Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

The Challenges And Joys Of Home Schooling

January 15, 2007

These are the thoughts of a 28 year old mother of four from Illinois. She was home schooled and is now home schooling her two oldest boys. She reflects on what she has learned about home schooling.

- It is hard work. It’s harder than it seems. When you think of teachers in a public school setting, they usually have only one grade to worry about teaching or one type of subject. When you home school you have numerous grades to teach and all the subjects for all the grades. I am lucky that I only have one grade right now, but my mother is currently teaching 7 kids in 6 different grades. I look at her and others like her and think - how do they do it?

- Confusing roles. The other thing I find amazing is that my mother balanced being a mom and teacher at the same time, yet managed to be one or the other when the situation required. During school hours she was our teacher, not mom. Then when school was over she was mom.

Drawing that line between mom and teacher can be difficult. In a public or private school setting there is a clear line that the children realize. That whole "Do what your teacher says or else" plays out better in a public or private school.

As parents we want and demand the respect of our children in all aspects of their lives. There is little to no room for misbehaving children in the eyes of a home schooling mother. She is too busy to worry about that.

- No personal time. Another thing I admire about my mother is how unselfish she has to be. There is very little down time for home schooling mothers. In other situations, a mother would send the children off in the morning and pick them up in the afternoon. Between those times she would have time to go shopping for food or clothes, get a haircut, drink a cup of tea and read a book, clean the house or anything else mothers must do.

Home schooling mothers have few chances for things like that. Even cleaning the house takes more effort to get done. When the children are home all the time leaves more hours to mess the house up. That means more work for mom, or more work for mom to direct. The positive aspect about being home all the time is that children must help out.

No home schooling family will make it if the mother does all the house work and teaches school. Even my children, as young as they are, have chores that they must do everyday. Home schooled students learn early on that they are responsible for their actions.

- Family friendly schedules. Positive aspects of home schooling also include flexible schedules and curriculum changes halfway through the year. As home schoolers we can take a vacation when it works for the family - not the school.

Last year the company moved us three times. Home schooling helped cushion the social disruption of those moves.

The curriculum flexibility also works to our benefit. The reading program we used did not work for our son’s personality type. So we have changed programs and already I'm seeing his face light up. Before reading was almost painful, but now he sees it in a different light. Home schooling allows more one-on-one time without the child being branded as "dumb" or "retarded" as they were when I was young.

- More teaching moments. Home schooling moms turn everything into a learning experience. When a child helps cook they are learning numerous subjects. Cleaning in itself should be taught as a class. I've met too many lazy kids who only know how to play video games. For us, even driving in the car can turn into class time. We have spent many hours answering questions about something they learned in science or how to spell words.

- Siblings become teachers. I also have witnessed my oldest son "teaching" his little brothers what he has learned in school. It’s true that you learn more by teaching.

- Use of public school system and other resources. I know of home schoolers who take one or two harder science or math classes at their local high schools. There are also home schoolers who are advanced enough to take college courses from local colleges by the time they are in high school.

There are tutors home schooling parents use to teach the subjects that are harder for the parents to understand. My parents hired a Latin teacher for a year.

Home schoolers also have chances to take music lessons from either the public school or from private tutors. Home schoolers in more urban areas have more opportunities for group activities from band to sports. I have heard of home schoolers with their own "network" or coop for most, if not all, the subjects.

- Volunteering opportunities. I have scheduled two hours every Monday to visit the local nursing home. My boys were missing their grandparents so we "adopted" some where we lived. The boys learned about patience and respect and I have to admit so did I. The joy the boys brought to those people made my uncomfortable feelings worth it. They also learned about death. It has taught us a valuable lesson about how short our time on earth really is.