It is often one of the first questions I get after someone found out I homeschool, “What curriculum do you use?” It’s probably the only thing people know to ask that doesn’t come across as judgmental or rude. Heck, I know I've asked it back before I signed my children out of public school for good.
Over the last year, especially because of Covid the questions have shifted. What used to be polite queries have turned into interested, almost intense interrogations about how they could possibly homeschool, as well. Where once acquaintances would sort of smile and move on, now they pounce at having someone on the inside, someone who can give them the rundown, someone who can tell them not just what it’s really like, but how they can do it, too.
These people don’t just want my experience, they want me to make them a road map. They’re interested, but understandly so intimidated, and want to know just how to successfully pole vault over that self-doubt and take their child’s education into their shaky—but very capable—hands.
My Children and I aren’t what I’d call seasoned homeschool veterans yet, but we’re not total newbs, either. We’ve been homeschooling for over a year now, after six years spent in public school, and we’ve found a good groove. We’re out of the honeymoon phase and just through my freak-out phase—the time when the glow of this new adventure had worn off and the reality sinks in that I really was solely and wholly responsible for my children's education.
This point is where the shoulds like to sneak in.
What Are These Shoulds?
The shoulds are the doubts, the guilt, the uncertainty—maybe even the remorse—that threaten your happy little homeschool days when you start to think about public school.
“I don’t have all of those brightly-colored posters that his classroom used to have.”
“We’re done with school before 3 p.m.! Am I really doing enough?”
“Those field day pictures sure make it seem like she’s missing out on some great memories.”
“Math was really tough today. Maybe he’d be better off with someone who was trained to do this.”
"They are really breezing through this book, is it not challenging enough?"
"My child doesn't know "XYZ" but this book said they should, am I failing them?"
They just asked me a question about something they should know how to do. "Are they behind?"
The shoulds operate by comparing your homeschool to what you think public school is like. The shoulds tell you that you’re not doing enough school work, that the work isn’t vigorous enough, that it isn’t engaging enough, creative enough.
These shoulds make you forget why you chose to homeschool in the first place. It makes you forget how woefully the public school handles special needs kids. How if your child doesn't fit in their cookie cutter mold of teaching they are left in the dust struggling to understand as the school passes them from grade to grade to be someone elses problem.
You imagine standards by starting where you fall short, then condemn yourself for not measuring up. The shoulds romanticize public school and make it seem like your child has left a perfectly-run, memory-making, pillar of study that you will never measure up to.
The shoulds find the cracks in your confidence and whisper:
“You should have a real classroom if you want him to learn anything.”
“You should be doing more worksheets if you want her to remember this.”
“You should be doing formal lessons.”
“You should be doing longer lessons.”
“You should be on a firm schedule.”
“You should be seeing more improvement than this.”
“You should be doing everything his school did.”
“You should be doing what you see those other homeschool families doing.”
“You should have the hang of this by now.”
"You should have a degree to be a better teacher."
The shoulds make you compare constantly but only to show you where you’re not where you (supposedly) should be.
So how do you combat these shoulds?
How do you, the insecure and freshly-minted homeschool parent stamp out the voice of doubt that seemingly carries the weight of a hundred years of education experts and experience? I mean who are you to question the experts?
How To Shake Off These Shoulds
The beauty of homeschooling, as William Wallace would say, is "Freedom". Homeschooling is flexible, moldable, adaptable, and fluid. Shoulds are static, immovable, invariable, fixed.
Shoulds tell you that there is only one way to do things. Nothing, could be further from the truth! Homeschooling holds no place for should, and instead embraces can.
You can have a real classroom if you want. Or you can have school on the couch, on the porch, in a car, in a tent, or sitting on a table at the laundromat. The world is your classroom.
You can do more worksheets for every subject if you want. Or you can do no worksheets at all. You can show work on a chalkboard, a glass window with dry erase markers, a roll of butcher paper, a crumpled napkin, a whiteboard, or yes, even on a worksheet.
You can do nothing but formal lessons. Or you can just read together for hours.
You can do lessons in longer chunks of time like a public school. Or you can get everything done in half of the time because there are fewer interruptions, less transition time between subjects, and there aren’t 25 other people vying for your attention. You can even take a day off when you need it! Doesn't that sound amazing.
You can be on a strict schedule, but you should have a backup plan. You can do the things that you see other homeschool families doing. But, mostly you can do absolutely anything you want.
You should have the hang of this by now...
Nah, not even close.
Every single day of homeschooling will bring something you’ve never done before. If you find yourself with a curriculum you’re not melding with, you can switch to another. If you find that a topic is causing struggles or tears, you can take all the time you need to come at it from all the angles you want, or put it away to try again later with more age or maturity of your child.
The only way to combat the shoulds is to kick them in the CAN.
Remember what you can do. Remember that for every immovable should, there are almost infinite cans. Homeschooling is a life of possibilities, not a prison. When you begin to doubt yourself, when you find yourself feeling insecure, when you start to wonder if this is something you should do, tell yourself that you absolutely can.
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