The benefits of homeschooling overseas

The benefits of homeschooling overseas

by Sharon Olson
Stripes Europe

Moving overseas is a big transition. The decision to homeschool can ease the adjustment, create a bonding environment and offer educational experiences unrivaled by classrooms and textbooks.

Revolution of home education

Parents are on the front lines of training the next generation. Whether we enlist the help of teachers in a traditional setting or decide to educate them at home, the mission to produce lifelong learners ranks high on the priority list.

One mom told me, “The decision to homeschool our children while stationed overseas was one of the best decisions we made. We traveled a lot — living, eating and breathing teachable moments that would never have been possible in a classroom setting. Our family has had the experience of a lifetime.”

Taking the leap into homeschool is an adjustment — and adventure — that the whole family takes together. Both the struggles and victories are experienced as a team, which creates unity and bridges the gap between uprooting from one place and replanting somewhere else. The family pulls together, learning firsthand that worthwhile endeavors are a process and that progress takes perseverance.

Although a bit messy at times, especially during a season of relocation, focusing on academic goals together creates a culture of grace and flexibility. Along the way, parents define — and refine — the specific values that are most important in their family culture. The difference between homeschool and traditional education is that we trade the classroom for more time with the children.

The adjustment of transitioning from one culture to another is made easier when the family’s core values stay the same regardless of geography. While that holds true for families who choose traditional school as well as homeschool families, the latter has the advantage of an unhurried, organic environment in which family members spend their days focused on their values and the joint mission to learn and grow.

Create lifelong bonds

George Barna, founder of The Barna Group, a research and resource firm, points out in his book, “Revolutionary Parenting” that “A coach who lacks a relationship with a protégé has little chance of convincing that person to take big risks, work hard, or sacrifice immediatepersonal gain for a greater good.” Homeschool provides the parent-as-teacher-and-coach a quantitative advantage with “real time” opportunities to help their student problem-solve and learn in the moment. Even in large families where the “classroom size” is larger than smaller families, older children mentor and coach their younger siblings — with the benefit of shared values and common goals.

The family who steps out of its comfort zone together, who takes on challenges together, grows together. A few years ago, our family traveled to Malawi, Africa. Facing challenges together, we leaned on one another for support when we got sick. We held and rocked and fed babies at the orphanage. We rallied together during our four-day adventure out in the Bush, hours from modern civilization, when we experienced culture shock, heat exhaustion, hunger and thirst. Then, when the volcano in Iceland erupted, we didn’t worry about the extended stay because we weren’t under pressure to get the children back to school. In fact, we seized the opportunity to learn about volcanoes and their impact on the environment.

What about socialization? One of the best aspects of home education is the relationships formed with other families. Usually, these relationships are multi-generational, teaching children that they are not peer-dependent — that they always have something to learn from those who are older, and are mentors to those who are younger. It’s a win-win. When children and adolescents learn to interact with others and to treat everyone with dignity, regardless of age and other diverse dynamics, they learn how real-life interaction works.

A relationship with other families in a wider community is especially valuable during deployments. The camaraderie built among families who are home educating creates trust, so that parents act as surrogates during a deployment.

Seizing opportunities

Homeschool overseas accommodates the family’s specific dreams and goals. Covered under the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), families are free to align their studies with their goals. A family may choose to reference their home state’s curriculum, another state’s graduation criteria, and still another state’s standardized tests. Or, a family can choose to opt out of all of those and venture out on its own.

Of course, I’d be remiss if I failed to mention those power-packed lessons in which homeschool families study the Renaissance Period, followed by a visit to the Sistine Chapel. Or the student who spends an exponential amount of time mastering Piano Sonata No. 1 in C major, and experiences two inspiring days in Mozart’s hometown of Salzburg, Austria.

Living in Europe provides uncommon field trips. Where else can students read “The Diary of Anne Frank” only to later stand in the space where her family hid during WWII? There’s nothing quite like it.

An abundance of resources

Local homeschool groups can be found via Facebook, Google or the military base website. These groups are great for meeting other families and organizing time to work on projects together, exchange expertise in mentoring and coaching students, or simply spending time together … socializing. Not only are families collaborating in co-ops and informal homeschool groups, they’re also partnering with the local schools. Homeschool students have equal access to all resources available through DoD schools.

The beauty of homeschool is that the parents knows their student better than anyone, making it possible to customize and tailor learning styles and teaching methods. There are entire homeschool-in-a-box kits organized for the standard 180 days of school along with scripts and instructions, removing the guesswork. Other parents utilize an eclectic style of education, studying subjects from a wide array of organizations and styles (the method our family prefers). Still others provide guidance-oriented curriculum with lesson plans built around flexibility. Plus, there is a plethora of online courses.

It’s important to remember that there is a wide network of support and you are not locked into any one method or curriculum. In fact, Lisa Whelchel, who played Blair Warner in The Facts of Life, wrote in her book, “So You’re Thinking About Homeschooling,” that she switched curriculum, experimenting with different styles of homeschool at the start of each year. You not only trade the classroom for time, but also for freedom.

While the method for education differs from family to family, it is important to know what you want most out of your overseas experience, to take stock of the opportunities, and relish time to create lifelong memories with one another. No matter what approach your family takes, uphold a culture of lifetime learning, enjoy the moments you spend together, and take advantage of the richness of living abroad.

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