As many parents before me, I stood on the precipice, looking into the landscape called homeschooling, and was in awe of the different roads that one could travel. This journey that my family and I were about to take was already on a slippery slope. At the time, my daughter was finishing fourth grade at the local, public school and we were in a crisis mode. See, my beautiful child had considerable special needs and, despite having a Section 504 plan and then an IEP, the school was not providing the services needed for our child to succeed. She was failing and her father and I decided homeschooling was our best option. We sent a letter to the school to inform them that our daughter and son (who was in first grade at the time) would no longer be attending public school. It was both nerve-wracking and exhilarating to send that letter off. So, we became homeschoolers. Now what?
There are many books, videos, on-line resources–you name it, in regards to homeschooling. These resources cover a multitude of topics that I’m sure many homeschoolers value; however, I’m a hands-on girl, one who rarely reads an instruction manual, and I wanted to jump right into homeschooling. What I didn’t realize was that homeschooling is hard. Now, don’t let that statement scare you off, bear with me while I explain. The beauty of homeschooling is that there is no one, right way to educate your child. There is child-lead learning, relaxed homeschooling, religious homeschooling, secular homeschooling, and even on-line education, to name a few. Choosing curriculum, and not only that but whether or not to choose a religious or secular one, can be a daunting process for many as there are a multitude of resources available to choose from.
Personally, the most difficult part of finding curriculum was trying to find the right curriculum for us. I was raised Methodist and my husband’s father was Jewish and his mother was Catholic. Yet, as adults, neither my husband nor I are religious. As parents, we choose to teach our children strong, moral values over that of religious ones. We teach religion and spirituality in our house–Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Taoism, Buddhism to name a few–but these teachings are based on their place in shaping history. We didn’t want to teach creationism, we wanted to teach evolution. We didn’t want to teach history from the Christian perspective (or from the “fluff” perspective that I was taught in public school), we wanted to teach history from the perspective of what really happened. Weeding through curricula and resources to find what we wanted was not for the faint-hearted. It took time, it took energy, and it took being patient enough to weed through books, websites, and reviews to find secular curriculum–not only secular curriculum, but good secular curriculum.
I was lucky in that we knew a couple of secular homeschoolers who graciously allowed me to borrow their curriculum to take home, read through, and ponder upon –to this day, we still explore new curriculum options, even though we have our favorites. We are still tweaking how we homeschool and consider this aspect of our journey as ever-evolving. As our children have grown and the demands of their social lives and extra-curricular activities become numerous, I had to start the process of de-schooling myself. De-schooling is the process of letting go of preconceived notions of how education should look in your home. We started out with desks for each of the kids and set up a room that was very similar to their public school classrooms. Today, you will see us learning at the dining room table, the living room couches, outside, at the grocery store, at a restaurant during lunchtime, and even in Mom’s bed! We are starting our fourth year of homeschooling and we have come a long way and yet we are still changing, growing and evolving.
Once we had our curriculum chosen for that first year, the next thing we looked for was socialization–connecting with a tribe of parents and kids that were already homeschooling and could lend support. During that first year, we lived in the suburbs of Chicago and, in our area, the number of homeschooling families was small, but growing. The availability of local homeschool co-ops was limited and our only option was a Christian-based group. While our family is not religious, this particular co-op’s “statement of faith” simply asked that we sign the form acknowledging that we understood that the views listed were their views and that we would respect them. My children took classes that interested them and we steered clear of the religious-based academic classes. It was not the perfect fit for us; however, we were thankful for the opportunity to meet others–especially those who understood the newness, excitement, and nervousness we were experiencing as we embarked on our homeschool journey. We have since relocated to Texas for my husband’s job and while we do live in the “Bible Belt”, we have found that the number of homeschoolers here far exceeds the numbers back home. There are many homeschool groups in our area, however only one of them is “inclusive.” We have yet to find a secular group. We are hopeful that as The National Alliance of Secular Homeschoolers grows, we will become one of the first members of a local N.A.S.H. chapter.
Living with Each Other…. Every Day
Armed with curriculum to start us out and social outlets that weren’t ideal, but worked for that moment, I wondered “What was next?” There was nothing terribly hard about finding curriculum options (besides what was already mentioned), nor was it a daunting process to find social activities and communities. So I guess you’re wondering at this point, what is so hard about homeschooling, right? Ok, so here it is: the hardest part about homeschooling has been learning to live together all the time. Weird, right? As I type this, this idea even seems weird to me, so let me explain. I have been a stay-at-home mother since the day our daughter was born. I have changed more poopy diapers than I care to think about. I have nursed both of my children through bouts of mastitis. I have endured the “terrible twos” (threes, fours, fives, etc.–you get the idea!). I have done it all. So why am I saying that this is hard? Well, quite frankly, because it is! While I am long past the days of poopy diapers and screaming toddlers, I have entered a stage in my life where I am not only the mother to my children, but I am their main educator. I am responsible for their safety and well-being. I am responsible for making sure they have a full belly and a warm heart. I am responsible for their emotional well-being, and so much more. And now I am responsible for ensuring that they receive a well-rounded education. That’s a lot of work! Yet, the real work is making sure we don’t kill each other in the process. From the moment I wake up to the moment they go to sleep, we are together. I know them better, at times, than they know themselves and I’m sure they can say the same about me. We take a lot of deep breaths in our house. We do our fair share of foot stomping. We shed many tears, and many words are said and later regretted. We also know when to say “sorry”, when to admit we are wrong, and how to effectively communicate to each other. Those are qualities that I attribute to having the time to teach them these important things, without the negative influences that they had experienced in public school. When times are hard, coffee helps. Lots of coffee!!
My children’s education is important to me, so we push through the hard parts. This education is not just a textbook at home, but it is driving them to piano lessons, Girl Scouts, dance classes, parties, social gatherings, teaching them how to grocery shop and cook, how to do laundry and balance a checkbook and so much more. It’s well-rounded because, when they leave the familial “nest” and take flight into the adult world, I want them to soar.
I am proud to be a member of N.A.S.H and truly believe in its vision. I believe that as we come together, share our experiences, and learn from one another only great things can happen! I am proud to say that I volunteer my time –time already divided between the kids, their education, my education, and my work–to a cause I believe in. I look forward to pioneering the way for all secular homeschoolers in the generations to come. I look forward to sharing frustrations and shouts of joy. I look forward to telling others that homeschooling is hard, but you can do it! Understand, that while I say that homeschooling is hard, it is worth every single struggle. It really is. Come join us, we cannot wait to meet you!
Megan Levinson is the Media and Public Relations Director for the National Alliance of Secular Homeschoolers. She currently resides in Dallas, TX with her husband, two children, three cats, and 15 chickens. If you would like to contribute to the blog, you can reach Megan at firstname.lastname@example.org.