​What I learned from homeschooling my kids

Throughout history, families educated their children at home either by assigning them books to read, having a tutor oversee their learning, or encouraging self-directed play. Kids worked alongside their families on their farm or in a mom and pop shop — life was simple and many of the lessons were organic.

For a variety of reasons, schooling became more formal and evolved into what we see today. Parents work long hours just to make ends meet so it's practical that kids are in school with a similar schedule. It just makes sense. Unfortunately, it doesn't leave parents many options when curriculum changes and interpersonal issues occur and, in the end, I didn't like that helpless feeling.

Before I talk about homeschooling, I want to be clear about something — I'm not waging war on public schools or the educational system. I teach at a public university and went to a great public school when I was a kid. Instead, as a mother of six, I am sharing how we transitioned into homeschooling and what we learned along the way.

​Our decision to leave public school

When my oldest two, now 23 and 20, were little, we they went to public school. My daughter was a talkative, feisty girl who loved to read and had learned things very quickly as a toddler. I just knew she'd be on the honor roll someday. Only that didn't happen.

Instead, she was constantly in trouble, had mediocre grades (at best!), and, by sixth grade, was labeled as having ADHD and a learning disability. At first, I went along with their suggestions but something inside me said that this wasn't right.

Meanwhile, her little brother never wanted to sit with me for story time and would rather learn to read from the on-screen cable guide than with a book. I thought he'd be a teacher's nightmare but, instead, they heaped the praise on my mild-mannered, honest son who, I discovered in second grade, could barely read at all.

I realized that my children weren't being guided and directed based on their skill level but, rather, on their behavior. If the teacher was annoyed by my spirited daughter, she was a problem. If the teacher was grateful for my illiterate but quiet boy, he was a good student. I knew I had to make some changes.

​This is a deeply personal choice

Most parents are obviously invested in their child's education. For that reason, whatever path they choose to take is going to be deeply personal. No matter what, they will question (and re-question) all of their decisions because, at the end of the day, we're all just doing our best. There's no right or wrong answer that fits everyone's situation.

This realization calmed my mind in those early days when I considered my options and pushed down the fear and uncertainty to follow my gut. I'm always glad that I made this choice because it was right for our family, but it definitely wasn't something I took lightly. I knew it wouldn't be easy, but I felt that the benefits outweighed any challenges I might face.

​Get used to judgment and ridicule

For whatever reason, people have such an immediate reaction to learning that my kids are homeschooled. I was even scared to tell my extended family since I knew they were going to roll their eyes and say all of the stereotypical things associated with the practice.

"Your kids won't know how to make friends," or "are you capable of taking that on?" or "my kids would just sleep all day if I did that — good luck!" and so on and so on.

It did become annoying, and I was rattled a couple times but I was confident in our ability to make it work. The way I saw it, if it didn't work out, they could re-enroll in regular school and get back in track. Why not take the risk since what we had been doing wasn't really working for us?

​Some parents are secretly jealous

Over the years, there were a couple detractors who really gave me a hard time for homeschooling my children. Even after things were clearly going well, this one woman in particular just couldn't give us any credit. It made my blood boil, and I started avoiding her at all costs (which was hard because she lived in our neighborhood).

One day, when the kids were much older, I ran into her at the grocery store. She asked how things were going. I warily gave her an update and explained that we were moving away. This news seemed to take her off guard and she was quiet for a moment.

When she finally spoke, she looked me in my eyes and said, "I owe you an apology. I've been hard on you because I wished I could do the same for my children but didn't know how to do it. It was just easier to criticize you than to admit that. I'm sorry. You've done a really great job." It really blew my mind.

The best part? Her confession actually led to a more meaningful friendship and, after asking a million questions, she ended up homeschooling her boys also (and they've both graduated from college now!).

Strong support systems do exist

Back in the day, it was a bit challenging to find support for homeschooling, but we got kind of lucky. The year we pulled the kids out of public school, our local school board created a subdivision for distance learning. We were able to access many resources through a web portal, and our children completed their midterm and final exams right alongside other students!

Later, in a different part of the world, technology had advanced and we were able to enroll in a completely virtual high school. The number of parents choosing to educate their children has risen steadily over the past decade, and a simple Google search will reveal how many resources are now available to make this increasingly popular option a reality.

​There's time to pursue interests and passions

When we nailed down our curriculum and figured out a daily schedule for meeting our objectives, we quickly realized that they were able to get their work done in just a few hours a day. What would they do with all of that free time? Anything and everything!

My daughter chose to pick up a part-time job with the express intention of learning more about management. This experience came in handy a few years later (more on that in a bit!). Meanwhile, her brother decided to volunteer at different agencies (he stayed with one science museum for four years and it was, as he says, "life changing").

Both kids and, eventually, their younger sister, also threw themselves into specialty sports such as skating and long-distance races because they had the time to train. It was awesome!

​They can go to college and be successful

An increasing number of colleges and universities are welcoming homeschoolers with open arms. Officials are recognizing that these students have unique perspectives, take their studies seriously, and tend to be innovative.

While many families opt for a traditional homeschool approach, my kids earned a physical high school diploma from a local high school by completing their studies through the virtual program. I just felt that this was the best of both worlds since they were able to learn at their own pace but didn't have to deal with the hassle of having to "prove" themselves worthy of a post-secondary education.

My daughter has completed a bachelor's degree in business administration with a concentration in human resources. By the time she was 21 years old, she had already been hired as an assistant general manager by a major hotel chain. My son is pursuing his education in environmental sciences and already has years of experience in his field even though he's only 20.

​They will learn to be self-motivated

It's our job as parents to support and guide our children and, of course, give them a little nudge when they need a little, ahem, inspiration. Ultimately, though, we want them to do this for themselves and, in our situation, homeschooling really helped my kids develop personal management skills.

That first year was a mess all-around as we all tried to figure out the best strategies. Over time, though, they knew what had to get done and I didn't have to nag them. They loved that I trusted them, and I loved being able to trust them.

I'm so happy, especially in a time when flexible work options are becoming more popular, that my kids can rely on themselves for motivation by making their own goals instead of needing to have someone stand over them to get things done.

​My kids' self-esteems soared after leaving public school

One of the best moments came just as my daughter was graduating from high school. She thanked me for choosing to homeschool her and said that it helped her self-esteem "skyrocket." I was shocked — I didn't know that she had felt bad about herself in the first place.

She reminded me of the fact that, not many years earlier, her teachers had told her she was a "slow learner" with behavioral problems. Kids had overheard these things and teased her about it. Without their giggles and taunts, she found that gifted student deep within and actually finished school ahead of schedule. It was an accomplishment that, she says, restored her faith in her own intelligence and ability.

Her brother has echoed these sentiments but for a different reason. He said that his good attitude led him to be rewarded for being obedient while his poor spelling and reading skills were glossed over. He said that it felt awful to receive empty praise without much constructive criticism.

​Socialization comes in many forms

My kids are respectful and capable in most social situations. By being involved in a wide variety of activities, volunteerism, and employment, they have learned how to conduct themselves in a way that is appropriate to the situation.

It's funny to me, therefore, that one of the arguments against homeschooling is that children won't learn to socialize. My son has managed field trips comprised of hundreds of children in a mature, authoritative, but friendly way while my daughter is so efficient and charming in her role that her supervisors have received countless letters from clients praising her service — including a handwritten note from the CEO of her company himself! Clearly, they have some social skills.

They can learn about real life

Learning isn't just about memorizing facts — it's also about acquiring meaningful skills that will continue to be helpful through life. In addition to reading, writing, and arithmetic (and everything else in between), there's so many other ways for kids to become educated.

A simple trip to the grocery store can be about so many things. Most obviously, I took those opportunities to teach my kids about budgeting and meal-planning, something many people struggle with in this take-out obsessed world.

I also encouraged them to research the products we were buying. What was in the food? How do they treat their employees? Do we agree with the company's mission? How do we learn about recalls? It's unbelievable how rich and meaningful learning can be for kids just from tagging along as we run our errands. You've just got to dig a little deeper!

​We became more adventurous

By not being tethered to a specific school district or schedule, we were able to take opportunities that would have, otherwise, been beyond our reach. We saw a glacier and visited UNESCO World Heritage sites such as Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump and Thomas Jefferson's Monticello. We did road trips that were both educational and fun because the kids either worked ahead or brought their books for the drive.

We have also moved across the country twice — once from Canada to Virginia, where we fully immersed ourselves in the history of the area, and now we've moved to Idaho in hopes of living a more active, outdoors lifestyle. This would be so much more complicated if the kids weren't homeschooled.

​A multifaceted approach works best for us

When it came to creating lesson plans, we found that we had a greater need for structure when we first got started, but once we identified our strengths and weaknesses, we were able to take more risks and incorporate more non-traditional learning opportunities. We figured, if you have to teach your child about fractions, why not do it while measuring ingredients for cookies, right?

Some months, it feels like we just watch a bunch of movies, visit museums, attend sessions at the local Capitol building, and talk about social issues. At other times, we feel more studious and focused on books and formal instruction. That's the beauty of it. We know what needs to happen, we understand what our goals are, and we give our children the tools they need to find their own journey (with our supervision). Aside from a few blips here and there, this method really hasn't failed us.

​We committed to changing our lifestyle

Like most parents, we both had work obligations when we started considering homeschooling. When we finalized our decision, I chose to go back to school full-time through an online university. I had always wanted to continue my own education, so it felt like the perfect time to upgrade. At the same time, we chose to keep only one car, committed to cooking every meal to save money, and consolidated our debt.

While I finished my degree, I found remote work that allowed me to maintain a flexible schedule while being available to my kids. I realize that this isn't practical for everyone, but then again, an increasing number of companies are offering a telecommute option for their employees. It's worth investigating, at the very least!

​Ultimately, I learned to trust myself

Whether it's public school, private instruction, or homeschooling, every parent has their own opinion about what is best for their children. When I'm honest with myself, I know that public school just never felt right for my family even though it's worked beautifully for friends and family. That's the beauty of our modern, option-filled society.

Now that my first two kids are pursuing their dreams, I feel a sense of peace and am more confident in the decisions I will make for my three youngest children (I've got time, though, since they are still in diapers!). I realize that no matter what, we will always wonder if we could have done more to support our children. I know that even though it wasn't perfect, I followed my heart and trusted my instincts, and as a parent, that's all anyone can ask for.