It is inevitable that by writing this piece I'll tick someone off, or incite them to explain their position as to why they don't believe homeschooling is a responsible choice. It is also very probable in just mentioning that I homeschool and have done so since my oldest began her educational journey, that someone will say to me that they wish they could do that or could've done that, or that they commend me for doing it because there is no way on earth they would want to manage that. Thank God for public school - right!? We should all be thankful for that option.
I'm working on an article about making the choice to homeschool in southeastern Kentucky where the public schools are losing enrollments by the thousands. It has made me once again deeply look at my choice to go that route. It has the potential to be controversial. Simply going to the grocery store with a few school aged kids during school hours can be enough to get some stares. I'm writing this anyway. In my experience, what I'm about to reveal about our day to day is the truth of choosing to homeschool. It's important that we aren't kept in the dark about our individual experiences with choosing the education that is right for our families.
I'm a former public school teacher. I taught in a rural farming community in north central Kentucky for four years before having a child of my own. It was an amazing experience. I earned a Master's Degree in Teaching during that time period. I also made some friends who I still communicate with today mostly through social media. Despite the hard work and about $30,000 in loans to go toward graduate education, I could not make the choice to remain in public education after having children of my own. One of the hardest things I have ever done is to reveal to my principal, whom I liked very much, that I wouldn't be returning the following year after my daughter's birth.
The decision to not put my children in public education was one I had made long before becoming a mother. My husband was always in full agreement. That decision is one in which I was extremely confident, maybe more so than any other decision in my life. Having my oldest now in 3rd grade/4th grade, I'm still very solidly there. Though, from time to time, my husband may hear me whisper, "I should just send them to school." In return, he looks at me cross-ways.
While living in the city of Louisville, we had the excellent opportunity to attend the Parent/Child classes at the Waldorf School. We would often talk of how to afford the tuition for one child, let alone if there were more. I had been the breadwinner up to that point while my husband finished graduate school. He was then completing a tattoo apprenticeship and we were living off of fumes. The next choice was to home educate, and when we moved back to the coalfields, away from the option of Waldorf schooling, that was the only choice for us.
If you aren't familiar with the Waldorf educational philosophy, I will sum it up in two words - soulfully beautiful. I cried real tears when we toured the campus of the Waldorf School of Louisville for the first time. Hoping to recreate this in my home, I dove head first into the ideal. My daughter (then, the only one) would not eat many sweets. She would not have plastic, meaningless toys. She would be surrounded in clean, simple beauty. She would not be exposed to media through television or video games. And, I'd be a Waldorf purist. We did OK for the first few years of her life.
Having a second child and moving close to family, where there wasn't a Waldorf community and more influences outside our nuclear family were upon us, things changed a little. I grew as a mother. I opened more to the possibility of my own family culture. One still very based in Waldorf philosophy, but one that worked for our lifestyle. We had a lovely preschool experience.
Then, it became time to introduce "real" schoolwork. I also got a longing to add some outside work to my schedule and earn a little extra green. I wanted to maintain my daughters' sense of wonder. I wanted them to be excited by learning and to enjoy "school time". There was so much that I knew we'd be safe from. Yet, when I became intimidated by actually carrying out a Waldorf grades method and switched to the Charlotte Mason method, the first step in my realization of what homeschooling meant was revealed. This was going to be one of the hardest things I had ever done in my life. Could I maintain this choice, and still be a person? I was so glad to be fully responsible for their education. I believe it is my right and duty as their mother to hold no one else responsible for it but my husband and I. But, this meant I had to give it my all and do it well all the time. The overarching theme of my life was going to be mother, teacher, and wife. The dreams I had of exploring careers would be on hold. My time to have a hobby - reduced. I'd need to learn to be consistent, less spontaneous, and well planned.
It is incredibly hard to maintain a household, tend younger children, and make sure that the school aged children (who are in two different grades) complete their lessons. We are still in elementary grades, so home educating them is very hands on. I still experience frustrated students. They still cry when they get confused during math. I still lose my cool and have to regroup, or just chalk my day up to a loss and vow to try my best come morning. Sometimes, I feel like a failure for weeks on end because there isn't time to clean the cabin the way I'd like. I'm too tired to call my grandmother whom I haven't seen in a year. I can't figure out why my wee one begins to tantrum right when I sit down for the lesson story with my middle daughter. I long for meaningful, adult conversations and to be able to spend whole days writing again.
People say that they wish they had the money to be able to stay home and homeschool. It isn't about having the money to do it. There are ways to make it work. Most homeschooling families I know work with a very limited budget. Mothers or fathers work long hours to try to make up for income lost by one or the other being at home. Or, the stay at home parent will work late shifts, or find work from home jobs that they tend to at night. We learn to live frugally. Many of us live in a way unfamiliar, but respectful of time and energy. We go without things like cable TV, data plans, vacations, multiple vehicles, new clothes, tons of presents at Christmas, and the newest electronics. Not saying this is better or awesome, but it is what we are willing to do in order to provide this education to our children. At the time we made the choice to homeschool, we gave up 75% of our income in order for me to stay home with our daughter. We made it work. If you believe in something and want it bad enough, you will make it work.
There are those moments when I know that what I'm doing is working. When I hear my toddler singing the Circle Time songs loud and clear. How she giggles at the motions. When my older two daughters run to greet their daddy and grab their main lesson books to show him what they did, proudly. The days when I see their deep thinking reflected in their play or their questions to me. How when they complete something difficult, all the whining becomes meaningless, and they say, "I think I really like doing..." And, sometimes, one of them will say, "I love homeschool." That's how I know it is working.
Last year, I jumped back in to committing to a Waldorf education for my daughters. It takes tons of commitment, planning, and willingness to let go. I found a homeschool Walorf curriculum that works really well for us (Waldorf Essentials), and the authors offer a support service and program called Thinking, Feeling, Willing that has helped me stay on track through all the ups and downs of the school year. I'm incredibly blessed by this program. We have joined a wonderful homeschool co-op that keeps me in tune with other local homeschool families, offers field trips, special classes, and time with peers. Even when I wake up feeling like I don't want to do lessons that day, I know I have support. I know that I can manage.
Our Waldorf inspired homeschool doesn't look like private Waldorf education, and every other Waldorf inspired homeschool will be different from ours. My girls watch some TV (commercial free), they have some commercial toys like My Little Pony, and they love to overindulge in sweets at their grandparents' houses. Shoot, mommy will even let them have a Sprite with their fries and burger from time to time. Sometimes (no, honestly, quite a bit), I wake up in a panic thinking that all of our little issues would be solved if I became purist once again. Then, I realize that if I let go just a little more, the issues wouldn't seem so huge.
The truth about homeschooling is that it is a choice that requires immense time, dedication, willingness to always be a learner yourself, to research and find the answers on your own, presence, and a strong will to see your family through the times that are tough. All sorts of families make the decision to homeschool for many different reasons. You can easily get the impression that we are all religious zealots, super strict, or our homeschools are picturesque. Even in my rural area, if you polled our homeschool co-op, you'd find that there is as much variety there as anywhere and we all get along. There is so much more I could say about homeschooling, making the decision, getting support, and the reasons why I made the choice. I've written this for those considering, in the midst and wondering if they are "doing it right", those who feel they cannot do it but want to, and those who feel we are doing a disservice to our communities. Don't underestimate us. There's a lot of fantasies around homeschooling. The truth is far richer.
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Kelli Hansel Haywood is the mother of three daughters living in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky. She is a writer, weightlifter, yoga and movement instructor, chakra reader, and Reiki practitioner.