The Many Reasons I Almost Didn’t Homeschool

When my husband and I first met, I brought up homeschooling. Not on the first date, but maybe the third. I don’t remember what prompted the conversation, but I certainly remember my husband’s response: “Are you trying to turn me on?”

From this, you might be justified in thinking that we homeschooled our kids right out of the gate. We didn’t.

Instead, we did what  97% of Americans do, and put them into traditional schools.

But traditional schooling didn’t work for our son. Boy, did it not work. After six years of public and private schools, my son said, “I’ve become accustomed to feeling like a failure.” That’s when I knew something had to change.

Of course I thought about the homeschool option. I’d never really stopped thinking about homeschooling since that first conversation  with my husband. But I was still uncertain about whether we could pull it off.

Why?

With two full-time working parents, who was going to do the schooling? 

majorwreck

Photo: KTVU

My husband had a four-hour daily commute. My job included an unpredictable schedule. How would adding homeschooling to the mix not put our lives into a major wreck? Even if we had less demanding jobs, it would still be a challenge to find the 20-25 hours a week recommended for homeschooling. The only way I could imagine doing a good job of homeschooling was if I quit working.

But how could we afford to homeschool if we gave up my income?

We live in the Bay Area. Everyone knows you can’t survive on one income.

Unless you must. (See above statement about failure.)

Some homeschool parents find a way to go part-time or do contract work, just as they did when they first had children. Some end up switching careers. Many families, though, make homeschooling work on one salary, because they find they can make better financial decisions, such as moving away from the expensive housing markets that surround good schools.

We chose to take the hit and become a single-income family, which has the added benefit of giving us the time do some much needed long-term planning about our careers, our lifestyle, and our creative goals. All this, plus a happier child, makes the short term financial setback feel well worth the sacrifice.

I don’t know anything about math and science.

Chemicals and electricity make me nervous. So do messes. The periodic table makes my eyes cross. I’m fine with math, but I don’t know it well enough to make it not punishing.

Here’s the great secret: You don’t have to teach anything you don’t want to teach. There are tutors, classes, online resources, co-op groups, study trades, and more curriculum than you would believe out there, all competing to teach your child math, science, and any other subject you yourself might eschew.

I also found out that it’s okay if I learn (or re-learn) on the job. When we, as parents, openly struggle with tough material, we are modeling an important lesson for our kids: learning isn’t always easy.

I don’t want him to have only one teacher.

My son already gets my worldview in spades. If I pulled him out of traditional school, wouldn’t he lose all perspective?

blacksmithingWell, no. As a homeschooler, he has many different “teachers” in his life. He’s found mentors through blacksmithing and Trackers. He’s done bluegrass jams with a world-class banjo player, and gone into the recording studio with professional musicians to put together an album. He’s toured the Bay Area museums with art-loving relatives and studied with accomplished Shakespearian actors and champion fencers. And I’ve found math and science classes taught by teachers passionate and confident about their subject matter.

All of these teachers or mentors work with him in small group or one-on-one settings, so he benefits from personal attention, in-depth conversations, and meaningful relationships.

How is he going to learn to deal with the real world if he isn’t in school?

To be honest, this concern about socialization was not so much mine, but everyone always brings it up, so I figured I should, too.

Is school really like the real world? When else in life are we corralled together with only those of our own age? When else are we told exactly how to behave and what to do with every minute of our day? When else do our age-group peers have total influence over our mindset?

As a homeschooler, my son socializes much more with kids who share similar interests. He plays D&D with kids from his music classes, bluegrass with the boy across the street, tag with fellow actors, and shares magic tricks with his science/math buddies. He has a wide range of friends of diverse ages and interests, but he would not have found them in a typical school, where kids are stuck with their own age-groups and have so little time to connect on a personal level.

I could never spend that much time with my child. 

Almost every single mom I told about my choice to homeschool said this to me. It’s a valid concern, especially given the fact that we already spend more time with our kids today than parents did fifty years ago.

Time with our kids can often feel like a combat-zone, what with negotiating screen-time, getting them out the door on time, making it through homework, and enforcing chores. You really want more of that?

Well, here’s what I’ve found: About 90% of our “combat-zone” time evaporated when we started homeschooling. Seriously. We suddenly had very few external expectations and demands. Also, instead of trying to squeeze in homework during those few tired evening minutes (while also worrying about the quality), we had plenty of time to do meaningful learning together. Finally, he has more free time for his interests, so he he’s not bothered by chores and studies.

Homework with my kid is hard enough as it is!

When I thought of homeschooling, I imagined that it would be exactly like the evening homework time, just spread out over the entire day – the resistance, the frustration, the constant battles – making us all miserable 24/7.

Taz at Mission

Checking out the adobe bricks at the Mission San Francisco Solano.

I won’t lie. There are still a few battles. But these are informative to our learning, not destructive to our relationship. For example, last fall I tried to teach my son about California missions; he could’ve cared less. Six months later, he watched a video about how the missions were constructed, and now our studies are all about the missions: field trips, books, and experimenting with adobe building by making an adobe egg-box for his chickens. The battles are gone; our days are instead driven by curiosity and love of learning.

If I homeschool one child shouldn’t I homeschool the other?

Anyone with more than one child will likely understand the desire to provide equal resources – time, attention, money – to all their kids. My husband and I are always checking in about these things. So when we thought about homeschooling our son, we worried this would unfairly tilt my time and our family’s resources in his favor, to the detriment of his sister. We also worried that we would be providing him with a better education. Was this fair?

But here’s the truth: Kids have different needs. Our son adamantly wanted to homeschool; our daughter adamantly did not.

Sebastian

Coco as Sebastian in Twelfth Night.

In the meantime, because we homeschool her brother all the time, even evenings and weekends, her learning is also enriched. She does more art, more acting, and more “fieldtrips” than ever before. And next year – who knows? – she may decide to stay home with him!

How will he ever get into college if I homeschool him? 

The beauty of traditional schools is that everything is laid out for us:

Good schools + lots of extracurriculars + great tests scores = college of choice + good job.

We all know that magic formula.

So what happens if I don’t keep to this known path? Without school, how can he possibly get good test scores or do sports or band? Will he just disappear off the records? Will he sit in his room playing video games for the next ten years? Will I be supporting him for the rest of his life?

Well, no. Just google “homeschoolers get into college” and you can read any number of articles or studies about how homeschoolers:

  • Have the traits most desired by colleges (confidence, resourcefulness, curiosity)
  • Are more independent and therefor better prepared for the transition to college
  • Have higher grade-point averages and 
  • Graduate at higher rate than their traditionally-schooled peers

I think this concern about college is really about fear, because homeschooling is a step into the great unknown. But it’s also a step that more and more families are taking. In 1999, there were 800,000 students homeschooling in the U.S; in 2008, there were over 1.5 million homeschoolers.

Why this increase?

Perhaps it’s because there are more available resources for homeschooling families, due in large part to the internet, so homeschooling is easier. Perhaps the increase is the beginning of a shift away from an educational system designed to educate workers for an industrial economy.

Or perhaps the growing number of homeschoolers has to do with parents trusting in their children’s natural curiosity and desire to learn.

In the end, that’s why I chose to homeschool.

What are your concerns about jumping into homeschool?

Malvolio1

Photo: Miranda Maupin

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