittedly, this is not the most encouraging way to start a blog about homeschooling. But it is realistic—at least for some of us—and yes, if you are wondering, I still homeschool and always have (my children started middle school this year). April now comes and goes without me feeling that I might need to jump on the nearest plane to some far away place, leaving pencils, erasers, and workbooks—and, of course, children—behind.
So, the truth is—as I believe it—there are advantages and disadvantages to every educational environment, and what you choose to do with your child depends upon a lot of factors that are both objective and subjective. The first question parents should ask is why they are thinking about homeschooling. Do you think that you can give your child a better education at home? Are you worried about the non-Islamic values at public schools? Are you worried about peers? Are the private schools or the Islamic schools in your area affordable? Are there even any private or Islamic schools close to you? Do you want your child to enter a hifz (Qur’an memorization) program? The list goes on, but the first thing to do is to figure out why you are even considering homeschooling. Like most homeschoolers, there may be several reasons that have prompted you to consider homeschooling. It is important to know why because your reasons will dictate other decisions down the line.
You should then consider external resources available to you. If you live in a larger city, there tends to be a lot of opportunities for homeschoolers. For example, where we live the zoo, aquarium, science center, art museum, not to mention about a dozen other museums, colleges, state parks, etc., etc., have special classes just for homeschoolers. The main problem homeschoolers have here is that they have too many interesting activities to choose from. If you have access to a computer, there are numerous online classes and curricula as well. As far as homeschool curricula, in general, there are so many to choose from in English that you could become overwhelmed if that is the language you will be teaching in. And while homeschooling can be expensive, it doesn’t have to be. The point here is to get an idea of what kinds of educational resources you can utilize if you decide to homeschool.
Knowing what the local homeschool population is like will aid in your decision as well. I believe it is much easier to homeschool most children when there are other homeschoolers in your area. It makes it worthwhile for some places, such as zoos or colleges, to offer homeschool programs if there is a large homeschool population. One of the main criticisms of homeschooling is that the kids aren’t socialized enough with other kids. Indeed, the opposite may be true, assuming there are other homeschooling families in the area. Other homeschooling families offer great support as well in the form of advice about curriculum, addressing stumbling blocks along the way, carpooling, and friendship.
Another factor in deciding whether to homeschool or not, and surprisingly something that can be overlooked at first, is the child. For example, if your child is a sports enthusiast, homeschooling may not be the best educational choice because, at least in the United States, most public schools (at least that is my suspicion and anecdotal experience) do not allow homeschoolers to participate in the public school sports programs. Similarly, if you
live in a rural area with no homeschoolers and your child is very social, homeschooling might not be the best choice as well. But if your child wants to memorize the Qur’an, homeschooling might be the best option.
One thing, which is less a factor than most people think, is the parents’ ability to homeschool their child. Many think that they would not be patient enough. When my friends and I decided to homeschool our children who were about to enter kindergarten, we were like a deer in headlights—wide-eyed and panic-stricken. No one thought that they could really do it. But as it turns out, the things that we were most worried about were much easier than we thought. So, you might now ask, if it’s easier than anticipated, why the April tears?
Homeschooling is a commitment. It requires a different type of parental educational involvement than sending a child to school to the extent that parents are investigating and choosing curriculum, giving instruction and correcting work, transporting to homeschool activities and classes, and building relationships with other homeschoolers. A parent is spending more of her day with her child (or children if multiple children are homeschooled). This type of involvement and time is voluntary and something that is voluntary can be terminated. So, when the inevitable frustrations set in, which tend to seem more frustrating near the end of the year, the easy solution is to end the source of the frustration. But the apparent easy solution is not always the best solution and not even always the easiest solution. And then it comes full circle, and you remind yourself why you decided to homeschool in the first place. If those goals are being met, those April tears stop flowing.
Stay tuned for the second part of this series titled, “Homeschooling: Where to Begin?”
Samia Mair is the author of five children’s books, the most recent Zak and His Good Intentions (2014). She is a Staff Writer for SISTERS Magazine and Discover, The magazine for curious Muslim kids and has published in magazines, books, anthologies, scientific journals, and elsewhere.