When I graduated from high school over 20 years ago, being homeschooled still made you an oddball.
When my baby brother graduated from high school two years ago, he presented my mom with a diploma now that she was graduating after 30 years of home educating.
(Yeah, you read that right: T H I R T Y years. There are eight of us kids; you do the math.)
Somewhere between 500 and a thousand people gave her a standing ovation. Perhaps it had something to do with one-month postpartum hormones, but I had to fight to keep my tears from becoming sobs of pride.
Also? I wondered where I’d find the stamina to survive a measly 16 years of following in her footsteps.
From the day Mom became my primary educator in 1985 until her “retirement” in 2015, she always answered the “how long do you plan to homeschool” question the same way:
So yes. This year—2017-2018—I *plan* to homeschool.
The same kid I’ve “preschooled” for the past two years.
Can someone please tell me why I’m freaking out already?
Finding my why.
Often when something scares me, it helps to work backwards to my why. I’ve been doing a lot of that lately. And I’ve discovered that a lot of my why has to do with things my superhero mom instilled in me.
Now yes, James and I are in agreement. We’re both passionate and excited about this adventure. We’re both fully qualified to teach our kids, and committed to finding outside help when it seems like the best choice for our kids.
But essentially? I’m homeschooling because my mom did such an amazing job.
Let me tell you about my experience.
Mom taught me how to learn, and that I was capable of learning anything that interested me.
My mom graduated as valedictorian of her high school, and went on to receive her BSN at a top-rated university where she just happened to meet my dad. So she was educationally qualified to teach, at least on most subjects.
However, ain’t no one no where who knows everything.
You know how these days, when you come up with a question, you wake up your phone and ask Google or Siri to give you the answer?
Please note that when I was in second grade it was a huge deal that my dad had what we called a “car phone.” That was 1985. And for you young’uns, Al Gore had not yet invented the internet. 😉 All that supposedly “mobile” phone did was call people. The very thought!
But I digress.
Oftentimes I or a sibling would get a question in our heads and ask Mom or Dad. They never answered us.
“I don’t know,” they’d reply. “Go look it up and tell me what you find.”
Every dang time.
Now, I know my parents knew the answers to most of my questions, but they didn’t spoon feed me. Nope. I had to hike over to the den, plop in front of the bookcase beside the fireplace, locate the correct encyclopedia volume, and find the answer. It didn’t matter if I was no longer interested. My parents would now require the answer of me at our next meal together.
By the time I was in my teens, I kept a dictionary (the same one my mom won in high school) on my nightstand to look up words I didn’t understand. I also asked fewer questions at dinner because I knew what the answer would be and didn’t want to risk the possibility of having to write an essay on the topic. Instead, I’d do the research first and then share what I’d found.
But why tell you all of this? Because my parents taught me that I would always be my own best teacher. I was capable of finding the answer to anything. The choice to do so was up to me.
Mom loved learning, and cultivated our own innate curiosity.
Sometime in the early 1980s, Mom began the practice of reading every evening before falling asleep. This was back when she only had one kid and is a practice she continues to this day. Some nights she reads a chapter or two, and some nights she reads half a page.
She also has, for as long as I can remember, had an ever-growing pile of books to read. At one point it was an entire bookcase, with some of the shelves double stacked.
For most of my pre-adult life, I thought my mom didn’t like fiction. She never read it unless it was for our family read-aloud time at night. It wasn’t until my late teens or early twenties that I discovered she just couldn’t justify spending her time so frivolously when she had so many other books to read.
(Side note: while her pile continues to grow, she now makes time for fiction. Good job, Mom!)
If I or a sibling were curious about something, Mom got every book and video the library had on that topic. When possible, she got us into classes or study groups that coincided with the subject. And she always—always—found ways to connect the dots between our interests and other areas of study.
Mom made sure I had the time and space to pursue what I was most passionate about.
At the age of five my parents asked me a life-changing question: would I rather take piano or dance lessons? Lucky for me, I chose piano. Because in what universe does a 5’10” medium-boned woman dance or teach dance for a (respectable) living?
Like most young students, after my parents spent thousands of dollars on the instrument (a steal from some very good friends) and a year of lessons, I lost the urge to play. Being the smart people that they are, my parents gave me the option to practice diligently each week or pay for my lessons. Quitting wasn’t an option.
Being the miser that I am, I opted to practice. I’m no dummy.
It took a few years, maybe five, before piano became a passion of mine. And God bless my mom, she lived through y e a r s of me filling her high-ceilinged home with hours upon hours of daily practice and composition and, later, teaching. They sent me to music camps, helped me save for equipment I needed for recording, and eventually my dad sacrificed half his office so I could set up a digital notation station for my compositions.
At 15 or 16 I began offering piano lessons out of our living room. Mom allowed me to teach out of her home—at one point four days of every week—for ten years.
Until you’ve sat through at least one or two beginner lessons, you can’t understand that level of sacrifice, especially for a woman who is home educating seven other children around that racket. That, my friend, is true love.
Mom opened my eyes to alternative educational methods.
Due to circumstances we were facing at the time, I didn’t go to college right after finishing high school. And as the years went on—especially after I decided it was time to retire from teaching music—I felt like it was too late to begin my college career. I felt trapped.
Over and over Mom asked me the same question: “How old will you be in four years?”
I’d answer with the appropriate number.
“And how old will you be if you finish college in four years?”
She had a point. It’s never too late to keep learning and growing.
Now, this was soon after Al Gore had really gotten the internet going, and online education was a thing. A group we knew of offered a coaching service to help you achieve your fully accredited degree within 12-18 months, all for under $10,000. That hit right where the pain-point of my age hurt, so I decided to give it a try.
Sadly, I can’t remember my coach’s name, but she walked me through every step, making sure I did things in an order that made sense and saved me the most money. It’s a story for another day, but all because of my mom.
My mom—and dad—continue to be my greatest cheerleaders.
Not everyone is as lucky as me. For some reason, God gave me amazingly supportive parents. Sometimes I feel like I can do no wrong in their eyes.
But here’s the thing: I’d rather have them telling me I can do anything than limit my choices. I’d rather have the faith to take chances than to never risk possible failure. And I’d rather have their support if I mess up, than parents who judge and condemn.
Because of Mom—because of my parents—and all they’ve taught me, I know that homeschooling will be an adventure. I might do it for a year or I might do it for 16. Who knows? But because of them, I know that I can.
My educational goals for my children stem from my own educational experience.
So here’s my goal in educating my children—whether that always means homeschooling or not; beyond the obvious of making sure they can read and write and be beneficial members of society, I want this for them:
• I want to teach my children how to learn, and instill in them a confidence that they are capable of learning and mastering anything they choose.
• I want to show my children how much I love learning, and to cultivate their curiosity each day.
• I want to be aware of my children’s passions and make space and provide resources for them to pursue those passions.
• I want to show my children that there are a variety of ways to educate oneself, and help them discover the methods that work best for them.
• I want my children to know beyond any doubt that I am and always will believe in them and be their greatest cheerleader.
Like my mom, I plan to homeschool…for now
I totally get it. Homeschooling is not for everyone, and for a variety of legitimate reasons. That’s one reason I hesitated to share my plan until walking through my why. With that list of goals in hand, I’ll be able to evaluate every educational choice to make sure it’s the best one for today.
Whether you choose to educate your kids traditionally, classically, or otherwise, as long as you know your why, you’ll know you’re making the right decision for your family. And I applaud you for that.
When I asked my mom to approve this post, she requested that I highlight my siblings’ accomplishments just to point out that I’m not a homeschooling anomaly. Actually, I’m kind of an underachiever next to them: one is a professional artist, three siblings have followed my mom into the medical field (nursing, occupational therapy, and physical therapy), one is a biologist, one works in business, and one is completing a degree in commercial music and film scoring. As an added bonus, we all happen to like each other.