Our resident Book Nerd is on vacation this week, so while she racks up points for a special double-edition of Library Chicken, we're reprinting one of our favorite Suzanne columns.
I can tell you exactly when I decided to homeschool. Kid No. 1 was nearly three, Kid No. 2 was an infant, and Kids No. 3 and No. 4 were years away. I was sitting on my bed next to my husband, reading my way through a stack of library books— not unusual, except in this case, the stack consisted of every single homeschooling book my local library had available. About halfway through the stack I turned to my husband and said, “I think we can do this.” I believe his response was a dubious “Hmmm.”
That was over 10 years ago, and if you ask me why I choose to homeschool, I can give you a decade’s worth of reasons. Initially, it just sounded like a whole lot of fun. I loved school and was a fairly accomplished nerd in my day, so the idea of doing school with my kids (of whom I am also rather fond) seemed pretty great. Academically, it turns out that the one-on-one of homeschooling is such an efficient way to teach that we could take Fridays off and still keep up with what was being taught in our local schools, even as we watched our school-friends deal with bullies, school bureaucracy, and the occasional lousy teacher. I believe that homeschooling supports family relationships and creates life-long learners, and we’ve chosen this course with great care and thought.
Of course, if you ask my kids why we homeschool—and people have—they will tell you that it’s because “Mom likes to sleep in and wear pajamas all day.”
Now, as it happens, this is also true. Which I think illustrates something important about homeschooling: it’s not just an educational choice, it’s a lifestyle choice. I thought I knew this going in. I pictured my kids’ educational journey as just that, a road trip, where instead of taking the interstates like most other folks, we had decided to take the back roads, enjoying the scenery and confounding the GPS.
But I’ve since realized that metaphor doesn’t go far enough. Once I decided that ‘school’ didn’t have to look anything like the model I grew up with, I also started thinking about happiness, and success, and what I really wanted for myself and my husband and my children as we grow up together. We’re still on a journey, but it’s not enough to say that we’re driving the back roads. I think we’ve left the car behind and are doing something radically different— more like taking a trip in a hot air balloon, with an entirely different view of the scenery.
I didn’t quite know that’s what I was signing up for, halfway through the stack of library books, and it can get a bit nerve-wracking up there at times, but I have learned a few things I can share with my fellow balloonists.
Be flexible. You’re in charge up there, but you’re not in control. Health, financial, or other family issues may mean that the best choice for your family today is not the same as it was last year, or even last week. Give yourself permission to change course.
Keep your destination in mind. Whether you’re planning to homeschool for a year, until college, or for as long as it works, at some point your child will have to deal with the more traditional expectations of the rest of the world. This can be a rocky transition, but there’s a lot you can do to prepare and make it easier.
Teach the kids how to steer. When it’s appropriate—and as often as possible—let them make the decisions about where to go next. And, of course, enjoy the ride. Skip math and grammar and spend the day in bed with the kids and Harry Potter. Take a family trip when everyone else is in school. And definitely, always, wear the pajamas.