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Why We Homeschool

By HALLIE KEMPER
When our kids were young, we believed we would be sending them to public school as soon as they were old enough. After all, both my husband and I went to public schools and turned out okay.

Then, when our daughter, Danielle, and our son, Nick, were still toddlers, I went to a community meeting held at our local school. The end of the meeting featured a meet-and-greet time, and I struck up a conversation with a woman who had been teaching there for over twenty years. Perfect! Just the person I needed to speak with.

I explained that this was our neighborhood school, and we were considering sending our daughter here in a few years. She took a step closer to me, grasped my arm and looked at me sternly. “Why would you do that to your child?” she demanded. Stunned, I stammered, “Oh, uh, I guess I won’t then.” What else could I say? Someone else in the room took her attention, and, still stunned, I went home to consider her comment. Honestly, that school was not my first choice anyway, but her vehemence took me aback. What about other schools and other teachers? Surely they didn’t all feel the same way.

“Seek, and you shall find” is not just a simple phrase from the Bible. It’s a fact of life. After meeting that first teacher, I actively sought out other teachers to speak with. Within a relatively short period of time, I’d met over a dozen. I developed a set of questions to gather as much information as possible.

The first thing I asked was where and how long they’d been teaching. Of course the answers varied, from one year at a local school to over twenty years in other states before moving here.

The next question was about the schools where they were currently working. Invariably I heard about how the schools in the area had been improving. A succession of new bond issues had infused large quantities of cash into the public schools. The new funds were being used for renovating buildings or to build new ones, playground and classroom equipment, theoretically smaller class sizes (I say theoretically because these “smaller” class sizes have since been increased). Over and over I heard words like “great”, “much better”, “improved”, and “wonderful”.

So far, so good. On the surface, they all sounded like decent places for our kids. The teachers were credentialed and seemed dedicated, and the improvements to the school properties were promising. But the last question I asked consistently nullified all the rest.

“Would you send your own kids to your school?” NO! Over, and over, and over I heard the same response. And the speed of the responses shocked me. No hesitation, thoughtful pause, or possibility for reconsideration. Only one teacher, in all that I spoke with, said “yes”. But I couldn’t count her response. She had no children. Everyone else, including teachers with grandchildren, told me they would not even consider enrolling their own family at their school. Wow! So, uh, if they weren’t sending their own kids there, why would I?

We looked into private schools in the area and determined the cost to be prohibitive on our current income. But even if I could go back to work and make enough money to send our kids -- in addition to the cost of meals away from home, commuting, babysitting, wardrobe, etc. -- the people I interviewed about those schools were not encouraging, either.

The parents of children at the private schools complained about cliques on campus, fundraising pressures, and unqualified teachers. The test scores were hardly any better than public schools, unless the school proclaimed itself as an “academic center”, in which the only emphasis was on testing... too much pressure for kids as far as we were concerned.

So, after an exhaustive search of our alternatives, we turned to homeschooling. Though I had trained to be a teacher and had taught in the past, I had very little knowledge of what it entails to teach our kids at home. How could we know we were doing it right?

In my husband’s family, there was one homeschooler and she willingly gave me as much information as she could. The more we learned, the more we sought to know.

To this day, I still don’t remember how I met Lisa, but am so glad that I did. Lisa was homeschooling four kids at the time and was the greatest wealth of information I could have asked for. Somehow we connected on the phone one day and had a long conversation, like old friends. Over the next few months, she taught me about curriculum resources, homeschool groups, classes, and provided a much needed shoulder for the difficult times that always happen.

Through Lisa I found a large community of homeschoolers that helped us “hold it together” the first year. They gave me so much encouragement and information that we made it through with minimal problems. Four and a half years later, I often use what they taught me to help other new people in their quest for information.

The best advice I was given:
Get connected. Just by looking into The Link, you will get invaluable information, but also seek out people with whom you can speak. Fellowship is essential, for you and your kids. Fellow homeschoolers can empathize with the difficulties, share in the triumphs, and offer support like no one else.

Relax. It’s been said that disappointments and frustration are primarily caused by unmet expectations. I’ve had to let go of many plans in order to ease the pressure on my kids. As frustrating as it can be to not do everything you envision, the rewards of a more peaceful, nurturing, comfortable learning environment are worth it. And kids learn better that way.

Enjoy. No one can see the future and what will happen tomorrow, let alone next week. I don’t know how long we will homeschool, but today I can try to make it as fun as possible. That might be enjoying the sunny fall day by putting away the books and going for a nature walk. It might be working on measurements by baking muffins. It might be cuddling up to my kids, and kissing their little cheeks while they quietly read on the couch. The opportunities for enjoyment are endless, but you have to be ready for them. Even when you have a lot to get through, look for a fun moment - seek and you shall find.
Both our kids are benefiting from the sacrifices we make to teach them at home. Nothing is perfect, but we do the best we can.

Though excelling in other subjects, our daughter recently began struggling with reading comprehension. Early on, reading was her best subject, but as the reading became more challenging, her confidence faltered and she became less proficient.

We were able to find a good reading tutor and are already seeing results including having our once-frustrated daughter declare last week that reading was a favorite subject again.

Although this tutor typically works with public and private school children, she is very supportive of our choice to homeschool. She told me that Danielle was definitely having some difficulty in reading, but not in a way that a test or teacher with 30 students would recognize. We only noticed because of our one-on-one work with our daughter. If we hadn’t caught it early, the tutor told us it could have negatively impacted her for the long-term. Then she referred to our home schooling and said, “You could not be doing anything better for your daughter.” It made me smile. What a nice thing to say. What a great thing to hear! ■