Some days the journey is easier than others, am I right? The days run smoothly and look like organization and progress.
And then other days it
feels looks is like chaos by 9:00 am and you need a reminder.
You need to remind yourself that the path to home education was a beautiful choice.
Jason and I have the opportunity to get together with college and life friends for a reunion of sorts every year. We missed out this summer, but last summer, we all met up in a huge old house and sat around the dining room table sharing stories and catching up. I casually mentioned that we were going to be homeschooling that year.
That was my first indication that I should expect interesting responses from people when they hear the news. Some people look quizzical or say something brilliant like, “really?” And the obvious first question they ask is, “why?” Or, “are you going to homeschool in high school.” Thank goodness my oldest is only in 4th grade and I don’t have to make that decision quite yet. Don’t rush me friends.
I get it. I do. When I was growing up, I didn’t know anyone who was homeschooled except for a somewhat seemingly backward (but brilliant) family that my parents knew. And then when I went to a fairly conservative Christian college, I met some kids who were homeschooled.
And to be honest, they met the “stereotype.”
I’m not sure why the stereotype exists. Perhaps because I didn’t know anyone who had been homeschooled, I had assumptions. You know, that the kids were awkward or didn’t really know the ways of the world. They all had their hair in buns and wore long skirts and had 12 siblings. Perhaps I’m not the only one who thought that way based on the curious responses I get from people.
Homeschooling isn’t really a new thing. It’s definitely a growing movement all over the country. I follow a lot of inspiring homeschool feeds on Instagram and see moms from all walks of life sharing their passions for teaching their kids at home. So because I’ve immersed myself in that world, it doesn’t seem that strange to me. There’s lots of “cool” and “normal” mamas who are reinventing homeschool. You might be surprised how popular it really is.
But I guess I have to remember that it’s still the out-of-the-box choice. Even though in the social media world I live in, it’s totally mainstream, it’s still not the norm with the rest of the world and so it takes people by surprise. Sometimes I’m tempted to give people an interesting look and return the question back to them, “why are your kids in public school?” But I’m polite like that and so I don’t.
I understand people’s curiosity I guess. I have several friends who homeschool and I asked them why they decided to so I suppose I’m just like everyone else. There are many reasons people choose this path for their family so please bear in mind I’m not writing this for anyone else. I’m writing it based on my family and why this is the choice we’ve made for this season. There are families who make this decision based on totally different criteria so I’m not writing on behalf of all families. This is just about us. The decision to homeschool is highly personal and honestly, it’s not for everyone, I know. I don’t have a long and fancy list of reasons. Just a few simple ones (with a bunch of little reasons all mixed in).
I feel called to do it
That might sound somewhat generic to some of you, but it’s the truth. I started writing in my journal about homeschooling my kids back in 2011, when I was working full time and only had three kids. It wasn’t really a reality then because I was still working, but God had put the idea on my heart. Like many things in my life, I find that my flesh takes awhile to catch up to what God is speaking in my spirit. In fact, I didn’t leave my job until two years after that and then waited another year to start the path of home education.
I wrote in my journal several times over the course of two years about the life I wanted to live versus the life I was living. While I couldn’t put my finger on the right words, several times I wrote that I wanted to “do life with my family.” While there are ways that families “do life” together, for me, home education was very much a part of that vision in my heart, this “out-of-the-box” way of living. And while I can’t say that we are there yet, I’m starting to see how the flexibility of home education can allow that vision to take shape.
I prayed a lot about this decision. A lot. I didn’t make it overnight. Obviously because otherwise I would have quit my job years before I did. My husband was on board with the idea, pretty much right away to be honest. He doesn’t overthink it the way I tend to, though.
I could just stop my post here because if I’m doing something I feel that God has called us to, we’re simply stepping out in obedience and doing it, so all other reasons fall short of this. However.
my heart is for education
I spent many years trying to figure out how I could be so passionate about education and yet losing my passion for it at the same time. I came to realize that the way I defined teaching and learning had been so shaped by my career in public education, that I was having a hard time seeing how I could be creative with my passion for teaching without being in a public school setting. I was slowly realizing that what I wanted for education in the public setting wasn’t really going to happen, and that the authentic opportunities I wanted for children in school were also the opportunities I wanted for my own children.
Let me try to explain. And as I do, I even struggle to write the words for fear of misrepresenting what I’m trying to say.
First of all, I’m not anti-public school.
Heck, I worked in public school for 14 years. I worked in a large urban district, a small urban district, a rural district, and a semi-suburban district. I worked in 10 different schools across grades K-6 and visited dozens more. I’ve seen the good and bad, the really good and the really bad. Any system as large as public school is going to have its strengths and weaknesses.
Let me also say that teachers, who often don’t get the benefit of the doubt, are hardworking individuals who have a lot on their plates. Planning for a classroom of students with various needs, keeping up with standards and curriculum changes, attending meetings, keeping track of data, managing discipline and parent communication and being in relationship with 30ish students day after day. It’s not for the faint of heart. I think sometimes teachers see homeschool as a slap in the face, as though parents think they can “do it better.” That’s not the case from what I see as making the decision to home educate is highly personal and in most cases, doesn’t have anything to do with teachers themselves.
I saw a lot of changes in education from when I first started and in the last few years of working, a discontent was growing deep inside me. That discontent was I think a combination of God calling me out of the field he placed me into years ago when I started my career, as well as a realization that the public school setting wasn’t where I wanted my children to be educated. I realized that the kind of education I wanted to see wasn’t happening. And I realized I didn’t belong there anymore. I didn’t belong in a place where my heart and spirit weren’t aligned with the practices that I saw day after day.
One of the defining moments that secured my decision in my spirit was when I was sitting in a data meeting (one of many). My daughter was in Kindergarten at the time. I remember the conversation about test scores and data points and growth and it hit me, right in the middle of talking about fourth grade PSSA scores. My daughter would one day be part of data conversations. Her scores and reading level and data points would all be measured and discussed. In the many data meetings that followed over the next year I stayed in public school, I thought about what they’d say about her. And I realized that the things that mattered to me about her education (and all my kids for that matter) wouldn’t be part of those conversations.
They wouldn’t talk about her voracious appetite for reading or her thinking about books. They wouldn’t talk about why she loved reading or what her reading plans were or whether she preferred realistic fiction or fantasy. They wouldn’t be concerned that her spirit longs for adventure. They’d be more concerned whether she mastered main idea or inference. Or whether or not her scores showed growth from one year to the next.
I’m not saying that they wouldn’t care at all about those other things, but they wouldn’t be the focus. And I’m not saying that looking at data is a bad thing. I’m just saying that my growing discontent with public education had to do with the focus on data and test scores. Where levels and skills and five paragraph essays were more important than authentic reading and writing. Where science and social studies were often skipped in the name of more math and reading instruction geared towards the state test. Where individual interests and individualized instruction are very challenging for hard-working teachers who have a million and one things to balance. And while I’ve seen and worked with some amazing public school teachers, even the best ones acknowledge how teaching has changed and find it harder and harder to have authentic learning when there are so many skills to cover and so many needs of kids.
What it means to be educated in our country seems to be defined by what is accepted as learning in public school (or private school to some degree). I’ve seen many teachers introduce a student who was “homeschooled.” (and yes, fingers in the air making a quote as they say it). There’s this idea that if a child is schooled at home, the parents don’t make the best educational choices for their child if it doesn’t align with what’s taught in public school.
I can’t speak for other homeschool families. I’m sure there are some who don’t really do as much “learning” as others or as many “formal” kinds of activities. I’m not here to judge that (but admittedly, I have in the past).
What I will say, is that I’m learning to expand my ideas about what education looks like. Why should the public school system decide what it means for a child to be educated? Why are the standards and skills taught in traditional school more important than others?
Believe me. I’m all about having standards and expectations and formal learning. I grew up with it. I was shaped by my educational choices. But I’m also about educational experiences. Things that can’t be done with pencil and paper. I’m expanding my learning about art and nature and history and science in new ways. These new ideas will affect the kinds of learning that take place in our home.
I’m still learning how to make home education look different than “school” education. Which is probably why I like the term “home education” more than “homeschooling.” I’m sure it’s something that will take awhile for me to master, if ever. And that’s ok. My first year of home education taught me a lot and I’m still learning to see education as a broader term.
Educating my children at home is like a dream come true. I can teach, be with the people I love most, and learn right alongside of them.
I was having a hard time putting into words this out-of-the-box idea of education. And then I read a quote by Charlotte Mason and this mama’s idea of creating a learning culture as part of your home education journey and it hit me. This is how I see education. How I’ve always seen it but could never really put into words. Why I was so discontent working in public school and having my kids in public education.
“The question is not, how much does the youth know? When he has finished his education – but how much does he care? And about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet? And therefore how full is the life he has before him?” ~ Charlotte Mason
I’m not saying a child can’t go to public school and still care about the world and have a full life. But there’s something about educating at home that makes more room for this. Where the very nature of being together all day, breathing in each other and breathing out learning and allowing our hearts to beat together in the rhythm of creating and growing. This is what I want for my kids. To have a learning culture where knowledge itself isn’t the main goal, but the love of learning is. Where we aren’t driven by our reading and math levels or what they numbers tell us, but rather by what peaks my kids’ interest and causes them to ask questions.
home education allows us to do life together
I’m still learning what this looks like. I’m still praying about how these words are relevant for our family. I can say that educating at home makes life and learning flow together. When the kids were in school, there was this compartmentalizing of the day. School used to be school and home was home. Now, the lines blur together and everything we do is part of education in some way. Jason likes coming home and rather than asking kids, “what did you do at school,” it’s more like, “what kinds of learning did you do?” and he feels more part of their learning experiences. They can share their notebooks and talk about their learning in more authentic ways. He’s able to participate and share in our learning together on his days off. This “doing life together” is starting to be evident. It will grow as we grow. We’re far from perfect. But we’re finding our rhythm.
We may send our kids back to public school one day. I’m the first one to recognize times in my life where I’ve eaten my words, “I’ll never…” So I don’t know what our future holds and it doesn’t matter. All that matters is where God has us today. Home educating for us is a year-by-year decision. Like all areas of our lives, we are learning to walk by faith and take things one day, one week, one year at a time.
Let me say this finally to end: parents are educators whether they homeschool or not. Nothing I’m writing here is to imply that if you don’t home-educate, you are not participating in your child’s education. In fact, parents and teachers should work together to best meet the needs of their children. What I’m saying is that home education is a choice to fully take on the spectrum of my kids “formal education.”
Are you a home educator? How did you make your decision?