We have been guiding our children’s educational experiences for 32 years. We have been (mostly) homeschooling for the past 28 years. It has been interesting to take time to explore the homeschool reflections for each of us. I know many folks who are considering homeschooling or are in the early years are worried about the long-term impact on their kids. I hope these summaries are of encouragement!
Our eldest daughter CM started me down this road of retrospection with a post she made on Facebook recently. She told the following story, followed by a comment thread discussing her homeschool experiences. She wrote: “I laughed when I read the news today about a kid who finished his remote schooling by 9am, frustrating his working parents. For a while, my brother woke at five, carefully finished all his homeschool readings, writing assignments, and tests, and then sat there calmly eating cereal when I awoke at eight. He grinned at me because *he* was done for the day, and I hadn’t started.”
Thoughts from Parents
We never set out to teach our kids at home. Even after starting to homeschool, it has remained a year by year, even semester by semester decision based on what we thought was best for individual children and for the family as a whole. If you had told me that we would still be doing this almost 3 decades later, I would have said you were crazy!
When we were in the middle of this adventure, I was uncertain, frustrated, and overwhelmed at times, just like every mom. As the primary “teacher,” I was sometimes impatient, occasionally demanding, and often too lax, depending on the moment. I regret the times I misunderstood or overlooked struggles and wish I could go back and give each child better life skills to deal with those things. Overall, we hoped our kids would become avid learners, independent thinkers, and successful adults. So far, that has been true for the grown kids, with just one still at home.
From our vantage point today, looking back, we see the benefits of homeschooling. Our kids had longitudinal relationships with their siblings and each one’s learning was influenced by the interests and activities of the others. Freedom was a constant—identifying passions and not accepting “rules” as barriers; allowing flexibility in schedules and choice in activities; and helping each child learn within their strengths and (hopefully) cope with their challenges. For me with my nomadic heart and love of outdoors, homeschooling also allowed our family to wander during less busy, non-traditional-vacation times of the year.
As we talked about our homeschool reflections, my husband noted that the passions each child pursued in middle adolescence can still be seen in the work or hobbies they pursue today. I wonder if this would still be true if our kids had been focused on friends and busy with succeeding at traditional mass education during those formative years.
There are plenty of stories written and shared by parents. What follows is the summarized comments gathered informally in conversation with each of our now grown children. I asked them to share what they remember as being effective, enjoyable, or memorable about their homeschooling journey. I also invited them to share what was difficult. For the most part, the ideas are theirs while the writing style is mine. These snippets were fascinating to me… hopefully they are encouraging to you, as well!
CM – eldest daughter, our “guinea pig”
We started homeschooling when this child was in third grade. In her teen years, CM was interested in research, cultures, and costumes. A summer in Central Asia reinforced these interests. Today she is a University Anthropology Librarian, still fascinated by travel and studying other cultures.
“The most memorable [thing]
for me was probably in high school when I was challenged to write out a light
curriculum — e.g. to research and put together a sequence of learning
activities to teach my siblings about Inca, Maya, and Aztec societies. I seem
to recall looking at the learning exercises we had for other topics and then
researching these settings to see how I could create games and exercises to
teach others. It stretched my brain in a new way, which is probably why I still
I also appreciated homeschool groups where we could learn from different adults, and do presentations / activities with kids in other families. I guess that while on the one hand I was an independent learner who could be impatient with others, looking back I also appreciated seeing how others were doing and how they approached learning.
Both had me reflecting on my own learning in relationship to others, which might have been why they made a more lasting impression than all the other information absorbed / papers written.”
RK – eldest son, 16 mos younger than his sister, a fellow “guinea pig”
We brought this son home from public school the year after his sister. Because I couldn’t bear the thought of teaching him the exact same third grade curriculum CM and I had just finished, that second year of homeschooling I taught fourth grade to both of them while chasing their younger siblings. In teen years, RK was a “Renaissance Guy,” diving deeply into a wide array of passions and activities. RK just completed his PhD and is job hunting—hoping to find a career which allows him to synthesize his many interests under the umbrella of political theory.
RK comments that “self-directed education worked really well for ME, but I wouldn’t recommend it for very many others” who might not get a well-rounded education. He preferred to get up by 6 am when it was quiet so he could do his work away from others. He remembers that every time we went to the library, the kids were urged to choose books that caught their attention. RK says this reinforced and strengthened his innate wide range of interests.
RC – second son, third child, helped “break the mold” for his younger siblings
Of all our kids, RC spent the most time bouncing between homeschool and various types of formal school settings. We weren’t yet comfortable with a significantly alternative, interest-led course of study, so it was hard to meet his needs for action and kinesthetic learning. RC frequently created his own hands-on projects to reinforce what he was learning. In addition, he spent time with mentors to learn auto mechanics, auto body repair, home maintenance, and woodworking while in high school. Today RC has moved into management, doing workforce (data) analytics (a different kind of hands-on work). He has a full woodshop in his garage and enjoys the occasional project as a hobby.
RC points out that a significant benefit of homeschooling is learning in a way that is appropriate for the developmental level of individual students. He gave the example of being allowed to HATE math and quit after he completed Algebra. Because he wasn’t forced to continue, he came back to it when he was ready and now has a heavily math-focused career. At the same time, RC notes that it is important to have rigor in certain subjects. He says that one of the most important things in ANY education curriculum is writing. He points out that getting good at writing allows and prepares you to voice your thoughts and defend your thesis with supporting arguments. Both math and reading are significant for critical thinking.
RC argues that a love of reading is the third pillar of a strong educational foundation. For him, homeschooling allowed the flexibility to fundamentally enjoy reading while absorbing new things. He says reading needs to be both a passion and a tool—neither of which will happen if reading is simply an assignment followed by writing reports or taking tests for no clear reason.
RC also has some helpful observations about the potential risks of homeschooling. He has seen peers who went off the rails when they hit college—having been overly sheltered from both society and relationships while homeschooling. In addition, RC comments that schooling students effectively is hard, trying to find a balance between being too aggressive/pushing too hard for excellence versus being too lax with expectations. This is difficult enough for teachers in schools. For parents, it is even harder trying to find a healthy balance for education while being both parent and teacher. He sees co-operative teaching models for homeschooling as an effective way to make this juggling act more sustainable.
JT – second daughter, fourth child, solidly in the middle of the family
JT attended the local public school for 3rd grade. By the end of that year, she saw reading as a dreaded chore. It took her a few more years before she started reading for pleasure again. Seeing how mass education killed her love of learning reinforced for us the significance of interest led learning in homeschooling. In her teen years, JT discovered falconry. Over the years, she volunteered for raptor rehab centers in many different locations, including spending time at a falconry centre in England during high school. By the time she was ready to apply for college, we had finally learned to present our homeschooled kids as unique individuals with broad interests rather than cookie-cutter clones of the traditional education system. After college, JT considered becoming an avian veterinarian, but decided to pursue a degree in Pharmacy instead. I suspect birds will again be part of her life as a hobby in the future!
As she shared her homeschool reflections, JT remembers our focus as a family on big over-arching projects with lots of smaller interest-led projects done by individual siblings. She comments that this worked well with how she has learned ever since: as a pattern learner she does best when she can interact with both the big and the small parts of a subject at the same time.
JT points out that she has much more vivid memories of the major projects we did rather than any of the school-type learning she covered. As she says, it was also much more fun showing off these projects to others! Memorable units for her included mapping the Solar System in our street (and eating yummy food at our celebration party!); writing our own Magic School Bus book about the Mayan world, and studying Conquistadors and Explorers during the fall we lived in Florida. She also enjoyed the years that we frequently went to COSI (the local science center) when her older siblings volunteered there each week.
JOE—third son, fifth child, “bridge” between the “big kids” and the “little kids”
Like his eldest brother, JOE tended to dive deeply into interests, then move on to other things. He was a competitive Figure Skater, a year-round sport which consumes many hours per day for practice. Homeschooling was ideal for fitting learning into this demanding schedule. By the time he was doing school, we were fully focused on individual, personalized learning. He spent free time playing an online game and taught himself Spanish so he could play on that server. He refused to do much math, until his mid-teens when he moved through algebra to calculus in just a handful of semesters. Sadly, he died when he was not quite 16 years old.
JK – fourth son, sixth child, his role in the family often changed!
Because of the gap between the two groups of siblings, after JOE died, JK took on the role of older brother to his little sister. During his formative years, we were on the road: traveling across the USA and up to Alaska in an RV and living with the Navajo in New Mexico. He spent part of one year living in a remote area and helping to tame/train wild mustangs before we moved back to middle America suburbia. JK chose to head back west for college. Today he is a technician in a BioRepository (archiving and preparing shipments of tissue samples for research). He is still a sojourner, not yet certain of his place in the world.
JK says that he thinks homeschooling was beneficial and helpful overall. He comments, “I could pursue areas I enjoyed, and it was focused toward my own learning pace.” He remembers so many good, wonderful experiences, including wandering the US and working at Mustang Camp.
JK observes that the homeschooling he experienced was different than that of his older siblings. Looking back, he notes that homeschooling contributed to some of the biggest challenges he has faced in life. He wishes he had learned and practiced stronger writing skills. He points out that “it was great to work within my strengths, but [we] didn’t push as much as I needed where I was weak.” And he found the social aspects to be challenging since we moved so often which meant he had less opportunity to learn and practice social relationships, patterns and skills.
AP – third daughter, seventh child – yep, she’s the “baby” of the family!
AP is 18 years younger than her oldest sibling and was born when both CM and RK were already in college. From a young age, AP has thrived on change and excitement and has enjoyed costumes, acting and roleplaying. She is highly intelligent but struggles with academics because of developmental disabilities. She was just 7 years old when our family began to wander. She prefers to be outdoors, including collecting Jr Ranger badges in National Parks and backpacking on the Appalachian Trail. She starts a landscape design program at the local career center this fall, hoping to eventually find an outdoor career in a park department or forest service.
AP explains that all the traveling we did in the RV, in Alaska, and in other countries “made me more interested and curious about history and the environment wherever I go.” She feels like homeschooling was helpful because if she had been in a regular school, we wouldn’t have been able to travel. She notes that the freedom she had with the family to personally wander and explore wouldn’t have been possible on school outings.
AP says sometimes she wishes she hadn’t been in public school for 6th and 7th grades. She hated the drama, bullying, and the resulting trauma she still deals with. But she also notes that this time taught her what school was like and it taught her how to find the good in other people. She summarizes her homeschool experience this way:
“I’m glad you did it! I would be a very different person now if I hadn’t been homeschooled.”AP, our youngest child