While my son was still in preschool, I started hearing the rumblings. The discussions. The debates. I even wrote an article about how I couldn’t decide if it was good or bad that public education was under the microscope.
Then, we entered the public school system. While it’s certainly not without its faults, for now, it is working for us. However, more and more Austin families are opting out all together, choosing to homeschool.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, approximately 3% of the school-aged population was homeschooled in the 2011-2012 school year. According to the same study, 25% of parents chose to homeschool their children because they were concerned about the school environment, 19% were dissatisfied with the academics at their school and 16% wanted to provide religious instruction to their kids. Over 20% cited “other reasons”, which could include family time, finances, travel and distance.
I know a few moms who have been homeschooling (I even interviewed one a while back who was unschooling), and thought that it might be helpful for any of you on the fence to hear more about it from someone who is in the trenches. Plus, I was curious myself! I wanted to hear the real stories about what’s working, what’s difficult and whether these families will continue this journey long-term. I know that these ladies are quite busy, so I appreciate Kendal, Traci, AnnMarie, Hannah and Priscilla for taking the time to answer a few of my questions.
LiveMom: Why did you decide to make the change to homeschooling?
Kendal: What bugged me at our public school, but didn’t bother my kid, were rewards for good behavior (a prize box, pizza party, smiley face stickers); external controls; no understanding of internal motivation; wasted time waiting in line, waiting for everyone to pay attention; a really loud cafeteria; lost recess so often because of other kids; the attitude that kids can work out social relationships on their own, even at 5; a chaotic, messy classroom environment; the ungodly amount of worksheets they did; busy work homework that took time away from family time and caused almost nightly tears; an exhausted, grumpy, hungry kiddo for the first hour after school; little time to connect to extended family and lots of illnesses.
To sum up, we left public school because of no cohesive philosophy of education, external motivators, crowd control and not individualized instruction, administrators who were not responsive to our kids’ academic needs, lip service at best to social/emotional learning, no time in nature, very little time with family, and tired and grumpy when we were together. Another issue I could go on and on about is the STAAR testing.
Traci: My husband and I decided to take a sabbatical year. (Editor’s Note: You can read about her journey on Star Family Travels.) We are traveling the country, and obviously staying in school would not be possible. That said, we were frustrated by the testing involved and what we considered ill effects on our children. While we might not have chosen homeschool if we weren’t traveling, we were looking at alternatives to public schooling.
AnnMarie: We decided to homeschool so that we could tailor our boys’ education to each one as an individual – at his own pace. We wanted less time in the classroom and more time learning by doing and interacting with many different types of groups, not just the kids in a particular class/school. Play is a priority. My kids are self directed, motivated learners who get to choose and focus on what interest them.
Priscilla: My oldest went to public school for kinder/first grade but was constantly bored so we clearly needed a change and a way of challenging him.
LiveMom: How long have you been homeschooling? How old is each of your kids?
Kendal: We’re in the middle of our second year. A 4th grader, 2nd grader and my toddler.
Traci: We are only two months in. My son is 11 (5th grade) and my daughter is about to be 8 (2nd grade).
AnnMarie: We started homeschooling 2.5 years ago, Nicholas is 10 and Noah is 7 (Noah has always homeschooled and Nicholas started at what would have been his 2nd grade year).
Hannah: Sylvan is 7, Cosima (Cozy) is 3 1/2, and Nell is 9 months. They’ve always been unschooled.
Priscilla: I began homeschooling when my oldest was starting second grade. My three boys are now 3, 6 and 10.
LiveMom: What benefits have you seen?
Kendal: Improved concentration and focus, much more time to be connected to nature, sibling and grandparents bonds strengthened (this is especially important to us since they’re adopted) and travel mid-week and not at peak times of year. Kids who are kinesthetic learners can move and stand during instruction, instead of sitting down. Differentiated instruction is easier when you are homeschooling. You can choose the peers you work with. Kids who need more active or outdoor time can get what he or she needs. Homeschooled children have more time to spend on extracurricular activities and interests.
Traci: My son had some struggles in math. He was insecure seeking help in front of his peers and being home, we’ve been able to step back and review steps that he missed. Also, my daughter, who has dyslexia and dysgraphia, has started to regain some confidence that she lost.
AnnMarie: Happier children, relaxed family, self motivated, excited learners, travel opportunities, slower living.
Hannah: Our family gets a lot of time together, and we don’t have to mold our lives around an arbitrary outside schedule. That alone is so different, and I think homeschooling would be worth it just for that! The main benefit, and the main reason we chose this path, is that the kids have confidence in their ability to figure things out on their own and to decide what is important to them to learn, to spend their time on.
For example, Sylvan is going on a year and a half of immersion in the world of Minecraft. Anyone who has kids that play Minecraft knows its draw as an open-ended game. Every conversation brings up things he’s learned about the world by watching videos or playing. He learned to read and write on his own between Minecraft and texting. It’s also given him ideas to explore video editing, parkour, math, environmental studies, electrical circuits… it’s a challenge to us to make sure we’re offering help to go further where he wants to go, but without attachment on our end to the “outcome.”
It’s really clear to us that children aren’t just prototypes of the adults they will eventually grow into; they’re fully formed people worthy of our respect and trust now. We try to trust them in a way children aren’t usually trusted: to know themselves. This is really hard to do, and provides a lot of opportunities for personal growth for us as parents and humans. It’s pretty amazing when we manage to pull it off.
LiveMom: What common misconceptions are out there about homeschooling families?
Kendal: Plenty of parents feel that a kid who fights about homework won’t do well homeschooling. Most parents we know who pulled kids out of school see the opposite. Also, homeschoolers aren’t all religious — there are plenty of secular families who are homeschooling their children. Lastly, homeschooled kids do get a lot of socialization. A lot of days, our kids are playing and working in groups. When you are out and about every day, you get lots of exposure to many different people.
LiveMom: What do you feel that you may have given up or sacrificed?
Kendal: I don’t think I’ve sacrificed much. This will be a vastly different answer for many, though! I had already given up any career to stay home with them, so there wasn’t a loss of income. I hadn’t experienced hours of the day to be alone since I had the baby just before both kids were at school. Really, I just got more time to hang with the boys! There was a lot sacrificed when I first became a stay at home mom. Sometimes, in the evenings, I’ll spend time looking at curriculum or planning trips that I wouldn’t have, but it’s fun. I absolutely was sad about losing daily contact with parent friends at school. Hanging out with them after school was always nice, but we can still see each other, and there’s still lots of mom social time. School pictures! But I figured out you can just call them and set up a time to go and have them taken.
Traci: I miss the time to myself. I was very involved at the school but I still had a few hours each day to run errands by myself. I had some time to write without constant interruptions.
AnnMarie: I haven’t sacrificed anything but grocery shopping time (my kids hate it and I have a hard time figuring out when to get it done) . I have more time to myself and more time with the family- I love it!
Hannah: We gladly gave up predictability and linear careers. In terms of time, the early childhood stage is so intense no matter what you do or don’t do about school – so I don’t know that we’ve really given up more time or energy than we would have another way. We just have a different flow to life, one we’ve chosen intentionally. I guess maybe we’ve given up having a lifestyle that’s easy for a lot of people to understand? That doesn’t feel like much of a sacrifice though, especially with the great unschooling community we’ve got here in Austin.
LiveMom: What do you feel are qualities that would be good for a parent to possess before going down this path?
Kendal: I think trust in children, yourself, the process. Tolerance of others. There are an incredibly many ways to do it. Turning my focus to our family’s needs, and not comparing to others, is very freeing. Patience, yes, but it is truly a different mindset. Most parents say, I could never do it because we fight about homework as it is. Us, too – when they were in school! But, no more. So much stress lifts, almost immediately. An understanding that you don’t have to hit the benchmarks that public schools have set. They’ll get there before, at the same time, or after their peers. And that’s fine, they’ll do it in their own time. Letting go of that is still a challenge, but Montessori philosophy has helped there. Each child, at his own pace. You have to be able to put yourself out there socially. For example, going to homeschool soccer for the first time not knowing anyone. Figuring out connections for social circles.
Traci: Patience is a BIG one. Also, organization and natural scheduling helps. We are still finding our groove to establish a flow and routine.
AnnMarie: I think just liking your kids and loving spending time with them. You should be able to research curriculum and be aware of what kind of learner your children are, but other than that, just enjoying being a parent.
Hannah: Maybe willingness for self-examination, commitment to sincere effort. Trust in each other. So much of our identity and sense of worth as humans is wrapped up in ideas of education, teaching, programs, standards, milestones – if we question that part of our identity, it unravels lots of other things, and that’s a big process. Parents need to have each other, and/or others in community, for emotional and philosophical support in order to go down the unschooling path. We’re both in it 100%, have an amazing community, and it’s still hard a lot of the time.
Priscilla: A parent definitely needs patience when homeschooling, they also need flexibility. Every child is going to be totally different and potentially require different methods and curriculums. Make sure you have the support of others.
LiveMom: What did you wish you had known when you got started?
Kendal: That the social issue is really a non-issue. Better websites with overviews of curriculum. The difference between secular and religious homeschooling. That I can do it, and most anyone else can too. It doesn’t take a special person. There are complete curriculums by grade, you just turn to the next page each day. You don’t have to devise it all, it’s available.
Traci: That your child will NOT treat you like they treat their teachers. The child that gets perfect behavioral report cards can turn into a completely sassy, disrespectful student.
AnnMarie: I wish I had known how to NOT go crazy and buy a ton of curriculum.
Hannah: This is a hard question to answer, as there wasn’t really a starting point for us. It’s just been a logical continuation of our parenting philosophy from the beginning, ideas we had long before we had kids and refined as we went along.
Priscilla: I can’t really say I wish I knew anything in particular before starting because I had been researching it since before he ever started kindergarten. I was very prepared. What I was not prepared for was my second year when I was homeschooling two kids.
LiveMom: Have you decided how much longer you will continue homeschooling?
Kendal: Barring anything forcing us to quit, we’ll homeschool through middle school. High school is a question for me. Well done homeschooling is inspiring. We’ll cross the bridge if we come to it if they ask to go back. So far it’s a resounding no every time I check in with them. Also, we try really hard not to knock public school. Their friends are there, they may go back. I point out the positives of homeschooling, and they remember the negatives of school.
Traci: No. We don’t really have a re-entry plan yet. We’re going to see how the year plays out.
Hannah: We plan to just keep on living however works best for our family, on into the future! We’re confident that doesn’t have to include school.
Priscilla: At this point we plan to homeschool indefinitely, because the public schools aren’t even sure where they would put my oldest son, given how far advanced he is. We had him tested at a charter school and they would put him 2 grades ahead just because they aren’t comfortable placing him any higher up.
LiveMom: What resources are available in Austin for homeschoolers?
Kendal: Resources are absolutely outrageously amazing. It’s too much to keep up with it all. Homeschool soccer is one of my favorites. We don’t go every week now that the season has started, but it is just great.
Our schedule this week consists of Homeschool Day at The Thinkery on Monday, after our science class at the Austin Nature Center. Tuesday will be music lessons, then a geography class, home to hang in the yard, do some ‘seat work’ and soccer practice. Wednesday is Homeschool Day at the Bullock, then we’ll go with another family to the George Ranch outside of Houston for their Homeschool Day about Texas history on Thursday. We’ll stay over, maybe at the State Park and get home to spend time with family who are coming in town. Tomorrow we set up my oldest’s project at the regional science fair! He took a class about science experiments, how to conduct them, and how to do the final project, and was selected to go. Usually Wednesdays are hiking with the Austin Families in Nature homeschool group (I think there are two at least). Today we had nothing scheduled and they did hours of math, vocabulary, history, reading chapter books, shooting bows and arrows, gardening, visiting grandparents, jumping on the trampoline. Just a full day spread before them and they choose their learning. Sometimes a demand on my part for lessons, but they like it. It’s crazy.
Austin Area Homeschoolers and the Christian Home Education Association of Central Texas (CHEACT) are two places to start. There are listserves for every part of town and every philosophy. It’s staggering! The movement of the ‘hip urban homeschooler’ is starting to crack the old stereotype. Our family coined the term fieldschoolers, since so much of our learning is away from home.
Traci: There are several good FB groups. Some sports and art organizations are starting to offer homeschool classes and or homeschool days.
AnnMarie: Austin Area Homeschoolers, Learning Without Limits Yahoo Group, so many co-ops and businesses have homeschool classes. I also read blogs. My favorite is Simple Homeschool and the Oak Meadow website/Facebook page. In general, I read lots of books for parents about the brain, education, learning and growing.
Hannah: For unschooling in particular, there is a yahoo group called UCAustin (Unschooling Community of Austin) and a Facebook group for arranging gatherings. Also a new standalone website for our group: http://austinunschoolers.weebly.com/ We have regular weekly meetups, and a monthly parent support group meeting. There are just too many classes and activities to list, but being active in the online groups plugs us into those possibilities as they come up.
Priscilla: There are several great groups in Austin if you just search your area for homeschoolers on Facebook.
LiveMom: Is there anything else you think is important for families considering homeschooling to think through first?
Kendal: Think through and read about a period of time called decompression. Re-establishing a love of learning, and learning for its own sake, takes time. Let go for a while, there’s no rush. With a rested brain, with a body that is fully exercised, with fresh air and hours spent with friends and in nature, with no timer for 20 minutes to make you read, the possibilities are endless. The learning happens so much more quickly. It’s not perfect, but school wasn’t either. There will be gaps in knowledge and things they miss out on, same for school. I don’t want to paint too much of a rosy picture, it’s very often hard. I totally lose it sometimes, but overall it has centered us and made us a really connected and content family.
Traci: There are financial costs. Workbooks and other consumables are one element. Entries into museums and the like often have costs. Much of these things are included or available at a discounted cost through schools.
Also, if you’re able to, plan ahead. Get the curriculum in place and prepped before the kids are home. Prepare for a transition period as the kids adjust from a school routine and leadership to a home routine and parents as teachers.
Hannah: Don’t get wrapped up in whether it’s possible or whether you’re good/patient/smart enough, because it really is and you really are. Spend your effort on unwinding your old expectations, and let the kids show you how good life can be!
Are you homeschooling? What have you learned along the way? Are there any other resources Central Texas homeschooling families should know about?