Many people think of homeschoolers as a generic lot of religious Luddites who nix technology, lack social skills, grow their own food, live off the grid, and want to be around their kids 24/7.
That describes maybe five percent of homeschoolers. And the Amish. I am not in the five percent (or Amish).
“Hi, my name is Lisa, and I’m a former homeschooler,” I say to my imaginary 12-step support group of parents who survived homeschooling their own kids.
I say “survived” because it was not all fun and games (although a lot of the times, it was exactly that). Homeschooling, with both its pros and cons, was one tough gig.
People often asked how I ended up down this alternative life path. I certainly didn’t plan it. In fact, when my friend Livie said she wanted to homeschool her twins, I said, “Are you kidding? I would never want to homeschool my kids!”
The thought of being around my still-going-through-the-terrible-twos-even-though-he’s-now-three son all day long sent chills down my spine. Plus I had an infant. I was exhausted from just being a mom. How could I be a mom and a homeschooler?
But yet, just a couple years later, I made the leap into home education. Why? After a very bored two years in public school, my son clearly needed more of a challenge. (We had to sneak Magic Tree House books into his classroom because they weren’t on the “approved” first-grade reading list.) Plus, when his teacher spelled “Santa Clause” on the chalkboard, my faith in public school took a bit of a nosedive.
So, we pulled him after first grade and homeschooled him (and his younger brother) for almost ten years.
Over the years, people asked me what homeschooling was really like as if we were escaping from North Korea and they wanted the insider’s secrets of what we did beyond the demilitarized zone. But I get it. They were curious. We were educational deviants, and they wanted to understand what we did and if we ever left the house.
Let me pull back the curtain to show what homeschooling was really like, at least for our family.
+ We started school later, sometimes in our pajamas, because I’m not a morning person. (We often made morning runs to Panera Bread for bagels and coffee for the same reason.)
+ We “did school” everywhere – at the kitchen table, on the couch, in the pool, on the back porch, in the car, at the park, at the science center, and wherever the day’s activity took us.
+ We filled many days with beyond-the-worksheet fun – field trips, co-op classes, library visits, hands-on activities, science experiments, concerts, plays, recipes, homeschool support group activities, music, games, and art projects.
+ We custom-tailored our curriculum to what the boys enjoyed learning about while still covering the basics. For example, instead of just making the boys memorize the parts of speech, we let our artist son write and illustrate a grammar booklet based on Mario, his favorite video game character.
+ We adapted the environment to our boys’ special needs. The oldest (on the autism spectrum) liked a structured, quiet environment with lots of reading and art projects. The youngest (with ADHD) liked the noise, movement, and hands-on activities.
+ We “skipped school” whenever we felt like it. If we wanted to go to the beach for the day or head to the Orlando area theme parks when it’s less crowded, we did.
+ We read thousands of books, which helped instill a love of reading in my boys.
– We fought. A lot. My two boys, three years apart and polar opposites, were masters at sibling rivalry. And my younger son and I constantly battled, with power struggles over snacks and pencils and petting the cat and making too much noise and . . . everything. Just because we homeschooled didn’t mean we all got along all the time.
– We questioned the decision to homeschool our boys at the beginning and end of every school year– and sometimes even in the middle if we were going through a particularly rough behavioral patch with our boys.
– I’m not the kind of person who thrives being around other people all the time, especially when those people are my own demanding little kids who often exhaust my patience. I regularly needed some “me time” and sometimes felt guilty about taking time for myself or going out with friends.
– As the boys got older and busier, homeschooling wasn’t nearly as fun. In high school, everything counts on a transcript. We had much less free time to go on field trips and pack in all those “beyond-the-worksheet” fun activities like we did when the boys were younger.
– We finally realized homeschooling wasn’t a good fit for our younger son.While we homeschooled our older son through 12th grade, we realized that our younger son needed to answer to someone else in high school. Plus, he thrived around more people, noise, and activity, so our quiet little homeschool drove him a bit stir-crazy.
The veil has now been lifted off the shroud of homeschooling secrecy – at least from our family’s perspective since no two homeschoolers “do school” the same way. But, if we all fessed up, we’d agree that, despite differing pros and cons, homeschooling is one tough gig.