A guide to navigating the homeschooling community

Written by contributor Sarah Small of SmallWorld at Home

We homeschoolers are an opinionated bunch. After all, at some level one of the reasons we home educate this is because we want to do things our own way. And, well, let’s get down to it:

We often think our way is the best way, and we want to share that with as many of you as possible.

We are prepared to opine on any number of topics, from science programs to parenting philosophies to clothing choices. We like to raise our eyebrows, give a little shake or nod of our heads, and give you knowing smiles.

Sometimes we turn our backs on you because you are a different breed of homeschooler—an “other.” “Otherness” has to do with anyone who does things differently than “we” do: from wild, unruly unschoolers; to middle-of-the-road eclectic folks; to rigid A Beka advocates; to tight-lipped tomato-stakers (please note: popular stereotypes listed here intentionally to make a point and not reflective of personal opinion). Pick whatever category you fall into, and the rest are “others.”

Every spring I speak at our support group’s Homeschooling 101. One phrase I repeat several times throughout my talk goes something like this:

There is no one right kind of homeschooling family, and there is no single best way to homeschool.

This leads to the two golden rules to follow when integrating into the homeschooling community, be it virtual or real life.

Photo by summonedbyfells’

Rule #1: Do Not Compare Yourself to Others

Imagine this. You are sitting at your homeschooling group’s park day, and Family A arrives. The kids are all wearing red and blue clothing. (You find out later that this is the family’s color theme of the day.) Mom A sits down to chat, and you suddenly can’t breathe because as she speaks, you realize you are the lamest homeschooler ever. Her kids have math done by 7 a.m.? Her 4th grader is reading War and Peace? Her 12-year-old took the ACT already?

But wait. Family B arrives, and you begin to breathe more easily. The kids are shoeless, which you understand since your own 4-year-old left his shoes at home yet again. Mom B starts chatting about their chickens and pulls out her iPhone to show you photos of her kids building the chicken coop and then painting a mural that rivals Rivera on the side of their barn.

On the way home from park day—which was meant to be a time of encouragement and fellowship—you wallow in your own inadequacies.

Or if you are a blog reader, you are familiar with this scenario: you read about a day-in-the-life of a homeschooling family and think, “Geez! I am such a slacker! My kids hate narration, I don’t make my own fresh bread every day, I don’t do the workbox system, and—to top it all off—my 4th grader doesn’t have her multiplication tables memorized.”

And if super-homeschooler blogs aren’t stressful enough, we can now factor Pinterest homeschooling boards into the equation. Holy chalkboard paint, Batman! From spacious schoolrooms painted in contemporary shades of retro to lapbook extravaganzas, Pinterest can make the most confident homeschooler feel utterly deficient.

We all do it—we all play the dangerous game of comparison.

We all need to stop.

Getting ideas, inspiration, and insight from fellow homeschoolers is fantastic. Dragging yourself into self-loathing and discouragement is not.

Rule #2: Follow Your Gut

Not only can we homeschoolers make others feel inadequate, we can also sway you into thinking that our way is the best way. We don’t mean to be insidious; it’s just that when we really, really love something, we want you to love it, too.

Photo by Sarah G…

Does this sound familiar? Your science program works great for your kids, but your friend is incredibly excited about her new program.

You read a few reviews online and begin to doubt your own choice, even though a little voice reminds you that your kids are perfectly happy with your current program.

That little voice is your gut. Listen to it.

Again, gleaning wisdom from fellow homeschoolers is wonderful, but replacing what works for your family with something that works for your friend’s family may not be so wonderful.

With myriad opinions and advice circling around us, we can easily ignore that nagging voice or even think that our intuition, vision, or even our value system is just plain wrong.

Remember: you know your kids better than anyone. Isn’t that one of the reasons you started homeschooling?

Your homeschooling community, whether local, global via internet, or both, can be a treasure chest filled with experience, information, and wisdom. It is up to you, though, to pick and choose what gems work best for your own family.

Don’t be intimidated by what you read and whom you speak with as you navigate the homeschooling community. Breathe deeply, stay true to your own family, and trust your instincts.

Do you struggle with comparing yourself to other homeschoolers? How do you navigate the plethora of advice and opinions without losing your own vision?

About SarahS

Sarah has graduated one child from homeschooling and is happy to have miles left on the journey with her 11 and 15 year old children. With a master’s degree in English/creative writing, Sarah enjoys teaching writing and literature classes at her co-op and blogs about learning at SmallWorld at Home.

Comments

  1. My daughter is still too young to be officially homeschooling her but I remember seeing this way back when I was homeschooled. It’s so easy to compare and I actually remember some families in our homeschool group being made to feel inferior for making different choices. Perhaps that’s why my mom didn’t like that group so much…
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  2. Thanks for this. I do feel very inferior when it comes to homeschooling. We’re so new at this! My oldest is just barely kindergarten age, and yet I see some blogs where they’ve been doing “toddler school” from the time their baby was 1 and I feel like I’ve been slacking….other people look at me like I’m crazy because I got a kindergarten curriculum (a very simple one, too) and I feel like I’m being too rigid. Can’t win!
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  3. It is hard enough to do this as the mother/teacher, but I find one of my children struggling with this too. Constantly wondering where she measures up to others her own age, and a better way to do things will have her spinning in circles if I let her. This makes it all the more important to live the example in our day to day life. Great post! Great food for thought.
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  4. Bless you for the mention of Pinterest! It’s been great to gather new craft ideas, particularly for homeschool, but man, oh man! Talk about feeling inadequate! After all the beautiful craft/homeschool rooms posted on there, I look around the room at our own chaotic mess, and the inadequate feelings start coming in big time, even while I know we’re doing just fine.

    Your post helped me remember to -breathe-
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  5. Oh yeah! I think I need to read this post several times a year. And I’ve been homeschooling since 1995!

  6. Jennifer says:

    Q:Do you struggle with comparing yourself to other homeschoolers?
    A: Yes, It is only natural. That is why God reminded me that, “they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.” He put it in there for a reason. =)

    Q: How do you navigate the plethora of advice and opinions without losing your own vision?
    A: The same way I shop. 1. I have a recipe (my vision for my HS written on paper) 2. I list the ingredients needed & “shop” from my list. 3. Sometimes I put things in my cart that are not on my list, but that my family might enjoy, yet I stick with my recipe. 4. I realize people could have similar ingredients in their cart, but will have a completely different meal that their family enjoys. 5. I don’t critcize people for what they put in their cart although we are both cooking we ere not using the same recipe. 6. I just shut up when someone makes a comment about what is in my cart. ;-)

  7. Thank-you for speaking up about something that needs to be said more. With regard to comparisons, there are just too many homeschoolers that become indignant and insist that what you are doing is “not really homeschooling” because your child is taking an online course, for example. They define homeschooling a certain way, and leave no room for any other methods. In so doing, they become just like the educational system they spurn: limited in their own thinking, and disdaining others for doing things differently outside their own systems.
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  8. Hi I loved this article. It made me laugh and nod in so many ways. Thank you for your great writing.

  9. Great article!! It’s so easy to compare (and I’ve been homeschooling since 1995 too). Truth is, no two homeschool families will ever look alike and that’s OK!
    Heidi’s latest post: Sparkle Stories Review

  10. Great post! I definitely have felt inadequate when comparing myself to other homeschooling families. We are very new at this and i’m still just figuring things out. I have to keep reminding myself that we chose this path for a reason and I know my children well enough to know what works for them.

    I do look to websites, blogs, and others for advice, however, I have made a very conscious effort to choose a curriculum and methods that are in line with our family’s values and beliefs. This has given me the confidence to move forward with our homeschooling adventure :)
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  11. Thanks for those parenthesises for clarification! For a second I was horrified. :)

    Monica, with four “unruly unschoolers”

  12. Have so enjoyed your blog as I stepped slowly into the home-school world. Have shared your posts with friends and found much encouragement along the way. Thank you for sharing! Your hearts are helping others! Now that the school year is done here for now, I find I am ready for a smaller paced season….to be sure I am ready for the new school year come September! thanks for helping lead me this last year.
    http://mamatrenches.blogspot.com/2012/06/firefly-summer.html
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  13. I think these rules must apply to parenting, in general. Not just to homeschoolers. Everyone is trying so hard to discipline/teach/inspire/love the “right” way that it’s really so hard to look beyond what you’ve spent your own lifetime cultivating in order to embrace the ‘others’, as you call them. Someone once told me that it takes a lot of courage to be the kind of Mama you want to be. I repeat that to myself often.

  14. I’m so thankful for this post! I am currently helping to plan an informational night for our support group and we keep coming back to our desire not to put out there that there is only one way. One of the joys of homeschooling is honoring our family’s individuality and unique make-up! We are striving to come up with as many tables and options as possible so that those who are considering homeschooling will be able to find something that might fit their family.

  15. I should pin this article so I can reread it often! I go through crazy amounts of printer ink and paper because I keep finding homeschool blogs with printables that I think we must do because they seem to be doing so great. Just look at the pictures of their kids thriving. And then after I’ve run out of ink, I have to remind myself that I have a curriculum, one that I like and that I should just trust! And when I meet a homeschooling family, I’m always interested to check out their curriculum. What if theirs is better? I can only hope I’ll do this comparing less as we continue on our path. (Just started our 2nd year with a 1st grader & a pre-k-er)
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  16. Catherine says:

    Do you struggle with comparing yourself to other homeschoolers?
    Sure, sometimes I notice others who stick out as doing a really great job of it, and I’ll admit to noticing bad examples as well.

    How do you navigate the plethora of advice and opinions without losing your own vision?
    I try to remember that what works great for someone else might be a total fail for me and my kids. That I don’t have the time or inclination to try everything or to be worrying about what some other family is doing, since I am busy enough with my own.

  17. Crystal says:

    I’ve come to find every homeschool family I know has something they do amazingly awesome or a handful of things they do kind of awesome. A lot of times it’s the reason the started homeschooling. When I start to think of other families’ awesomeness a little too much, I try to think about the amazing things our family also does. We often forget how great we are because we live with ourselves & our kids every day. Everyday occurences always just seem normal no mater how amazing they actually are.

  18. I always find in some ways it is good to check up on ourselves and see what we can do better or maybe loosen up on, but sometimes the comparison games gets out of hand.

    I think sometimes too, we as homeschoolers, have added to the parenting comparison games.
    I remember crying after leaving a gathering because people sharing how excited they were their 4 year old was reading, and I had a 10 year old that couldn’t master simple phonics, even after repeating them again and again. I think some basic honesty can be good as well. We need to make sure, even if our child learned to read at 4, we let others know that doesn’t always mean he was reading War and Peace at 4, but it was Bob Books.
    I think on the other hand, there are parents that are very relaxed about their children’s education and when someone does say something, they respond with a lack of concern based on something they read about unschooling or the like.

    Overall, I think the hardest assumption for me to handle is that my children with learning disabilities, have never been taught or are neglected in their education. I started documenting with pictures, some of the school we do, to remind myself of how hard we really work!
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