The first time I can remember hearing about this lifestyle called homeschooling was about ten years ago when my husband was directing a community children's chorus in Peoria, Illinois (I was serving as the piano accompanist). Several of the children in the choir did not attend area schools but instead were being educated at home. As we got to know these young people better, we became increasingly impressed with the attitude and commitment they demonstrated at rehearsals. Whereas some of their traditionally schooled peers seemed most interested in the social opportunity afforded by choir practice, the homeschooled students were without exception there for the musical and educational experience. They also exhibited a respect for their elders and a level of maturity that was not evident in some of the other choristers.
At about the same time, my husband and I were considering how best to serve the needs, educational and otherwise, of our oldest child. We had put him in preschool shortly after his third birthday (even though that birthday was in early October) and he had remained on that track, completing a second year of preschool the following year and starting kindergarten a month before the age of 5. Our decision for early schooling was due to our belief that because he was an intellectually precocious child he needed to be in school. Looking back on that decision, I am still amazed that it never occurred to us that the child who had already learned so much at home could not continue doing so! But my husband and I were both products of institutional education, and homeschooling was not something that either of us had ever heard of or encountered before.
When my son first entered preschool his behavior was that of a fairly typical 3-year-old boy. But as time went on we observed a change in him. He became quieter, less outgoing, and less aware of his surroundings. He had difficulty with eye contact, interpersonal communication and social interaction. Sometimes it seemed when people spoke to him that he didn't even notice or hear them. He was withdrawing into his own inner world.
I don't mean to suggest that schooling was responsible for the change in my son. He was ultimately diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, so I think the behaviors described above would have come about no matter what. But I can't help but wonder if the early schooling accelerated and exacerbated his condition. My son remained in school through first grade, at which time it was finally dawning on us that traditional schooling was not working for him. Although he was still academically far ahead of most of his peers, reading and doing math on a third or fourth grade level, he was in other ways--socially and physically--behind. And because of his shy and retiring nature, he was easily overlooked in a classroom of over 30 children. He needed an educational program that was tailored to him personally rather than to the broad middle of the spectrum.
Then one day it came to us: we could teach him ourselves! In fact we were already doing so, since we were the ones who had taught him to read, add and subtract before he ever set foot in a school, the ones who had continued teaching him at home because he was bored with what he was "learning" in school, and the ones who had taught him to play piano, sing and read music so well that he had no difficulty following hymns out of our hymnal. Couldn't we just take him home and keep on doing what we had already been doing?
We decided the answer was yes. At the beginning of his second grade year, we brought our son home. We were encouraged and shepherded in the first stages of our homeschooling adventure by the parents of those home educated children in our choir. They provided me with books, articles, curriculum catalogs and various other sources of information, not to mention moral support, as we inaugurated our homeschooling lifestyle. We are still in touch with several of them today.
I'll never forget our first day of "school." I was almost as nervous on this momentous day as I had been over 10 years earlier on my first day of student teaching. Here I was, an English major with a Master's degree in literature who had spent most of my adult life teaching students at the junior high, high school, and college levels. And yet the educational establishment had so indoctrinated me into their bureaucratic mindset that I didn't know if I could teach my own 6-year-old. After all, I didn't have training in elementary education! The few times I had substitute taught in elementary schools I had wanted to run screaming from the classroom! Could I really teach my own child?
Yes. I could, and I did, and I continue to do so (although I am becoming more and more expendable as he takes greater responsibility for his own learning). It has not always been easy (what am I saying?--it's never been easy!), but it has definitely been worth it. By teaching our son and then our daughter at home, my husband and I have been able to tailor each of our children's educational programs to their individual needs so that they can forge ahead in one subject while moving slowly in another, depending on what is called for at the time. We have also been able to continue nurturing them spiritually and emotionally, remaining the primary influence in their lives simply because they are with us. It is a decision we have never regretted.
That is why we started homeschooling. In the near future I'll write about why we have kept on doing so.