Tips on making the transition when you’re considering public school
We’re an 85.9% homeschool family (I did the math). We started out intending to be a 100% homeschool family, and in my heart I’m a 100% homeschooling mom, but Child #3 and Child #4 required different approaches to their education, so we’re going to end up at 85.9% overall. Kids will throw you a curve ball like that sometimes.
During the time that I was considering other schooling options for my two out-of-the-homeschool-box boys, I searched in vain for real-life experiences, examples, walk-throughs—anything to guide me in uncharted territory or even just encourage me in taking these huge steps into the unknown. I couldn’t find much, so now that I’ve walked this path myself—twice, in two different ways—I decided to write about it in order to help others who find themselves in a similar situation.
I’ve been a homeschool parent for nearly 20 years, but I’ve also taught high school (before I had kids) and subbed in local elementary schools (during the time my youngest son was in school). So I’ve seen both sides of the schooling options in several different ways.
Our two schooling transitions were: Situation #1, our youngest son, who entered public school in second grade, had two really good and 3/4 not-so-good years there, and then was pulled back out to homeschool again for the rest of his school days. Situation #2, our middle son, who homeschooled until 7th grade, started public school in 8th grade, and is our only child to have a public high school diploma. I want to briefly describe each situation, but most importantly, to give some tips and suggestions for anyone who may be considering a similar situation for their child.
Situation #1—Homeschool to Public Elementary School … and Back Again
There are many reasons parents may choose to place a homeschooled child into public school—as many reasons as there are families that do this. For us, we had two younger sons, five years apart, who were like oil and water. Their differences and struggles with each other were causing tension in the family, and while we were working through this as best we could, we listened carefully when our youngest child talked earnestly of going to school. This wasn’t the usual brief, superficial “I want to ride the school bus” or “I want to eat in a lunchroom and have recess” kind of wanting to go to school, which most homeschool moms are familiar with. This was a very sincere desire, and as a mom who was trying to avoid WWIII and teach two very temperamentally different young boys every day, I began to feel convicted that God was trying to tell me something (I still believe this).
So we made the huge, somewhat scary decision to put our first child ever into public school second grade the following year. Here are some steps we took that I’d recommend if you find yourself in this position:
- Tour the school with the principal. If you haven’t been in a school since you were in school, this is an important step to reacquaint yourself with today’s schools!
- Meet the teacher, with your child, ahead of time. Definitely do this for elementary school, since your child will be with one very important person for the great majority of the school day. My son, being who he is, prepared a list of questions for his new teacher, which he asked her at our little “interview.” She was charmed and was truly delighted to have him in her upcoming class.
- Be prepared to give the school or the teacher examples that show the level of your child’s reading, writing, and/or math skills, if they ask. Yes, your state may not require this and they may not be able to legally ask you for it. But it pays to get off on the right foot with the people who will be teaching your child. It’s simple: just show them a few work samples so they can see where your child’s is in reading and math before they have them in class.
- Get involved and stay involved. Be a room parent for parties or field trips. Volunteer for food drives, fun fairs, sports activities, the book fair, or whatever your “thing” is that will keep you in touch with what’s going on not only in your child’s classroom, but in the school. Be sure to attend parent-teacher conferences or school events your child is interested in.
- Be positive in your communication with the teacher. When you send an email, is there something positive or encouraging you can say before you ask your question or even complain about something? Even better, can you occasionally send an email that’s only positive, thanking the teacher (or principal, counselor, nurse, librarian) for something specific? As a former public school teacher, I can tell you that this is so appreciated.
The next tips relate to our pulling our son back out of school after third quarter of fourth grade. The year had not gone well. So after two excellent years that we were all grateful for, we pulled him out partway through the following year, much to his relief and ours. Two important tips for transitioning back to homeschool are:
- Before you unenroll, do your legal homework first and find out exactly how to do this in your state (start here at HSLDA). I had to send a registered letter to the superintendent of the district. But before I did that, I arranged for two meetings: one with the school principal and one with the teacher, in that order. I met with them to tell them of our decision, and I kept it as positive as I could, making sure it didn’t sound like a personal attack. I had developed a positive relationship with both women and I didn’t want to just pull my child out without talking with them about it.
- Take the time to deschool. “Deschooling” is the transition time needed when going from public or private school to homeschooling. It’s essential because your child needs a period of time to adjust to this huge change. The general rule is to take one month of deschooling for every year that the child was in school. During this time, don’t do any (or much) formal curriculum; instead, stick with “fun” schooling like field trips, science experiments, read-alouds, read-alone time, science kits, art and craft projects, outdoor time and nature walks, audio books, board games, fun educational videos, cooking, learning a new skill, etc. Yes, this all counts as school. No, they won’t get “behind.” It’s essential to decompress from the routine of going to school for seven-plus hours a day, so let your child have that time. Make sure to also give them the time they need to pursue hobbies that may have fallen by the wayside when they were in school and doing homework. For example, my son’s special hobbies were origami and piano. Let them spend all the time they need catching up on the things they’ve neglected, if this is your child’s situation as well.
Situation #2: Homeschool to Public Middle/High School … and Staying In
Our middle son had happily homeschooled through sixth grade with his siblings, but when adolescence hit, it became obvious that he was needing and wanting something different in his schooling. (You can read about this kid who was always pulling away here.) This development was actually not a surprise to us, knowing him as we did, and so during seventh grade we seriously began contemplating having him go to school, knowing it would probably be through graduation. So for entering school at the middle/high school level, here are some tips:
- Start the process the previous spring if possible, because your child can then shadow a student at the school. This is so important for older kids. We had our son shadow at the end of seventh grade, so he knew what to expect and could make an informed decision if he really wanted to go to this school (we were already on board with his decision if he wanted to go).
- Be prepared to give the school examples of work or take a math placement test. In our case, the math test was the only thing we had to do, but if they’d asked to see a writing sample or a list of books he’d read recently, I would have provided it. Again, even though certain things may not legally be required, you want to start your child off on the right foot in their new school.
- Meet in person with the principal or assistant principal if you haven’t already so that you have a chance to ask questions. Have your child present so they can ask questions, too, if they have any. Don’t expect to “meet the teacher” because your child will have multiple teachers, so this probably isn’t feasible or necessary.
- See the tips above for getting involved and sending positive communication. Your involvement and communication will probably be much less than it would be for elementary school, but you can still volunteer and be present even a small amount of time at the school, especially at a middle school.
- Attend parent-teacher conferences. I quickly discovered that things haven’t changed from when I taught high school—the higher the grade, the fewer parents who come to conferences to meet the teacher and hear about how their child is doing. I can’t stress enough how important it is to make the time for this. When you have personal contact with a teacher, they know that you care about your child’s education, that you took the time to talk with them, and any future communication with them will be improved 100% as a result. Trust me, you may have to contact them at some point and you’ll be so glad you’ve actually met each other. Even if you don’t have to contact them, your presence there says to your adolescent that you care enough about them to visit their school and talk to their teachers. They probably won’t thank you for it, but it matters to them.
I hope this article has been helpful to those who are considering, for whatever reason and at whatever grade level, putting their homeschooled child into public school. Sometimes we plan to do this years ahead, sometimes we realize it’s a better option for a certain child, and sometimes we’re forced into it due to life circumstances. Whatever the reason, there are ways to make the transition easier for everyone involved.