As a college student on my way to becoming a teacher, I sure wasn’t going to homeschool my own kids. In fact, not only did I think most homeschooling parents were probably crazy, I knew they weren’t qualified to do their jobs.
Fast-forward to having a couple years of teaching experience behind me, plenty of college of education propaganda in my head, a heart for other people (which some people in my collegiate career labeled “social justice,” a term I did not know before then), and a 2-year-old *of my own* who was going to have to get some sort of education, and my tune changed… not so much to being pro-homeschooling yet, but definitely to looking into resources because, as I realized quickly, I was her first teacher. Her issue? She was not talking much, and her new baby sister was not helping with that as quickly as we thought she would.
We ended up putting our daughter in a Waldorf preschool, run by a friend in our hometown where we were raising our babies while my husband finished college. The friend who ran the school did so out of her home for half-days a couple days a week, and my in-laws offered to pay for the schooling. Done. This would surely get my child to talk. We had also proceeded with some early intervention work before this, which helped over time. To this day I don’t know if anything we tried helped or if she would have started expressing herself verbally more without it.
Regardless, between her birth and her infancy and now her toddlerhood and burgeoning preschool years, I had come to realize something about parenting: it is not really about the experts who tell you what is best for children, nor is it really about what you expect for your children, these amorphous beings who, if you’re like me, you have dreamed about since you found that special someone. It is about knowing what you want for them after research and gut checks and then proceeding as best you can where you are. It is realizing that no one knows your child like you do. It is recognizing when the time has come to ask for help if needed.
We were only in the Waldorf school and in early intervention services for about six months before moving out of our hometown for my husband’s first full-time, post-graduate job. We heard negative things about the schools where we were moving from the minute we started investigating. Mind you, our children were 2-1/2 and 6 months. Public schools in nearby towns were not thought to be any better; most adults in the area who were doing well were independently wealthy or worked in healthcare or education. Fast food work and other service-based jobs were the major reason most residents had food on the table. It was a depressed area. The cloudy skies did not help this, and I remember even during our first visit feeling as if the area had a grey cloud over it constantly. Of course, it was also November.
We sold our house, bought a new one, and moved there within a couple months. In this new somewhat idyllic setting of a large old Victorian home with two small, relatively quiet children and a necessarily slow pace of life, I started researching homeschooling. I felt confident that my children could stay with me in the early years while we were still having babies and then go on to regular schools when they were old enough for me to feel safe choosing good ones or when we moved out of the area, whichever came first. I started reading everything about homeschooling I could get my hands on and became convinced relatively quickly that the DIY educational approach would work for us. Selling my husband on the idea would be another matter entirely.
I remember early discussions that were not arguments so much as mutual frustration and desperation of being without options. He also did not want our kids going to the local schools, but he did not have any experience with homeschooling outside of knowing the same stereotypes I did and knowing a handful of families who lived the life. He did not know if we could handle it and said he would give it a year on a trial basis for when our oldest was 3 and would be old enough to go to preschool just so we could see if we liked it (and the elephant in the room was… could I/we do it?!).
For both of us, this was not a moral or religious issue so much as a scholastic one. We were both raised to believe in rigorous education: his parents were high school teachers and had sent him to a private school for middle and high school, and I was raised with serious educational ambition and benefited from an excellent gifted program in a public high school, the likes of which (I now know) are incredibly rare.
No, we were not into homeschooling because we wanted to shelter our kids. It was basically intellectual snobbery. I have some irritation at myself now over those feelings, but I suppose one thing I know happens when you become a mother is that no matter what, you advocate for your child. We women comment on this calling each other and ourselves “mama bear” sometimes, and there’s a good reason for it: no one else will do it for you. I had learned this through my birth experiences, I had learned this in parenting an infant and then a toddler, and I had learned this when my daughter needed early intervention (I had to make that first phone call and admit she/we needed help). My job, whether I ever had another vocation again while they lived with me, was to advocate for my children.
The books I read back then covered a lot of bases, I thought; I tend to research thoroughly, even if I have a feeling I won’t like the source, so I read the very hard-core school-at-home Evangelical Christian homeschooling activists, Charlotte Mason, Jessie Wise/Susan Wise Bauer, Montessori, Steiner, Holt, etc. Augmented by what I had learned in educational policy and psych courses about child development, the history of education in the US, I felt like our plan needed to be classical education with an extra heaping of rigor. I was bent on educating my child in a way that was rigorous but developmentally appropriate, toughening but emotionally edifying, demanding but relaxed. I was doomed.
Whenever one sets out to plan and then execute a plan, it is easy to make the perfect the enemy of the good. In my head, I don’t believe I even set out to reach ideals. I just wanted all the education, and like a maternal version of Veruca Salt on behalf of my child, I wanted it now.
I chilled out a little bit when I realized this was preschool we were talking about. I settled on Sonlight, which at the time was basically the best you could get in a prepackaged classical curriculum that was Christian but still included living books a la Charlotte Mason.
I learned very quickly that while Sonlight sounded good on paper, it wasn’t what I wanted for my kid. For one, it was prohibitively expensive. Spending nearly $500 (this was a gift from my in-laws) for a smattering of books for a 3-year-old for a school year when I did not even like some of the books felt like a waste. Off they went to someone who would want to read them. What I did keep was a collection of a few books published by a company named Usborne Books at Home and featuring the illustrations of Stephen Cartwright. I had fallen in love. (Full disclosure: I now work with Usborne Books & More; though this blog will not be about my book business, I will share resources I have used in homeschooling as appropriate.)
I remember our first day following the schedule for read-alouds and feeling very lost, having spent only about 45 minutes on reading, wondering how I was going to fill the rest of the day to be scholastically rigorous (I laugh about this now). I called a friend who was a veteran homeschooler of older kids and freaked out over the phone. She assured me, reminding me my daughter was three years old. What did I really need to spend a ton of time on? I thought back to what had worked so well for her at the Waldorf school: play, interesting items to look at, outside time, music. This was not the first time I checked my own gut for how to parent my child, and it would not be the last.
One thing I have learned over the years is that despite my experience in and knowledge about the industrial educational complex and child development, a lot of homeschooling my children is informed by knowing my children, not by having classes that taught me how to differentiate curriculum for multiple students in a class (though as I had more children and as they have grown, that has helped!) or exploring the nuances of cultural hegemony in the US, as interesting as that was.
My point with sharing the beginning of our homeschooling journey is one I hope to make all through this blog: when it comes to homeschooling your own child, you can do it. Will it take research, stretching, seeking resources, asking for help? Sure, it might. But I firmly believe if you want to do it, you can. We will talk at times about different educational philosophies, issues in homeschooling, resources in various cities as well as online, tips we have found helpful over the years, recipes to help you keep your life simple, and much more.