Our 1576-square-foot house may be modest by suburban American standards, but boy, do we know how to occupy and use every inch of it. In addition to working from home (which Jason does full-time and I do on a freelance basis), cooking all our meals at home, growing some of our own food at home, and processing meat at home, we also educate our children at home. This is our second year of semi-formal homeschooling, as our daughter is entering first grade, and it’s starting to feel a bit more real.
Last year, we visited our local homeschool convention (to which I accidentally wore a long denim skirt—irony or destiny?), which is one of the largest conventions in the country. We’re definitely not alone in our area; we’ll be homeschooling our kids along with many other families who’ve made the same choice. But there are as many reasons to educate your kids at home as there are homeschooling families. We all do it for different reasons, and it’s important to stay focused on the specific goals and purpose that led you to homeschool.
In the chaos of behavioral challenges, parenting without breaks, and teaching one kid while breastfeeding another and helping still another child button his pants—hypothetically speaking, you understand—it can be easy to just give up, to take shortcuts, or to cheat yourself and your kids out of the experience you had in mind. Homeschooling itself is not the goal to be pursued; it’s what we can achieve through homeschooling that we need to focus on. And when we focus on our goals for our family and our children’s education, we have freedom to be flexible and agile about the methods and styles we employ (read: yes, we will send our kid to school if our goals for him or her would be better met there).
So what are the goals that have led us to homeschool? For us, at least while our children are young, they come under two main headings: creating a family culture and educating our kids.
Creating a family culture. For better or worse, families who homeschool long-term tend to develop their own culture—patterns of speech, modes of interaction, rhythms, routines, and traditions. (And yes, sometimes even their own fashions.) Family culture threatens some of the unstated rules of our society like “don’t be too weird,” “don’t dress/act/speak differently from your peers,” both of which can be summed up in the prevailing rule, “don’t leave the mainstream.” Now, I was homeschooled and I am still dealing with the stigma of being part of a family that never totally fit in. It is incredibly, vitally important to me that all members of my family are deeply connected to a faith community. But conformity and uniformity are not my priorities. And we don’t value peer interactions over intergenerational ones, either. We want to practice living together with people who aren’t the exact same age and level as us. We want our family to be the place where our kids practice serving, learning, working, and loving. And quite simply, raising children is one of the hardest, most important things humans do; being the homesteading type, we naturally want to do it ourselves.
Educating our kids. No, really educating them. If you’re reading this post hoping for inflammatory statements about our public education system, I suppose this is the place you’ll find them. From where I sit, American public schools are reasonably good at spending money, supervising children and teens while their parents are at work, teaching the next generation to venerate and emulate political correctness, and training people for a lifetime of sedentary pursuits, consumerism, and consulting experts about how to think. When I envision the education I’d like my kids to have—and the wide range of roles and occupations I want them to be prepared for—it doesn’t seem like public education and I have the same objective. I want history to run in their veins so that they hear a new idea and can trace it to its origins in the third century. I want to unlock the secrets—as many of them as we humans know—of how the universe works, so that they can respect and nurture the earth, build and fix things, and create and invent new technologies. I want them to be able to communicate, both in written and spoken word, what they’ve learned and be persuasive in their convictions. I want them to be present in their local community but aware of the thoughts, histories, and movements of other cultures around the world. I want them to have translatable tools and skills that they know how to apply in social, occupational, and civic situations so that they can make meaningful contributions wherever they are.
We aren’t focused on getting them into college, although they may study there (we both did). We aren’t worried about our kids falling behind or progressing ahead of other kids; but rather, figuring out what speed they need to go. We aren’t primarily concerned with what jobs our kids will work when they graduate, because if there’s anything you learn in your 20s it’s that your job is definitely not the defining characteristic of your personhood. Right now, we’re just trying to help them treat other people with respect and channel their emotions appropriately—no small task, as you know well if you’ve spent any length of time with a first-grader, a preschooler, and a toddler.
But daunting though the task may be, I’m happy to include education of children in the work of our homestead. Like so many other pursuits, the rewards can truly be great if you’re willing to use a bit of elbow grease.