Homeschoolers are often very quick to enter into mentoring relationships. We do not have a built in support system as do traditional schooling parents, so we must find ways to connect with others who share our desire to direct our children’s education.
The internet immediately became the homeschooler’s favorite tool for networking, shopping, and choosing curriculum. Support groups and coops sprung up hither and yon like clover in the springtime.
What should you look for in a mentor, and what does it take to be one?
Experience- How much homeschooling experience do you need to be a mentor?
I think five minutes sounds about right.
The fact is, homeschooling begins the second our children are born. We teach them hand-eye coordination, compassion, speech, morality and appropriate behavior. . . and if they are potty trained by the time they are four, go ahead and pat yourself on the back. You have read them stories, sometimes even with voices and sound effects. They know colors and shapes, and can build a fort with anything from Legos to mashed potatoes. You have done some serious teaching already, and homeschooling is just a continuation of that.
Mentoring is being honest and open about sharing your experiences. Tell each other what worked, and even better, tell each other what didn’t work. Discussion is often just thinking out loud, and when we talk with someone else about the situations we’ve faced, or perceive are in our future, we can not only help each other find solutions, but offer caution and counsel about what to avoid.
Example- The aspect of mentoring that most find scary is the idea of leading by example. We think being a good role model implies achieving perfection or expertise. However, being an example is more about modeling how to handle shortcomings and vulnerabilities than being impervious to them.
In what areas do we expect to act as an example? Are other parents teaching the same way we do, using the same books, and parenting clones of our children? I don’t think so. Each family has their own dynamic, every child has specific needs, and our homeschools will develop and adapt as the days go by.
Mentoring is not providing a pattern for others and expecting them to simply connect the dots. Rather, it is providing an anchor so that they feel the confidence and freedom to forge their own unique path. Our steadfast faith, patience, and compassion are the principles that guide us, and will also help us guide them.
Encourage- Maybe no one liked the cheerleaders in high school, but everyone needs encouragement, and mentors make a point of regularly offering hope, support, and comfort to those in need.
Encouragement doesn’t require eloquence, or expensive cards and gifts. Your steady presence can be felt in the simple prayers, notes, phone calls, emails, or even text messages. But don’t use trite and worn phrases that lack sincerity. If you are a mentor, it does require knowing in what areas your friend needs consolation or inspiration.
As Christians we are commanded to be burden-bearers:
Galatians 6:2 Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
As homeschoolers we know how much lighter the load feels when others come along beside us to comfort and sustain us.
Empathize- This sounds easier than it is in reality. Empathy isn’t just feeling for someone, it is feeling with them. We aren’t simply communicating, but communing with one another.
We claim to desire and enjoy close-knit relationships, but we are often guilty of keeping people at arm’s length. By not trying to connect with others, we are by default pushing them away. We are loathe to reveal any vulnerabilities, and we are too busy with our own issues to deal with the struggles of others. But when we keep people at a distance, we can neither receive the warmth and joy of friendship, or give it.
Homeschoolers may lead very different lives, and use a variety of education methods and resources, but we know the same insecurities, concerns, fears, and irritations-
- “What if I can’t teach them?”
- “Why isn’t my child’s spelling improving?”
- “What if my family is against our decision to homeschool?”
- “What about high school and college?”
- “Why do people always ask us how we provide proper socialization?”
Because we know how it feels to have these questions, we can commiserate with others, and find solutions together.
Have you begun to see yourself as a homeschool mentor? Are you new to homeschooling, and hoping to find someone who will act in this capacity for you? Make it a goal to find another homeschooler, and share your experiences, be a good example, encourage and empathize with them.