Unexpected Opportunities, Finding Educational Resources for Homeschoolers Within the Community
Karen M. Gibson
One of the things I have discovered about homeschooling (and it is particularly true about unschooling) is that we are often forced to look to the private sector when seeking educational resources. We can no longer depend upon the public school to provide our educational opportunities; we must seek them out on our own. One good result of this is that the more we turn to the private sector, the more choices will become available to us. In the same vein, when looking for programs and/or resources, it is often necessary to use our “network” of friends, relatives, and even strangers! As facilitator of our children’s education, it is up to us to find resources, locate mentors and inquire about programs in which our children might wish to become involved. This has been a source of difficulty for me, as I am not naturally comfortable initiating conversation with people whom I do not know. But, for my children’s sake I am learning to overcome my hesitations and discomfort in order to take advantage of unexpected opportunities.
This past year we have had several instances of these unexpected opportunities; situations have occurred where I had to think fast, ask questions, and generally take “risks” by talking to “strangers.” In doing so, though, each of my children has been able to work with and learn from others who share their love of a particular area of interest.
Last fall my daughter Kat enrolled in Spanish 101 at a local college. Since she had not taken any formal classes or done any textbook work in Spanish, we both expected she would find the class to be challenging. Unfortunately, we were disappointed; the class was so easy that she was reluctant to continue taking Spanish at that college for the spring semester or any other college for the time being. One disappointment with the class was the fact that Spanish was spoken hardly at all and speaking the language is as important to her as learning the grammar and written structure. So, we decided that perhaps a tutor or a private class would work better. I put up notices at libraries and networked on local homeschool e-mail lists for a Spanish tutor, but nothing surfaced.
Then, one day while watching my children at their karate class, I noticed one of the homeschool mothers there studying intently out of a notebook. Since I didn’t know this mom very well – we had talked briefly just a couple of times – I was somewhat hesitant about asking her what she was studying. But I had heard her mention to another mom earlier about a class she was taking and I thought I had heard the word “Spanish,” so I decided to take a chance. Sure enough, she was taking a Conversational Spanish offered through her church. A church member who had spent several years as a missionary in Mexico had started the class as a ministry. I related to her our search for a Spanish tutor and/or class, and she said she would inquire with the group leader about Kat joining. Within a couple of weeks, Kat was the newest member of the class. Since only Spanish was spoken for the full hour and a half class time, Kat was finally learning to speak and understand Spanish!
About the same time I was looking for a Spanish tutor for Kat, David decided he needed some assistance with C++, a programming language used to create computer games and other software. One of David’s goals is to be able to write computer games; to this end he had been working for several months on his own learning the C++ programming language. He eventually reached a point, though, where it was necessary for him to be able to talk and work with someone knowledgeable about this language. Again, I asked everyone I knew, posted notices at libraries, and asked on all the local homeschool e-mail lists for a C++ Programming tutor. No luck. I even looked into online classes, but David really preferred a one-on-one in-person relationship, not an e-mail one.
About six months after my search began, I was contacted online by an individual who had seen on his work bulletin board a copy of my original e-mail asking for a tutor in C++ Programming. He (Josh) had noticed that the original e-mail’s date was in January and wondered if we were still looking for a tutor. (I since discovered that a member of one of the homeschool e-lists where I had originally posted my request had printed it off and asked her husband to take it to his workplace and post it there!) After communicating a few times with Josh online, finding out what sort of background he had in tutoring and making sure Josh understood some of how we approach learning here, I then contacted him by telephone and arranged for David and I to meet him in person. David and Josh immediately hit it off, settling right into “geek” talk. So, now David has a tutor. They meet once a week, rotating between our home and Josh’s home, working together for 1 ½ to 2 hours each meeting. If David has any problems or questions during the week, they communicate via e-mail. Josh enjoys working with young people who are excited about learning and only asks that we cover his gas expenses when he comes to our home. David is gaining a great deal from their relationship, not the least of which is computer programming.
Sometimes opportunities appear that we almost don’t see. This past June my daughter and I were visiting a local bookstore where we noticed a group of children of various ages playing chess in the store’s coffee shop. Our youngest son Charles enjoys playing chess and seeing the group there reminded me that I had wanted to look for a book on chess for him, something that presented a bit more than just pieces and their basic moves. On our way out of the store my daughter asked, “Why don’t you ask about this group, Mom? Find out how often they meet? I’ll bet Charles would enjoy meeting with a group like this.” I had been thinking I should do just that, but I was really uncomfortable with the idea of walking up to a total stranger and initiating a conversation. Kat urged me to go back and inquire all the way to the car, and quite likely without her there to push me a bit, I would have gone home without knowing anything more about the group playing chess. Instead, I turned around, went back to the store, approached the adult that appeared to be in charge and asked him about the group. Yes, it was a chess club, open to all interested children, and they met every Monday night. After an initial try-out the following Monday, Charles decided he would continue to attend as often as possible. So now Charles spends Monday evenings at chess club at the bookstore, learning chess strategies and enjoying the company of other children who also love chess. And I try to resist the siren song of all those books!
I am slowly learning to overcome my own personal hesitations about initiating conversation and contacting strangers in order to take advantage of those unexpected opportunities. It is well worth my momentary discomfort or embarrassment to see my children’s joy as they participate in activities and learning situations they enjoy. I think this home education journey of ours is as much mine as it is my children’s!
Copyright July 2002
Originally published in the July/August 2002 issue of HELM (Home Education Learning Magazine)