My wife and I currently homeschool three of our four school-aged kids. We plan to ultimately homeschool all of our children for at least some portion of their early education, possibly through high school.
We often have had to defend our decision to homeschool over the past six years following our decision to take our kids out of the school system and teach them (more appropriately, create an environment for them to learn) in our home and in other family settings. Although the culture and attitude towards homeschooling are much different now than they were when I was in school in the 1980s and 90s, there is still a significant amount of stigma attached to scenarios where children are kept out of the normal school system. As I’ve done on many occasions responding to inquisitive people, I will explain why my wife and I chose to homeschool our children as an alternative to having them attend public schools, charter schools, or private schools, and why we continue with that educational approach after six years of doing so.
The decision we made in 2012 to break from the ranks of those parents who send their children off to school and enjoy 7-8 hours of free time (for stay at home moms; dads are usually away at work anyhow) meant that we’d need to take on an entire new career for both my wife and me. We added to our roles as parents, protectors, and providers for our kids the responsibility of being academic instructors for them as well, raising the stakes of what it means for us to be responsible for the development of each and all of our children.
Some Background About Us
My wife and I were educated in public schools. Both of us were involved in lots of activities that kept us busy nearly year round.
Throughout my grade school years, I wrestled and played baseball, football, basketball, and other sports. Although I have always enjoyed learning, I wasn’t a very serious student all the way through high school. I did make sure to do enough to keep my grades high because of my parents’ expectations, knowing in the back of my mind that it would someday be important for college, the place where careers were said to be made. I really enjoyed the social life. I loved the independence I found each morning as I headed off to school, checked in with all my buddies, flirted and hung out with the girls, and navigated life as a youth making his way toward adulthood.
The public school systems in Florida/Utah (for me) and Texas (where my wife grew up) weren’t necessarily bad for us. I did get into more than my fair share of fights at school in Florida before my parents moved my family to Utah. I also remember watching lots of Andy Griffith reruns during chemistry classes, and I recall often getting permission from my physics teacher to skip class and head over to the school weight room to test out theories about gravity.
When I met and married my wife, I never recall her ditching on her public school education. She had good memories of cheerleading, friends, and striving for straight A’s.
After high school, we both attended college (where we met), and we both obtained college degrees. Based on that background, you might say that my wife and I are both pretty standard products of the American schooling system.
However, here we are, homeschool parents.
Here’s how that happened.
A Spiritual, Faith-Based Environment for Education
Just before my own graduation from Orem High School in 1994, I was asked by one of the officers of my senior class to give an “unofficial” prayer as we prepared to make our way into the civic center where we would listen to speeches and receive our diplomas. It seemed strange to me that we were not allowed to participate in a prayer as a part of the official proceedings, and that we had to sort of “sneak” one in prior to the graduation ceremony.
Since my graduation, I have become much more committed to religion, even more so as I became an imperfect parent needing divine direction to raise my children. My wife and I are a highly religious couple, which means that we have always considered education to be as much or more a spiritual matter as a secular one.
As we all well know, today’s public school system is no place for religion, no place for prayer, no place for scriptures. In contrast, my wife and I are certain that an education that attempts to instruct the mind without providing eternal perspective and training the heart and soul falls far short of its potential.
One of the most important reasons we homeschool our kids is to instill in them our deeply held religious values.
That one priority rules out public schools and charter schools, both of which are funded by tax dollars, which means that neither of those options is allowed to use a faith-based perspective for educating.
What About a Christian Private School?
When our oldest child was three years old, my wife and I decided to move a half hour away to the north part of our county specifically to be closer to a locally well-known Christian (LDS) private school called American Heritage School. We had toured the school and felt great about its commitment to solid religious and secular education as well as its emphasis on the principles of freedom promoted by the Founding Fathers of this country.
We enrolled our daughter in American Heritage School as a kindergartner, and she attended there for three years, including as a second grader while her younger brother, our oldest son, attended kindergarten. They both loved proudly wearing their school uniforms and going off to school each day.
In fact, we love the school so much that whenever we have a child ready to start school and enter kindergarten, we put him into American Heritage School. This gives them a chance to build some independence and experience the excitement of being part of a school community. Then, as has been our tradition, the following school year, we put them back into our homeschool system, where they learn beside their siblings and parents.
Despite how much we enjoyed American Heritage School, having our kids spend 7-8 hours a day, five days a week there didn’t fit our needs.
Building Family Relationships
My wife has been reading and telling me about a fascinating book called Hold On To Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers. The book details the dangers of peer orientation among youth and encourages affected parents to earn back their kids loyalty and love so that they don’t become victims of a peer group that severely damages their development and well-being.
Hold On To Your Kids articulates well what we’ve felt motivated to do since our oldest started going to school. It is important to us as parents that our kids trust us, that they develop a close relationship with us as friends, mentors, and confidants. It is also important that they establish strong bonds among their siblings, so that they can continue to provide support for each other throughout their lives. The family unit is naturally that protective and nurturing shelter designed for giving kids their best chances at success.
My wife and I are both into sports. We love to play and watch football, baseball, basketball, and other sports. Our kids also naturally love sports, which means that we spend a lot of time at practices and games.
We also decided early on in our marriage that music would be a big component of our family. Each of our children begins learning a musical instrument by age six.
While my two oldest were attending American Heritage School, we found that we were simply short on time. We would send our kindergartner and 2nd grader to school for a large portion of the day, then having them practice their musical instruments, participate in sports, finish homework, and do chores, we found that there was simply too little time for us to spend with each of them before it was time for them to go to bed.
Often when people ask me why my kids are not “in school”, my reply is simply this: “We don’t have time for it.”
That may sound to some like a lame reason to keep kids out of school (especially a great, highly affordable private school), but really is a legitimate concern for a busy family. When our kids were in school, even one that we loved being associated with, their schedules were too full to allow us to have the critical time left over at the end of the day to develop important relationships between them and us as their parents.
My daughter was able to spend enough time on her viola to qualify for a solo with her orchestra at 11 years old.
Teaching kids at home can be done much more efficiently than in a classroom setting. Sending them off to a school where they are learning with 15 – 30 other kids whose interests and aptitudes vary widely simply cannot compete with the efficiency that’s possible with homeschooling. I’ve seen estimates that only one-third of the time (an average of about 6 hours per day across the nation) kids are at school is actually spend doing valuable learning activities. One mom’s calculations estimate puts actual instruction time spent in most classrooms at only 100 minutes (less than two hours) per day.
When kids are able to learn in an efficient way in the home, they can quickly work through what we consider mandatory, and they have more free time to spend with their siblings and parents as well as their friends. This has become more difficult for us as we’ve added more kids to the mix, and we are constantly looking for ways to watch and interact with the littlest ones while giving guidance, feedback, motivation, and discipline to our older ones. It helps that my career allows me to work from home and often step in to help my wife with her roles.
Personalized, Adapted Curriculum
One of the important things my wife and I have learned as parents is that you cannot use a template to all of them. For one, girls learn differently from boys. And each of our five boys has his own unique interests, capabilities, and approach to pretty much everything, including learning. That variety exists even within our own family, where the home culture is consistent and genetics are pretty similar.
Although we try to treat our children as consistently as possible to be fair and just, including in how we discipline them and educate them, their individual uniquenesses require a significant level of personalization and adaptation.
The personalization and adaptation required by most children to bring out their unique potentials is very difficult to achieve in a standardized classroom, especially when teachers are required to teach with the objective of having their students pass standardized tests.
Because it has grown out of control over the past hundred years, the federal government has far too much influence over local school curriculum, which exacerbates the problem of providing adaptable education to children for whom decisions are being made by people who live (in many cases) thousands of miles away and whose local cultures, values, and needs are not well understood by the bureaucrats who establish the standards for their education.
Part of our homeschooling experience involved moving to Costa Rica for six months with the intention of having our kids learn Spanish and gain some culture experience while learning to appreciate the Costa Rican culture and Latin America more generally. In addition to picking up some basic Spanish (my daughter actually reads and speaks at a conversational level now), our kids learned about using a different currency and exchange rates with the US dollar, making friends with people who they can barely speak to, and how to adapt to a new, very different living situation. That kind of education, especially for young kids can’t be matched in a school system.
During our Costa Rica experience, my daughter read a 600-page book about the Panama Canal, after which I took her and my son on a trip down to the canal to learn about it in person.
Homeschooling allows us to provide our kids with education that is catered to their specific needs and interests.
Instilling a Love of Learning
When I ask the kids I interact with – friends of my kids from sports teams, church, and other social settings – what they think about school, the majority of them have very negative attitudes about the school environment itself and are typically not excited about learning.
In contrast, I have noticed among the homeschooling groups that we associate with that the kids are generally eager to learn. They take more personal responsibility for their education, which seems to be a product of their involvement in choosing curriculum that suits their interests.
In homeschool settings, learning tends to become a way of life rather than a chore to be done from August to May each year. Outside of the official structured learning schedule, we find opportunities arise all the time because our kids have been conditioned to be naturally curious about the history of a person who comes up in conversation or an area we are visiting. They constantly want to know how things work, and they’re assertive about putting together pieces of their education puzzle outside of structured school time.
For instance, I recently announced to my son and daughter that we’re going to take a trip to China in the next few months for business purposes, to visit some friends, and for a cultural experience. Without even being encouraged, my daughter (with our permission) bought the Pimsleur program for learning Chinese and has spent at least an hour a day learning the language so that she can speak to the people we’ll meet in China in their own language.
Learning should be a constant lifelong objective, and that attitude should be planted in the hearts and minds of kids when they’re young. I’ve seen too many situations where public schools have exterminated that love in kids who don’t do well in that setting.
When homeschooling is done well, kids quickly become self-reliant in their pursuit of knowledge. They learn to teach themselves and find ways to obtain the information they need.
Avoiding the Distractions and Damage of Popular Culture
Whenever I see kids on the baseball field, at church, at community activities, and in other public settings constantly, mindlessly (often even subconsciously) doing the “floss” dance, it makes me wonder why kids are so prone to following the popular trend and why their parents seem so comfortable with that approach. It’s not necessarily that there’s something inherently wrong with a goofy looking dance move, but anyone willing to be observant will recognize that there are detrimental side effects associated with popular culture. The trend setters who create that culture are not concerned about the positive development of children.
Video games like Fortnite (which by itself has done much to replace potential musicians, scholars, and other high achievers with a generation of zombies), trends towards sarcasm and general negativity, songs with lyrics that are demeaning and destructive, social media and cyberbullying, and the pervasiveness of liberal ideas that won’t stop until girls and boys are not allowed to recognize their God-given differences make it highly necessary to be vigilant about what influences are acting upon their children.
Homeschooling allows us to keep our kids free enough from the vortex of popular opinion and trends, most of which directly conflict with our religious beliefs and our value system.
An Accelerated Learning Environment
Homeschooling allows kids to set their own learning pace so that it continues to be fulfilling for them.
Several years ago I was familiar with a situation wherein a neighbor switched his son from an accelerated private school into public school where he could have better access to sports. Immediately after the transition, this intelligent, high performing teenager began struggling with getting good grades. He also started hanging around in a social group that his parents didn’t approve of.
My friend’s only explanation for his son’s turn was that he went from thriving because he was challenged to struggling because he was bored and unfulfilled. The difference was obvious in that scenario. In the more common scenario, parents are unable to observe a difference because their children start off in public school, and the poor performance is wrongly attributed to the child being a bad student.
The school system in the United States tends to lock children into a structure that holds many of them back. Because the education pace of the entire nation is set based on the collective school ecosystem, the lowest common denominators often become the standard. This creates an system that is consistently iterating downward. While there are ways for the most assertive students and parents to set a pace closer to what’s more natural for them, by taking AP classes and other accelerated programs, overall there is a huge net loss in productivity and sense of fulfillment.
Homeschooled kids don’t normally feel like they are being throttled in their efforts to learn.
The post-secondary education system in the United States is failing as evidenced by the record levels of debt taken on by students, who are defaulting at a rate of 22%, more than one-fifth. Going to college for a four-year degree has switched from being a way to get ahead to being a serious financial burden.
Because homeschooling allows kids to go at their own pace, they can complete a four-year college degree while still in grade school for a much cheaper cost than what they would spend going off to college after high school. Having a college degree by 18 years old is certainly possible for many kids. Completing that goal gives them a great advantage financially and in career path over those who start college as adults and finish their degrees four years later with the burden of student debt.
Being Assertive About What Kids Learn (and Don’t Learn)
Aside from the pup culture influence that exists in public schools, I often find myself surprised at the things that kids are learning and not learning in public school settings. Much of it is very different from what I’d prefer my children learn.
For our family, it is important that we are well-educated on the heritage and accurate history of the creation of the United States of America, including the sacrifices and inspiration associated with the Founding Fathers. Conservative principles, including self-government, the exceptional role of the United States as advocate for freedom throughout the world, and the personal merits of men like George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and others are frequently topics used in teaching our kids.
We strongly feel that the government, the culture, and the approach to education used when this country originated were divinely inspired and led to prosperity. The principles of freedom, self-reliance, accountability, religious faith, and selflessness are what took the United States from an upstart colony to the most powerful country in the history of civilization.
The books and other curriculum materials being used in public schools, charter schools, and even in some private schools are generally highly disloyal to the original mission of this country. Revisionist historians have concocted a different story about America that’s largely untrue, and much of the contemporary curriculum used to teach history, social studies, and even in technical and science-related fields have a spin to them that we choose not to use when teaching our kids.
The power of the federal government and its heavy hand in determining the framework for education throughout the country makes us uncomfortable. With all of the varying perspectives used to create educational material, home school allows our family to use what fits best with our own approach to learning.
Should We Join the Crowd to Avoid Being Left Out?
Because there exists a constant pull towards conformity in our society, my wife and I frequently have conversations that involve asking the question, “Are we doing the right thing with our family?” After some discussion about alternatives, we always come back to the conclusion that there is no need to try to become like everyone else at the expense of going after our family objectives and becoming who we want to become.
An example of this reassurance process happened recently.
Just prior to the beginning of this school year, my daughter found out in Sunday School at church that she was the only person in her class, consisting of several of her age group peers in our neighborhood, who was not invited to a back-to-school gathering for those who were seventh graders in the few blocks around our home. Invitations to the party were coordinated and handed out by a mom who knew all of the girls well, including my daughter. The decision was made to not invite my daughter because “she’s not technically in seventh grade since she’s a homeschooler.”
It’s one thing to hold a neighborhood party and exclude someone who, as could have been identified with only a slight appeal to thoughtfulness, was obviously part of the peer group. It’s another thing to spend half of a Sunday School class two days later discussing how fun the party was and in front of the person who was left out.
The whole incident blew up at church when my wife found out that my daughter was upset and embarrassed about the situation. Mothers of the other girls jumped in to offer consolation and provide recommendations for avoiding the problem in the future. The solution proposed by several of them to my wife was this: put your daughter into public school so she won’t get left out.
When my wife explained to me how the whole fifteen minute scene went down, my natural reaction to these mothers’ “told you so” indictments of our homeschooling habit was the formation in my mind of a hypothetical conversation. In fact, although I didn’t actually say this to those who were involved, this conversation certainly took place in my head.
“So you think that putting our daughter into public school will solve her problem of being left out.”
“Let me articulate what you’re telling me…”
“Your group of parents and kids intentionally excluded a girl from an activity and then informed her that she was made an exception to the group simply because she is homeschooled. Do you see the lack of thoughtfulness by both parents and their kids in that scenario?”
“But you’re telling me that the solution to that is for us to join in with that crowd?”
“Do you see the irony in your proposed solution? We’ll pass!”
You can see why I decided against actually verbalizing those statements in the conversation among many of my close neighbors. They certainly would have offended someone, but I’ll use the situation to make the point here. From what I’ve observed among the homeschooling parents we associate with, they are typically more vigilant about parenting, more thoughtful and observant. They and their children are less cliquish. Homeschooled kids are more likely to not have age and other social barriers. Among the ones I know, they are more likely to speak confidently with adults on one hand and not above playing with younger kids on the other.
Whatever causes that social dynamic among homeschooled kids, I like it. Whatever causes kids in public school programs to get their value out of excluding others and creating cliques, I don’t want my children to be part of it.
Education Options Are Fluid
One of the concerns I’ve had about keeping our kids away from the school experience is knowing how much I loved going to school as a kid. It was a blast for me, and I felt a sense of community with many of my fellow students, athletes, teachers, coaches, and others I interacted with.
My wife and I regularly evaluate what our kids’ needs are and take steps to make sure they are developing as they should. It is possible that in the future, it will make sense that they go to a public, charter, or private school. We will cross that bridge when we come to it.
Although we are always open to doing whatever works best for our kids, I think we’re good homeschooling for the foreseeable future.