I am not writing this because I am an expert or have anything new or especially earth-shattering to say about the choice to homeschool. I am writing this because I went back through my Facebook messages from the past 18 months and I have had 23, TWENTY-THREE inquiries about homeschooling.
Most of those messages start like this…
“Well, I’m thinking I may want to homeschool my child(ren) BUT…”
So this is in response to many of the same, repeated questions I get asked. Each friend who has asked has different reasons or motivations, but my responses are usually similar in nature.
I thought I might create a document that spells out some thoughts on the matter.
First off, aren’t we so thankful to live in America? To have multiple, excellent choices in how education looks for our kids? I think any choice a person makes for his/her family is the right choice. Any option, be it public school, private or Christian school, or homeschool, is a great option.
The grass can always look greener on the other side, but when parents take an active role in their kids’ education, any way they approach it can be worthwhile, fulfilling and fruitful.
I was one of those people who said I would NEVER homeschool my children. I didn’t believe in homeschooling on a very basic level. I just didn’t think it was a viable option for kids. I am the product of public schooling. I loved school. How could I ever rob my own kids of that wonderful experience of being a student in school?
I was the girl who asked her second grade teacher for an extra stack of math worksheets to keep busy over the summer. I was on the library staff, participated in chorus, played the violin, LOVED spending my money on rubber erasers and new pads and pencils at the school bookstore; I got citizenship awards and I even presented the class gift to our principal at my sixth grade promotion.
In middle school I was the student council class representative for my homeroom, played soccer, served as a guidance staff aide, helped to paint a huge mascot mural on the cafeteria wall, and went to school dances. In high school, I served all four years in student council, was the yearbook editor, ran track, played (poorly) on the soccer team, was a cheerleader for a year and had perfect attendance.
And that was just the fun stuff. I loved academics too. I couldn’t get enough of my classes and the teachers that taught them. To this day, I can name you every, single teacher I had in school. Next to my parents, these people made the most impact and had the most influence on my life. Did I mention that I LOVED school?
So it probably comes as no surprise that once I got to college, I quickly declared a major and began my own teacher training. I loved school and I wanted to get back out into the world and be a teacher myself. I wanted to share my own love of learning with classrooms full of students. I wanted to influence high school students and give them a bright start by making meaningful connections with them through literature and writing.
So that’s what I did. I became a teacher, in a public, Tennessee high school. I taught ninth, tenth, and twelfth grade English as well as Advanced Placement Literature to seniors from the fall of 1999 until the fall of 2003. I loved every minute of it. But once I had Thomas (our oldest) I just felt like my time, interests, and my heart were divided.
I wanted to be at home more and available to mother Thomas and not have him with other caregivers more than he would be with me. And we wanted more children in rapid succession. My teacher salary at the time would have taken a nearly 50% pay cut just to pay for his child care, so Ryan and I decided that I’d resign from my full-time, public school teaching job. I immediately began teaching part-time at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. I’d teach usually two or three sections of freshman English each semester. I loved this too.
I was able to be a stay-at-home mom but still keep one foot in the door professionally. This season of life lasted intermittently from the spring semester of 2004 until the spring semester of 2011. I’m forever grateful for this teaching gig, and to a wonderful supervisor that allowed me the flexibility to teach or not teach certain semesters while we were growing our family.
I share all of that to paint a picture of my own background. I was fully committed to public education. I am still committed to public education. Classroom teachers are some of the most dedicated, hard-core, lay-it-all-on-the-line-to-see-a-student-succeed kind of folks you’ll ever meet.
In 2009, our oldest began kindergarten in a public school. The school he attended is considered one of the top rated in our district; excellent administrators, great teachers, supportive and dedicated PTA and high-achieving students. It was easy to let Thomas go to school. I knew he was in good hands.
He had a great kindergarten experience and first grade was much the same. During his first grade year, my own schedule allowed me more time to volunteer in his classroom. His teacher was highly qualified but I had a birds’ eye view for how overwhelmed she felt with the demands of building level expectations as well as district and state mandates for professional evaluations and student testing. Clearly, there was a sense that much of the day was spent jumping through hoops and much of his teacher’s own creativity was squelched because of ever-growing bureaucratic items on her to-do list.
Our son, who since kindergarten received gifted special education services was pulled about roughly an hour per week from his regular classroom. From the times I was in the regular classroom I witnessed that much of his day was spent waiting. He’d wait for his teacher to do frequent benchmark testing for 25 students. He’d wait in the line for the water fountain. He’d wait in line for library/PE/art/music/lunch.He’d wait in line for his squirt of hand sanitizer on the way to lunch. We’d all wait in the car rider line for drop off and again each day for pick up. Despite the tiny windows of enrichment Thomas received in the gifted program, much of his time in the regular classroom was spent waiting. I began to get an idea that the eight hour school day wasn’t always focused on engaged learning.
I have never had any qualms about the work Thomas’s teachers did. They were great and were simply following school protocol. But what I did grieve as a teacher myself, was the joy and fun that could take place while learning. I grieved that for Thomas and for his teacher. At this time, I felt a stirring in my heart that there might be more to education. I felt a stirring in my heart that there might be another way.
Had we stayed in our former city and job, I have no doubt that I would have silenced those stirrings of the heart. Thomas would have stayed in that same school system, and his two sisters would have followed closely behind him. However, as the school year ended our family made a transition to life in the military.
I didn’t know much about the military, but I did know that our lives were about to be turned inside out and upside down. Because we’d be facing so much change at once: a new city; new Army life; new schedules with my husband being gone for training and deployments; a new life away from our strong support system of both extended families; trying to relocate and find a new house in the “right” school zone…it just felt to me that I could remove one of the big pieces. I could bring school home and allow that to be one stabilizing factor in our transition. With all of the imminent change, I began to see the beauty of the flexibility in homeschooling.
Now I know countless families whose primary factor in deciding to homeschool is spiritual. I know that being able to control their kids’ environment, providing a religious perspective on school, and shielding their kids from the dangers of this world and public school is number one on their list of reasons to home school.From day one, that was never the top reason (or even high on our list of reasons) to choose home school.
For our family, FLEXIBILITY in our schedule was the chief reason among others. Homeschooling has allowed us to tailor our school year around moves, training and deployment schedules. We can travel when we need to either for pleasure or to visit family. Just this school year alone, we took a family vacation when Ryan returned from deployment. We were able to go during his scheduled block leave. Had the kids been in public school, we would have missed out on a much-needed week at the beach as a reunited family.
There are many reasons people choose to home educate their kids. If you are thinking you may want to home school, you need to first ask yourself WHY you think you are motivated to do so.
In all of my interactions with my friends who inquire about home schooling, I can not stress enough that you CLEARLY articulate why you want to do this. I even recommend taking days or weeks to journal (and pray) through your reasons. List them from most important and pressing to the least. What is the catalyst behind your decision?
Knowing your reason(s) why is so very important; because on the hard days (and there will be many, especially at first) it will be this list of reasons that reminds you why you are doing this. It will be this set of priorities that will sustain you and keep you from calling the elementary school down the street on a random Tuesday to see about enrolling your kids there. (Ahem!)
Homeschooling, while likely done by primarily one parent is a home endeavor. It will affect multiple areas of your home life, so make sure your spouse is not only agreeable to the idea but also fully in support of it.
I had wrestled with what I now believe was God pricking at my heart for weeks. Sleep was escaping me at night because I really felt like I needed to at least explore homeschooling before our move. I needed to at least look into it more. It was truly eating at me from the inside so I knew it was time to let out my secret and make Ryan aware for no other reason than to dialogue about my thoughts on this schooling endeavor. I worked up my nerve and told him I needed him to sit down because I needed to ask his advice and opinion on something that was not going away in my thought life.
He sat down. I explained that I absolutely DID NOT WANT TO HOMESCHOOL our kids, but I just kept feeling this nudge to explore the idea.
His reply was two simple words.
It was almost a relief to hear him disapprove. I thought that I’d surely be off the hook with this thing if Ryan wasn’t into it.
He followed that up with, “You show me one kid, one person that is a true success story of homeschooling; one kid that you’d like any of our kids to model after…see you can’t. There’s not one.”
Unfortunately for us, up until that point we had NOT seen many positive results of home schooled students. There one family we knew who homeschooled that wasn’t exactly a shining example. Crazy mom, weird dad, socially awkward and practically illiterate children and I couldn’t really argue with Ryan.
We both agreed that public schooling is just what you did with your kids. My thoughts on easing into the transitions of our move were met with, “They’re kids, they’ll adapt.”
My thoughts on having a more-flexible schedule were met with, “Life isn’t about getting to take a vacation when you want, we all abide by schedules, school years and days off.”
And my last ploy of being able to tailor our kids education to their abilities and interests was met with, “Why would we ever want to remove them from a setting where there is a market place of ideas?”
Can I just reiterate that I REALLY didn’t want to homeschool our kids. I just didn’t. And clearly, Ryan didn’t really want me to either. I knew it was no indictment on my abilities or willingness, it was simply an unheard of, out-of-the-question option.
Besides all of that, I was embarrassed to admit that this might be a viable schooling option. I felt like I was cheating on my public school background; turning my back on my roots.
So several weeks later, Ryan came back and suggested (because apparently his heart was softening to the idea as well), that we both continue praying about the decision and suggested that I do some research on it.
Giving me a project to research is like emptying an entire bag of treats in the floor for a puppy. I dove in with relentless vigor and energy.
I checked out about a dozen books on the subject from the library and stayed up late poring over pages and pages of information. I read homeschool blogs and book-marked pages on our computer. I went to the local used bookstore and bought over a $100 in more reading and curricular materials. I invited myself over to one of my friend’s houses (hi Mandi R.) to sit in and watch her homeschool her kids and harassed her with infinite questions on logistics, curriculum, schedules and the like.
And then, wait for it…that year on my kids’ spring break from preschool and first grade, I planned a unit study for that week and did a dry run of homeschooling them.
When I commit to something, one thing that I have working in my favor is my zeal and gazelle-like focus on making it happen.
Throughout all of this insanity I discovered several things.
I had already been homeschooling my kids every single time I read with them, every time I took them to a museum, every time I pointed out different types of leaves in our yard, every time I measured ingredients and let them help me bake, every time I drug out the paint sets and let them create, every time we worked puzzles, every time we wrote thank you notes, every time we went to the library, every time we stopped to figure out the solution to a problem, every day. Every day, I was already teaching my children at home.
Ryan saw my interest wasn’t relenting so we prayerfully submitted ourselves to the fact that we would be a homeschooling family. We both committed to giving this a try for one school year. Succeed or fail, one year was what we agreed to.
Just because you decide to homeschool your children for a year to try it on does not mean that you have to see it through to their high school graduation. That’s too much pressure. Nothing is permanent. If you hate it, if they hate it, if it isn’t a fit for your family…guess what, you have other options. (Remember, this is America!)
We continue to evaluate our decision as a family on what is working best for us on a year-by-year, child-by-child basis. In fact, after the first year ended, we kept on homeschooling primarily because Ryan was deploying to Afghanistan for nine months. Homeschooling worked for us to be able to accommodate many family visitors and take lengthy trips away from home when we wanted to during this time. It allowed me much grace and freedom while I was operating as a single parent. We have continued this school year (2013-14) as Ryan was still gone when our school year began and we have fully utilized much of Ryan’s earned time off to travel and reconnect as a family.
As we begin to look ahead to our upcoming move we are weighing our options for all three of the kids and what school will look like. Will they all three go to public school and I’ll go to work or take up a hobby like tennis? Will we put them all in a private K-12 school where I could teach and they could attend. Will we possibly put Thomas (who is nearing middle school) in school and continue to homeschool the girls? We have no idea. And that’s okay. Any choice we make will be the right choice for our family.
So far I have outlined motivation to home school, having the full support of your spouse to do it, and being okay with taking small bites one year at a time to decide what’s best for your family.
There are many, varied rewards in home schooling your children, but if you are human and have a flesh/sin nature you will sometimes selfishly realize the sacrifices you are making and you may wonder if you have made the wrong decision.
I hate to be a Negative Nancy here, but I always include this part when I answer inquires about the desire to homeschool.
I know that there are moms out there who are probably perfect and selfless 100% of the time and are pure saints but I am not one of those mothers. I love my children and would die a million deaths in their place. But I will tell you after having had them in part-time mother’s day out programs, part-time preschool and even two years of public school for our son when they were all younger, there are days when I miss having a window of a few hours alone. There I said it.
I used to have a few hours each week where I could schedule a dentist appointment or a hair cut or meet friends for lunch or do grocery shopping or housework alone and unattended. I kissed that goodbye. I understand that a tiny part of that has to do with the fact that we relocated and no longer have willing grandparents to offer regular relief and free baby sitting.
I also understand that many people have used part of the family budget to hire a regular baby sitter for a few hours each week for exactly that. Or they have hired out their housekeeping.
As much as I love my children, there are some days that I literally do not speak to anyone over the age of 10 until my husband gets home from work. I am with my children nearly non-stop. I love it and some days I long for a few hours of reprieve.
So I mention this to say, plan for some time for REGULAR intervals of self-care. Plan a day a month for a mom-sabbath. Plan for a teenager to come help you with your laundry every other week or to stay with your kids on Thursday mornings while you exercise or go grocery shopping or out for coffee with a friend. Or may you need an outlet like a small part-time job or some volunteer work. Sponsoring our community library teen book club and volunteering in women’s ministry at our church have been lifelines to me. I NEED some ME TIME. I don’t think that is a selfish thing. I think that is a human thing. A normal thing. A healthy thing. When I am a better me, I am a better mother/teacher.
As tiring and mentally and emotionally draining as a day of homeschooling can be, the rewards I am seeing in my kids’ learning are immeasurable. That keeps me motivated to keep going and keep putting in the work.
From day one of this journey, my own philosophy for home education has been “lighting a fire” in my children to help them develop a LOVE of LEARNING.
A quote often attributed to William Butler Yeats says this, “education isn’t the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.”
That’s what I want our homeschooling to be. I want my kids to know the facts, of course. But more so, I want them to love to read, to love to discover, to love to figure out solutions to problems big and small, to love to investigate, to love to continue growing physically, academically and spiritually.
I want to motivate and train my children to then motivate and train themselves. It’s the whole “give a man a fish” scenario.
Our philosophy of education then dictates what we study and how we study. In other words, your motivation and philosophy will determine the educational philosophy and therefore curriculum choices you make.
Here’s an example. It’s generic and kind of basic but follow me.
If you are simply taking your child out of formal, public school so that you can just get school work done at home, that will motivate your choices in how your homeschool looks. It will determine your philosophy of school and what type of curriculum you will select.
There are several basic philosophies of homeschooling; several big umbrellas if you will. According to HomeSchoolMarketplace.com there’s “essentialism, perennialism, progressivism and existentialism.”
From there these will determine if you take a traditional approach, a classical approach, a Charlotte Mason approach, unit study approach or even the unschooling approach. There is a myriad of information on each of these approaches. Take some time to Google and read up on each of them.
Because from here, each of these approaches will dictate what kind of curriculum you will use. If you are looking for a traditional approach you may simply enroll your child in a national K12 online, free public school. It is literally public school at home. Same books, same hours, same everything.
Then you have some folks that have a much more laid back outlook and they simply let their children decide what they want to study and they allow their interests to dictate what and how they study.
For our family, we’ve taken a (basically) Charlotte Mason approach but supplement some classical study and unit studies. Like CM, I hope to spread a feast before my children; give them a broad education in not only academic studies but also moral and habit training.
Since we are using a Charlotte Mason approach to schooling, we dedicate our time to studying traditional academic subjects like reading, math, writing, languages, social studies and science, but we include lots of time outdoors exploring, lots of hands’ on learning by visiting museums and traveling. We also devote time to developing good moral habits that shaping the “whole child” both spiritually and personally.
One misconception that I had about homeschooling is that all learning will then take place “at home.” This is simply not true. In our three school years so far, we have tried a co-op, my kids have participated in a weekly Good News Club Bible study, they have taken golf and tennis lessons, they have gone to see plays, played at museums, been a part of a group of students who did standardized testing, they were bell ringers for the Salvation Army, they have been on the local PBS affiliate for a Blast Beyond television show, they have done music lessons and a P.E. class.
And that’s just a sampling of the things that have been organized by OTHER people or groups. On our own we have made blood when learning about the circulatory system, we’ve dissected a sheep brain, we have read DOZENS of selections of classic literature, we have made gazillions of trips to the local library, we have been to a space museum, multiple zoos, botanical gardens; we have cataloged the flora and fauna of our neighborhood, we have studied simple machines at the playground, we have studied stewardship and used trips to the grocery store as a practical example of how to stretch a dollar. We have studied the gypsum of the dunes at White Sands National Monument, we have blazed trails in the Franklin Mountains and at Hueco Tanks, we even gave Thomas a full body wrap when we studied mummification. We have been to both coasts, seen the Grand Canyon and gone snow tubing in New Mexico.
Shall I go on?
There are sometimes so many (too many) activities for homeschoolers to choose from that you have to begin prioritizing what is important for your family. Because seriously, you have to be at HOME sometime to do the homeschool. =)
That’s just it. When you homeschool you have been given back the gift of time with your children. There is time for the essentials like Bible study, character development and the academic work of reading, writing and math. There is time when you want to speed up if your children have mastered a concept quickly. There is time when you need to slow down and review or repeat or reset.
I love that my kids have all learned to read sitting right beside me on the couch. No phonics lessons, no formal program; just me, some patience and some great books. Their fluency and vocabulary and understanding is all well above grade level. I love that because they take after their daddy with their GIANT math brains, each of our three kids is working TWO grade levels ahead in their math curriculum. They are being challenged and they are succeeding. There is no stopping them. Lighting a fire, spreading a feast.
I love that instead of grouchy mornings getting papers signed, back packs-packed, lunches assembled, Pop-Tarts swallowed whole, we can ease into our mornings smoothly and my kids can sleep in when their little growing bodies need the extra rest.
I love that when we finish with our daily work, my children have time to play with their imaginative toys like Legos and dolls and can pursue hobbies like calligraphy and learning the rules of chess.
I love that in the afternoons when the public school kids are stepping off of the bus, my kids have already been outside for hours riding their bikes and scooters, racing through the neighborhood.
I love that we can participate in some afternoon activities like tennis lessons and we’re not super worried about getting homework finished in the midst of bedtime showers and getting to sleep. We can stay up late every now and then watching a family television show or doing our devotions together.
I love that when (in 2013) we had a nine day run of the stomach bug in our house, there were no absentee notes, no make up work to get caught up (we continued working as we felt well), and no worries about passing on our germs to other folks.
I love that I can schedule well visits, orthodontist appointments and golf practice in the middle of the day.
And I love that I am walking through the Bible chapter by chapter, verse by verse, lesson by lesson with my children. I am not leaving that work up to a Sunday school teacher or church program; it’s me eating God’s word one bite at a time with my little people. I am living with them in my best and worst moments and theirs; and it has been a process of true discipleship every step of every day.
With this gift of time, you may choose to use it the way you see best. There’s a curriculum to meet every need and fit every style.
As mother/teacher you can be as hands-off or as hands-on as you’d like to be. You can pay a company to do all of the work for you. Curriculum companies make their products available in multiple formats; there’s online study, CD roms, workbooks. There are big box companies that will sell you every material they offer in one big package and it’s all right there waiting to be used.
You can pick every subject from a separate company. You can get your math from one place and your language arts from another and still your core, science/history/Bible from another.
The possibilities and the costs are endless.
Some people feel most comfortable buying a complete grade level or curriculum in one complete set. These sets offer everything from teacher notes to curriculum plans, lesson plans to answer keys.
Others feel most comfortable pushing the on button on their computer and letting their kids work online where they are building a portfolio of grades and scores and proof of their learning.
Neither of these approaches is the one we have taken.
I use a unit study program that is very bare-bones and very much requires my own creativity and thinking and prep work. However, I believe that this approach is the most engaging and meaningful for my students/kids. Again, my motivation and philosophy for homeschool dictates this.
In addition to our unit studies for Bible/science/social studies, I “piece together” every other subject. I use a CD rom program for math; we follow a Charlotte Mason list of recommended reading of the classics by grade level, and I have found Latin, language lessons, handwriting, art and vocabulary curriculums that I feel best support our learning outcomes. We heavily supplement with lots of library books and mom-created science and social studies lessons. (Native American vests complete with symbols during our Colonial unit, anyone?)
I like having the freedom to pick what I think my kids need the most. I will say that my teaching background has given me much confidence and preparation for making and organizing our curriculum and implementing scope and sequence into the day to day operations of our homeschool. And I understand not everyone has that background.
Many may feel like they need the crutch of a “big box” curriculum. Many feel like this hems them in. And most people I have known to buy these “big box” sets usually end up after a few months throwing some things out the window and “piecing together” other resources in place of what they don’t like.
In a given school year, for three kids in grades ranging from kindergarten to fourth grade, I would estimate that I spend an average of $500-$700 per school year. About two thirds of that is up front for back to school books, workbooks, new studies and the remaining third is for incidentals throughout the school year like sheep brains, base 10 blocks, museum admissions and art supplies.
The bottom line is that you Mom, are the expert on your kids and their needs and their strengths and their success. Trust yourself. Homeschooling will be the hardest, most time consuming, MOST rewarding and life-impacting thing you will do for your children. Any time you spend investing in the education of your child is time well-spent.
When parents take an active role in their children’s’ education, any way they approach it can be worthwhile, fulfilling and fruitful.