My eldest daughter, Emily, was a very easy, compliant, bright child as a toddler and preschooler. We moved to Germany when she was two, then to a very tiny post in the midst of the beautiful vineyards of the Rhine. I ordered books on keeping preschoolers busy from a fledgling internet company called Amazon. They sent company post-its and once even an Amazon commuter mug in my orders.
I kept my daughter and her sister busy with Montessori-style activities. They washed their doll clothes on a washboard and hung them to dry with tiny clothespins on the balcony outside our apartment. Maria Montessori would be able to carefully explain to you how these types of activities help develop the fine and gross motor skills that children need in order to eventually use their fingers to move a pencil in just the right way. But of course, in the minds of my two little girls, it was just something fun to do.
Now four years old, Emily loved to stand near me as I cooked their meals. She would remove the alphabet magnets from the refrigerator one by one as I worked: “What sound does this letter make? How about this one?” I taught her the sounds of the letters rather than the letter names, as suggested in one or more of many books. Soon enough, she was putting the letters together to make words. Since her birthday is in December, I went to the school liaison on post that summer and asked about starting her in school in the fall. Unfortunately, the Department of Defense system was insistent that she be five in order to start school. The fact that she was already reading independently was irrelevant.
The following summer, I spoke to the liaison once again, asking if Emily could start in first grade. She was reading Stuart Little and Little House in the Big Woods. Due to the small size of the post, there was only one kindergarten class and they spent the first month of school learning the alphabet. The school system was insistent once again. Students must start in kindergarten. By some strange fluke, the class Emily would have been in had more than 20 boys and only 3 girls (including Emily). I was afraid she would be at once bored and lost in the shuffle of the kindergarten teacher managing that many children.
I talked to the chaplain’s wife who lived downstairs from me. She had five kids, and she homeschooled them. I decided, “How badly could I screw up kindergarten when she is already reading?” The first day of school was at once freeing and nerve wracking. Luckily, I chanced upon The Well-Trained Mind by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise-Bauer, a mother-daughter pair of homeschoolers promoting neo-classical homeschooling. It appealed to me as a lover of history and literature. I carefully laid out my curriculum by following most of the recommendations in the book.
I didn’t necessarily intend to continue homeschooling forever. I thought it might work for a year or two or until we left Germany. But that year was 2001, the year of 9/11, the year that everything changed for military personnel. We moved back to the US in early 2002. But we left knowing my husband would soon be being deployed to Afghanistan. Moving, plus Dad being deployed seemed like a lot in one year. So, we continued to homeschool. It allowed me the freedom to go home when things got hard. It allowed us to take a month off to spend with my husband once he finally came home toward the end of the school year.
We strongly considered putting the kids in school the following year. But never knowing if and when we would move or when my husband might be deployed or when we might need to go home because a family member needed us…it seemed so much harder to arrange around school schedules, so we kept going.
This year Emily is a senior in high school. She moved just before ninth grade, in between tenth and eleventh grades, and just before her senior year. Moving schools would have been tough. She would have had to re-do state history, at a minimum. She would not have maintained the same friends or activities throughout her high school years. Homeschooling lent continuity to the curriculum, at least. It hasn’t always been perfect. We’ve had hard days, hard weeks, even hard years. But no situation is perfect. There are things I will do differently with my younger children. There are things I would have done differently, if our situation had been different.
Homeschooling has allowed us a tremendous amount of freedom and allowed the kids to participate in activities that would have taken too much time away from school in a traditional school setting. The freedom of time has allowed us to take advantage of activities peculiar to our many homes, such as taking sailing lessons in Hawaii. It has allowed me to give my kids the freedom of following their interests in areas where they excel and are strong. It has allowed me to provide extra support and guidance in areas where they are weak. It allows them to take a break to run around when they get extra wiggly. It allows teens to get the extra sleep that even science says they need.
Ultimately, both the strengths and weaknesses, advantages and disadvantages, are too numerous to list each. I wouldn’t trade the time I’ve had with my kids for anything. I wouldn’t trade the freedom of our family for anything. I would not recommend homeschooling to everyone in every situation, but it is an option to consider when circumstances warrant it.
Jen W.– Jen is a born and bred Sooner who has spent twenty years following her military husband around the world. Jen started on her homeschooling journey when her eldest daughter learned to read at three years old, and she decided that she couldn’t screw up kindergarten that badly. That child is now a senior in high school, and they have both survived homeschooling throughout. Jen has two more children who are equally smart and have also homeschooled all along.