How Do You Get There? The Journey to “Other” Schooling

How Do You Get There? The Journey to “Other” Schooling

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Like most people, I grew up in a traditional brick and mortar school system.

My idea of what school was “supposed to be like” was framed by that very typical experience. Up and at school by 8 (or earlier) and a busy day of moving from class to class as bells rang. Snacktime, lunch, and after the shimmy shimmy shuffle of the school day routine, we raced on to afterschool activities, sports etc. By the time sports, theater, clubs and more were done it was late-often 8 or 9 pm and sometimes even later. Then we hustled back home to do homework for a few hours and cram for my next test. Up at the crack of dawn the next morning and rinse and repeat! It’s what we all did. It was “normal”. My mother was very active in my school and our social world revolved around that experience. I was lucky to be in a great school with lots of “adds” in terms of art, theater and more. It was a rich, great experience. I loved it. Why then, would I have ever want anything more for my children? The warm fuzzy teddy bear that was my childhood seemed secure in my memories.

Yet here I am.

We are a Homeschool family. How in the world did we get here? It was a complex journey, not always easy and at times stressful, but it was worth it. Most of you who are just now embarking on the journey to alternative and non-traditional forms of education will certainly go through what I did. So confession time: in the beginning I felt lost, confused and isolated. It’s scary to try something totally new and requires a willingness to abandon that teddy bear of your memories. More importantly it requires you to recognize that perhaps that teddy bear has aged, lost an ear and isn’t what you remember. For me, this was the hardest part. But you are not alone and most of your fear is based on simply not knowing ANYTHING about what you are heading towards. Think of it like sailing for the Americas from Europe in colonial times. It’s a whole new world that is strange, frightening and totally unknown to you but that holds the promise of being amazing and so rewarding!

So how did I get here?

Did I wake up one morning totally sure that we would leave the traditional brick and mortar school system and jump into this? Of course not! It was a slow journey. The beginning was a series of small steps, none of which even included “Homeschool.” Let me be really clear, we didn’t actually set out to Homeschool. We set out to find ” a new alternative” to our current school for our dyslexic but gifted daughter. (Our younger gifted daughter was way ahead of us and had been begging to do something new for a while, but that is another story.) Our eldest was in fifth grade and the school was just not meeting our expectations for her. But what to do? Find another school? Like almost everyone we knew NOTHING about our alternatives beyond that. We didn’t even know where to start asking for help! The school certainly offered us no advice beyond “find another school”. I knew no one who actually educated their kids outside of a brick and mortar school. I had never known anyone. I didn’t know where to turn but to find another school.

The first steps on the journey: Other schools!

So as I started on this journey I was just clueless and had no support or resources to guide me. As a physician however, I’m a bit obsessive when it comes to researching any problem and this was a new problem to sink my teeth into. So the research began: we started by looking at small schools in our area as well as charter and magnet schools.  I called all the schools I knew. These included schools that specialized in dyslexia (and cost a fortune)! On the advice of a friend we looked at “innovative model” schools that I had never hear of that were not accredited schools. This all by itself was really strange to us! As big pro-education/college track type people it was very new and frankly scary. Not accredited? How could I do that to my child! Wasn’t that essential to well, everything? (Apparently and miraculously not… read on). These schools took a “one room school house approach” and had about 20 kids. What they did was fairly amazing. They pushed the kids to excel and think beyond the “normal school”. They were taught to create their own goals, devise their own strategies and opportunities. They focused on partnerships with the community businesses. PE could be rock climbing in a nearby climbing gym, playing golf or walking tours of the downtown area. The kids decided what they wanted to pursue as projects, many of them simply fantastic and in partnerships with large businesses. Classes of say 5-6 were led by capability level, not grade. For many, this might be a perfect fit, but it was just not for us yet. The whole “no accreditation” thing was too new and raw for us. Ironic when you consider our final ending point but at the time it was too much. So on to the next step in our journey.

Online Schools: (not your typical remote learning)

The accreditation thing had me worried. Maybe an online accredited school was what we needed. They were accredited by the same association bodies that approved of our current private school so this made me feel a bit more comfortable. I think I called 60 of them. My obsessive self was driving remember? I learned a lot, “toured” several and felt that many were just “schools” with busy work but online. I read a lot of reviews, many “meh” or unfavorable but a few schools did really float to the top. These were not bad options and some were really good, if not great. They offered travel, virtual clubs, socialization and much more. Some had incredible gifted programs… I mean REALLY incredible for those students whose IQ was just off the chart. Other schools specialized in learning difficulties. Many of them simply offered a solution for the child who didn’t do well in a traditional environment or who simply wanted some freedoms. Maybe they wanted to be a pro-dancer or actor. Maybe they were bullied or anxious. Maybe they were struggling with ADHD and needed a distraction free environment to shine. Maybe they just wanted to do their own thing. Whatever the reason, these online schools certainly offered possibilities. There were various forms, some more “freeform and student driven” than others. Some held to rigid “must be on the computer” remote learning schedules and others were much more flexible. For the right kid they could be frankly amazing! But for my daughter? I just wasn’t sure. I should make note here that at the time we were doing our research the pandemic had not happened yet. The concept of the distance learning school or remote learning was reserved for these very specialized schools that had had years of finessing their process. There is a huge difference between the remote learning offered by a traditional school in crisis and a true, fully online school. If this option appeals to you, be sure you find a school that “specializes” in true online schooling. (Research Online schools here)

Deeper and Deeper we go – Testing the waters.

But how did we get to Homeschool as our answer? As part of my “call every online school ever” journey, I called the online school Acellus Academy. I truly credit the opening of the Homeschool “door” to the eye opening conversation with the young man who took a great deal of time to educate me about their Homeschool program as well as their online school. After speaking with me and discussing our needs and what his school could offer, he suggested that we look instead at their Homeschool plan (Power Homeschool). He felt that my children were younger, more independent and did not need the accredited grade before high school. Plus my state laws allowed this form of teaching fairly easily. He explained how easy it was to use the program (I could literally do it from my phone) and that it was fully guided with little need of support/teaching on my part. As the single and only font of wisdom I currently knew, I listened. My response to his suggestion however was immediate, very doubtful and a bit violent! WHAT? Homeschool plan? Homeschoolers were weird, we couldn’t do that right? But after speaking at length about how it was the exact same material and program (and cheaper) we decided, albeit begrudgingly, to look at their Homeschool program.

But what was homeschooling?

How did it work? What is a homeschool program? In a nutshell it is a curriculum either fully provided to you or that you build for your kids where you are totally in charge of what your children learn. This does vary a bit state by state in terms of what is allowed and you should be sure you look into the rules . You are the principal, teacher, maintenance staff, art lecturer and janitor all in one. Though I highly suggest you make your kids the janitors in training! Homeschool should include life skills after all, which include cleaning and cooking! You decide what to teach after all.

Wait, I hear you yelling already! It’s okay, calm down. You do not have to invent this on your own (you can but that is the advanced course-see unschooling or unit studies). There are literally thousands of full curriculums waiting for you with guides for the student, guides for you as their teacher and instructions on how to grade (or not). Some of them are fully online and digital and short of handing a device to your child you do very little. Some are much more parent involved with you working through the material in a workbook with your child as a teacher would at school. Only it’s a one on one lecture! You follow an easily chartable path. And it gives you a tremendous amount of control and flexibility over your kids education. For us, this meant more, not less academics. We could dig deep and go faster and further. There is no accreditation. This is homeschool. Yes you can go to college, even excellent colleges but that is another topic for an article and beyond the scope of this. Suffice it to say it is easily doable. My kids will be starting college in 9th grade.  Oh, and you don’t have to teach everything. Your kids can take classes at co-ops, online from amazing teachers and more!

Not totally sold? Neither were we at first.

Not ready to take a leap of faith, we kept our daughter in her current school but made her do two classes in Power Homeschool to “compare” them to her current schooling. This meant she did double the work. It was worth it! (For her as well, as she earned herself a phone). There was simply no comparison. The math program was far better than what her school was providing. Now, I’ll be honest, Power Homeschool was not a truly gifted program. But it was still far better than what we were currently getting in a “private” and expensive school. It was certainly more than adequate for a good, decent education on par with what she had been doing and it cost us $25 a month for everything which was highly affordable. My daughter really liked the online and video structure. She did it for 6 months as a test at first while in school and then continued for two years as a supplement to other programs we chose to use to Homeschool in the long run, so the program gets high marks from us overall. I do highly suggest this program, or other “all-in-ones” like it as a starter program for anyone looking to Homeschool. They make starting easy while you get your bearings on this journey.

Homeschool and finding the right fit.

So down the Homeschool path we went. Remember when I was terrified of not having accreditation? Boy, had I learned a lot since then. We pulled both girls from their brick and mortar school and jumped into the deep end of the educational pool as it were. We were ready to move to Homeschooling and all it entailed. Don’t get me wrong, we really still knew very little about it. Really, beyond that first conversation, nothing. We started from zero and had no where to go but up in our trek to learn. I could see that in the long run, however, that first program was not really enough for us! We wanted something more gifted and challenging.

But how to find it? There was no one place to see all my options and this search was not easy. My mom stress and typing fingers kicked into high gear. I researched every curriculum I could find. I joined 20 -40 Facebook groups to hear, discuss and read everything. You don’t want to know what that did to my Facebook feed. I spent countless hours searching. I was always certain I was missing something better I had just not heard of. Which was best for us? Seriously? What if I got it wrong? (Read Advice from a Homeschool Mom Survivor to get you through this. It will help.) Finally I picked what I thought would work for us (Moving beyond the page) and some adjunct material. I say I, because to be honest, I did most of this with minimal input from my husband in the beginning. He was slow to “warm” to the whole idea and was very hesitant/skeptical in the beginning. Be prepared for this. Be prepared to deal with the stress of family and friends who have not done the research you have to come at you with doubts. Consider yourself the expert on new cars, you know what is best, they don’t. Be prepared to share that knowledge once you acquire it. My husband now loves it and fully embraces Homeschool, but it was a slower journey for him.

Getting it wrong, getting it right and surviving the transition.

Ever take up a new hobby and just surround yourself with it? Starting Homeschool is like that. It’s a whole new world you want to explore. I wanted to do everything. I mean it… all of it. It all looked incredible. Seriously who actually looks at curriculum and what their kids really learn in school? I never really had but now I had no choice as I was the one picking the curriculum! This stuff was just fun, amazing and I wanted to learn it all for me as well as my kids! The Nile? Washington crossing the Delaware? Building chemistry models? Watching NASA videos could be school? I wanted to do every little bit of everything I saw! My kids would do EVERYTHING! Hear me roar world! My stress/obsession transitioned into a neurotic mom certain her child would not fall behind and would conquer the world. We were heading to Harvard will ye nil ye! We would excel! But which? How? I didn’t know where to start. Panic ensued.

Protip: Right… now is when you learn to breathe. Seriously. Big deep breaths. There is so much more here than you can quickly do or absorb. Slow down. You’ll thank me later.

My biggest frustration was that there was no single place to get “all the info” at the time. It took me tons and tons of time. And the questions! I’d never even heard of any of this stuff. It was a whole new vocabulary! What was a co-op?  An umbrella school? Unschooling and how was it different from Deschooling? How did you make a transcript ? A portfolio? And why did you care? What about college? Which curriculums were best? What if you were religious or secular? Which ones were good for Dyslexia, gifted or whatever you needed? Most importantly how do I know how my child learns? What is a learning style and why did I care? How did I want to teach? Couldn’t this just be easier? I felt the struggle and frustrations and worries of every parent who ever set out on this course to a new world. I wanted a map! A guidebook and a travel agent all rolled into one!

It didn’t exist. So we built it! Unlike me, on your journey you have lots of help. You are not alone. Arm yourself with the best tools and best community support easily. Find out all your options, the options best for you personally, in a few clicks. Remember that education is a personal journey and greatly varies. It is a journey you take with your children. It looks different from family to family and that is the best part! No matter what you choose, traditional brick and mortar education, online schools, innovative schools, homeschool or some combination of this, Anything Academic is the place to find a searchable listing of every curriculum, learning resource, summer camp, online school, field trip, educational Youtube channel and more available to you. We have over 30,000 options for you and the list only keeps growing. All with specific criteria to match to you and full information and links to those companies/sites. This lets you find far more than you hear about from your best friend, local co-op or or Facebook group. And certainly more than your old school can tell you! So now it is your turn to start your journey. Dig deep. You will be glad you did.

How to start to do your research:

  • Here! Read up and explore on Anything Academic’s library

  • Join the Facebook groups for your area and ask questions

  • Find a local co-op .We have tons on Anything academic. Want to help the next mom? Drop us a line if you have a co-op we aren’t listing! It’s free.

  • Find your support group. Find local homeschool moms, co-op moms and more.

Obstacles and what to know:

  • If you ask the school for help on homeschool or other non-traditional education types, they will probably look at you cross-eyed. It’s not their fault, generally they know little about homeschool or online schools and what they do know is wrong. They are just as ignorant on the subject as you were at the start. They know school, not homeschool. Do not rely on them for accurate information. Don’t blame them either.

  • Know your state laws and what is “allowed” for homeschool in your state. You can research this under “Your State Laws and Teacher credential verification” on Anything Academic.

  • Don’t be surprised if you get strange looks or negative comments from friends, family or even a spouse. Take a deep breath. They aren’t being mean, they are simply, uneducated on this topic. Most people have lots of preconceived and incorrect notions about homeschool. I certainly did. Educate yourself and then educate them. You will find their tunes change as they learn about this just as yours do!

The next steps:

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