At the grocery store, Elizabeth compared prices on cheese, weighed oranges, and considered whether the number of items in the cart qualified for the express lane. Before completing a writing assignment, she and her sister attended a private lecture on paleontology. After an oral quiz, Mr. George told her that she had displayed a better understanding of the material than some of the college freshmen he had taught. Elizabeth is only eight years old.
Why is this girl not attending school like others her age? Elizabeth is home schooled. Why do some folks go to the trouble and expense of teaching their own children? Private and public schools would allow the parents time to pursue careers or engage in interests at home.
Let us see what some parents have to say. Reta, in her twelfth year of home school, echoes a recurring theme in home schooling: “We wanted to be the ones who had the major spiritual and moral influence in our children’s lives when they were young.”
Cindy remarked that she started home school when “my daughter was sent to ‘special reading classes’ without my knowledge … they were read to instead of being allowed to practice reading.”
Cathy says that, while her son made good grades in elementary school, he simply did not know the material his report card said he did. Some children have a need for more personal attention, others are bored, and some simply cannot avoid the distraction of having twenty other children breathing near them.
Flexibility stands out as a major strength of homeschooling. Parents can tailor lessons to the individual child. Those lessons may be postponed or accelerated as needed. A family may encounter an impending move; students could work double duty the first part of the year in order to have an extended break during the move. Some parents stretch the school year throughout the summer in order to provide more breaks during each week. This is useful in the extreme southern states where summer temperatures of over one hundred degrees drive children into the air conditioning. Conversely, some winter storms in the north make it impossible to travel to school though a little home school could occupy them without resorting to the television.
Schooling at home does require sacrifice. Someone has to be there to teach, and that usually means reducing the household income to one paycheck. Books, materials, and activities cost money. Reta cites “difficulty in saying ‘NO’ both to others and to my children when some new and wonderful-sounding opportunity presents itself.”
Sometimes friends and relatives misunderstand the organization of home school. “People think that you are available at a moment’s notice—you or your children—because you do not have a ‘paying job’ or your children are not in a structured ‘building’ for education,” laments Jessica (seventh year).
Every family is unique. Military families move frequently and often with little notice. One family had moved three times in five years—each time while public school was in session. Families with non-traditional work schedules look to home school as a form of stability and continuity in their children’s lives.
Elizabeth’s father gets home from work at eight in the morning; he then goes to bed at about three in the afternoon. If she and her little sister went to public school, they would never see their dad. Fathers provide more than just income to the home school dynamic; they guide and support the rest of the family.
Parents and extended family members have talents and experiences they can share with students. “We are able to blend into our curriculum (especially history) many lessons that were taught by our grandparents and even great-grandparents,” says Jessica. Not everybody is blessed with relatives who are able or even want to help, but every parent knows something unique to teach his or her child. What if relatives disapprove? Give them information and be patient. Some eventually accept and support; some do not.
Help is available. Although the details of home schooling threaten to overwhelm the neophyte, take heart! Teaching children has been around since there have been children to teach. For instance, the Internet holds a wealth of information. Many home school groups have pages on the web, and a search for “home school” + “your state or your city” will reveal many, many more.
What do the old timers wish they had known at the beginning? In her fourth year, Kerry says, “Start out small and learn to do that well. There is so much from which to choose that it is easy to want to do everything that looks good.”
Janet, with six children and in her seventh year of homeschooling, says, “Do not force your children to do something they are not ready for.”
Reta also has six children and has home schooled for twelve years. She says, “We need to choose carefully and not get overly involved with too many things outside our home.”
Thelma started homeschooling eleven years ago; her first child graduated from home school. Three more continue in home school. When pressure mounts, she advises, “Do not care so much about what someone else is doing, has done, or will do in their homeschool,” but “it is important to have a goal and plan.”
Cindy, who graduated her first child from home school and teaches three more, says, “The eternal is FAR more important than the temporal.”
After four years, Cathy says, “I wish I had known how to get started or to whom I could turn for help!” Many echoed that sentiment. Indeed, most of the veterans made some comment about uncertainty at the beginning and the desire for their own mentors.
If you are just starting or even changing your approach to homeschool, seek an experienced homeschool parent—someone has been there before. Join a support group. There will be others who have paved the way for you. There are probably other homeschoolers who have dealt with the challenges you may be facing. You can remind each other of the reasons you chose to homeschool in the first place, and together you will find strength and joy to finish the course.