We never intended to homeschool. In fact, I wasn’t even familiar with the idea of homeschooling, other than knowing some historical figures were taught at home. But a series of events led our family to explore different educational options and choose homeschooling for our family. It was a 19-year journey from start to finish. Here’s our story.
Why We Chose Homeschooling
I grew up attending public school, as did my husband, so without much thought we enrolled our first two children in the local public school system. Overall, it was a good experience early on. But three things happened one year that caused us to consider other options.
First, our friendly 8-year-old son, attending the elementary school down the street, was selected for socialization training. What? We were confused. His teacher assured us he was strong academically and got along well with students and teachers. The “problem” was his choice to sometimes swing or read a book during recess. We didn’t see anything wrong with this, but asked him why he sometimes chose a solitary activity. He said his other options were often playing football with the boys or play-acting getting married with the girls, neither of which interested him. We began wondering if the public school was trying to teach social conformity along with reading, writing, and arithmetic. (Strike 1!)
Meanwhile, our six-year-old daughter was already reading. Her teacher sent home simple books with each child and insisted that students practice reading with a parent for fifteen minutes a day. When we asked the teacher if she could send home more challenging books, the teacher declined and said she didn’t want our daughter to get too far ahead of her classmates. We understood that public school teachers had many kids in each classroom, but the thought of intentionally holding our daughter back didn’t sit well. (Strike 2!)
Finally, as we were wrestling with these frustrations, the school district’s curriculum director began a campaign to better align the teaching in our town’s public schools with the liberal Massachusetts state guidelines, specifically in the areas of health and sex education. Parents of faith met with local school officials to express their concerns, but the district continued to move forward with their plans. (Strike 3!)
Providentially, around that time we saw a family friend who was homeschooling her own children. She answered my many questions, shared catalogs, showed me books she used with her own kids, and served as a timely introduction to this concept of homeschooling. We couldn’t afford the expensive local private schools, so we began discussing what homeschooling might look like for our family.
We knew some Christian families who chose to keep their children in the local public schools, either because they had to, or so their children could remain there as salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16). I understood. God protected the prophet Daniel and his three friends from compromising their faith in Babylon (Daniel 1:8-9), so these families trusted God would protect their children. But the fact that local public education was methodically teaching politically correct but unbiblical values drove me to reexamine scriptures like Deuteronomy 6:7 and 11:19, where we’re told to direct our children’s focus to God’s Word throughout the day. After much prayer and discussion, my husband and I felt led to homeschool.
How We Did It
As I’ve learned over the years, homeschooling can look very different from family to family. In fact, one of homeschooling’s major benefits is its great flexibility. Our early years were largely spent together around the kitchen table, on our living room couch, or outside for nature walks and field trips. As the years went on, we covered some subjects together, but the kids were more independent in their work. Our family made some adjustments from year to year, but we held to several overarching principles and made use of some specific resources.
My husband and I wanted to honor God and teach our children biblical values on a daily basis. We routinely used faith-based publishers (Abeka, Apologia, BJU Press, and Christian Liberty Press). We also used some additional Bible curricula along with incorporating devotions, prayer, and scripture memorization in our family’s daily routine. Each year looked a little different, and there were the inevitable days when nothing went as planned. But we made a consistent effort to honor and learn about God throughout the day.
One aspect of homeschooling’s flexibility is its range of styles, from unschooling–a loose, informal, student-directed investigation of areas of interest (no specific curriculum)–to a formal, classical educational approach following a detailed curriculum (often including Latin). Our approach leaned toward the classical side of that spectrum, since I felt strongly my children should be prepared for college even if they chose not to attend after high school. We varied our curriculum somewhat for my daughter who was a strong auditory and hands-on learner, but the enrichment subjects and outside activities were mainly what we geared to our kids’ individual interests.
Being prepared involved annual standardized testing in our family. The local Christian homeschool group administered Stanford Achievement Tests (from BJU Press) one week each spring, and my kids looked forward to gathering with homeschool friends they didn’t see that often. We submitted these annual test results to our local school system as proof of annual academic progress. This regular testing was also helpful in teaching my children how to navigate long tests, like the SAT or ACT.
Being prepared also required planning and organization on my part. I looked forward to studying the homeschool catalogs sent out by Christianbook and other companies each spring and summer and ordering any new books we’d need for the coming school year. A homeschool planner helped me keep track of school days, daily lesson plans, quiz and test scores, and field trips. Once my kids reached high school that planning book was indispensable in completing their high school transcripts. Was I perfectly organized? Far from it! But regular planning–and getting back on track when we got derailed–helped us reach the overall academic goals we set.
One Year at a Time
While our conviction that God led us to homeschool never wavered, my husband and I decided from the beginning to take it one year at a time, reevaluating each summer. There were ups and downs that first year as the kids adjusted to schooling together at home and as I adjusted to teaching them every day. But by the end of that first year we all recognized homeschooling as a highly efficient way to learn that provided great family time, welcome flexibility (mid-year travel, learning on the road), and the opportunity to teach biblical values across every school subject. In God’s gracious timing, we were already into our second year of homeschooling before I was put on bed rest, pregnant with our third child.
Only one time over our family’s 19-year homeschool stretch did we decide we couldn’t teach at home. My husband was facing surgery that would involve a difficult recovery, and he’d need my help daily. We enrolled our youngest daughter at the local middle school for sixth grade. It was a difficult year for all of us, but God used it for good. My husband recovered well. Our daughter grew in faith and discernment, and formed a sweet friend group with three other girls. And even though our daughter was among the youngest in her grade, she was a great student—confirmation that our homeschooling was equipping her well.
Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) was a big help along the way. We first learned about that organization from the family friend that introduced us to homeschooling. She said she looked at HSLDA’s annual membership as an insurance policy. If she ever had trouble from the state or from her local school district, a homeschool-friendly attorney was just a phone call away. If she never had a problem, her money would help a homeschooling family in trouble somewhere else.
We accepted that wise counsel and were members every year we homeschooled. Thankfully, we never needed an attorney’s help. But we called with questions several times and learned much from HSLDA’s extensive website–from how to set up our letter of intent to homeschool that first year to how to create a high school transcript during our kids’ high school years. A benefit I wasn’t aware of at the time is that member families receive a discount on the organization’s middle school and high school online classes.
Co-ops and Online or Dual-Enrollment Classes
Homeschooling in our family involved participation in co-ops (most years) and both online and dual-enrollment classes (mainly during high school). Over the years we were part of a small four-family co-op, a larger church co-op, and an even larger area homeschool co-op. Sometimes the co-op classes were electives: art, music, Lego robotics, or martial arts. Other times major subjects were covered: chemistry, geometry, biology, and literature/writing.
Co-ops usually involve each parent teaching in their area of expertise. I taught literature and writing, my college major and career path. But I also enjoyed teaching sewing, quilting, and cross stitch as enrichment classes. The co-op we attended when my youngest was in high school included a mom who was a former gym teacher, who led the recreation time, and a mom who was a practicing medical doctor, who taught biology one year and chemistry the next. Each co-op blessed our family and enriched our at-home learning as we also worked and learned alongside other homeschool families.
We added some online and dual-enrollment courses when my older children were in high school and when my youngest was in middle school. Online courses are simply classes completed from home using a computer with internet access. These can earn credit toward a high school diploma, or be dual-enrollment courses where the student earns both high school and college credit at the same time.
My younger daughter’s experience is a good example of how co-ops and online or dual-enrollment classes can supplement your family’s homeschooling. She knew she wanted to be an engineer, so she took CAD classes online as a high school junior and senior, for high school credit. During her last year homeschooling she took Calculus I and II at a local private college, for both high school and college credit. In addition, she took both semesters of required college freshman writing, and a college Bible class, while still in high school as online classes, earning her additional college credits before she started full time. Of special note, the dual-enrollment classes she took through the university she currently attends qualified her for a significant homeschool scholarship there.
What We Learned Through the Years
My husband and I have come a long way since first being introduced to homeschooling. We’ve enjoyed studying math and science, history and language arts alongside our children. Field trips, co-ops, and friendships with other homeschoolers have made the years richer than we could have imagined. And we’ve learned much about homeschooling itself during the 19-year journey.
Homeschooling Is Proven
What do Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Orville and Wilbur Wright, Jane Austen, Booker T. Washington, Sandra Day O’Connor, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Condoleezza Rice have in common? They were all homeschooled. Homeschooling existed long before public education, and modern statistics confirm it can be a highly successful form of education. If you feel God is calling you to homeschool, and you’re committed to doing a good job with His help, there’s a well-traveled road before you.
Homeschooling Is Efficient
When we began, in the elementary grades, I was amazed at how quickly we could complete a day’s worth of academic work. (Upper grade work does take longer.) Homeschooled students are usually given direct supervision, immediate help, and quick feedback on assignments. Being able to switch to the next subject immediately, instead of having to wait for a full class to finish an exercise or move to a different classroom, also adds to homeschooling’s efficiency.
Homeschooling Is Flexible and Customizable
In public or private schools, a school calendar is determined and a particular school-wide curriculum selected in advance. Homeschoolers have the option to bring their books with them and learn on the road when the need arises. Or, if an illness, new baby, or other unexpected event puts school on a hold for a short time, you can just pick back up where you left off, finishing your school year when you’ve completed the necessary work.
As a homeschooling parent/teacher you can also choose curricula that work best for each of your children. While I used the same basic framework of publishers and courses, I changed up my older daughter’s middle school science curriculum to take advantage of her auditory and hands-on learning style. I used a less strenuous high school math program for my book-loving son who is now an English teacher, and an accelerated math program for my daughter who will soon receive her degree in mechanical engineering.
Homeschooling Is Faith- and Family-Friendly
Not every homeschooler is a person of faith, but homeschooling allows people of faith to use curricula and materials that acknowledge and honor God. Our school days, as mentioned above, included prayer, devotions, and scripture memorization—components that might have been included at a Christian school but were certainly not present at our local public school.
Homeschooling also acknowledges the family as the primary unit of daily life, as opposed to government-run or private educational institutions where children are compartmentalized into grade levels. We lived and learned together as a family each day, sharing struggles and victories. Looking back, I’m particularly thankful that homeschooling allowed my older children to be part of our youngest’s life and learning. Given the nine-year gap, our older kids would have had little time to spend with their baby sister if they were gone five days a week and spending most of their time with kids their age.
Homeschooling Is Not Perfect
There were times we didn’t complete every page of every book. (Gasp!) And there were a few times I needed to change course mid-year, which is tricky because of potential gaps in content. I was not an expert on every subject, and my children were more disciplined in some subjects than others. But, we worked hard, didn’t give up, and we got help when needed (in the form of co-ops and tutoring).
Homeschooling is not perfect. But then, neither is any public or private school. Those schools have fire drills, snow days, water pipe leaks, sick teachers, and other unexpected events that cut into teaching time. And any type of school can range from poor to excellent in the overall quality of education it provides. Even though homeschooling is not perfect, given a committed parent and generally cooperative kids, your homeschool can provide a solid education.
Nineteen Years in a Nutshell
Homeschooling works. It is a way of life that makes family, and often faith, a priority. It is not a sprint, but a marathon, with some easy days, long routine stretches to persevere through, and a Heartbreak Hill from time to time. It’s flexible, efficient, creative, and rewarding. And there are other homeschoolers, as well as many resources and organizations, to help you along this path. Our family began homeschooling out of frustration, but we ended up loving the homeschooling way of life.
My oldest is now a teacher, my middle child a full-time mother, and my youngest a soon-to-be engineer. When I hear my children talk about the possibility of homeschooling their own children, I feel a deep sense of satisfaction. Why we homeschooled, how we did it, and what we learned has all been worth it.
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