There are two sentiments I have heard many times over when people learn we homeschool our children. Either they say, “Well, you can homeschool because you are a teacher,” if they know I used to teach, or they will exclaim, “My children would never listen to me to learn anything.” Both statements make me groan internally while trying to smile sweetly on the outside, explaining that no, my credential really doesn’t help me educate my children, and yes, your children can learn from you.
When we made the decision to homeschool, our eldest was only a year old. I had just retired from elementary teaching, was teaching very part-time at the local community college, and was expecting our second child. Though my husband, also a public school teacher, was always supportive of homeschooling, he even expressed concerns that our children would not learn from us but would need a “stranger,” someone outside the family, to teach them.
If one thinks about it, we are our children’s first educators. From reading them stories, to encouraging their first words and steps, to redirecting them when they try to play with unsafe or forbidden objects, we are teaching them. We teach them social norms from the time they are old enough to yell loudly in a restaurant. We teach them kindness when we help them apologize for stealing a toy from their siblings. We teach them virtue and faith, letters and numbers, colors and shapes from the time they are born.
Homeschooling is a natural extension of that teaching. Once they know their letters and numbers, then we show them how numbers can combine to make bigger numbers and how letters can combine to make words. We show them how blue, red, and yellow are very special colors and can be mixed to make other colors. Suddenly, numbers become algebra and words become novels and essays.
It is interesting that after our daughter was born the sentiment, “You can homeschool because you are a teacher,” was no longer used. Most everyone outside our immediate family and friends assumed we would send her to school due to her having Down syndrome. Instantly our credentials, Master’s degrees, and classroom experience, which were the reason we were qualified to homeschool our sons, were not good enough to homeschool our daughter. Without a special education credential, we were no longer qualified. For us, her Down syndrome has only solidified our belief in homeschooling being the best option for her. Where else will she have a completely individualized education? Where else will she have teachers who love her as their own child? Her education may look different from that of her brothers in curriculum choices, content, and scope. But the journey we take will be no different than the journey we take with her brothers – progressing naturally as we teach her letters and numbers, colors and shapes, virtue and faith.
All this is not to say that it is always rainbow and unicorns in our home. We have struggles like every one else. In all honesty, there have been days where I doubt if I can do this for the long haul. There have been a few times we have had to sit our boys down individually and ask if they want to go to school or if they are willing to buckle down and work hard. We deal with sibling fights and teacher burn-out. I have second-guessed curriculum choices; started, stopped, and restarted subjects; and even dabbled in unschooling (we definitely do not have unschooly children). But at the end of the day, I am so thankful for the opportunity to teach my own at home. I tell my boys often that homeschooling is a privilege. There are times I forget that being able to stay home with them is also a privilege. I know as I lead them towards a life of virtue and faith, ultimately God is leading me to a life of greater virtue and faith.
As my children get older (our eldest is finishing seventh grade and I honestly have no idea how that happened), fear tries to creep in. It can be a scary venture to take full responsibility for the education of one’s children. If they go to school, whether that be public or private, there are teachers and principals to blame when things don’t go well. When my children graduate from our homeschool, it will be my husband and I that are judged. Did we do well? That will be measured by whether our children need remedial classes at the community college, whether they are admitted to a four-year university, or whether they even go to college. What I try to tell myself is that I must do my job faithfully; what my children do with that is up to them. For if a parent can take pride in a job well done when one child is successful in life, that same parent must take full blame for another child who is not.
As I type this, my husband is sitting to my left teaching our eldest about LCDs and GCFs. He, the eldest, is not a fan of math. Once he hit pre-algebra, I handed the reins over to his dad. I needed a break from teaching math to a child who would much rather do anything else. The beauty of homeschooling a non-math kid is that we can tailor his education to help him be successful. We are not bound to only one textbook and only one way. We are not bound to Common Core or the latest educational fad. We are free to meet him where he is and help him get to where he needs to be. This is true for all our children, including our daughter.
Parents are not only their children’s first educators, they truly are able to be their best teachers. Just because a child turns 3, 4, or 5 does not mean their education must be handed over to an official teacher. Believe me, I am very thankful for my husband, my cousin, and all the other fantastic teachers in our nation’s schools. All children deserve the best education they can receive. But I am also extremely thankful for the ability to continue the natural inclination to teach my children from birth as they continue to grow and develop. It may be a crazy life, but it is a beautiful one I would not trade, even on the bad days.
Brit was born and raised in southern California. She and her husband met at UC San Diego; he was taking a class and she happened to be the teaching assistant. You could say it was love at first sight. Brit and John are now living this beautiful, crazy life with their three sons and one daughter, still in sunny California. They made the decision to homeschool when their eldest was a baby after realizing how much afterschooling they would do if they sent him to school. Brit describes their homeschooling as eclectic, literature-rich, Catholic, and classical-wanna-be.