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A Homeschooler's Tale: My Experiences as a Homeschooled Kid
Curious about alternatives to public education?
There is a question often agonized over by parents of young chidren, or the parents of those kids that just plain aren't thriving in the public school system for one reason or another.That question is often "should I homeschool?". While I can't answer this fundamental question for you I can offer my own insight as someone who was homeschooled and also spent time in the public school system. There are two main concerns I hear regarding homeschooling...whether a kid gets enough social interaction, and whether they get a quality education from qualified teachers. Here's how it worked out for me...
The Early Days of My Education
I can still remember when my sister (one year my senior) started school. We both got our very own desks obtained by our parents from an auction for old school equipment but I was still "too young" to start school so I was given a coloring book or book to read (I learned to read at the tender age of three) while my sister got to learn how to do fun things with numbers on the chalk board. I wanted to be part of that too! Finally Mom bought me a book with simple addition and subtraction problems in it and taught me how to figure out the answers using an abucus or a pile of beans.
The next year...I'm old enough to have class too! My mother believes very strongly in the importance of the English language and the first three years of school my sister and I shared were dedicated primarily to grammar, vocabulary, and spelling...by the end of those three years we each tested at college-level in English.
I was a very difficult child from the start; my ADHD diagnosis would have likely had me on Ritalin and stuck in a special ed class or held back in public school, but my mom was bound and determined to keep me off drugs despite the additional challenges that presented. Every ten minutes I would be standing by my desk dancing from foot to foot again...she signed our classes to us (and is now a sign language interpreter) so we could learn another useful language at the same time and I had the annoying tendency of looking at the ceiling when I decided I didn't want to listen anymore. Instead of punishing me Mom would send me to run around the outside of the house nine times and if I as good allowed me to do my homework perched on the straw stack in the back yard...as long as my work got done we could choose our learning environment.
We took full advantage of having a local homeschooler's group...this group met every month to discuss activities everyone could do, teaching tips, and arrange classes with professionals in a given field. Before I even hit fifth grade I had the benefit of learning astronomy and science from a college professor with over 25 years of teaching behind him, a first hand look at nursing, had taken advanced CPR courses and was certified by the Red Cross, I could do advanced algebra taught to us by a parent who majored in mathematics, and part of our P.E. was going skiing every other Tuesday during the cold season.
The year of my ninth birthday I was allowed to enroll in 4-H and immediately signed up for twelve projects...entomology, sewing, dogs, shooting sports, cooking, rabbits, and hogs amongst others...which kept me quite busy and allowed me to meet many new friends. Additionally, my mom decided it was time for us to branch out into some things she couldn't teach us...namely, music and sports. Our first private teacher gave us voice lessons, taught us to read music, and taught us the basics of playing the piano. When she'd taught us all she knew we went to a new teacher...a concert pianist well-known in this area...who has us playing advanced classical music within months. At this point Mom let us choose an instrument apiece to learn and I chose one I'd always wanted to be able to play...the violin. She scraped together her meager resources and bought me a brand new instrument and enrolled me in the youth orchestra with a teacher who plays in the Billings Symphony Orchestra for a living.
Additionally, I played soccer through the recreation department, took swimming lessons, and even had ballet lessons (my sister wanted to do it and dragged me along...surprisingly I'm now glad to know it). We were both active in a girl's church group called Missionettes, specifically a program called STARS which lasts for four years and teaches proper Christian conduct for young ladies. Overall, we definitely weren't bored...in fact there was rarely a day that we didn't have someplace to go out of the house.
Education Takes a Turn
Right before I started 8th grade we moved to a new town and left Dad behind. Mom had to go to work two full time jobs and there was nothing for us but to go to public school. Though we attended the highest-ranking school in the state (and one of the top small schools in the country) my days were filled with sheer boredom...many of the lessons taught were ones we'd learned years before and had advanced far beyond that point, I stopped turning in my homework and my grades fell (that is, until I needed good grades to go on a school trip, then I had all As within two weeks), I even had a concerned teacher call my mother to tell her that I never used my calculator and she didn‘t think that was normal (well heck, I could see the abacus working in my head!). My saving grace that year was a history teacher who recognized my boredom and offered to let me turn in reports on historical fiction books of her choice for extra credit as long as I kept my grades up and didn't have any missing homework assignments...I finished her class with 150% with over a dozen novels reported on. Electives also provided a bit of a diversion for me, I'd never learned much of art (plenty of handcrafts, but no pencil-to-paper art) and classes like desktop publishing, horticulture, and melodrama kept my attention tolerably well.
By Sophomore year I'd finally found some diversions to make the boring classes tolerable (and even started finding a few new nuggets of information after almost three years of wasted public school time) in the form of extra activities...I became an officer in FFA and quickly made my way on to the varsity Academic Challenge team and continued swimming, soccer, and lifting weights at the YMCA. I can say that I definitely wasn't sad to see my high school career end (even though my teachers were pretty neat people, but they were crippled by the parameters set by the public school system) because it freed my time back up to learn something other than how to pass the next standardized test.
Where I Am Now
High school is behind me and I am now the mother of a beautiful two-year-old boy who is constantly testing his limits and trying to learn everything at once. Sadly, I'm back in the town I grew up in (one with a much poorer school than the high school I attended) and nearly every adult graduate of this school I meet is barely literate and has absolutely no interest in learning. Yes, there are exceptions...I know some very intelligent people who've learned well despite the educational opportunities they were presented with...but those exceptions are just that, exceptions. Getting a good education shouldn't be an anomaly, it should be something everyone gets.
My keenest desire now is to be able to homeschool my son and any siblings he ends up with so that maybe he can know the love of learning that I do. My mom focused as much as possible on teaching us how to teach ourselves and let us select subjects to study that interested us...we took a field trip with our Granny once that ended at the Grand Canyon, my sister and I each chose a Southwestern Native American tribe that we studied through the ruins and museums we visited on the way to our destination, also in 3rd grade my mom recognized my passion for sled dogs and let me study the careers of two world-class mushers (both of whom I had the pleasure of meeting a couple of years ago while working as a sled dog handler)...to keep us interested and show us that learning doesn't have to be tedious.
Of course everyone's homeschooling experiences will vary depending on the opportunities available locally and the amount of creativity and time you devote to your child's education. I've had my IQ tested and was well into the "genius" range...but if I'd been consigned to public school for the duration of my education I would likely have been in special classes and would have been lucky to graduate. Yes, I am a firm believer in the effectiveness of homeschooling and wholeheartedly encourage anyone that has the proper time resources and the desire to homeschool their child.