The Many Reasons I Almost Didn’t Homeschool

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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? 

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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.

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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.

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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?

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Photo: Miranda Maupin

The How and Why of Homeschooling

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Someone mentions homeschooling. Is your first response:

  1. Curious?
  2. Envious?
  3. Overwhelmed?

I know I felt all these – and more – in the years before I finally decided to homeschool my child. Curious because the great schools my son attended just didn’t seem good for him. Envious because the homeschool families seemed so relaxed and happy. Overwhelmed because I didn’t know where to start.

What really kept me from plunging into homeschooling, however, was the gigantic uncertainty of how it would affect my family’s life.

The several times I met a homeschool mom, I found myself curious and excited to think that we might be able to homeschool, too. But the more she talked about their homeschool day, the less I could see my life being like hers. Either they were too unstructured or too structured, too Silicon Valley or too faith-based, too hands-off or too all-in, too classically academic or too unschooled.

From these one-off encounters, I couldn’t see how we would make homeschooling work for us. Would we micro-school or do it all ourselves, go with a PSA or a charter, unschool or go more text-book style? I didn’t even know what half of these things entailed, much less how to evaluate the choices.

So for years we continued to pursue traditional schooling. We gave it our best. First we did three years at public school, and then we did three years at a private school.

When we switched our son from public school to private, we had to answer a lot of “Why?” questions.  These questions were often loaded with assumptions, biases, and general distrust. (People always want to know why you are choosing to do something differently, especially when your choice calls into question the way they are doing that very thing).

I know I didn’t get the answer to those “why” questions right. I criticized the school, the teacher, the principal. I said the curriculum wasn’t differentiated enough. That the school was too big. That the public education system was broken. All those answers were true, but only to a degree.

The real truth was, at the time, I didn’t fully understand my own child’s needs (I still don’t completely, but I’m way further along). And if I didn’t understand what he needed, was it fair to expect that the school would? Yes, they had folks with educational specialist and therapy and psychology degrees (which I do not have), but they also had less than a handful of those folks for hundreds of children with wildly disparate needs and issues.

Also, over time, my initial answers to the “Why?” questions didn’t totally sit right with me. For one thing, that same school was doing just fine by my other child. And, of course, that very situation led to more “Why” questions about why we had our son in private school, but our daughter in public school.

The truth is that any question about how you educate your child always feels difficult.

All of these questions gave me a lot of practice in thinking about the educational choices I was making for my children. This was good experience, because soon middle school rolled around, and we again faced a decision:

  • Continue paying for a private school education that wasn’t meeting our child’s needs
  • Put our child back into a public system that hadn’t met his needs
  • Homeschool

The choice was pretty obvious, even to hard-headed parents like us.

So we finally started talking seriously about homeschooling. And this meant more of those pesky “Why?” questions from family, friends, teachers, and total strangers.

By this time, though, I’d come to appreciate the “Why?” questions, because they forced me to really consider our own “why.”

What I’ve come to learn is that families homeschool for as many reasons as you can imagine. Here are but a few:

  • Academic needs of the child
  • Athletic or artistic needs of the child
  • Learning differences of the child
  • Cultural choice of the family
  • Religious choice of the family
  • Family lifestyle – travel, for example
  • Family values
  • Philosophical differences with traditional schooling
  • Lack of quality schools available

For our family, traditional schooling wasn’t working. Every day felt like a crisis, small or large, and we were constantly reacting. No one was happy – not the teachers, not us, and most importantly, not our child.

Now, if I’m asked why I homeschool my child, the answer is simple: it’s what he needs.

And guess what? When we understood the why of our homeschooling choice, the how of homeschooling suddenly became clear, too.

That’s the story of my why.

I’d love to hear your why for homeschooling!

If you’re interested in learning more about the “why and how” of homeschooling, join me and other curious parents at my next “Considering Homeschooling” seminar, or email me at berkeleyhomeschool@gmail.com.

Also, if you enjoyed what you read here, please share on Facebook and follow this blog!

 

 

 

Vibrant

The most frequent question I get these days is, “How is homeschooling going?” It used to be, “How is your novel going?” or, more recently, “How is your Year of Yoga going?”

Lately, though, it’s all about the homeschooling.

So, I’ll tell you how it’s going.

My son loves homeschooling. He was pretty much made for it. He’s not the kind of kid who sits around complaining that he’s bored (unless he’s in school). He reads, researches, creates, invents, (destroys), writes, sets himself goals, comes up with projects, and constantly challenges his homeroom teacher (me). Neither one of us is bored.

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We had a debate the other day about the best adjective to describe his relationship to knowledge. I said he was a “curator” of knowledge; he preferred the term “hoarder.” I suppose if you saw all the books in and under and beside his bed, you might agree with him. But I told him a hoarder doesn’t use or even value the things he hoards, he just keeps them. “You use and value your knowledge,” I said, “so I can’t really agree that you’re a hoarder of knowledge.”

“Well,” he said, “I still like ‘hoarder of knowledge,’ because sometimes I have all this knowledge and I don’t even know what to do with it, but I still want more.”

See? Perfect kid for homeschooling.

Homeschool isn’t always perfect for me, though.

For one thing, I don’t always know what I’m doing. I’ve never trained to be a teacher. Yes, I taught creative writing to undergraduates, but how hard was that? They were all busy making up their lives anyway, so to pull a little fiction out of them wasn’t such a stretch. Plus, they were in college. Already they had a huge advantage.

Anyhow, for some silly reason, the stakes just feel higher with this current teaching gig.

To make matters worse, I’m sometimes – ha! always – overwhelmed by the choices of curriculum, classes, and styles available for homeschooling. As soon as I settle on one course of study, I inevitably find another I prefer more. It’s a bit like being at an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet. So little stomach room! So much food! And if I stuff too much in at once, my kid will barf. Or something like that.

Also, no matter what I want to do, there’s never enough time. Not for all the classes and curriculum and projects and field trips, and certainly not for me. Yes, I would like more time to write my novel, or to work on this blog, but the kind of time I really need is more in the range of 40 hours/week so that I can bring in some bucks.

Unfortunately, that’s the real catch of homeschooling: It’s expensive.

“What? Why? Aren’t you just sitting in your dining room over some library books?” (Yes, I do know what you are thinking.)

Well, first of all, there are all the way-too-great-too-miss classes out there. They Are Not Cheap. (See the “all-you-can-eat” part above.)

But there’s also the opportunity cost. For example, let’s say you make $50,ooo. If you have five kids and you quit your job to homeschool them, then that’s a $10,000 per kid investment each year. If you have one, well, it’s a $50,000 investment. I know for a fact the most expensive Bay Area private school is not that costly.

But none of this – not the worry that I don’t know what I’m doing, not the constant feelings of being overwhelmed, and not the lack of time and money – are nearly as hard as my final confession about homeschooling:

My house is always messy. It has not been this messy in years.

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Water Experiments (photo: E.Maupin)

Seriously. It’s like having a toddler again. Remember how you could never keep your house clean? How you’d tell yourself that as soon as you cleaned the living room, you’d head out to the park? But how by then the bedrooms were all a disaster because your son had been building a fort with all the pillows in the entire house, and now it was time for lunch, but then there were the dishes to do and also you needed to go to the grocery store?

Yes, that kind of messy.

The real benefit of sending your kids to traditional schools? Your house stays clean for one day.

But you know what? I’m okay with it. Not just the mess, but all of it – the lack of time and money, the feeling that I have no idea what I’m doing or where I’m going. All of it. And here’s why:

Before my son went off to kindergarten, he had such a radiantly curious energy to him, such a joy of being in this world. His was an eager and open-minded approach to life; he was always game to try new things, to explore. He believed in himself. He liked himself.

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(photo: E. Maupin)

Then he went to school. Of course he had teachers he adored. The two schools he attended, one public and one private, I hold in high regard.

But school seemed to dim his very existence. He was always tired, allergic, and sick. He didn’t want to try new things. He was overwhelmed and down on himself. He apologized constantly. He certainly didn’t seem to like himself very much. He’d lost his confidence, and he also seemed to have lost himself. It was as if the little pilot light of his soul had been snuffed out.

You would think that I saw all this as it was happening. I did, but I also didn’t. In other words, I saw that school wasn’t the right choice for him. But it was only recently, after five months of homeschooling, that I understood how completely lost he’d been while he was in school.

What made me finally see this?

The other day he played his fiddle at the farmer’s market, something he hasn’t done in almost four years. When he first put down his case and took up his fiddle, the area around him was in a lull. There was a wide empty space, not many folks stopping at the vendors there. As he played, however, people began to gather. Children pulled on their parents’ hands so that they might stop to watch. The farmers on either side of him began to do a more brisk business. Within a few minutes, the area was alive and bustling, transformed by his presence and his music.

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Watching him fiddle, I realized that he, too, has been transformed. He was connected to his music in a way he hasn’t been for years. He played with energy and confidence, smiled at folks, enjoyed himself. I felt like I’d suddenly come upon an old friend, one I hadn’t seen in a long while. That got me thinking about who he was in school, and how he’s changed in these past few months of homeschooling.

He’s no longer constantly allergic or sick. Yes, he’s sometimes tired, but that’s because he reads too late (no matter, he can also sleep in now). He’s eager and excited to take on new challenges. He comes up with new projects to do every day. He’s rediscovered the joy of learning for learning’s sake. He laughs a lot. He’s confident again. Most importantly, he likes himself.

Vibrant would be the best adjective to describe him.

So, yep. Homeschooling is going great.

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