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Reflections on Roles

by Erin Chianese (mother of two grown homeschooled daughters)

I recall attending a mandatory parents’ meeting at my older daughter’s ballet school for a production of “The Nutcracker.” I knew we were expected to volunteer for the many jobs it takes to put on a big production. What I was not prepared for was the attitude presented in the opening statement by the mom who was the volunteer coordinator. “Last year there were three of us who did the bulk of the work. We did . . . AND we all have full-time jobs.” Hmm, was this last sentence directed at those of us (95% were mothers in attendance) without full-time jobs? Here was a judgment on a fellow woman’s choice to stay at home with her kids rather than work all day long away from them. Was this a statement of self-worth or her priorities? I could only sit there stunned at the sad state of our culture’s disrespect and misconstrued values.

Roles were originally defined biologically or anthropologically and they are not far off that mark today. Women are still caretakers and keepers of the hearth. Men are still providers and protectors. The unpleasantness of the volunteer coordinator’s statement was in its denial of the honorability of the traditional role. Her view was in direct opposition to someone who chose this motherhood role and to whom she assumed she was addressing in the meeting. She used it for guilt effect. What struck me was that it was acceptable. No one batted an eye.

Ironing is definitely my least favorite chore. Pushing the steam iron over my husband’s work shirts, I often think of my own mother ironing my dad’s shirts in the corner of the family room week after week, year after year. Neither my mother nor I ever donned a pinched-waist dress or tottered in high heels while standing at the board, but ironing does epitomize for me the role of housewife. I have been reluctant to teach my daughters to iron and I have finally figured out why: I have been reluctant to pass on my chosen role. How do I prepare my children for roles that their generation may define as very different from the ones in our little family? Obviously the volunteer coordinator, of my own generation, has different ideas already.

Many homeschooling families, like ours, have chosen very traditional roles of the man as breadwinner and the woman as stay-at-home mom and homemaker. How do we reconcile modeling and thus teaching our chosen roles with what other children are taught in our culture? Most children have parents who both work full-time or they live with a single working parent. I wonder what these children, as potential partners to my children, will expect in the way of roles. Will roles be revived, dreaded, denied or defied? Will they be broken down into jobs that will be hired out?

As a homeschooling parent I have concentrated on giving my children enough eclectic stimulation for them to find their own interests to pursue further. Happily, my girls have each found their passions. But now the role question is nagging me. Will they be confused by my choice to put aside my career to provide education for them to pursue their careers? Will they have to sacrifice their passion in choosing roles? Will their glossy careers be put on hold while they raise children of their own? Can they do both? Will the Superwoman image still be alive then?

I only have daughters, so I have been especially worried about this choice facing women. But men sacrifice too, when they choose to be the sole breadwinner in a family. The entire monetary burden is very stressful. When I think how expensive the cost of living is right now, I fear it will continue to be. Many men sacrifice their time and health by spending long hours at the workplace rather than at home with their family. In our household, Dad also plays the role of spider-eliminator, handyman, and Mr. Muscles. These duties take his time away from us even when he is home.

Role choices are a sacrifice for both a father and a mother. Nonetheless, roles are necessary to maintain a successful marriage and family. Jobs have to be done and partners have to trust the other person to do theirs. Roles can be shared and they can even be reversed. I used to know a stay-at-home dad. His wife made more money than he did, so they decided she would be the sole breadwinner. It was important to them to have one parent home with their sons. Teaching chores to our children has been somewhat politically correct, I have noticed. My brother used to take out the trash while I did the dishes. Both are chores for either sex now. This is good. We all need to know how to do these things. Cooking and cleaning skills are invaluable for any college student or working person. My husband occasionally helps me with the dishes or with vacuuming. But we have chosen our specific jobs and roles so that our family life runs smoothly and there is enough time and energy to get everything done and — most importantly — to have time to spend together.

Maybe the whole issue boils down to priorities in making choices. I worked after I had my first daughter and by the time I had my second I could no longer keep it up any longer. The heartache of not being with them and caring for them was too much for me. I did not feel I had as much input with their discipline and how they spent their time when I was at work. I remember feeling cultural pressure to work at my career while I had a family. This meant my kids would grow up in daycare. Because I did not enjoy my job, the choice to stay home was easy for me. I am assuming that homeschooled kids will be in careers that are enjoyable and fulfilling to them personally, so that this choice would be much more difficult.

Money is surely the biggest argument for a two-income family. A blessing of our modern culture is the diversity of viable jobs and workplaces. This offers flexibility in making choices. I know a few homeschooling families that have home businesses. Computers make it possible for many people to work at home. Artists, writers, and musicians can spend much of their working time at home. Some jobs even allow mothers with small children to bring them to the office. Flexible hours allow for juggling of time. I know another family in which both parents work part-time so that one is home with the kids.

On the flip side of money, frugality also offers flexibility. I see many homeschooling families learning, dressing, eating and entertaining themselves simply and on a budget. Buying a newer model car vs. having money for special classes for our children is not a difficult choice for us. The vast majority of middle-class kids have a lot more material lives. When my older daughter went to a month-long summer program, she was astonished by the abundance of personal laptops, cell phones, iPods, clothes, junk food, and pocket money that the other kids brought. Living on the fringe as homeschoolers, our kids have not had to compete with each other in this way.

Being in roles ourselves, we cannot help but model these roles to our children. Obviously the couple mentioned earlier with the reversed roles, had good models that they took their information from. Any couple has to work out details to get everything accomplished. Roles have certain tasks and attentions. Knowing them makes it easier to divvy them up. I knew another couple who both worked and they daily decided who would cook, clean, bathe children, or help with homework that needed to be done that night. Perhaps all these households in which both parents work will pass on creative ways to organize tasks.

My hope is to raise my girls to be strong enough to be comfortable with whatever role choices they make: Wife, mother, entrepreneur, or employee. I asked my sixteen-year-old about role choices. She said she is happy now to feel accomplished at her chosen passion. She will look for that same happiness and sense of accomplishment in whatever choices she will make as a mom or career-person or both.

Maybe the answer to my worries is simpler than I expected. When I chose to homeschool my children I did not worry about how they would acclimate to the greater culture. I knew they would be fine in our society when they ventured out — and they are. It is likely the same with the roles issue. They will work it out in whatever way it needs to be worked out for their particular situation. Given their independence, creativity, self-esteem, and ethical base, they will choose wisely.

My job is to model as best I can. I suppose a little worry thrown in has only led to awareness and dialogue. In conclusion, I am going to get a lot of help with ironing from now on. E.C.


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Frequently-Asked Questions About Homeschooling Part 2 of 3

by Michael & Mary Leppert

(Excerpted from The Homeschooling Almanac 2002-03 by Mary & Michael Leppert, published by Prima Publishing.) Used by permission of the authors. Copyright 2013 by Mary Leppert & Michael Leppert. All rights reserved.

Q         My teenager wants to be homeschooled, but my husband and I both work. Is this a good idea?

A         This depends on your teenager and your relationship with him or her. Some teenagers seem relieved to be taken out of a peer-dependent environment and are pleased to do schoolwork while mom and dad are away in order to keep this latitude. Other teenagers fare better working a part-time job during the day and doing their academic work in the evening and on weekends. Teenagers are at a perfect age to benefit from an apprentice situation or mentoring relationship. We know of one teenager who works 25 hours a week in a pet store and plans on becoming a veterinarian. Another works part time at a newspaper office, typesetting and learning about newspapers.

Q         What will the neighbors think?

A         Your child is the best example of the fruits of homeschooling. However, we admit that even we have sometimes felt uneasy when our son plays basketball in front of our house at 10:00 on a Monday morning, when all of the other kids have gone to school. What will the very active 85-year-old man across the street think?—that we are neglecting our son? But after the voice of fear whispers in my ear, my “brave self” quickly remembers my true opinion: Homeschoolers no longer need to be afraid of recrimination from those with incorrect and preconceived notions. We can express our pride in being homeschoolers and confidence in the certainty of our decision.

Q         Should I let my children play outside while regular school is in session?

A         Since homeschooling is legal in every state and province, there’s no reason to fear having your child playing on your block. If your child wants to play at the park and is under adult supervision, most communities will not bother him or her. Get to know your community’s attitude toward homeschoolers and, if it is unfavorable, work to change it. Some California communities have “curfew laws” that are being successfully challenged in the courts when they are not enforced with good faith and common sense by police departments or truancy-control agencies. Be open and honest about homeschooling, and help local officials be aware of homeschooling and its benefits to your community.

Q         Is it harder to teach high school than the elementary grades?

A         Most people who homeschool high schoolers don’t find teaching them a problem. Usually, study habits are already set up; the child is accustomed to completing a certain amount of “work.” Also, students who have been in school usually enjoy finishing their schoolwork early, leaving enough time to work a part-time job, become an apprentice, practice a sport, or take college classes.

Parents of teenagers who have never been in school might have to be more involved in finding out how to teach algebra, chemistry, or other “difficult” subjects. Many families in both categories solve this problem by pooling resources and hiring a tutor to instruct a small group (often 5 to 10 children) in a particular subject once or twice a week. Usually, this type of arrangement is conducive to a positive learning experience: The children know why they are there and want to be there, so it works out well for all. With homeschooling becoming more popular each year, “help” is available to any family who wants it.

Q         What if I can’t stand to be with my kids all day?

A         People don’t ask this question often, but when they do, we are always shocked and saddened. We believe parents who cannot stand to be with their children don’t really know them. And if they don’t like their children, they are probably seeing a child who isn’t “real” but is a creation of marketing, school peer pressure, fear, low self-esteem, and alienation. When your child is home with you, person-to-person, these external forces can—and do—fall away over time.

Children are people in formation (still under “construction”) and should be protected from what many adults today call “real” life—which translates into exposure to social horrors (news coverage of mass deaths, heinous crime descriptions, desensitization to violence) and personal “stylistic” degradation, such as pierced body parts, tattoos, and moshing (slam dancing), that would have made a sailor blush 50 years ago. Our American society has duped itself into thinking that children are short adults with adult sensibilities—mature enough to make intelligent decisions about all they do and believe. A few minutes of close observation of an 11-year-old or even a 15-year-old discloses that this “short adult” assumption is faulty.

Children are capable of making some decisions, but they have to be guided and steered in many others. We all learn progressively how to navigate life—to make choices, determine what we believe and who we are. To become skilled at such decision making takes years. John Taylor Gatto, in his book Dumbing Us Down, comments that today’s public school children never get the time alone required to build a personality but instead are constantly moved along the conveyor belt or bombarded with media stimuli. Homeschooling provides such private time. So it is no surprise that once your child has an opportunity to return to his or her appropriate age and stop being a reflection of the external forces, you are likely to find a pretty likeable person.

Q         Are there African Americans who homeschool?

A         Yes. Many African-American families are turning to homeschooling to ensure excellence in the education their children receive. An African-American homeschooling mom giving a workshop at a conference a few years ago was asked why so few African-American families homeschool. She stated that since the group fought so long and hard to be included in the full public school system, they were not in a hurry to leave it. The African-American homeschooling community is growing quickly as they, along with people of other ethnicities, choose homeschooling as a means of retaining their culture.

Q         Should I get involved with the independent study program (ISP) with a public school?

A         People who begin homeschooling often feel they need the warm hand of a certified teacher on their shoulder, guiding them along until they get the hang of doing it themselves. That is exactly what the public ISP appears to do. In most states, ISPs use the same curriculum that children at the local public school would use. If you choose such a program, you are assigned an ISP counselor, a certified teacher for the public school system who usually keeps track of between 100 and 300 families like yours. You are given the curriculum to follow and must report to the counselor weekly, bimonthly, or monthly. Most families find, after two or three months, that they love the freedom of homeschooling and want to be their own drivers.

Q         I’ve never been a bookish person and did not like school. How can I possibly teach my children?

A         We repeatedly hear that homeschooling has afforded many parents the opportunity to educate or re-educate themselves in certain subjects. For example, Mary wasn’t interested in early history or word roots and grammar because of the negative feeling she carried over from school. But upon reading about these to our son, she found herself becoming more interested as time went on. She also never considered herself artistic (in school she couldn’t sketch an apple even if she wanted to!). When our son was about seven, we obtained the Usborne How to Draw art series, which gives you the exact layout of different objects. Mary was so amazed at how well her rockets, spaceships, and buildings came out that she has actually considered taking drawing classes! Use homeschooling as an opportunity to learn new things and add dimension to your life!

Take Aways:


∙ Our son has taught us that we should be proud to be homeschoolers.

∙ Some teenagers seem relieved to be taken out of a peer-dependent environment.

∙ Your child is the best example of the fruits of homeschooling.

∙ Most people who homeschool high schoolers don’t find teaching them a problem.

∙ Use homeschooling as an opportunity to learn new things and add dimension to your life!

∙ Homeschooling can lead to the greatest metamorphosis of your life!



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Decompression from School Frequently-Asked-Questions

by Cafi Cohen

“He just won’t do anything!” say the parents of new teenage homeschoolers. Novice homeschooling parents always begin with such high hopes. They envision their children industriously attacking thoughtfully-selected curriculum, running a business, publishing a book, graduating early, and winning big scholarship money – or at least catching up in math!

Some of those things may happen, but – in the first days and weeks and months of homeschooling – reality bites. Most new homeschooling families with teens deal with an adjustment period I call decompression.

What is Decompression?

During decompression, children and parents detoxify from the deleterious effects of full-time institutional education. To understand the transition period, consider the days of students in school. Most teenagers – with anywhere from 6 to 10 or more years of school behind them – have been conditioned to:

  • Do what they are told all the time;
  • Work within a schedule of bells and whistles;
  • Ignore their interests and talents;
  • Attend to meaningless subjects;
  • Work for grades;
  • Work in groups, and so on.

In short, school has taught them that life and something called “education” – which may or may not involve learning – happens with or without their participation.

School also has absorbed the best hours of the day, when all of us (teenagers included) are most likely to create, think for ourselves, enjoy life, and learn. At best – with students who earn good grades and please teachers – we are left with good memorizers, good regurgitators, good game players. At worst, we have the shell-shocked walking wounded – apathetic, sometimes hostile teenagers who wake up each morning and just want to go back to sleep.

During decompression The School Experience fills your teenager’s head. As you begin homeschooling, your children’s daily routine radically changes – from coercive and group-oriented to collaborative to self-directed. Suddenly, adults take them seriously. Suddenly, there is time for privacy, time to be alone.

Many new homeschooling parents – with visions of All They Are Accomplishing At The School Down The Street – panic. The net result? Parents have their own decompression experience. During this time, they worry about covering enough, college preparation, and altered opportunities for socialization.

What can we expect during decompression?

 Physical Release

Almost all parents will see behavior changes as their teens adjust to new expectations and a radically altered learning environment. First among these is a general unwinding, a physical release. Your teenagers may sleep a great deal more. Some will lie outside on the grass and watch the clouds roll by for days and weeks on end. Some become more affectionate. Those who have seen the world as a Very Serious Place start smiling more often.


Bad habits – everything from nail biting to zoning out in front of television – may decrease. New bad habits may appear. The good news? In both cases, your teenager – minus the constraints imposed by school – moves closer to being his real self. As he tries out various ways of spending his time and evaluates his experiences, he begins thinking more often for himself.

Improved Health

Families whose children need insulin, ritalin, and asthma medication may find they can adjust dosages (in consultation with a physician, of course). Many teenagers on ritalin completely discontinue its use. Almost all new homeschoolers reduce exposure to junk food, institutional meals, public restrooms, and large crowds. It’s not surprising that homeschoolers seem to get fewer colds and flu.

Different Activities

Some decompressing teenagers drop long-standing activities, such as soccer and piano lessons. At the same time, others dive into previously unexplored academic and non-academic subjects – computers, reading, dirt bikes, drawing, and math games. When our then 12-year-old son left school in the late 1980’s, he spent hours each day folding origami animals. Some children, having absorbed all of the propaganda about the value of institutional schooling, panic and hit the textbooks for hours each day. No matter what activity changes you see, you can usually safely watch, be patient, go along, and see what develops.

Alone Time

Almost all decompressing teenagers spend more time by themselves. And that’s a good thing. John Taylor Gatto in Dumbing Us Down tells us that the alone time of children who attend school, sadly, averages less than ten hours per week. This is not enough time to reflect, the explore, to think, to fashion what Gatto calls a “private self.” Without this private self, too many teenagers and young adults lack a sense of their own identity and look to others for The Life Instruction Manual. Unfortunately, nobody can write a manual for your teenager as well as he can. Many decompressing new homeschoolers know this intuitively, and thus seek more alone time.

How long does decompression last?

Decompression is a period following a major life change. As with other major life changes (moving, birth, death, new jobs), both parents and children need time to adjust. How much time? My experience and that of hundreds of families indicates that you are looking at six months to two years or more. Many say that the longer your teenager has attended school, the more time decompression will take.

Parents may panic when they hear the six months to two years figure. Often they have a son or daughter that educationists have labeled “behind”. These parents begin homeschooling, hoping to “make up time” and “catch him up.” Too frequently, they prescribe a heavy schedule of make-up academics that would discourage most Ph. D. candidates.

Don’t worry about the time your teenager appears to be doing nothing. Believe it or not, you do have time – plenty of it, if academics are your only concern. I have personally known more than ten teens – using independent-study materials – complete the equivalent of four years of high school academics in less than 18 months. How? Are homeschoolers smarter than everyone else? No, not really. Homeschooling itself, though – minus schedules and bells and peer-group distractions – can be remarkably efficient. When your teenagers have decompressed and are ready, they will do what needs to be done – often at breath-taking speed.

What can teenagers do to ease decompression?

 Physical Activity

All people, teens included, need fun and exhausting exercise. This may be a team sport offered by Parks and Recreation or the YMCA in your community. Our son’s primarily physical activity at ages 16 and 17 was the diving team at our local Parks and Recreation department. Other homeschoolers like distance running (anybody can train for and run road races), martial arts classes, bowling, hiking, cycling, and yoga. You do not necessarily even need to think “sports.” Gardening, shoveling snow, and farm-related physical labor all make wonderful physical activities.

Outside Activities/Volunteering

Getting out of the house daily eases decompression. Most communities boast a host of teen-based activities – 4-H, Scouts, church youth groups, Civil Air Patrol. In addition, there are many adult-oriented groups that may appeal to your sons and daughters – everything from ski club to Toastmasters. Volunteer opportunities for teenagers abound. Check out hospitals, libraries, museums, zoos, radio stations, political campaigns, community orchestras, bands, and choirs, and so on.

What can parents do to ease decompression?


What you see during decompression is temporary. Eventually your teenager will produce something – although it may not be the product you have in mind! – and become one of those homeschoolers we all brag about. You have plenty of time for academics, so bury that vision of the perfectly-run high school down the street.


Keep a calendar in which you log your teenager’s activities, academic and non-academic. Develop abbreviations and code each activity with a subject name (for examples, check out the sidebar, Speaking Educationese). You keep this calendar not for the state, not for an umbrella school, not even for your teenager, who will most likely find it boring. You keep a calendar for you, the parent. From the entries, as you decompress, you will see that learning occurs everyday, in everything we do.

T.V./Mindless Video Games

While some make arguments for allowing unlimited TV and mindless video games, we preferred to limit these activities. I agree with John Taylor Gatto who says that television absorbs far too much time. With my two teenagers, I found that they less they watched television (even good-for-you television), the sooner they began initiating their own activities.


Involve your homeschooling teenagers in adult decision-making and chores. If they have never changed the oil in the car, now is the time to learn. Redecorating or relandscaping? Ask for their help in planning. Considering a major new purchase, such as a car? Ask for their comments.

Similarly, when and if you choose formal academic materials, select them with your teenager. Avoid large homeschooling conventions with hundreds of vendors. Instead, examine potential materials, at home, with your teens. Try out material. If your son or daughter deems the product inappropriate, return it within 30 days and look elsewhere. Self-directed learners all share the ability to choose their resources. Certainly, there’s no better way (or time) to learn to do this. Of course, you and your teen will make some mistakes. Reduce those mistakes by working collaboratively.

Gradual Academics

Many unschoolers never include any formal academics in their high school homeschooling. You may adopt that approach. Or you or your teenager may select some formal academic materials to work on. If so, consider introducing these materials gradually.

Here is an example. After three to six months of no academics, begin one month with math – say 20-30 minutes daily or three times weekly. The following month, add language arts; the following month science; and so on. This gives both you and your teenager time to evaluate materials. Also, keep scheduling flexible. Eventually, your child may prefer two to three hours of one subject daily, rotating subjects each week.


Encourage your teenager to keep to a journal, a daily account of his activities and family happenings. This need take no longer than five to ten minutes each morning, when he or she describes one or more events of the previous day. Those teens who would rather walk one hundred miles than put pen to paper should consider dictation (onto an audiocassette) or using a word processor. Separating description from transcription (pen-to-paper) often overcomes writer’s block.

Self-Directed Activity

Encourage self-directed activity by respecting your teenager’s interests and goals. Self-directed activity is any activity your children do without your urging. It is what they do on Saturday, when no one is telling them what to do. Support these activities in whatever way your time and resources allow – as an interested listener, with wheels, financially, and so on. Why? It’s like learning to walk before you run. Veteran homeschooling parents often say that self-directed activity leads to self-directed learning.


Go light on the teacher aspect of home education. Do not become the nightmare homeschooling parent, the one who insists on researching the country of origin of every piece of produce in the grocery store. Yes, it can make you – the parent – feel good to point out the educational aspects of everyday life. Your teenagers will probably find such antics more boring than the school they just left behind.

Instead consider spending time on activities both you and your children enjoy. You have very few years remaining to share the same household. Learning occurs as a by-product of fun events – such as travel and playing games and cooking together and outdoor sports. Enjoy – and don’t sweat the small stuff. CC


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Teen Curriculum

by Erin Chianese

1. Focus
Years ago, when my now-teen girls were 8 and 10, I went to a homeschool conference and was befuddled by one speaker’s adamant statement that all homeschooled kids will find their main interest. My girls hadn’t found theirs and I didn’t believe the statement. My surprise at the speaker’s words was personal too: I did not have a main interest as a teenager and am still searching for it. I thought to myself, “What a dream come true if my girls could find theirs.” Well, now I do believe the speaker’s words, as my girls have each found theirs, and I have seen many of their homeschooled friends find theirs too.

The importance of a main interest cannot be emphasized enough. A main focus will drive the curriculum. It will give meaning to any subjects attempted. More importantly, it can give meaning and confidence to a person’s life. If a person can tackle and excel at one thing, then he can tackle and excel at anything. It doesn’t matter if the interest is one that will lead to a career and “success” in this context of excelling is defined by the individual. The experience of excelling demonstrates to one’s self-depth, persistence, labor, and accomplishment. Such success has taught the person the process of how to strive and achieve. It can be seen as “practice” for other endeavors. For example, my husband went to a music college. Twenty years later, most of his fellow students work their 40 hours per week doing something totally different, but they also do music on the side. They still measure their paths in music as successful ones even though they do not have it as their main source of income. They have taken pleasure from their music all their lives. And they are successful in their attempts in the fields they are earning their incomes in.

If you have recently pulled your teen from the school system, I have heard from numerous sources to give them one year off from schoolwork: A detox if you will, freedom to dabble and delve. This gift of a year allows the student to find his focus if he hasn’t already. (Gosh, is one year enough?) Time will give your teen freedom to choose to do what may lead him in a direction. The hard part is a parent’s worries and fears from a year spent without planned academics. Perhaps a parent can justify the year off by adding a year to their teen’s high school years. Then the student would graduate at age 19 rather than 18. This is not a setback. A year of freedom is definitely worth another year at home with the family together. In fact, I know many homeschoolers who are taking an extra year to either perfect their chosen focus skills or to complete required classes for college entrance.

If a homeschooling teen has not found a focus, then try the same approach as a student recently out of school would: Ease up on the academics. The focus interest may take more time to appear – say, by age 16 rather than 13. If you do not see a focus appearing, look deeper. Is your teen seemingly only interested in watching movies? You can introduce him to filmmaking, documentaries, international films and cultures, film history, or script writing. Is your teen only interested in socializing? You can introduce her to theatre, biographies and diaries, cultural anthropology, sociology, community service, social activism, psychology, or teaching. We know several teens interested in watching anime. At first thought this seems only a fun hobby. But this hobby has led them to drawing and creating their own characters, reading manga books, researching Japanese culture, and learning the Japanese language.

So, with focus in hand, we can look at teen curriculum. First and foremost, the student will want to achieve a higher mastery in his focus. Can he do this on his own or does he need to go out into the world to do this, maybe with a mentor or apprenticeship or special classes? What are the goals centered around the focus? Where can his focus take him? Does your teen know how far he is in his mastery and at what level he realistically wants to be by age 18? One of my daughters is a dancer and she has been visiting different dance studios to assess where she is at and see what they can offer her.

It may or may not be necessary to receive recognition for levels of mastery. There are many ways to receive recognition. A computer wiz can work or volunteer his skill, a gymnast can compete, and an artist can join local art associations. My younger daughter is a writer. She could be lucky enough to get published or she could enter a contest. I am wary of competition because it does not always bring out the best in people. It can instill fear. Overcoming fear will strengthen character, but competition can also be inhibiting. It can cause damage if the student doesn’t succeed according to someone else’s criteria and perspective. It can create blocks to creativity and stifle entrepreneurship. Historically, new art and music are not embraced at their debut. A teen entering a competition for recognition might want to take all this into consideration and research all his options for gaining recognition if he feels it is important to him. My writer daughter may be able to create an online magazine rather than submit stories to a contest.

Alongside the main interest, what else should a high school teen study to reach his goal? My writer daughter needs business and speaking skills if she is to sell and promote her books. An opera singer needs to study languages, body movement and acting. An environmental activist needs to learn about biology and ecology, politics, fundraising, and environmental law. Looking at these lists, they become long and arduous and admirable. These studies are not necessarily the ones required by high schools to complete or by colleges for entrance. (I will address this below.) But they are important to the specialist that your teen is becoming. Looking at these lists it seems that the student can probably surpass the college step in his career track. A college may not have much to offer our students. When my husband arrived at his music college, he changed his major because that particular department could not offer him enough new techniques.

Worrying about the future can be counterproductive to nurturing a teen’s focus and accomplishments now. A school system produces students of a mold. A homeschool produces independent students of character and substance, sure of their gifts and potential. Spending time on what is important to your student now will pay off for him in the future. Remember that there is time. Our kids are just starting out on their journey in life. Also remember that their main interest can change and become a different one. They will succeed if they are sure in their self-confidence, through their experience with already succeeding at something important to them and knowing they have your support.

As a homeschooling parent of teenagers, I now understand why folks one hundred years ago only went to school until the sixth or eighth grade. They knew the basics of the three R’s, and they could go on to their individual paths from there. Today’s homeschoolers are in the same position. In their early teen years, our kids are ready for the next step in their homeschooling. A curriculum centered around a main interest provides the next step. Is there a purpose to an academic curriculum at this point?

2. Academics
When I was growing up, it was a given that my brother and I were going to college. There was always this underlying push for us to get good grades and take the right classes to go. That big push is ironic to me now, because my dad and his friends never went to college. My dad became a civil engineer through his job with the State of California and his close friend became a film editor, trained while working at Disney Studios. I have heard that that was then (the 1950’s) and that college is required for everything now.

College is the pot of gold at the end of the happy schooling rainbow. Is this true or is it a wee bit o’ blarney? How do Homeschoolers — the schooling revolutionaries — see this? Is it necessary for your teenager to go to college? What is the purpose of college at this point? Is it mainly to ensure job success? Has college completion become another blank filled in on a resume in order to “look good”, like keypad skills or proficiency in Microsoft’s latest Super-Program?

In the teen years, college looms close on the horizon. Its pending arrival panics many into trudging through prescribed curriculum. Many teenagers tackle required academics to obtain a high school diploma. As parents, we do want our kids to have all options open to them. Homeschooling can offer practical ways to accomplish a teen’s goals, be it college or not, while still maintaining individuality, a focus on the main interest, and educational integrity.

When I think of “curriculum”, I think of two meanings that have become opposing ones by the nature of the school system. One is that of taking the required classes to complete high school and enter college. The other is more idealistic — that of learning subjects to blossom into a well-rounded person equipped to enter adulthood. Both of these definitions need to be taken into consideration as you make your curriculum choices.

Who gets to decide the curriculum? What is important to learn? Where should curriculum take your teen? All the answers depend on the student’s goals.

Motivation is a huge factor in completing any curriculum. If the curriculum can tie in with the teen’s main interest, the student has much more incentive to study. Absolutely, the most important thing for your student to focus on is his main interest. The main interest will drive the curriculum and will probably consume it. If college is not a goal, then the main interest will provide a broad educational background because the pursuit of it will take the student to many related subjects, experiences, and places out in the world. In fact, if college is a goal, then the main interest will still provide most of the required curriculum. Keeping in mind your teen’s main focus, what subjects does he need to reach his goal? If you, as the homeschool administration, require certain subjects be taken, work out with your teen how to accomplish these. Math, writing, and reading are often already a part of a main-interest study. If the student’s goal is attending a trade school or college, find out what the requirements for entrance are.

Many teens enroll in charter high schools that require textbook work and tests to determine completion and grades. Enrolling in such a charter can alleviate the fear of not getting a high school diploma and the fear of not completing the required classes for college admission. However, there are many drawbacks to these schools, namely that they are schools: They follow rigid rules of timing, testing, and grading. Some questions to ask your teen before enrolling in a charter high school or similarly heavy-curriculum program are: “Will you actually learn?” Is this the best use of your time?” “Is this the most efficient way of reaching your goals?”

If a teen has homeschooled all his life or even for a few years, the charter school will not likely be the first choice. Many families are very creative in learning subjects. An unschooled or eclectically homeschooled teen who has a lot of independence and thinks critically, may gain nothing from a textbook. Many homeschoolers are accustomed to learning by questioning, researching, and hands-on methods rather than the rote method of a textbook. Teens are mature enough to browse and choose their own books and materials that they would like to use for their particular studies. (This is a learning process for them also.) The student will only study if she is willing to. How much easier if the studies are relevant to her and she has chosen the resources?

Taking the conventional road to academics may seem easy at first glance. But is it in the long run? There is so much pressure on completing a “good education”. Education’s purpose is to provide learning. I want my kids to approach any subject or task or to enter college with an attitude of willingness, interest, openness, and awareness. I believe that textbook work and tests promote a jaded attitude, where the student is stupefied into memorizing facts for the short term. The attitude then carries over to the next subject or educational setting. I wish for my kids to spend their free time now on meaningful pursuits chosen by them. If they go to college, they can jump through the mass schooling hoops at that time, mature enough to keep their goal in sight. Bachelor programs of colleges are not only geared for a career, they can offer education. I remember one of my favorite classes, Physics for Non-Majors. The instructor lay on a bed of nails, unscratched, to demonstrate force per square inch. I was fascinated. I had never known that physics was a way of looking at the world.

Unschooling offers an easy answer to the academic curriculum dilemma. When my kids were just starting to homeschool I would write down everything they did, to make myself realize they were learning. I tallied “baking” under Math and “making up stories” under English. For the high school years this method translates still. An artist may be much more interested in art history than in world history. Art history is fueled by world history. Studying Faberge eggs inevitably leads to Faberge’s famous patron, Czar Nicholas II, and his demise through the Russian Revolution. Why not use this in your records as a customized World History class? The introduction to the subject is idealistically what a high school education attempts to do. Customizing studies of interest for required studies is justified because the student is actually learning and it is meaningful to him.

Completing high school and college entrance requirements can be done creatively and without compromising your student’s time and direction. The idea of customizing is not new. Even charter schools do some substituting, especially for subjects like Physical Education, Art, and Computer Science.

Let me use my dancer daughter as an example of how this works. She is 15 and has just settled on dance as her main focus. She is not sure if she would like to dance professionally, choreograph, or teach dance. She would like to go to college. She is perfecting her dance techniques as she is thoroughly enjoying it. She wants to learn French because French terms are used in ballet. She reads books on dance and teaches dance in a community arts project. She had to compose an essay and make a short film as an entrance application into a summer dance program. She is in a Classics Book Club because she enjoys it. I feel I can, with no qualms, record that she has completed English, Physical Education, Art, and Community Service this past year. We study world history together as a family because we are interested in it. We have done this for a few years now, and I feel she has more than completed World History, U.S. History and U.S. Government classes. I can tally some of her choreography and all of her banking skills under “Math.” She also has been reading about dancer nutrition and kinesiology, which I would tally under “Health” or “Biology.”

Filling in transcripts for your high school student sounds intimidating, but I have read that colleges look twice at a homeschooled applicant. A transcript will only be glanced at to see that the required courses were completed and to see what the grades and GPA are. The colleges look closely at the essay and the extracurricular activities. Here, the homeschooler stands out with his/her high achievements in the interest-focus area along with determination and writing skills shown in the essay. Remember that colleges have a narrow viewpoint in translating required subjects as an education and a way to compare applicants. Customizing or justifying homeschool pursuits and learning styles into academic categories is a way to speak the colleges’ language. There is much pressure to do this and I think it is the only way to get a homeschooler into the college system, if he did not take the conventional path. We are revolutionary to the college system. They acknowledge this a bit since they look twice at the applications. (They do this because many homeschoolers who become college students, do well.) Colleges may start to interpret our pathways and perhaps we can help them on their way to comprehending our “language” into their system. For now, we have to stay somewhat inside their “box.”

At times, I feel indignant about inflicted curriculum and the anxiety it causes. I am bothered that I have to categorize learning into required standards. The system is controlling and it is an unethical practice to require kids to learn only specific subjects. I know school systems use it as a way to compare and measure students by. The same goes for the SAT test. It is unethical to force people to compete via a grueling and boring SAT test. This seems so mechanical and inhumane to me. Is it even ethical to assess human beings? Can’t people be measured more by their individual actions, merits, character, gifts, industry, and potential? Competition and stress over college acceptance causes much fear, and fear squelches freedom. Fear brings self-doubt and almost every homeschooler does doubt his own level of knowledge at some time or other against the unrealistically elevated status quo of school or college.

Crucial to teenage curriculum decisions, time must be factored into the equation. Teens have many options. They can work, volunteer, go to community college, read books, or study at home. All this takes time and they must weigh the importance of each activity to fit it into their tight schedules. Organizing one’s own time is another valuable lesson for entering adulthood and entering college. A teen must make these choices and with the parent’s help they will be well-informed choices. Research all options. We have guided our kids to this point in their homeschooling journey by unconventional means and they can reach their next goals by similar unconventional pathways. There is not just one road to success.

Whatever path your homeschooling teen takes, he is paving the way for future generations to succeed as he succeeds. The Colfaxes* are heroes in our circle because their kids went to Harvard. At that point we knew that our kids could get into the top universities. Whether your child goes to college or not, his journey is his gift to future homeschoolers. All of our stumbling will benefit future pathways and accessibilities. Speaking college administrative language is just a tweak in the process to allow our kids to nourish their gifts and get through the college system, if that is part of their goal. As homeschooling parents we have been able to loosen our grip on control of our children’s learning. Perhaps the system will eventually also loosen its control over its current assessments of learning and students. Or our teens could prove colleges obsolete when they successfully bypass them altogether.

College might be totally unnecessary for our kids. Once on the unconventional path it may be hard to get on the conventional path. One of the beauties of being human is that we can be very creative and diverse in our endeavors. When I was studying biology in college, I volunteered at the NOAA research facility in San Diego. There was a researcher employed there, doing his own research on anchovies, who had never been to college. He had started out working there because he was an expert on boating and the ocean’s behavior. He was eventually given an honorary Master’s Degree from UCSD without attending a single class!

One last thought on curriculum: What if we lived in a society that required no set curriculum? I can envision that such a society would be full of diverse individuals content in themselves. Each person would have a passion that he could offer others. There would be a great continuous flow of ideas and exchange of knowledge and skills with respect and acceptance of one another. Homeschoolers actually have this as their model in their home or in their support groups. We teach each other skills we are good at and we discuss books, current events, social problems, and education. Who knows how far the homeschooling lifestyle and pathways can lead?

As to the pot of gold at the end of the happy homeschooling rainbow, ‘tis truly a happy adulthood for your child.

Erin’s daughters have both graduated from college and are successfully pursuing their life goals.


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Between 12 and 20: Teen Challenges

by Erin Chianese

A few years ago, our family’s summer vacation was a trip to Catalina Island, one of the Channel Islands off the coast of southern California. Our teenage daughters each brought a friend and I must confess I worried about the friends for the first part of the trip. We were camping, snorkeling, and kayaking, which neither of the friends had done before. It turned out that I needn’t have worried; they loved it all. In fact, for the second half of the trip, we stayed in a hotel in the one tourist town on the island and that is where little tiffs and dissatisfactions arose. There were so many ventures for the girls while camping, that coming back to civilization, with all its blaring but commonplace tourist consumerism, wasn’t as fun or stimulating. It wasn’t challenging.

Facing a challenge means leaving one’s comfort zone. Loads of things are happening all at once. There is fear, self-doubt, perhaps pain or anger at the situation, but the cogs are rolling in the opposite direction as well: The challenge is exciting — thrilling even — in the seriousness and immensity of the impending hurdles. To meet a challenge a teenager must overcome all the emotional, physical, and mental obstacles involved. Sometimes a challenge is not satisfactorily or successfully wrestled, but still, a great deal has been gained by the process. Courage comes in many forms and it takes courage to approach a challenge. Challenges are in every goal. Academic, creative, spiritual, social, political, economic, moral, and athletic endeavors all pose challenges in personal goals set. Teenagers benefit and thrive as they tap their courage to rise to their challenges. It shows in their attitude, self-confidence, problem-solving skills, and the higher goals they subsequently set for themselves. One thing that really struck me on our island trip was the friends’ attitudes. One of the girls is a night owl. At home, she is content to stay awake all night, deep into her fine art and then sleeps until the afternoon. But every day on our trip she awoke by 8:00 a.m., sometimes even 7:00, so as not to miss anything. The other friend was anxious about camping on a dry, dusty terrain without showers and flush toilets. But she organized her time to walk the mile to the pay showers or she skipped it and acclimated to the ocean’s salt on her skin for that day, never complaining. She relaxed so much that she loved the simplicity of the free time we had. She got into building the fire, exploring the tide pools, and making up silly hand-shadow plays in the tent at night. In the hotel later, she commented that she missed camping the most.

Teens already feel vital in their bodies. They think they can do anything, that they are invincible. Facing challenges lets them know how true this is. They feel accomplished and proud. Many teens experience this through individual or team sports. Both my daughters challenge their bodies through dance. To encourage teenagers to exercise, the YMCA offers them a very inexpensive monthly fee for unlimited access to their gyms and classes. There are other organizations that offer group outings or trips especially for teens. These might be river rafting, backpacking, trail building, or house constructing expeditions. A public school in your neighborhood might have a Ropes Challenge Course. Homeschoolers can take a field trip to these courses after school lets out in the afternoon. For about four hours, the instructor shows kids how to climb rock walls and rope ladders, and how to walk across forty-foot-high beams or rope bridges. It is all done with rock-climbing harnesses and in teams, keeping people safe and supportive.

When one of my daughters wanted to take karate lessons, I was pleased that she would be learning self-defense. What I did not realize is that karate is so much more than learning how to use your own energy and how to use your opponent’s energy. It is actually about identifying and overcoming mental, as well as physical, obstacles that the student is challenged with at each colored belt level. The mind’s eye is far more difficult to control than the physical act of breaking a board with your fist. Martial arts are truly disciplines for the whole being. As the black belt master continually stressed, karate affects the students’ normal daily lives by influencing how they approach any situation. A quiet, unassuming person can become more assertive through strengthening confidence. An aggressive, boisterous person can learn to subdue emotions and physical power to act gently and calmly.

To create something out of nothing, outside of one’s self, and oftentimes outside of one’s expectations is certainly a challenge. A teenager must break out of the comfort zone of drawing stick figures in order to paint an abstract; get beyond writing dry, five-paragraph essays to write a funny dialogue, or parroting musical phrases in order to express feeling while playing an instrument. The basics are essential, but going beyond them is where creative teenagers are in their development. Learning PhotoshopTM is very tedious, but after the tools are understood I have seen many teenagers play around with it enough to create beautiful collages, interesting graphics, enhanced photos, and cool homework pages.

My kids used to beg me to give them spelling tests when they were young. This was a personal challenge to them, not a competition, or something they were judged by in order to indicate their smarts or to hear praise from the teacher. Most homeschoolers already know that schoolwork can be challenging if the student chooses the challenge, not if it is given as an assignment. Academic pursuits must be named by a teen for that teen’s own purposes: If not, it becomes drudgery. A teen’s goal may be to get into college, investigate deeper into a subject, or simply to quench curiosity. My older daughter is taking Egyptian Hieroglyphics at community college because she has always been fascinated by them. What greater value can the class have for her than that?

Socializing is a challenge no matter what age a person is. A teen, honing social skills, will strengthen his ability to deal with another’s aggression, power, passivity, or weakness. There are lots of opportunities for teens to sharpen their skills, since their lives are so very social. Third party advice (meaning we parents) can come in handy but only when asked; teens prefer to stumble along privately; this is their trial and error period of dealing with other people. My shy daughter wants to appear less quiet and to be able to speak up in a social setting. She is not sure how but she is bent on doing it. What I love about this is that her maturity level as a teenager allows her to self-reflect without contempt. She understands her disposition but wishes to make herself and others more comfortable in her presence. She has stated for herself this particular challenge and what her goals are. And she has enough confidence to begin to meet her challenge. I have noticed that she is putting herself in social situations that she would have declined a few months ago.

Heroes inspire us to challenge ourselves. Many figures are heroes because they have risen out of adversity to achieve goals. Just last year, the racing bicyclist, Lance Armstrong, won yet another Tour de France after beating cancer. Stephen Hawkings has furthered his scientific theories as a prestigious professor at the University of Cambridge, despite his disability. Franklin Roosevelt had polio, yet left his ideas and legacy to better the world. Christopher Reeve did not walk again, but inspired others with his own courage and the courage of his family. J.K. Rowling wrote her first best-selling Harry Potter book as an impoverished single mother. Other people are heroes because of the noble lives they lead and the choices they make. Instead of thinking solely of profit, Anita Roddick, owner of The Body Shop, fights for environmental and social change as a part of her business practices. The Dalai Lama advocates peaceful resolutions, has established a safe home in India, for fleeing Tibetans, and relentlessly challenges the world to give his country back to his people.

Of course, all parents want their children to succeed in their endeavors. It is good to remember that succeeding encompasses many tiers and it is the path or journey that is most important, that rising to a challenge that adds to a person’s character. Who is not in awe of Michelle Kwan who tries for that gold medal every four years in the Olympics? We admire her most for her tenacity, her focus, and her challenge to herself. As we were kayaking on Catalina Island, trying to make a cove that was 5 miles away, it did not matter if we actually got there. Through aching arms I had to smile: I could hear the girls in their own kayaks, making up songs as they endlessly paddled too, enjoying their own moments of aching arms and friendship. E.C. ■

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Between 12 & 20: An Interview With Some Homeschooled Teens

By Erin Chianese

As parents, the decision to homeschool is ours. We know in our hearts that it is best for our children and our families. Of course, there are nagging doubts to any important decision, especially when it goes against the grain of the surrounding society. I used to call homeschooling our family’s “grand experiment.” I used to wish I had a crystal ball to find out the results of our venture. One of the most informative homeschooling conference sessions I have been to is a Teen Panel. Listening to teens discuss their own lives can dispel some of the fears of how our own grand experiments will turn out.

Here is an interview with six young adults to learn their thoughts on homeschooling. They were homeschooled most or all of their lives. They practiced different homeschooling styles and are embarking on different paths.

What are you doing now?
Leif is nineteen, attending UC Berkeley in their Electrical Engineering/Computer Sciences Department. This fall he is studying abroad in Spain for a semester. He is interested in languages (attempting Hebrew now), and in hiking, ultra-light backpacking, and traveling frugally.

Alison is twenty and works at OSH Hardware, filling several different positions there. She stopped going to community college because “I felt like I wasn’t learning and progressing to where I want to go.” She had the idea she would like to be a teacher ever since playing “school” when she was a youngster. But, after taking Child Development classes, she decided teaching was not for her. She may return to explore other fields.

Burns is an entrepreneur at eighteen. He is an independent contractor, working on his first professional title as a Video Game Development Artist. He designs art and textures with 3D modeling.
Celeste, at eighteen, is entering the University of Oklahoma in the fall, double-majoring in dance and art history. She attends community college, two dance studios, and has a job teaching dance to four-year-olds.

Daniel is seventeen, attending community college while finishing high school at home, with the aspiration of becoming a heart surgeon. He looks forward to soon becoming an Eagle Scout and he enjoys outdoor recreational activities like hiking and backpacking. He also has had a passion for cars ever since he was young.

Mona, the youngest interviewee, at sixteen, attended high school for one year this past year and will be attending community college in the fall. She wants to be a writer. She has many interests including photography, graphic arts, cosmetology, and dance.

Q: How did you homeschool?

Leif, Alison, and Daniel used textbooks in a school-at-home sense. Leif started every weekday at 9:00 a.m. Their families made their own curriculum, two joining a school and one filing a private school affidavit with the State. Alison’s family supplemented textbooks with instructional videos and classes through their ISP.

Celeste and Mona were homeschooled in a loosely-structured fashion, using a few textbooks and workbooks (which were mainly rejected), field trips, historical fiction, and lots of trips to the library.
Burns was unschooled. To illustrate, he told this story: “When I was five or six, I had a calculator. It had a Mickey Mouse theme with a function that asked me problems to solve. I played around with it a lot. I had no idea how to do multiplication or division. I intentionally got the wrong answers and that is how I figured out the pattern of division being the reverse of multiplication. I ultimately taught myself division which is completely opposite from the way math is normally taught.”
All the teens interviewed enrolled in community college when they were fifteen, “double-dipping” as Daniel calls it: using classes for both college and high school credit. Alison actually started when she was 13, accompanied by her older brother.

Q: Did you have a say in your studies?
Leif said he did not care that much at the time, but he thought that he would have had a say if he had wanted. Similarly, Amy said she did not, but that she did not ask. She knew she had to do the work even when she did not want to, but she is happy that she did it.

“My parents were pretty strict,” Daniel replied. “There were things they wanted me to learn. I wanted to learn German. They made me do Latin for two years and then I could learn German, which I am studying now.” He added that he now appreciates the rigorous curriculum his parents set for him.

Celeste responded that her parents asked her at the beginning and end of each school year what she wanted to learn.
Mona said, “Yes, I chose Philosophy. And I refused to do some things my mom wanted me to do. I didn’t like them, like math, or I was being stubborn, or I didn’t see the importance of doing it.”

As an unschooler, Burns had much input, his mother implementing his requests by researching whatever he wanted to learn. Sometimes his mom suggested subjects and these he learned through field trips and discussions.

Q: Were you conscious of, or concerned with, what other school kids your age were learning in school? (Were you ever worried about comparing yourself to school kids as far as academics go?)
Leif and Amy were not conscious of, or concerned at all.

Burns interacted with a lot of schooled kids in his sports and other activities and this made him unconcerned once he knew what these kids were studying. In fact, it made him more confident and happier because he understood more than they did.

“Not until middle school,” Celeste answered. “That’s why I wanted to learn about clouds. People my age going to school were learning about clouds. I went to a high school for one year and sometimes I had no idea what people were talking about, like historical dates. I went to public school because I didn’t think I was as smart as kids in school. I couldn’t spell. My handwriting was terrible. But, then, I didn’t find I was less smart. The first week or two was horrible. In math, I was completely lost. But after I got into the swing of things, I quickly surpassed people in my Math and English classes. In Math, I became a tutor and English moved me up to Honors.”

Q: What was your favorite homeschooling experience?
Alison’s favorite memory was attending a homeschool convention at the Disney Hotel with her best friend. Celeste liked museums, especially the Museum of Tolerance (a Holocaust museum in Los Angeles, which challenges everyday tolerance issues). Mona enjoyed her book clubs and writing clubs. “I liked discussing things,” she said. Daniel’s answer was “the openness about everything.” He meant that the people who homeschool are nice, warm, loving, and not judgmental. He appreciated their attitude that all is considered learning, even the mistakes.

Q: What did you like about homeschooling?
“Free time,” Leif immediately answered. “I was able to get ahead to then choose whatever I wanted to do. I liked that there was less structure than regular school.”

Alison was happy there was “no busywork and no drama. All my friends are homeschoolers that I have known since we were small. We are still a tight-knit group.”

Daniel remarked that the academic standards are much higher than those in public school and these he now sets for himself. He added, “A homeschool [parent] is concerned about you, rather than a teacher, who is concerned about a job.”

Celeste said, “There are too many to name. I liked going on field trips a lot and doing mostly hands-on things when I was younger. Book clubs. I liked all the activities we did with people, like chorus and the little English class I took with Ellen (a homeschooling mom). I liked sleeping in and having my own curriculum, and not taking the SAT.”
Mona liked all the free writing. She could write whatever she wanted, being more creative than if she had a specific assignment. She also liked the freedom and openness of her studies instead of the busywork she experienced in her one year at high school. She is glad she went to a lot of museums, even though it was not her favorite back then.

Q: What did you dislike about homeschooling?
Burns gave the perfect answer, “I loved it all.” That stated, here follows the rest of the comments:

“The one thing I wanted to do was go to a prom,” Alison replied. “I went to a winter formal when I was sixteen. And I had a graduation. But the prom is one thing I wished I had.”

Leif thought in retrospect that the socialization was not enough. At the time he didn’t notice. He liked being alone and he spent most of his time teaching himself computer programming. Now that he is in a college dorm with sixty other people, he is interested in knowing different people. He enjoys talking with them and he considers this very healthy.

Daniel had an intriguing observation. The only thing he disliked is the lack of motivation by parents. He himself was not that motivated until he was about ten years old. He saw this in others, too, and feels that kids have more potential. He recommended a little added structure to motivate kids.

Celeste answered, “I feel like I missed out on a lot of things in school, like seeing my friends every day and dances and social things like that, but only when I was older, about middle school age. I don’t feel I had as big a social life as I would have wanted. Lots of my friends now have known their friends since kindergarten and that would have been a fun experience. Like at a prom, everybody knows everybody there. I disliked the fact that in my particular homeschool group, high schoolers didn’t exist. So seeing all my other friends was difficult because of their school schedules. I met my friends through dance classes and the high school I went to for one year, the community college I go to now, and through friends (meeting their friends).”

Q: Could you comment on socialization?
Burns felt fulfilled socially. “I am happy that I homeschooled because I had more time than those in school in which to play with my friends. I spent a lot of time at their houses playing and learning together and bonding further. There were not the same age boundaries that are drawn in school and my friends were both adults and kids that were three to four years apart. There are not strict social roles for each age. I had a close group of many friends that I grew up with. I know we will remain close for a long time.”

Alison offered, “I liked my socialization because all my friends I have known forever. I was a shy person. I don’t know if I could have handled the socialization in school. I wasn’t outgoing. I am not as shy after working for two years. Greeting customers has helped.”
Daniel has had his best friend since they were five. His friends now are from different homeschooling groups within his town and also from Boy Scouts.

Celeste replied, “I get along with pretty much everyone. I’m not embarrassed to go up to people to talk to them and get to know them.”

Q: Do adults or your peers treat you differently when they find out you were homeschooled?
“I am proud to be homeschooled,” Mona explained. “People should be interested and I believe in it. If people had a problem with it I didn’t care. Some adults are impressed or interested. Once an adult asked me, ‘What are the three branches of government?’ I told her that wasn’t very nice.”

Celeste said, “Yes, they treat me differently. Usually kids immediately ask me if I have any friends and how does it work. Sometimes they think you’re incredibly lucky and sometimes they say it’s weird. If people ask me where I go to school I say, ‘It’s complicated.’ I say that so I don’t have to say I homeschool. “Adults usually are doubtful and critical. They ask me lots of questions to figure out how it worked. I’m always very positive when I talk about homeschooling with adults.”
Daniel remembered younger kids, unsure of homeschooling, calling it “weird”, but his fellow students in community college are curious about it.

Q: Why did you homeschool or not in high school?
When Daniel was between eight and ten years old, he felt isolated because his friends were in school. In middle school he was bothered that his parents set a different curriculum for him than the public school and he wanted to go to school then. But by the time he reached high school age, he realized that homeschooling is more efficient than school. He is glad his parents said no to school and he is happy he can follow his own interests.

Alison had the option to go to high school but felt content homeschooling. She was wary of cliques and the notorious treatment of a newcomer in school.

Leif said it was a matter of inertia; he thought it too much trouble to change. It was better for him to homeschool. “High school is a good thing to miss.”

Celeste went to high school as she mentioned earlier, “I went one year and I absolutely loved it. I would have stayed, but it was too far. I tried a large public high school here and hated it so I left. I decided to go to college.”

Burns’ parents are divorced and his mother has worked hard over the years to be able to homeschool her two sons because her ex-husband was against it. Pressured by his dad, Burns did attend a high school magnet, but only for one semester. The compromise at that point was to join a charter high school where he attended 2-3 days a week for an hour and a half. He then took the California High School Proficiency Exam (California’s equivalent of the GED for those under 18) to officially graduate in his dad’s eyes.

Mona attended a small high school for one year. There were only one hundred students in the school and she chose this because she considers herself a quiet person. “When I was little, there were more people to be friends with, but when everyone got older, many left for school. It was harder to meet friends who were homeschoolers. When people got older too, more of them were into being cool, so it was harder to open up with them. I don’t think this has anything to do with homeschooling. “I really liked homeschooling but I eventually decided to try high school for the social atmosphere and the school experience. In school I liked having different teachers for subjects and I liked having a more strict schedule. I liked the more social classroom situation. But the school system is not good. There are so many bad teachers and the kids don’t want to be there.

“Since I went to high school I’m afraid I think less. I’m lazy now; I don’t want to try my best. It’s your choice, but I made the choice to not do 100%. I became lazier, unmotivated and uninspired. I was more inspired homeschooling.”

Q: Do you feel there is a difference between yourself and traditionally schooled students your own age?
Alison and Leif agreed there is no difference.

Daniel said, “I am now more intelligent than the students in my community college classes.”

Burns thought he was well prepared for adulthood and wanted to dispel any fears about being homeschooled. “There is a big difference but I have no disadvantages or deficiencies. Entering the adult world, I know how to act and hold myself.”

Celeste said, “I’m not as materialistic or sexually active. I have a great connection with my family. A lot of people’s parents are just slaves for them. I see kids treat their parents in a mean way and order them around. I’m more aware of people to be considerate. I’m more aware of the world around us. I’m not separate from the world.”

Mona used her experience in high school to answer. “Yes, because a lot of my classmates aren’t free thinkers. They just write down answers and don’t think for themselves. It bugs me a lot. Also they think they aren’t smart because they base their smartness on their grades. They only have their teachers’ opinions. But I go to a private school so maybe it’s different for public school students.”

Q: Anything you would like to add?
Leif is really enjoying college. “I was focused so much on computer programming when I was younger and now I am broadening my focuses. It is nice now to meet a lot of people with so many ideas. It is more stimulating. Homeshooling prepared me well academically.”

Celeste said, “I think the whole point of homeschooling is not having your child sit down for three hours and do homework. It’s not the most educational way to learn at a young age. Think outside the curriculum box. “Right now I am really interested in having a good time. I am going to college and learning about a lot of things. I think I am happy I homeschooled as a kid because I gained a big interest in learning about anything and everything. I have a certain confidence that I can learn anything quickly, except for the drums,” she laughed.

“Homeschooling is loose and relaxed,” Daniel explained. “There is flexibility to learn what I want to learn. I am really glad my parents were as strict as they were. I have more passion to do the things I want and I have figured out what I want to do in life.”

Burns responded, “No matter what my interests were, I could gain the skills I needed. For me, education is really important. A degree might help me eventually, but it is not entirely necessary for me now. I have been doing this (video game artist) for the past four years and am now working on my first professional title. I am happy where I am at, working in my field. The hardest step is getting into a job.”

Mona said, “Homeschooling helped me develop my many interests. I could play around with, say, graphic arts. I had all the time in the world to edit and learn. I had all the time to read as many books as I wanted to, even about applying make-up or whatever. I had more opportunity to dance. I was really supported by my family. The homeschooling outlook has not so many rules.”


This particular interview was about homeschooling itself, but a lot of other things shone through. Self-assurance and confidence, maturity, and the ability to make critical observations are part of the package of developing into a whole person. These are not part of a school curriculum, and they are not automatically acquired by every homeschooling experience. However, it came up six out of six in this pool of interviewees who had different families and homeschooling methods. For the grand experiment, that is a pretty high statistic in my book. E.C.

Copyright 2011 by 256 MML, Inc. All rights reserved.

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