The first day of school is a big deal for most children.
This year was especially exciting for my daughter’s friend Sarah, who had been homeschooled her entire life, and now at the age of 10 was going to attend public school for the very first time.
While Sarah was thrilled to be able to finally decorate her very own locker, eat lunch with her peers, and play kickball in the gym, Sarah’s mother was worried about how her daughter would go from learning independently to being one of about 25 or more students competing for the teacher’s limited attention. She wondered: Would Sarah be able to navigate her way effectively?
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, approximately three percent of school-aged children were homeschooled in 2011-2012 year. While many of these students’ parents have embraced the homeschool concept, in recent years some homeschool parents have decided it’s time to send their children to public school.
In the latter case, the transition from homeschool to a public school environment can be fraught with challenges — but with some proper planning and patience, most educators agree that you can help your youngster make the move quite smoothly and successfully.
Here are four obstacles homeschooled children often encounter when they enter public school, along with some tips on how to get around them:
Going from the free flow of homeschooling to the structure and rules of the classroom can be stressful for your child. It will take some time for your child to get used to this change. Experts say you can help your child adjust to the changes by working together at home to set up notebooks, filing systems, homework journals, and any other tools that can prepare your student for the more structured environment.
You can also remind your student of the importance of being flexible and that it’s okay to take different approaches to get to the same goal. Talking about such changes in advance can help your child embrace the differences and challenge herself to find new ways to adjust.
When your child is used to working independently to get things done, suddenly being one of a large number of students in a chaotic classroom can seem counterintuitive to learning. However the strengths she gained at home to master new material and run with it can actually be a real asset in the larger setting.
Some educators point out that your child may not need as much hand-holding as some of her peers and may be better able to absorb new concepts and apply them without needing as much help from the teacher. You can encourage your child to continue to apply the skills she learned at home and continue to grow as a student in the new environment.
Many homeschool students have been involved in a variety of group activities and sports to get the socialization they are missing by not being in a classroom. However even a well-adjusted homeschooler can feel like the odd one out the first few weeks of school, especially when the majority of her peers have been attending school together for years.
You can help build your child’s confidence by reminding her to embrace her differences. Many kids will be curious about her past experiences; talking about homeschooling can actually be a good icebreaker to help her make new friends and be accepted. Your child can also point out some of the commonalities between homeschool and public school, such as learning to work hard, learning new material, and progressing to harder levels. She can also talk about some of her extracurricular activities and interests that are likely to overlap with some of her peers. If this isn’t enough and your child is still struggling socially, you might talk to the principal to get some extra help involving your child in positive groups and events where she can more quickly fit in.
The way you taught your child math, languages, or science may be different from the way your child’s new teacher approaches the subject matter. As a result, your student may feel frustrated or overwhelmed about having to relearn the basics. Such situations can be expected when you transition from one setting to the other, but you can support your child. Communicate with the new teacher about your child’s academic strengths and weaknesses in this area. Ask for some extra help for your child to successfully learn the new guidelines. If you find your child isn’t picking up the new style as quickly as you hoped, you can help tutor your child at home. Just be sure you understand the teacher’s style first so you can be consistent in your approach.
Also remember that the teacher is now in charge, so be open to taking a step back when needed, and let your child’s teacher set the stage for how the learning will unfold.
The Internet abounds with examples of former homeschooled kids who are now thriving academically. The transition may not be perfect overnight — but just as learning a new subject or concept can take time, so can adjusting to a new educational environment. The good news is that with your support and by keeping open the lines of communication, before long your homeschooled student should feel right at home.
Fast Facts: Homeschooling. (n.d.). Retrieved September 21, 2014, from National Center for Education Statistics
Reentry: When Homeschool Students Enroll in Traditional Schools. (n.d.). Retrieved September 21, 2014, from PBS Parents