Traditional classroom teachers often have strong opinions when it comes to accepting homeschool students into their classrooms. The experience can be new and difficult for the student, parent, and teacher. Here are some tips that can help.
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One of the biggest fears that parents of homeschoolers have is that their child will get “lost” in a traditional school. They worry that their unique abilities, learning styles, and personality will not be recognized. Meet with the parent as soon as possible once you find out you are receiving a homeschooled child into your class. Ask the parent questions about why they chose homeschool in the first place, and why they are now turning (or returning) to traditional school. Ask about the student – how he/she learns best, the student’s abilities and difficulties, and about the student’s attitudes towards being in a regular school environment. Here is a great survey to use.
Don’t Assume that a Child Knows, or Doesn’t Know, How to Do Something
For students who have been homeschooled their entire lives, the traditional school environment may be extremely foreign. Classroom procedures and routines, such as raising hands, taking turns, keeping their own materials organized, may be new or strange. On the other hand, many homeschooled students have attended classes or co-op groups and may be well aware of classroom norms.
Observe the student and don’t be shy about explicitly teaching these skills. Be patient – if your other students have been in a traditional classroom for years, these skills will be second-nature to them. Homeschool students may take a while to adjust.
Identify Academic Strengths
Homeschooled students are oftentimes taught material outside of their own grade level, so your new student may be working significantly above the other students in your class. It will be important to quickly identify the student’s approximate levels in reading, writing, and math. Keep in mind that parent’s whose child is reading on a middle school level will be extremely concerned if a second grade reading passage is sent home for homework. Parents will also be concerned if their child gets stuck in the role of tutor for their peers, so be sure to make sure that the homeschool child is consistently challenged.
Even students who are working far above grade level deserve to learn from their traditional school experience. Allow the student to share his/her expertise in the lessons that you teach – it will provide a great model for the other students and give your newbie a chance to shine.
Identify Academic Gaps
Since homeschool students are not always required to follow prescribed state standards, they may have significant gaps in their learning. It will be important to identify these gaps and work with the student (and parent) to fill in these gaps as soon as possible. You may be surprised that the student has vast knowledge of historical time periods or events, such as Ancient Egypt or World War II, but knows very little about early elementary social studies standards. Remember that the sequence of homeschool curricula varies widely. The more information you can obtain from the student and parent, the better prepared you will be to fill in these gaps. Focus on the important concepts and those that are pre-requisites for other areas. There are some areas that you may need to just “let go” of if they aren’t essential.
Homeschooled students and their parents may have had a very relaxed homeschool environment with a focus on flexibility. The student may be used to showing their learning in ways other than formal assessment, such as through verbal conversations or projects. Whenever possible, provide choice in the way work is assigned. Recognize that you are asking the student (and parent) to work in a more structured setting and be willing to accommodate when you can.
Keep in Close Contact With the Parent/s
Homeschooled parents may be extremely hesitant about the 4-wall experience. Use your judgement to determine how often to check in with them about their child’s progress. The more proactive you are, the less reactive they will be. The parent has homeschooled in the past and thus is likely to be extremely involved in their child’s class and school. Use this as an opportunity – you may gain a very-able classroom volunteer or field trip chaperone!
Remember that Homeschooled Kids are Just Kids!
Homeschooled kids are not aren’t all academic geniuses. Nor are they socially-awkward. Their parents aren’t all religious fanatics. They are kids! They have different strengths and areas to work on, just like all of the students in your class. The opportunity for homeschoolers to join a classroom community is a great one, and YOU have a huge role in creating an excellent school experience for them.