Homeschooling for the Non-Homeschooler

Fillette à l’étude, en train d’écrire by Camille Corot.
Is she at home? At school?
(Maybe an art historian can help us out.)

The Internet is full of content on homeschooling. Google it, you’ll see. And it’s a subject dear to the hearts of many people here at Patheos. For goodness’ sake, we even have a blog dedicated to it, the brilliant Homeschool Chronicles, written by the witty Tara Edelshick (who has created a new name for this holiday weekend: Passter. @Tara: perhaps it’s just perhaps a matter of time before that catches on).

That’s why Kathleen Knag Berchelmann didn’t expect much response at all when she wrote about homeschooling on a niche blog (and a great one) based at Washington University in St. Louis, where she’s an instructor in pediatrics. But Kathleen’s post, 18 Reasons Why Doctors and Lawyers Homeschool Their Children, at last count, received 250,000 hits and over 400 comments in three days. According to t̶h̶e̶ ̶a̶l̶l̶-̶k̶n̶o̶w̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶e̶y̶e̶  Google, her article has been referenced 380,000 times online (as of me writing these words). The post has been analyzed by other bloggers herehere, here, here, here, here… get the point?

Now, there’s a reason I didn’t link to the article in that last sentence; I want to keep your eyeballs on this page. Kathleen runs another blog, Catholic Pediatrics, on which she reposted the 18 Reasons (almost like the 95 Theses, eh?) in what she told me is her “Catholic voice.” The two posts really aren’t too different. In fact, the only substantial change is to T̶h̶e̶s̶i̶s̶  Reason #18, in which she talks about her homeschool Christmas schedule being different from that of the public school.

Why aren’t these posts too different? Perhaps it’s because on the issue of homeschooling, Kathleens’s secular voice is just about the same as her Catholic voice. She has been trying to emphasize her claim that there are many, many non-religious reasons to homeschool a child. Now, let us note that this message has already been delivered on the Internet, including beautifully by Tara. Which just confuses me more about something. Actually, me and Kathleen. How did this post go viral? What did she say that nobody has said before? Or is it just that she said it better?

Kathleen is my oldest friend in the world (our mothers famously had a race to see who would be born first) (she won; I was 3 1/2 weeks late), as well as a fellow tiptoer through this blogosphere, and so we plunked ourselves behind our computers this week, on the phone from St. Louis to New York, trying to figure out how on Earth she ended up with so many hits.

We have some theories. One is that she frames homeschooling as the province of all kinds of people — from doctors to lawyers to farmers. Another is the sheer number of reasons she gives. But I believe, in the end, that what makes this post great is her willingness to confess, I thought homeschooling was X, but it turned out to be Y. Whether it’s all true, or whether I agree with all or some of it, I can’t say. But any non-homeschooler who reads this post may never see homeschooling in the same way again.

So, without further ado, and in what is (in part) a blatant attempt to capitalize off a friend’s cybersuccess (with her permission), I present to you, Patheos:

☘ ☘ ☘ ☘ ☘

Our Surprising Conversion to Homeschooling

18 reasons why we have joined

America’s fastest growing educational trend

by Kathleen Knag Berchelmann, M.D.

I’m going public today with a secret I’ve kept for a year—my husband and I are homeschooling our children. I never dreamed we would become homeschoolers. I wanted my kids integrated and socialized. I wanted their eyes opened to the realities of the world. I wanted the values we taught at home put to the test in the real world. We tried public school and our parish school. But necessity drove me to consider homeschooling for my 2nd and 4th graders, and so my husband and I timidly attended a home school parent meeting last spring.

An estimated 2.04 million k12 children are home educated in the United States, a 75% increase since 1999. Although currently only 4% of all K12 students nationwide are educated at home, experts are predicting an exponential boom in homeschooling in the next 5-10 years. Most states even provide free online public schools, known as virtual schools or virtual homeschools for K12 students. The infographic by college @ home says it well. [click on the bar on the right]

For a year I was afraid to tell any of my work colleagues that we were homeschooling. People would stereotype me as a right-wing kook. My boss might assume that I couldn’t possibly be committed my career as an academic pediatrician for Washington University in St. Louis. I wasn’t sure I could homeschool my kids well. I feared the whole year would be an academic failure and emotional nightmare. I was so unsure about this homeschooling experiment that I even kept a spare school uniform in case I had to send my kids back to school at the last moment.

This week our kids are finishing their standardized curriculum and we will spend the rest of the school year doing enrichment activities. Alas, I think we can call this success.

We’ve had our kids in both public and private schools, but homeschooling has turned out to be the best option for our family. Here are 18 reasons why we have joined America’s fastest growing educational trend:

1. We spend less time homeschooling each day than we used to spend driving. With four kids in four locations last year (including a newborn at home), school drop-off and pick-up took four hours, on a good day. We’d get home at about 4:30 and still have homework, music practice, sports, chores, dinner and bath to fit into the 4 hours before bed. Now we spend about four hours per day homeschooling, instead of four hours in the car.

Sometimes private education is expensive

2. We can’t afford private education. Even on a doctor’s salary, private education has become unaffordable, especially for larger families. Which choice would you make: save for college, save for retirement, or pay private school tuition? Few families can afford for all three, and most can only afford one. As educational debts loom larger for each successive generation, this financial crunch will only get worse.

3. Our kids are excelling academically as homeschoolers. Homeschooling allows us to enrich our children’s strengths and supplement their weaknesses. The kids’ education moves as fast or as slow as required for that particular subject area. They are not pigeon-holed and tracked as gifted, average, or special needs.

4. Homeschooling is not hard, and it’s fun! We bought a “box curriculum” from a major homeschool vendor, and all the books and the day-by-day curriculum checklist came in the mail. We have a lot of fun supplementing material through YouTube and online educational sites like Dreambox, Khan Academy, and others. Our kids do about half of their math online.

5. Use whatever public school services you like. Need speech therapy, the gifted program, or remedial academics? Homeschooled kids are still eligible for all these services. Some homeschoolers come into public school daily for “specials” like art, music, PE, or the school play. Your kids can even join high school sports teams once they are old enough. Our kids are still in sports and scouts sponsored by their old schools.

Report cards

6. I like parenting more, by far. As a mom of school-aged kids, I felt like my role as parent had been diminished to mini-van driver, schedule-keeper, cook and disciplinarian. And there was no mercy from the schools– six minutes late for pickup and they’d be calling my husband at work, unpaid 5 cent library fine and they’d withhold my child’s report card. Everyday I’d unpack a pile of crinkled notice papers from three backpacks and hope that I didn’t miss the next permission slip. I was not born, raised and educated spend my days like this. Now, I love being a mom.

7. Our family spends our best hours of each day together. We were giving away our kids during their best hours, when they were rested and happy, and getting them back when they were tired, grumpy and hungry. I dreaded each evening, when the fighting and screaming never seemed to end, and my job was to push them through homework, extracurriculars, and music practice. Now, our kids have happy time together each day. At recess time, the kids are actually excited about playing with each other!

8. We yell at our kids less. Homeschooling forces us as parents to maintain a loving authority in the household. We stopped spanking our kids. You can’t get your kids to write essays or complete a large set of math problems if you don’t have their respect and obedience. Spanking and corporal punishment establish fear, not effective, loving obedience.

9. Our kids have time for creative play and unique interests. Once my kids entered school, they seemed to stop making up their own creative play together. They didn’t have time for creative play during their busy evenings. Now they build forts and crazy contraptions, play dance parties, and pursue their own unique interests. My eight-year-old has taken up computer programming and taught himself how to play the organ. My six-year-old is learning to cook.

10. We are able to work on the kids’ behavior and work ethic throughout the day. My son’s poor work effort at school was nearly impossible to address. The teachers didn’t have time to make my son repeat work they felt was average quality. We wouldn’t see the work until days after it was completed. Finally, we’ve been able to push him to his full potential.

Dirty clothes? Put away — or no recess.

11. Get rid of bad habits, fast. Dirty clothes dropped on the floor? They used to stay there all day. Now there is no recess until they are cleaned up. I never really had the time to implement most behavioral techniques when my kids were in school. I knew what I needed to do to get my kindergartner to dress herself, but it was easier to dress her myself then deal with the school complaining that she was improperly dressed or late. Now, if she takes too long to get dressed, she misses out on free play time.

12. Be the master of your own schedule. Homeschooling provides a great deal of family flexibility, which is a tremendous asset for our busy family. For example, we save a lot of money on plane tickets because we have the flexibility to fly almost any day of the week. Zoos, children’s museums, libraries, parks, etc., are far less busy on weekdays as they are on weekends. Scheduling anything is eons easier—doctor’s appointments, piano lessons, vacations, etc.

13. Younger children learn from older siblings. For larger families like ours, even toddlers are learning during school time. Our four year old sits at the same table during school time as our six and eight year old. He wants to do his worksheet, too. Some of that math and phonics work rubs off on him, and he’s learning how to read. When chore time comes, he asks, “What are my chores?” And our one-year-old recently tried to clean a toilet.

14. Save money. Committing to homeschooling requires at least one parent at home for most of each day. Although you may lose an income with this commitment, you save (a lot) of money since younger children don’t need daycare and older children don’t need private school. We also save a lot of money on gas now that we drive less. Many homeschooling parents still work part-time. We pull off homeschooling because I work nights and my husband works part-time from home as an independent IT developer. I know many families homeschooling on family incomes of 40-60K.
Homeschoolers save tax payers money, too.According to The National Home Education Research Institute, homeschoolers saved the taxpayers $16 billion in 2006.

15. Teach your kids practical life skills. Homeschooled kids learn parenting skills, cooking, budgeting, home maintenance, and time management every day. Time management skills are learned out of necessity. Our kids have to keep their own schedules and budget their own time. If they waste time, they have less time for play and their own special interests. We use old smart phones with alarms to help teach time management. Our kids help with younger siblings while under our direct supervision. What better way is there to learn parenting? I learned to write a fake grocery budget once as a home economics exercise. My kids write real grocery budgets and help me shop.

The Playground
by Jacques Laurent Agasse

16. Better socialization, less unhealthy peer pressure and bullying. Our kids no longer beg for video games we don’t want them to have or clothes we don’t like, or junky snacks they saw at school. One of our children struggled socially in school, and his schoolmates were ruthlessly mean. Despite a school anti-bullying policy and our best efforts to work with the teacher, nothing changed. Last year he played alone on the playground everyday. Now he’s organizing playground games at our homeschool co-op, and he’s smiling again. No one has ever said an unkind word to him at our co-op, because every child is there with their own parent. Our kids have plenty of time with friends, but without the unhealthy peer pressure and bullying.

As per the infographic above, research continues to show that homeschooled kids do well socially. Our kids have no shortage of time with friends—each week they attend homeschool co-op, scouts, sports, dance, choir, piano, religious education and have plenty of time to play with neighborhood friends.Add in the birthday parties and homeschool field trips, and we find ourselves having to decline activities so that we can get our homeschooling done!

17. Sleep! A research study by National Jewish Health released in March, 2013 showed that homeschooled students get more sleep than their peers who attend school. The result may be that homeschooled kids are better prepared to learn. Parents get more sleep, too! Now we don’t have to get up early to meet a bus schedule, prepare sack lunches, etc. Our mornings are great times together to snuggle with our children and talk about our plans for the day. No more “Hurry up and get your shoes on or you’ll be late for school!”

18. Teach kids your own values. According to the national center for education statistics, 36% of homeschooling families were primarily motivated by a desire provide religious or moral instruction. We are not part of this 36%, our primary motivations were those listed above. We never objected to any values taught in either our public or parish school, although our kids only attened K-2nd grade. Nevertheless, we’ve really enjoyed building our own traditions and living out our faith in a way that wasn’t possible before homeschooling. We pray together four times each day– before each meal and before bed. We celebrate holidays very differently. We make Halloween a little holiday without too much decadence, but we spend an entire week celebrating Easter. When our kids were in public school, the Halloween parties went on for 2 weeks and they had a Halloween vacation from school. In contrast, they didn’t get any time off for Easter, and there were no Easter celebrations or even decorations at school. Now Christmas starts in our home after Advent, not after Thanksgiving, and Christmas ends after the Presentation in the Temple, not on December 26th.

Homeschooling isn’t right for every family or every child. I can’t even predict what the future holds for our family—will we continue homeschooling through high school? I don’t know. But for now, we’ve found a way for our family to be very happy growing and learning together.

☘ ☘ ☘ ☘ ☘

Kathleen and her family have put heart and soul into homeschooling; I’ve witnesssed it myself for a year. And yeah, watching it closely like that will change the way you think about it. But whether or not you’ve seen homeschooling firsthand — and regardless of whether you agree or disagree with her, or the practice (or are in-between) — this post might change your perception of it. So, did it?

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  • http://www.moderndayjane.areavoices.com Lyz

    I think the reason Kathleen’s list is so popular is that is doesn’t put people on guard with religious terminology or “Christianese”. After a friend linked to the post on Facebook, I shared it and had a huge response – one friend even said, “This makes me want to homeschool!”

    As I addressed in my own response at http://moderndayjane.areavoices.com/homeschooling-not-just-for-perfect-parents/ I think a lot of people think that in order to homeschool, you must be a perfect parent. Kathleen’s list was relatable and real – people seem to love those two things!

    • http://www.columbia.edu/~ejc2165/erikcampano/ Erik Campano

      The line that struck me most from your lovely article, Lyz, was “what I’m trying to say is that you do not have to be a perfect mom OR a perfect teacher to homeschool.” This may sound elementary, but how does one actually learn the entire K-12 curriculum? How many of us can remember high school chemistry?

      • http://www.moderndayjane.areavoices.com Lyz

        I think this question just inspired another blog post.:) Thanks!

        The short version is: even if we don’t remember the subject matter, we are better LEARNERS, just from experience, than our kids are. So even if our own knowledge is just one day ahead, it can be enough.

        Plus, there are a ton of online resources (even online public school!) for the high school years. The parent doesn’t need to be the teacher directly.

        • http://www.columbia.edu/~ejc2165/erikcampano/ Erik Campano

          Interesting. And I’m guessing that if you really feel like you can’t teach a subject area, you can outsource it, right? Like get a tutor or something?

          Please do let me know if you blog about this question — would love to see your response in detail.

  • Elizabeth Seton

    A good homeschool curriculum provides all the information you need to teach your children.
    I’ve worked as a homeschool curriculum supervisor. The K12 curriculum is the most comprehensive and well planned complete homeschool curriculum I’ve evaluated. http://www.k12.com/

  • Beth Seton

    I meant to say “A good homeschool curriculum…”

  • http://athomeandschool.com Susan Raber

    I also thought her article resonated because she laid out in detail the life changes they had to make as a family for homeschooling to work. People look at their lives and can’t imagine how they can fit home education into it. Kathleen’s article explains how they did it, and the positive effects of those life changes on her family.

    What struck is that there is STILL the huge obstacle of homeschool stereotyping to overcome. As much as we think we are above bullying and name-calling, we still succumb to it when we buy into the idea that homeschoolers are right-wing kooks or crunchy homesteaders, or that people will think we are crunchy or kooky if we homeschool. It illustrates how we are still affected by the negative socialization we received in high school- we want to be cool, we don’t want to be weird, and whether or not we actually believe unfounded gossip, we let it decide the course of our lives. Even an intelligent and successful woman like Kathleen had to get over the peer pressure of what others might think of her in order to do what was best for her family. . . and then admit what she was doing in public.

    If THAT isn’t a reason to homeschool, I don’t what is.

    • http://www.columbia.edu/~ejc2165/erikcampano/ Erik Campano

      Interesting points, Susan.

      Kathleen and her family have found ingenious ways to coordinate work and home life. She may not want me to go into specifics here, but suffice it to say, if you saw it, you’d be like, “wow, that’s a really smart idea.” It took a lot of creativity for them to devise their system of time and energy management. Kathleen’s a remarkably creative person, but it may be possible for most anyone.

      As for name-calling, sometimes it isn’t very useful, right? So it can be admirable (and sometimes difficult) when a person just stands up for her or himself and says, “call me what you want — this is who I am and what I do.” That’s one way society gets past stereotypes. I’m curious to see what happens to the public image of the homeschooler in years to come.

    • http://www.moderndayjane.areavoices.com Lyz

      Ironically, Susan, my husband (homeschooled K-8 until his family helped found a private school) claims that homeschooling is increasing in popularity because it’s the “cool” thing to do now. Like being vegan, or baby-wearing. Apparently “crunchy” is the new cool.

      I laugh when he makes this argument. As great as homeschooling can be, it’s an awful lot of work and change to go through just to be “cool”!

      One of the biggest stereotypes of homeschoolers is that our kids are weirdos. I like to respond, “Weird parents have weird kids, whether they are in public school or homeschool.”


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