“How old is JP?”
“Oh so he is starting preschool? Or is that next year?”
“Well, kind of. We plan on homeschooling.”
A wide range of reactions follow…some supportive, some intrigued, curious. Most people don’t really know how to react, but the skepticism is written across their face. After a somewhat awkward pause, maybe with a slow nod while trying to keep a neutral face, they try to gather their words and delicately express their concerns about how homeschoolers may not receive “socialization.” Sometimes they’re concerned, also, with the quality of the education one might receive. Sometimes they just think it’s ridiculous. Why would anyone ever want to do something like that?
At first these sort of conversations made me feel rather uncomfortable. On hands and knees, parents agonize over education choices for their children. To have a decision that is so near and dear to you heart called into question, sometimes by almost-strangers, can be disconcerting. But they’re valid concerns – concerns I’ve wrestled with as I stand at the threshold of our educational journey. I can’t blame them for asking.
For those who have not encountered many homeschooling families, I think it’s hard to understand what homeschooling can look like, the potential for greatness that homeschooling has. I think people often perceive the decision to homeschool as a thinly veiled attempt to shelter, brainwash and keep kids locked in a tower, away from the evils of the world. And while I certainly desire to have the first say in what my child learns and when, and to slowly show them the harsher sides of humanity…beauty and freedom are ultimately what called me to choose this path less trod, not fear.
Raise to mind the moments in your adolescent education that left you wanting more, that called you into a higher level of thinking and feeling. For me, the beauty of learning came in hearing The Secret Garden and Half Magic read aloud by Mr. Jenkins. In 4th grade it was going out into the school garden in the misty morning to bird watch at the feeders. It was marbling the cover for my own book of poems in Mrs. Webber’s class and going outside to read a chapter book on a sunny day. It was obsessing over the musical Cats when our choir director selected its songs for our concert. The experience of exploring DC, NYC, Italy and France with my teachers and peers filled my heart and mind with rich moments. I loved the rush of performing on stage, whether it was for the theatre program or a small excerpt from Shakespeare for English class. I took pride in organizing school wide events and fundraisers for my high school government. I was deeply shaped by these educational experiences; I’m grateful to the passionate teachers that made it all possible.
And that’s what homeschooling can look like (and more) without the mind-numbing fill in the blank work sheets and other such busy work. These sort of moments that made us fall in love with learning can happen with more frequency in a homeschool – we have the time, flexibility and the freedom to choose how we spend our days. I can read aloud and have tea parties with my kids every day. We can opt for a hike, rather than sitting at a desk.We can go to OMSI for special exhibits or to see the planetarium. Swim or music or art or whatever-suits-your-fancy lessons. Kids can learn units of measurement in cooking, sewing, or out in nature rather than in a book or on top of a lab table. Josh and I desire to take a month or two and travel to national parks to camp, explore and yes, learn. Maybe we’ll grow our own garden and bird watch together in the mornings. I can’t wait to read the classics with them and to them. Along on these journeys we will meet people of all ages, other kids and families. Older and wiser people, experts…and just ordinary people, neighbors, with a different world view than us. We can form a nature group or a book club with other homeschoolers. There, of course, will be days where we sit down and do math problems, and study and commit information to memory…but we can shape the context in which that happens. We can make sure it’s relevant and worthwhile and enriching.
This makes me feel alive and so deeply grateful: I have the privilege and great responsibility to be their motherteacher and to journey alongside my children in learning. While there are many excellent schools and teachers, I feel this particular calling for our family so strongly in my bones…no matter how hard, or how crazy it may seem. I know I’ll wrestle with doubts of whether I’m up to the task to form their hearts, minds and souls. But you see…I’m no longer worried about whether we can achieve as much as kids in the traditional school setting or if my kids will be “socialized” because I’m confident that the opportunities we can seek out and provide will give them all of that and more. I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to witness them grow…to go from learning the sounds of letters to seeing a blade of grass bearing the owner’s name someway in the corners, and hearing them remark, Whose?