Home Education Magazine
July-August 2001 - Articles and Columns
Questions and Answers - Laura Weldon
Homeschooling Fathers? and Support Groups
? "My wife is an attorney and I work as a consultant to non-profit groups. We have thoroughly researched and discussed our alternatives, finally deciding to homeschool our son. I plan to discontinue working and pursue a graduate degree part time while homeschooling. All three of us are excited about making this change. My question is, are there other fathers out there who are the primary homeschooling parent? What has been their experience?" - Mike
? "At the risk of offending the more politically correct readers, I have to say as a homeschooling dad that I think fathers approach learning in a different way than many moms. I wasn't fond of sitting and filling out papers back when I was in school, I itched to actually do something. So we are active learners. I always encouraged my kids to take things apart, try things for themselves and not worry about making mistakes.I let them have some discomfort and physical risk in the pursuit of learning. My wife wasn't always pleased about my methods, but she has to admit that our children are confident, motivated and best of all, they like to spend time with their old man even though they are supposed to be dispassionate teenagers." - Larry, Vermont
? "I am going back to work this next school year and my husband will be homeschooling our kids and pursuing a graduate degree. I had my own questions concerning the non-traditional aspect of this situation. I have met only one other Dad who is teaching his children (his wife is in the military) and it is working great thus far. He is sociable and approaches other moms as well as co-op groups seeking and giving advice and information. My kids are beyond ecstatic to know they will have their Dad all to themselves next school year." - Marisa
? "Yes, there are other fathers out there who are the primary homeschooling parent. You might enjoy perusing the HomeSchoolDad website, although I believe most of the articles assume a dad who needs quick, easy ideas with little prep time to use with kids in the evening or whenever the dad is free. There's a family in our local support group who work it this way: The mother works full time at a bank and the dad does the academics using ABeka curriculum. He drops the kids off at a daycare for a short 1/2 hr. to 45 minutes before the mother picks them up. With mom they run errands, do the baking, and the fun stuff like crafts, art, etc. I believe they also take private music lessons. There's no reason why you can't make this work as well as any homeschooling mother." - Marsha Ransom
? "I've been homeschooling (and been schooled in home life) for the last three years, since an industrial accident that disabled me. My life hasn't closed in around me since then, it has opened up. My daughters have become fascinating people to me. We learn so much just through conversation and play. They are five and eight years old now. I wouldn't go back to work and miss all this even if I could." - Lewis
? I have had the privilege of being the primary homeschooling parent for my two sons, ages 6 1/2 and 5. I have been the primary care giver for my sons since my first son was six months old. I would not want to change places with my wife because it is truly amazing to see the daily growth of my two sons. Homeschooling has simply become a more formal part of our growth together. I have found that being a homeschooling father has definitely put me in the minority, as I am usually the only father at homeschooling outings. Most of the homeschooling mothers at first might assume that I only have the boys for the day (as do most people), but once they find out that I am responsible for their homeschooling they are very receptive and supportive. I would advise you to take the initiative and get involved. I started my own playgroup when my boys were younger (the only father), and have no problems being the only dad in most group settings. The most important thing to remember about homeschooling is that we are all doing this for the same reason - we care about our children! The sex of the main homeschooling parent is irrelevant. - Peter McDonnell, Carle Place, NY
? "Okay, I know I live in the country surrounded by soybean fields and conservatives, but where are the relaxed homeschoolers and unschoolers? The support groups near me are for strictly church-based, school-at-home types and even include a pledge of faith in their membership application. I've learned to keep my liberal learning philosophies to myself. I've even had to tell my children how to avoid answering the 'born again' question because some mothers want their children to play only with others from the 'right' kind of religion. It hurts." - Name withheld
? "I live surrounded by soybeans, too. I live in Iowa and am a Christian, but I get judged all the time for my unschooling. I have even gone as far as to not tell my name if at all possible, because I am known for unschooling here. I wish I had an answer for you and for me. All I can say is keep looking. There are decent homeschoolers out there. And some just might be Christians, too! I know that if we let all those differences divide us, soon we will be all alone." - JeanneMusfe5@aol.com
? "Many parents do not prefer or trust the unschooling method at the older grades; other homeschoolers are competitive; and some would rather cling to the security of a curriculum. Our faith unites us with a majority of people who do not trust or believe in unschooling, so I think a good solution is to find people in your life where you share some common ground. We've homeschooled for over five years now and most of our friends are not homeschoolers, but those with whom we share other key values and interests. You may find more friends through activities and interests you are involved in rather than through homeschooling. The key is finding people who will accept you and your family for who you are, and if rigid homeschoolers cannot accept you, who needs them? The world is full of wonderful people if you're on the lookout for them. I do feel lonely at times and long for more true connections with unschoolers, but I am grateful for those I do know, even if they live hundreds of miles away." - Lynn
? "It can make you feel very lonely when you're surrounded by people who seem to think differently than you do. And it just doesn't feel right telling children not to say what they believe in for fear of being shunned by others. My family has been in this situation, too. You may want to think about starting your own group -- by advertising! Yep, that's right.
Think up a name for your group (even though you're a group of only one family right now), maybe write up a short philosophy statement, put your phone number and email address on it and hang it EVERYWHERE you can think of - the libraries, the grocery and health food stores, the YMCA, the county fairground, the Little League field, anywhere that kids and parents are likely to be. Don't be afraid to reach out in a radius of 10 miles or so from your immediate area - you would be surprised how far people will travel to find a group that meets their needs. Send your info to Home Education Magazine, Growing Without Schooling, homeschool.com, the Link newsletter, etc. etc. -- any and all homeschooling publications and websites. If your state Department of Education has resource information about homeschooling, contact them and have them add you to their list of support groups. Start a Yahoogroups email list for your state. You may be surprised at how many others are out there looking for exactly the same type of support!
I started our group about 4 years ago because the only other groups were Christian groups, which didn't meet my needs. We now have 65 families from all over Indianapolis and the surrounding counties. All homeschoolers are welcome and all share in the activity planning, so that we have activities going on all over the area. Most people find us through the homeschool magazines and websites, and are amazed and relieved because they thought they were alone. When the first person calls you, arrange a time to get together and make plans. Park Play Days are good activities for the summer - the kids can play while the adults talk. Many groups don't meet in the summer, but I find that meeting during the summer has really helped our group grow and stay strong." - Jill Whelan, Families Learning Together, Indianapolis, IN
? "When you find those "real" people, please forward the info to me. I am a homeschooling, employed, volunteering and some days don't feel like doing crap, Mom. My daughter is 13 and we have been shunned from numerous groups for one reason or another. i.e.; "You only have one child?!", or " You believe what?" and my personal favorite, "You don't attend ANY church?" We are out here although we are few and far between. Most of us just keep to ourselves and do the best we can with what we've got. We work hard and raise our children to be decent, honest, hardworking people. I know where you are coming from." - Been there, Alaska, email@example.com
? "There are no easy answers to this problem. It DOES hurt. I tried starting an inclusive homeschool group. I had a number of calls but, with one exception, the caller always asked if I were a Christian, and I always responded honestly that I was not. That one exception was fortunate, because we found a like-minded family and we have become each other's lifeline. The most important thing for you and your family is to find ways not to feel bitter about the entire situation but to seek out the liberals in your community, regardless of whether or not they homeschool. You might look into the nearest liberal religious community (Unitarian Universalist, Quaker, or Reform Judaism), if there is one--there's not in our community. We are finding liberal friends slowly by putting out feelers among doctors, artists, friends of friends, etc." - Margaret Sanders, Hartwell, Georgia
? "I can relate to your problem. Although the support group I belong to invites anyone and is not so conservative, we have a few families that are not so open minded and I also find myself learning to play the game and keeping my beliefs to myself. There is always that feeling of discomfort around those who are religiously pushy. Anyway, I would like to encourage you to be on the look-out for families out and about during the school hours and approach them (I have done this many times and am surprised to find the majority to be home schoolers, and many of them new to the area needing contacts!). You may find others who feel the same as you do, and who need a different type of support group to meet their needs. - Annette
? "It is a difficult task sometimes to find people with more relaxed homeschool styles. I am a fish out of water at times too, especially since moving to the south. What I have found though is that you can't write off all of the more structured groups, they can actually provide a forum for you to find other unschool types. I wouldn't try a group that makes you sign a statement of faith (even though I am a Christian) whether I agreed with the statement or not, it is a matter of principle and I detest an elitist attitude! I have however, advertised in a more structured groups newsletter to find other unschoolers and got a response. Religion never comes up as an issue for us, they called me because they were also feeling alone in their homeschool style and wanted to get with people less interested in academics and more into just plain fun." - unsigned
? "I surely don't have an easy answer, but I do have some experience and suggestions to offer.
1. Know you are not alone. Homeschooling in general is still an unusual path to choose, and an unschooling or relaxed approach is even more so. Sometimes I feel like an alien subspecies in an already alien world. Take heart in knowing that you are doing what is best for your child.
2. Find long-distance support. The magazine Growing Without Schooling, the internet site Unschooling.com and "theunschooler" on-line newsletter by Suzannah Harris have been sources of support for me. It's good knowing that there are others with a similar educational philosophy, even if they don't live nearby. The GWS directory might even help you find some other unschoolers that live nearby or penpals willing to correspond with you.
3. Try to find other ways, besides the support groups, of connecting with homeschoolers in your area. Our county-wide homeschooling group has a monthly newsletter. Last year I submitted an article on what unschooling is about, and included my telephone number and e-mail address for anyone who wanted more information. I ended up meeting a few other families interested in exploring the unschooling approach through that.
4. If you can't find other unschoolers, maybe you'll be able to make a few. Most of the other homeschoolers I know are very curriculum-oriented. But I frequently hear comments like "I just don't know how to get my daughter to do her math worksheets," or "My son really resists doing his spelling homework."This gives me the opportunity to respond: "I've had better luck teaching my daughter fractions when we cook together, especially if I "lose" the one-cup measuring cup and can only find the one-third cup one." Or, "My kids don't like worksheets much either. We've been discovering some better ways of helping them to learn." I avoid using the word "unschooling" unless the person I'm talking to asks for more information. I'm not too sure I've made any converts yet, but I've definitely had some good conversations and planted a few seeds.
5. The religious aspect of your problem is difficult. Although our family is Christian, we are not homeschooling for religious reasons and are much more politically, educationally, and socially liberal than most of the other homeschoolers we know. All I can say is, try to avoid pre-judging or labeling the other homeschoolers you meet.It sounds like the support groups in your area are not for you--but you may inadvertently miss meeting a kindred spirit if you assume that all the other homeschoolers you meet feel completely comfortable in those groups. I think it's better to engage in a conversation, trying to maintain a feeling of mutual respect for your different approaches. Trust me, I know this is difficult when you feel as if you're being judged! But I've found that when I can be open-minded enough to hear someone's very different point of view, we sometimes have more in common than I would have expected. At the very least we have in common a sincere desire to do what's best for our children. Or you may get lucky and find another unschooler who was afraid to speak up." - Thyne S. Rutrough, Richmond, KY
? "If they really had faith, they would not judge others. A pledge of faith is a sign of narrow thinking, of fear that their way won't hold up under the scrutiny of those who might have a different perspective. I used to be one of those people. But the gentle support of friends helped me see that rigid school-at-home wasn't what my children needed to learn. I was always frustrated that my children didn't like their curriculum. I thought they were bad kids and pushed them even harder. Yelling at children to finish 'work' and threatening them with punishment all the time isn't homeschooling, it is teaching them that coercion and intimidation is the way to accomplish things. I am a Christian, but not one of 'those' Christians any more. Jesus taught by stories, by example, by words beautiful enough to remember. He walked among all kinds of people. Do they really think Jesus would approve of their exclusionary policies?" - Lianne, Birmingham, Alabama
(c) 2001 Home Education Magazine
July-August 2001 Issue
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