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3 Tips for Getting Started With MilLife Homeschooling

If you’re a parent you know how hard the first day of school is, especially when it’s the first time you leave your little one at kindergarten. My daughter used to do what I called the “stop, drop and roll” temper tantrum. It would break my heart to drive away as she shrieked, “Mom, don’t leave me.”

It's probably no surprise to you that homeschooling has become an accepted part of military life, as recently pointed out in this story. Not only does it save you from those awful leaving feelings, it gives you more flexibility around your servicemember's schedule and offers kids stability around moves and other military life surprises. For military families, homeschooling means the hassles of switching schools, of adjusting to new teachers and friends, of worrying about being behind with the new school’s curriculum are no more.  It’s also popular with EFMP families, especially with regard to today’s school environment.

“My kids aren’t jaded and don’t have to be “tough” to keep up with bullies at school,” said Tiffany Thomas-Ellman, a stay-at-home mom who homeschools her artistic twins, Jacey and Fallon, 10, and Emory, 4. “Homeschooling works for us because it’s flexible and we observe a natural rhythm with school, nap time and bedtime. No one is better equipped to deal with my special needs kids or knows them better than I do.”

And, as that story points out, family program officials are stepping into help. Posts and bases now regularly offer support for homeschooling clubs and extra-circular activities such as a special "homeschool swim" time at the MWR pool.

Advocates stress that military children have unique needs and that homeschooling prepares them to doing their best. Approximately 10 percent of military children are homeschooled, but Thomas-Ellman thinks that number should be higher.

“Don’t let anyone tell you it’s too hard or that you’re not a teacher and can’t do it,” she said. “If I had to do it all over again—that’s the last thing I’d worry about. Kids learn by doing, and taking them out on field trips and seeing and doing stuff is key to their development. The most important thing is teaching your kids how to love learning.”

But whether or not homeschooling is for your family can be a tough decision. Are you comfortable teaching? Do you have enough patience to help your child learn to read?

If you're thinking of seeing if homeschooling is for you, here are a few tips experts suggest tackling first.

Dot your “I’s” and cross your “T’s”: Each state has its own laws and public curricula, and sometimes it varies from district to district. For example, one state may require parents register as private schools in order to homeschool, while another may require that kids take a standardized test at a certain grade-level. Check with base (and local) school districts to see if there are any special rules or regulations that you need to adhere too. Also, contact your local homeschool association and the Home School Legal Defense Association for more assistance.

Curriculum decisions: Deciding what you want to teach your kids and how much of it will be in alignment will a traditional school curriculum is important—it sets the stage for everything else that follows. Thomas-Ellman decided on a non-traditional program.

“I take the kids to museums, parks, science centers, and when they see something that strikes their fancy, we learn more about it.”

She allows her children to determine the course of their education. However, you might choose a more structured curriculum. Thomas-Ellman also sought advice from friends who had homeschooled their nine children over a 30-year period. Get dialed in with your local homeschooling community and see what they’re doing. Also check on-base and see what additional resources they have to offer. There is help, so don’t be discouraged.

Seek support: The number one complaint from many homeschooling parents is the extra stress of being with the kids all day. My friend Leiah Devoux, built mandatory “down-time” into each day so she could take a break. She also enrolled her kids in a Montessori school twice a week for variety and for them to socialize.

Another complaint is fine-tuning a math and science curriculum. Don’t attempt to recreate the wheel. Some on-base co-ops (and local homeschooling communities) have parents who trade expertise and can teach your kids in multiple areas. It takes roughly a year to adjust to homeschooling, so be patient and take notes.

You can also find support in online communities -- check out this page and this one for some pointers.

“Homeschooling should be fun,” said Thomas-Ellman. “No one wants more for your kids than you—so go for it. You’ll learn so much about yourself, and your kids will teach you a lot, too. It has been the most rewarding and enriching experience of my life.”

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