Montlake mom Sara Cole remembers the moment she decided to homeschool her kids. It was long before they were born.
Sara and her husband, Bill Barnes, went on a nine-month road trip, taking in the scenery and visiting one historic site after another. “We were actually crawling through tunnels in some Civil War battlefield,” she recalls, “when we looked at each other and said, ‘This is the way kids should learn.'"
The reasons parents decide to homeschool are as varied as the families themselves, but most agree there are certain things to consider before you bring school home.
The time factor
Cole is happy with her decision to homeschool Theo, now 6 and a half, and his sister, Rosie, 4, “although, now it might be nice to have six hours when they aren’t in the house,” she says with a laugh.
In fact, the time factor is high on the list of issues to examine in the homeschool decision. Many parents decide to homeschool because they aren’t quite ready to push their 5- or 6-year-old out the door. But are they ready to be with him 24/7?
“Weigh your needs and your child’s needs,” advises Seattle mom Dabney Benjamin. “Do you really want to spend all day with your child? Do you need that pat on the back from an employer who can tell you that you did a good job? Because you’re never going to get that from your child.”
In addition to the positive reinforcement a job might provide, there is the issue of the paycheck. Although some parents manage to homeschool and work, too, most take a hard look at trying to do without that second income.
Then there’s the reality that taking a job as your child’s primary teacher brings its own challenges. “If you are considering doing it, it’s good to be clear-eyed about your relationship with your child. You have to be the one in control,” says Susan Wise Bauer, author of the popular homeschooling book, The Well-Trained Mind.
Jeannette Were, a Renton mom of three, says her strategy for handling bad days was simple. “I’d say, ‘OK, I’m calling the principal,’” she says. “That’s my husband.”
Parents considering homeschooling read books extolling its virtues and sometimes tend to romanticize it, according to Mary Nix, support group liaison for Home Education Magazine, based in Tonasket, Wash.
“It’s still a regular old life,” she says. “I tell people it’s a fishbowl life. You know how a fishbowl magnifies everything. It [homeschooling] magnifies the good and it magnifies the bad.”
Then there’s the other side of the coin: Some parents fear that they aren’t up to the challenge. The fear usually comes from unrealistic ideas of what will be expected of parents, some homeschoolers say.
“People have this image of the mom sitting at home with a pointer and a flag and a blackboard and having to know everything,” says Patty Rebne, a Bellevue mom of a 12-year-old son. “I’m not the teacher. I’m the organizer. I’m the curriculum finder. I’m the whip cracker when I need to be. I don’t have to know everything. I just have to know how to drive there.”
Rebne decided to homeschool when it became clear their son’s small private school wasn’t a good match. She readily acknowledges that she was intimidated at first.
“It was awful,” she says. “I was a deer in the headlights. I was afraid I was going to screw up my kid for life and there would be nobody to blame but me.”
Now she loves watching her son learn, and she loves the flexibility.
“People don’t understand how incredibly fun it can be,” Cole says. “To figure out what little piece of information will spark his curiosity and make his eyes light up. It can be incredibly interesting and fun and very engaging.”
There is a wealth of resources available for homeschoolers, including co-ops, publications, homeschool fairs, and school district centers, which can really help beginners. The key, these resources say, is to make the decision based on the needs of your child.
After three years, Donna Hawkey of Lake Forest Park concluded that her son’s private school just wasn’t a good match. “It seemed so unnatural to me for the kids to sit still when I could see that my child learned through touching, talking and experiencing the world,” she says.
Hawkey had worried that she wasn’t a good match for homeschooling. “I didn’t have the courage to go off on my own,” Hawkey says. “Some people are more natural teachers than others; they have more confidence that way. That’s one of the ways you decide, looking inside yourself.”
She found her solution through The Attic Learning Community in Woodinville, a three-day-a-week school program designed to support homeschoolers.
Bauer, who writes from her farm in rural Virginia, says there were not many good classroom options available to her. But she has discovered over time that her three older children are learning in ways that might not make the classroom a good fit. Her oldest, the creative one, “would lose his mind in a screaming classroom”; the second son, 14, is very active and would bristle at being confined to a desk. The 11-year-old “budding Einstein” is slow and thoughtful when he’s working on something. Her 7-year-old daughter is just revealing what sparks her learning.
“In the end, when you make the decision to homeschool, you recognize the individuality of that child,” Bauer says. “I know families who are homeschooling one child and have another in school. That shows a flexibility and a sensitivity and a willingness to do what’s best for that child.”
Tacoma mom Kristina Hege says she decided to homeschool her son, now 8, after she looked at the public schools and felt more equipped to provide for her son’s academic, social and emotional growth. It has worked out well, she says.
“In our last conversation about it, my son asked if he could be homeschooled for college!” she says. “We’ll keep going as long as it works for both of us.”
Megan Hauck, 28, of Sumner, recalls how she helped make her own decision to be homeschooled when she entered high school. Her mom brought her younger sister home for school after she developed an ulcer at the age 10.
“I began seeing the change in her life when she started being homeschooled,” Hauck says. “Of course I thought it would be more fun, but I also thought it would be better for my education.”
Hauck, now an admissions counselor at Trinity Lutheran College in Issaquah, isn’t a mom yet, but she knows what she wants for her own children when she has them.
“I would have a hard time not homeschooling. It has been such a positive experience for my education and my faith,” she says. “I want to do that for my children. It is a huge passion for me.”
Freelance writer Elaine Bowers lives in Seattle with her twin teenaged daughters.
State regulations, list of support groups by region statewide, information and resources
Home Education Magazine, a national publication for homeschoolers based in Tonasket, Wash.
Susan Wise Bauer, nationally known author of The Well-Trained Mind, offers articles about home education, curricula, resources, as well as entertaining blogs about homeschooling her four children.
Article: “Is Homeschool for You?”
Article: “The Pros and Cons of Homeschooling”
Three-day-a-week learning community in Woodinville designed to support home-schoolers