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Monday, August 10, 2009

Why I Homeschool

By Guest Blogger Ellen Dockham

When people find out I homeschool my two kids, ages 9 and 12, I get a variety of reactions, many of which can be summed up in the comment, “I could NEVER do that.” Occasionally, though, someone will say they admire homeschooling and would like to know how I reached that decision.

It’s hard to answer that question quickly, so I’m thrilled to share my thoughts in more depth on Triad Smarty Pants. In my first seven years of parenting, I went from never having heard of homeschooling to thinking it was a terrible idea to embracing it as a lifestyle choice full of blessings. For us, the idea popped up after our happy-go-lucky, school-loving daughter suddenly started having daily stomachaches and crying fits in the second grade. We discovered a number of negative things going on in her classroom, both socially and academically. We began searching for a solution, and God began relentlessly putting the idea of homeschooling before us.

After months of prayer and research, we went from merely reacting to a negative set of circumstances to proactively planning our children’s education at home. From that first hesitant, stumbling decision to try it for a year has come a sincere conviction that homeschooling is a wonderful educational option that we are committed to continuing through high school graduation. Why? Because we love the individualized academics, the family togetherness, the flexibility, the evenings and weekends free from homework, the meaningful friendships, and the curious, independent learners we are developing.

My Top 5 Fears and How They Turned Out to be False:

*My children will be weird! Socialization, I think, is the No. 1 objection to homeschooling. After five years, I’ve decided socialization is one of the main reasons TO homeschool. Being socialized means being able to get along well in society, and I’m confident I know more about that than a pack of kids their age. Nowhere else in society are people confined to an age-segregated group. My children constantly interact with all ages, and they experience real-life situations with me daily. Plus, if children can learn to get along with their siblings, they can get along with anyone!

Homeschooling actually offers more time for meaningful friendships. When you work one-on-one with your students – and don’t have to schedule time for things like passing out papers and lining up for the bathroom – it’s possible to finish elementary academic work by lunchtime. That leaves early afternoons for extracurricular activities – many places offer reduced-price classes and sports practices for homeschoolers who are available before public school gets out – and for visiting with friends.

Speaking of friends, there are so many homeschoolers in North Carolina that they would make up the third largest school district in the state if put all together! In the 2008-09 school year, the N.C. Division of Non-Public Education reported the highest number of homeschools on record in the state: 41, 042. The NCDNPE estimates about 77,000 students were homeschooled last year in North Carolina.

There are more homeschool classes, co-ops, field trips, play dates, enrichment activities, sports teams, book clubs, etc. in the Triad than you could ever do in one school year. So there are plenty of chances to make friends, have group discussions, come under the authority and tutelage of other teachers, and just plain have fun. And, of course, homeschoolers participate in the same activities as other kids, from neighborhood play to youth groups to Scouts to sports.

*I’ll be weird! Well maybe this one is debatable, but seriously, at first I was afraid to tell my friends that I was going to homeschool. I also feared that I would be isolating myself at home. I have found, to my delight, a wonderful group of diverse yet like-minded mothers who have become the best friends I’ve ever had. There’s something uniquely bonding about sharing the homeschooling journey, and my social life is richer now than ever. I especially love the whole-family friendships we’ve formed.

*I’ll kill them before it’s over! I used to count the days until school started again each summer. There are still days, I admit, when I fantasize about putting them on that big yellow bus. But I’ve come to love sharing moments with them that I never had when the best hours of their day were given to the school and all I got was the grumpy leftovers! I will never forget the moment when reading clicked for my son after months of laborious sounding out of every single word. My daughter and I have had discussions of favorite classics that I wouldn’t trade for any of those pre-homeschooling days that I had to myself.

Many people comment that their kids would never listen to them enough to actually learn anything. Oh yes, I know about that! I can promise you I’m not any more patient than the next mom. I know my kids act with me in ways they never would in public. But I also believe that true obedience means obeying mom and dad, not just looking good for a teacher. If we have to spend time working on that, it’s time just as well-spent as working math problems. It’s hard -- really hard -- but it’s worth it.

*They won’t learn the right stuff. They’ll never get into college! This one still haunts me occasionally, but I think it’s because there is no one answer to what the “right” stuff is! Do you have gaps in your education? Yes, and so do I! What I want for my kids educationally is to give them the tools to learn anything they need or want to for the rest of their lives. I was a straight-A student all the way, and I am appalled at how little I remember. My kids are learning using the classical model, which gives them memory pegs while their young brains are wired to soak up facts and then teaches them to use those facts to ask intelligent questions as young teens and finally to speak and write effectively as high-schoolers. We use very few textbooks outside of math but instead flesh out our topics with “living” books. It’s a wonderfully rich way to learn; my husband has commented that he wishes he could come to our school!

A major benefit is the ability to move at the individual child’s pace. If something’s not clicking, you don’t move on; if it’s easy, you fly ahead. You can also customize topics to capitalize on your child’s interests.

As for higher education, most universities have years of experience with homeschool applications, and many even seek out homeschoolers who are known to be independent learners. Studies have shown that many homeschoolers outperform their public school counterparts on standardized tests. (Reference:

*I’m not smart enough to teach my kids, especially when they reach high school! I’ve learned more working with my kids than I did in college. Math, once my nemesis, now is not only doable but also fun! I’m learning with my kids, which means I’ll be ready when they get to the hard stuff. And if I need help, the Triad offers a wealth of tutors, co-ops and community college classes for high-schoolers. Forsyth Country Day School even offers classes for homeschoolers in tough subjects like Algebra and Chemistry.

I truly believe homeschooling is a fabulous educational option than can work for many families in many sets of circumstances. If you want to find out more, here are some resources:

So You’re Thinking About Homeschooling by Lisa Whelchel
A Thomas Jefferson Education by Oliver Van DeMille
You Can Teach Your Child Successfully by Ruth Beechick
The Heart of Homeschooling by Christopher Klicka
A Different Kind of Teacher by John Taylor Gatto

Do you homeschool? If so or if not, share your experiences and thoughts with us!

Don't forget to register for your chance to win one Floor Nanny with a complimentary slip cover of your choice! All you have to do is click here to take a short survey and you’re registered. You must be a Triad Smarty Pants newsletter subscriber to enter, so be sure to sign up if you have yet to do so. This promotion ends at Noon on Thursday, August 13, and the winner will be announced on Sunday, August 16. Good luck!!


Anonymous said...

Great, great post! We have been struggling with what to do when our youngest has to start kindergarten and although I don't think I could possibly homeschool, this has definitely intrigued me to at least look into it. I have heard so many stories about our public school system, not about their academics, but the social setting. And I loved how you said that you're confident you know more about being socialized than a pack of kids their age!! So true. I shudder at what is going on socially in our schools. So, thank you for a candid look into home schooling :) I am sure your children will be forever grateful.

Ma Ledford said...

Thanks so much for sharing your heart behind homeschooling. I have two small boys, ages 2 and 4, and I too believe the Lord has prompted me to school them at home. Despite my fears and reservations, we are being obedient and we will be beginning kindergarten and preschool after Labor Day.

I love how you broke down the common fears, as answering the questions of skeptics seems to be the biggest struggle I'm facing now. Thanks for your encouragement! Press on sister, press on!

Rachel H said...

I enjoyed this post as well. After teaching in the public schools, I thought they were great and never really understood why some people chose to homeschool instead. I asked Ellen to write this post to share her experience and I loved reading it! She hit on all the issues that I think any of us would question. I understand much better now why this works so well for people!

There are so many options for schooling, and I think we are fortunate to be able to choose a route that works best for us, but most of all for our children.
Thanks, Ellen!

Stay tuned - this is just the beginning of our Back to School blogs! Over the next three weeks we will have all kinds of helpful tips, links, and stories for all levels of education!

LBB said...

I was just getting ready to write the same thing as Rachel above. Thanks so much for sharing this with us, as it makes so much more sense now why people choose to homeschool. My children are now in Middle School and have been very happy at our area school, but I think it sounds like a wonderful option now that I see my same fears as you listed are put aside! I love the "I am going to be weird" comment!

Maythi said...

Wonderful post. Nice insight into why parents homeschool and as Rachel stated, definitely hit on so many of the issues that parents worry about/question when trying to make this decision. We are the biggest influence in our children's lives - whether we home school or not, we should always be involved in all aspects of their development.

Kristenph said...

Excellent post! You've definitely hit on the biggest objections I've heard during our 6 years of homeschooling, and responded to them nicely.

Anonymous said...

Great article. I am a home schooling parent as well and I liked how you approached each area with kindness and honesty. I just wish more outsiders to the home schooling realm could understand more clearly and not continue to make us feel weird for our choices. That's been the hardest part for me all along, but we continue to stick to home schooling because I know it's best for my children.

Anonymous said...

Beautifully put! We are in our third year of homeschooling (for many of your stated reasons) and loving it.

Jennifer J said...

Thanks for your wonderful and thoughtful post. After 11 years of homeschooling and answering these objections over and over, it's nice to see them all put together so concisely. I am proud to call you my friend!

Pattie Parker said...

Ellen - Wonderful letter to us all. You touched on just about every topic I have talked with people about, and did it knowledgeably with confidence, grace, and kindness. We home schooled our 2 children for all but 1 1/2 years. We loved it, and our children are now married, one with children of her own. Both of them have turned out to be very well adjusted people - good citizens and serving God. I did not home school in response to any negatives we had experienced at the time (not until after we were in "real" school for a season), but because I loved school and thought it just sounded fun. I was not disappointed in any way. It is so wonderful to see how home schooling has grown and blossomed since 1985 when we began.

Tammy P said...

Beautifully said, Ellen! So that is why I have been homeschooling two of my children for the last 6 years :). You've just posted words that have been trapped in my heart and I was unable to get it down on paper. I love it! Well done, friend!

Treasuresofjoy said...

I don't understand the comment..."I could NEVER homeschool my kid!"
This is how it has been done for centuries.
Hello we as parents are called to train up a child... I feel it is my personal responsibility.
I am not handing off my daughter to let society have their way and with experimentational, humanistic, methods.
They are always 'improving' education. I knew more in 1st grade than a third grader does these days.
I have had to on more that one occasion, screen LIBRARY material because there is a VERY liberal agenda being imposed. Who would do that in a public school?
Great article!
I am glad to see I am not the only one done by lunch time!

Kathy Hendrix said...

To all homeschool parents...please share this with your families, especially the grandparents. As a school teacher myself and although supportive, I was initially concerned (for all the wrong reasons)that my beautiful daughter Ellen, the author of this article, was going to homeschool MY grandchildren. You should see them now...intelligent, inquisitive, poised, social, confident, respectful, loving young people. Who could ask for more?! Great decision!

A.K.K. said...

Ellen, your article is great. I like how you approached it without judging others who choose to keep their child in a public, private, or magnet school.
Treasures of Joy, you make it seem as though those who don't homeschool are doing their children an injustice.
Different strokes for different folks, and different methods work for different children. We need to keep that in mind.

The Frugal Homeschooling Mom said...

Thanks for a great article! I'm currently homeschooling my preschooler, and will continue when she begins Kindergarten.

aarchamb said...

Thanks for writing this post! I know I have often wondered "what makes a mom want to homeschool?" Just putting yourself out there to explain and debunk some of the feelings or fears was great to read. I think if more homeschooling moms share their advice to those of us who are curious but cautious, there will be less of a divide and more of an understanding!

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