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Finding My Way Through Homeschooling

by Anne Muchnij

Every year our homeschooling group has a Kids Festival where the children can display what they have worked on during the year. My oldest son, Collins, had been studying American Indians for about four months prior to last year’s Festival. As we were setting up the table to display all his Indian crafts, books and drawings, I was amazed that we had too many things for the table. I love Collins’ enthusiasm for what he is studying and could not believe we had read twenty books on the subject already. We had people coming up to us left and right to ask Collins questions and if he would be willing to sell any of his American Indian crafts. My son said “No” because he loves everything he has made and each piece has meaning and significance to him. This day was a perfect example that I have really found what works for me and for the family. Just seeing Collins’ shining face all day, as he shared his love of the American Indians, was proof to me we are on the right track.

I believe every family is unique and that there is not one way to homeschool. Homeschooling is an individual choice and should be decided by the parents. I do believe it is important to be clear on your personal educational philosophy. Mary Hood describes this in her book The Relaxed Home School as a purpose statement that includes your basic beliefs about education, a list of goals for your family and the types of methods and materials you plan to use. I wish I had read Mary Hood’s book when I first started homeschooling. It would have saved me a lot of time discovering my philosophy—but maybe I would have missed the fun of the journey.
When first looking at homeschooling, deciding the way I wanted to do it, felt like I was looking for a needle in a haystack. After making the decision to homeschool, I could see that the next hardest step was going to be deciding specifically how-to. There are hundreds of different ways and actually I believe there are as many different ways to homeschool as there are families doing it.

Homeschooling choices have changed a lot since John Holt first wrote his book and started his Growing Without Schooling newspaper. Back then, it was a fairly new movement and the resources and groups were limited. I was talking to a mother of seven children and has homeschooled them all. She said that her oldest -- now in her twenties -- had such a different experience than her younger children who are involved in a homeschooling group. Her oldest daughter often feels angry because she did not have any friends to play with and the social opportunities were very limited. Now, there are homeschooling groups in almost every city and even in smaller communities like ours in Southern California.

When first checking into homeschooling I was surprised to find at least three homeschooling groups in our area. The reason I was surprised is because the area we live in is known for having the best schools around. A lot of families specifically move here because of the public schools’ reputation. That was not my reason to move to this area of Southern California -- I was checking out private schools, prior to our decision to opt for homeschooling. My husband and I had both had negative public school experiences and we did not want to repeat that pattern with our own children. 

As far as private schools, I was particularly interested in Waldorf and Montessori schools and found one that was close enough to drive to every day. But at that point the price seemed outrageous to me. Starting at about $8,000 per child and increasing each year. Once private schools were out of the question, I started to search for another alternative and that was homeschooling. 

I was still feeling unsure about my decision to homeschool when I went to The Link Conference in 2001. At that point, the thought of homeschooling really frightened me because I felt I had to know how to do Montessori-style or Waldorf education in the home. Because we could not afford the private school I decided I would bring the private school home. I gathered all the resources I could and started to look at them. I was overwhelmed and more frightened once I realized I needed years to learn how to set up a Montessori room in my home. Plus, every time I saw the pictures in the books I was reading, with the children smiling and doing what the teacher asked, I would remember my day with constant power struggles and many tears. Mine was not a home of perfect students just waiting for me to direct.

When I went to The Link Homeschooling Conference, I was hoping to find someone to train me to do something similar to private school in my home. On the first night they had a panel discussion and I was amazed to hear a woman discuss how she had gone to the same private school I was looking at and that it did not work for her children. Every woman and man on the panel described a very different way of homeschooling. That really opened my eyes to the fact that there is not one way to teach my own children.

That same conference, I saw John Taylor Gatto speak. He was total inspiration for me. In a nutshell, he said that one would be better off doing nothing at home with their child than sending them to public school. At that point I said to myself “I’m on”. Plus, since I had the “privilege” of going to public school, I could agree with the points he was making about the negative effects of public school. At that point I could see that my philosophy on how children learn was changing to one focused on the children instead of focusing on me as a teacher.
After The Link Conference, I picked up several books from the library on homeschooling. The book I really liked was about unschooling. My children were five and three at the time and that approach made so much sense to me. It was enough encouragement that I didn’t stay up all night worrying about not having a Waldorf home or Montessori home. I started to relax more and just enjoy the time I had with my children. We started by doing lots of projects revolving around the interest of my five year old. He was into pirates and astronauts. We made a pirate outfit for him out of things we had at home. We also used boxes to make a pirate ship and a spacecraft. Anything they were interested in,we focused on at home. 

Although I relaxed, I still felt I needed the guidance of a teacher and started to look into a private homeschool curriculum. I liked the idea of meeting with the teacher, but I was concerned about studying what they recommended and feeling obligated to follow their way. While reading David and Micki Colfax’s book Homeschooling for Excellence they wrote that they “object to the dependency on prepackaged materials” and they “did not attempt to implement a particular educational philosophy, but, rather, attempted to respond to the evolving needs of the children, more or less, in an ad hoc fashion”. After reading Homeschooling for Excellence I decided to put private homeschool curriculum off until I had a clearer picture of what was right for us.

I did not see Mary Hood talk at The Link Conference but I did pick up a two of her tapes. It took me a year after The Link Conference to finally listen to the tapes. She called her philosophy “The Relaxed Home School.” As a relaxed homeschooler she had goals that she made and that the children made — but they did not stress about the public school time table. She had many helpful techniques about encouraging learning and she definitely participated in their education, but in a relaxed way. I really loved her values and we have taken them on. She talked about making sure you remember you are a home not a school. I also translated that to I am a mom not a teacher. 

Once I listened to Mary Hood’s audiocassette on The Relaxed Home School and Reading and Writing the Natural Way I really started to formulate my style of homeschooling. I was reading classics to the boys every day and loving our time together. I also started my oldest in Karate. On the Relaxed Home School tape Mary Hood said that she exposed her children to a lot so that they could decide on what they liked and have things to choose from. I decided each year I would pick what I would expose my children to outside the home. The first year I did a series of classes that met once a week and were provided through our homeschooling group. The classes Collins took were Shakespeare, knitting, pottery, art, and science. Collins loved all the classes and begged to do them again the next year. He especially loved Shakespeare because they performed a play at the end and that really thrilled him.

The next year, Collins did Shakespeare and we went to a lot of plays. That year we saw two Indian plays and at the same time we went on an Indian hike. This really sparked an interest in Indians and we have been studying them ever since. I have developed a solid understanding that learning takes place when they are motivated internally to learn about a subject.

I am currently continuing my own studies of health and wellness. I am using my knowledge to coach people on creating healthier life styles and homes. I also see this as part of my son’s education, because they help me out in the business, but even more importantly I am inspiring them to create a career that is meaningful to them.
As you can tell, I have had much soul-searching to set up the type of homeschooling philosophy that works best for our family, and as I evolve and gain new wisdom I am sure my way of homeschooling will evolve too. A.M.