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Home Education Magazine

January-February 1997 - Articles

Homeschooling Fathers

- Gary Wyatt

Children need more of their fathers and fathers need more of their children. Men have an extraordinary potential to realize in the lives of their kids, a potential that goes beyond narrowly defined gender roles that limit a father's station in the family to that of "provider and disciplinarian." As I consider my own life, and the lives of the homeschooling fathers that I know, many of us feel a yearning to be more involved with our children. Unfortunately, circumstance and our own socialization often positions us on the fringe of both family life and the homeschool experience. We bring home the paychecks, take out the trash, fix things that break, and leave homeschooling to our wives.

At a recent get-together of homeschooling parents in my area, most agreed that homeschooling is primarily "a mother-child thing," and that the father's role is minor because he is more likely to be employed full-time and isn't around the kids that much. Most seemed not only resigned to the "somewhat-out-of-the-picture" father, but content with him as well. Unfortunately, for fathers to deny themselves full involvement in the lives of their children is to cut themselves off from something elemental and soul-sustaining, something vital for both themselves and their children. More involvement on the part of fathers is essential for both the well-being of homeschooling families and the entire homeschool movement. So what's a father who has to work 40-50 hours a week to do? Faced with this problem, I have tried to develop some habits to help me become more a part of my children and their education. Hopefully, by sharing these habits here, they can be of use to other fathers who may feel disenfranchised from the homeschooling experience and don't know what to do about it.

First, in the words of a current TV commercial, "Don't mess with dinner." Dinner time is a terrific opportunity to talk about important things with your family and to discuss the happenings of the day with them. Ask them about the things they accomplished and learned, not to "check up" on them, but to show interest in what they're doing. Discuss current events. I like to read the paper or listen to the news before leaving my office, and then talk about what I've read or heard at dinner. Discussions around the dinner table can be meaningful educational experiences. Of course dinner time needs to be a priority and effort must be made to protect its sanctity.

Second, read good books with your children each day, possibly in the evening. Reading provides families with the opportunity to master new words, visit faraway places, and learn important lessons of life. I have come to value reading time with my children more than any other time that I spend with them. Currently, my 14-year-old son Christopher and I are reading Robert Cormier's The Chocolate War, The most poignant fictional accounts of what happens to a teenage boy who defies his peers. Invaluable discussions about the power of peer groups have followed each reading episode. Cory, my 11-year-old, and I are finishing Paul Creswick's Robin Hood. Lessons about morality, loyalty, friendship, power, and corruption, as well as information about medieval England have been learned. Aaron, my 5-year-old, is just learning to read. We read Dr. Seuss books and other early readers. We look at picture books and talk about the pictures we see. Reading is the perfect way to end the day, and with children of different ages who go to bed at different times, it provides valuable moments of one-on-one time with them.

Third, look for teaching moments everywhere you are. You'll find them in the most ordinary and mundane places if you pay attention: The homeless man holding a sign that reads, "Will work for food," becomes an opportunity to discuss human problems, compassion, and welfare policy. An unusual bug crawling across the sidewalk becomes a lesson in biology. Replacing burned-out light bulbs provides an opportunity to talk about electricity. Shopping becomes a lesson in nutrition and money management, and a sudden cloud burst a lesson in meteorology. Even watching TV has its moments: causal sex, violence, and deep-seated human problems solved in less than an hour, provides opportunities to challenge and learn from the misrepresentations being presented.

Fourth, take your family places. Go to plays, good movies, ethnic restaurants, and museums, and don't miss the opportunities that family vacations provide. Go places, meet people, see things, take pictures, create memories.

Fifth, work on projects together. Build bird houses, model planes, and plant flower and vegetable gardens. Develop family hobbies: wood carving, fishing, photography, short-wave radio, camping, or maybe sports. Our family loves outdoor Dutch oven cooking. It is an enjoyable way to spend time together, cook food in the way of a bygone era, maintain an ancestral legacy, and develop a family identity. A family that I recently met builds and flies remote-controlled model airplanes while another family is involved in an ongoing musical production. These activities are educational and are things that all enjoy doing together.

Sixth, become an enthusiastic life long learner yourself, and by so-doing set a genuine example for your children. Conversations that I have had with many homeschooling fathers (and mothers) reveals a hypocrisy of sorts. Many parents get frustrated when their children don't become as excited as they would like them to be about learning opportunities. All to often, however, these parents are expecting their children to do something they are not doing themselves, and that sends a message that simply doesn't wash. Children need to see their parents practice what they preach. Parents should set the example by reading good books, discussing interesting ideas, and involving themselves in worthwhile activities. Children need to constantly witness their parents' love of learning.

All these things require something that is in short supply, time. They require the will to spend our time as fathers on what is truly important. At the end of the day it's a temptation to "veg out" in front of the TV, or to do other things that exclude our families. I've also heard a lot of well-intentioned fathers complain that they can't "find time" for their children, however, the proactive fathers I know "make time" for them. "Making time" requires the will to form new habits, habits that can make a difference for the good in the lives of each member of the homeschooling family.


Read more about Homeschooling, Homeschooling Dads, Becoming a Homeschooling Father and being a Home School Father


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