With excitement for the summer and some bittersweet feelings, we wrapped up our second year of homeschooling our two boys—the last (for now) for our 9-year-old son. We’ll straddle the two lifestyles in the coming year—our 6-year-old will homeschool for another year before joining his brother in brick-and-mortar school. As we prepare to reenter the world of alarm clocks and lunch boxes, I’m reflecting on how this experience has grown us as individuals and as a family, and how it has changed my worldview.
An increasing number of families are taking advantage of the myriad tangible benefits homeschooling offers. Some of these include more time together as a family, education tailored to children’s learning styles, time for kids to develop individual interests without overscheduling, freedom from the school calendar, unhurried mornings, and limitless opportunities for field trips and hands-on, experiential learning.
We started homeschooling because of the benefits for our kids. What I didn’t expect at the outset was how much it would enrich my life as well. If you’re a would-be homeschooler sitting on the fence due to fear, I hope my family’s experience can help encourage you to take the leap of faith.
Here are some of the more intangible gifts we will take away from our homeschooling experience:
A different view of our role in our children’s education.
Before we began to consider homeschooling, I viewed my kids’ education as separate from other parenting responsibilities. It was the domain of other people, and we had very little to do with it other than choosing an institution within that realm.
I see it differently now. It’s a subtle shift, but my kids’ education, while it’s one of the bigger parenting decisions, is no longer separate from other parenting responsibilities. Their education is one of my jobs as a parent—one that at any given time, I might be delegating, or not.
Empowerment and freedom.
I remember the anxiety of applying my older son to kindergarten. We waited on the edge of our seats for the charter school lotteries (no luck there). Like so many parents, we are concerned about the obsessive emphasis on high-stakes standardized testing and the accompanying narrowing of curriculum in the public schools—even the “good” ones. Still, we considered our city’s struggling neighborhood school and thought about moving to the suburbs for “better” (read: better financed) public schools. We visited private schools and did budget spreadsheets to figure out how much tuition we could manage. I remember how monumental that decision felt and how anxious I was about making the right choice among the options available—recognizing that unlike many families, we are privileged to even have options.
I doubt I’ll ever again feel the same kind of stressful urgency for any school situation to pan out. When it’s time to make a decision for high school, homeschooling will be among the possible options. And if our lives change in unexpected ways, we’ll be in a better position to roll with it.
For example, if we were to relocate to another area of the country (or even the world—who knows?) we could approach that as an open-ended adventure instead of trying to evaluate different school options from long distance. Instead, perhaps we would homeschool and explore our new area together while looking into the schools in a more relaxed and thorough manner.
The point is, our lives could change in any number of ways. Instead being at the mercy of the question, “But what about the schools?” there is a sense of empowerment and freedom knowing we can always homeschool again.
Homeschooling is a lot easier than I thought it would be in some ways, and in other ways it’s a lot harder than I thought it would be. I’m even more in awe of teachers than I was before. I can guide my own kids’ learning, but I can’t imagine managing a classroom and meeting the needs of a roomful of children. It’s challenging just with two!
Throughout this adventure, I’ve struggled most with striking the right balance between keeping enough structure in place without crossing over into rigidity and uptight-ness. I wrote about that extensively in this post, where I explored parallels between homeschooling and midwifery. I seem to be a hybrid sort of person—questioning the conventionality of “the way it’s done” and rejecting authoritarian approaches, but still working best within some kind of systematic framework. (This also applies to my work as a midwife. I’ve explored attending home birth but ultimately returned to the hospital setting, where I tend to practice at the “left” end of the spectrum while working within the established system.)
I’ve come smack up against how my conditioning and patterns can collide with my own values. One of my homeschooling goals from the beginning was to take full advantage of the freedom to let my children dive deeply into their own interests and projects. I believe this kind of work produces learning that is meaningful, lasting, and useful for real life, even if they are not stuffed with the exact same set of facts they would learn in regular school. I envisioned my role as an educational guide and resource more so than a teacher per se.
Much to my chagrin, I’ve had to get acquainted with my inner type-A, scoldy schoolmarm, and she resists all that, big time. She thinks it’s way too loosey-goosey and not “real” education. When I have the “Am I doing enough?” anxiety most homeschool parents are familiar with, she comes out in full force.
I’ve become practiced at observing this and seeing it for what it is—a lack of faith in my children and myself. When I can recognize that, I can shift it and step back onto the path of trust. Then, usually, I intuitively know what to do next and can do it in a way that supports my children’s learning in a creative and responsive way. This is a useful skill for parenting in general.
The reverberation of making a bold choice.
Let’s be honest, it takes some balls to decide to homeschool. While our numbers are increasing, it’s still at the very edges of the cultural norm, so you have to be willing to hang out there. We’ve found most people to be supportive, but homeschooling parents are often told it’s unrealistic, impossible, irresponsible, or just plain crazy. People might imply that you must think you’re some kind of superhero to even consider it. People may look at you like you have three heads, or with a strange mix of awe and pity when you answer the question, “Where do your kids go to school?”
There’s no one manual or training program. There are countless philosophies and approaches to homeschooling as well as an overwhelming array of curriculum choices. Having a huge variety of options and resources is a blessing and a curse. You have to weed through it and figure out how you want to approach it, and then tweak things as you go along and see how everything works in practice. You have to deal with uncertainty and self-doubt, with no guarantees about how it’s going to turn out and no school to look to if it all falls apart. Thankfully, while you’re figuring all this out, children just keep learning, because they’re wired for it.
We made a brave decision in spite of our fears. It was against the societal grain, but it was right for us as a family. This has since had a profound effect on how I make other life decisions, large and small. I’m much less driven and limited by “shoulds.” I’m more open to all sorts of possibilities, and less likely to dismiss new ideas and soul-stirrings as not doable or doable only for other people.
One brave, heart-centered choice leads to another.
Now that I have that, it’s mine, even if we no longer homeschool. Nothing can take it away from me, and it has made me a better parent.
P.S. The parts of the homeschooling lifestyle I’ll miss the most once they are both in regular school? Unhurried mornings, traveling on our own schedule, and our awesome field trip days, minus the crowds. (Once in a while, I just might have to take them out of school for the day for one of those).
Copyright © Camille Williams and Wake Up, Mama! 2016. All rights reserved.