What I Liked about My Homeschool Experience

My parents were the kind of people that were always learning. My mother was very crafty and was always tackling a new sewing project and my father was always reading and always ready to take the time to teach us children things about nature or science. They modeled this for us and taught us to love learning as well. It was about discovery, and tackling new things, and about always seeing life as an adventure. Dad designed playground equipment and we children helped him build it, and mom taught us girls how to sew so that we could make clothes for our dolls. There were always new recipes to try and new games to play, and there always seemed to be time to sit around and look at the stars (and learn their names while we were at it!).

There was a white board on the wall in our kitchen, and family supper time inevitably turned into learning time. Dad would get up and outline scientific concepts or draw mathematical graphs. On our table there were maps and posters of the elements, and we were constantly quizzing and drilling each other, yelling out questions and answers across the table, eager to top each other. Supper time was also when dad asked us what we learned today, and when we asked dad in turn what he’d done today, and then listened with puzzlement, trying to understand the inner details of his career.

Because we were homeschooled, we went on all sorts of vacations at all sorts of times of the year. We all piled into the 15 passenger vans and watched while passers by tried to count how many of us there were (we often held up our fingers to aid in the counting, that is, until we ran out of fingers!). Once we reached the campsite or historical location, we children piled out and breathed deeply of the fresh air, eager to explore our new surroundings. We visited battlefields and national parks, museums and historical reenactments. Over the course of my childhood, we visited nearly every single state, our fifteen passenger van holding up even as its mileage numbers skyrocketed. During those long, long drives we sang, we argued, and we laughed.

And then there were family nights. My mom read to us during school hours, but it was in the evening that dad took his turn. He read us the Chronicles of Narnia and G. A. Henty books while we played with legos or knitted. Sometimes we would pop a big bowl of popcorn and watch a family movie together, laughing uproariously if it was a comedy. Other nights we broke out the board games and played Risk. Sometimes we ganged up on my dad, and sometimes someone would lose and leave crying, but we were always up for another go. Mom would make us snacks as the night got late, or stand at the counter rolling out cookies while we played.

The outdoors was our play place, and we spent a great deal of time with dirt between our toes. We ran in the cornfields and looked for field mice or crawdads. We got our feet in the mud and hung a fishing pole off the dock of the nearby pond. We chased the geese off the pond when they became obnoxious and we tried to trap rabbits with carrots and boxes and sticks. We built huts out of bricks and planted new trees and embarked on historical adventures. We searched for four leaf clovers and cooked food outside over fires and wished the pond would freeze over each winter so that we could go out sliding on it. I will always think fondly of growing up in a cornfield, the warm breeze in my hair and the sun on my back.

Because I could go at my own pace in my studies, I frequently got up early in an effort to finish my work before breakfast so that I could spend the rest of the day reading. I always finished by lunch at the latest, and I loved that I could choose what order to tackle my subjects. I sometimes did a week’s worth of math in one day so that I wouldn’t have to worry about it for the rest of the week, and once I got so annoyed with my grammar book that I decided to just finish the whole thing in March so that it would be over and done with. Once my core subjects—science, math, languages, and grammar—were out of the way, I could turn to the things I wanted to be doing. I read scads of historical fiction and learned about edible plants and medicinal herbs. I sewed historical costumes and knitted scarves for all of my siblings. I sat outside and enjoyed the feel of the grass between my toes.

Of course, all of these wonderful memories exist in the shadow of all of the problematic influences homeschooling brought into my family’s life. Further, when I think about everything I loved about my homeschool experience, it’s hard to separate things out. How many of these things simply had to do with having parents who loved learning? How much of it was simply a product of growing up in the country, with land and fields and things to explore? Some of it obviously did flow directly from homeschooling—the flexibility that my homeschooling schedule offered, for instance—but how much of it would have been very little changed, if at all, had I gone to public school? I can’t answer that, and whatever the answer is it doesn’t change that there were some very beautiful things about my childhood, things I will always appreciate and things I will work to replicate them as I raise my own children, family nights, camping trips, adventures in the great out doors and all.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Sally

    The things you liked about homeschooling paint a picture of what I had hoped our homeschooling life would be like (I was a homeschooling parent). And indeed it was like those things in some ways. But ultimately, I ended up with mixed feelings about homeschooling not only because of the ways it didn’t look like this picture, but because of some of the problems that developed for us. Our problems weren’t necessarily the norm, but they were things that ultimately ended our homeschooling adventure early.
    What you describe here is much like what I think a lot of us had in mind when we started. I know this isn’t the full picture for you by any means, but I do appreciate that you had these experiences and that you shared them with us today. I also understand that one of the goals of your blog is to expose the problems with homeschooling, but it is good to read about this good stuff that was in your experience.

  • Rebecca

    I don’t know where you live, but here we have virtual school as well as regular school, where kids get a public school education but online at home. I work in the school system and would be interested to hear your take on schooling at home but through the standard state public curriculum.

  • Rosa

    I hope your mom reads this, it’s a lovely tribute to your childhood and to her.

  • smrnda

    I wonder what homeschooling would have been like for you if your parents’ religious views had been different, because they remind me a bit of my own. We took lots of interesting trips to museums and historical locations and since my parents were both in STEM fields, we had all sorts of fun posters, diagrams and such all over the house. At the same time, religious beliefs must have been a really pervasive influence over everything and probably shaped the dynamics between parents and children. My parents wanted their kids to be independent as possible and were pretty lax, almost to the point of what some people would consider irresponsible, but it’s clear that your parents wanted a lot more control over you personally.

  • http://www.wideopenground.com/ Lana Hope

    Minus the travel, my childhood was much like that. I finished grammar books by October some years, lol. I think more of it had to do the fact that we didn’t do TV, video games, and movies than it did with homeschooling. Because we didn’t have media, our life was the outdoors.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      Yes! Same with us! No TV, minimal computer use.

  • Saraquill

    I’m both impressed an confused. It must have been an enviable job that allowed your dad to support all of you, and still find time for road and field trips.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      Yep. The enviable life of the upper middle class.

      • AnotherOne

        Do you think your parents’ assumed that all of you would have similarly financially secure/well off lives? Was preparing you (or your brothers) to acheive financial success something they thought/think about?
        I ask because I know a couple of homeschooling families that are quite well off because the father has a high-paying professional job. And the parents of those families seem to expect their children to replicate their lives, more or less, but don’t seem to be giving them a tool kit for getting an upper middle class job. (To say nothing of the fact that it’s a waaayyyyyy different economy than it was when those parents started up their adult lives).

      • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

        The answer is yes, to both questions. My parents have so far set each of my brothers up for upper middle class professional careers, and each one so far has succeeded in that. Not so for us girls. They’ve sent all the girls to college so far (though the younger ones, it’s up in the air at the moment), but each has gotten a liberal arts type degree. They were preparing us to be well educated wives and good homeschool moms, NOT to have careers.

  • smrnda

    On the upper middle class thing, the same was true with my family, which has led me to the conclusion that parents’ education levels and financial resources (up to a point) are probably the main factor in the academic achievement of their children.

    I think this is a source of a lot of tension between some home-schooling proponents and people more supportive of public schooling. Some affluent parents I’ve run into fear that the schools aren’t putting enough resources into their trophy kids, and that ‘low achievers’ are putting a drain on school resources. At the same time, some parents and just ordinary citizens (myself included) realize that all parents don’t have college degrees and that schools can be a way of leveling the playing field by making sure all kids get exposed to a wide range of subjects taught by competent adults. (Perhaps some affluent parents don’t want the playing field leveled …) It’s just part of the ‘I got mine screw you if you don’t’ mindset.

    On the other hand, I don’t think elitism is always a factor in home-schooling. I know of parents of special-needs kids who home-schooled because they were correct that the schools weren’t giving their kids a very good education or adequate one on one instruction time. I just think that elitism of some sort fuels some of it, and that the perception by more affluent parents that schools aren’t good enough for their kids ignores issues of privilege.

  • hydropsyche

    I’ve been following your homeschooling posts with interest. As a college professor, I generally have 2-3 students per semester who tell me that they were homeschooled.

    This post really struck me because my childhood was very, very similar to yours, except that I went to public school, my mom and dad both had upper middle class careers, and I was raised middle-of-the-road Presbyterian. I got all of my “homework” done at school most days, leaving plenty of time for running around outside when I got home. The only big difference I see is that our big trips had to be scheduled around school holidays, and we generally only traveled within a day’s drive of our house. I think the rural lifestyle and well-off, well-educated parents were the big determinants for both of us in what we liked about our childhoods.

  • Tsu Dho Nimh

    I was never homeschooled – except for the brief period when my older sister was in school and forced me to play student to her teacher. That at least taught me to read.

    But I had parents who had the knowledge patience to teach us how to do things – sewing, cooking, butchering elk and bears (anatomy lesson and dissecting practice), home repairs, etc. They both read a lot, and never kept us from reading anything –

    And we lived in a really small town so I had the rural fun you did. “Hunting” and fishing with my dad, although I realized much later that we went “hunting” only after he had already shot his limit. it was nature hike and wilderness survival lesson time. He knew he wouldn’t see any large game.

    Without the religious bits. We were removed from one local church because my dad (an atheist) did not agree with the fire and brimstone sermons. And he had a feud going with the minister of the other because the man refused to go visit a dying member of that congregation because “a blizzard was coming”. Yes, but in Montana a blizzard is ALWAYS coming. My dad ended up driving an Episcopalian priest from a couple of towns away out to see the old lady – blizzard or no blizzard, an old woman was in distress.

    So my default upbringing was atheist with a light frosting of Anglicanism and Nez Perce and Salish.