I have been fielding lots of questions lately, even from family members, about why I chose this bizarre life where my children never climb on a school bus, the house is never, ever quiet or clean (or quiet!) and life is a nonstop feeding frenzy, sunup to sundown. Because I have homeschooled for 16 years now, I sometimes completely forget the fact that homeschooling, to many people, is a foreign, unnatural, and sometimes shocking concept.
I’ll tell you the truth. I never, EVER thought I would homeschool my children. I loved school while growing up!
Also, I knew one girl who was homeschooled and wore ankle-length, floral, pioneer-style dresses, and I assumed that all homeschoolers were like her family. Ummm, nope!
Then I had children of my own and everything changed.
My oldest, Anne, was born in October, and the kindergarten deadline in our area is August 30th, so kids who turn 5 after the deadline have to wait and start kindergarten the next year. Despite my frantic, pleading calls to our local elementary school, she was not allowed to begin kindergarten with all of her little friends. She was distraught, so to console her I offered to have ‘school’ with her at home every day.
Anne could already read quite well, and learning came easily to her. My mother-in-law, a recently retired kindergarten teacher, gave me a stack of phonics worksheets and some ideas for counting games. Anne and I, plus my three younger kids, spent about 20 minutes most days enjoying learning together. The kids loved it, since it was primarily games and reading aloud, and those persistent little punks made darn sure we had ‘school’ every day.
Despite enjoying our little school, I honestly thought I was just biding my time until Anne could attend ‘real school’. However, by the end of that year, Anne could read serious chapter books and was learning multiplication and division. Heck, my 4-year-old, Drew, was reading and learning multiplication and division.
Younger siblings naturally pick up on advanced concepts as you teach older siblings — it just happens! I knew deep inside my mother-heart that Anne would be bored to death in a kindergarten classroom.
So I took the next logical step. I read the entire homeschooling section of the library (all five books back then, ha, ha!) and prayed and agonized over my decision. My answer came from the scriptures, when I read about how Christ gathered his disciples as a hen gathers her chicks. I knew I needed to follow that example and gather my children under my wings.
I was definitely not deciding to become ‘a homeschooler’. Rather, we were just taking on 1st grade together, and we’d cross the next bridge as we came to it.
It turns out we all loved that year and chose to continue! Anne never did decide to attend public school. She graduated our ‘high school’ twelve years after that initial year, at age 18, with 60 credits at the local university, essentially an Associates Degree.
She earned scholarships to everywhere she applied, including a full-tuition at BYU, where she is currently attending, and none of the Universities minded that she had no high school diploma. The lack of a diploma actually seemed to be an asset. She applied with just her ACT score (33) and her transcript for the university classes she took during high school (3.97 GPA).
Anne also plays the violin, piano, flute, organ and guitar, competed in Irish and ballroom dance, excelled at debate, and played in a nationally-recognized youth orchestra, always near the front of her section. Homeschool takes up much less time than public school, allowing kids to pursue their passions.
While consoling my oldest was my primary motivation for choosing to homeschool, I continually realize more and more advantages to this way of life. It really is an entirely different way of life. The benefits of this way of life are what keep me homeschooling.
We eat most of our meals together, every single day of every single week and we also prepare them together and clean them up together for the most part! We feel like a team, whether we’re weeding the garden, birthing a calf or trying to figure out how on earth the calculus book came up with that answer!
Home renovations, laundry and chopping wood for winter are all a group effort. I love that we are a family team and that we all have a vested interest in outcomes — that the kids feel responsible for their educations as well as for our farm animals and the food on our table. They participate in family goals instead of feeling like pampered, entitled consumers.
Another huge benefit of homeschooling is the flexibility. Most of my eight children were born in October and November. My pregnancies were difficult, labor worse, and newborns excruciating! I never functioned well during the sleepless newborn stage of mixed-up-days-and-nights.
So every other October/November, and let’s be honest, September and December, too, disappeared in a haze of mental-breakdown, inner-demon craziness. Thank merciful goodness I could plop my other kids in front of an educational documentary and make up what we missed during the summer. Or not! It’s not like they were behind.
Speaking of behind, we never got there! Even though we missed months of school at a time, took Fridays off for field trips and fun things, and we only did school from 9 am to noon Mon.-Thurs. So, in reality, we spent approximately just 12 hours every week on school. Of course, music lessons and practicing, orchestra, field-trips and history road trips and are also educational, so I should probably count those hours, too, but we only spent 12 hours each week in textbooks. We still spend about that much time on school each week.
My oldest and my second, in first grade and kindergarten, memorized the capital of every foreign country and could point them out on the globe. They studied human anatomy and physiology in-depth and memorized the components of the circulatory and skeletal systems. My brothers thought it was hilarious to quiz my kids and have them spout facts. I guess I liked showing off what good little homeschoolers we were.
They loved school, because we learned through games, crafts, and hands-on activities, so it wasn’t like I was force-feeding them an education they despised. But do they remember what they learned? Not entirely.
We had this conversation last week, and my two oldest both remember most of the geography, but only one of them remembers the biology. Anne insists I never taught her any biology at all — not a single class. Okay? She didn’t remember constructing a brain hat or tracing her outline on Kraft paper to construct a lifesize circulatory system using red and blue yarn and a movable model of the heart. Drew remembered, though. As it turns out, he loves science and pursues it on his own, outside of our structured homeschool. Anne has never enjoyed science.
From that I conclude that children will only remember what they enjoy and what they choose to study on their own, whether in a homeschool or a public school. So it is probably in a homeschool mom’s best interest to relax her expectations, of herself and her children. Or maybe that’s just how I excuse my own laziness!
Read: Lazy Homeschoolers raise Geniuses
Life is so busy that I often let my older children help the younger children with their schoolwork. This phenomenon, where the older kids naturally begin to teach the younger kids is common in homeschooling circles. We homeschool moms discuss it with one another. I’ve had several projects going on the last few years, so we’ve moved increasingly to this model, and I’ve seen tremendous benefits. The big kids, as they explain a concept, reinforce their own knowledge and experience surprising insights.
For example, my Algebra I student asked me a question a couple of months ago while I was busy with another child. So her older sister, in Algebra II, explained the answer to the question using a more advanced method than the one the Saxon book was teaching. Both girls giggled because the method they had used to arrive at the solution was simpler than what was being taught.
While I consider myself far more relaxed than I used to be, I am not an unschooler (no judgement toward unschoolers — I understand the appeal!), even though my neighbors might watch my kids and wonder. It probably seems to outsiders like they play the entire day away. Hey, neighbors — play is important!
When asked what grade they are in, my kids shrug and turn to me. I don’t know, either, mostly because I don’t even remotely care. Each of my children is several grade levels ahead in math, science and reading, but way below grade level in writing, until 7th grade or so, when I make the concerted effort to catch them up. The reason? Writing is abstract, and very difficult to teach little people who resist, so I don’t bother.
Despite the occasional questions, it feels like most people support our decision to homeschool, and even admire what we are doing. There has been the occasional neighbor who thinks we are nut jobs. That’s okay! I honestly like my kids a whole lot more than I like theirs! If being polite, studious and hard-working makes a teenager weird, I’ll take the weird teenager!
All of my kids know that public school is an option and that they can choose whether to attend or to stay home, (although I would try to talk them out of middle school, aka the armpit of the earth, ha, ha!) and all of them have chosen thus far to be homeschooled. I am glad, because it’s really such a delightful and natural way to raise a family!
I’d love to hear about why you’ve chosen the education path you have!