By Barbara Frank
When we first heard about homeschooling, my husband and I thought it sounded like a great idea. Our first child had just been born, and like all new parents, we wanted only the best for her. Neither of us had been greatly impressed by our own school experiences, so we put homeschooling on our mental list of pursuits to consider someday.
“Someday” came quickly. By the time our daughter reached school age, we’d so enjoyed watching her and her little brother learn through play and work with us that we just couldn’t put her on the school bus. Instead, I taught both kids at home.
Over the next few years, we had two more children. Our fourth child was born with medical problems and Down syndrome. We spent his first two years going back and forth to doctors and therapists. It was very hard for me to teach our older two children, keep track of our toddler and take care of a newborn on a heart and apnea monitor, in addition to the usual chores of a homemaker. So my husband quit his job and started an at-home business so he could help around the house. That was the only way we were able to keep homeschooling.
As it turned out, we didn’t send a child to school until our eldest son went off to college. Now all of our children have “graduated” from homeschooling and are grown, and we’ve recently become grandparents.
It’s been 30 years since we first thought about homeschooling our newborn, and over the years we’ve all learned a lot. I want to encourage those who are new to homeschooling by sharing some of the things we’ve learned:
Homeschooling isn’t hard. People worry that they don’t know enough to teach their own kids, but they don’t realize that much of what they learned as children will come back to them, and they can learn (or re-learn) the rest right alongside of their kids. In fact, parents often find that certain school subjects become much easier to understand the second time around. For example, having taught three of our children high-school level geometry, I finally understand it, and I also think geometric proofs are fun!
Homeschooling gives kids time to truly learn. They learn at their own pace and on their own schedule. They have the time to read to their hearts’ content, and to experience life in person instead spending their days in classrooms. Homeschooling also gives kids the time and opportunity to learn by working with their parents. That’s how our kids learned to create things, grow things and build things. My daughters and I made quilts together. We all worked in the garden together. My husband, our son and our younger daughter (only age six at the time) even added a bedroom addition to our house together.
Homeschooling lets kids develop and explore their own interests. That natural curiosity they’re born with isn’t snuffed out by the boredom of school, so they’re continually learning by following their interests. For example, all of our kids were self-taught on the computer (OK, the youngest had a little help); our older two learned HTML and produced their own websites and e-zines, and our younger daughter designed websites and blogs (she was the webmaster for my site, and did I ever depend on her!) They all learned how to cook and bake because they had time to mess around (literally) in the kitchen. Both of our daughters also began sewing and quilting when they were young, and continue to enjoy these crafts. By the way, one bonus of the homeschooling lifestyle is that as adults, our kids continue to educate themselves when they develop an interest in something new. One of our daughters is a self-taught glass artist and vegan chef.
Homeschooling lets kids develop friendships with people of all ages. I get a kick out of people who worry that homeschooled kids aren’t “socialized.” My question is, how socialized can you be if you mainly hang out in a classroom with people born the same year as you were? Socialization happens in the real world. Our kids had homeschooled friends, neighbor friends, church friends, and work friends. There were little kids climbing on our swing set and noisy teenage boys playing basketball in our driveway. Our kids also had adult friends at church, including one dear lady we visited at a nursing home for several years.
Homeschooling makes it easier for kids to get jobs once they reach their teens. I think part-time jobs are an essential part of everyone’s education, especially after watching how much my own kids learned from working for others. It’s real-life learning. Being homeschooled meant they could take day shifts, which made them more employable, so they always had work when they wanted it. They’d do their bookwork in the morning, leaving the rest of the day available for work that included volunteering at the public library, babysitting, and working at local stores and restaurants. Our son worked his way through college and graduated with honors; he was accustomed to combining study and work from being homeschooled.
Watching how our kids learn teaches parents a lot, too. One thing I’ve learned is that when you homeschool your children, curriculum isn’t the most important thing. Some homeschooling parents get really worked up about which curriculum to use; I was like that too, at first. But what I learned is that curriculum is just a useful tool; it’s “face time” that kids need most. They need answers to their questions as they come up, and our undivided attention in their teachable moments. We homeschooling parents need to be facilitators, not authoritative teachers. When we don’t know the answer to a question, we find out what it is and share it with our children, and then we all learn something new. By watching our example, our kids then learn that they don’t need to wait to learn something until the teacher says it’s time. They can pursue learning on their own whenever they’re curious about something.
Homeschooling has also taught me that our kids are unique individuals who don’t all learn in the same way. Their personalities, behavior patterns and learning styles vary tremendously. A teacher with a room of 30 (or more) students doesn’t have enough time to get to know each student well, but a parent does. A teacher can’t let all 30+ students pursue their own interests, or the classroom would be in chaos. But at home, children can be themselves while learning at their own pace and in their own way.
A particularly unexpected thing that homeschooling has taught me is that it can change parents’ lives. I’m not talking about quitting your job to stay home and homeschool your kids, although that is a big change. What I mean is that when you choose to buck the system and take the education of your children into your own hands, and you see how well it works, you slowly realize that you don’t have to follow the crowd the way you learned to do by going to school when you were a child. The homeschooling experience teaches you that there can be great benefits to going against the flow.
In our case, my husband and I grew up in the same suburb of Chicago, in a planned community where conformism was the key to getting along, although we didn’t realize it at the time. Back then, kids were expected to go to college, get a great job and come back to the suburbs, only this time in a bigger house than our parents’. And we tried that for a while. But it seemed like once we made the decision to homeschool, and saw how it benefited our entire family, we started thinking outside the box. After my husband began working at home so he could help me out, he found that he loved being self-employed. Instead of going for the ever-bigger house and nicer cars, we paid off our mortgage and kept our cars running as long as possible so we could live debt-free and remain out of the rat race.
After our eldest two children left home, we sold our five-bedroom suburban house and moved to our favorite small-town vacation spot, where we rented a lovely home near the beach for two years. (When you’re self-employed and your kids are homeschooled, you can live anywhere!) Right now we live in a small town within driving distance of our new grandchild. And who knows where we’ll go next! Homeschooling taught us to be open to new experiences, and to follow the road less traveled. Homeschooling was good for our kids, and it turned out to be good for us, too.
Copyright 2013 Barbara Frank/ Cardamom Publishers
Barbara Frank homeschooled her four children for 25 years and has written several books related to homeschooling. You’ll find her on the web at www.cardamompublishers.com,
www.barbarafrankonline.com and www.thrivinginthe21stcentury.com