When Your Homeschooler Misses School

The summer is ending and the school year beginning for those who are headed back to school. You’ve spent the summer cementing your decision not to send your child back to school this fall — or perhaps ever.
You’ve read everything you could get your hands on about homeschooling; you have chosen materials and curriculum; you have soothed the concerns of family and friends even while feeling a bit unsure yourself. You don’t know how the details will play out, but you are convinced that homeschooling will be a better option for your child.

photo credit: Waiting for the school bus via photopin (license)

Your child’s friends and neighbors are sporting shiny new backpacks and heading to the bus stop to wait for the big yellow school bus. They have new sneakers, new desk supplies, and a lunch packed in a fancy container. They are bubbling over with excitement and anticipation as they head back to school.
As they walk by, your child is still in pajamas, rubbing sleep out of his or her eyes. Breakfast seems mundane. It feels like any other old day at home. What day is today again? As the school-bound children get on the bus, it suddenly hits. Today is the first day of school, and your child is not headed there.
“I wish I could get on that bus and go to school with all my friends!”
What now?
Homeschooling is a big transition for both you and your child. Your child may grieve the loss of many aspects of the school experience. You might even be surprised at the things that he or she misses most. Even if school was a bad or mixed experience, there may be a sense of loss before the “new normal” is established.
Make it a point to ask your child what he or she is missing, and allow him or her the process of grieving and letting go.
If your child is feeling sad and missing school, here are some things to consider as you make the transition to homeschooling.

  • Structure. In school, each day is typically heavily structured and predictable. Some children thrive on less structure (and that is one reason some parents choose to homeschool), but others have a deep need for solid daily structure to feel secure and function well. Pay close attention to your child’s individual needs, and consider whether they might need more or less structure in their homeschool day. Don’t be afraid to go through some trial and error to find the rhythm that works best for your child.
  • Photo credit: Chandang Tsering. (Oak Meadow archives.)
    Photo credit: Chandang Tsering.
    (Oak Meadow archives.)

    Social network. School is full of same-aged peers, and your child may be missing that regular social stimulation. Be proactive in reaching out to create a new social network of homeschoolers and other community members. Many homeschoolers gather at local parks for active outdoor play that looks and feels a bit like recess.
  • Lunch. Some children really like having a packed lunch, and the foods you might put in a lunch bag might be different than those you’d make for consumption at home. Engage your child in coming up with a weekly lunch menu, and if it’s important to your child, let him or her “pack a lunch” each morning.
  • Supplies. School-bound students end the summer armed with a pile of brand-new school supplies, often purchased to satisfy a list provided by the school. Does your child miss having new notebooks, pens, etc.? Good news! School supplies are often clearanced right after the start of school. New supplies can be exciting for homeschoolers, too.
  • Teachers. Your child may miss having adult mentors around who are not his or her parents. Foster your child’s relationship with adults who are willing to take on a mentoring role, even if it is as simple informally helping a neighbor out regularly. Some organizations, such as scouts, provide a more formal opportunity for a child to interact with a mentor who is not a teacher.
  • Adventure. Riding the school bus can feel like a big adventure for younger children. Older students enjoy field trips, special assemblies, and other school-sponsored activities. Weave some adventure into your homeschooling plans. If you live out in the country, visit the city and ride a public bus. Many museums, historical sites, and arts organizations allow homeschoolers the same privileges as school groups, so be sure to call in advance and let them know you are homeschoolers.
  • Responsibility. At school, when parents are absent, students may feel more grown-up and responsible. At home with Mom or Dad around, old patterns might reign. If your children seem to be resisting your involvement, try giving them more autonomy. Ask them what they’d like to be in charge of, and give them the opportunity to try.

Photo credit: Kara Maynard. (Oak Meadow archives.)
Photo credit: Kara Maynard.
(Oak Meadow archives.)

Transitions take time, and the transition from school to homeschool can feel like a really big deal to both you and your child. Take it as gently and slowly as you need to. Find some ways to mark the transition and ensure that the next few weeks are especially fun and enjoyable for both of you.
If after this year you decide to homeschool for next year as well, chances are good that your child will have embraced it and will be looking forward to it. And when the school bus goes by on the first day of school next year, you might well hear your child say:
“I’m so glad I don’t have to go to school today!”

Transitioning from School to Homeschool

Sending your child off to school is a big transition. Making the shift to homeschooling when your child has been in school is another big transition. It may take some time to feel settled on the homeschooling path. Here are some things to anticipate as you make your way.

This is a big adjustment for you and your child. It may be a relief; it may be a challenge; it may be both. Give yourselves and the rest of the family plenty of time to adjust. Be patient and gentle. Expect to fine-tune your plan throughout the year as you get to know your child’s learning style and your homeschooling style and how they fit together. Involve your child in decisions when possible, so that he or she feels invested in the outcome.

Do not doubt your qualifications. You do not have to be trained as a teacher to be a successful homeschooling parent! Parents of diverse educational backgrounds successfully homeschool. Let go of the myth that you need to be an expert at everything to be able to facilitate your child’s learning. Seek others to help your child in the subjects you feel less confident in. Use curriculum written specifically for homeschoolers that includes strong resource materials for parents. Consider teaming up with other homeschooling families to team-teach certain subjects. We hear from parents who tell us how much they enjoy learning new things along with their child. You can do this!

You will most likely need to file an intent to homeschool with local, state, or provincial educational authorities. Depending on where you live, you may need to cooperate with periodic evaluations or have your educational plan pre-approved. In the U.S., every state has their own requirements; some are more complex than others. (The HSLDA is a good starting point for finding out about your state laws.) In some cases, the timing of your submission is critical. You may find it simplest to register with a distance learning school to fulfill state requirements.

Your child may grieve. He or she will be experiencing the loss of something central and familiar, even if the school experience was complicated and the reasons for beginning homeschooling were clear. Recognize that grief is not necessarily an indication that homeschooling is not working. Let your child tell you about what he or she misses most about school and work together to find new ways to meet those needs.

You and your child will likely spend more time together than before. If you have gotten used to having time to yourself while your child is at school, you may find that homeschooling feels very different. Consider your own needs as well as your child’s, and plan for support that will enable you to get some time to yourself when you need it. If you work from home or outside the home, your work situation may need to be adapted if school previously filled the role of daytime caregiver. Consider all the ways in which your child is capable of being independent along with the things for which he or she needs support. Know that with dedication and creativity, many other homeschooling parents have made working-and-homeschooling work for them, too.

If you have multiple children, the sibling dynamic may become more challenging, particularly if there are younger siblings at home who are used to having a temporary period of time when they lead the pack or enjoy being an “only.” They may need extra support as they adjust to sharing your attention for more of the day. Or if some of your children remain in school while one or more begin homeschooling, they may need reassurance that each person in the family is getting their needs met in the best way possible, even if the solutions look different.

You may find yourself in the role of public relations manager. Friends, neighbors, and members of the school community will have questions about your decisions and your experiences. Face them with confidence and do not feel obligated to explain. Feel free to say, “We needed a change,” or “We’re finding our way,” and leave it at that.

You will need support. You may find that friends and family don’t understand your experience as a homeschooling parent – or your child’s experience as a homeschooler. Connect with others who can relate to your experience. Oak Meadow’s Facebook page and our other social media channels are a good place to start. There may be a homeschooling group already going strong in your area, but if not, don’t be afraid to reach out and start one so that you can get to know some like-minded families.

Your child’s social sphere will change. Social needs can vary greatly from person to person. What is your child’s social personality? How much and what kind of social interaction does he or she need? It may take some time for this to become clear, and it may happen by trial and error. Don’t worry about socialization! Do your best to connect with local homeschoolers during the school day or with old school friends after school is out.

Your family’s rhythms will change. Your wake-up time may no longer be dictated by the school bus schedule. You will have a chance to figure out when in the day your child is most receptive for learning and when they need unstructured time. Embrace the opportunity to revisit and revise your family’s routines and rhythms as you adjust to homeschooling.

Most importantly, trust yourself. Remember that you are the most qualified expert on your child. You will not be able to figure everything out before you start, and that is fine. In fact, it’s normal. Keep your expectations flexible. Be willing to shift gears if the first things you try are not quite right. You will make it through this transition. You are in good company, and one day you may be able to reassure another family who is beginning the process of transitioning from school to homeschool!