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How to Achieve Homeschool Success

How to Achieve Homeschool Success

By Rebecca Kochenderfer

Rebecca Kochenderfer is the co-author of the brand new book, "Homeschooling for Success: How Parents Can Create A Superior Education For Their Child" from Time Warner. She is also Senior Editor and co-founder of www.Homeschool.com. Homeschool.com was selected by Forbes Magazine as the #1 homeschooling site on the Internet and has over 2 million unique visitors each year. Rebecca homeschools her three children in Sacramento, California. Rebecca was featured on Homefires Journal E-list Virtual Conference and discussed what it takes to homeschool for success!

Q.  In your opinion, what is success for a homeschooler, and how do you discuss this concept with a 12-year-old? I have mixed feelings about what success is for my children, and especially my 12 year old who is new at homeschooling. Most of her friends are schoolers, with parents as professionals, who view a four-year college degree as unquestionable. I for one question the wisdom of sending a 17 or 18 year old off to college for four years with a charge card. I am looking at this from setting goals, and encouraging intiative towards reachable goals. ~ Michael in Alexandria, Va.

A:  What a wonderful question. What IS success? We want our children to be successful, but don't know exactly what successful is. I've given this a lot of thought and here's what I've come up with. This is what I want for my children:

1) I want my children to have a strong foundation in the basics like reading, writing, math, history, science, etc.

2) I want my children to be curious life-long learners who are open to learning new things and know how to research and learn about anything they are interested in.

3) I want them to have the courage to go after their dreams and I want them to know how to use goal-setting to achieve those dreams.

4) I want to bring out my children's special gifts and show them how to use these gifts to their fullest. My children are still young and the proof is in the pudding, but I'll feel like I've succeeded as a parent and my children are a success if . . .

  • They wake up in the morning eager to start the day
  • They know that they can go to Harvard, if that is what they want
  • They have good business skills and feel good about money. I want them to know that they can earn any amount of money they want to earn. And better still, I would love it if my children know how to buy apartment buildings and other investments that bring them money each month so that they don't HAVE to work
  • Life can be hard sometimes and I will really feel like I've succeeded as a parent and as a homeschooler if my children grow up to feel good about their life and what they've created.

I guess my definition of success is enjoying life and expecting that more good things are just around the corner. Regarding college, I think the next big trend in education we're going to see is people homeschooling themselves through college. I agree with you that college is a pretty expensive place to park yourself while you're finding out who you are and what you want in life.

I think homeschooled teens have a tremendous advantage in this area because they have more free time to answer those questions for themselves while they're still young. We're leaving it open for our children and are putting aside some money for each of them that they can use either for college, to set up a business, or to travel around the world. College isn't the door opener it once was and I am preparing myself that my children may not want to go to college. When I wrote the college chapter for our book I learned about a lot of great opportunities that may even be better for young adults than more school.

Q:  Do you have advice for my husband who is concerned about social isolation if we homeschool?

A:  I guess this is probably the biggest concern people have when considering homeschooling. Will my child have rich social experiences and develop deep friendships, if they are not in school? My husband worried about this, too, and he worried that the kids wouldn't be able to go to college if we homeschooled. It was just about this time, that I attended a homeschooling conference. Boy was I shocked!

For some reason I expected homeschoolers to have three heads or something and I was so relieved and pleasantly surprised to discover that homeschoolers were "normal." The clincher for my husband, though, was when I called him from the conference and told him about the teens I had met. Homeschooled teens just knock my socks off! They are so well adjusted, and kind, and intelligent, and responsible. And I loved the way the teens and the adults worked along side each other with such mutual respect. This is what comforted my husband and persuaded him to let me give homeschooling a try.

In fact, even though it's been 11 years, we still take it one year at a time. :) Isn't that funny? Perhaps your husband would be comfortable with a one year try? Then he'll be able to see for himself how your children have even more time for friendships and activities now, since they don't have to spend so much time in school.

Q:  If one of the reasons for homeschooling is to avoid the negative influence of peers, why would homeschool parents put their child in an enrichment class, i.e., gymnastics, karate, Little League, etc? I am wondering if the negative socialization issues that will keep my son out of school (by my decision to homeschool) are the same issues that will keep me from placing him in community programs.

A:  If I understand your question correctly, you are wondering if you should homeschool your son in order to avoid the negative socialization that goes on in schools. It's just my own personal philosophy, but when I make a decision, I try to focus on the positive thing I want to move toward, and not on the negative thing I want to move away from.

I guess I just believe in the law of attraction and that whatever you put your attention on, you get more of. For example, have you ever purchased a new car and then suddenly see that same type of car every where you go? You get more of what you're putting your attention on. So if you put your attention on bad socialization, even if your goal is to escape that bad socialization, I believe you will get more bad socialization.

I realize that this is probably a hairy-fairy response to your question, but my advice to you is this: If you want to create a great social experience for your child, than begin thinking now of all the great experiences you want them to have and how you can bring about these experiences. Focus on what you want. Oftentimes, when people think of homeschooling they picture children chained to the kitchen table all day, crying because they're so lonely. But that just isn't the case.

At least that isn't the case for my family or for the people I've chatted with through Homeschool.com. Sometimes I wish we were home more often! My children participate in little league, boy scouts, gymnastics, guitar lessons, you name it! My parents always told me that you have to take your good times with you, and so my husband and I encourage the kids to make the most of every situation they are in and to set goals for themselves that stretch them and help them to become the best person they can be.

I highly recommend that you give homeschooling a try. My suspicion is that you are already homeschooling your child. Mathew James sent all his children to Stanford and he only homeschooled one hour a day. Trust your instinct. The first time I read about homeschooling I got butterflies in my stomach and knew that instant that homeschooling was just what I had been looking for.

Q:  Do you have good suggestions for helping me articulate "why" I want to homeschool to my friends and family? Can you recommend some books that will help me respond to someone who says, with a critical tone, "Why are you keeping your child out of school?"

A:  I know just how you feel. It can be so hard sometimes to be different. When hearing other people's concerns or criticisms I find that it helps to come from a place of kindness, rather than anger.

For example, my mother-in-law made it quite clear that she disapproved of our homeschooling. But it helped when I reminded myself why she disapproved. It was because she loves her grandchildren and wants them to have a fabulous education. From her perspective, we were just being foolish and endangering her grand-children's education. But of course my husband and I had to make our own decisions about how we want to raise our children, as do you, and over time she has been comforted by seeing that the kids are growing up nicely and are only a little weird.

You have to make your own way in this life and can't be afraid of making mistakes. What's the worst thing that could happen? Even if you were to find out that homeschooling wasn't right for you, at least you had the courage to trust yourself and do what you thought was best. We're not perfect!!

Whenever I make a mistake I laughingly tell my kids, "Well, that wasn't my first mistake and I'm sure it won't be my last." Especially in the beginning, I found reading books about homeschooling to be such a comfort. It's just nice to know that we're not alone. That's why I think an email list like this is important, too, because it helps you to reach out to others who are also "going boldly where no one has gone before." And that's why I think a homeschooling tele-conference would be great for new homeschoolers because you get someone who can comfort you and hold your hand while you're charting a new course. To be specific about books, we posted a list of our Top Ten Homeschooling books on Homeschool.com. We also have a great list of the Top 100 Educational Web Sites. I hope this helps.

Q.  Can you recommend resources available for children with special needs? I have a son with a traumatic brain injury starting 9th grade, however he functions on different levels on each subject. ~ Jill

A:  I also have a son with "special needs." He has a vision disorder called "macular degeneration." If my son were in school his vision thing would be a big deal--- he would have to have special tools for helping him read the blackboard, etc. But the funny thing is, that because we're homeschooling his special need isn't a big deal at all, it's just a need. And every child has needs. And every child is gifted.

The beauty of homeschooling is that it allows each child to work at their own pace and to learn in the way that works best for them. Remember, grade level expectations really only matter if you are expecting that you will one day put your child back in school. And even then, the expectations are rather arbitrary. For example, a Waldorf school, a catholic school and a public school all have different grade level expectations.

My advice to you is this: Focus on bringing out your child's strengths. It is not unusual for people to function at different levels for different subjects. The gifted writer, for example, may be weak in science. Help your son discover what he is good at and develop that talent to its fullest. How does your son learn best? My reading? or by listening?

My son learns best by listening and so he listens to a lot of books on tape. And just about everything is available in audio form today. Or does he learn best by using his hands? Can he build up some of his weak areas by using computer programs or by building things? I always try to work from my goal backwards. What is your son's goal? Does he want to go to college, travel the world, start a business? Once he sets his goal, you can work backwards and help him develop the skills he needs to attain that goal.