Thinking About Home Schooling Your Kids?

Back-to-school is in the air this month, and another generation of parents is trying to figure out where their kids will be learning to read, write, cipher and make baking soda-and-vinegar-fueled volcanoes this year. Public school, private school or home school?

This is not us at our kitchen table.

We home schooled our kids through high school. Our youngest graduated from our kitchen table nearly a decade ago, so I’ve had some time to reflect on what worked, what didn’t, and why.

We launched into our journey when we could no longer ignore our middle son’s oft-repeated request to be home schooled.  His overcrowded kindergarden classroom left his harried teacher herding far too many 5 and 6 year olds through activities meant to fill time, rather than educate. I worked at the school as a playground supervisor and was involved with both the parent-teacher association and with a group of moms who gathered in my living room to pray for the staff each week. I was committed to making public education work for our children.

Except it wasn’t working. Both of our kids enrolled in the school were a little frayed and a little bored. I’d taught both of them to read, and regularly worked with them at our kitchen table doing academic enrichment activities. I felt like I was running an after-hours, parallel-universe school in our home.

A couple of other families in our church were home schooling. I met with them to pick their brains, asking questions about socialization, curriculum, laws, and support groups. And then my husband and I headed to a home school conference. We heard some very persuasive arguments about why we needed to teach them at home. Speakers pointed us toward the blessing of being able to live a Deuteronomy 6:4-9 lifestyle 24/7, the ability to tailor education to fit the needs of each individual child while opting out of the various political agendas in the public school classroom, and the implied promise of a superior academic and spiritual outcome for home schooled kids.

There was one caveat no one mentioned at that event – or any of the many subsequent home schooling conferences we attended during our years of home schooling (1992-2004). It was, perhaps, a truth that should have been self-evident from the intense, sometimes extreme convictions expressed with great confidence by many of the movement’s microphone-holders and authors about everything from dress to diet, from home birth to home business. It is the reality check families considering home schooling need to hear to balance the hype they’re hearing from some in the home school community.

This reality check is that if you make choice to avoid immersing your child in an environment filled with public school “pagan” peers, you may well be teaching your child to swim in a pool of a different kind. That pool may be filled with Pharisees – legalistic, fear-driven and reactionary.

You will have to deal with both in varying degrees no matter how choose to educate your children.

Not all home schooling families are raging Pharisees by any stretch of the imagination, any more than public schools are crawling with pagans. When we first began home schooling, we were grateful for the traction we got from the strong convictions of those “leading” the home school movement in those days. Unfortunately, a few too many of the people we met during that journey were happy to substitute fear (of all the evils spoken of by the microphone holders of the movement) for their ability to discern God’s voice in order to arrive at their own settled, confident convictions. In retrospect, I can certainly see places in our journey where we took that shortcut. I grieve the sour effects hanging for too long with some vociferous, socially-powerful Pharisees had on our family and home schooling experience.

I would commend home schooling to those who are clear on why they’re making this choice (because your three best friends are homeschooling their kids counts as a terrible reason), creative in problem solving (because you’ll be solving problems all day long) and committed to God and to a lifestyle of learning.  If you’re imaging that home schooling will give you the opportunity to simultaneously exempt and inoculate your kids from the messiest parts of growing up, short-cutting them to a clear understanding of what it means to be “in but not of” this world, you will likely be disappointed.  There are no shortcuts.

You will work harder than you’ve ever imagined to educate your kids, particularly in areas where you have little acumen. But you will have the satisfaction of watching them learn, and then learn how to learn. I wouldn’t trade those many, many learning moments over the years with my kids for anything. 

What are the pros and cons of the school choice(s) you’ve made for your kids?


Note: I’d shared some of these thoughts a few years ago here

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  • We chose public schools for our three children, and for the most part we feel they received excellent educations. I dutifully did room mom, classroom helper, and PTA roles and generally did my best to be a positive presence in their schools. Our one and only experience with home schooling was with our youngest for his 6th grade year. He was not thriving in the school and we wanted to arrest a downward trajectory. So we pulled him out for one year of home schooling, and it was a healthy re-set for him both academically and socially. If I had it to over again, I’d home school each child for a year or two in or around Jr. High to reinforce what we feel is important and to give them a break from the social pressures in school. Personally, I am wary of fear as a major motivator in decision making. I’ve made several bad ones when operating from fear. It takes faith to commit to years of homeschooling, and it takes faith to put a young child on a bus. Any decision made prayerfully and in faith, pros and cons squarely faced and evaluated, is a good one.

    • Michelle Van Loon

      I know others who’ve decided to home school their kids for a year or two during middle school, for the same reasons you chose to do so for your son.

      And you’re right, Judy – fear is a terrible motivator for decision-making. It can take a long time to recognize how it works on us, and learn to name what we’re really afraid of.

  • Tim

    We did public school al the way, but it’s not that we didn’t discuss home schooling at times. As you said, Michelle, in either setting the kids are going to have to deal with the influences around them. Dealing with those influences will equip them to one degree or another to deal with the much larger pools they’ll be swimming in when they are adults. It sounds like yours are swimming along quite well.

    • Michelle Van Loon

      One of the buzzwords in the home school world when we were in it was “greenhouse”, as in “we can provide a greenhouse for our kids in which they can grow without being exposed to the harsher elements of the world around them”. There are certainly pros and cons to growing up in a greenhouse, particularly in the area of protection, but at some point, all of us need to be transplanted into the “real world”.

      No matter where our kids go to school, we parents are their most important teachers. 🙂

  • Pat68

    “If you’re imaging that home schooling will give you the opportunity to simultaneously exempt and inoculate your kids from the messiest parts of growing up, short-cutting them to a clear understanding of what it means to be “in but not of” this world, you will likely be disappointed. ”

    I’m not a parent, but after 49 years of living, I can say that I’m glad I was not “inoculated” from the world. I attended Catholic school because my parents were not pleased with the experience my older brother had in public school. But I was never sheltered from the world and while I think I can understand to some degree why parents would want to shield their children, I think doing so in an extreme fashion does a disservice to the child. Oftentimes they turn out to be clueless adults unaware of the some of the realities in life.

    • trskms

      However, these “clueless” adults are RARELY homeschoolers. Homeschooled students interact with all sorts of people of all ages all day long. They take classes, participate in sports, are active in their churches, and volunteer in all sorts of community places. This idea that most homeschoolers are homeschoolers so that they can be “sheltered” is really off-base, and only true of a small minority.

      • Michelle Van Loon

        Sadly, it has been those advocating for extremes who have set the tone and agenda for the home school movement. In the days when we were home schooling, there were not very many moderate voices speaking to those of us who were beginning our journey.

        Trskms, many home school families have great engagement with the world, and their kids have peers of all kinds and of all ages.

  • erinflew

    Thank you, Michelle. We home schooled our three kids through high school (1987-2010), and we experienced a lot of the things you did. We began home schooling for educational reasons, transitioned to “protecting our kids from the world, grew increasingly weary of a significant number of extra-biblical rules, and finally realized that there were no guarantees in raising children.

    We got caught up in the hype at conferences and realized too late that we were actually hurting our children. The rules we imposed and the rules imposed by others actually made two of our children question their faith.

    We loved our home schooling years because of the time we got to spend with our kids. We’re all very close. On the other hand, I wish we had not gotten drawn into some aspects of the home schooling culture.

    • Michelle Van Loon

      It sounds like you and I have had some similar experiences with the home school world, erinflew.

  • Providing essential education to kids at home through home schooling is very important as it helps them to become familiar with education process. This is such a useful article about kid’s home schooling.