New school year: Ready, set, go!
by Darren and Sara Jones
When the writer of Hebrews advised Christians to "run with patience the race that is set before you," he didn't choose his illustration randomly. A race is more than running until you finish. It requires preparation, endurance, and focus. Although the author was referring to the Christian life, these same disciplines apply to the tough but rewarding "race" of homeschooling.
Always keep your focus on the finish line
Even the most dedicated runner gets tired of the arduous training a race requires. How does he push himself to continue? He looks beyond the present disciplines to the reward of the finish line, reminding himself of what he is working for.
Likewise it is very important for homeschooling parents-whether they are new to the challenge or veterans of many years-to focus on the goal of your homeschooling: a commitment to follow God's leading in teaching your child. Keeping this goal in mind can pull new homeschoolers through challenging days and protects veteran homeschoolers against burnout. Christopher Klicka's new book, The Heart of Home Schooling, is an invaluable resource to encourage parents who may be wondering whether homeschooling is the best option for their family.
Know the rules of the race
A runner can train faithfully for months, but it does him no good if he's disqualified for not meeting race requirements. Homeschoolers face a similar situation. Before beginning, it is very important to make sure that you are familiar with your state law regarding homeschooling. Some states, like Michigan and Alaska, place minimal requirements on homeschoolers. But complying with requirements in other states requires planning ahead. For instance, New York requires homeschoolers to file their notice of intent with the school district superintendent by July 1 each year. At www.hslda.org, summaries of the homeschooling laws for every state are available. We encourage you to read through the summary of your state's law, whether you are a newcomer or experienced. Unfortunately, homeschoolers often face difficulties that could have been avoided had they been more familiar with their state law.
Learn from fellow runners
Runners draw strength and motivation from one another, and homeschoolers can also. Before starting your homeschool program for the year, talk with other homeschoolers. Whether you are next-door neighbors or homeschool pen pals on opposite sides of the world, each family can give the other new insight into better ways to deal with the challenges of homeschooling. The summer vacation between school years is an excellent time to discover creative new ideas for teaching our children. By talking to other families who face the same joys and problems that we do, we can aim for the best each year.
Join the team
A team provides support, encouragement and help that an athlete can't achieve alone. That's what Home School Legal Defense Association, state organizations, and local support groups do for homeschoolers. During this time of getting ready, make sure that your memberships with HSLDA, your state organization, and local support group are current. HSLDA provides assistance for families experiencing difficulties with their homeschool programs, and state organizations provide a powerful, united voice on behalf of homeschoolers to the state legislatures and state media. We at HSLDA strongly encourage membership and participation in your state organizations and local support groups. And, if you belong to a state organization, you can usually qualify for a $15 discount on your HSLDA membership.
Now that you have reviewed your conviction to homeschool, researched your state law, and started or renewed your membership with HSLDA, your state organization, and your local support group, it's time to get down to the nuts and bolts of homeschooling. Here are some ideas to consider.
Hit the gym
A runner stays in shape, exercises, and keeps up with all the latest breakthroughs. How can you as a homeschooler do this? Attend a homeschool conference! These conferences, organized by state or local support groups, are fabulous places to network with other homeschoolers, take a look at the newest curricula, drop your teen off for inspiring workshops, and hear from nationally recognized speakers. You can find conferences in your area by logging on to www.hslda.org. HSLDA sends speakers and representatives to over 80 conferences each year, and we'd love to have you stop by the table and say "Hi."
Create your training schedule
Each athlete has individual needs and styles-so do homeschoolers! Set up your schedule for the year according to your family's needs. For some families, this may include a detailed chart of which subjects will be covered at what time each day. Other families who like more flexible schedules might decide which months will be taken up with unit studies or field trips to local historical sites. Some states require a certain amount of hours be taught in the homeschool program-this is another reason to be familiar with state law.
Use the proper gear (No, we don't mean you've got to wear a denim jumper!)
A good runner doesn't settle for just any pair of shoes. He wants shoes that will improve his performance. Now homeschoolers have that same choice. Unlike the early years of homeschooling, when publishers were reluctant to sell materials to homeschoolers, there are dozens of curriculum providers available now. They range from secular to religious, from evangelical Protestant to traditional Catholic to Muslim, and from flexible child-directed learning to daily lesson plans. Take the time to figure out what will work best for your family, and don't be afraid to change when it becomes necessary.
Have a pre-game ritual
A successful racer once admitted that he had an elaborate pre-game routine, including putting on his socks in a certain order, to prepare him for the upcoming event. One modern American "ritual" is the "back-to-school" shopping trip. Many homeschool families find that such a trip, to pick out new outfits, school supplies, and special snacks, can be an excellent way to motivate students in starting off in the homeschool year.
Of course, since the homeschooling schedule is flexible, this trip could always take place after the public school year has started to avoid the rush!
Be prepared for the hurdles
A runner practices and prepares for hurdles so he doesn't fall and lose the race. Homeschoolers need to be ready for these tests as well. Know what to do if you are contacted by the school district. Sometimes families are unprepared for normal contacts from the school district, causing needless panic. Other times, however, school districts use the beginning of the year as a time to "check up" on new homeschooling families. Have HSLDA's number by your telephone to be ready for any situation, or contact us through our website.
Now that your preparation is done, it's time to actually follow through.
Wait for the starting gun
A runner never wants to "jump the gun" and find himself disqualified while everyone else dashes ahead. Take the time to file any required paperwork with your local school district or the state. If you have questions on what to file, contact HSLDA for assistance. That's what we're here for. We would far rather have new homeschoolers call us if they are unsure of what or when to file than have them encounter problems because they missed a deadline or forgot to provide vital information.
And now, the moment that all this has been leading up to: teach your children. Homeschool families from around the country can attest to the fantastic benefits of homeschooling, including spending more time together as a family and giving children more one-on-one instruction. Every one of them will testify, though, that homeschooling is not a sprint; it's a long-distance race. Keep it up-you can do it! And HSLDA will be there to help.
About the authors
Darren and Sara Jones are both homeschool graduates. Darren has worked for HSLDA for seven years and is now an attorney in the Litigation Department. Sara was an intern for HSLDA and now is an at-home mom, raising their two children, Adelaide and Stuart, and writing in her spare time.