Choosing to Homeschool


National School Choice Week | How We Began HomeschoolingNational School Choice Week | How We Began HomeschoolingSeveral times in recent months, I have been quieted by the thought that Mark and I can choose how we educate our children, not simply the methodology we follow but to homeschool at all. Even on the hard days––and there are hard days––it is such a privilege. The choice itself is a privilege. For a week each January, National School Choice Week, a non-partisan, non-political effort, seeks to raise public awareness about the variety of educational options for children. Schools, organizations, homeschool groups alike host events nationwide hoping to empower parents with the positive educational options for their children. Last year they hosted nearly 17,000 events, and next week, January 22-28, 2017, one will more than likely be happening near you. If you are interested to know who is participating in your area, here is an event map for you. Today, in my own effort to celebrate the freedom of educational choice, I thought I’d share a bit of our own family’s story, how we arrived at homeschooling these last nine years.

It sometimes surprises people that I never intended to homeschool. In fact, not long after Liam’s birth, on a day when I sat nestled in a bookshop corner reading with him sleeping on my chest, a clerk paused me for brief conversation, wherein she asked if I planned to homeschool him. I politely laughed. Homeschool? Probably not. Truthfully, I hadn’t even thought of school options yet. At that point, I was more concerned with showering regularly and sleeping through the night again. I didn’t know anything about homeschooling, let alone whether I was committed to that choice yet, and what little I had observed until that point seemed altogether unappealing. How could I do it with children at different ages? How could I have a life outside of it? How would I know what to teach them? Aren’t homeschooled children socially disconnected? Aren’t they a bit weird?

National School Choice Week | How We Began HomeschoolingNational School Choice Week | How We Began Homeschooling

A few years later, after two family moves and with two more children, I found myself in another conversation with new friends about homeschooling. Liam, my oldest was three and attending a two-day week preschool we loved, a godsend for me in the new transition of three children [in three years]. Kindergarten was growing closer by the day, and suddenly, the school conversation seemed more relevant. Listening to my friends’ conversation and excitement around homeschooling, I couldn’t help my internal naysayer. Do people really do this? Is homeschooling really an option for our family? I understood why people might be drawn academically to homeschooling. At that point, I worked part-time at a local college tutoring in writing and grammar. I experienced the callousness of classroom learning in the students’ attitudes, their lack of preparation and skill. I met many students who had only read one or two books in their entire high school experience, and others who hadn’t been required to read anything more than excerpts from anthologies. With access to computers, most of them didn’t understand the point of reading or of literary analysis. Many didn’t even know why they were there. I certainly understood the academic allure of homeschooling. But what about team sports and school lunch? What about recess and school plays? What about my own time for self, for errands, for personal work? For the most part, I had a positive school experience; wouldn’t my children? I felt stumped.

The following year, Liam returned to preschool two days a week, but sometime mid-fall, he began asking to stay home with us. His teacher, an absolutely precious woman who adored Liam, assured me he was enjoying the days there, but all of these previous conversations began to rattle in me. Was homeschooling an option?  With Liam’s first school years nearing, I began doing my homework, reading books from the library, beginning with The Homeschool Option, a wonderful overview of different ways to homeschool, and then onto John Holt’s How Children Learn and  Teach Your OwnSusan Wise Bauer’s The Well-Trained MindLeigh Bortin’s The Core, and Karen Andreola’s A Charlotte Mason Companion eventually so many more in Montessori and Waldorf methods. I looked into our state requirements for homeschooling, surprised to discover how homeschool-friendly our state is. My ideas about homeschooling were evolving. I began doing a reading lesson with Liam a few times a week, which he loved some days and hated others. I immediately had to deal with my own expectations and how this journey would look in our home. I was pregnant with our fourth child and could for the most part only imagine napping during the lulls in our day, not making space for a reading lesson. But we kept at it anyway.

National School Choice Week | How We Began HomeschoolingNational School Choice Week | How We Began HomeschoolingNational School Choice Week | How We Began HomeschoolingDuring the preschool year while we deliberated about what to do, Liam continued at his two-day preschool, supplemented with afternoon reading lessons with me, and plenty of art time and outdoor play with his brother just 17 months younger. I used Teaching Montessori in the Home: The Preschool Years to help guide a few simple hands-on activities. Mark and I also set up tours with several local schools, inquiring about the language immersion program versus the traditional classroom at our local neighborhood school. We visited a few private schools, too, talking with teachers and directors, observing and wondering where our son fit best. I was amazed by the variety of options and diverse experiences. There were schools I quickly crossed off the list, like the one where we were escorted on a tour by a woman in a fur shrug and stilettos. I knew quickly that environment wouldn’t complement our casual, relaxed home atmosphere, no matter how beautiful the classroom or how advanced the technology. There were schools with open concept classrooms and multiple teachers and children working on the floor instead of a desk. There were classrooms that included a child-sized kitchen and personal gardens, where the children were encouraged in independence. There were schools that included daily lessons in French and Spanish, and different schools that issued each child their own laptop or iPad and focused on STEM learning. There were classrooms with igloos made of milk cartons and others with international flags sprawling the walls. Classrooms with traditional desks or tables and ones with only carpet mats.  Uniforms. No uniforms. Neighborhood schools. Schools on the other side of town. I realized, even in our small town, there were several options for us to choose from, options that would require us to know our budget, our family goals, and ultimately, our children. Where would they thrive best? We had to make a choice. Based on Liam’s kinesthetic learning style, difficult time with traditional worksheet methods of learning, and his love of play and art, we chose to homeschool him, knowing three more siblings would be following close behind, too. He loved being at home and was as excited as we were for this option.

I would love to tell you I began homeschooling confident of my abilities, or even confident that we had made the right choice. I didn’t. We began homeschooling as an experiment, with more questions than answers, more ideals than facts. But nine years later, with many soul-searching moments, conversations, research, and prayer, we’re still here, finding this path meandering and growing right with us. While in the early years, I wavered often, especially on the hard days, wondering if we were doing the right thing. I can see the gift of those years now, how precious the experiences with my children are to each of us now, especially the more challenging obstacles. My children have seen me at my best and worst, and likewise for them; they have watched me try new ideas and encourage their own. The beauty of beginning something new together is that the journey has a way of growing us together. For us, this journey is about more than academics and social protocol. Homeschooling is about relational connection, about enjoying their childhood and young adult years together.

The Choice to HomeschoolLast week, we began our school routine again, awkwardly fumbling to find our rhythm for the new year. I grabbed my camera on Thursday afternoon, a random day with nothing extraordinary planned outside of our home. I watched each child toggle from independent artwork or play toward connection with one another, sharing a book or baking a pie together. They don’t always get along. Some days our lessons are more focused on serving one another, on kindness, on attitudes of the heart. These too are preparing them for independent lives outside our home one day, and I’m grateful. Other days we have rich dialogues about ideas and stories we’re reading together. We practice difficult skills in language and mathematics and more practical ones in wood carving or in learning to sew. It is an eclectic path, the most unexpected gift. I will never romanticize this homeschool journey for others. It is hard work and demanding of every resource, but it has empowered me as a parent, taught me how to trust instinct, an instinct that a random bookshop clerk seemed to intuit in me so many years ago.  

This post is sponsored by National School Choice Week, a non-partisan, non-political awareness effort about the variety of educational options. All thoughts and images are my own. Thank you for supporting the organizations and businesses that help keep this space afloat.

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  1. This post answered some questions I had about how you made the decision to homeschool, and also if you ever considered not homeschooling any of them while the others were at home with you. I love hearing your perspective! I am currently homeschooling one school-age daughter and one preschooler, my high schooler is in private school, and since we can only afford one tuition, my daughter is in public. It sounds intense, but homeschooling all three of them last year was more intense (which a rowdy toddler running around to interrupt everything)! I don’t know how you do it, Bethany! Teach me your ways please!! :)

    1. Author

      It’s so beautiful how different each home and parent is. Having all of my children in separate schools totally stresses me out! I feel stretched having the boys in a more structured curriculum this year, even though I know it’s such a gift for them, so I haven’t ever considered putting one in school. I might if they asked, but they love being homeschooled, and CC during the older years has been enough structure for them to enjoy a classroom experience. Thank you for sharing, Tanya, and it sounds like you’re meeting the needs in your home so well.

  2. This is beautiful. What I love best about homeschooling is that it’s a story, not a program, and different for each child and parent. I love your entire blog, but especially the schooling posts. Thank you!

  3. I have no children, not even a husband. But your blog is my favorite. With every post, I learn so much about family living and this inspires me. It changes the way I spend time with family and friends. Here in Germany we do not have the choice to homeschool but in the Internet I love to read about mothers whom homeschool because it is such a foreign lifestyle for me and I admire that way of living. It is so inspiring that you choose to spend most of your time educate your children, without one word about losing yourself.
    With every new post I make plans for my own family living, if it should be. And if not, I learn so much about discipline myself, respect children and spending time with the people I love.

  4. Thanks for sharing this Bethany! I just started homeschooling our 9 year old this week. I am new to this and want to learn more, but my time is limited. What book do you think would be most helpful for someone just starting out? Thank you!

    1. Author

      How exciting, Lisa! I can assure you there will be hard days, even in the beginning as you find your own rhythm and style, but it is such a special path and gift of time. Enjoy.

  5. I was deadset on homeschooling and my husband, deadset against it, when a pastor at our church mentioned that his family’s approach to education was to consider each child, every year. It was life-changing for both of us. Our son is only 3, but we committed to spending these years getting to know him and aiming to understand what educational setting will most benefit him. I’ve come to realize that home learning may not be best for him, as my husband has simultaneously come to realize that public education may not be either.

    We continue to learn and observe, so that we will be able to make a good decision in a few short years. I really appreciate this organizations neutral approach to educating the public on educational options. We have a charter school up the road from us that we have considered and I love the opportunity to learn more about that option.

    Did you all ever consider homeschooling some but not all of your children?
    Thanks for sharing your journey with us!

    1. Author

      Although I am a passionate advocate for homeschooling, I completely support what your pastor said, that each family must consider their family unit as a whole, and each child’s needs. While we are always open about diverse school options and do pray regularly for direction for our family and children, putting one or two in school and homeschooling the others would be my least favorite option simply because of time. The gift of homeschooling is time. You are able to decide how your family uses it, and your children are able to choose, too. In school, obviously that structure of time is decided for you, so the flexibility of one system feels inhibited by the other. You still have to be out of the house at a certain time and to be at parent conferences and school programs, but you’re also responsible for helping the children at home with their learning. I know several families who do it, but for us, considering the family as a whole, I prefer to keep us together. My oldest is in his own homeschool program with Classical Conversations, and goes one day a week to a class without us. Although Mark and I are still working with him, he is doing different work during the day than my younger three. It’s allowed more autonomy as he grows into teen years with the flexibility of homeschooling. I hope this helps.

  6. Fantastic post! Thanks for sharing in such detail. I am sure it will benefit many young parents navigating through similar waters. Love you blog!!

  7. Bethany, this is a wonderful post about how it all begin, I had often wondered.
    Thank you for the resources you mentioned. How did you fit errands in and your own self care time in the early days? I have 4 young children, the oldest being 8 & 5.. I often look at those things as big things that we mother get a ‘break’ from the kids when they’re at school..

    1. Author

      Thank you, Katie. During the first year or two of homeschooling, I paid a college student come to the house once or twice a week for help. Sometimes she would help with tasks around the house or simply be an extra set of hands, one of those days I would send her to the grocery for me, often with one of the children. If it was a hard day, I might go and leave the children with her for a bit. ;) These women were a gift for our family, as they provided a little more breathing room. When I no longer had a helper, grocery shopping and errands often happened on the weekend.

      In the afternoon, we always had rest time/nap time, and that time felt sacred for me, used either for nap time myself, for reading, or for taking care of something around the house. It was my reset time. I often found a smaller break in the morning while the infant napped, taking the other kids outside and reading with coffee while they played. Wink.

  8. This is such a thoughtful reflection, Bethany, and so much appreciated. After homeschooling the last half of first grade and then returning to public school this year, my daughter is asking to be homeschooled once again. I admire all of your homsechooling moms- it’s not an easy job and yet somehow you persevere. It’s helpful to know that the whole journey is a learning process. I struggle to know what is best for her with so many options. We are blessed indeed to have these choices.

    1. Author

      There are so many wonderful options for children. I bless you with wisdom and courage as you all decide what’s best for your family. x

  9. This was really helpful! I appreciated the resources and plan to read several of those books you recommended. You also mentioned some of your initial fears about how your kids would find social interaction and also about the opportunities for sports and other programs. I’m curious, How have you incorporated those things into their homeschool education?

    1. Author

      We have lived in the same town during all of our homeschooling years, so it’s hard to know what is specific to an area or not. But there are SO many homeschoolers now, and the number keeps increasing. As a result, there are more opportunities for homeschoolers too: extra-curricular activities offered during the day, various types of co-op groups and sports clubs and lessons. I am not concerned at all about our children’s social interactions. They have plenty of time interacting with people/children of different ages and activities. ;)

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