Home Education Magazine
January-February 2005 - Articles and Columns
From Homeschooled to Homeschooling - Dawn Colclasure
Julia Prindle has fond memories of homeschooling her last years of high school. Though her homeschooled years were minimal, they introduced her to the many benefits of homeschooling. A freelance writer, editor and homemaker in Sugar Land, Texas, she and her husband do not have children, but they have already made a parenting decision to homeschool when they do.
She is not alone. More and more, parents who were homeschooled are now homeschooling their own children. Pat Farenga, a consultant in Medford, Massachusetts and the co-author of the book Teach Your Own: The John Holt Book of Homeschooling, is not surprised. He has been studying and researching homeschooling for 23 years. "People like to share enjoyable experiences," he says, "but I don't think we have enough data to call it a trend."
That hasn't stopped Nels Tomlinson, a father of three living with his wife in Juneau, Alaska. "I was homeschooled beginning with the middle of second grade, when we moved from Unalaklete, a small Eskimo village where I was attending the BIA school, to Moses Point, an isolated FAA station with no school," he says. "It worked out so well that I continued homeschooling through high school."His experiences being homeschooled prompted him to homeschool his own children.
A positive homeschool experience also compels Alysia Humphries to homeschool her own children. A resident of Ogden, Utah, and the mother of three children (with a fourth on the way), she has been homeschooling her children since 2002. "I enjoyed the experience I had being homeschooled, and the strong bond that exists between me and my family because of it, and wanted that for my children as well."
This, however, is not the only reason why these parents are homeschooling. "We think that it is very important because it is far more effective at educating the children," Tomlinson says, "but our faith also requires it."
"It is a part of our personal beliefs," adds Humphries. "Our religion teaches us to be different in our values than the general population, and that parents are absolutely responsible for the teaching and rearing of their children."
The intellectual and social benefits of a one-on-one education are an appealing plus, too. "It has allowed us to stay closer to our children," Tomlinson says. "So far I can only see benefits," Humphries adds.
Did the experiences these parents had make them feel comfortable homeschooling their own kids? Prindle thinks so. "I believe I am better prepared to homeschool my own children," she says. And though she has a slight fear about being able to do the job well, she adds, "I'll take homeschooling our children day by day, and learn from it."
"Because I have first-hand experience from both sides of it, I can say that it's good for parents and children," Tomlinson says. "Before I became a parent, it might not have occurred to me that it helps parents do their jobs. By the time a child reaches school-age, the parent has had five or six years of experience, so no parent is really a total beginner. By age five, you've taught your child to speak, dress himself, behave himself, tie his shoes, count and on and on. Teaching the child to read and add is just the next step, not a radical break with what you've been doing all along." Humphries notes that, despite her experience, it really depends on the child. "I can't say that because I was homeschooled I automatically knew to how to homeschool my own kids and organize my homeschool in a good way," she says. "I realized early on that I was not my mother, did not have the same personality, and that my kids are not the same as her kids, but had unique needs and personalities. So I had to find my own way just like others do."
If anything, the experience of being homeschooled gives these parents a source to turn to in times of distress--their parents. "I know from watching my mom and others that all homeschoolers go through the same doubts and if they just persevere, they figure out a comfortable and effective way of doing it for their family," Humphries says. She adds, "That gives me courage on those doubting days."
Previous experience didn't help Tomlinson with a new problem, though. "My wife was born and raised in Taiwan and English is her second language," he explains. "Homeschooling was unheard-of there when she was young. She was very doubtful about the idea of homeschooling until she worked as a translator for the Fairbanks Northstar Borough School District. After seeing the inside of the high school, middle school and elementary schools there, she decided that homeschooling was an acceptable risk; she couldn't do worse. She still worried that her imperfect English would keep the children from learning proper English. Today, our children speak perfect English and sometimes even correct her. They are also fluent in Chinese."
Yet one struggle he faced as a homeschooled kid is similar to a problem his homeschooled children are facing now. "I had trouble staying focused and found much of the work in the curriculum tedious or pointless," he says. "My kids have some of the same trouble staying focused, but we use a less-structured curriculum with less busy-work, so they complain a bit less about busy-work than I did."
Humphries' problem is one kids today still face: Being considered "different" from her peers. "This was not always a bad thing; it was actually something I was proud of most of the time, but I sometimes was caught off guard by the cliquish ways of public school children and how rude they could be if you were not wearing the right style of jeans, didn't use the slang words that were in, etc.," she says. "I did find good friends at church and by getting involved in community projects, but in the public school setting, the emphasis was so much on what was popular that it made it difficult to make real friends there." And as for whether her kids will face this problem, too? "I think that homeschooled students now don't face as much of that since there are many more of them and they often do things together and form friendships."
"Specific problems vary from child to child, parent to parent," Farenga notes, "but general doubts, insecurities, worries about your children's development, I think they stay the same from generation to generation."
Are these homeschooling parents using the same teaching methods their parents used, too? For the most part. "I have done my homeschool very similarly to how I was homeschooled, but I like a little more of a schedule for myself," Humphries explains. "We do fewer extras generally than my mother did, but we do the basics with more consistency. Our homeschool is still very loosely structured, but there are certain things that we do each day no matter what, and the rest is flexible. My mother didn't have a schedule per se when I was six (my son's age), although there were goals that she tried to accomplish with us each week. As we got older we had things we were expected to do each day before we could play or go out. I have just tried to do that a little earlier with my kids, mostly for my own sake, to make sure I remember to do those things each day. Sometimes the kids will express interest in doing something special that I didn't plan for, like learning about a certain animal, or an event in history, and so I will do that instead of what we had planned for the day, but I prefer to have a loose idea of what we will do each day."
Tomlinson, however, approaches the homeschooling method differently: "We use a curriculum from Sonlight, which is less structured and more classically oriented than the one my parents used for me."
Teaching methods aren't the only things being changed. "I think that there are far more homeschoolers today, and it is far less strange and intimidating to people who haven't tried it," says Tomlinson. "The reactions we get when we say that we are teaching our children at home are much more favorable, and less incredulous, than the reactions I remember my parents getting." Humphries agrees. "I think there is much more support and many more resources available to homeschoolers now," she says.
Despite the many changes, challenges and struggles faced, these parents are grateful for the opportunity to homeschool their children. It is something they had a chance to experience growing up and now their own children get to experience it, too. Prindle is positive about the prospect of homeschooling her children. "I hope that they will be well-prepared for life, well-educated to be able to pursue anything their hearts desire." And Tomlinson sees the benefits, too. "From personal experience, I know that it is a better way for children to learn, and it is a far better way for children to learn to be mature," he says. "I believe that any parent who wants the best for his children will find that educating them at home is the best he can do."
Humphries is also grateful. "I think it has given me new respect for the pioneering effort that my parents made. My conviction that homeschool is a great choice has grown now that I am doing it with my kids and seeing what a positive impact it has on them and my relationship with them."
Is the prospect of these parents' children growing up to homeschool, too, possible? Farenga says it's "likely." "Just because you are raised one way does not guarantee you will raise your own children that way. Just because the parent enjoys homeschooling doesn't always mean the child is sharing that experience," he explains.
Still, Tomlinson is hopeful about this prospect. "I would be very disappointed if they didn't try it," he says, "since homeschooling is proven to give children a much better start."
"I think it would be wonderful, if it is right for their family," Humphries says. "I would tell them they know their children better than anyone else, and so they should trust themselves to be able to know their children's needs."
Whether or not the tradition to homeschool will continue remains to be seen. For now, these parents of yesterday's homeschoolers continue homeschooling their own children. Their stories may even inspire other homeschooled parents to follow suit.
As author Pat Farenga says, "Thanks for sharing your stories with us, it's very important that we hear from you."
© 2005 Dawn Colclasure
January-February 2005 - Articles and Columns
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